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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 36 min 37 sec ago

Video: Uber driver looks down for seconds before fatal crash

1 hour 10 min ago

Video footage released by Tempe Police.

Police in Tempe, Arizona, have released dash cam footage showing the final seconds before an Uber self-driving vehicle crashed into 49-year-old pedestrian Elaine Herzberg. She died at the hospital shortly afterward.

The accident occurred after dark on Sunday evening. Herzberg was walking with a bicycle across a poorly-lit roadway. About 1.4 seconds elapses between the time when Herzberg starts to become visible (initially, only her feet are faintly illuminated) and the video's final frame.

While Herzberg is visible for less than two seconds in the camera footage, she might have become visible earlier to a human driver, since human eyes are better at picking out details in low-light situations. Also, the Uber vehicle was presumably equipped with lidar and radar—sensors that work just as well in the dark as they do in broad daylight.

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Congress OKs sex trafficking bill that critics say will “censor the Internet”

March 21, 2018 - 11:54pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | baona )

The US Senate today passed a bill that weakens legal protections given to websites that host third-party content, saying the measure will help stop promotion of prostitution and sex trafficking on the Internet. But the legislation won't actually help victims of sex trafficking, and will erode online free speech, critics say.

The Senate passed the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) in a 97-2 vote. Only Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) voted against the bill, which is also known as the Allow States and Victims to Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA). It already passed the House of Representatives, and is expected to be signed by President Donald Trump.

The bill changes Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act, which provides website operators with broad immunity for hosting third-party content. The bill declares that Section 230 "was never intended to provide legal protection to websites that unlawfully promote and facilitate prostitution and websites that facilitate traffickers in advertising the sale of unlawful sex acts with sex trafficking victims."

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Zuckerberg: Cambridge Analytica leak a “breach of trust” with users

March 21, 2018 - 10:24pm

Enlarge / CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Facebook's 2016 "F8" conference. (credit: Facebook)

After days of silence, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has responded to the controversy over the 2014 leak of private Facebook user data to a firm that went on to do political consulting work for the Donald Trump campaign in 2016.

Cambridge Analytica got the data by paying a psychology professor, Aleksandr Kogan, to create a Facebook personality quiz that harvested data not only about its own users but also about users' friends. Kogan amassed data from around 50 million users and turned it over to Cambridge.

Zuckerberg says that when Facebook learned about this transfer in 2015, it got Kogan and Cambridge to certify that they had deleted the data. But media reports this weekend suggested that Cambridge had lied and retained the data throughout the 2016 presidential campaign.

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Shareholders approve Elon Musk’s huge performance-based pay package

March 21, 2018 - 9:23pm

Enlarge / Elon Musk in Idaho in 2015. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Tesla shareholders have approved a massive new pay package for Tesla CEO Elon Musk, helping to ensure that he will continue running the company for another decade.

The package is performance based. If Tesla's stock value reaches $100 billion, Musk will receive an award equal to one percent of the company's shares, worth $1 billion. Musk gets another one percent for each $50 billion increase in the share price. If the stock rises to $650 billion—and Tesla meets other profit and revenue targets—Musk will get a series of stock awards totaling $45 billion.

Tesla's stock is currently worth around $53 billion, so even hitting the first target of $100 billion within the next 10 years won't be easy. If he doesn't reach this target, he'll get no compensation for serving as Tesla's CEO over the next decade.

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Ajit Pai says net neutrality was the top threat to broadband deployment

March 21, 2018 - 9:09pm

Enlarge / Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai arrives for his confirmation hearing with the Senate Commerce Committee on July 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla )

Net neutrality is the number-one reason many rural Americans still lack broadband access—at least, that's what Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai says.

In a speech to the American Cable Association (ACA) today, Pai said that "closing the digital divide is the FCC's top policy priority" and that nothing impeded that goal more than net neutrality rules.

The ACA is a lobby group for small- and medium-sized cable companies and was one of Pai's major supporters in the December 2017 vote to repeal net neutrality rules.

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Woman dies from bee-sting therapy that Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow promote

March 21, 2018 - 8:20pm

Enlarge / JAKARTA, Indonesia: An apitherapy practitioner administers a bee sting to the hand of a patient. (credit: Getty Images | Dimas Ardian)

A 55-year-old Spanish woman has died following repeated exposures to an acupuncture method that uses live, stinging bees instead of traditional needles, according to a recent case report in the Journal of Investigational Allergology and Clinical Immunology.

The painful and dangerous practice—called apipuncture—is generally peddled by nonmedical practitioners and, in recent years, has generated buzz among celebrities, most notably Gwyneth Paltrow and her chic lifestyle brand Goop. Paltrow and other proponents claim that insect venom can relieve a swarm of ailments, including inflammation, arthritis, generalized pain, scarring, and skin issues.

But evidence to back those claims is weak and mixed, and numerous medical studies have tallied serious risks and adverse events, including anaphylaxis, stroke, and death. Perhaps most alarming is that people with no history of allergies to bee venom can become sensitive to it over time. In fact, the more exposure, the greater the risk of developing a sensitivity. And life-threatening reactions appear unpredictably.

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Ars Technica is hiring a senior writer

March 21, 2018 - 8:10pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Ars Technica is looking for an experienced writer who loves to help readers understand new technology and innovative ideas—and why they matter. The ideal candidate will be deeply conversant with science and technology and can independently research complex technical issues.

With this position, we're not trying to fill a pre-defined "beat"—we're trying to find a rock star of a writer, whether they cover drones or biotech, CPU design or operating systems, Linux or robots, AI or bitcoin.

We're looking for someone senior (at least 3-5 years of quality experience in sci-tech writing) and someone who already knows what we mean by an "Ars story." Can you craft stories that will become "can't miss" additions to a site reaching 15 million unique worldwide readers? Do you have serious writing skills, technical depth, and reporting chops? Would you call yourself a "subject matter expert" in at least a few areas you regularly cover?

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How blind players succeed at sports video games they’ve never seen

March 21, 2018 - 7:28pm

As you watch this video, close your eyes and imagine playing the game.

SAN FRANCISCO—Blind people might not seem like a natural audience for most video games since they can’t experience the “video” part that’s a definitional piece of the experience. At a fascinating Game Developers Conference Presentation this week, though, EA Sports Accessibility Lead Karen Stevens talked about how she discovered a significant existing base of blind players in EA's games and how the company is moving to serve it.

The process began when Stevens received an email from a blind gamer complaining that changes to the kick-power meter in Madden NFL were making the latest version of the game impossible for them to play. Reaching out to other blind gamers through the forums on, Stevens found plenty of players figuring out their way through UFC, NHL, and even Need for Speed games without being able to see the menus or action on-screen.

“We already had an audience; they were just struggling,” Stevens said. “We were ignoring part of our audience.”

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Report: Google is buying innovative camera startup Lytro for $40 million

March 21, 2018 - 6:49pm


A report from TechCrunch claims that Google is going to buy the camera company Lytro for "around 40 million dollars." Lytro is best known for creating an innovative "Light field camera," but the company has lately pivoted to professional camera technology for filmmaking and capturing VR video.

You might remember the first Lytro camera, which came in a crazy "tube" form factor with a lens at one end and a 1.5-inch touchscreen on the other. The tube was full of lenses and a special "Light Field Sensor" that would capture images as light-field data rather than a grid of pixels. The benefit was that you could just take a picture without worrying about the focus, and you could later selectively focus the image however you wanted. The downside is that you needed a much denser CMOS sensor to capture a high megapixel image. In 2012, when the camera came out, Lytro could compute all this light-field data down to only a 1MP image.

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Unreal Engine + $150,000 GPU = Amazing, real-time raytraced Star Wars

March 21, 2018 - 6:20pm

SAN FRANCISCO—In the computer graphics community this week, companies from Nvidia to Microsoft have been stressing just how important real-time raytracing will be to making games look more movie-like in the near future. Epic Games used a striking demo at a Game Developers Conference keynote presentation this morning to show just how much better raytracing can make real-time, interactive graphics look with top-of-the-line hardware right now.

The Star Wars "Reflections" demo, made with the cooperation of Industrial Light and Magic, showed two extremely realistic-looking and talkative Stormtroopers clamming up in an elevator when the shiny Captain Phasma pops in. Running on what Epic still refers to as “experimental code” (planned to be introduced to Unreal Engine for production later this year) the raytracing in the demo allows background elements like the guns and the opening elevator doors to reflect accurately off Phasma’s mirror-like armor in real time. These are the kinds of effects that Epic CTO Kim Libreri highlights they’ve “never been able to do before [with rasterized graphics].”

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Missing hot mantle plume detected beneath Yellowstone

March 21, 2018 - 5:55pm

Enlarge / Artist Paintpots, Yellowstone National Park. Brought to you by hot rock almost 3,000 kilometers down? (credit: Scott K. Johnson)

It’s no secret that family trips to Yellowstone National Park are likely to involve arguments in the back seat, but you may not know that (adult) scientists find plenty to argue about there, as well.

Yellowstone is actually just the present manifestation of a family of volcanic events going back almost 20 million years. The textbook explanation for this is that Yellowstone sits atop an example of a “mantle hot spot”—a deep plume of hot rock that rises to the surface of a tectonic plate, periodically punching a line of eruptions as the plate moves. But some scientists have proposed more complex scenarios in recent years.

For example, a study we covered just a few months ago concluded that a region of hotter, shallow mantle pulled in from beneath the Pacific by the tectonic collision with North America could explain Yellowstone and other volcanic features in Western North America.

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US officials: Kaspersky “Slingshot” report burned anti-terror operation

March 21, 2018 - 5:22pm

Enlarge / US Navy SEALs conducting special reconnaissance of Al Qaeda operations in Afghanistan in 2002. JSOC added malware to Special Operations units' bag of tricks, and it may have been exposed by Kaspersky. (credit: Department of Defense)

A malware campaign discovered by researchers for Kaspersky Lab this month was in fact a US military operation, according to a report by CyberScoop's Chris Bing and Patrick Howell O'Neill. Unnamed US intelligence officials told CyberScoop that Kaspersky's report had exposed a long-running Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) operation targeting the Islamic State and Al Qaeda.

The malware used in the campaign, according to the officials, was used to target computers in Internet cafés where it was believed individuals associated with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda would communicate with their organizations' leadership. Kaspersky's report showed Slingshot had targeted computers in countries where ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other radical Islamic terrorist groups have a presence or recruit: Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Libya, Sudan, Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The publication of the report, the officials contended, likely caused JSOC to abandon the operation and may have put the lives of soldiers fighting ISIS and Al Qaeda in danger. One former intelligence official told CyberScoop that it was standard operating procedure "to kill it all with fire once you get caught... It happens sometimes and we’re accustomed to dealing with it. But it still sucks. I can tell you this didn’t help anyone."

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BMW’s offices raided by Munich police in search of diesel cheating

March 21, 2018 - 5:12pm

Enlarge (credit: Johannes Simon/Getty Images)

To many, finding out that Volkswagen had been cheating at emissions tests came as quite a shock. Others viewed the event with some indifference; a cynical take might be that every OEM would do the same thing given half the chance. Well, score one for cynicism.

On Tuesday, BMW's offices in Munich—the iconic four-cylinder building you might remember from Rollerball—and an engine factory in Austria were raided by the authorities in connection with suspected fraud related to exhaust emissions.

At question are two diesel-powered models, neither of which is sold in the US: the BMW 750xd and M550xd. According to an official statement from Munich's attorney general, prosecutors believe that those two models have been fitted with an illegal emissions-testing defeat device.

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AT&T suffers another blow in court over throttling of “unlimited” data

March 21, 2018 - 5:06pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | ljhimages)

A federal judge has revived a lawsuit that angry customers filed against AT&T over the company's throttling of unlimited mobile data plans.

The decision comes two years after the same judge decided that customers could only have their complaints heard individually in arbitration instead of in a class-action lawsuit.

The 2016 ruling in AT&T's favor was affirmed by a federal appeals court. But the customers subsequently filed a motion to reconsider the arbitration decision, saying that an April 2017 decision by the California Supreme Court "constitutes a change in law occurring after the Court‟s arbitration order," Judge Edward Chen of US District Court for the Northern District of California said in the new ruling issued last week.

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Relativity Space reveals its ambitions with big NASA deal

March 21, 2018 - 5:00pm

Relativity Space

Even in an era during which the aerospace industry faces significant disruption from myriad new competitors, Relativity Space stands out. The company, led by a pair of twenty-somethings who used to work for Blue Origin and SpaceX, seeks to 3D print rocket engines and the boosters themselves, reducing the number of parts in an orbital rocket from 100,000 down to fewer than 1,000.

Founded in late 2015, Relativity remained in stealth mode until last year, but now it is starting to come out of the shadows. And in doing so, the California-based company is revealing some pretty outsized ambitions. One day, in fact, the company intends to 3D print a rocket on Mars for a return trip to Earth. "We have a pretty broad long-term vision," Tim Ellis, a co-founder of Relativity, admitted in an interview with Ars.

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The follow-up to TCL’s acclaimed 4K HDR Roku TV is coming May 1

March 21, 2018 - 4:27pm

Enlarge / No chunky bezels this year. (credit: TCL)

TCL on Tuesday announced that its forthcoming “6-Series” of 4K TVs will be available to purchase by May 1. The TVs were first announced at the CES trade show in January.

The 6-Series is notable for being the latest entry in TCL’s line of Roku TVs, which for the past few years have utilized the streaming device maker’s operating system as their smart TV interface. Think of it like having a Roku box baked into the television itself. Roku lends its platform to a number of TV manufacturers, but TCL, the Chinese electronics firm that’s also known for licensing the BlackBerry and Alcatel brands for its smartphones, appears to have particularly boosted sales with the partnership. The company says it is now the “number three smart TV brand” in the US.

A big reason for that success is because the TVs are often sold at relatively affordable prices, but over the past couple of years, TCL has improved the line’s reputation with picture quality as well. The 6-Series in particular is the follow-up to last year’s P6-Series TV, which garnered near-unanimous praise from reviewers and is generally considered the best TV on the market for less than $1,000.

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Amazfit Bip review: One peculiar week with a $99 smartwatch

March 21, 2018 - 3:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

I didn't know what to expect from a $99 smartwatch. I certainly didn't expect a GPS or a heart rate monitor. I also didn't expect it to look much different from a traditional fitness tracker, since those devices come in closer to the $99 price point than most smartwatches available today.

Amazfit Bip

Ars Technica may earn a commission on this sale.

Price: $99.99 at Amazon


But the Amazfit Bip challenges even the lowest of expectations about what an affordable smartwatch might be. It promises a full smartwatch experience, including features like a heart rate monitor, onboard GPS, a touchscreen, multiple watch faces, full smartphone connectivity, and up to 45 days of battery life—all at the nearly unbeatable price of just $99. Its elevator pitch will be enticing to those searching for a comprehensive wearable that won't set them back hundreds of dollars, like most Android Wear, Tizen, and watchOS devices will.

But after spending a little over a week with the Amazfit Bip, it's clear that this affordable smartwatch doesn't come without compromises. While it does offer a lot wrapped into its $99 price tag, the experience of wearing the Bip day in and day out isn't as polished as that of other popular smartwatches.

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Pac-Man on Hololens: Bandai Namco shows us how they made it not suck

March 21, 2018 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / Bandai Namco Creative Director Hirofumi Motoyama shows off his Hololens at the 2018 Game Developers Conference. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

SAN FRANCISCO—"It surprised us how Pac-Man on Hololens created interaction between people who are complete strangers!"

Bandai Namco Creative Director Hirofumi Motoyama declared this while standing next to a photo of arguably the world's largest Microsoft Hololens game experience to date. In it, two players sporting Microsoft's "mixed reality" headgear are seen high-fiving—which is both a fun photo moment and a bit of a cheat.

Pac in Town, which premiered in January exclusively at one of Namco's Japanese theme parks, actually requires players to high-five each other in order to beat its challenges. But as Motoyama's presentation at the Game Developers Conference made clear, that action is but one way that Bandai Namco answered an important question: how do you make a full-room, multiplayer Hololens game that doesn't suck?

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A “tamper-proof” currency wallet just got backdoored by a 15-year-old

March 21, 2018 - 12:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Saleem Rashid)

For years, executives at France-based Ledger have boasted their specialized hardware for storing cryptocurrencies is so securely designed that resellers or others in the supply chain can't tamper with the devices without it being painfully obvious to end users. The reason: "cryptographic attestation" that uses unforgeable digital signatures to ensure that only authorized code runs on the hardware wallet.

"There is absolutely no way that an attacker could replace the firmware and make it pass attestation without knowing the Ledger private key," officials said in 2015. Earlier this year, Ledger's CTO said attestation was so foolproof that it was safe to buy his company's devices on eBay.

On Tuesday, a 15-year-old from the UK proved these claims wrong. In a post published to his personal blog, Saleem Rashid demonstrated proof-of-concept code that had allowed him to backdoor the Ledger Nano S, a $100 hardware wallet that company marketers have said has sold by the millions. The stealth backdoor Rashid developed is a minuscule 300-bytes long and causes the device to generate pre-determined wallet addresses and recovery passwords known to the attacker. The attacker could then enter those passwords into a new Ledger hardware wallet to recover the private keys the old backdoored device stores for those addresses.

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Robotic muscle and sensitive polymer fingers in Columbia University’s robotics labs

March 21, 2018 - 12:05pm

Ars talks with Hod Lipson about "sailing west" into the uncharted waters of robotics. Click for transcript. (video link)

Research has traditionally been broken down along simple lines. There's basic, fundamental research into how the world works, and there's applied research that attempts to take these insights and make something useful out of them. The two have very different end goals and require very different approaches to the research process.

But there's a large gray area in between, where the approach is more applied but the end goal may be little more than "make something cool": things like tiny flying robots or 3D computer displays that rely on beads levitated by lasers. How do researchers find direction for these open-ended engineering challenges?

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