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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 58 min 4 sec ago

Parallels Desktop 14 is available now for Mac, and it includes Mojave support

1 hour 40 min ago

Enlarge / Parallels Desktop 14 running Windows 10 in macOS High Sierra. (credit: Samuel Axon)

A new version of Mac-based virtualization software Parallels Desktop was released today. Parallels Desktop 14 offers disk space efficiency improvements, faster application-launch speeds, macOS Mojave support, expanded Touch Bar support, better OpenGL graphics performance, and several other improvements.

Most people who use Parallels use it to run Windows within macOS, and the updates focus on that by improving performance and adding new features to make the two operating systems work more seamlessly together.

The key feature the Parallels team is pushing for this release is storage optimization. Virtual machines can take up a lot of space, and that can be a problem when you're working with limited solid-state storage in modern MacBooks. This release claims to free up significant disk space in most (but not all) cases—up to 20GB in some situations. There's also a "Free Up Disk Space" feature that will, in some cases, make it easier to pinpoint where you can achieve some savings. Some of the general space savings come from more efficient compression for states saved with the Snapshots feature.

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Flint water crisis: Michigan health director ordered to manslaughter trial

August 21, 2018 - 10:37pm

Enlarge / Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Director Nick Lyon. (credit: Getty | Alex Wong)

A judge on Monday ordered Michigan’s top health official, Nick Lyon, to stand trial for involuntary manslaughter charges in two deaths linked to the Flint water crisis.

Genesee District Judge David Goggins determined that there was probable cause that Lyon committed involuntary manslaughter against Robert Skidmore and John Snyder in 2015. The two men died during an outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease, which researchers have connected to the devastating use of improperly treated water in Flint starting in 2014.

Lyon, the director of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, is the highest-ranking official in the state to stand trial in connection with the catastrophe. An additional 14 current or former state and local officials have been criminally charged in connection with the water issues.

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MacOS Mojave won’t support Back to My Mac; Apple suggests pricier alternatives

August 21, 2018 - 9:38pm

Enlarge (credit: Samuel Axon)

Mac users began receiving alerts that Apple will end support for its Back to My Mac feature when macOS Mojave comes out this fall. The iCloud feature lets users remotely connect one Mac to another for file transfers and screen sharing. Users could create a network of multiple Macs and access information from any of them on one of the connected devices.

In addition to alerting users to Back to My Mac's imminent end, Apple points users to a support document that explains alternatives. Apple suggests using iCloud Drive for file sharing, screen sharing for remote access, and Apple Remote Desktop for multi-device management.

However, those alternatives will be frustrating for some users who have used Back to My Mac consistently across their many Mac devices for years. Users may end up needing to pay for more storage in iCloud Drive to access all their files across multiple devices.

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Verizon throttled fire department’s “unlimited” data during Calif. wildfire

August 21, 2018 - 8:49pm

Enlarge / A firefighter battling the Medocino Complex fire on August 7, 2018 near Lodoga, California. (credit: Getty Images | Justin Sullivan )

Verizon Wireless' throttling of a fire department that uses its data services has been submitted as evidence in a lawsuit that seeks to reinstate federal net neutrality rules.

"County Fire has experienced throttling by its ISP, Verizon," Santa Clara County Fire Chief Anthony Bowden wrote in a declaration. "This throttling has had a significant impact on our ability to provide emergency services. Verizon imposed these limitations despite being informed that throttling was actively impeding County Fire's ability to provide crisis-response and essential emergency services."

Bowden's declaration was submitted in an addendum to a brief filed by 22 state attorneys general, the District of Columbia, Santa Clara County, Santa Clara County Central Fire Protection District, and the California Public Utilities Commission. The government agencies are seeking to overturn the recent repeal of net neutrality rules in a lawsuit they filed against the Federal Communications Commission in the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

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Two hurricanes have hit Hawaii in a century. A third one is bearing down

August 21, 2018 - 8:33pm

Enlarge / Hurricane Lane threatens the Hawaiian Islands. (credit: University of Wisconsin)

For Hawaii, the "big one" came in 1992 when Hurricane Iniki struck the island of Kauai as a Category-4 storm, causing $3.2 billion in damage and killing six people. This remains the costliest and deadliest storm to hit the islands in recorded history, and only two other hurricanes—an unnamed storm in 1871 and Dot in 1959—have hit a Hawaiian island in that time frame. (Several readers have mentioned Hurricane Iwa, but this storm's center passed just north of the islands).

At only about 20 degrees north of the equator, Hawaii is well within the tropics, and therefore we might expect hurricanes to strike there more often. However, deep trenches in the Pacific Ocean near the islands facilitate the upwelling of significantly cooler water. Typically, sea surface temperatures near Hawaii are just below the 26.5° Celsius threshold that is favorable for hurricane formation and intensification. However, this year, sea surface temperatures are about 0.5 to 1.0 degrees above normal near the islands.

Unfortunately, this has increased the vulnerability of the Hawaiian Islands to hurricanes this year. Earlier this month, the Category-4 Hurricane Hector appeared to threaten the islands for a few days, but ultimately its track remained a few hundred kilometers to the south. Now, another major hurricane, Lane, seems considerably more likely to bring significant effects to the islands.

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Dealmaster: A bunch of Amazon devices are back on sale this week

August 21, 2018 - 7:31pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a suite of deals on Amazon devices, including Echo smart speakers, Fire TV streamers, and Fire tablets. Amazon posts these discounts periodically throughout the year, and while most aren't as deep as the deals that were offered during Amazon's Prime Day sale, they're still good markdowns from the devices' usual going rates.

Particular highlights include a one-day $50 discount on the Fire HD 10, a $65 discount on a bundle that includes Amazon's Echo Plus speaker/smart home hub and a Philips Hue light, and a $75 discount on a three-pack of Echo Dot smart speakers.

None of these devices are exactly new, and per usual you'll have to weigh whether you can live with the potential privacy shortcomings of any Alexa-enabled device. But most of the gadgets on sale remain good values for their categories; if you were interested, today's deals check out.

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Pokémon Go file check opens new front in war on rooted Android phones

August 21, 2018 - 7:01pm

A new update to Niantic's Pokémon Go takes a more zealous approach to ferreting out potential cheaters by scanning Android phones for certain jailbreak-related folder names, regardless of the user's permissions. Ars has independently confirmed reports that Pokémon Go will not launch on Android phones that have an empty folder named "MagiskManager" on their SD card.

The error message shown when trying to play Pokemon Go on an Android device with an empty "MagiskManager" folder.

That folder name is associated with a popular piece of rooting software, which gives users low-level access to the phone and finer control over the way it functions. But the Pokémon Go check currently blocks access even on unrooted phones where the MagiskManager software hasn't even been downloaded. The folder name alone is enough to generate an "unauthorized_device_lockout" error from the game, and that error goes away if the folder is deleted.

Surprisingly, Ars testing shows the lockout error happens even when the user hasn't granted "storage permissions" to Pokémon Go, which would usually be necessary for the app to scan through outside files. A user on the Pokémon Go-focused Silph Road subreddit points to an XDA forums post that suggests Niantic may be using a loophole in Android's error reporting to get around that lack of permissions.

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Chrome 69 will take the next step to killing Flash, roll out new design

August 21, 2018 - 6:26pm


Chrome 69, due to be released on September 4, is going to take the next step toward phasing out support for Adobe's Flash plugin.

Chrome started deprecating Flash in 2016, defaulting to HTML5 features and requiring Flash to be enabled on a per-site basis. Currently, that setting is sticky: if Flash is enabled for a site, it will continue to be enabled across sessions and restarts of the browser.

That changes in Chrome 69—Flash will have to be enabled for a site every time the browser is started. This means that Flash content will always need positive, explicit user permission to run, making the use of the plugin much more visible—and much more annoying.

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This military tech could finally help self-driving cars master snow

August 21, 2018 - 5:42pm


The research conducted at the country's National Laboratories is usually highly classified and specifically aimed at solving national security problems. But sometimes you get a swords-into-ploughshares moment. That's the case here, as a startup called WaveSense looks to apply technology originally developed by MIT Lincoln Laboratory to detect buried mines and improvised explosive devices for use in self-driving cars.

If you want a car to drive itself, it has to know where it is in the world to a pretty high degree of accuracy. Until now, just about every variation of autonomous vehicle we've come across has done that through a combination of highly accurate GPS, an HD map, and some kind of sensor to detect the environment around it. Actually, you want more than one kind of sensor, because redundancy is going to be critical if humans are going to trust their lives to robot vehicles.

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ROM sites are falling, but a legal loophole could save game emulation

August 21, 2018 - 5:30pm


In the last few weeks, a renewed bout of legal action from Nintendo has led to the shutdown of a handful of ROM sites, which previously let users download digital, emulation-ready copies of classic games. This has, in turn, led to a lot of good discussion about the positive and negative effects this kind of ROM collection and distribution has brought to the gaming community.

From a legal standpoint, it's hard to defend sites that revolve around unlimited downloads of copyrighted games. As attorney Michael Lee put it in a recent blog post, "this is classic infringement; there is no defense to this, at all." But as Video Game History Foundation founder Frank Cifaldi tweeted, "there is no alternative BUT piracy for, like, 99 percent of video game history" due to "the completely abysmal job the video game industry has done keeping its games available."

But what if there might be a middle ground that could thread the needle between the legality of original cartridges and the convenience of emulated ROMs? What if an online lending library, temporarily loaning out copies of ROMs tied to individual original cartridges, could satisfy the letter of the law and the interests of game preservation at the same time?

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Trump’s new “Clean Power Plan” might be a boon to coal-fired power plants

August 21, 2018 - 5:11pm

Enlarge / Smokestacks at Pacificorp’s 1,000MW coal-fired power plant on October 9, 2017 outside Huntington, Utah. (credit: George Frey/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, the Trump administration proposed a replacement rule for former President Obama's Clean Power Plan, and its details favor coal power plant owners.

On Monday night, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Deputy Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a proposed rule, called the "Affordable Clean Energy Rule," which would direct states to inventory their power plants and come up with a plan to regulate the greenhouse gas emissions of individual plants. By contrast, the Obama administration's Clean Power Plan established targets for emissions across each state's energy sector, a move that would have incentivized the industry to leave behind the highest-carbon-emitting power sources, like coal.

The Trump administration has argued that the EPA can't use the Clean Air Act to set emissions levels for the energy industry in general but instead could regulate emissions at each individual source of emissions. The argument has not yet been tested in court, although opposition to the rule proposed today may give the administration a chance to try it out.

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Microsoft shuts down phishing sites, accuses Russia of new election meddling

August 21, 2018 - 4:42pm

Enlarge / Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during the Moscow Urban Forum 2018 on July 18, 2018 in Moscow, Russia. (credit: Getty Images | Mikhail Svetlov )

Russia has denied any knowledge of a spear phishing attempt that allegedly mimicked the domains of the US Senate and two US-based think tanks.

Russia's denial came after Microsoft said it detected and shut down the campaign.

"Last week, Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit (DCU) successfully executed a court order to disrupt and transfer control of six Internet domains created by a group widely associated with the Russian government and known as Strontium, or alternatively Fancy Bear or APT28," Microsoft Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith wrote in Microsoft's announcement Monday. "We have now used this approach 12 times in two years to shut down 84 fake websites associated with this group."

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Unboxing Sony’s “500 Million Limited Edition PS4 Pro”

August 21, 2018 - 4:24pm

When Sony offered us access to one of its "500 Million Limited Edition PS4 Pro" consoles—made to commemorate 500 million PlayStation systems sold since 1995—we initially didn't see much point. Sure, the translucent navy blue casing seemed pretty cool to look at, and the limited run of 50,000 units gives the unit a collectible cachet. Inside, though, the "new" system is exactly like the PS4 Pro we already reviewed back in 2016, but now with a 2TB hard drive.

Then we remembered that we're always looking for giveaways for our next Charity Drive sweepstakes and figured that a relatively rare PS4 console would make a great prize for a deserving reader. So before we pack this exclusive PS4 Pro in the prize closet until the holiday season, we popped open the box to take a few quick pictures of what's inside. Enjoy gawking at the gallery above and dreaming of winning this very unit in a few months!

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Archaeologists explore East Africa’s ancient monumental cemeteries

August 21, 2018 - 4:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Hildebrand et al. 2018)

Large monumental cemeteries line the shores of Kenya’s Lake Turkana: hundreds of tightly packed graves beneath round stone platforms ringed with boulders and basalt columns, each flanked by its own chain of smaller stone circles and cairns. To learn more about the people who built it, archaeologists recently excavated parts of the largest and oldest of these monuments and surveyed the site with ground-penetrating radar. The results suggest that Kenya’s ancient herders constructed them as a communal effort to cope with an unstable environment and a shifting cultural frontier.

A crowded ancient cemetery

Around 5,000 years ago (according to radiocarbon dating of burials), people started clearing away deep drifts of beach sand on a peninsula jutting out into Lake Turkana, digging down to the sandstone bedrock and shoring up the sides with large, flat slabs of sandstone. Then they started digging into the soft sandstone floor of the 30-meter-wide pit, carving out shallow, closely spaced graves.

Archaeologist Elisabeth Hildebrand of Stony Brook University and the Turkana Basin Institute and her colleagues excavated a 2m by 2m test area in the center of the pit and another at the edge. Based on the number of people buried in just those two small spaces, they estimate that the crowded cemetery at the heart of the Lothagam North Pillar Site holds at least 580 graves.

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Massachusetts gives workers new protections against noncompete clauses

August 21, 2018 - 3:20pm

Enlarge / Jimmy Johns required employees to sign noncompete agreements, a practice it dropped in 2016 after a lawsuit. (credit: J. Hendron)

Tucked into an economic development bill signed by Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker earlier this month was a little-noticed provision that could have a big economic impact for Massachusetts workers. The language, introduced by state Rep. Lori Ehrlich, aims to rein in the abuse of employee noncompetition agreements in the state.

In a Thursday phone interview, Ehrlich told Ars that her work was motivated by hearing from hundreds of Massachusetts workers who had suffered from the abuse of noncompete laws. In one infamous case, a summer camp got a high school student to sign a noncompete agreement that effectively barred her from working at another summer camp the following year.

"We heard from people working at pizza parlors, yogurt shops, hairdressers, and people making sandwiches," Ehrlich said. "Those stories were incredibly compelling and really drove the narrative for change."

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Google Fit gets all-white redesign, new activity rings [Update]

August 21, 2018 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / The new Google Fit. (credit: Google)

Google is revamping its fitness tracking app, Google Fit. It's getting an all-white redesign in line with Google's new Material Design guidelines and new metrics for fitness tracking based on guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Google Fit's new logo.

The main new display is a set of circles that fill in as you reach your goal. Before, Google Fit would only track a single "active" goal, which broke down to doing any kind of movement for a certain number of minutes a day. The new design features two circles that track "Move Minutes​" and "Heart Points." Move Minutes are just the old step counter over time, but now separated Heart Points are earned for more vigorous workouts, as detected by accelerometers, speed, manual logging, and the heart-rate monitor of a Wear OS smart watch. Third-party app integrations will be able to log Heart Points, too. The ring system looks a lot like Apple's activity tracking, but in addition to tracking normal movement and more vigorous workouts, Apple has a third ring that tracks standing.

Any minute of moderate activity above normal walking speed will earn a Heart Point, and Google says you'll get double points for "more intense activities like running or kickboxing." Before, Google Fit let you set any goal threshold for your activity, but with the redesign it is now more guided and is based on the US government's physical activity guidelines. The basic guidelines call for 150 minutes of moderate activity a week (more than just walking), and the new Google Fit will explain these guidelines and push users to meet them.

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The RAM 1500 Laramie Crew Cab fuses “luxury” and “pickup truck”

August 21, 2018 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / The '19 RAM 1500 Laramie edition doesn't handle like a boat, but it sure can pull one—in style. (credit: Sean Gallagher)

I have an inordinate fondness for trucks. I learned to drive in a 1978 Chevy Suburban and drove an '88 Ford Ranger for years. However, in recent years, my selection of vehicles has been restrained by my wife's insistence on this thing called "practicality"—we are city dwellers, and despite the sometimes post-apocalyptic terrain of Baltimore streets, Paula has resisted the wisdom of driving something huge with a cargo capacity suitable for evacuating survivors.

I wanted a pickup, and she wanted a Subaru. So we compromised. We got a Subaru.

But when the 2019 RAM 1500 Laramie Crew Cab 4×4 arrived for my test drive—$60,190, as tested—I gained an ally in my pickup-truck cause. "This is my dream car... I mean, truck," my 17-year-old daughter said as she climbed up into the expansive cab and sat in one of the vented, leather-trimmed front seats.

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3D-printed gun activists set to face numerous US states in court

August 21, 2018 - 10:30am

Enlarge / Cody Wilson, owner of Defense Distributed company, holds a 3D printed gun, called the "Liberator", in his factory in Austin, Texas, on August 1, 2018. (credit: KELLY WEST/AFP/Getty Images)

Attorneys from 19 states and the District of Columbia will ask a judge to continue an order forbidding the release of 3D-printed gun files on Tuesday morning at 9:00am Pacific Time in federal court in Seattle.

Strangely, the lawsuit, State of Washington et al. v. United States Department of State et al, seems to ignore the fact that the files are already available on numerous sites, including Github, The Pirate Bay, and more. These files have circulated online since their original publication back in 2013. (Recently, new mirrors of the files have begun to pop up: here's one, and here's another.)

Lawyers representing both the Department of State and Defense Distributed argue that their already-approved legal settlement should go forward and that DEFCAD should be allowed to re-publish its 10 firearm CAD files.

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A new Mac mini and a Retina MacBook Air are imminent, report says

August 21, 2018 - 2:40am

Enlarge / The 2014 Mac mini is pictured here. This redesign was seen by some users as a downgrade compared to its predecessor, and Apple hasn't overhauled it since. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Apple plans to release a new replacement for the MacBook Air (and possibly the current MacBook) with a Retina display later this year, according to a report in Bloomberg. More surprising: the report also claims an updated Mac mini is right around the corner.

The report comes from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman, who has built a reputation recently on breaking news of major Apple initiatives and products before they are announced. As always, his report cites "people familiar with" Apple's plans.

The new Mac mini would be geared more toward pro users than its predecessor, the report says, with more powerful specifications but steeper pricing. The previous Mac mini is something of a cult hit with independent software developers; this report suggests Apple will double down on that. That would move the Mac mini further away from one of its original purposes—cheap consumer home theater PC—likely because that product category has been replaced by devices like the Apple TV or various Roku dongles and boxes, among other things.

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Minigame integrated into EVE Online helps scientists understand cells

August 21, 2018 - 12:07am

Enlarge / Yes, those are real human cells inside a fictional galaxy.

Citizen science, which asks the public to help out science projects, has produced some spectacular successes. But finding a way to grab and maintain hold of the public's attention can be a challenge. That has led to a number of projects that turn the science challenge into a game, finding ways of making a "win" into scientific progress.

But scientists have also figured out ways of hijacking existing games, including using pre-existing fan bases that recruit players through in-game rewards. Now, there's a progress report on an effort to turn EVE Online players into cell biology experts. Thanks to some in-game rewards, more than 300,000 players contributed roughly 33 million calls on where in a cell a protein was located. This not only greatly expanded a public database of information on proteins, but it enabled the researchers to better train a neural network to do the same thing.

Call it

While in many cases it has been possible to determine or infer what a protein does, that only gives us a partial idea of its actual function. That's because many proteins are shipped to specific locations in cells. So while two proteins may look similar in terms of the order and identity of their amino acids, one may be shipped to the nucleus, where it interacts with DNA, while its relative gets sent to the cell's surface, where it acts on proteins in the surroundings. So figuring out where a protein normally resides within cells can go a long way toward helping us figure out its normal functions.

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