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Jedi Academy dev promises to fix mistake that let PC gamers slaughter console players

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 9:58pm

Enlarge / A single-player screenshot from the Switch version of Jedi Academy. (credit: Nintendo)

Just last week, the LucasArts-era PC cult classic Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy was ported to PlayStation 4 and Switch. Apart from some iffy menus, it's largely a decent port with a good control scheme, high-resolution graphics, decent framerates, and all the content present. It even has multiplayer!

But that last point has become something of a problem, as veteran PC players have found a way to enter console lobbies, and they're crushing the newer Switch and PS4 players.

It's made possible by the fact that the console ports' multiplayer servers appear to work the same way as their PC counterparts have for almost two decades, and the IP address for each server is exposed to the user. PC players can use that IP address in the Windows version of the game and join a Switch match. Forums like ResetEra have console players complaining that PC players are trolling them and that the invaders have an unfair advantage.

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FDA approves the emergency use of chloroquine for COVID-19

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 9:52pm

Enlarge / Medical staff at the IHU Mediterranee Infection Institute in Marseille shows packets of a Nivaquine (tablets containing chloroquine) and Plaqueril (tablets containing hydroxychloroquine) on February 26, 2020,. (credit: Gerard Julien/Getty Images)

On Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization that will allow patients suffering from COVID-19 to be treated using drugs without clear evidence of the drugs' efficacy. The move comes after President Donald Trump has touted the drugs' potential several times on the basis of tiny, anecdotal trials. There have also been reports of hoarding of the drugs, which are needed by people with some autoimmune disorders.

Potential or hype?

The drugs in question are relatives of chloroquine, specifically chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate. Originally developed as an antimalarial, chloroquine has a variety of effects, including the ability to reduce immune activity. That has made it useful for the treatment of autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Given its multiple effects, it's not surprising that the drug also has a variety of side effects, the most significant probably being a slowing of the heart's rhythm that can potentially lead to fatal complications. (Technically, the drug extends the QT interval.)

What does any of this have to do with a coronavirus? As we discussed when exploring potential treatments for SARS-CoV-2, chloroquine can also alter the pH of the compartment in which some viruses are brought into the cell. This can interfere with the process of depositing the virus' genome inside the cell and thus block the virus' ability to reproduce. Experiments in cultured cells infected by SARS-CoV-2 indicated that chloroquine treatments can keep the virus from spreading within the culture.

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OpenWRT code-execution bug puts millions of devices at risk

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 9:25pm

Enlarge (credit: OpenWRT)

For almost three years, OpenWRT—the open source operating system that powers home routers and other types of embedded systems—has been vulnerable to remote code-execution attacks because updates were delivered over an unencrypted channel and digital signature verifications are easy to bypass, a researcher said.

OpenWRT has a loyal base of users who use the freely available package as an alternative to the firmware that comes installed on their devices. Besides routers, OpenWRT runs on smartphones, pocket computers and even laptops and desktop PCs. Users generally find OpenWRT to be a more secure choice because it offers advanced functions and its source code is easy to audit.

Security researcher Guido Vranken, however, recently found that updates and installation files were delivered over unencrypted HTTPs connections, which are open to attacks that allow adversaries to completely replace legitimate updates with malicious ones. The researcher, who works for security firm ForAllSecure, also found that it was trivial for attackers with moderate experience to bypass digital-signature checks that verify a downloaded update as the legitimate one offered by OpenWTR maintainers. The combination of those two lapses makes it possible to send a malicious update that vulnerable devices will automatically install.

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Zoom’s privacy problems are growing as platform explodes in popularity

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 9:12pm

Enlarge / Zoom's San Jose, Calif., headquarters looks like a lovely place to be socially distanced from. (credit: Smith Collection | Gado | Getty Images)

We have several more weeks, if not several more months, to go in this sudden era of Everything from Home. Work from home, school from home, funerals from home, church from home, happy hour from home—you name it, and we as a society are trying as best as we can to pull it off remotely. Tech use as a result is up all over, but arguably the biggest winner to date of the "Oh, crap, where's my webcam" age is videoconferencing platform Zoom.

Zoom's ease of use, feature base, and free service tier have made it a go-to resource not only for all those office meetings that used to happen in conference rooms but also for teachers, religious services, and even governments. The widespread use, in turn, is shining a bright spotlight on Zoom's privacy and data-collection practices, which apparently leave much to be desired.

The challenge is particularly pronounced in the health care and education sectors: Zoom does offer specific enterprise-level packages—Zoom for Education and Zoom for Healthcare—that have compliance with privacy law (FERPA and HIPAA, respectively) baked in. Many users in those fields, however, may be on the free tier or using individual or other types of enterprise licenses that don't take these particular needs into consideration.

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Coronavirus: 3D-printer owners rally to create NHS face masks

BBC Technology News - March 31, 2020 - 8:54pm
More than 1,000 people volunteer to help make face shields for front-line workers.

Comcast waiving data caps hasn’t hurt its network—why not make it permanent?

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 8:49pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Back in the before times, when a larger percentage of the human race roamed the Earth, i.e., several weeks ago, Comcast customers had to deal with something called a "data cap." Cable users who consumed more than a terabyte of Comcast-branded Internet data in a single month had to pay an extra $10 for each additional, precious block of 50GB, or $50 more each month for unlimited data. Now, with a pandemic sweeping the United States and more people spending each day at home than ever, consumer-broadband usage is way up. But instead of raking in as many overage fees as it can, Comcast decided to upgrade everyone to unlimited data for no extra charge, for two months beginning March 13—and its network has no problem handling it.

Comcast on Monday said it has measured a 32 percent increase in peak traffic since March 1 and an increase of 60 percent in some parts of the US. VoIP and video conferencing is up 212 percent, VPN traffic is up 40 percent, gaming downloads are up 50 percent, and streaming video is up 38 percent.

Comcast, the nation's largest cable and home-Internet provider, described the pandemic's impact as "an unprecedented shift in network usage" but not one that diminishes Comcast's ability to provide sufficient Internet bandwidth. "It's within the capability of our network; and we continue to deliver the speeds and support the capacity our customers need while they're working, learning, and connecting from home," Comcast said. The company continues to monitor network performance and "add capacity where it's needed."

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Apple acquires Dark Sky weather app, and that’s bad news for Android users

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 8:34pm

Popular weather app and data-collection service Dark Sky has been acquired by Apple for an undisclosed sum, a blog post from the Dark Sky team announced. The post claims that Dark Sky will now “reach far more people, with far more impact, than we ever could alone.”

The iOS app will not see any changes “at this time,” and it will continue to be listed on the App Store. Android and Wear OS are a different story, though. The Android app will no longer be available for download, and “service to existing users and subscribers will continue until July 1, 2020, at which point the app will be shut down.” Active subscribers will get a refund.

As for the website, which is also popular:

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Study: Future astronauts could use their own urine to help build moon bases

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 8:30pm

Enlarge / Future moon bases could be built with 3D printers that mix materials such as Moon regolith, water, and astronauts’ urine. (credit: ESA/Foster and Partners)

Early last year, NASA announced an ambitious plan to return American astronauts to the Moon and establish a permanent base there, with an eye toward eventually placing astronauts on Mars. The Artemis Moon Program has its share of critics, including many in the US House of Representatives, who appear to prefer a stronger focus on a crewed mission to Mars. As Ars' Eric Berger reported last August, "NASA stands a very real risk of turning the Artemis Program into a repeat of the Apollo Program—a flags-and-footprints sprint back to the Moon with no follow-through in the form of a lunar base or a sustained presence in deep space."

But if the Artemis Program's ambitious objectives survive the appropriations process, materials science will be crucial to its success, particularly when it comes to the materials needed to construct a viable lunar base. Concrete, for instance, requires a substantial amount of added water in order to be usable in situ, and there is a pronounced short supply of water on the moon. In a new paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production, an international team of scientists suggests that astronauts setting up a base on the moon could use the urea in their urine as a plasticizer to create a concrete-like building material out of lunar soil.

There's certainly a strong argument to be made for using existing materials on the Moon itself to construct a lunar base. NASA estimates that it costs around $10,000 to transport one pound of material into orbit, according to the authors. Past proposals have called for 3D printing with Sorel cement, which requires significant amounts of chemicals and water (consumables), and a rocklike material that would require both water and phosphoric acid as a liquid binder. (The latter might be better suited to constructing a base on Mars.)

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Apple’s new MacBook Air and Mac Mini are already discounted

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 8:11pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a couple of early deals on the entry-level models of Apple's latest MacBook Air and Mac Mini. The former is down to $950 at Amazon, a $50 discount, while the latter is down to $699 at B&H, a $100 discount. These offers are fairly modest, but they're still noteworthy considering Apple only launched the new computers a couple weeks ago.

We gave the new MacBook Air a favorable review earlier this month, calling it "a really good laptop, and easy to recommend." Have a look there for the full rundown, but the new Air is still very well-built, now comes with more base storage at 256GB, and most importantly, comes with a new "Magic Keyboard" that should be much more agreeable and durable than the ultra-low-travel "butterfly" keyboards of recent models.

The new Mac Mini, meanwhile, is essentially identical to the refreshed model Apple released in 2018, but with the base storage bumped from 128GB to 256GB. Otherwise, it remains the lowest-cost and most compact way to bring macOS into a desktop environment for more casual tasks. This offer is $200 cheaper than the previous-gen 256GB Mac Mini's current going rate.

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Houseparty: How safe is Epic Games' video chat app?

BBC Technology News - March 31, 2020 - 6:44pm
Security experts back owner's assertion that chat app is not hacking other products.

Marvel, DC will delay digital comic books during brick-and-mortar closures

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 6:09pm

Enlarge / Want new issues of your favorite comic book series? Switching to digital this week won't change their lack of availability. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty / Marvel)

Comic book fans received a huge blow last week when they learned that a ton of their favorite series wouldn't receive printed runs in the near future due to coronavirus concerns. That might be fine for those fans who have shifted to tablets and e-reader devices for their comics fix, but what about comics fans who not only want print versions, but also want to support their favorite local brick-and-mortar store?

This week, comics publishers responded by expressing solidarity with physical retail partners. For at least one week, Marvel, DC, and other major publishers will not launch new comics in print or on digital platforms.

On Tuesday, a bulletin sent by Marvel Entertainment President Dan Buckley to retail partners confirmed that its usual run of new Wednesday comic books would indeed not arrive in a physical format this Wednesday, April 1. No April Fool's joke there; this is due to Diamond, the biggest American distributor of print comic books, canceling shipment for any comics with a publish date of April 1 or later "until further notice," as per an announcement on March 23.

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Here’s the Trump admin’s pathetic new fuel efficiency rule for 2026

Ars Technica - March 31, 2020 - 5:55pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

If proof were needed that the Trump administration never met an environmental regulation it didn't want to eviscerate, on Tuesday morning the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published final fuel efficiency rules for new passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2021 through 2026. As has been widely anticipated, the EPA and NHTSA have gutted plans established in 2012 to make the nation's fleet of vehicles more fuel-efficient.

Under the old rules, automakers had to get their fleets to an average of 46.7mpg (5l/100km) by MY2025. As of today, even that not-very-ambitious target is toast. Instead, the US government is only requiring the industry to achieve an average of 40.4mpg (5.8l/100km) by MY2026. Fleet-wide CO2 targets have been similarly watered down; by that same model year, the US passenger vehicle and light truck fleet must meet an average of 199g CO2/mile (124g/km). By contrast, new European Union rules that went into effect this year require EU fleet averages to drop below 153g/mile (95g/km), with massive fines in store for automakers that fail.

As continues to be the case, the rules are based on the footprint of a vehicle, with large trucks and SUVs being held to an even weaker standard. As long as a MY2026 pickup or SUV can meet 34.1mpg (6.9l/100km) and emit no more than 240g/mile (150g/km) of carbon dioxide, that's enough to satisfy the new regulations.

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