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Former Uber security chief faces criminal charges for hiding 2016 breach

ArsTechnica - Fri, 2020/08/21 - 17:45

Enlarge (credit: Robyn Beck / AFP) (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Federal prosecutors have charged former Uber security chief Joe Sullivan with obstruction of justice for hiding a 2016 data breach from Federal Trade Commission investigators. Sullivan is now the chief security officer at Cloudflare.

In an emailed statement, a spokesman for Sullivan said the government's charges have "no merit."

"From the outset, Sullivan and his team collaborated closely with legal, communications and other relevant teams at Uber, in accordance with the company’s written policies," the spokesman wrote. "Those policies made clear that Uber’s legal department—and not Mr. Sullivan or his group—was responsible for deciding whether, and to whom, the matter should be disclosed."

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July was a hot one, but here’s what NOAA sees ahead for the US

ArsTechnica - Fri, 2020/08/21 - 15:33

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

Many of our American readers don’t need a news article to tell them it has been hot. California is going through a horrific stretch of heat, wildfires, and rolling blackouts. Hopefully, none of you were in Death Valley to see an unspeakable record 130°F mark set last Sunday, so your eyebrows are merely raised and not singed. Beyond the West, portions of the Northeast just experienced weeks of unrelenting hot weather. Nevertheless, NOAA’s monthly summary and outlook could give you a bigger picture of what the weather's like outside your neck of the woods.

Globally, July tied 2016 for the second warmest July on record (2019 being first). It was also the second warmest for North America, though it clocks in slightly lower at 11th warmest for the Contiguous US. Temperatures were near average in the Pacific Northwest and some Central Plains states but quite warm in the Southwest and extremely warm in the Northeast.

Of 35 weather station sites with the longest records in the Northeast, July was the hottest month period at 11 of them. At seven sites, including Baltimore, DC, and Philadelphia, July also set a record for the most number of days hitting 90°F—that happened 28 times in DC, for example.

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How do you do, fellow gamers?—Burger King exploits Twitch for cheap ads

ArsTechnica - Fri, 2020/08/21 - 14:33

Enlarge / Ogilvy boasted about its ad campaign with the following claim. We have edited it slightly. (credit: Ogilvy / Ars Technica)

Earlier this week, an advertising agency emerged with a video bragging about an ad-campaign concept: We'll invade gaming-filled Twitch chat rooms and post ads for your brand for cheap. The attached video was exactly the kind of cringe you might expect from "brand engages with video game culture," with edgy yet inoffensive quotes, footage of fake games, and digitally altered voices.

But what looked like a fake ad concept has turned out to be very real—and after examining how Twitch works, the whole thing looks like a possible FTC violation.

More like “king of steaming-mad Twitch users”

The ad campaign, run by the Ogilvy agency on behalf of Burger King, relied on a common Twitch trope of donating to game-streaming hosts. "Affiliate" Twitch users are eligible to receive cash from viewers, either in the form of flat-rate subscriptions or variable one-time donations, and hosts often encourage this by adding text-to-voice automation to the process. So if you pay a certain amount, a voice will read your statement out loud—and hosts usually retroactively react to weird and offensive statements made by these systems instead of pre-screening them. (They're busy playing a game, after all.)

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Peer inside a mummified cat from ancient Egypt, courtesy of high-res 3D X-rays

ArsTechnica - Fri, 2020/08/21 - 12:54

Enlarge / Scientists have digitally unwrapped three mummified animals from ancient Egypt using Micro CT scanning. Above: Digital unwrapping of a mummified cat's head, likely a strangled kitten. (credit: Swansea University)

The ancient Egyptians mummified animals as well as humans, most commonly as votive offerings to the gods available for purchase by visitors to temples. Many of those mummified remains have survived but are in such a fragile state that researchers are loath to disturb the remains to learn more about them. Now an inter-disciplinary team of scientists has managed to digitally "unwrap" three specimens—a mummified cat, bird, and snake—using a high-resolution 3D X-ray imaging technique, essentially enabling them to conduct a virtual postmortem, according to a new paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Studying fragile ancient artifacts with cutting-edge imaging technology confers a powerful advantage on archaeological analysis. For instance, in 2016, an international team of scientists developed a method for "virtually unrolling" a badly damaged ancient scroll found on the western shore of the Dead Sea, revealing the first few verses from the book of Leviticus. The so-called En Gedi scroll was recovered from the ark of an ancient synagogue destroyed by fire around 600 CE.

In 2019, we reported that German scientists used a combination of cutting-edge physics techniques to virtually "unfold" an ancient Egyptian papyrus, part of an extensive collection housed in the Berlin Egyptian Museum. Their analysis revealed that a seemingly blank patch on the papyrus actually contained characters written in what had become "invisible ink" after centuries of exposure to light. And earlier this year, we reported that scientists had used multispectral imaging on four supposedly blank Dead Sea Scrolls and found the scrolls contained hidden text, most likely a passage from the book of Ezekiel.  

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Ancient lake sites suggest lots of precipitation on Mars

ArsTechnica - Fri, 2020/08/21 - 11:50

Enlarge / A simulated view of Gale Crater Lake, measuring about 150km across, on Mars about 3 billion years ago. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA/DLR/FU Berlin/MSSS)

Mars clearly once had a lot of water—there are simply far too many features that clearly formed in a watery environment for that to be a matter of debate. What's less clear is how much of that water was liquid and for how long. While some features clearly indicate that liquid water was present for a long time, others likely formed under glacial ice.

It's not clear whether the differences are a matter of timing—a wet period followed by an icy one, for example—or due to regional differences in Mars' climate. It's difficult to tell in part because we can't get climate models of Mars to produce a climate that's wet enough for long enough to form a lot of watery features.

To try to put some constraints on what the ancient Martian climate might have looked like, a team of planetary scientists decided to take a careful look at some of the once-watery features identified on the surface of the red planet. Timothy Goudge, Caleb Fassett, and Gaia Stucky de Quay (yes, that's a planetary scientist named Gaia) identified a series of lakes, and used the features of the lakes to put some constraints on the precipitation that fed them.

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Untested COVID-19 vaccine, Sputnik V, begins 40,000-person trial next week

ArsTechnica - Fri, 2020/08/21 - 11:38

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

After hastily granting approval last week for a COVID-19 vaccine that has yet to enter rigorous clinical trials, Russia has now announced plans to give the vaccine to more than 40,000 volunteers in a trial that starts next week.

The “previously planned post-registration” injections are part of a “randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled multicenter clinical study” of the vaccine, dubbed Sputnik V, according to an August 20 press release from the Russian Direct Investment Fund, which has financially backed the development of the vaccine. The more than 40,000 people for the trial will be recruited from more than 45 medical centers, the press release added.

On August 11, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced that Sputnik V had won regulatory approval, making it the first COVID-19 vaccine in the world to achieve domestic approval. Putin hailed Sputnik V as a breakthrough and even announced that one of his daughters had already received one dose of the two-dose vaccine.

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Pixel 5 renders show Google returning to rear fingerprint reader

ArsTechnica - Fri, 2020/08/21 - 10:46

The Pixel 4a just started to ship yesterday, but we're already getting leaks of the Pixel 5. Google made the odd move of confirming the Pixel 5 alongside the Pixel 4a launch, and now thanks to OnLeaks, we're getting an idea of what Google's new flagship will look like.

OnLeaks previously nailed the Pixel 4a design eight months before launch, so his Pixel 5 render is worth paying attention to. As usual, this is a render that is most likely based on CAD files that need to be sent out to accessory manufacturers ahead of launch. That means we're getting the general layout of the device components and display, but some of the finer details could be wrong.

Anyway, the Pixel 5 render looks like a slightly upgraded 4a with a better camera, and that's about it. That means on the front you get a modern all-screen design with a hole-punch camera and slim bezels, and on the back, you get a Pixel 4-style camera block and the shocker inclusion of a rear fingerprint reader. The render shows three cameras, but the site describes the phone as having "dual cameras, an unknown sensor, and an LED flash." There's also no headphone jack.

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Respawn point: The inevitable reincarnation of the corporate office

ArsTechnica - Fri, 2020/08/21 - 09:00

Enlarge / If you're back in the office, this helpful song will help you remember the cardinal rule of social distancing. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

If you told any executive at a major corporation in mid-2019 that close to half of the US workforce would be working from home within the next year, they would have at least raised a skeptical eyebrow (and then probably called security to have you removed). Yet, here we are.

Major technology companies, including Microsoft, Facebook, and Google, have closed their physical offices until well into 2021. Twitter has told many employees that they can work from home permanently. And now that we have nearly six months of involuntary widespread work-from-home behind us, many other organizations are also reconsidering the value of office space.

In April, a Gallup poll showed 62 percent of the workforce working from home, and 59 percent hoping they could continue to do so as much as possible once the pandemic is under control. While the numbers have since dropped to some degree—Stanford Institute for Economic Research figures in June showed only 42 percent of the US workforce working from home full-time—the fact remains that people's relationship with their workplace has been dramatically restructured, perhaps permanently.

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Rocket Report: Raptor engine sets record, Northrop may say “Aloha!” to Omega

ArsTechnica - Fri, 2020/08/21 - 07:00

Enlarge / An Ariane 5 rocket lifts off on August 15, 2020. (credit: Arianespace)

Welcome to Edition 3.13 of the Rocket Report!

This week's report is one of the longest ever, because there seems to be a lot of news in the world of heavy lift.

We try to cover it all—from bad vibrations on the SLS rocket to the Raptor engine setting records.

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Tesla stock reaches $2,000 amid soaring interest in EV companies

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 21:37

Enlarge / A Tesla facility in Lathrop, California. (credit: Andrei Stanescu / Getty Images)

Tesla's stock closed at a record high of $2,000 on Thursday, pushing the company's market capitalization to $370 billion. Tesla has been on a weeklong rally since announcing a five-for-one stock split. The split will be distributed to anyone who holds the stock tomorrow—Friday, August 21.

A little more than two months have passed since Tesla's stock first reached $1,000 per share. Last month, Tesla announced a solid second-quarter profit of $104 million. It was the fourth straight quarter of profits.

That could qualify Tesla for inclusion in the S&P 500 stock index. If Tesla wins a slot in the S&P 500, funds that track the index would need to buy Tesla shares. That could push the stock price up even further.

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Blast off: Disney drops first trailer for The Right Stuff dramatic series

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 19:25

In October, Disney+ will debut its new series, The Right Stuff, based on the 1979 book by Tom Wolfe.

A team of elite military test pilots finds itself tapped to be astronauts for Project Mercury, the first human spaceflight program in the United States, in The Right Stuff, a new eight-episode dramatic series debuting in October on Disney+. Like Philip Kaufman's Oscar-winning 1983 film of the same name, the series is based on the bestselling 1979 book by Tom Wolfe.

Wolfe became interested in the US space program while on assignment by Rolling Stone to cover the launch of Apollo 17, NASA's last Moon mission. He spent the next seven years writing The Right Stuff, intent on capturing the drive and ethos of those early astronauts. (In a foreword to the 1983 edition, he pondered "What makes a man willing to sit up on top of an enormous Roman candle... and wait for someone to light the fuse.")  Wolfe spent a great deal of time consulting with General Chuck Yeager, who was shut out of the astronaut program and ended up as a contrasting character to the college-degreed Project Mercury team featured in the book. The Right Stuff won widespread critical praise, as well as the National Book Award for Nonfiction.

When United Artists decided to finance a film adaptation, the studio hired William Goldman (The Princess Bride) to adapt the screenplay, but his vision was very different from that of director Philip Kaufman, and Goldman quit the project. Kaufman wrote his own draft script in eight weeks, making Yeager more of a central figure; Goldman's script ignored Yeager entirely. Goldman later wrote that "Phil [Kaufman]'s heart was with Yeager. And not only that, he felt the astronauts, rather than being heroic, were really minor leaguers, mechanical men of no particular quality, not great pilots at all, simply the product of hype."

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Last-minute California ruling means Uber and Lyft won’t shut down today

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 16:11

Enlarge (credit: Bing Guan/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

A California judge has granted Uber and Lyft an emergency reprieve from an order requiring them to treat their drivers as employees. The companies were facing a Thursday deadline to comply with the order. Earlier today, Lyft announced that it would be forced to shut down in the state at midnight tonight.

Lyft said it was being forced to shut down its California operations by a 2019 California law, AB 5, that forces ride-hailing companies to treat their drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. Uber had warned that it was likely to do the same if the courts didn't delay enforcement of the law.

"This is not something we wanted to do, as we know millions of Californians depend on Lyft for daily, essential trips," Lyft wrote. However, the company said, the new law would "necessitate an overhaul of the entire business model—it’s not a switch that can be flipped overnight."

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US government built secret iPod with Apple’s help, former engineer says

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 16:07

An Apple engineer who helped launch the iPod said he helped the US government build a secret version of the device that could covertly collect data.

David Shayer, the second software engineer hired for the iPod project in 2001, said he first learned of the project in 2005, when he received an office visit from his boss’s boss.

“He cut to the chase,” Shayer recounts in a post published on Monday by TidBITS, an online newsletter covering all things Apple. “‘I have a special assignment for you. Your boss doesn’t know about it. You’ll help two engineers from the US Department of Energy build a special iPod. Report only to me.’”

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College contact-tracing app readily leaked personal data, report finds

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 16:05

Enlarge / A surveillance camera mounted on a wall on a sunny day. (credit: Thomas Winz / Getty)

In an attempt to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19, one Michigan college is requiring all students to install an app that will track their live locations at all times. Unfortunately, researchers have already found two major vulnerabilities in the app that can expose students' personal and health data.

Albion College informed students two weeks before the start of the fall term that they would be required to install and run the contact tracing app, called Aura.

Exposure notification apps being deployed by states, based on the iOS and Android framework that Apple and Google announced earlier this year, are designed to minimize harms to privacy. That framework basically uses a phone's Bluetooth capabilities as a proximity sensor, to see if the phone it's installed on has been near a phone of someone who reports having tested positive for COVID-19.

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Apple’s iPad Mini is $50 off at Amazon today

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 14:38

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a nifty discount on the iPad Mini, as 64GB models of Apple's 7.9-inch tablet are currently down to $350 on Amazon. That's $50 off Apple's MSRP and about $35-40 off the street price we've typically seen online over the past few months.

While we've seen the iPad Mini hit this price a few times in the past, this is the second-best deal we've tracked for the tablet in total, trailing only a brief drop to $330 in April. As of this writing, the discount only applies to the Space Gray variant. If you want more storage space, the 256GB model is $50 off as well, bringing it down to $500.

The iPad Mini is more or less exactly what its name suggests: a smaller iPad. It has the same benefits as most Apple tablets: sturdy hardware, a sharp (at 326 pixels per inch) and quality display with no air gap, well-supported software, and a rich app library. With its large bezels and lack of USB-C support, its design is decidedly more dated than the pricier iPad Pro, but its size makes it a more natural fit for ebook or magazine reading, with the occasional YouTube video or Apple Arcade game thrown in. The Mini is probably too cramped to be a reliable multitasking machine—and unlike the iPad Air, it doesn't support Apple's Smart Keyboard accessory—but iPadOS still tends to work better as a media-consumption platform than a productivity one. That said, the iPad Mini runs on Apple's A12 Bionic chip, which remains more than powerful enough for most of the tasks you'd do here. It also supports Apple's Pencil stylus.

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Coronavirus-exposed teachers could stay in classrooms under new fed. guidance

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 14:04

Enlarge / Teacher in school classroom. (credit: Getty | Arne Dedert)

An updated guidance document from the Trump Administration now designates teachers and school staff as “essential critical infrastructure” workers, which would allow them to remain in classrooms and schools after being exposed to the pandemic coronavirus, rather than going into quarantine.

The guidance is not a directive—school districts can still decline to include educators in the designation. But some school districts have already made the designation and have signaled that they will keep teachers out of quarantines after exposures, as long as they remain symptom free. That includes school districts in Tennessee and Georgia, according to a report by the Associated Press.

Keeping exposed teachers in schools raises the risks that they could spread the infection to students and coworkers while showing no symptoms. Studies so far have suggested that infected people may be most infectious around the time they first develop symptoms. Researches have repeatedly found that levels of viral material in the upper respiratory tract are at their highest right around the time when people first notice symptoms. Additionally, some infected people do not develop symptoms but can still harbor similar levels of the virus as symptomatic people, according to several studies.

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It’s 2020, so of course two tropical storms are coming to the Gulf of Mexico

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 13:57

Enlarge / The African wave train has swung into motion for 2020. (credit: NOAA)

This Atlantic hurricane season has set all kinds of records. Most notably, we have already run through the "K" name, with Tropical Storm Kyle forming on August 14 off the coast of the Carolinas. This beat the earliest ever "K" storm, the highly memorable Katrina in 2005, by 10 days.

For all of the names being thrown about, however, most of these systems have been "fish storms," remaining out to sea. And only two have developed into hurricanes, Hanna and Isaias, and neither of these progressed beyond Category 1 status. Scientists use a metric called Accumulated Cyclone Energy to measure the overall activity of a season, factoring in duration and intensity of storms. By this standard, 2020 has been quite active, but not extremely so.

But now we're coming to the heart of the Atlantic hurricane season, which tends to ramp up in late August. This is when the tropical region between Africa and the Caribbean Sea typically reaches its most favorable for development with warm seas and fair winds. This allows for a "train" of storms to develop as atmospheric waves move off the western coast of Africa.

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AT&T, T-Mobile fight speed tests that could prove their coverage maps wrong

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 13:53

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Cris Cantón)

AT&T and T-Mobile are fighting a Federal Communications Commission plan to require drive tests that would verify whether the mobile carriers' coverage claims are accurate.

The carriers' objections came in response to the FCC seeking comment on a plan to improve the nation's inadequate broadband maps. Besides submitting more accurate coverage maps, the FCC plan would require carriers to do a statistically significant amount of drive testing.

"In order to help verify the accuracy of mobile providers' submitted coverage maps, we propose that carriers submit evidence of network performance based on a sample of on-the-ground tests that is statistically appropriate for the area tested," the FCC proposal issued in July 2020 said.

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In the US, switching to EVs would save lives and be worth billions

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 13:47

Enlarge / Smog is bad. (credit: Steven Buss)

Common arguments about how electric vehicles cause more emissions than traditional vehicles when the electric grid is coal-powered are actually wrong. Still, it’s certainly true that a cleaner grid is needed to fully realize the benefits for climate change. Beyond the climate, part of the appeal of EVs is also the improved air quality, of course, and here the grid can be even more important. In the wrong situation, switching to an EV just moves the air pollution from the street to the power plant.

Building models

A team led by Northwestern’s Daniel Peters decided to have a particularly detailed look at this issue, examining several scenarios of grid generation and EV adoption in the US. The results show that even with today’s grid, switching to EVs produces significant benefits.

The researchers used simulated hourly air pollution data from vehicles around the country, along with emissions data for power plants. This went into a model of weather over the course of a year (2014, as it happens), which also simulated important chemical reactions and natural emissions of compounds that interact with pollutants. The resulting air quality simulations were applied to an EPA population health model to show the expected impact on human health.

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Zombie BlackBerrys! QWERTY BlackBerry Android phones are coming back

ArsTechnica - Thu, 2020/08/20 - 13:05

Like a bad zombie movie sequel, BlackBerry phones are coming back from the dead, a second time. After TCL tried and failed to make a business out of licensing the BlackBerry brand and selling Android phones, a new startup called OnwardMobility sounds like it will pick up essentially the same playbook in 2021.

There aren't too many details yet, but OnwardMobility put out a press release and website detailing the new BlackBerry phone plan. The company says it will make "a new 5G BlackBerry Android smartphone with physical keyboard, in the first half of 2021 in North America and Europe." The press release also mentions that "BlackBerry smartphones are known for protecting communications, privacy, and data," so expect lots of encryption. There are also several nods to enterprise customers—really, it all sounds like the same old BlackBerry.

BlackBerry-branded phones from BlackBerry died in 2016 when the company quit the handset manufacturing business. BlackBerry stuck with its own in-house OSes for too long while the Android and iOS duopoly took over the world, and the company's sales tanked. It wasn't until 2015 that BlackBerry made its first Android device, the BlackBerry Priv, but by then it was a "bet the company" situation and the Priv flopped. BlackBerry ended up licensing the brand to Chinese company TCL Communication, which went on to produce some shamelessly rebranded slab phones and a few faithful-but-expensive QWERTY bar phones like the BlackBerry KeyOne and the Key2. TCL wasn't any more successful than BlackBerry selling Android phones, and in February 2020, BlackBerry announced that TCL was walking away. The TCL licensing deal actually expires at the end of this month, and BlackBerry already has a new suitor lined up.

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