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Industry & Technology

Mobile industry has stifled eSIM—and the DOJ is demanding change

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 10:28pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Panuwat Sikham)

The US Department of Justice has given its tentative approval to a wireless-industry plan to revise eSIM standards, saying that new safeguards should prevent carriers from colluding against competitors in the standards-setting process. But the DOJ warned the industry that it must eliminate anti-competitive provisions from the current eSIM standard or face possible antitrust enforcement.

The DOJ last year began investigating AT&T, Verizon, and the GSMA, a trade group that represents mobile carriers worldwide. The antitrust enforcer found that incumbent carriers stacked the deck against competitors while developing an industry standard for eSIM, the embedded SIM technology that is used instead of removable SIM cards in new smartphones and other devices.

In theory, eSIM technology should make it easier to switch carriers or use multiple carriers because the technology doesn't require swapping between physical SIM cards. But how it works in practice depends heavily on whether big carriers dominate the standard-setting process.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How “randomizers” are breathing new life into old games

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 10:08pm

Like a long-time partner or a favorite pair of socks, there's comfort to be found in revisiting a familiar game from your youth. There's a sense of ease knowing what lies inside each treasure chest, which bush an enemy will spring from, or the secret tactic that vanquishes a foe with ease. That calming intimacy makes games like these an easy nostalgic choice when you just want to take a load off.

But what if you want to add some spice back to that familiar experience? After playing a classic game to the point of memorization, how do you recapture the sense of adventure and discovery you experienced the first time you played it? A small but growing community in the retro emulation scene is aiming to answer those questions with a class of mods and hacks called "randomizers."

Shuffle up and deal

At their most basic level, randomizer mods shuffle the data in a game's ROM so that each run becomes a new and unpredictable experience. So The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past Randomizer could change which items you find in which chests, alter the rewards from dungeon quests, and even replace Link's sprite for one of the numerous fan-created options (the Mega Man X sprite is a personal favorite). And you can go even further than that, changing the exit locations for various in-game doors or even scattering the boss keys for specific dungeons throughout the world (rather than in the dungeons themselves)!

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Facebook's Zuckerberg rare interview inside home

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 7:28pm
The Facebook CEO, alongside his wife Priscilla, also stressed the company should not be broken up.

Justices debate allowing state law to be “hidden behind a pay wall”

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 7:20pm

Carl Malamud, founder of Public.Resource.Org. (credit: Kirk Walter)

The courts have long held that laws can't be copyrighted. But if the state mixes the text of the law together with supporting information, things get trickier. In Monday oral arguments, the US Supreme Court wrestled with the copyright status of Georgia's official legal code, which includes annotations written by LexisNexis.

The defendant in the case is Public.Resource.Org (PRO), a non-profit organization that publishes public-domain legal materials. The group obtained Georgia's official version of state law, known as the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, and published the code on its website. The state of Georgia sued, arguing that while the law itself is in the public domain, the accompanying annotations are copyrighted works that can't be published by anyone except LexisNexis.

Georgia won at the trial court level, but PRO won at the appeals court level. On Monday, the case reached the US Supreme Court.

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Natasha Romanoff gets the origin story she deserves in Black Widow trailer

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 7:06pm

Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) has a score to settle with her past in Marvel's Black Widow.

Fans of the MCU have been clamoring for a standalone Black Widow movie for years, but the project kept getting pushed to the back burner, since Marvel was so heavily focused on bringing the long-running Avengers story arc to a fitting conclusion with this year's Avengers: End Game. We now have the first trailer for Black Widow, and it promises to finally give the character the origin story she so richly deserves.

(Some spoilers for Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: End Game below.)

We know that the Russian-born Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) was trained as a spy/assassin in a secretive academy known as the Red Room, which disguised itself as a ballet school. All the "Black Widows" were sterilized, so Natasha is unable to bear children. Clint Barton, aka Hawkeye, is sent to take her out and recruits her to S.H.I.E.L.D. instead. The two become fast friends, and both wind up joining the Avengers, giving Natasha a family of sorts. When the group splits in Captain America: Civil War, Natasha initially sides with Tony Stark/Iron Man, even though it pits her against Barton and Steve Rogers. But her loyalties remain divided, and in the battle at Leipzig Airport, she lets Rogers and Bucky Barnes escape.

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Google workers fired amid organization efforts file retaliation complaint

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 7:00pm

Enlarge / Google's main headquarters. (credit: Cyrus Farivar)

Four former employees who say Google fired them in retaliation for their efforts to organize co-workers are planning legal action against the company. The workers allege the tech giant violated US labor law.

The employees—Laurence Berland, Paul Duke, Rebecca Rivers, and Sophie Waldman—jointly signed onto an open letter posted today outlining their grievances with their former employer.

"We participated in legally protected labor organizing, fighting to improve workplace conditions for all Google workers," they write. They also worked to "hold Google accountable for the impact on our workplace of its business decisions, policies, and practices on a range of topics." Those topics include protesting Google's work with US immigration enforcement agencies and the Department of Defense and protesting Google's work with the Chinese government, as well as a massive walkout of 20,000 Google employees last year to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment allegations against senior executives.

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TikTok changes virtual gifts policy after BBC probe

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 6:20pm
The social network will not let under-18s purchase, send, or receive digital items on its platform.

Riot Games offers female employees $10 million in settlement

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 5:06pm


Back in August, League of Legends maker Riot announced an out-of-court settlement to deal with a number of class-action lawsuits surrounding widespread allegations of sexual harassment, discrimination, and unequal pay at the company. A proposed settlement document filed Monday offers details of that settlement's particulars, including a $10 million fund to compensate the company's female employees.

If the mediated proposal is approved by a judge, all current and former female Riot employees who were at the company at any point since November 2014 would be eligible for compensation, amounting to approximately 1,000 women. Those employees would actually split about $6.2 million, after attorneys' fees and other costs are taken into account. But that still means "no Class Member will receive less than $500 and most Class Members will receive at least $5,000," according to the court documents, with specific payouts depending on each employee's tenure and work status.

The proposed settlement document once again summarizes the case against Riot, which was accused of paying women less than similarly situated men, placing women in lower-paying job roles, passing women up for promotions over similarly situated men, and "creating, encouraging and maintaining a work environment that exposes its female employees to discrimination, harassment, and retaliation on the basis of their gender or sex."

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Video: How Oddworld solved its narrative problems with mind control

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 5:04pm

Video shot by Sean Dacanay, edited by Jeremy Smolik. Click here for transcript.

Some games entice you into playing them with loud marketing campaigns, sexualized cover art, or the promise of ludicrous over-the-top violence. But then there are games like Lorne Lanning's Oddworld series—games that don't lead with muscle- or bikini-clad heroes and defy easy categorization. Games like Oddworld tempt you into playing by promising a different kind of experience. There are guns and violence, sure, but the setting is strange, the plot is filled with gray, and the hero—well, Abe isn't exactly sexy, or really even, you know, human.

But players who gave the original Oddworld a chance back in 1997 found themselves stumbling through a unique and fascinating world that was equal parts surprising and subversive, and the series has gone on to acquire legitimate cult-success status. With the approaching release of Oddworld: Soulstorm in 2020, we thought it was a good time to pay a visit to Lorne Lanning and his team at Oddworld Inhabitants, and talk about our favorite meat processing factory worker and his long journey from design notebook to screen.

“Write what you know,” they say...

We interviewed Lanning at the Emeryville, CA headquarters of Oddworld Inhabitants, the studio he co-founded with Sherry McKenna in 1994. For Oddworld fans, the office was a magical place, stuffed with the kind of memorabilia that amasses over more than two decades of game design. Lanning walked us through his journey to become a game creator, starting from his poor beginnings in what sounds like an unstable family. He got into video games because his father had a job at Coleco, and Lanning thought gaming would be a good way to meet girls.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

TikTok suppressed disabled users' videos

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 3:50pm
Disability campaigners say it was "bizarre" to limit video views to reduce bullying on the app.

A big salary, luxury cars, and a new dacha—Russia’s space leader lives large

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 3:44pm

Russia has a storied and capable space program. And following the space shuttle's retirement in 2011, for nearly a decade, the country has safely and reliably provided a ride for US astronauts to get into space. But that does not mean the country’s space corporation, Roscosmos, is not riven with corruption.

A leading critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Alexei Navalny, recently turned his attention toward the country's space program. In an entertaining 13-minute video not unlike those produced by "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" on HBO, Navalny tackles corruption surrounding the construction of the Vostochny Spaceport in far-eastern Russia, as well as the apparently lavish lifestyle of Roscosmos leader Dmitry Rogozin. (The video is in Russian; it was translated for Ars by Robinson Mitchell. The English-language captions are mostly accurate.)

Vostochny troubles

At the outset of the video, Navalny notes that Putin has called for "transparency" surrounding the Vostochny project, which is mired in corruption and has led to a dozen criminal cases. The cost of the project has doubled from 150 billion rubles ($2.3 billion) to 300 billion rubles ($4.7 billion). Then Navalny zeroes in on the primary cause for these problems.

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US threatens tax on champagne and French cheese

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 3:20pm
The Trump administration is targeting $2.4bn worth of imports in retaliation for France's tax on US tech giants.

New crypto-cracking record reached, with less help than usual from Moore’s Law

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 3:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Mike Myers)

Researchers have reached a new milestone in the annals of cryptography with the factoring of the largest RSA key size ever computed and a matching computation of the largest-ever integer discrete logarithm. New records of this type occur regularly as the performance of computer hardware increases over time. The records announced on Monday evening are more significant because they were achieved considerably faster than hardware improvements alone would predict, thanks to enhancements in software used and the algorithms it implemented.

Many public-key encryption algorithms rely on extremely large numbers that are the product of two prime numbers. Other encryption algorithms base their security on the difficulty of solving certain discrete logarithm problems. With sufficiently big enough key sizes, there is no known way to crack the encryption they provide. The factoring of the large numbers and the computing of a discrete logarithm defeat the cryptographic assurances for a given key size and force users to ratchet up the number of bits of entropy it uses.

The new records include the factoring of RSA-240, an RSA key that has 240 decimal digits and a size of 795 bits. The same team of researchers also computed a discrete logarithm of the same size. The previous records were the factoring in 2010 of an RSA-768 (which, despite its digit is a smaller RSA key than the RSA-240, with 232 decimal digits and 768 bits) and the computation of a 768-bit prime discrete logarithm in 2016.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

League of Legends firm to pay £8m to settle gender discrimination case

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 2:33pm
The publisher of the popular video game says it'll pay £8m to settle a broad gender discrimination case.

Facebook chatbot offers to answer tricky questions

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 2:18pm
Employees get a chatbot to help them answer relatives' questions over the holidays.

Aerial radar turns up a Viking ship in a farmer’s field

Ars Technica - December 3, 2019 - 12:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Manuel Gabler, NIKU)

Ground-penetrating radar recently revealed a Viking Age ship hidden beneath the topsoil of a farm near the former town of Edøy in western Norway. The ship would have held the body of an ancient Norse leader along with weapons, loot, and other items. Nearby, the remains of postholes mark the ghostly outlines of two longhouses. The find could offer a wealth of information about ancient shipbuilding and Norse burial rites.

A forgotten grave

The outline of the ship shows up clearly in the radar images, circled by the remains of a ditch that once surrounded a burial mound. "This is a very common trait for grave mounds," archaeologist Dag-Øyvind Solem, of the Norwegian Institute for Cultural Heritage Research (NIKU), told Ars. "In addition to having a potentially symbolic meaning, it is thought that [ditches] have the very practical function of making the mounds seem bigger than they really were."

Farmers' plows destroyed the burial mound centuries ago, and soil eventually filled in the surrounding ditch. But that looser soil holds more moisture than the adjacent ground and reflects radar differently. In radar images, the result is an accidentally perfect logo for Viking Age archaeology: the hull of a ship in a circle. The largest Norse ship burial ever found—the Gjellestad ship—stood out in a 2018 radar survey with the same distinctive outline.

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Spotify reveals the decade's most-streamed songs, from Ariana Grande to Drake

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 10:57am
Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran, Drake and Ariana Grande are among the most popular artists of the moment.

Elon Musk 'pedo guy' defamation trial begins

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 10:14am
The Tesla boss is due to appear in court accused of defaming a British man during a 2018 cave rescue.

TikTok sent US user data to China, lawsuit claims

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 8:14am
The class action accuses TikTok of "surreptitiously" transferring data of American users to China.

FaceApp may pose 'counterintelligence threat' says FBI

BBC Technology News - December 3, 2019 - 5:22am
It comes amid rising US concern over security risks posed by products made by foreign technology firms.

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