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Morpheus speaks with the voice of James McAvoy in The Sandman audio drama

Ars Technica - July 6, 2020 - 5:40pm

Neil Gaiman narrates The Sandman audio drama, coming July 15 on Audible.

We're just a week or so away from the official release of The Sandman, a multi-part audio drama adaptation of Neil Gaiman's seminal graphic novel series, via Audible Original. And we also have a new teaser for the drama, directed by Dirk Maggs. Maggs also directed the audio drama adaptations of Good Omens and Gaiman's novel Anansi Boys.

For the uninitiated, the titular "sandman" is Dream, also called Morpheus, among other names. He is one of seven entities known as the Endless, and he is seeking to set right his past mistakes. The other Endless are Destiny, Destruction, Despair, Desire, Delirium, and Death, portrayed as a perky punk/goth young woman—they became almost as popular as Dream himself and were featured in several spinoff comics. 

The audio drama will cover the first three of the series' ten volumes: Preludes and Nocturnes, The Doll's House, and Dream Country. The series opens when Morpheus, the King of Dreams, escapes from a 70-year imprisonment by an occultist (who actually wanted to capture Dream's sibling Death but trapped the Sandman by mistake). From there, per the official synopsis:

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The Norman Conquest didn’t change ordinary people’s lives very much

Ars Technica - July 6, 2020 - 5:30pm

(credit: By unknown seamsters, Public Domain)

When William the Conqueror won the Battle of Hastings, he became King of England in 1066. This changed the political landscape of Europe and the course of world history. For the English aristocracy and religious leaders, the world turned upside down as William replaced them with his handpicked Normans. But what was it like for ordinary people in England? A recent study suggests that, for them, not much changed under the new regime.

We usually see the Norman Conquest from the lofty and often perilous view of nobility and clergy. The roughly 2 million (based on a 1086 census) ordinary people who lived through the upheaval left behind no written records to tell us how they felt or what they experienced. To understand what their lives were like during the Norman Conquest and the years of political, economic, and social upheaval in its wake, archaeologists have to turn to other kinds of evidence.

For the new study, Elizabeth Craig-Atkins (University of Sheffield), Richard Madgwick (Cardiff University), and their colleagues cobbled together part of the story from the bones and teeth of medieval Britons, as well as animal remains and microscopic residues left behind in cooking pottery. Together, those lines of evidence revealed what—and how well—people ate in the years on either side of the Norman Conquest. The results suggest that food supplies got a bit scarce during the conquest and the sporadic fighting that followed, but some aspects of life didn’t change much in its wake.

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Uber plans to gobble up delivery rival Postmates in $2.6 billion deal

Ars Technica - July 6, 2020 - 5:15pm

Enlarge / Bicycle couriers making deliveries to Uber Eats customers in São Paulo in April, 2019 (a year before the novel coronavirus pandemic). (credit: Joel Carillet | Getty Images)

Uber is trying again to acquire a food delivery rival after it wiped out on its last attempt earlier this year. The company said today it plans to chow down on Postmates in a deal valued at $2.6 billion.

The companies announced the all-stock transaction this morning. Uber said the companies' businesses are "highly complementary," as they have different customer bases in different parts of the country. Uber in its press release praised Postmates as "an early pioneer of 'delivery-as-a-service,'" a truly spectacular buzzword jam for our era.

What Uber probably wants, though, is for someone to deliver it a profit. The company lost $2.9 billion in the first quarter of this year (period ending March 31), after losing $1.1 billion each in Q4 and Q3 and a whopping $5 billion in the quarter before that.

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Nintendo condemns alleged abuse in Smash Bros community

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 3:36pm
The Super Smash Bros maker condemns 'absolutely impermissible' behaviour in its competitive scene.

Huawei: UK government weighs up ban of Chinese firm's telecoms kit

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 2:55pm
The National Cyber Security Centre has presented its report into the Chinese firm to government.

Drone and light aircraft in 'near miss' outside Perth

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 2:30pm
The drone put those on board the aircraft in danger as it flew in restricted airspace near Perth, police say.

Last Of Us 2 developer condemns death threats and harassment

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 12:40pm
People who work for game developer Naughty Dog have revealed abusive messages they've received.

Reddit and LinkedIn to stop copying iPhone clipboards

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 12:18pm
Both apps were found to be regularly looking at the clipboards.

Robotic scientists will 'speed up discovery'

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 7:36am
Robotic scientists could speed up scientific discovery, while human scientists work from home, developers say.

Coronavirus: Fujitsu announces permanent work-from-home plan

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 6:21am
The programme will offer "unprecedented flexibility" to 80,000 workers in Japan, says Fujitsu.

Black Lives Matter: Can viral videos stop police brutality?

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 1:05am
Do viral videos like the one captured of George Floyd's death actually reduce police abuse?

Meet the socially distant robot scientist

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 12:07am
While the research labs have been locked down, one robotic scientist has continued experimenting 24/7.

The gaming boss who gets addicted to the games

BBC Technology News - July 6, 2020 - 12:01am
Andrew Day, the CEO of games developer Keywords Studios, tries not to play the titles himself.

New Mac ransomware is even more sinister than it appears

Ars Technica - July 5, 2020 - 4:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

The threat of ransomware may seem ubiquitous, but there haven't been too many strains tailored specifically to infect Apple's Mac computers since the first full-fledged Mac ransomware surfaced only four years ago. So when Dinesh Devadoss, a malware researcher at the firm K7 Lab, published findings on Tuesday about a new example of Mac ransomware, that fact alone was significant. It turns out, though, that the malware, which researchers are now calling ThiefQuest, gets more interesting from there. (Researchers originally dubbed it EvilQuest until they discovered the Steam game series of the same name.)

In addition to ransomware, ThiefQuest has a whole other set of spyware capabilities that allow it to exfiltrate files from an infected computer, search the system for passwords and cryptocurrency wallet data, and run a robust keylogger to grab passwords, credit card numbers, or other financial information as a user types it in. The spyware component also lurks persistently as a backdoor on infected devices, meaning it sticks around even after a computer reboots, and could be used as a launchpad for additional, or "second stage," attacks. Given that ransomware is so rare on Macs to begin with, this one-two punch is especially noteworthy.

"Looking at the code, if you split the ransomware logic from all the other backdoor logic the two pieces completely make sense as individual malware. But compiling them together you're kind of like what?" says Patrick Wardle, principal security researcher at the Mac management firm Jamf. "My current gut feeling about all of this is that someone basically was designing a piece of Mac malware that would give them the ability to completely remotely control an infected system. And then they also added some ransomware capability as a way to make extra money."

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As COVID-19 spreads, researchers track an influenza virus nervously

Ars Technica - July 5, 2020 - 4:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Liz West / Flickr)

SARS-CoV-2 wasn't the first coronavirus that spawned fears of a pandemic; there were worries about SARS and MERS before it arrived. But influenza viruses have also been a regular source of worries, as they can often spread from agricultural animals to us. Earlier this week, a report was released that described an influenza virus with what the researchers who identified it called "pandemic potential." The virus is currently jumping from agricultural animals to us, but it is not currently able to spread between humans.

Under surveillance

The institutions that some of these researchers are affiliated with—the Key Laboratory of Animal Epidemiology and Zoonosis, the Chinese National Influenza Center, and the Center for Influenza Research and Early-Warning—provide some indication of how seriously China has been taking the risk of the newly evolved influenza strain.

For seven years, these centers supported the researchers as they did something that makes whatever you did for your thesis research seem pleasant: taking nasal swabs from pigs. Nearly 30,000 of these swabs came from random pigs showing up at slaughterhouses, plus another 1,000 from pigs brought in to veterinary practices with respiratory problems. Why pigs? Well, for one, some historic pandemics, named for their species of origin, are called swine flu. And there's a reason for this: pigs are known to be infected by influenza viruses native to other pigs, to birds, and to us humans—who they often find themselves in close proximity to.

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Homebound with EarthBound

Ars Technica - July 5, 2020 - 3:00pm

EarthBound got a nice Nintendo Power push. But in retrospect, Nintendo of America, you could've tried a lot harder with this trailer.

Give me 10 minutes. I need to defeat five giant moles so the miner can find the gold... which I need to get $1 million and bail out the rock band... who can arrange a meeting with the evil real-estate-developer-turned-mayor I need to beat down.

My partner doesn't get it, which I completely understand. When I first tried EarthBound, I didn't either. The now-cult-classic SNES title first arrived in the United States in June 1995. And I, a nine-year-old, had no chance. I craved action as a kid gamer, and that largely meant co-op, multiplayer, and sports titles (a lot of NBA Jam, Street Fighter, and Turtles in Time). Nothing about EarthBound, particularly when only experienced piecemeal through a weekend rental window, would ever speak to me. As one of the most high-profile JRPGs of the early SNES era, it embodied all the stereotypes eventually associated with the genre: at-times batshit fantastical storylines; slow, s l o w pacing; virtually non-existent action mechanics.

Frankly, I wasn't alone. Based on its sales, not many gamers seemed to understand EarthBound, and it's not clear Nintendo did, either. What on Earth does the trailer above say to you? In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the company again and again (and again) tried to find a hit JRPG in the States without much success. Nintendo literally gave away games like Dragon Warrior—as a Nintendo Power pack-in—and still couldn't find an audience. Even the heralded Final Fantasy franchise struggled initially, as Nintendo brought it stateside with a big, splashy map-filled box that no one seemed to care about in the moment.

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NASA’s most iconic building is 55 years old and just getting started

Ars Technica - July 5, 2020 - 2:00pm

NASA's Kennedy Space Center is now nearly six decades old—it was formally created on July 1, 1962 as a separate entity from Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. Construction began soon after.

At the time, the "Launch Operations Directorate" under Wernher von Braun and his team of German scientists was based at Marshall. But NASA's leaders realized they would need their own facilities in Florida alongside the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. So they created a new "Launch Operations Center" on nearby Merritt Island. President Lyndon B. Johnson would rename the facility Kennedy Space Center a week after President John F. Kennedy's November 1963 assassination in Dallas.

As plans for the Apollo Program developed, NASA also soon realized it would need a large building in which to assemble the Saturn V rocket that would power the Moon landings. Work began on what was then known as the Vertical Assembly Building (VAB), where the big rocket would be stacked in a vertical configuration before rolling out to the launch pad.

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Minecraft: Lockdown lesson recreates ancient island tomb

BBC Technology News - July 5, 2020 - 12:20am
The video game Minecraft becomes the perfect inspiration for some home schooling on Bronze Age history.

After a second-stage failure, Rocket Lab loses seven satellites

Ars Technica - July 5, 2020 - 12:01am

Enlarge / The Pics Or It Didn't Happen mission lifts off. (credit: Rocket Lab)

On Sunday morning, local time in New Zealand, Rocket Lab launched its 13th mission. The booster's first stage performed normally, but just as the second stage neared an altitude of 200km, something went wrong and the vehicle was lost.

In the immediate aftermath of the failure, the company did not provide any additional information about the problem that occurred with the second stage.

"We lost the flight late into the mission," said Peter Beck, the company's founder and chief executive, on Twitter. "I am incredibly sorry that we failed to deliver our customers satellites today. Rest assured we will find the issue, correct it and be back on the pad soon."

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Coronavirus: Why Singapore turned to wearable contact-tracing tech

BBC Technology News - July 5, 2020 - 12:01am
The TraceTogether Token is designed to make an app more effective, but worries privacy campaigners.

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