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Industry & Technology

Valve secrets spill over—including Half-Life 3—in new Steam documentary app

Ars Technica - 1 hour 43 min ago

The Final Hours of Half-Life: Alyx is now live on Steam as a $10 download, and it's a phenomenal look at the underbelly of Valve video game development, told with a wealth of inside access and a host of multimedia goodies.

The project, as led by journalist Geoff Keighley, is a years-in-the-making look at Valve's journey to release a new Half-Life game, complete with stories about other attempts that never got off the ground. Separated into 12 "chapters," the app is predominately driven by Keighley's text, full of interviews and quotes, and every page comes with embedded image galleries and pictures to drive each point home.

Get ready for a Borealis-load of Valve secrets

The app's biggest dirt is arguably its confirmation of exactly what started and stopped within Valve on the way to getting Half-Life: Alyx out the door this March. That includes information on Half-Life 3—and it is a much firmer account of Valve's history than what IGN reported earlier this year.

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120,000-year-old necklace tells of the origin of string

Ars Technica - 2 hours 21 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Oz Rittner)

People living on the Israeli coast 120,000 years ago strung ocher-painted seashells on flax string, according to a recent study in which archaeologists examined microscopic traces of wear inside naturally occurring holes in the shells. That may shed some light on when people first invented string—which hints at the invention of things like clothes, fishing nets, and maybe even seafaring.

Seashells by the seashore

Picking up seashells has been a human habit for almost as long as there have been humans. Archaeologists found clam shells mingled with other artifacts in Israel’s Misliya Cave, buried in sediment layers dating from 240,000 to 160,000 years ago. The shells clearly weren’t the remains of Paleolithic seafood dinners; their battered condition meant they’d washed ashore after their former occupants had died.

For some reason, ancient people picked them up and took them home.

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Frontier misled subscribers about Internet speeds and prices, AG finds

Ars Technica - 3 hours 10 min ago

Enlarge / A Frontier Communications service van. (credit: Mike Mozart / Flickr)

Frontier Communications misled thousands of customers about the prices it charges and about the speeds its broadband network can provide, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson's office has found.

The state's investigation of Frontier's business practices found evidence of the telecom "failing to adequately disclose taxes and fees during sales of cable, Internet, and telephone services; failing to adequately disclose its Internet Infrastructure Surcharge fee in advertising; misleading consumers by implying that the Internet Infrastructure Surcharge and other fees are mandatory and/or government-related fees; and misleading consumers as to Internet speeds it could offer, and failing to deliver speeds and service as advertised."

The findings are described in a settlement that will force Frontier Communications to pay a $900,000 fine and force the new owner of Frontier's network in Washington state to change its business practices. Among other things, the settlement requires Frontier's current owner in Washington to stop charging the $3.99-per-month Internet Infrastructure Surcharge. The company "neither admits nor denies the State's findings." The settlement still needs court approval before it can take effect.

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Get your first look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 20

Ars Technica - 3 hours 30 min ago

Samsung might have recently set the Galaxy Note 20 reveal for August 5, but somebody already has a prototype unit. YouTuber Jimmy Is Promo has posted a hands-on video and a few images of the Galaxy Note 20 Ultra, the bigger of the two upcoming units.

Like previous leaks indicated, the Note 20 is even bigger than last year's model. Jimmy is Promo did an excellent job, and by taking some Note 10+ comparison shots, we can clearly see the Note 20 Ultra is taller and wider than the Note 10+, which was already one of the biggest smartphones on the market.

The Galaxy Note series is usually very close to the Galaxy S series released earlier in the year, and it looks like that's the case this year, too. Like the S20, the Note 20 goes with a curved front display and a hole punch front camera, with the one design change being taller corners. The rear camera block gets new styling with circles around each camera, making the lenses appear bigger than they really are. The camera layout looks identical to the Galaxy S20 Ultra, so expect the three big cameras to be a main camera, wide-angle lens, and a telephoto, followed by a tiny depth camera tucked away under the flash.

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The return of the $70 video game has been a long time coming

Ars Technica - 4 hours 36 min ago

Last week, 2K made waves by becoming the first publisher to set a $70 asking price for a big-budget game on the next generation of consoles. NBA2K21 will cost the now-standard $60 on the Xbox One and PlayStation 4, but 2K will ask $10 more for the upcoming Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions of the game (a $100 "Mamba Forever Edition" gives players access to current-generation and next-generation versions in a single bundle).

It remains to be seen if other publishers will follow 2K's lead and make $70 a new de facto standard for big-budget console game pricing. But while $70 would match the high-water mark for nominal game pricing, it wouldn't be a historically high asking price in terms of actual value. Thanks to inflation and changes in game distribution, in fact, the current ceiling for game prices has never been lower.

The data

To measure how the actual asking price for console games has changed over time, we relied primarily on scanned catalogs and retail advertising fliers we found online. While this information was easier to find for some years than others, we were still able to gather data for 20 distinct years across the last four decades. We then adjusted those nominal prices to constant 2020 dollars using the Bureau of Labor Statistics' CPI inflation calculator.

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Manage your expectations about the benefits of emissions cuts, study says

Ars Technica - 4 hours 45 min ago

Enlarge (credit: mat_n)

The climate is sometimes compared to a huge ship, in that it takes some time to turn it in a new direction, meaning that actions to limit global warming produce very gradual results. While the lack of instant gratification is certainly frustrating, having some indications of progress could at least sustain patience with the energy transformation needed. The problem is that Earth’s climate system differs from that metaphorical huge ship in a key way—there is a significant amount of natural variability that can also mask a change in trend.

So before we see any change in climate trends from our present actions, we have to both wait for them to start and wait for them to become large enough to be detectable against a background of natural variability.

A new study led by Bjørn Hallvard Samset takes on the question of how long it will take to clearly see the effects of reducing emissions. “This paper is about managing our expectations,” the authors say in their new work. Failure of that management could mean that undertaking the work of climate mitigation would lose support if people are expecting instantaneous progress that doesn’t materialize.

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TikTok deleted 49 million 'rule-breaking' videos

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 45 min ago
A quarter of the deleted videos contained adult nudity or sexual acts.

Google Play apps with 500,000 downloads subscribe users to costly services

Ars Technica - 5 hours 19 min ago

Enlarge (credit: portal gda / Flickr)

Hackers and Google Play have been caught up in a tense dance over the past decade. The hackers sneak malware into the Google-owned Android app repository. Google throws it out and develops defenses to prevent it from happening again. Then the hackers find a new opening and do it all over again. This two-step has played out again, this time with a malware family known as the Joker, which has been infiltrating Play since at least 2017.

The Joker is malicious code that lurks inside seemingly legitimate apps. It often waits hours or days after the app is installed to run in an attempt to evade Google’s automated malware detection. On Thursday, researchers with security firm Check Point said the Joker has struck again, this time lurking in 11 seemingly legitimate apps downloaded from Play about 500,000 times. Once activated, the malware allowed the apps to surreptitiously subscribe users to pricey premium services.

The new variant found a new trick to go undetected—it hid its malicious payload inside what’s known as the manifest, a file Google requires every app to include in its root directory. Google’s intent is for the XML file to provide more transparency by making permissions, icons, and other information about the app easy to find.

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Elon Musk says full self-driving Tesla tech 'very close'

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 41 min ago
A future software update could activate full "level-five" autonomy in cars, the Tesla founder says.

Ninja returns to YouTube to stream Fortnite

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 46 min ago
Fortnite star Ninja has returned to streaming after leaving Mixer.

'UK faces mobile blackouts if Huawei 5G ban imposed by 2023'

BBC Technology News - 8 hours 33 sec ago
BT and Vodafone warn that users will face days without a mobile signal if a 2023 ban is imposed.

Facebook bans 'Roger Stone disinformation network'

BBC Technology News - 8 hours 38 min ago
The ally of US President Donald Trump was convicted of lying to Congress.

Is SARS-CoV-2 airborne? Questions abound—but here’s what we know

Ars Technica - 9 hours 11 min ago

Enlarge / A doctor wears a hood as he tests the seal of an N95 respiratory mask during a training at the La Clinica San Antonio Neighborhood Health Center in California. (credit: Getty | Justin Sullivan)

A debate has erupted among researchers over the potential for the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, to spread through the air and—if it does so often enough—what to do about it.

Though talk of airborne transmission has been simmering since the beginning of the pandemic, it reached a boiling point this week following a letter penned by two researchers and addressed to “national and international bodies.” The letter, eventually signed by 239 researchers, urged those bodies to acknowledge the potential for airborne spread and to recommend control measures aimed at preventing it.

“Most public health organizations, including the World Health Organization, do not recognize airborne transmission except for aerosol-generating procedures [AGPs] performed in healthcare settings,” the letter stated. The evidence on airborne transmission is “admittedly incomplete,” the letter went on, but “[f]ollowing the precautionary principle, we must address every potentially important pathway to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

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UK universities comply with China's internet restrictions

BBC Technology News - 12 hours 19 min ago
But universities reject that tests on online learning in China are accepting "censorship".

First teaser for The Boys S2 promises another wild and bloody ride

Ars Technica - 19 hours 50 min ago

Our vigilantes are on the run from Homelander (Antony Starr) and the rest of the Seven in the second season of Amazon Prime's The Boys.

The war between corrupt, evil superheroes and a ragtag band of vigilantes out to expose their true nature and curb the power of "super" in society will escalate dramatically, judging by the first teaser for S2 of The Boys. The Amazon Prime series—one of the most watched on the streaming platform when it debuted last year—is based on the comics of the same name by Garth Ennis and Darick Robertson.

(S1 spoilers below.)

The Boys is set in a fictional universe where superheroes are real but corrupted by corporate interests and a toxic celebrity-obsessed culture. Billy Butcher (Karl Urban) is a self-appointed vigilante intent on checking the bad behavior of the so-called "supes"—especially The Seven, the most elite superhero squad and, hence, the most corrupt. Butcher especially hates Seven leader Homelander (Antony Starr), a psychopath who raped his now-dead wife. Butcher recruits an equally traumatized young man named Hugh "Hughie" Campbell (Jack Quaid, son of Dennis) to help in his revenge, after another Seven member, A-Train (Jessie T. Usher), used his super-speed to literally run through Hughie's girlfriend, killing her instantly.

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Smartwatch hack could send fake pill reminders to patients

BBC Technology News - 21 hours 25 min ago
Researchers find a software security flaw that could easily be abused by hackers.

The tech behind Virgin Orbit's mission to space

BBC Technology News - 21 hours 26 min ago
Marc Cieslak looks at how Virgin Orbit plans to launch its rockets from a plane.

Loot boxes: I blew my university savings gaming on Fifa

BBC Technology News - 21 hours 29 min ago
How one teenager spent nearly £3,000 on his "addiction" to video game loot boxes.

CDC to issue new guidelines on reopening schools after Trump blowup

Ars Technica - 21 hours 50 min ago

Enlarge / Schoolchildren wearing protective mouth masks and face shields attend a course in their classroom at Claude Debussy college in Angers, western France, on May 18, 2020, after France eased lockdown measures to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the novel coronavirus. (credit: Damien Meyer / AFP / Getty Images)

On the heels of criticism from President Trump, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is planning to release updated guidance documents outlining how schools can safely reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Vice President Mike Pence announced the upcoming documents Wednesday, just hours after Trump took to Twitter to blast the agency’s current guidelines.

“Well, the president said today, we just don’t want the guidance to be too tough,” Pence said in a press briefing for the White House Coronavirus Task Force. “That’s the reason why next week, the CDC is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward.”

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Microsoft neuters Office 365 account attacks that used clever ruse

Ars Technica - July 8, 2020 - 10:59pm

Enlarge (credit: Emerson Alecrim / Flickr)

Microsoft has neutered a large-scale fraud campaign that used knock-off domains and malicious apps to scam customers in 62 countries around the world.

The software maker and cloud-service provider last week obtained a court order that allowed it to seize six domains, five of which contained the word “office.” The company said attackers used them in a sophisticated campaign designed to trick CEOs and other high-ranking business leaders into wiring large sums of money to attackers rather than trusted parties. An earlier so-called BEC, or business email compromise, that the same group of attackers carried out in December used phishing attacks to obtain unauthorized access. The emails used generic business themes such as quarterly earnings reports. Microsoft used technical means to shut it down.

The attackers returned with a new BEC that took a different tack: instead of tricking targets into logging in to lookalike sites, and consequently divulging the passwords, the scam used emails that instructed the recipient to give what was purported to be a Microsoft app access to an Office 365 account. The latest scam used the COVID-19 pandemic as a lure.

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