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Industry & Technology

The next Xbox has a name and a new design: Behold, 2020’s Xbox Series X

Ars Technica - 3 hours 9 min ago

The next Xbox console, slated to launch in holiday 2020, finally has a name: Xbox Series X. The system that was formerly dubbed Project Scarlett also has a bold, vertical design and a slightly modified controller, as seen in the above gallery.

Xbox chief Phil Spencer took the stage at Thursday night's The Game Awards to reveal the new monolith-shaped console, which Gamespot reports is roughly as wide as an Xbox One controller and roughly three times as tall. Its appearance came at the end of a trailer full of apparent Xbox Series X "real-time" rendering, which included Halo's Master Chief, a red sports car (potentially from the Xbox-exclusive racing series Forza), and a soccer match.

Important details were confirmed by a few angles of the new Xbox console: an apparent disc drive; a vent-covered top with either painted or backlit green coloring; and a slightly modified update to the Xbox One gamepad. This new controller looks largely like the current generation's default controller, but it has a new circle base to its d-pad and a new button in the controller's middle that resembles an "upload" icon from Windows. Spencer has confirmed that this will function as a "share" button (much like a similar button on PlayStation 4's DualShock 4) and that the new Series X controller will be compatible with existing Xbox One systems, not just the new Xbox Series X.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Where the money is really made at Amazon

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 50 min ago
Amazon's cloud computing business has been a big hit, but faces some big challenges as its boss explains.

Review: Castle Rock’s signature slow burn pays off in tight, twisty finale

Ars Technica - 6 hours 40 min ago

Lizzy Caplan portrays Annie Wilkes, one of Stephen King's most memorable characters—from the novel Misery—in the second season of Hulu's anthology series, Castle Rock.

A nurse on the run with her teenaged daughter ends up stranded in a small Maine town where something evil lurks in the second season of Castle Rock, Hulu's psychological horror anthology series that draws inspiration from the works of Stephen King. The series was a surprising breakout hit last summer, and this new season doesn't disappoint, bringing the same slow burn and unexpected twists leading to a riveting finale.

(Mild spoilers for season one and season two below.)

The fictional town of Castle Rock features in so many of King's novels that co-creators Sam Shaw and Dustin Thomason thought they could use it as an organizing principle for their storytelling. The series is less a direct adaptation of King's works and more new stories set in the fictional town that occasionally bump up against various books. The biggest King influences for season one were The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile—in other words, a prison-centric setting with themes of crime and punishment. Shawshank tells the story of a prisoner's disappearance, while Castle Rock's focus is the mysterious appearance of a prisoner nobody knew about.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Judge serves up sizzling rebuke of Arkansas’ anti-veggie-meat labeling law

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 11:51pm

Enlarge / Tofurky's bourbon glazed ham. (credit: Tofurky)

A federal judge on Tuesday roasted Arkansas' law banning makers of meatless meat products from using words such as "burger," "sausage," "roast," and "meat" in their labeling. The law also established fines of $1,000 for each individual label in violation.

Known as Act 501, the law passed state lawmakers in March but has yet to be enforced. If it had, meatless-meat makers, such as Tofurky, would be forced to stop selling their products in the state, face a ruinous amount of fines, or change their labeling of meatless burgers and sausages to unappetizing and vague descriptors, such as "savory plant-based protein" and "veggie tubes."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The Good Food Institute, and Animal Legal Defense Fund challenged Act 501 on behalf of Tofurky in July. Together, the groups argued that the law amounted to a ham-fisted attempt by meat-backed lawmakers to protect the profits of the dairy and meat industry and stifle popular meatless competition.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Nebula VPN routes between hosts privately, flexibly, and efficiently

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 11:30pm

Last month, the engineering department at Slack—an instant messaging platform commonly used for community and small business organization—released a new distributed VPN mesh tool called Nebula. Nebula is free and open source software, available under the MIT license.

It's difficult to coherently explain Nebula in a nutshell. According to the people on Slack's engineering team, they asked themselves "what is the easiest way to securely connect tens of thousands of computers, hosted at multiple cloud service providers in dozens of locations around the globe?" And (developing) Nebula was the best answer they had. It's a portable, scalable overlay networking tool that runs on most major platforms, including Linux, MacOS, and Windows, with some mobile device support planned for the near future.

Nebula-transmitted data is fully encrypted using the Noise protocol framework, which is also used in modern, highly security-focused projects such as Signal and WireGuard. Unlike more traditional VPN technologies—including WireGuard—Nebula automatically and dynamically discovers available routes between nodes and sends traffic down the most efficient path between any two nodes rather than forcing everything through a central distribution point.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Wave of Ring surveillance camera hacks tied to podcast, report finds

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 11:10pm

Enlarge / An Amazon Ring security camera on display during an unveiling event on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018. (credit: Andrew Burton | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

A series of creepy Ring camera intrusions, including one where a stranger sang to an 8-year-old child and said he was Santa Claus, may be linked through a forum and associated livestream podcast, a new report finds.

The cluster of hacks, first reported by local media outlets, have become national news in the past few days. In all the cases, some bad actor accessed indoor Ring cameras (not doorbells) and used them to harass, intimidate, or attempt to extort the residents.

One family in Florida suddenly heard racist commentary about their teenage son coming from their Ring camera on Sunday night. On Monday, someone yelled at a couple in Georgia to "wake up." Another family, in Tennessee, heard a voice taunting their daughter through a camera in their kids' room on Tuesday. And in Texas yesterday, someone tried to demand a ransom to exit the household camera system, telling the homeowners to pay 50 bitcoin (roughly $360,000).

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

988 will be the new 911 for suicide prevention—by sometime in 2021

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 8:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Chris McLoughlin)

The Federal Communications Commission plans to designate 988 as the short dialing code for the United States' suicide-prevention hotline. Much like 911 for general emergencies, 988 could be dialed by anyone undergoing a mental health crisis and/or considering suicide.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can already be reached at 1-800-273-8255 (or 1-800-273-TALK), but the FCC today gave preliminary approval to a plan that would make 988 redirect to that hotline. The commission's unanimous vote approved a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) that seeks public comment on the plan.

Once the NPRM is published in the Federal Register, there will be a 60-day period for taking public comments, and the FCC would finalize the plan after considering the public input. It could take another 18 months after that to implement 988 nationwide, depending on what requirements the FCC imposes on phone providers.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Emotion-detecting tech should be restricted by law - AI Now

BBC Technology News - December 12, 2019 - 8:15pm
A US-based AI institute says that the science behind the technology rests on "shaky foundations".

Chrome 79 will continuously scan your passwords against public data breaches

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 7:25pm

Enlarge (credit: Google)

Google's password checking feature has slowly been spreading across the Google ecosystem this past year. It started as the "Password Checkup" extension for desktop versions of Chrome, which would audit individual passwords when you entered them, and several months later it was integrated into every Google account as an on-demand audit you can run on all your saved passwords. Now, instead of a Chrome extension, Password Checkup is being integrated into the desktop and mobile versions of Chrome 79.

All of these Password Checkup features work for people who have their username and password combos saved in Chrome and have them synced to Google's servers. Google figures that since it has a big (encrypted) database of all your passwords, it might as well compare them against a 4-billion-strong public list of compromised usernames and passwords that have been exposed in innumerable security breaches over the years. Any time Google hits a match, it notifies you that a specific set of credentials is public and unsafe and that you should probably change the password.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Nintendo’s Switch Pro Controller is down to $55 today

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 7:13pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today, the Dealmaster's tech discount roundup is headlined by a deal on the Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, which is currently down to $55. While this isn't the absolute lowest we've seen Nintendo's ergonomically friendly gamepad fall, it is the cheapest we've seen it in some time, as drops below $60 have been infrequent over the past year. The controller normally retails closer to its $70 MSRP. For reference, it only fell to $62 on Black Friday.

The Pro Controller itself is worth it if you frequently use the Switch docked to a TV. As we note in our guide to the best Nintendo Switch accessories, it's much more akin to an Xbox One controller than the Switch's default Joy-Cons, whose tiny buttons and joysticks can become uncomfortable over time. The Switch Pro pad should present no such issues—its face buttons and triggers are sized more appropriately for adult hands, its joysticks are tight and responsive, its textured handles give plenty of room to grip, and it has an actual d-pad. Its battery lasts around 40 hours on a charge, which is excellent, and it can pair with a gaming PC over Bluetooth. The only big downsides are that getting it to work with those PCs can require a little extra setup and that there's no headphone jack for hooking up a headset. Still, it's a massive upgrade for those who get lots of mileage out of Nintendo's console.

If you have no need for a better Switch gamepad, though, we also have a variety of deals on Switch console bundles, the latest Apple iPad, a deal that pairs an Echo Dot with a month of Amazon's Music Unlimited service for $1 extra, sales on various Anker accessories, a discount on Ars-approved board game Azul, and more. Check them all out in the full list below.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Why new consoles probably won’t be enough to save GameStop

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 6:53pm

Enlarge / How long will this be a common sight in malls across America? (credit: Flickr / JeepersMedia)

Things continue to look rough for struggling brick-and-mortar game retailer GameStop. This week, the company announced comparable store sales were down 23.2 percent year over year for the third quarter of 2019. It's a decrease led by a whopping 45.8 percent decline in hardware sales and a 32.6 percent fall in software sales.

Those are hard numbers to spin, especially when they're leading to corporate layoffs and hundreds of store shutdowns (including the newly announced shuttering of all GameStop stores in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden by the end of 2020). But GameStop CEO George Sherman attempted to put a good face on the results in an earnings call this week. There, he argued GameStop's current troubles are a predictable result of the end of the current console generation—and consumer anticipation of upcoming consoles from Sony and Microsoft—as much as anything else.

"With 'generation nine' consoles on the horizon set to bring excitement and significant innovation to the video game space, those anticipated releases in late 2020 are putting pressure on the current generation of consoles and related games, as consumers wait for new technology and publishers address their software delivery plans," Sherman said.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Anti-vax students say outbreak response violates civil rights—judge disagrees

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 6:41pm

Enlarge / This image depicts a child with a mumps infection. Note the characteristic swollen neck region due to an enlargement of the boy’s salivary glands. (credit: CDC)

With a one-sentence order Tuesday, an Arkansas judge rejected a request from two unvaccinated University of Arkansas students to have the court block a public health decree that temporarily bars them from classes amid a mumps outbreak.

The Arkansas Department of Health reported that as of December 5, there have been 26 cases of mumps at the university since September. Twenty of those cases occurred in November. According to a recent report in The Washington Post, the outbreak decleated the school’s already struggling football team, knocking out as many as 15 players and a few coaches from the end of its dismal two-win season.

On November 22, the health department issued a directive that any student who had not received two doses of the MMR vaccine (which protects against mumps, measles, and rubella) must either get vaccinated immediately or be barred from classes and school activities for 26 days. As of last week,168 students lacked the vaccinations and were barred from classes.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Russia’s only carrier, damaged in shipyard accident, now on fire

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 4:13pm

Enlarge / MURMANSK, RUSSIA - DECEMBER 12, 2019: A fire has broken out aboard the Project 11435 aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov of the Russian Northern Fleet. Admiral Kuznetsov is the only aircraft carrier of the Russian Navy. Lev Fedoseyev/TASS (credit: TASS / Lev Fedosev)

The Admiral Kuznetsov, Russia's only aircraft carrier, caught fire today during repairs in Murmansk. While officials of the shipyard said that no shipyard workers were injured, Russia's TASS news service reports that at least 12 people (likely Kuznetsov sailors) were injured, some critically. In addition, three people, possibly including the third-rank captain in charge of the ship's repairs, are unaccounted for.

The Kuznetsov has had a long string of bad luck, experiencing fires at sea, oil spills, and landing deck accidents—including a snapped arresting wire that caused a landing Sukhoi Su-33 fighter to roll off the end of the deck and into the ocean. Its boilers belched black smoke during the ship's transit to Syria in 2016, and it had to be towed back home after breaking down during its return in 2017. Then last year, as it was undergoing repairs in a floating drydock in Murmansk's Shipyard 82, the drydock sank and a crane on the drydock slammed into the Kuznetsov, leaving a gash in the ship's hull. It looked like completion of repairs might be put off indefinitely because repair of the drydock would take over a year, and the budget for repairs had been slashed.

The fire was caused when sparks from welding work near one of the ship's electrical distribution compartments set a cable on fire. The fire spread through the wiring throughout compartments of the lower deck of the ship, eventually involving 120 square meters (1,300 square feet) of the ship's spaces.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Man killed by Lexus car being remotely started

BBC Technology News - December 12, 2019 - 4:13pm
Michael Kosanovich was standing between two cars when one was accidentally started with a remote.

Minecraft diamond challenge leaves AI creators stumped

BBC Technology News - December 12, 2019 - 3:24pm
Humans usually take minutes to learn how to find diamonds in the game, but AI agents struggled.

Santa hacker speaks to girl via smart camera

BBC Technology News - December 12, 2019 - 3:02pm
Video shows a hacker talking to a young girl in her bedroom via her family's Ring camera.

Win part of a $4,500 prize pool in the 2019 Ars Technica Charity Drive

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Just some of the prizes you could win by entering our Charity Drive sweepstakes.

It's once again that special time of year when we give you a chance to do well by doing good. That's right—it's time for the 2019 edition of our annual Charity Drive.

Every year since 2007, we've been actively encouraging readers to give to Penny Arcade's Child's Play charity, which provides toys and games to kids being treated in hospitals around the world. In recent years, we've added the Electronic Frontier Foundation to our annual charity push, aiding in their efforts to defend Internet freedom. This year, as always, we're providing some extra incentive for those donations by offering donors a chance to win pieces of our big pile of vendor-provided swag. We can't keep it (ethically), and we don't want it clogging up our offices anyway. So, it's now yours to win.

This year's swag pile is full of high-value geek goodies. We have over 50 prizes amounting to over $4,500 in value, including game consoles, computer accessories, collectibles, smartwatches, and more. In 2018, Ars readers raised over $20,000 for charity, contributing to a total haul of more than $300,000 since 2007. We want to raise even more this year, and we can do it if readers really dig deep.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

This 3D-printed Stanford bunny also holds the data for its own reproduction

Ars Technica - December 12, 2019 - 1:15pm

Courtesy ETH Zurich.

It's now possible to store the digital instructions for 3D printing an everyday object into the object itself (much like DNA stores the code for life), according to a new paper in Nature Biotechnology. Scientists demonstrated this new "DNA of things" by fabricating a 3D-printed version of the Stanford bunny—a common test model in 3D computer graphics—that stored the printing instructions to reproduce the bunny.

DNA has four chemical building blocks—adenine (A), thymine (T), guanine (G), and cytosine (C)—which constitute a type of code. Information can be stored in DNA by converting the data from binary code to a base 4 code and assigning it one of the four letters. As Ars' John Timmer explained last year:

Once a bit of data is translated, it's chopped up into smaller pieces (usually 100 to 150 bases long) and inserted in between ends that make it easier to copy and sequence. These ends also contain some information where the data resides in the overall storage scheme—i.e., these are bytes 197 to 300. To restore the data, all the DNA has to be sequenced, the locational information read, and the DNA sequence decoded. In fact, the DNA needs to be sequenced several times over, since there are errors and a degree of randomness involved in how often any fragment will end up being sequenced.

DNA has significantly higher data density than conventional storage systems. A single gram can represent nearly 1 billion terabytes (1 zettabyte) of data. And it's a robust medium: the stored data can be preserved for long periods of time—decades, or even centuries. But using DNA for data storage also presents some imposing challenges. For instance, storing and retrieving data from DNA usually takes a significant amount of time, given all the sequencing required. And our ability to synthesize DNA still has a long way to go before it becomes a practical data storage medium.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Boneworks review: An absolute VR mess—yet somehow momentous

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

It's not Half-Life, they keep saying. But maybe Boneworks shouldn't have leaned so freaking heavily into the obvious visual similarities, considering how this week's new VR game doesn't quite hold up compared to its Valve inspirations. Still, it's a remarkable VR achievement. (credit: Stress Level Zero)

For years, an ambitious game called Boneworks has hovered in the periphery of the VR enthusiast community, inspiring equal parts drool and confusion. It's made by a scrappy-yet-experienced VR team (makers of quality fare like Hover Junkers and Duck Season). It revolves around realistic guns and a complicated physics system—thus immediately looking more ambitious than other "VR gun adventure" games in the wild.

And it so strongly resembled Half-Life in its preview teases, both in aesthetics and in physics-filled puzzles, that fans wondered if this was the oft-rumored Half-Life VR game after all. (It's not.)

Now that Boneworks has launched for all PC-VR platforms, does the gaming world finally have an adventure game worthy of an "only in VR" designation? The answer to that question is a resounding "yes"—but that's not the same as saying it's a good video game.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The NHS robots performing major surgery

BBC Technology News - December 12, 2019 - 1:27am
It all seems futuristic but 2019 has seen a boom in the use of cutting edge robotic technology.

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