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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 19 min ago

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

3 hours 44 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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CDC to issue new guidelines on reopening schools after Trump blowup

5 hours 44 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

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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Amid oil- and gas-pipeline halts, Dakota Access operator ignores court

July 8, 2020 - 10:07pm

Words projected onto the EPA's headquarters during a demonstration. (credit: Victoria Pickering / Flickr)

A series of decisions in the last few days has halted or scuttled three high-profile oil- and gas-pipeline projects. The Keystone and Dakota Access oil pipelines—sources of long-running controversy—both suffered legal setbacks that will require additional environmental impact reviews. Separately, the Atlantic Coast natural gas pipeline recently won a case before the US Supreme Court, yet it has now been abandoned by the two energy companies behind it.

The Keystone XL pipeline is meant to carry oil produced in Alberta, Canada, southeast to Nebraska, but it has suffered major delays. The Dakota Access pipeline, on the other hand, has been operational for several years, carrying oil from North Dakota to southern Illinois.

Both were subjected to major protests. The Keystone protests focused on the climate impact of facilitating production in Alberta’s oil sands, where extraction is unusually energy intensive. Dakota Access was strongly opposed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe (and others), who feared the consequences of a leak where the pipeline crosses under the Missouri River on the edge of reservation land.

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Intel details Thunderbolt 4: Required DMA protection, longer cables, and more

July 8, 2020 - 9:48pm

Intel has outlined what to expect from the new Thunderbolt 4 standard, which is expected to start appearing in consumer devices later this year.

While it won't offer an increase over the 40GB/s that Thunderbolt 3 does, Thunderbolt 4 has steeper minimum requirements than Thunderbolt 3 for devices to claim certification—and that makes some new features and perks standard.

These are the specifications for Thunderbolt 4, according to Intel:

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Superpowered siblings time travel to save the world in Umbrella Academy S2 trailer

July 8, 2020 - 9:05pm

The Hargreeves siblings are scattered in time and must reunite to stop the apocalypse in the second season of The Umbrella Academy.

A group of dysfunctional siblings with superpowers travels back in time to the 1960s in the hope of warding off the apocalypse in the official trailer for the second season of The Umbrella Academy. The Netflix series is an adaptation of the award-winning Dark Horse Comics series of the same name created by Gerard Way and illustrated by Gabriel Bá.

(Spoilers for S1 below.)

The comics are set in an alternate 1977 (the year Way was born) in which President John F. Kennedy was never assassinated. The Monocle, an alien disguised as billionaire industrialist Sir Reginald Hargreeves, adopts seven surviving children out of 43 mysteriously born to random women who had not been pregnant the day before. The children are raised at Hargreeves' Umbrella Academy and become a family of superheroes with special powers. But it's a dysfunctional arrangement, and the family members ultimately disband, only reuniting as adults when Hargreeves dies.

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Harvard, MIT sue Trump admin to block deportation of online-only students

July 8, 2020 - 8:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Motortion)

Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology today sued the Trump administration to block an action that forces foreign students with nonimmigrant visas to leave the United States or transfer to different schools that offer in-person classes. The schools' complaint, filed in US District Court for the District of Massachusetts, asks for a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction preventing the administration from enforcing the new policy issued by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

In the complaint, Harvard and MIT said:

By all appearances, ICE's decision reflects an effort by the federal government to force universities to reopen in-person classes, which would require housing students in densely packed residential halls, notwithstanding the universities' judgment that it is neither safe nor educationally advisable to do so, and to force such a reopening when neither the students nor the universities have sufficient time to react to or address the additional risks to the health and safety of their communities. The effect—and perhaps even the goal—is to create as much chaos for universities and international students as possible.

The ICE policy will be especially problematic for Harvard and MIT students from certain countries, such as "Syria, where civil war and an ongoing humanitarian crisis make Internet access and study all but impossible," the lawsuit said. "Others come from Ethiopia, where the government has a practice of suspending all Internet access for extended periods, including presently, starting on June 30, 2020."

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Hong Kong downloads of Signal surge as residents fear crackdown

July 8, 2020 - 5:20pm

Enlarge (credit: d3sign / Getty)

The secure chat app Signal has become the most downloaded app in Hong Kong on both Apple's and Google's app stores, Bloomberg reports, citing data from App Annie. The surging interest in encrypted messaging comes days after the Chinese government in Beijing passed a new national security law that reduced Hong Kong's autonomy and could undermine its traditionally strong protections for civil liberties.

The 1997 handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China came with a promise that China would respect Hong Kong's autonomy for 50 years following the handover. Under the terms of that deal, Hong Kong residents should have continued to enjoy greater freedom than people on the mainland until 2047. But recently, the mainland government has appeared to renege on that deal.

Civil liberties advocates see the national security law approved last week as a major blow to freedom in Hong Kong. The New York Times reports that "the four major offenses in the law—separatism, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign countries—are ambiguously worded and give the authorities extensive power to target activists who criticize the party, activists say." Until now, Hong Kongers faced trial in the city's separate, independent judiciary. The new law opens the door for dissidents to be tried in mainland courts with less respect for civil liberties or due process.

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Scrabble players move toward banning 200+ slurs from tournament play

July 8, 2020 - 4:57pm

Enlarge / I had to squint to make sure there weren't any offensive words in this illustrative photo. (credit: Flickr / DavidMartynHunt)

The North American Scrabble Players Association (NASPA) seems poised to remove hundreds of offensive slurs from tournament-level Scrabble play. The proposed move is part of an effort by the group to "support Black Lives Matter and bring justice to our world," as organization CEO John Chew put it in a recent newsletter.

Hasbro, which publishes Scrabble, told The New York Times that NASPA has "agreed to remove all slurs from their word list for Scrabble tournament play, which is managed solely by NASPA and available only to members." The company said it will also be updating the game's rules "to make clear that slurs are not permissible in any form of the game."

But after weeks of debate, NASPA's 12-person advisory board hasn't yet officially voted on the proposal to ban over 200 offensive slurs and variations from tournament play. That vote is set for later this week.

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Ask Ars: Should you stop using the word “marijuana”?

July 8, 2020 - 4:47pm


Here's a question to ponder this morning: should people use the word "cannabis" or "marijuana" when referring to the psychoactive plant? That sounds like a pretty left-field question for a Wednesday morning, we know. But it was sparked by a lengthy discussion in the Ars office this morning, and we figured it might be interesting to get your take on the issue, particularly since the way we use language is under the spotlight right now.

Confession time: the debate was initiated by yours truly. I find it hard not to be pedantic, and since the actual names of the plants that people smoke (or vape, or eat) are cannabis sativa and cannabis indica, I think that's what we should use when we write about the topic at Ars. The word "marijuana" is also specific to North America, and while our audience is predominantly North American, it's not exclusively so.

But there's another reason to drop "marijuana" from the style guide: in the 1930s there was a conscious, racist effort by US government authorities to demonize the drug by associating it with Mexico.

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New data indicates that some Polynesians carry Native American DNA

July 8, 2020 - 4:37pm

Enlarge / The Tongariki site, built by Polynesians on Rapa Nui. New data suggests that by the time their ancestors arrived on the island, they had already had contact with South America. (credit: Andres Moreno-Estrada)

The Polynesians were the greatest explorers of the world. Starting from the vicinity of Taiwan, they sailed across vast stretches of the Pacific, settling—and in some cases, continuing to trade between—astonishingly remote islands from New Zealand to Hawaii. But it's never been quite clear whether they made the final leap, sailing from Rapa Nui to reach the nearest major land mass: South America.

There are some hints that they have, primarily the presence of South American crops throughout the Pacific. But there has been no clear genetic signature in human populations, and the whole analysis is confused by the redistribution of people and crops after the arrival of European sailors.

Now, a new study finds clear genetic indications that Polynesians and South Americans met—we've just been looking at the wrong island—and wrong part of South America—for clear evidence. The researchers also raise a tantalizing prospect: that South Americans were already living on a Polynesian island when the Polynesians got there.

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A handful of first-party Nintendo Switch games are on sale today

July 8, 2020 - 4:18pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a bundle of deals on Nintendo Switch exclusives, with a quintet of Nintendo-made games available for $40 each across Amazon and GameStop.

The discounted games include Super Mario Maker 2, the Ars-approved side-scroller/level-creation tool that lets you make your own Mario courses—with either modern or NES-style looks—and play a hypothetically infinite number of levels made by other people. (Just note that you'll need a Switch Online subscription to enjoy those and that finding the good levels requires a little extra work.) New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, meanwhile, is the updated version of an excellent traditional 2D Mario platformer; here, it plays in 1080p and includes both the base game and its New Super Luigi U expansion.

Beyond that, Splatoon 2 has been out for a few years now—and is now done with new content releases—but remains both one of the Switch's best shooters and a unique take on the online shooter format as a whole. Mario Tennis Aces is another option for competitive types; while it's more of a fighting game in a tennis body than a true tennis game, post-release patches have made it much more balanced and accessible after a somewhat rocky launch. Finally, Yoshi's Crafted World is a simplistic side-scroller, but if you'd like a cute and easygoing game for young kids, you could do worse.

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Weather scrubs Wednesday’s Starlink launch attempt [Updated]

July 8, 2020 - 3:00pm

11:50am ET Wednesday Update: Due to unfavorable weather at the launch site, SpaceX scrubbed Wednesday's launch attempt. The company has not yet confirmed a new launch attempt for the mission.

We have black skies outside the payload fairing and Black Skys inside the fairing.

— Eric Berger (@SciGuySpace) July 8, 2020

Original post: Storms rolled through the Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday afternoon—as they often do during the summer—but SpaceX continued to press forward toward launching its 10th batch of Starlink satellites.

The company will seek to launch 57 Starlink satellites, along with two Earth-observation satellites for BlackSky Global, on a Falcon 9 rocket at 11:59am ET on Wednesday (15:59 UTC) from Launch Complex-39A at Kennedy Space Center. The weather looks decent, with a 60-percent chance of favorable conditions at liftoff.

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The new Snapdragon 865 Plus packs Wi-Fi 6E, 10% higher clocks

July 8, 2020 - 2:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm is announcing its midcycle chip upgrade today: the Snapdragon 865 Plus. Like always, these "Plus" chips are higher-clocked versions of the major designs that were released earlier in the year, but new for the 865 Plus specifically is Wi-Fi 6E compatibility.

First, the speed increases: Qualcomm is promising a 10-percent faster CPU and GPU, thanks to faster clock rates. The CPU is officially up to 3.1Ghz now, and since the GPU on the Snapdragon 865 runs at 600MHz, the Plus version should be up around 660MHz.

Wi-Fi 6E

View more stories The big news, though, is the addition of Qualcomm's "FastConnect 6900" connectivity chip, which, along with peak speeds of up to 3.6 Gbps, will bring Wi-Fi 6E to smartphones. Currently, Wi-Fi works in the 2.4GHz and 5GHz frequencies, but 6E will extend Wi-Fi into the 6GHz spectrum. Theoretical top speeds won't increase, but the extra spectrum will help Wi-Fi work better in crowded areas. You can only fit so many bits into the current 2.4GHz and 5GHz airways, and if you and all your neighbors are filling the airwaves and causing a traffic jam, everyone will have to slow down. Six gigahertz Wi-Fi will add more lanes for traffic.

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Mazda adds 250 horsepower turbo engine to the 2021 Mazda 3

July 8, 2020 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / Black wheels and a black grille are a few small clues to the fact that this Mazda 3 has a turbo. (credit: Mazda)

On Wednesday morning, Mazda confirmed something enthusiasts had long hoped for: for model year 2021, the carmaker will offer a turbocharged engine as an option for the Mazda 3 hatchback and sedan. The engine is the company's 2.5L Skyactiv-G power plant, and when installed in a Mazda 3, it bumps the 3 squarely into hot-hatch territory (or hot-sedan territory, as appropriate) with 250hp (186kW) and 320lb-ft (434Nm). (If you have to feed it 87 gasoline instead of 93, power and torque decrease to 227hp (170kW) and 310lb-ft (410Nm).)

Before enthusiasts get their hopes too high, it does appear as if the turbocharged Mazda 3 will only come in all-wheel drive and only with a six-speed automatic transmission. Visually, the tweaks to the Mazda 3 Turbo are pretty subtle. There are larger tailpipes, and it wears black 18-inch alloy wheels and gloss black grilles, side-mirror housings, and spoilers.

Mazda will also offer a pair of naturally aspirated engine options for MY2021 Mazda 3s. There's the 186hp (139kW), 186lb-ft (252Nm) 2.5L Skyactiv-G version; we first drove this back in 2019 and have a review coming in the next week or so now that we've had more time in both the sedan and hatchback versions. (Spoiler alert: we still love it.) And that car will still be available as a front-wheel-drive hatchback with a manual transmission; otherwise, a six-speed auto is the only option whether FWD or AWD.

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Duke scientist questions his own research with new study faulting task fMRI

July 8, 2020 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / A new review study has bad news for scientists keen on using task-oriented fMRI to draw conclusions about any one person's brain. (credit: Duke University)

It all started with a rejected grant proposal. Ahmad Hariri, a neuroscientist at Duke University, was interested in using so-called "task fMRI"—in which subjects perform specially designed cognitive tasks while having their brains scanned—combined with genetic testing and psychological evaluations. The goal was to identify specific biomarkers for differences in how people process thoughts and emotions that might determine whether a given subject would be more or less likely to experience depression, anxiety, or age-related cognitive decline like dementia in the future.

"The idea was to collect this data once, then collect it again and again and again and be able to track changes in an individual's brain over time to help us understand what changes over the course of their lives," Hariri told Ars. So he submitted a funding proposal outlining his plans for a longitudinal study along those lines. The proposal hypothesized that an individual's history of trauma, for instance, would map onto how their amygdala reacted to threat-related stimuli. And that would, in turn, enable the researchers to say something about the future mental well-being of the individual.

Hariri and his team designed four core, task-related measures to that end: one targeting the amygdala's threat response, one targeting the hippocampus and memory, one targeting the striatum and reward, and the fourth targeting the prefrontal cortex and executive control. He thought he was on solid scientific ground. So he was shocked when the proposal wasn't even scored by reviewers, based on skepticism regarding the reliability of fMRI to collect that kind of data.

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IT pros indicted after arranging credit card payments for weed startup

July 8, 2020 - 11:55am

Enlarge / Marijuana plants in a greenhouse in Santa Cruz, California. (credit: Ian Philip Miller / Getty Images)

On March 9, 2020, a German IT consultant named Ruben Weigand had a layover in Los Angeles as he traveled from Switzerland to Costa Rica. He never made it to his destination because US authorities arrested him as he was changing planes.

The feds say Weigand and a co-conspirator, Hamid "Ray" Akhavan, were the masterminds behind a multimillion-dollar bank-fraud scheme. The supposed fraud? Tricking US banks into processing more than $100 million in marijuana transactions that went contrary to the banks' rules. According to a March indictment, the pair disguised marijuana transactions as purchases of dog toys, carbonated drinks, diving gear, and other products unrelated to cannabis.

Lawyers for the two men say this is ludicrous because the alleged bank fraud had no victims. The customers knew exactly what they were paying for. The banks involved suffered no losses—in fact, they made money from transaction fees.

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Independent reviewers offer 80 suggestions to make Starliner safer

July 7, 2020 - 11:01pm

Enlarge / The Boeing Starliner spacecraft is back home at the company's Commercial Crew and Cargo Processing Facility after its December test flight. (credit: NASA)

Following the failed test flight of Boeing's Starliner spacecraft in December, NASA on Monday released the findings of an investigation into the root causes of the launch's failure and the culture that led to them.

Over the course of its review, an independent team identified 80 "recommendations" for NASA and Boeing to address before the Starliner spacecraft launches again. In addition to calling for better oversight and documentation, these recommendations stress the need for greater hardware and software integration testing. Notably, the review team called for an end-to-end test prior to each flight using the maximum amount of flight hardware available.

This is significant, because before the December test flight, Boeing did not run an integrated software test that encompassed the roughly 48-hour period from launch through docking to the station. Instead, Boeing broke the test into chunks. The first chunk ran from launch through the point at which Starliner separated from the second stage of the Atlas V booster.

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Trump administration “looking into” ban on TikTok, other Chinese apps

July 7, 2020 - 9:35pm

Enlarge / A stand of TikTok (Douyin) at The First International Artificial Products Expo Hangzhou on October 18, 2019, in Hangzhou, China. (credit: Long Wei | VCG | Getty Images)

The Trump administration is considering banning Chinese social media apps inside the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday. The ban would start with popular short-video platform TikTok.

"We're taking this very seriously. We're certainly looking at [TikTok]," Pompeo said during a televised interview with Fox News. He directly and explicitly linked the considered ban on TikTok and other apps to the administration's actions against other Chinese tech firms.

"We've worked on this very issue for a long time, whether it was the problems of having Huawei technology in your infrastructure, we've gone all over the world and we're making real progress getting that out," he said. "We declared ZTE a danger to American national security, we've done all of these things. With respect to the Chinese apps on people's cell phones I can assure you the United States will get this one right. I don't want to get out in front of the president, but it's something we’re looking at."

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Trump “officially” takes US out of WHO, but withdrawal is a year-long process

July 7, 2020 - 9:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Westend61)

The Trump administration has officially withdrawn the United States from the World Health Organization, according to a Democratic senator and multiple news reports. But the withdrawal process will take a year, so Trump may not be able to see it through.

"Congress received notification that POTUS officially withdrew the US from the WHO in the midst of a pandemic," Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) wrote on Twitter today. "To call Trump's response to COVID chaotic and incoherent doesn't do it justice. This won't protect American lives or interests—it leaves Americans sick and America alone."

According to The Hill, a senior Trump administration official confirmed today that "the White House has officially moved to withdraw the United States from the World Health Organization."

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