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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 57 min 6 sec ago

BMW has a new all-electric model coming in 2020—the iX3

2 hours 31 min ago


On Wednesday at the Auto China 2018 show in Beijing, BMW gave the world a preview of its newest electric vehicle. It's called the iX3, and it will be the first long-range battery EV from the German automaker. Based on the current X3 crossover, the iX3 will ditch that car's internal combustion engines for a 200kW (270hp) electric motor-generator unit (MGU), coupled to a 70kWh lithium-ion battery. That should be sufficient for a range of 250 miles (400km) according to BMW, although that's according to the WLTP cycle; the EPA testing cycle is closer to real-world performance and is therefore more conservative. Additionally, it will be able to charge at 150kW.

There are a number of notable things about the iX3. First, it will use the fifth-generation of BMW's eDrive powertrain, which now groups the MGU, the transmission, and the control electronics into a single unit. What's more, BMW says that the MGU does not use any rare Earth elements in its production, presumably indicating it's an induction and not brushless design. The availability of these minerals is of increasing concern to automakers given China's control of these resources, and in the past couple of years we've seen both Honda and Toyota develop MGUs with a reduced need for some rare Earth elements. Tesla has also been using rare Earth-free AC-induction MGUs in the Model S and Model X EVs, but that company has switched to a brushless design for the Model 3.

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Drupal users take cover—code-execution bug is being actively exploited [updated]

2 hours 44 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Lisa Brewster / Flickr)

Malicious hackers wasted no time exploiting a critical bug in the Drupal content management system that allows them to execute malicious code on website servers. Just hours after maintainers of the open-source program disclosed the vulnerability, it came under active attack, they said.

So far, the attackers are using proof-of-concept attack code published online that shows one method of exploiting the critical flaw, Drupal maintainer Greg Knaddison told Ars. The code has not yet been automated in a way that can target large numbers of sites, in large part because successful exploits require permissions and configuration settings that differ from site to site. So far, Drupal maintainers aren't aware of any successful site take-overs resulting from the vulnerability.

"We have definitely seen proof of concept exploits published online," Knaddison wrote in an e-mail. "It's safe to assume that proof of concept (or others like it) are being used maliciously against individual sites by people who are willing to slowly attack a high value target. It's not yet automated in a way that would let an attacker try it against hundreds of sites."

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Trump’s cell phone use is security “nightmare” waiting to happen, lawmakers say

3 hours 37 min ago

Enlarge / A fan dressed as President Donald Trump keeps his fingers moving on his iPhone during the Carolina Panthers against Tampa Bay Buccaneers game on Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017 at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. (credit: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS via Getty Images)

Two congressional Democrats have sent a formal letter to top White House and law enforcement officials, seeking more information about the president’s use of an unsecured cell phone.

The letter, which was sent Wednesday by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-California) and Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-Arizona), comes after recent media reports that Donald Trump is making "increased use" of his personal phone.

Last year, Trump reportedly had an iPhone with just one app on it: Twitter.

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Philips launches a 43-inch HDR monitor that reaches 1,000 nits of brightness

April 25, 2018 - 9:10pm


EPI this week announced a new 4K monitor under the Philips brand called the Philips Momentum 436M6, which will arrive in mid-to-late June for $999.99. At 43 inches, it’s big, but most notably it’s the first PC monitor to gain DisplayHDR 1000 certification from the Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA), the organization that sets standards for displays and other electronics.

VESA introduced the DisplayHDR spec last December to create a consistent and open standard for high dynamic range (HDR) performance on LCD displays, most prominently PC monitors. There are three tiers to the benchmark: DisplayHDR 400 for low-end HDR panels, DisplayHDR 600 for those in the mid-range, and DisplayHDR 1000 for higher-end screens. We’ve seen a handful of monitors sporting the first two classifications in recent months, but this is the first to officially claim the top-level spec.

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California can look forward to more extreme dry-wet “climate whiplash”

April 25, 2018 - 9:00pm

Enlarge / California's Lake McClure got low during drought in 2015 but swelled by early 2017 after a very wet winter. (credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

As the last few years have reminded us, California weather means you have to be prepared for anything. From 2012 to 2016, the Golden State saw a historic drought that led to water restrictions—and saw land areas sinking as groundwater use increased to compensate. But the winter of 2016 brought too much rain, producing flooding and evacuations below the Oroville Dam.

Variable rainfall is a natural component of California’s climate, but what will happen as climate change continues to play out? That’s the question a team led by UCLA’s Daniel Swain recently set out to answer.

Sim California

Though climate change projections show a warmer California, total rainfall isn’t expected to change much. But in this case, the researchers used climate model simulations to analyze precipitation variability, specifically, rather than just annual totals. They compared historical weather records, an 1,800-year-long simulation of the climate pre-Industrial-Revolution, and 40 simulations of climate change from 1920 to 2100 (assuming high future greenhouse gas emissions). These long simulations allowed them to accumulate meaningful statistics for different weather patterns.

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Azure Container Instances bring serverless computing to containers

April 25, 2018 - 8:47pm

Enlarge (credit: Ana Ulin)

Azure Container Instances (ACI), which let you create Linux and Windows containers without having to manage the virtual machines they run on, are now generally available.

ACI brings serverless principles to containerized applications. Serverless computing, pioneered by Amazon's Lambda and found on Azure as Functions, is designed to defer all system management (physical and virtual machine deployment and patching) and load-based scaling decisions to the platform provider. Developers just write their application code; they no longer have to care about spinning up virtual machines, updating operating systems, cutting over to new hardware, or anything else.

Traditional container deployments require virtual machines to run on. With ACI's serverless containers, the management of those virtual machines goes away. ACI containers can be deployed using Microsoft's own Azure interface, or with Kubernetes, without needing any VMs to be spun up first. The containers are billed according to how much processor time and memory they use on a per second basis: $0.000012 per CPU-second, $0.000004 per GB of memory-second.

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A fan-made Halo PC patch meets Microsoft’s legal muscle—and apparently survives

April 25, 2018 - 7:48pm

Enlarge / Want to play the canceled Halo Online project on your PC? Go through the right hoops, and you can still do so, even in spite of Microsoft's legal action this week. (credit: Microsoft / El Dewrito)

On Tuesday, Microsoft's Halo development studio 343 Industries posted about a fan-made modification to a PC version of the series—and the studio said that Microsoft would "protect its Halo intellectual property." This, for all intents and purposes, sounded like yet another story of a fan-made game-tribute project facing a swift, legal smackdown.

But the story of the ElDewrito patch, designed for 2015's Russia-only game Halo Online, appears to be a little more nuanced, if not complicated. The ElDewrito version of Halo Online is still online and functioning, with thousands of players matchmaking in its wholly free online multiplayer lobbies as of press time. Its Github repository is still online, which means the open source patch can still be downloaded. And the patch builders' official blog says the team did not receive a formal cease-and-desist order from either Microsoft or 343 Industries.

The result is fascinating: a solid, Windows-compatible version of classic Halo 3 combat is in the wild. Now Microsoft's required legal action is being announced alongside an apparent intent to do what the modders were already doing—to finally get more classic Halo games working for PC gamers.

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Behind the scenes with the hackers who unlocked the Nintendo Switch

April 25, 2018 - 7:35pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

For end users, Monday's public disclosure of the Fusée Gelée exploit will make it relatively simple to run arbitrary code on the Nintendo Switch and other Nvidia Tegra X1-based hardware. For Kate Temkin and the hackers at Team ReSwitched, though, discovering and publicizing the exploit was full of technical and ethical difficulties.

ReSwitched's work on the Switch began last year, Temkin tells Ars, with an engineer going by the handle Hedgeberg working on "voltage glitching, a technique where we very, very briefly momentarily deprived the processor of power in order to make it misbehave. On Tegra X1 processors, if you precisely time that power 'glitch,' you can actually bypass the point where the system 'locks' the bootROM—effectively bypassing the mechanism that keeps the bootROM code secret."

By October, the team had used this method to extract a copy of that secretive bootROM, and by January, Temkin says she was spending weeks reverse-engineering and documenting that code. That process "involves comparing views of machine code we'd extracted to Nvidia's technical documentation and gradually inferring what the code was intended to do," Temkin said.

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Mysterious page hints at forthcoming Fire TV Cube

April 25, 2018 - 6:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Amazon)

Signs point to the rumored Amazon Fire TV Cube being a real device that may debut soon. AFTVNews first spotted a new page on that promotes the device with the slogan, "What is Fire TV Cube?" The page provides no other details about the device, but it allows those interested to sign up to receive more information as it becomes available.

Last September, AFTVNews also first leaked images of what we now refer to as the rumored Fire TV Cube. The renders make it look like a cube-version of an Echo Dot, with mute, action, and volume buttons on the top and edges covered with strips of blue light. As part of the Fire TV family, the Cube could be a set-top box of sorts that lets users stream video, music, and other content provided by Amazon and the Fire TV platform.

Amazon still sells the Fire TV stick and released the new Fire TV with 4K HDR support shortly after the image of the Fire TV Cube leaked (those leaks incidentally also included a render of the new Fire TV with 4K HDR). All Fire TV devices can make use of Amazon's Alexa, but they need an Echo device or a compatible remote to do so. The Fire TV Cube is rumored to eliminate the need for the Echo device or the remote by having Alexa built in, which would cement its existence as a streaming-capable, Echo Dot-like hybrid device.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments gets its biggest upgrade since 2011 with today’s redesign launch

April 25, 2018 - 6:08pm


Today, Google is making the biggest changes to Gmail since 2011. The huge redesign that leaked earlier this month is finally going live, and all the features in that leak have been confirmed by Google. Gmail is getting a new design that seems to align with our theorized "Material Design 2" design principles. A pane on the right side shows in-line interfaces for Google Calendar, Google Keep, and Google Tasks. In the future you'll be able to send "Confidential" emails that expire at a set time or can be unsent at any time. Gmail now also has features from Google Inbox like snoozing emails and computer generated Smart Replies.

Google is picking today as the announcement and launch day, but Google's painfully slow rollouts mean you won't necessarily have access to the new Gmail immediately. When the Gmail upgrade comes to your account, you'll be able to click on the gear and select "try the new Gmail." For a personal account, this will just happen at some point in the future; GSuite users will need their admins to enable the opt-in message. If you're not a fan of the new design, you can return to the old 2011 Gmail at any time through the gear menu.

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Verizon says Yahoo users must waive class-action rights—or stop using Yahoo

April 25, 2018 - 5:40pm

Enlarge / A sign outside a Yahoo corporate building in Los Angeles. (credit: Getty Images | FG/Bauer-Griffin Getty Images | )

Verizon is forcing users of Yahoo services to waive their class-action rights and agree to resolve disputes through arbitration. Yahoo users who don't agree to the new terms will be cut off from the services, though Verizon hasn't said exactly when the cutoff date is.

The change happens as Verizon fights lawsuits related to a 2013 data breach that affected all three billion Yahoo accounts. The company could try to use the new class-action waiver to fight such lawsuits after any future incidents.

Verizon completed its $4.48 billion acquisition of Yahoo's operating business in June 2017, and the company formed a new subsidiary called "Oath" that combines Yahoo and the Verizon-owned AOL.

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Video game loot boxes are now considered criminal gambling in Belgium

April 25, 2018 - 4:58pm

Enlarge / This innocuous-looking Overwatch loot box is now criminal in Belgium, according to the country's gambling regulators.

The Belgian Gaming Commission has determined that randomized loot boxes in at least three games count as "games of chance," and publishers could therefore be subject to fines and prison sentences under the country's gaming legislation.

A statement by Belgian Minister of Justice Koen Geens (machine translation) identifies loot boxes in Overwatch, FIFA 18, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive as meeting the criteria for that "game of chance" definition: i.e., "there is a game element [where] a bet can lead to profit or loss and chance has a role in the game." The Commission also looked at Star Wars: Battlefront II and determined that the recent changes EA made to the game means it "no longer technically forms a game of chance."

Beyond that simple definition, the Gaming Commission expressed concern over games that draw in players with an "emotional profit forecast" of randomized goods, where players "buy an advantage with real money without knowing what benefit it would be." The fact that these games don't disclose the odds of receiving specific in-game items is also worrisome, the Commission said.

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Researchers edit coral genes, hope to understand how to save them

April 25, 2018 - 4:50pm

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

Coral reefs are the poster-organisms for ecosystem services, aiding fisheries, promoting biodiversity, and protecting land from heavy waves. Unfortunately, we seem to be repaying them by killing them. Our warming oceans are causing coral bleaching and death, rising sea levels will force them to move, and the acidification of our oceans will make it harder for them to form reefs. It would be nice if we could help them, but interventions are difficult to design when you don't know enough about coral biology.

Now scientists have announced a new tool is available to study corals: genetic editing provided by the CRISPR/Cas9 system. The ability to selectively eliminate genes could help us understand how corals function normally and could eventually provide a tool that lets us help them ride out climate change.

Coral complexities

You might think that we'd have a pretty good grasp of coral biology, given the amount of study that reefs receive. But much of that study has focused on coral reefs as an ecosystem, rather than coral as an organism. And that's a big barrier to helping these reef-builders survive in our changing world. To give one example, coral bleaching is caused by a heat-driven breakdown in the symbiosis between coral and a photosynthetic algae that provides the coral with food. Corals that live in warmer waters are clearly able to form partnerships with heat-tolerant algae, but the precise mechanics of which species partner with what algae aren't well understood.

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“You may shut the f— up”: Dashcam vindicates cops confronting corruption

April 25, 2018 - 4:36pm

This video was released Tuesday by Tenafly police.

Sometimes, dashcams and bodycams catch police in their worst behavior. But a video released on Tuesday shows police in Tenafly, New Jersey exercising remarkable restraint in the face of badgering by Caren Turner, a commissioner from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Turner, who was appointed to the position by former Governor Chris Christie, suddenly resigned last week.

"Commissioner Turner's resignation was appropriate given her outrageous conduct," a Port Authority official said in a statement to

Turner's daughter was riding in a friend's car on March 31 when police pulled the car over. Police decided to tow the vehicle after determining that the car's Nevada registration had expired and the driver couldn't produce proof of insurance. Turner was called to pick up the daughter and her friends, but when Turner arrived, she tried to intercede with the police officers. "I'm here as a concerned citizen and friend of the mayor," Turner told the officers. "I take full responsibility for them."

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Ever wanted to see a race series just for Teslas? I’ve got good news

April 25, 2018 - 4:30pm

Electric GT

Two things we love here in the four wheels-and-a-motor section of Ars are racing and electric vehicles. The former is just plain fun, the latter is just plain common sense. But there has been relatively little overlap between them, save for Formula E and the occasional entry at Pikes Peak. From November, we can add one more to the list: the Electric Production Car Series from Electric GT. It's a one-make series that will use a grid of identical Tesla Model S sedans converted for track action, and this week Electric GT confirmed the first season will start November 3 in Jerez, Spain, followed by nine other races in Europe.

We first reported on Electric GT back in 2016, when the series planned to use modified Model S P85+s and then again last year, following the news that the cars would now be the more powerful all-wheel drive P100D. Electric GT has stripped more than 1,100lbs (500kg) of weight out of the luxury EVs, ditching most of the interior comforts and replacing them with a stout roll cage. The cars also feature wheel arch extensions to allow for wider racing tires (specially made by Pirelli), as well as a front splitter and rear wing to add some downforce. Additionally, the suspension is now a double wishbone setup with pullrod dampers for better handling, and the cars feature a racing-spec braking system.

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Danish inventor gets life for murder, rape of journalist on personal submersible

April 25, 2018 - 4:14pm

Enlarge / COPENHAGEN, DENMARK - APRIL 25: Special prosecutor Jakob Buch-Jepsen (R) holds a press briefing after pronouncement of sentence in the case against submarine owner Peter Madsen for the murder of Swedish journalist Kim Wall. A unanimous court reached the verdict that Peter Madsen was guilty of premeditated murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment. Madsen has lodged an appeal. (credit: Ole Jensen - Corbis/Getty Images)

Peter "Rocket" Madsen, the Danish inventor who sought to put himself into space aboard an amateur-built rocket and built (with the aid of colleagues) his own submarine—the UC3 Nautilus—was found guilty today by a judge and two jurors in the bizarre death of journalist Kim Wall, who disappeared last August while aboard the Nautilus.

Madsen was found guilty on all three of the primary charges filed by Copenhagen prosecutors against him: premeditated murder, aggravated sexual assault, and the desecration of a corpse. He was given a life sentence—a rare verdict in Denmark, and one that on average means 16 years of prison time. Madsen's attorney, Betina Hald Engmark, said after the sentencing that Madsen will appeal the verdict.

Wall's dismembered body and decapitated head were recovered weeks after her disappearance, as Madsen repeatedly changed his story about what happened to her. At first he said he had dropped her off the night before, and then he claimed she had died when the submarine's deck hatch slipped from his fingers and hit her on the head. Finally, after her head was recovered without signs of a head blow, he said that she had died of asphyxiation from carbon monoxide.

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Amazon made an Echo Dot for kids, and it costs $30 more than the original

April 25, 2018 - 3:36pm

Enlarge (credit: Amazon)

Those with an Amazon Echo device in their homes have likely already exposed their children to Alexa. Now, Amazon wants to give kids the opportunity to turn Alexa into their friend with the new Echo Dot Kids Edition. The hockey puck-like smart speaker doesn't look too different from the original Dot, but it comes with new "Amazon FreeTime" content that gives kids new ways to interact with Alexa and parents more control over those interactions.

The $79 Echo Dot Kids Edition takes the original device's design and wraps it in a kid-friendly, colorful case. Otherwise, the hardware is the same as the tiny smart speaker that debuted in 2016. While the regular, $49 Dot is considered a more affordable and accessible version of the Echo speaker, the Kids Edition costs more thanks to its bundled software. Amazon includes a two-year warranty plus a one-year subscription to the new Amazon FreeTime Unlimited service, an expanded version of Amazon's new FreeTime for Alexa.

FreeTime gives users "family-focused features" and new parental controls that adults can use to restrict what their kids can do with Alexa. Family features include "Education Q&A," allowing kids to ask Alexa science, math, spelling, and definition questions, "Alexa Speaks 'Kid,'" which gives Alexa kid-appropriate answers to nebulous statements that kids may say, such as "Alexa, I'm bored." Parents can also limit the times during which kids can speak to Alexa (like no talking to it after bedtime), restrict the skills kids can use, filter out songs with explicit lyrics, and more.

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A short new movie of a comet’s surface is pretty incredible

April 25, 2018 - 2:38pm

Enlarge / False-color image showing the smooth Hapi region connecting the head and body of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. (credit: ESA)

The European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft arrived at Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko in 2014 and subsequently became the first mission to ever orbit around a comet. Additionally, its small Philae lander became the first to touch down on a comet’s surface—although it was subsequently lost after it was unable to deploy its solar panels in a proper configuration to capture enough energy to continue operations.

During its two years in varying orbits around the comet, which is about 4km on its longest side, Rosetta captured some unprecedented imagery of these Solar System interlopers. Now, a Twitter user named landru79 has combed through the Rosetta image archives and found a striking series of 12.5-second exposure photos taken from about 13km away from the comet. The images from June 1, 2016 are combined into the short video below.

The bright dots travelling from the top of the frame to the bottom, which look something like snow, are in fact background stars. They have that apparent motion as the spacecraft moves and the comet rotates. The more rapidly moving streaks are thought to be dust particles illuminated by the Sun. There also appear to be a few streaking cosmic rays.

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Basis—the “stable” cryptocurrency with $133 million invested—explained

April 25, 2018 - 12:15pm

Enlarge / A bollard. (credit: praveenkay / Flickr)

Last week, we learned that an impressive slate of Silicon Valley investors was pouring $133 million into Basis, a company that aims to create a cryptocurrency with a stable value against the dollar.

It's easy to see why investors would be excited about a project like this. If successful, it would provide all the benefits of conventional cryptocurrencies without the volatility that plagues bitcoin and its competitors today. Demand for such a cryptocurrency could easily outstrip demand for conventional cryptocurrency, since volatility is one of their big weaknesses.

But there's no guarantee that the Basis project will succeed. Lots of people have tried to create stablecoins in the past, with generally poor results.

Read 33 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple releases iOS 11.3.1 alongside security updates for macOS 10.13.4

April 25, 2018 - 12:59am

Enlarge / The 2018 iPad running iOS 11.3. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Today, Apple released small software updates for iPhones, iPads, and Macs: iOS 11.3.1 for the mobile devices, and a security update to the already-released macOS 10.13.4 for Macs.

At just over 49 megabytes, iOS 11.3.1 is a minor update that fixes iPhone 8s for users whose touchscreens were rendered unresponsive by aftermarket replacement displays. iOS 11.3 caused iPhones that had been serviced by outside vendors to have this issue. Users expressed frustration that it seemed Apple was punishing them for not going through the company's own process for repairs.

The patch notes below include a warning from Apple to steer clear of "non-genuine replacement displays." Apple's value proposition has always been around total control of the hardware to ensure a smooth experience. The company used these update notes to stress that yet again, the subtext being that the company can't be expected to support work done by other entities.

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