Red planet has a big core, complex crust

Image of a cutaway showing the martian interior, including its core.

Enlarge / Some seismic waves bounce off Mars’ core before reaching the InSight lander. (credit: Chris Bickel / Science)

We’ve learned a lot about our planet’s interior simply by tracking how the seismic energy released by earthquakes moves through or reflects off the different layers present beneath Earth’s surface. For over a Martian year, we’ve had a seismograph on Mars in the hope that it would help us to figure out the red planet’s interior.

But Mars is relatively quiet seismically, and we’ve only got a single seismograph instead of an entire network. Still, with records of a handful of significant marsquakes, we now have some sense of what Mars’ interior looks like. And a set of new studies indicates that it’s pretty weird, with a large, light core and an unexpectedly warm crust.

It’s complicated

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Red planet has a big core, complex crust

Dread Pirate Roberts escaped development hell: Making Silk Road work as a film

Trailer for Silk Road.

In the last decade or so of Ars, two pre-COVID news stories stand out to me as the “biggest”—the kind of stuff that captivates a general audience in the moment and will attract the eyes of Hollywood eventually. The first one happened back in 2013, when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked classified documents that showed the US had a secret surveillance program up and running that even monitored US citizens. To make the saga even juicier, Snowden ultimately had to flee the country for fear of legal retribution.

The second story largely unfolded in that same year. A young libertarian named Ross Ulbricht pondered why in the United States you couldn’t purchase drugs freely and openly on the Internet through some kind of one-stop repository like Amazon. Eventually, his Silk Road website sprung up and captivated the world… until federal authorities finally closed in on Ulbricht in a San Francisco library in October 2013. The arrest led to an eye-opening trial and a life sentence for the pseudonymous Dread Pirate Roberts.

Snowden’s story ultimately got the Hollywood treatment, via the Oscar-winning documentary Citizenfour in 2014 and a fictionalized account starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt two years later. And though it took a bit longer (unless we’re counting a made-for-TV documentary), the Silk Road odyssey has finally made its feature film debut, too.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Dread Pirate Roberts escaped development hell: Making Silk Road work as a film

Venmo gets more private—but it’s still not fully safe

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Venmo gets more private—but it’s still not fully safe

Review: Old is a mostly solid film undermined by jarring twist ending

A family on a tropical holiday discover that the secluded beach where they are relaxing for a few hours is somehow causing them to age rapidly in Old, a new thriller from M. Night Shyamalan.

Director M. Night Shyamalan has a well-known fondness for his signature surprise twist endings. When those twists work organically, we get classics like The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable. When they don”t—well, if you’re lucky, you get something like his new film, Old, in which everything that comes before is sufficiently compelling that you can almost shake off a jarring final twist that feels so forced, it’s almost like it belongs in an entirely different movie.

(This being an M. Night Shyamalan film where surprise twists are tantamount, I have taken great pains to avoid spoilers. There is nothing discussed in the review below that has not already been revealed in the film’s trailers.)

Old is based on a French graphic novel called Sandcastle, written by Pierre Oscar Levy (also a documentary filmmaker) and illustrated by Frederik Peeters. It’s about a group of 13 people who find themselves trapped on a mysterious, secluded beach where time moves much more quickly—so quickly that young children reach puberty in a matter of hours, and everyone will reach old age and die within 24 hours. Shyamalan received a copy of the book as a Father’s Day gift, and was immediately touched by how it humanely grappled with the all-too-human fear of aging and the relentless passage of time.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Review: Old is a mostly solid film undermined by jarring twist ending

The best deals from PlayStation’s and Xbox’s latest summer game sales

A number of big-name Xbox and PlayStation games are on sale this weekend.

Enlarge / A number of big-name Xbox and PlayStation games are on sale this weekend. (credit: Ars Technica)

This weekend edition of the Dealmaster is focused exclusively on video game discounts for PlayStation and Xbox owners, as both Sony and Microsoft kicked off wide-ranging sales on their respective online stores earlier this week. The former’s PlayStation Summer Sale runs through August 18—with Sony promising a second batch of discounts arriving on August 4—while the latter’s Xbox Ultimate Game Sale will last through August 5.

These are not the first sweeping sales each company has run on its digital shops this summer, but as before, the new promotions discount several hundred games across last- and current-gen consoles (plus a few PC games, in Microsoft’s case). Also like before, most of the offers advertised in each sale aren’t great deals, either because the game in question is lackluster or because the discount isn’t much lower than the street price we’ve seen in recent months.

So, as we like to do with the Dealmaster, we’ve looked through the entirety of Sony’s and Microsoft’s selections so you don’t have to, picking out the genuine deals along the way.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – The best deals from PlayStation’s and Xbox’s latest summer game sales

Nuclear power’s reliability is dropping as extreme weather increases

Image of two cooling towers above a body of water.

Enlarge / Cooling water is only one factor that limits the productivity of nuclear power plants. (credit: Getty Images)

With extreme weather causing power failures in California and Texas, it’s increasingly clear that the existing power infrastructure isn’t designed for these new conditions. Past research has shown that nuclear power plants are no exception, with rising temperatures creating cooling problems for them. Now, a comprehensive analysis looking at a broader range of climate events shows that it’s not just hot weather that puts these plants at risk—it’s the full range of climate disturbances.

Heat has been one of the most direct threats, as higher temperatures mean that the natural cooling sources (rivers, oceans, lakes) are becoming less efficient heat sinks. However, this new analysis shows that hurricanes and typhoons have become the leading causes of nuclear outages, at least in North America and South and East Asia. Precautionary shutdowns for storms are routine, and so this finding is perhaps not so surprising. But other factors—like the clogging of cooling intake pipes by unusually abundant jellyfish populations—are a bit less obvious.

Overall this latest analysis calculates that the frequency of climate-related nuclear plant outages is almost eight times higher than it was in the 1990s. The analysis also estimates that the global nuclear fleet will lose up 1.4 percent—about 36 TWh—of its energy production in the next 40 years, and up to 2.4 percent, or 61 TWh, by 2081-2100.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Nuclear power’s reliability is dropping as extreme weather increases

Apple and Roku have newly upgraded streaming remotes—are they worth buying?

Apple's and Roku's new remotes are a welcome upgrade to their respective streaming experiences, and they're compatible with older models.

Enlarge / Apple’s and Roku’s new remotes are a welcome upgrade to their respective streaming experiences, and they’re compatible with older models. (credit: Corey Gaskin)

Apple and Roku know that remotes for streaming devices are important. It’s why they recently inked a deal to put an Apple TV+ button on Roku remotes going forward. It’s also why they’ve made some thoughtful upgrades to their respective streaming devices in the form of redesigned remotes. Both companies are focused on improving usability and adding features via the remote, rather than retooling the streamers themselves.

Apple’s new Siri Remote and Roku’s Voice Remote Pro are new devices that existing users can buy to make their streaming experiences much less frustrating (in Apple’s case) or easier and more feature-rich (in Roku’s). For Apple, a redesign was long overdue. Apple TV remotes have been the stuff of nightmares since the first and only redesign over half a decade ago. Roku’s remotes never had that sort of over-engineering problem—instead, they’ve suffered from the opposite issue, often feeling hollow and cheap while missing some useful functions on all but the highest-end Roku players.

Now, these remotes aren’t in direct competition with one another. And in some key areas like price and wide-ranging support, the streamers they control both fall behind the latest Google Chromecast—a device we found preferable not just to those, but to Amazon’s Fire TV platform as well. But for anyone who’s already using a streaming option from Apple or Roku, scrapping those devices entirely could be a significant waste of money and a general pain depending on their setup. Adding one of these new remotes, though, will improve the experience appreciably.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Apple and Roku have newly upgraded streaming remotes—are they worth buying?

The Tokyo Olympics could be a Covid-19 “super evolutionary event”

Flag bearers Yui Susaki and Rui Hachimura of Team Japan lead their team out during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan.

Enlarge / Flag bearers Yui Susaki and Rui Hachimura of Team Japan lead their team out during the Opening Ceremony of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Olympic Stadium on July 23, 2021 in Tokyo, Japan. (credit: Matthias Hangst | Getty Images)

Ten days before the opening ceremony of the Tokyo Olympics, Kara Lawson, the coach of the United States women’s 3×3 basketball team, gave a press conference. The sport is new to the Olympics this year, and Lawson, a former WNBA player and coach at Duke University, told the dozen or so reporters participating online what she liked about it—the game is faster-paced, Lawson said, and more unpredictable than the five-on-five version. But during a global pandemic, Lawson added, the health of her players was her number one priority. “We’re obviously tested daily. I’m actually quarantined in my room right now,” Lawson said. “We’re masked all the time … a positive test at this juncture is hard for any team getting ready to go to Tokyo. We’re focused on doing our part, not just so we can have a good competition, but we definitely feel a responsibility to fellow human beings to be smart about eliminating transmission of the disease worldwide.”

Less than a week later, one of Lawson’s players—Katie Lou Samuelson, a power forward for the Seattle Storm—announced on Instagram that she had tested positive for Covid-19 and wouldn’t be able to go to Tokyo. Fast-paced, maybe, but not exactly unpredictable. As the 2020 Tokyo Games get underway, Samuelson is one of 91 people either in Tokyo for the Olympics or who were hoping to go who’ve tested positive for the disease, including US tennis player Coco Gauf, a Czech beach volleyball player, two South African soccer players, and so on.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – The Tokyo Olympics could be a Covid-19 “super evolutionary event”

An explosive spyware report shows limits of iOS, Android security

A report this week indicates that the problem of high-caliber spyware is far more widespread than previously feared.

Enlarge / A report this week indicates that the problem of high-caliber spyware is far more widespread than previously feared. (credit: Pau Barrena | Getty Images)

The shadowy world of private spyware has long caused alarm in cybersecurity circles, as authoritarian governments have repeatedly been caught targeting the smartphones of activists, journalists, and political rivals with malware purchased from unscrupulous brokers. The surveillance tools these companies provide frequently target iOS and Android, which have seemingly been unable to keep up with the threat. But a new report suggests the scale of the problem is far greater than feared—and has placed added pressure on mobile tech makers, particularly Apple, from security researchers seeking remedies.

This week, an international group of researchers and journalists from Amnesty International, Forbidden Stories, and more than a dozen other organizations published forensic evidence that a number of governments worldwide—including Hungary, India, Mexico, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates—may be customers of the notorious Israeli spyware vendor NSO Group. The researchers studied a leaked list of 50,000 phone numbers associated with activists, journalists, executives, and politicians who were all potential surveillance targets. They also looked specifically at 37 devices infected with, or targeted by, NSO’s invasive Pegasus spyware. They even created a tool so you can check whether your iPhone has been compromised.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – An explosive spyware report shows limits of iOS, Android security

Star Trek: Lower Decks S2 trailer promises more scrappy underdog adventures

Our favorite ensigns are back with more wacky hijinks in the second season of Star Trek: Lower Decks.

The animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks was one of our favorite TV shows of 2020, so we’ve been looking forward to its second season. We won’t have long to wait. S2 drops next month on Paramount+, and the studio debuted its first trailer during the Star Trek Universe panel at Comic-Con@Home 2021. That same panel also gave us our first teaser for another new animated series, Star Trek: Prodigy.

(Spoilers for S1 of Star Trek: Lower Decks below.)

As we’ve reported previously, this is the first animated Star Trek series since the Emmy-award-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS), which ran from 1973 to 1974. Lower Decks is part of a five-year overall deal that Star Trek: Discovery co-creator and showrunner Alex Kurtzman signed with CBS to expand the franchise. Kurtzman tapped Rick and Morty head writer Mike McMahan to spearhead the project. Chronologically, the show takes place after the events of the 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis; the name is an homage to an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG). 

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Star Trek: Lower Decks S2 trailer promises more scrappy underdog adventures

SpaceX to launch the Europa Clipper mission for a bargain price

After years of speculation, NASA officially announced Friday that SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy would launch arguably the space agency’s most important Solar System exploration mission of the 2020s—the Europa Clipper.

Slated to launch in October 2024, the $4.25 billion mission will spend much of the remainder of this decade flying to the Jovian system before entering an elongated orbit around Jupiter. The spacecraft will then make as many as 44 flybys of Europa, the intriguing, ice-encrusted Jovian moon that scientists believe harbors a vast ocean beneath the surface. It is possible that aquatic life exists there.

The total contract award amount for launch services is approximately $178 million, NASA said in a news release. This is a significant moment for SpaceX, as the company will be entrusted with one of NASA’s highest priority exploration missions. The deal also saves NASA about $2 billion.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – SpaceX to launch the Europa Clipper mission for a bargain price

Researchers demonstrate that malware can be hidden inside AI models

This photo has a job application for Boston University hidden within it. The technique introduced by Wang, Liu, and Cui could hide data inside an image classifier rather than just an image.

Enlarge / This photo has a job application for Boston University hidden within it. The technique introduced by Wang, Liu, and Cui could hide data inside an image classifier rather than just an image. (credit: Keith McDuffy CC-BY 2.0)

Researchers Zhi Wang, Chaoge Liu, and Xiang Cui published a paper last Monday demonstrating a new technique for slipping malware past automated detection tools—in this case, by hiding it inside a neural network.

The three embedded 36.9MiB of malware into a 178MiB AlexNet model without significantly altering the function of the model itself. The malware-embedded model classified images with near-identical accuracy, within 1% of the malware-free model. (This is possible because the number of layers and total neurons in a convolutional neural network is fixed prior to training—which means that, much like in human brains, many of the neurons in a trained model end up being either largely or entirely dormant.)

Just as importantly, squirreling the malware away into the model broke it up in ways that prevented detection by standard antivirus engines. VirusTotal, a service that “inspects items with over 70 antivirus scanners and URL/domain blocklisting services, in addition to a myriad of tools to extract signals from the studied content,” did not raise any suspicions about the malware-embedded model.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Researchers demonstrate that malware can be hidden inside AI models

Maker of dubious $56K Alzheimer’s drug offers cognitive test no one can pass

Multistory glass office building.

Enlarge / The exterior of the headquarters of biotechnology company Biogen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

Do you ever forget things, like a doctor’s appointment or a lunch date? Do you sometimes struggle to think of the right word for something common? Do you ever feel more anxious or irritable than you typically do? Do you ever feel overwhelmed when trying to make a decision?

If you answered “no, never” to all of those questions, there’s a possibility that you may not actually be human. Nevertheless, you should still talk to a doctor about additional cognitive screenings to check if you have Alzheimer’s disease. At least, that’s the takeaway from a six-question quiz provided, in part, by Biogen, the maker of an unproven, $56,000 Alzheimer’s drug.

The six questions include the four above, plus questions about whether you ever lose your train of thought or ever get lost on your way to or around a familiar place. The questions not only bring up common issues that perfectly healthy people might face from time to time, but the answers any quiz-taker provides are also completely irrelevant. No matter how you answer—even if you say you never experience any of those issues—the quiz will always prompt you to talk with your doctor about cognitive screening. The results page even uses your zip code to provide a link to find an Alzheimer’s specialist near you.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Maker of dubious K Alzheimer’s drug offers cognitive test no one can pass

Teardown reveals how much capacity Apple’s $99 MagSafe Battery Pack has

This week, Apple launched the MagSafe Battery Pack for the iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max. But until the product found its way into peoples’ hands, there were some unknowns.

Some of those questions have now been answered in a new teardown video by Charger Lab.

While there had been clues suggesting that the MagSafe Battery Pack measured in at just over 11 watt-hours, we weren’t 100% sure. Now we have confirmation. The battery pack has two identical batteries inside it, each labelled as 5.733 Wh. In total, the MagSafe Battery Pack has a capacity of 1460 mAh. And voltage? That’s 7.62V.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Teardown reveals how much capacity Apple’s MagSafe Battery Pack has

Google is finally doing something about Google Drive spam

Blocking individual users in Google Drive! Finally!

Enlarge / Blocking individual users in Google Drive! Finally! (credit: Google)

A notification pops up on your phone: “Click here for hot XXX action!”

It’s Google Drive again. Someone shared a document containing that title, and now your phone is begging you to look at it. Even if you ban Google Drive from generating phone notifications, you’ll still get emails. If you block the emails, you’ll have to see the spam when you click on the “shared” section of Google Drive. The problem is that Drive document sharing was built with no spam-management tools. Anyone who gets a hold of your email is considered to be an important sharer of valid documents, and there has been nothing you can do about it—until now.

Google officially acknowledged the problem back in 2019, and the company said it was making spam controls “a priority.” Now, more than two years later, Google is finally rolling out the most basic of spam tools to Google Drive sharing—you can block individual email addresses! The company announced this feature in May, but the tool is rolling out to users over the next 15 days. Soon, once the spam arrives in your Google Drive, you’ll be able to click the menu button next to the item and choose “block user.”

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Google is finally doing something about Google Drive spam

Archaeologists find ancient Egyptian warship sunk near Alexandria

Archaeologists find ancient Egyptian warship sunk near Alexandria

Enlarge (credit: Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities)

Twenty-four hundred years ago, Heraklion was ancient Egypt’s largest port on the Mediterranean Sea. Today, the ancient city lies submerged beneath Abu Qir Bay, a few kilometers off the coast of Alexandria. Archaeologists recently discovered the wreck of a warship from the city’s final years buried in the seabed for 2,100 years beneath five meters of clay and crumbled pieces of an ancient temple to the Egyptian god Amun.

A fast but unlucky warship

The outline of the wrecked ship suggests speed. Its 25 meter-long hull is about six times longer than it is wide, meaning that it was a long, sleek vessel built to race through the water. Clearly, this was no cargo vessel; ships built to haul cargo or passengers tend to be wider, built for capacity rather than speed and agility. The team of archaeologists from the European Institute for Underwater Archaeology who discovered the wreck say it was probably a warship, and its captain picked an unlucky day to tie up in the channel that flowed along the south side of the Temple of Amun in Heraklion.

Some of the city’s inhabitants called the place Heraklion; others called it Thonis, and archaeologists have found stone monuments inscribed with both names together. Coins and bits of pottery found among the city’s submerged ruins suggest that Thonis-Heraklion flourished from the 500s to the 300s BCE. When Alexander the Great founded Alexandria 32 kilometers to the southeast in 331 BCE, the new city replaced Thonis-Heraklion as Egypt’s largest Mediterranean port, and the older city began to decline.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Archaeologists find ancient Egyptian warship sunk near Alexandria

New bill strips Facebook, Twitter of Section 230 immunity for spreading vaccine falsehoods

New bill strips Facebook, Twitter of Section 230 immunity for spreading vaccine falsehoods

Enlarge (credit: CHANDAN KHANNA / AFP)

A new bill introduced Thursday would hold Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies responsible for amplifying conspiracies and falsehoods about vaccines, COVID cures, and other health misinformation.

“For far too long, online platforms have not done enough to protect the health of Americans,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), one of the bill’s sponsors. “These are some of the biggest, richest companies in the world, and they must do more to prevent the spread of deadly vaccine misinformation.”

If signed into law, the Health Misinformation Act would strip Facebook, Twitter, and other social media companies of some immunity under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which currently prevents Internet firms from being held liable for most content posted on their platforms. The carveout proposed by Klobuchar and Sen. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) would eliminate that legal shield in instances where a platform “promotes health misinformation through an algorithm,” the bill says.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – New bill strips Facebook, Twitter of Section 230 immunity for spreading vaccine falsehoods

Three Formula E motors and a DTM engine combine in the Audi RS Q e-tron

Audi’s DTM program—think the German equivalent of NASCAR—ended at the end of 2020, and 2021 is the German automaker’s final year in Formula E. But the investment that Audi Sport made in both those programs will not go to waste, as aspects of each are combining to power an outrageous-looking machine designed to compete in the Dakar Rally. Unveiled online today, the car is called the Audi RS Q e-tron, and Audi says that campaigning it in one of the world’s toughest off-road races will let the company test and develop its electric powertrains “under extreme conditions.”

Although Audi’s racing exploits have mostly taken place on the confines of race tracks for the last few decades, the brand has a strong link with rallying; it used the World Rally Championship in the 1980s to demonstrate its quattro all-wheel-drive technology. They might both involve rallying, but Dakar is a tougher challenge than the WRC, as it’s contested over two weeks in remote places, with distances of 500 miles (800 km) a day.

“That’s a very long distance,” says Andreas Roos, who is responsible for the Dakar project at Audi Sport. “What we are trying to do has never been done before. This is the ultimate challenge for an electric drivetrain.”

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Three Formula E motors and a DTM engine combine in the Audi RS Q e-tron

Google’s Wear OS 3 update plans will leave most existing devices behind

A Wear OS watch.

Enlarge / A Wear OS watch. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Google has provided a few more details about its upcoming Wear OS update plans. As we’ve reported, Google and Samsung are teaming up to resurrect the struggling Wear OS. Samsung is ditching Tizen watches and bringing its Exynos SoCs to the Wear OS platform, and Google will start Wear OS development again after mostly ignoring the operating system for the past few years.

The post on the official Wear OS forums is titled “What Wear OS 3 means for you,” and it describes what will be a rocky transition to the new OS. First, it’s important to note that the post is formally calling the revamped Wear OS “Wear OS 3,” a detail Google has left out of all its official statements so far, opting for “unified platform,” “the new version of Wear OS,” or some other clunky descriptor. It’s version 3! This lines up with our count; it’s the first major Wear OS update since Wear OS 2 in 2018.

Next, we get a list of devices being updated from Wear OS 2 to 3. It’s not long:

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Google’s Wear OS 3 update plans will leave most existing devices behind

Chevrolet issues second recall to prevent Bolt EV battery fires

Someone about to plug a DC fast charger into a Chevrolet Bolt EV.

Enlarge / For now, it’s time to unplug when you get to 90 percent state of charge. (credit: Chevrolet)

In November 2020, General Motors issued a recall of the Chevrolet Bolt EV due to a potential fire risk. Unfortunately for Bolt EV owners, that fix—a software patch—did not work, and now their cars are subject to a second recall. General Motors will replace battery modules in the affected cars, which span model years 2017-2019.

The problem started making headlines in October 2020, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began an investigation into the electric hatchback following a number of reports of vehicle fires. GM tried to fix the problem with software, at first temporarily limiting the Bolt EVs’ batteries from charging past 90 percent.

A more permanent fix was made available in May 2021. During the course of GM’s investigation together with LG Chem (which makes the lithium-ion battery cells), the companies discovered in some modules “a rare manufacturing defect” that could cause a short and thereby start a battery fire. The solution was to let diagnostic software monitor for this defect and alert the owner if detected.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments



Source: Ars Technica – Chevrolet issues second recall to prevent Bolt EV battery fires