US seeks more airport security, could expand airplane laptop ban

Enlarge / A passenger places a laptop computer back into his bag after passing through a TSA check point at Salt Lake City International Airport. (credit: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In a speech today, Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly said that airlines that don’t get on board with new security procedures could see electronic devices banned on their airplanes—or be barred from flying the US altogether.

The Department of Homeland Security today said it will be demanding “enhanced security measures” for all commercial flights going into the US. The specific measures, which will be both “seen and unseen,” aren’t specified in a DHS fact sheet, but they generally include enhanced passenger screening, “heightened screening of personal electronic devices,” and “deploying advanced technology, expanding canine screening, and establishing additional pre-clearance locations.”

The new measures will affect 105 countries hosting approximately 280 airports, 180 airlines, and about 2,100 daily flights carrying 325,000 US-bound passengers.

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Source: Ars Technica – US seeks more airport security, could expand airplane laptop ban

$7.5 billion Kemper power plant suspends coal gasification

Enlarge / Heavy equipment works in the lignite coal mine adjacent to Southern Co.’s Kemper County power plant near Meridian, Mississippi, U.S., on Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2014. Photographer: Gary Tramontina/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)

Southern Company and Mississippi Power announced Wednesday afternoon that they would suspend all coal gasification operations at a Kemper County plant and simply use natural gas instead. The decision comes after the Mississippi Public Service Commission (MPSC) recommended that the plant burn only natural gas, which is cheaper at the moment.

The plant was supposed to be a cutting-edge demonstration of the power of “clean coal,” and despite running five years late and more than $4 billion over budget, Kemper was able to start testing its coal gasification operations late last year. The plant used a chemical process to break down lignite coal into synthesis gas, or “syngas,” which was then fed into a generator. The syngas burns cleaner than pulverized lignite coal does. In addition, emissions were caught by a carbon capture system and delivered to a nearby oil field to help with oil extraction. That, Southern and Mississippi Power said, would reduce the greenhouse emissions of burning lignite by up to 65 percent.

But with only 200 days of gasification operations under its belt, Kemper identified more issues with its technology, including design flaws that caused leaks and ash buildup. Last week, the MSPC indicated that it would refuse to allow Southern to raise rates to cover Kemper’s continued construction and maintenance for gasification.

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Source: Ars Technica – .5 billion Kemper power plant suspends coal gasification

Remains from “skull cult” discovered at world’s oldest stone monuments

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Source: Ars Technica – Remains from “skull cult” discovered at world’s oldest stone monuments

Judges refuse to order fix for court software that put people in jail by mistake

Enlarge / The Supreme Court of California’s headquarters is also home to the 1st District in San Francisco. (credit: Coolcaesar)

On Wednesday, a California appeals court denied efforts to overturn a county court’s decision not to intervene in an ongoing dispute between the public defender’s office and the administrative arm of the Alameda County Superior Court itself. The dispute is over the allegedly flawed court software.

The public defender, Brendon Woods, has argued since December 2016 that a recent upgrade is inadequate for Alameda County and has resulted in many mistaken jailings. In March 2017, a local judge rejected Woods’ demands to fix the software, which is known as Odyssey Court Manager and made by Tyler Technologies.

The 1st Appellate District, a state-level appeals court based in San Francisco, ruled that Woods lacked standing to bring the appeal “in his own right.” Even if there was standing, the plaintiffs did not establish that they would “suffer harm or prejudice in a manner that cannot be corrected on appeal.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Judges refuse to order fix for court software that put people in jail by mistake

Tuesday’s massive ransomware outbreak was, in fact, something much worse

Enlarge / Code in Tuesday’s attack, shown on the left, was altered to permanently destroy hard drives. (credit: Matt Suiche)

Tuesday’s massive outbreak of malware that shut down computers around the world has been almost universally blamed on ransomware, which by definition seeks to make money by unlocking data held hostage only if victims pay a hefty fee. Now, some researchers are drawing an even bleaker assessment—that the malware was a wiper with the objective of permanently destroying hard drives.

Initially, researchers said the malware was a new version of the Petya ransomware that first struck in early 2016. Later, researchers said it was a new, never-before-seen ransomware package that mimicked some of Petya’s behaviors. With more time to analyze the malware, researchers on Wednesday are highlighting some curious behavior for a piece of malware that was nearly perfect in almost all other respects: its code is so aggressive that it’s impossible for victims to recover their data.

In other words, the researchers said, the payload delivered in Tuesday’s outbreak wasn’t ransomware at all. Instead, its true objective was to permanently destroy as many hard drives as possible on infected networks, in much the way the Shamoon disk wiper left a wake of destruction in Saudi Arabia. Some researchers have said Shamoon is likely the work of developers sponsored by an as-yet unidentified country. Researchers analyzing Tuesday’s malware—alternatively dubbed PetyaWrap, NotPetya, and ExPetr—are speculating the ransom note left behind in Tuesday’s attack was, in fact, a hoax intended to capitalize on media interest sparked by last month’s massive WCry outbreak.

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Source: Ars Technica – Tuesday’s massive ransomware outbreak was, in fact, something much worse

Darkest Dungeon: The Crimson Court Review: A renewed thirst for blood

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Source: Ars Technica – Darkest Dungeon: The Crimson Court Review: A renewed thirst for blood

Our furry friends are getting fat just like us; 1 in 3 are overweight

Enlarge / Who’s a good little fatty? (credit: Getty | phatthanit_r)

Our loyal companions are packing on the pounds in step with us, a new study finds.

Surveying about 2.5 million dogs and 500,000 cats in the US during 2016, a group of researchers found that about one in three were overweight or obese. Looking over data from the last decade, the researchers say the new figures reveal a 169-percent increase in hefty felines and a 158-percent increase in chunky canines.

All the data is from researchers at Banfield, which runs a chain of veterinary hospitals across 42 states. The researchers surveyed animals that checked into one of Banfield’s 975 locations, putting them through a five-point physical and visual exam. Animals were considered overweight if their ribs were not clearly visible or easily felt and if their waists were also hard to see. Pets were dubbed obese if their ribs couldn’t be felt at all and they had no visible waist.

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Source: Ars Technica – Our furry friends are getting fat just like us; 1 in 3 are overweight

Man posts Facebook footage of him toppling Ten Commandments monument

(video link)

This is one way to break the Ten Commandments.

An Arkansas man was arrested early Wednesday after police said he rammed his vehicle into a newly installed stone monument of the Ten Commandments at the Arkansas Capitol grounds. The man also streamed the toppling of the one-day-old structure live on Facebook.

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Source: Ars Technica – Man posts Facebook footage of him toppling Ten Commandments monument

Google must alter worldwide search results, per orders from Canada’s top court

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Source: Ars Technica – Google must alter worldwide search results, per orders from Canada’s top court

The digital tools that designed the Tesla Model 3 and crash-tested your Honda minivan

Enlarge (credit: Tesla)

Understandably, the focus of a lot of our car coverage here at Ars has been on things like hybrid and electric powertrains, autonomous vehicles, and the rise of the connected car. But there are other interesting technology stories in the auto industry that are a little more hidden from the average driver. Take Gordon Murray’s iStream idea, for example. From the same brain that created some of the world’s best racing cars—and the almighty McLaren F1 road car—iStream is meant to be a low-impact way of building new vehicles, which will hopefully reach fruition with the reborn TVR brand. There’s also 3D printing, as demonstrated by companies like Local Motors and 3D Divergent.

And then there’s the way that modern IT solutions can—hopefully—make the auto industry more efficient and faster to respond to new design trends or challenges. A while back, we looked at Toyota’s use of virtual production lines to streamline how the company builds trucks at its plant in Texas. Obviously, Toyota isn’t the only OEM to head off into the virtual world to do this kind of work. And many OEMs have opted for Dassault Systèmes’ 3DEXPERIENCE as their platform of choice.

Users of 3DEXPERIENCE span the automotive ecosystem. Ford and GM power their commercials and marketing with the Dassault platform. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been touting 3DEXPERIENCE as its tool of choice for early design and styling. And even the Internet’s favorite EV maker is a client: the Tesla Model 3 was conceived and designed using it.

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Source: Ars Technica – The digital tools that designed the Tesla Model 3 and crash-tested your Honda minivan

Verizon illegally denied Charter access to utility poles, complaint says

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | WIN-Initiative)

Charter Communications has filed a complaint against Verizon, saying the telco violated New York state’s public service law and regulations by denying access to utility poles.

Charter is required to extend its network in New York state to 145,000 homes and businesses by May 2020 under a condition imposed on its purchase of Time Warner Cable, and it was supposed to complete the first 36,250 locations by May of this year. Charter last week was fined by New York regulators for failing to complete the first wave of construction on time, but it largely blamed its failure on Verizon in a complaint filed on Saturday with the New York Public Service Commission.

“In the face of Verizon’s intransigence, Charter has been unable to satisfy the milestones in the Buildout Condition,” Charter said. Charter is the second-largest cable company in the US after Comcast.

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Source: Ars Technica – Verizon illegally denied Charter access to utility poles, complaint says

Facebook’s secret rules mean that it’s ok to be anti-Islam, but not anti-gay

Enlarge / CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at Facebook’s 2016 “F8” conference. (credit: Facebook)

This article originally appeared on ProPublica on June 28, 2017.

In the wake of a terrorist attack in London earlier this month, a US congressman wrote a Facebook post in which he called for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims. “Hunt them, identify them, and kill them,” declared US Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican. “Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

Higgins’ plea for violent revenge went untouched by Facebook workers who scour the social network deleting offensive speech.

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Source: Ars Technica – Facebook’s secret rules mean that it’s ok to be anti-Islam, but not anti-gay

London police arrest four in Windows support scam bust

Enlarge / Customers of the telecommunications and Internet provider TalkTalk are among those who have been targeted in a Windows support scam operation in the UK. London Police announced the arrest of four suspected of involvement with the ring today. (credit: Carl Court/Getty Images)

City of London Police, collaborating with Microsoft, have made four arrests as the result of a two-year investigation into rings of “Windows support” fraudsters. The arrests, London Police Commander Dave Clark told the press, “are just the beginning of our work, making the best use of specialist skills and expertise from Microsoft, local police forces, and international partners to tackle a crime that often targets the most vulnerable in our society.”

The four suspects—a man and woman working together in Surrey, and another couple working from South Shields, Tyneside, are accused of being involved with a scheme operating out of a call center in India. Their role in the scams is not clear.

The scam, similar to the one Ars intercepted in January, seeks to convince would-be victims to install remote-access software on their computers and then to set up recurring credit card billing for technical support or anti-virus software. In these cases, the scammers often posed as employees of the UK Internet service providers BT and TalkTalk, saying that they had been authorized by Microsoft to provide technical support.

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Source: Ars Technica – London police arrest four in Windows support scam bust

John Romero’s Doom II floppy disks sell for over $3,000

Enlarge / Back in my day… (credit: eBay / John Romero)

If you want to play the original version of Doom II, the game will set you back just $1.24 during the current Steam sale. If you want a boxed copy of the original floppy disk version, circa 1994, there’s a copy available on eBay right now for $75.

But if you want Doom II floppy disks that were once owned (and potentially signed) by Doom co-creator John Romero, you’ll need to pay over $3,000.

That’s what we learned this week when Romero posted “Original DOOM 2 disks / 3.5″ floppies / PC” on eBay and promoted the listing via Twitter. The auction drew 84 bids from 31 distinct bidders over three days, ending this morning with a winning bid of $3,150. “I will sign these disks if you like,” Romero wrote in the eBay description, leading us to wonder if that signature would increase or decrease the collector’s value (we kid).

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Source: Ars Technica – John Romero’s Doom II floppy disks sell for over ,000

WEN hair loss scandal exposed dirty underbelly of personal care products

Enlarge (credit: Getty | PeopleImages)

The pharmacy in any corner drug store brims with carefully formulated, tested, and regulated drugs. But aisles packed with personal care products—shampoos, makeup, lotions—are a different story.

For the most part, these products aren’t regulated at all. The gels, creams, and concoctions we slather on our skin and massage into our heads on a daily basis clear no regulatory hurdles before strolling into neighborhood stores and medicine cabinets. The Food and Drug Administration only looks into these products when people voluntarily report problems. And people hardly ever report problems to the FDA—even when there are big ones. In a research letter this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, a trio of researchers argue that something has got to change.

A major motivation for their argument is the recent scandal involving WEN by Chaz Dean hair care products. (You’ve likely seen the celebrity-studded infomercials.) The FDA opened an investigation into WEN in 2014 after the agency received complaints that the brand’s Cleansing Conditioners were irritating scalps and causing hair to fall out. A whopping 127 complaints rolled in—that’s a lot for the FDA. In 2007, for instance, the agency received less than 200 complaints total, for all personal care products sold in the country.

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Source: Ars Technica – WEN hair loss scandal exposed dirty underbelly of personal care products

Why is Jeff Bezos building rocket engines in Alabama? He’s playing to win

Enlarge / Sen. Richard Shelby, right, welcomes Blue Origin President Rob Meyerson to Huntsville, Alabama, this week. (credit: Huntsville/Madison County Chamber)

This week the governor of Alabama announced that Blue Origin would build a factory in Huntsville, Alabama, for its new BE-4 rocket engine. “I must commend founder Jeff Bezos and company President Robert Meyerson for their vision to create this innovative company, and for choosing to make Alabama its home sweet home,” said Gov. Kay Ivey.

The decision has been widely hailed as largely a political one—Alabama has considerable influence in the US Congress over space policy, and, with its decision to build there, Blue Origin was aligning part of its future with the southern state—but that does not appear to be the sole rationale. Rather, a closer examination of the Alabama choice reveals that Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos, whose business acumen pushed Amazon to the top, has brought the same shrewdness to the aerospace industry. He is playing to win.

A year-long process

The BE-4 rocket engine is the cornerstone of Blue Origin’s future as an orbital and deep-space rocket company. About 30 percent more powerful than the space shuttle’s main engine, seven of the BE-4 engines will power the company’s large New Glenn orbital rocket. It also is the front-runner to be selected by United Launch Alliance for its next-generation rocket, Vulcan. In other words, if the BE-4 engines work out, Blue Origin will need to build a lot of them.

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Source: Ars Technica – Why is Jeff Bezos building rocket engines in Alabama? He’s playing to win

30 small ISPs urge Ajit Pai to preserve Title II and net neutrality rules

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Source: Ars Technica – 30 small ISPs urge Ajit Pai to preserve Title II and net neutrality rules

Google News website gets redesigned, now looks like something from this decade

Google

Google is launching a major redesign for Google News, bringing the site more in line with Google’s company-wide “Material Design” guidelines. A gray background and white cards around each story bring the site more in line with what Google has been doing on Android and makes it look a lot like Google Now. Everything is a lot more spaced out, so you’ll see less information on a single page. Google says the airier design is “designed for readability” and will make it easier to scan stories.

The site remains recognizable as Google News. There’s still a vertical column of sections on the left side, but now the list is customizable. There’s also still a right-side column that houses recent items, the weather, sports scores, and local news. Google is highlighting its “Fact Check”  labeling program with a new block in the right column that will show “the top fact checked articles recently published.” One new navigation element is a top bar that lets you jump between top headlines, local news, and “For You”—a suggested content section.

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Source: Ars Technica – Google News website gets redesigned, now looks like something from this decade

Qualcomm, Vivo show off slow but convenient under-display fingerprint sensor

Enlarge / THIS is actually the most accurate finger angle for the tall, skinny fingerprint reader. The problem is this is not really comfortable. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

The next wave of fingerprint readers on smart devices could be more inconspicuous than they are now. Earlier this year, Synaptics announced a new range of fingerprint sensors that can be integrated under polymers, ceramics, and glass, potentially providing more functions to Android soft buttons. Rumor has it that Apple has also been experimenting specifically with under-display fingerprint readers, and that’s the area that Qualcomm has been focusing on as well. At Mobile World Congress Shanghai, the chip maker showed off its first ultrasonic-based, under-display fingerprint sensors in a prototype of the existing Vivo Xplay6 smartphone.

The technology built into this prototype allows the bottom-third of the smartphone’s display to act as the fingerprint reader and unlock the device. As demonstrated in a hands-on demo by Engadget, you simply press your thumb to the display and the device unlocks within a second or so of reading your fingerprint. It doesn’t appear to be a speedy as traditional smartphone fingerprint sensors, but that’s not surprising since the technology is still in its infancy and hasn’t yet been incorporated into any consumer devices.

According to Vivo, the technology could be built out so the entire display could act as a fingerprint sensor. However, that will up the production costs dramatically. Engadget’s report says that Vivo could eventually spread the technology through the bottom half of the display rather than just a small portion close to the bottom edge.

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Source: Ars Technica – Qualcomm, Vivo show off slow but convenient under-display fingerprint sensor

A touch of Cocoa: Inside the original iPhone SDK

Enlarge / Web apps, declared Steve Jobs. All the original iPhone needs is Web apps! (credit: Jacqui Cheng)

When 2016 was over, Apple announced that its app store business generated well over $28 billion in sales that year. While that includes sales of software for its desktop operating system, it does not include the vast quantity of applications that are given away for free (many of which enable some sort of transaction when run). By any measure, the app store is big business, and an app-store-like ecosystem has now been part of any mobile OS for years.

One of the striking things about this is that, if you believe Steve Jobs, none of this was ever supposed to be. When the original iPhone was introduced, Jobs announced its development environment: Web apps.

There’s no SDK that you need! You’ve got everything you need if you know how to write apps using the most modern Web standards to write amazing apps for the iPhone today. So developers, we think we’ve got a very sweet story for you. You can begin building your iPhone apps today.

Jobs, of course, was famous for dismissing something as irrelevant right until the moment that Apple was ready to enter that market. The tight deadlines for putting something as complicated as iOS together undoubtedly left some of its SDK in a state of flux, and all of it was poorly documented—things were likely good enough for internal app development, but not the developer community. It was easy to see Jobs’ promotion of Web apps as a strategic announcement, meant to put off developer demands while the SDK was cleaned up.

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Source: Ars Technica – A touch of Cocoa: Inside the original iPhone SDK