The Pebble Beach Concours in pictures: plenty of posh cars and a parrot

CARMEL, CALIF.—Last Sunday, the 69th Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance took place by the Pacific at the Pebble Beach Golf Course. A concours d’elegance is a fancy way of saying a fancy car show, and car shows don’t come much fancier than this one, the grand finale to Monterey Car Week. Two hundred old cars—ones with significant histories or perhaps significant owners—drove onto the 18th green at dawn and line up to be judged. As with my round up of the Quail, this is a story much better told in pictures, so please make sure to scroll through the galleries. Otherwise you might not see the parrot.

The cars were grouped into classes, and the winner of each class was eligible for best in show. Some were the product of expensive and obsessive restoration, and they looked better than they ever would in period. Others showed a more sympathetic touch, with a few looking wonderfully patinated and original. Classes celebrating the centenaries of Bentley and the Italian design studio Zagato bookended the lawn, which (as usual) was top-heavy with cars from the prewar period.

For those seeking something a little more current, there was the increasingly misnamed “concept lawn.” It’s supposed to be a place for automakers to show off their newest flights of fancy, and a few got into the spirit. BMW brought not one but two concepts, one of which has a rather cool story behind it. Genesis brought along the Mint, which wouldn’t have looked out of place on the 18th green, and Volkswagen showed off the ID. Buggy. Other car makerss were so lazy they didn’t even phone it in: a production SUV with a sticker or two is the equivalent of sending a single emoji text message, Maserati.

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Source: Ars Technica – The Pebble Beach Concours in pictures: plenty of posh cars and a parrot

Ewan McGregor confirms he will return as Obi-Wan for new Star Wars series

Ewan McGregor made a surprise appearance at Disney's D23 Expo yesterday to announce he will star in an as-yet-untitled Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off series. It will stream exclusively on Disney+, which launches November 12.

Enlarge / Ewan McGregor made a surprise appearance at Disney’s D23 Expo yesterday to announce he will star in an as-yet-untitled Obi-Wan Kenobi spin-off series. It will stream exclusively on Disney+, which launches November 12. (credit: Jesse Grant/Getty Images for Disney)

The rumors were true: there will indeed be a Star Wars spinoff series featuring Obi-Wan Kenobi, and none other than Ewan McGregor will be reprising his role as the iconic character. The actor (and Officer of the British Empire) made a surprise appearance last night at the tail-end of a showcase presentation at D23 Expo 2019, Disney’s annual fan extravaganza. The series is still in the earliest stages of development, but will air on Disney+, the studio’s new streaming service scheduled to launch in November. The showcase also featured several other notable projects Star Wars and Marvel fans in particular can expect to debut over the next two years.

Star Wars: The Mandalorian

The other major announcement during the Star Wars portion of the showcase was the premiere of the first official trailer for the spinoff series, The Mandalorian. Starring Pedro Pascal, the series takes place a few years “after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order,'” according to the official synopsis. Pascal’s bounty hunter is “a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.”

Disney+ is also developed a Star Wars spinoff (“Untitled Spy Series”) featuring Rogue One‘s Cassian (Diego Luna) and his best droid buddy, K2 (Alan Tudyk). Both actors made a brief appearance during the announcement. Although there’s no title yet, Tudyk quipped he though it could be called K2 Fast K2 Furious. Or possibly the Untold Cassian Untitled Story. In addition, there will be a return of the hugely popular animated series, The Clone Wars, in February 2020.

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Source: Ars Technica – Ewan McGregor confirms he will return as Obi-Wan for new Star Wars series

A lone gunman roams a galaxy in chaos in first trailer for The Mandalorian

Pedro Pascal and Gina Carano star in The Mandalorian, a new Star Wars series debuting with Disney+ in November.

Fans went wild as Disney debuted the first trailer for its hotly anticipated original series, The Mandalorian, last night at D23, the annual fan extravaganza the studio has been organizing for the last several years. The series will be released in conjunction with the company’s new streaming platform, Disney+, on November 12, 2019.

Starring Pedro Pascal (Oberyn Martell, aka the Red Viper, in Game of Thrones) as the Mandalorian, the series takes place a few years “after the fall of the Empire and before the emergence of the First Order,'” according to the official synopsis. Pascal’s bounty hunter is “a lone gunfighter in the outer reaches of the galaxy, far from the authority of the New Republic.” Pascal delighted the assembled fans with a surprise appearance at D23, along with co-stars Gina Carano, who plays Cara Dune, a former Rebel Shock Trooper; Carl Weathers as Greef Carga, leader of a bounty-hunter guild; Giancarlo Esposito; and Taika Waititi, who voices the droid IG-11. Ming-Na Wen (Agents of Shield) has also been cast in the series.

Showrunner and series creator Jon Favreau was also on stage for the event, and he explained that, after the defeat of the Empire in Return of the Jedi, there was a period of chaos and lawlessness as a new government struggled to emerge from the wreckage. The trailer plays up the space opera/spaghetti Western crossover vive. There’s almost no dialogue, just scenes depicting a mysterious lone figure taking on an assignment from Carga to track something. Or someone. Could it be Han Solo trapped in carbonite?

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Source: Ars Technica – A lone gunman roams a galaxy in chaos in first trailer for The Mandalorian

Our favorite gaming studios, expos, museum exhibits—in a photo blowout

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Source: Ars Technica – Our favorite gaming studios, expos, museum exhibits—in a photo blowout

Tracking online hate groups reveals why they’re resilient to bans

The Facebook login screen on a Web browser.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto )

Social networks have struggled to figure out how to handle issues like threats of violence and the presence of hate groups on their platforms. But a new study suggests that attempts to limit the latter run up against a serious problem: the networks formed by hate group members are remarkably resilient, and they will migrate from network to network, keeping and sometimes expanding their connections in the process. The study does offer a few suggestions for how to limit the impact of these groups, but many of the suggestions will require the intervention of actual humans, rather than the algorithms most social networks favor.

Finding the “hate highways”

The work, done by researchers at George Washington and Miami Universities, focused on networks of racist groups, centered on the US’ KKK. To do this, the researchers tracked the presence of racist groups on two major social networks: Facebook and a Russia-based network called VKontakte. The researchers crafted an automated system that could identify interest groups that shared links with each other. It would chart these connections iteratively, continuing until the process simply re-identified previously known groups. The system tracked links to other social sites like Instagram, but it doesn’t iterate within those sites.

The authors confirmed this worked by performing a similar analysis manually. Satisfied, the team then tracked daily changes for an extended period of 2018. Through this, they identified more than 768 nodes formed by members of the white supremacy movement. Other nodes were identified, but these tended to be things like pornography or illicit materials, so they were ignored for this study.

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Source: Ars Technica – Tracking online hate groups reveals why they’re resilient to bans

Book publishers sue Audible to stop new speech-to-text feature

Book publishers sue Audible to stop new speech-to-text feature

Enlarge (credit: Audible)

Seven of the nation’s top book publishers sued Amazon subsidiary Audible on Friday, asking federal courts to block the company from releasing a new feature called Audible Captions that’s due out next month. The technology does exactly what it sounds like: display text captions on the screen of your phone or tablet as the corresponding words are read in the audio file.

The publishers argue that this is straight-up copyright infringement. In their view, the law gives them the right to control the distribution of their books in different formats. Audio is a different format from text, they reason, so Audible needs a separate license.

This would be a slam-dunk argument if Audible were generating PDFs of entire books and distributing them to customers alongside the audio files. But what Audible is actually doing is subtly different—in a way that could provide the company with firm legal ground to stand on.

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Source: Ars Technica – Book publishers sue Audible to stop new speech-to-text feature

Why people keep falling for viral hoaxes

Why people keep falling for viral hoaxes

Enlarge (credit: Thomas Trutschel/Getty Images)

The Internet is dark and full of terrible sources of information. Sometimes it seems like every day brings a new one to the list. There are the toxic conspiracy theories, deepfakes, and fake news mills. And then there are good old-fashioned Internet hoaxes. You know the ones—the sort of fear-mongering, copypasta-esquewarnings that came in the form of cryptically bolded email chains a decade ago, and today dot the social media feeds of your friends and relatives.

In comparison to the targeted disinformation campaigns that have dominated headlines in recent years, social media hoaxes seem almost quaint. Aw, we used to get duped by all-caps chain texts that claimed we would end up cursed if we didn’t forward it to five of our friends!

That is, at least, until you realize that they’re somehow still around.

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Source: Ars Technica – Why people keep falling for viral hoaxes

Hackers are actively trying to steal passwords from two widely used VPNs

Hackers are actively trying to steal passwords from two widely used VPNs

(credit: xxdigipxx)

Hackers are actively unleashing attacks that attempt to steal encryption keys, passwords, and other sensitive data from servers that have failed to apply critical fixes for two widely used virtual private network (VPN) products, researchers said.

The vulnerabilities can be exploited by sending unpatched servers Web requests that contain a special sequence of characters, researchers at the Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas said earlier this month. The pre-authorization file-reading vulnerabilities resided in the Fortigate SSL VPN, installed on about 480,000 servers, and the competing Pulse Secure SSL VPN, installed on about 50,000 machines, researchers from Devcore Security Consulting reported.

The Devcore researchers discovered other critical vulnerabilities in both products. These make it possible for attackers to, among other things, remotely execute malicious code and change passwords. Patches for the Fortigate VPN became available in May and in April for Pulse Secure. But installing the patches can often cause service disruptions that prevent businesses from carrying out essential tasks.

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Source: Ars Technica – Hackers are actively trying to steal passwords from two widely used VPNs

Deadly superbug outbreak in humans linked to antibiotic spike in cows

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Source: Ars Technica – Deadly superbug outbreak in humans linked to antibiotic spike in cows

Hundreds of “banned” goods still for sale on Amazon, report finds

A drone with an Amazon package floats in front of the Amazon logistics center in Leipzig, Germany, 28 October 2014. Amazon did not comment on whether drones will fuel this default one-day speed boost for paying Amazon Prime subscribers' deliveries.

Enlarge / A drone with an Amazon package floats in front of the Amazon logistics center in Leipzig, Germany, 28 October 2014. Amazon did not comment on whether drones will fuel this default one-day speed boost for paying Amazon Prime subscribers’ deliveries. (credit: Alamy / dpa Picture Alliance)

Amazon is by far the biggest US online retailer. In the past 20 years it has leapt past its origins as a website you could order books from to become, among other things, the everything store—one-stop shopping for all physical and digital goods from A to Z.

The company’s explosive growth is due in part to its sprawling third-party merchant marketplace. Many marketplace merchants are indeed above-board retailers, manufacturers, and resellers. But thousands more sell not only counterfeit items, but also mislabeled, unsafe, recalled, or even banned items that can put consumers—especially children—in serious danger.

The Wall Street Journal identified more than 4,100 such products for sale on Amazon.com during the course of a months-long investigation, and at least 2,000 are toys or medications that fail to include warnings about risks to children.

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Source: Ars Technica – Hundreds of “banned” goods still for sale on Amazon, report finds

US phone carriers make empty, unenforceable promises to fight robocalls

Illustration of a robot wearing a phone headset.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | MassimoVernicesole)

Phone companies and attorneys general from all 50 US states are touting a new agreement to fight robocalls, but it won’t actually do much to help consumers.

The top wireless carriers and home phone providers promised attorneys general from every state and the District of Columbia that they would offer free robocall blocking and take other steps to fight robocalls. But the agreement imposes no legally binding requirements on phone providers. “Failure to adhere to these principles is not in itself a basis for liability,” a disclaimer on the agreement notes.

Even if breaking the agreement was a basis for liability, there would be no deadline to comply. “Adherence to these principles may take time for the voice service providers to plan for and implement,” the disclaimer also said, while providing no specific timeline for the carriers to fulfill their promises.

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Source: Ars Technica – US phone carriers make empty, unenforceable promises to fight robocalls

Dealmaster: iPhone cases, PS4 controllers, and more in today’s top tech deals

Dealmaster: iPhone cases, PS4 controllers, and more in today’s top tech deals

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today’s list is headlined by a couple of deals on Apple’s Leather Cases for its iPhone XS and iPhone 8/7 phones. The former is down to $25, while the latter is down to $22.49. Only the black models are discounted, but both prices are as low as we’ve seen on Amazon. Overpricing is usually the big downside with Apple’s first-party cases, but this deal negates that. Otherwise, each case fits its respective iPhone like a glove, and though they aren’t the most protective things around, the leather finish feels great.

Elsewhere in the rundown, BuyDig has a big bundle on the Xbox One S All-Digital Edition that includes two months of Xbox Live Gold and six game downloads—including the latest Madden NFL and Gears of War 4—for $229 with an on-site coupon. This deal isn’t as much of a showstopper as it sounds: the All-Digital model has no disc drive, it should be cheaper than its $249 MSRP to begin with, and at least one new Xbox console is coming next year. But if you were looking to pick up new Xbox hardware sooner, a $20 hardware discount plus six largely solid games is decent value.

Beyond that, you can find a $50 discount on the entry-level Mac mini, a $30 drop on Amazon’s Cloud Cam security camera, a nice price on a gold DualShock 4 PS4 controller, and more deals below.

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Source: Ars Technica – Dealmaster: iPhone cases, PS4 controllers, and more in today’s top tech deals

Telling Lies takes an intimate, expansive view of interactive storytelling

Four years ago, Sam Barlow surprised the game industry by reviving the moribund and seemingly outdated genre of full-motion-video games. Barlow’s Her Story was a well-made, gripping, and ambiguous tale of murder and mania, told exclusively via conversational video snippets that players could search through via deduced transcript keywords.

But Her Story was tight and focused to the point of practical claustrophobia; every scene involved one actress whose character was interrogated in a single, mostly empty room over the course of a few in-game days. Barlow’s latest FMV effort, Telling Lies, expands the same basic concept to great effect, packing many more characters, environments, and lengthy plotlines across roughly six hours of raw video and months of in-game time. The result is a slow-burning and deeply intimate character study with a plot that would feel cliché if not for its incredible presentation.

Random walk

Like Her Story, the player interacts with Telling Lies by searching through a video database and watching the clips. This time, though, that database is sourced from an intelligence agency, apparently stolen by your “viewer” character Snowden-style before her access could be completely cut off. Right away, it’s apparent your goal is to search through the data before spreading it to the wider world. “When you use the uploader it will erase the hard-drive, so please do that before they take you into custody,” read a note that accompanies the USB drive containing the database. “(Which they will—you know this, right?)”

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Source: Ars Technica – Telling Lies takes an intimate, expansive view of interactive storytelling

Company accused of “crypto snake oil” sues Black Hat, anonymous detractors

Things got weird during a sponsored talk at this year's Black Hat USA conference. Now it's spawning a lawsuit.

Enlarge / Things got weird during a sponsored talk at this year’s Black Hat USA conference. Now it’s spawning a lawsuit. (credit: Getty Images)

One of the strangest moments at the Black Hat USA security conference in Las Vegas this month has now become the subject of a federal lawsuit against the conference.

In a filing to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (PDF), attorneys for the “emerging digital cryptography” firm Crown Sterling alleged that Black Hat USA had breached “its sponsorship agreement with Crown Sterling and the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arising therefrom.” Crown Sterling goes on to accuse the conference organizers of “other wrongful conduct” connected to events surrounding the presentation of a paper by Crown Sterling CEO and founder Robert E. Grant. In addition to legally targeting the conference, Crown Sterling has also filed suit against 10 “Doe” defendants, who it claims orchestrated a disruption of the company’s sponsored talk at Black Hat.

Grant’s presentation, entitled “Discovery of Quasi-Prime Numbers: What Does this Mean for Encryption,” was based on a paper called “Accurate and Infinite Prime Prediction from a Novel Quasi-PrimeAnalytical Methodology.” That work was published in March of 2019 through Cornell University’s arXiv.org by Grant’s co-author Talal Ghannam—a physicist who has self-published a book called The Mystery of Numbers: Revealed through their Digital Root as well as a comic book called The Chronicles of Maroof the Knight: The Byzantine. The paper, a slim five pages, focuses on the use of digital root analysis (a type of calculation that has been used in occult numerology) to rapidly identify prime numbers and a sort of multiplication table for factoring primes.

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Source: Ars Technica – Company accused of “crypto snake oil” sues Black Hat, anonymous detractors

Tesla working to resolve dispute with Walmart over solar panel fires

Fire damage on the roof of a Walmart store in Indio, California.

Enlarge / Fire damage on the roof of a Walmart store in Indio, California. (credit: Walmart)

Walmart and Tesla are actively negotiating to resolve the lawsuit Walmart filed against Tesla earlier this week over defective solar panels, the two companies said in a joint statement sent out on Thursday evening.

“Walmart and Tesla look forward to addressing all issues and re-energizing Tesla solar installations at Walmart stores, once all parties are certain that all concerns have been addressed,” the statement said. The companies say they’re both committed to a “sustainable energy future” as well as safety and efficiency.

Spokespeople for Tesla and Walmart declined to provide any further details about the state of the negotiations, but it’s not hard to guess what happened. The optics of Walmart suing Tesla over multiple fires on its store roofs were not good for Tesla. Tesla wants the public—and potential customers—to know that it’s now working to address Walmart’s concerns.

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Source: Ars Technica – Tesla working to resolve dispute with Walmart over solar panel fires

Sun’s solar wind recreated in lab with aid of Big Red Ball

The Big Red Ball is pictured in Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Oct. 2, 2017. There is no word on whether or not the Big Red Ball contains an unknown glowing green substance which fell to earth, presumably from outer space. (Though it probably does not. <em>Probably</em>.)

Enlarge / The Big Red Ball is pictured in Sterling Hall at the University of Wisconsin-Madison on Oct. 2, 2017. There is no word on whether or not the Big Red Ball contains an unknown glowing green substance which fell to earth, presumably from outer space. (Though it probably does not. Probably.) (credit: Jeff Miller / UW-Madison)

The solar wind is made—mostly—of pure awesome. It is an always changing, poorly predictable flow of charged particles from the Sun: a giant exhalation right into our faces. It’s responsible for the auroras, which it produces in partnership with the Earth’s magnetic fields. The solar wind has also given rise to possibly the coolest job description on Earth: space meteorologist.

But data on the solar wind is not so easy to come by. Yes, we can always observe the charged particles that hit our world’s magnetic field, but for a more global view, we need to use satellite data—and satellites don’t come cheap. It would be nice if we could recreate the solar wind in the laboratory. And that is exactly what a group of physicists have done, using a machine called the “Big Red Ball.”

A closer look at the solar wind

You’d think we understood the solar wind pretty well, given that its existence was predicted before it was observed. But it’s a complex system, and predicting its existence has not made it any easier to predict its behavior. Why is it so complicated?

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Source: Ars Technica – Sun’s solar wind recreated in lab with aid of Big Red Ball

Actually, NASA is looking at all options for the Moon—including prizes

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, far right, tours the Blue Origin facilities near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23, 2019.

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, far right, tours the Blue Origin facilities near the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on May 23, 2019. (credit: NASA)

On Thursday, former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich expanded upon his ideas to use multi-billion dollar prizes to accelerate the Trump administration’s goal of sending humans to the Moon by 2024, and then Mars by the 2030s. He positioned the idea to promote commercial space as an alternative solution to NASA’s current plans for using the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System rocket.

“To be clear: Our proposal does not suggest cancelling any current proposal,” Gingrich wrote. “It does suggest that for the cost of one—or at most two—SLS launches, it may be possible to incentivize a competition to land on and start developing the Moon in less time and for less money. It is based on the principle of paying only for the achievement. If no one is able to reach the Moon and begin developing it, then the taxpayer would not pay a cent.”

The basic idea is that if SpaceX, Blue Origin, or another company were able to independently develop its own launch systems (like SpaceX’s Starship or Blue Origin’s New Glenn) and then land humans on the Moon, they would receive a payment of $2 billion or more for the achievement. This would offer a back-up option if NASA’s existing plans for the Artemis Program—which uses more traditional contracting and is expected to cost at least $30 billion—are delayed or run over budget.

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Source: Ars Technica – Actually, NASA is looking at all options for the Moon—including prizes

Guidemaster: Our favorite gaming monitors for players of all kinds

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Source: Ars Technica – Guidemaster: Our favorite gaming monitors for players of all kinds

Guidemaster: The best keyboards, mice, and more for your gaming PC

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Source: Ars Technica – Guidemaster: The best keyboards, mice, and more for your gaming PC

YouTube disables 210 accounts spreading misinformation about Hong Kong

Students attend a rally at Edinburgh Place in Hong Kong on August 22, 2019.

Enlarge / Students attend a rally at Edinburgh Place in Hong Kong on August 22, 2019. (credit: ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

YouTube has disabled 210 accounts linked to the recent protests in Hong Kong, Google announced in a carefully worded blog post on Thursday. Google says the removals are “consistent with recent observations and actions related to China announced by Facebook and Twitter.”

Earlier this week, Twitter deleted hundreds of accounts connected to the Hong Kong protests. Twitter described it as a “significant state-backed information operation focused on the situation in Hong Kong.” Twitter tipped off Facebook, which deleted several accounts.

In plain English, Twitter suspected that the Chinese government created or hijacked a bunch of accounts to post propaganda defending Hong Kong’s police and attacking Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protestors. Facebook and YouTube followed up by deleting accounts on their platforms with similar patterns of misinformation.

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Source: Ars Technica – YouTube disables 210 accounts spreading misinformation about Hong Kong