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It’s official: Unionized video game voice actors are on strike

10/21/2016 10:23am

Enlarge (credit: Jonas B / Flickr)

After 18 months of contract negotiations and over 12 months after first voting for strike authority, voice actors in the SAG-AFTRA union will stop working with a number of prominent game companies as of today. The strike is part of an attempt to negotiate a more favorable contract that gives voice actors residual payments on successful games.

As part of last-minute negotiations this week—overseen by a federal mediator—representatives from the affected game companies offered an immediate 9 percent increase in the prevailing wage offered under the contract, speeding up a previous offer of a 3 percent annual raise over three years. The companies also offered additional compensation for games that required multiple recording sessions. Combined, the companies say this would have amounted to a 23 percent or more wage increase for "typical" video game recording sessions.

The union didn't even put that proposed contract to a vote before going on strike at midnight Thursday night. In a statement, the union argued that increased upfront payments don't address their members' primary issue: continuing residuals:

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Lamborghini and MIT join forces to create a sports car for the 21st century

10/21/2016 10:11am

Abigail Bassett

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is known for cutting-edge engineers, and Lamborghini is known for super cars. Just this week, the two paired up to ponder the future of an ultra-light, strong, and innovative automotive brand.

On Wednesday at the EmTech conference at MIT in Boston, Lamborghini Chairman and CEO Stefano Domenicali sat down with leaders from the university, other Italian companies, and the Italian Trade Agency. He was there to talk about Lamborghini’s long-time work in the development of carbon-fiber technologies for automotive, consumer, and aerospace industries.

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DoS attack on major DNS provider brings Internet to morning crawl [Updated]

10/21/2016 9:59am

(credit: Jürgen Telkmann)

Update (12:04p ET): A second wave of DDoS attacks against Dyn is underway, as of noon Eastern Time today. Dyn is continuing to work on the issue. Our original story follows below; further updates will be added as information becomes available.

A distributed denial of service attack against Dyn, the dynamic DNS service, affected the availability of dozens of major websites and Internet services this morning, including Twitter and Reddit. The attack, which began this morning at 7:10am Eastern Time (12:10pm UK), is apparently focused on Dyn’s US East Coast name servers.

“This morning, Dyn received a global DDoS attack on our Managed DNS infrastructure in the east coast of the United States,” Doug Madory, Director of Internet Analysis at Dyn, said in an e-mail sent to Ars this morning. “DNS traffic resolved from east coast name server locations are experiencing a service interruption during this time.” By 9:20am ET this morning, Dyn had mitigated the attack and services returned to normal.

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Child sex abuse org urges Web firms to sign up to “game-changing” hash list

10/21/2016 8:22am

(credit: Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock)

On its twentieth anniversary, the UK's Internet Watch Foundation—propped up by Microsoft's PhotoDNA tech—is urging Web companies to use its list of digital fingerprints to help prevent the upload, sharing, and storage of child abuse sex images online.

The IWF hash list of the underlying code associated with child abuse images was distributed to Google, Facebook, and Twitter in August 2015. It is compiled by analysts at the charity, who have the gruelling task of sifting through photos and videos showing children being sexually abused. Every eight minutes they identify a new webpage containing horrendous images.

To date, 125,583 hashes have be added to the list—more than 3,000 of which involved the abuse of babies and toddlers.

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HP’s new Spectre x360 is probably the best PC laptop around

10/21/2016 7:30am

Enlarge (credit: Peter Bright)

Specs at a glance: HP Spectre x360-13t Entry level Top spec As reviewed SCREEN 1920×1080 IPS at 13.3" (166 ppi), multitouch OS Windows 10 Home 64-bit Windows 10 Pro 64-bit Windows 10 Home 64-bit CPU 2.5-3.1GHz Core i5-7200U 2.7-3.5GHz Core i7-7500U 2.7-3.5GHz Core i7-7500U RAM 8GB 1867MHz DDR3 16GB 1867MHz DDR3 16GB 1867MHz DDR3 GPU Intel HD Graphics 620 HDD 256GB NVMe SSD 1TB NVMe SSD 512GB NVMe SSD NETWORKING Dual-band 802.11a/b/g/n/ac 2x2, Bluetooth 4.0 PORTS 2×Thunderbolt 3, USB 3.0, headset jack SIZE 12.03×8.58×0.54" WEIGHT 2.85lb BATTERY 3-cell 57.8Wh Li-ion WARRANTY 1 year depot 3 year onsite 1 year depot PRICE $1,049.99 $1,499.98 $1,299.99 OTHER PERKS 1080p webcam with Windows Hello

HP's Spectre x360 was one of our favorite laptops of the Broadwell generation. It was a thin, light, stylish ultrabook with solid battery life and a flippy hinge enabling it to be used as a (chunky) tablet or (more usefully) to hold the screen up in the kitchen or while watching movies on the plane.

The x360 received a minor refresh to upgrade to a Skylake processor, and this year HP added an optional OLED screen. Aside from these small changes, the Skylake model was little changed from its predecessor.

But now HP has a third revision, using Intel's new Kaby Lake processors. While Kaby Lake itself is not a major update on Skylake, HP has used the occasion of the processor upgrade to perform a more substantial overhaul of the Spectre x360.

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Battlefield 1 review: We found this year’s top-notch FPS combat

10/21/2016 7:00am

Enlarge / Ridin' dirty on a horse. (That explosive tanker in the distance is always blowing up as field decoration, as opposed to being caused by multiplayer battlers.) (credit: DICE)

The Battlefield video game series has turned the clock backward and forward on its military-combat scenarios for nearly 15 years. Whether focused on wars of the past, present, or future, developer DICE has continually introduced different set pieces and weapons to the games. As such, the eras have ultimately been a backdrop for the same experience time and time again: big battles, big squads, and big machinery.

There are particular eras where'd it's be easy to envision DICE being forced to change the Battlefield formula drastically—maybe millennia into the past, where the only "vehicle" on offer is a giant Trojan horse, or so far into the future that the battles take place via telepathy (or something weird like that). But the latest rewind to World War 1 in the newest installment, Battlefield 1, isn't enough of a change, apparently.

Tanks, boats, airplanes, grenades, sniper rifles, shotguns, automatic pistols, mounted chain guns, and on and on and on—in many respects, you've played this Battlefield before. In fact, anybody charmed by an impressive advertising campaign, complete with horse-riding Ottoman warriors and era-appropriate bi-planes, should take a breath and plant their war-shredded boots back into the mud of a trench. In practice, horses are just slightly slower motorcycles. Bi-planes work as you'd expect a plane to work.

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Razer’s new Blade Pro: desktop performance in 0.9 inches and 8 lbs

10/21/2016 12:55am

Razer's promo video

If you want hardcore gaming performance, but need it in a system that's portable, if not completely lightweight, then Razer's new Blade Pro could be just the ticket. Razer is calling it the "desktop in your laptop," and the company has a point.

On the inside, the system packs a quad core Skylake processor, an 8GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU, 32GB RAM, up to 2TB of NVMe SSD storage in RAID 0, Thunderbolt 3, and a 17.3-inch 4K G-Sync capable screen. That's a machine that isn't giving much up in performance to most desktop PCs, so already justifies Razer's strapline... but it's the next thing they did that really makes this a laptop desktop.

(credit: Razer)

The Blade Pro doesn't have the usual membrane keys found in laptops. It has a full mechanical keyboard, with switches—not rubber domes—beneath each key. OK, it's still a laptop, so it's a low profile mechanical keyboard with reduced key travel and chiclet style buttons. But it's a mechanical keyboard nonetheless (Razer also has a similar mechanical mechanism for its iPad Pro keyboard). And of course, being a Razer laptop, it's not just a mechanical keyboard. It's a mechanical keyboard that can be lit up with any color of the rainbow. Alongside it sits a giant touchpad.

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Microsoft cloud annualized run rate hits $13bn in strong first quarter

10/20/2016 9:35pm

Microsoft posted revenue of $20.5 billion in the first quarter of its 2017 financial year, a negligible rise on the same quarter last year. Operating income was $5.2 billion, down 8 percent year on year, net income was $4.7 billion, down 4 percent, and earnings per share were $0.60, down 2 percent.

As ever, Microsoft also offered alternative figures that book Windows 10 revenue up front instead of amortized over several years. Using that regime for both this year and last, revenue was up 3 percent at $22.3 billion, operating income was flat at $7.1 billion, net income up was up 6 percent at $6.0 billion, end earnings per share were up 9 percent at $0.76.

The company continued to cite negative impact on foreign earnings due to the strength of the US dollar; at constant exchange rates everything looks rosier.

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Automakers balk at California’s proposed self-driving car rules

10/20/2016 8:03pm

Google had a self-driving car sitting at the show, but it wasn't driving itself anywhere.

On Wednesday, California’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) held a meeting to discuss a set of proposed rules (PDF) that would govern how state regulator would deal with autonomous vehicles in the near future.

The California DMV’s rules lifted from guidelines that the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority (NHTSA) published last month then made voluntary. That troubled automakers and autonomous software engineers from Google, Ford, Volkswagen, and Honda, all of which currently have licenses to test autonomous vehicles on California’s roads as long as those cars have a qualified driver.

Eighteen companies working on self-driving vehicles have licenses to test autonomous vehicles in the state. California’s strong technology industry made it a hotbed for autonomous driving research, and the state’s large population often means that companies will adapt their product to meet California’s regulatory demands if they’re more stringent than rules governing other states in the nation.

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Russia-linked phishing campaign behind the DNC breach also hit Podesta, Powell

10/20/2016 6:40pm

The spear-phishing e-mail received by Clinton campaign staffer William Rinehart matches messages received by both former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta. (credit: The Smoking Gun)

The breach of personal e-mail accounts for Clinton presidential campaign chairman John Podesta and former Secretary of State Colin Powell have now been tied more closely to other breaches involving e-mail accounts for Democratic party political organizations. Podesta and Powell were both the victims of the same form of spear-phishing attack that affected individuals whose data was shared through the “hacktivist” sites of Guccifer 2.0 and DCLeaks.

As Ars reported in July, the spear-phishing attack used custom-coded shortened URLs containing the e-mail addresses of their victims. The URLs appeared in e-mails disguised to look like warnings from Google about the victims’ accounts. These spear-phishing attacks were tracked by the security firm SecureWorks as part of the firm’s tracking of the “Fancy Bear” threat group (also known as APT28), a hacking operation previously tied to a phishing campaign against military and diplomatic targets known as Operation Pawn Storm.

As The Smoking Gun reported in August, one of these e-mails was sent to William Rinehart, a staffer with the Clinton presidential campaign. Rinehart’s e-mails were leaked on the DCLeaks site. DCLeaks also carried the e-mails of Sarah Hamilton, an employee of a public relations firm that has done work for the Clinton campaign and for the DNC. Hamilton's e-mails were offered to The Smoking Gun by someone claiming to be Guccifer 2.0 via a password-protected link on the DC Leaks site.

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Agents of influence: How reporters have been “weaponized” by leaks

10/20/2016 6:20pm

Enlarge (credit: George Hodan)

Since June, some entity has been releasing e-mails and electronic documents obtained via network intrusions and credential thefts of politicians and political party employees. Some of the releases have appeared on sites believed to be associated with Russian intelligence operations; others have appeared on Wikileaks. On occasion, the leaker has also engaged journalists directly, trying to have them publish information drawn from these documents—sometimes successfully, other times not.

The US government has pinned at least some of the blame for these leaks on Russia. This has led some observers to argue that WikiLeaks and Russian intelligence agencies are "weaponizing" the media. This is what national security circles refer to as an "influence operation," using reporters as tools to give credibility and cover to a narrative driven by another nation-state. The argument is that by willingly accepting leaked data, journalists have (wittingly or not) aided the leaker's cause. As such, they have become an "agent of influence."

The Grugq, a veteran information security researcher who has specialized in counterintelligence research and a former employee of the computer security consulting company @stake, penned an article about the topic yesterday. "The primary role for an agent of influence," he wrote, "is to add credibility to the narrative/data that the agency is attempting to get out and help influence the public." Such agents might friendly with or controlled by the agency trying to spread the information, but they can also be unwitting accomplices "sometimes called a 'useful idiot,' unaware of their role as conduits of data for an agency."

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Homeopaths slam FDA for warning about infant deaths, illnesses

10/20/2016 5:18pm

Enlarge / Hyland's Homeopathic Teething Gel. (Photo by Marice Cohn Band/Miami Herald/MCT via Getty Images) (credit: Getty | Miami Herald)

The National Center for Homeopathy is slamming the Food and Drug Administration’s recent warnings and investigation regarding homeopathic teething gels and tablets, calling the agency’s moves “arbitrary and capricious.” In a statement on its website, the NCH went on to blame the media’s “exaggerated fear mongering” and “dramatic headlines” for getting homeopathic teething treatments largely pulled from the market.

The NHC issued a call to action among homeopaths to “correct misconceptions” and spread the information that homeopathy has been proven safe and effective.

“Despite these facts, groups interested in seeing homeopathy destroyed continue to hammer away at the system - making exaggerated claims that create misunderstandings about and limit consumer access,” the NCH said (emphasis theirs).

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The 2016 Golf R: Ars puts Volkswagen’s hottest hatch to the test

10/20/2016 5:00pm

Abigail Bassett

AUSTIN, Texas—It’s a rare thing for a modern-day car to excite me. Don’t get me wrong, most of the cars now on the market are fantastic machines—they do exactly what they aim to do, and they do it well. It’s just rare to find an everyday car that inspires any kind of excitement. The 2016 Volkswagen Golf R, however, is a whole different animal.

I spent a week behind the wheel of the third-generation Golf R here in Austin and couldn’t wipe the smile from my face. Fast, responsive, enjoyable to drive in traffic or on the highway, and even more fun to toss around in the Hill Country, the hot hatch gets VW’s turbocharged, 2.0L, inline four-cylinder engine and puts out 292hp (217kW) at 5,000rpm and 280lb-ft (380Nm) of torque from 1,800 to 5,000 rpm. There's a choice of transmissions with a six-speed dual-clutch DSG available, but our test Golf R got the new-for-2016 six-speed manual. The EPA rates the manual at 22mpg city and 31mpg highway, but don't expect to see those numbers if you rag it.

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“Most serious” Linux privilege-escalation bug ever is under active exploit (updated)

10/20/2016 4:20pm

(credit: michael)

A serious vulnerability that has been present for nine years in virtually all versions of the Linux operating system is under active exploit, according to researchers who are advising users to install a patch as soon as possible.

While CVE-2016-5195, as the bug is cataloged, amounts to a mere privilege-escalation vulnerability rather than a more serious code-execution vulnerability, there are several reasons many researchers are taking it extremely seriously. For one thing, it's not hard to develop exploits that work reliably. For another, the flaw is located in a section of the Linux kernel that's a part of virtually every distribution of the open-source OS released for almost a decade. What's more, researchers have discovered attack code that indicates the vulnerability is being actively and maliciously exploited in the wild.

"It's probably the most serious Linux local privilege escalation ever," Dan Rosenberg, a senior researcher at Azimuth Security, told Ars. "The nature of the vulnerability lends itself to extremely reliable exploitation. This vulnerability has been present for nine years, which is an extremely long period of time."

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What we know (and what we can guess) about Nintendo Switch’s insides

10/20/2016 3:30pm

Enlarge / What's inside the Switch? We recap what we know and what we can guess. (credit: Nintendo)

The first trailer for Nintendo's Switch console told us a lot about the console's central gimmick but almost nothing about the details. How big is it? How powerful is it? How long will its battery last? What will it cost? What accessories come bundled, and which will be aftermarket add-ons?

We don't have definitive answers to any of those questions, but if you take all the available information, you can make some reasonably confident guesses. So while Nintendo has six more months to give us additional information about the Switch, here's everything we know (and can guess) about the stuff inside the console/portable hybrid for now.

Nvidia’s Tegra chip and graphics performance

The new console uses a "custom Tegra processor" from Nvidia, confirming months of rumors. Nvidia has declined to give us the chip's name or provide any specs, but many rumors point to it being either a "Tegra X2" or a very close relative. (Also worth noting: Digital Foundry claims devkits are running a slightly older Tegra X1.)

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Last year, STD cases hit an all-time high in the US

10/20/2016 3:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Media for Medical)

In 2015, documented cases of sexually transmitted diseases in the US hit the highest number ever in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s records going back to 1941, according to a new report by the agency. It’s the second year in a row with historically high STD levels. However, because only three STDs are routinely reported to the CDC—chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis—the new data may be just a glimpse of the nationwide problem.

Among the three nationally reported STDs, chlamydia had the highest total number of cases, hitting more than 1.5 million in 2015. That total is a 5.9 percent increase from that of 2014. Syphilis saw the largest jump, with a 19 percent increase from 2014 cases, bringing the 2015 total to nearly 24,000. Gonorrhea followed with a 12.8 percent increase, reaching nearly 400,000 cases.

Americans most affected by the STD rise are young people and gay and bisexual men, the agency found. Two-thirds of chlamydia cases and half of gonorrhea cases were among Americans aged 15 to 24. Men who have sex with men were largely behind the rises in gonorrhea and syphilis.

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What happens when you end up with an extra genome?

10/20/2016 3:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Most of the complex organisms we see around us have equally complex genomes with lots of large gene families that allow them to finely tune the regulation of things like development and metabolism. While some of these extra copies of genes became available when an individual gene got duplicated, a lot of this genetic complexity seems to have arisen when the entire genome was duplicated. In other words, an organism can end up with four sets of every chromosome rather than just one each from mom and dad.

While these copies start out looking extremely similar, evolutionary changes allow individual genes to take on specialized roles or to end up active at different times and locations. This specialization can enable evolutionary novelty—more distinct cell types, more elaborate development, and so on.

It's estimated that the lineage that led to us vertebrates experienced two separate whole-genome duplications, giving us four sets of some critical developmental genes. The lineage that led to most fish seems to have undergone yet another one since. But all of those events took place in the distant past, leaving lots of questions about how evolution proceeds when there's extra copies of everything. Now, in order to answer some of those questions, researchers have sequenced the genome of a frog with four sets of chromosomes.

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Feds seized 50TB of data from NSA contractor suspected of theft

10/20/2016 2:45pm

The National Security Operations Center at NSA, photographed in 2012—the nerve center of the NSA's "signals intelligence" monitoring. (credit: National Security Agency)

In a new Thursday court filing, federal prosecutors expanded their accusations against a former National Security Agency contractor. Federal investigators seized at least 50 terabytes of data from Harold Thomas Martin III, at least some of which was "national defense information." If all of this data was indeed classified, it would be the largest such heist from the NSA, far larger than what former contractor Edward Snowden took.

Prosecutors also said that Martin should remain locked up and noted that he will soon be charged with violations of the Espionage Act. That law, which dates back nearly a century, is the same law that was used to charge Chelsea Manning and Snowden, among others. If convicted, violators can face the death penalty.

United States Attorney Rod Rosenstein and two other prosecutors laid out new details in the case against Martin, whose arrest only became public earlier this month. Martin had been a contractor with Booz Allen Hamilton and possessed a top-secret clearance.

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How we reconstruct our evolutionary past

10/20/2016 2:45pm

Enlarge / You don't need a DeLorean to understand the past. (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

How do we know what today's lifeforms were like when they first evolved? For years, biologists could make inferences about how recent species shared common ancestors based on an approach called cladistics, which quantified how many similar features they shared. This approach worked with fossils as well as living species, allowing us to group them in the sort of branching hierarchies produced by common descent. But these days, rather than things like bone shape and tooth number, we have DNA.

So how do you build a tree out of that? As it turns out, the general approach of cladistics also works with genetic information.


Let's say you want to understand the origin of mammals. To do that, it helps to have a separate but closely related group—for mammals, reptiles would work well. Reptiles and mammals share a number of features, such as having four limbs (they're all tetrapods—even snakes and whales, which can have vestigial limbs). Others are distinct to mammals, like fur or the presence of specific bones in the inner ear. You can also have some features that are partly shared (like the egg laying of a platypus) or present in only a subset of mammals (like flight in the bats).

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How big is the Nintendo Switch? An Ars visual analysis

10/20/2016 2:13pm

There are many, many unanswered questions surrounding the Nintendo Switch (aka. Project NX) after its brief unveiling this morning. The biggest? We still don't know the actual dimensions of the system—which includes a tablet screen and detachable Joy-Con controllers. In the absence of official information, we've analyzed high-quality images of the system distributed by Nvidia to estimate those dimensions. That analysis shows the Nintendo Switch has a roughly 6.5" screen and individual controllers slightly smaller than those on the NES.

Our photographic analysis of the Switch's dimensions hinges on a single visual reference point: the analog sticks on the controllers. On the Wii U, Xbox One, and PS4, the top surface of the analog stick measures 17 to 18 mm in diameter at the widest point. That seems to be a comfortable sweet spot that all the console manufacturers have converged upon. It's possible the Switch has thrown this convention out the window and sports a much smaller or larger analog pad, but we doubt it.

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