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Building megasocieties didn’t require divine intervention, study says
Studying a societal chicken and egg situation?

Studying a societal chicken and egg situation?

A new study in Nature claims that big, complex societies arose before people started believing in major gods or powers that enforced social rules. That's a new twist in the debate over whether such "moralizing" religions were a prerequisite for social expansion.

A common theme in most of the world's major religions today is that some supernatural power will enforce a set of rules that do two things: proscribe how people worship and dictate how they relate to each other. This can be enforced via an omnipotent god or a mechanism like karma.

People have believed in, and worshipped, supernatural powers for a very long time, but the gods they worshipped haven't always done both these things. Many early ones didn’t always care whether humans played nicely with each other as long as the gods got their prescribed due. If any supernatural entity enforced human social norms, it was often a minor god or spirit, not one of the big cosmological players.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 12:55 pm

HMD admits the Nokia 7 Plus was sending personal data to China
The Nokia 7 Plus.

Enlarge / The Nokia 7 Plus.

HMD is in hot water following a report from Norwegian site NRKbeta, which found that HMD's Nokia 7 Plus was sending users' personal information to a server in China. HMD responded to the report, admitting, "Our device activation client meant for another country was mistakenly included in the software package of a single batch of Nokia 7 Plus."

NRKbeta's investigation found the Nokia 7 Plus was sending the IMEI, MAC ID, and the SIM ICCID, all of which are unique hardware or SIM card identifiers that could be used to track an individual. There was also rough location information, as the device sent the ID of the nearest cell tower. NRKbeta's article is in Norwegian, but through Google Translate the site claims this data was sent every time the phone was switched on and that the phone was sending this data for several months.

HMD admits this data ended up on "a third-party server" but claims the data "was never processed." The company identifies the information sent as "activation data" and then says that "no person could have been identified based on this data." HMD's claim here is a bit strange, considering the entire point of "activation data" is to identify someone so they can be billed for cellular access.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 12:33 pm

Clippy briefly resurrected as Teams add-on, brutally taken down by brand police
Clippy briefly resurrected as Teams add-on, brutally taken down by brand police

Enlarge (credit: theaelix)

On Microsoft's official Office GitHub repository (which contains, alas, not the source code to Office itself but lots of developer content for software that extends Office), the widely loved (?) Clippy made a brief appearance with the publication of a Clippy sticker pack for Microsoft Teams. Teams users could import the stickers and use them to add pictures of a talking paperclip to their conversations.

The synergy between the two seems obvious. With its various machine learning-powered services and its bot development framework, Microsoft finally has the technology to make Clippy the assistant we always wanted him to be: a Clippy that can be asked natural language questions, that we can actually speak to and that can talk back to us, that can recognize us by sight and greet us as we sit down to the working day. Teams, an interface that's conversational and text heavy, is the perfect venue for a new Clippy compliant with all the buzzwords of the late twenty-teens. Twenteens? Whatever.

Clippy is, after all, far more expressive than Cortana. While Clippy and Cortana share a tendency to reshape their basic form to meet the needs of the task at hand—Clippy can distort itself into a question mark or an envelope or whatever, and Cortana can deviate from her usual circular form—Clippy has a killer advantage in that it has eyes, and more particularly, eyebrows, enabling a range of emotions such as incredulity and contemptuous pity that Cortana can only dream of.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 12:18 pm

FCC has to pay journalist $43,000 after hiding net neutrality records
Shredded documents with a magnifying glass and the words,

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Nicholas Rigg)

The Federal Communications Commission has settled a case over its refusal to comply with a public records request, agreeing to pay $43,000 to a journalist who sued the commission.

Freelance writer Jason Prechtel filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FCC in mid-2017, asking for data that would identify who made bulk comment uploads in the proceeding that led to the repeal of net neutrality rules. Prechtel was trying to research comments that were falsely attributed to people without their knowledge.

The FCC didn't comply with the request and allegedly didn't even approve or deny the FOIA request within the legally allotted timeframe, so Prechtel sued the commission in September 2017. One year later, a US District Court judge presiding over the case ordered the FCC to stop withholding certain records sought by Prechtel, although the ruling didn't give Prechtel everything he asked for.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 11:58 am

To rival Amazon, UPS enters healthcare—with doorstep nurse delivery
A United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) logo is displayed on the door of a truck

Enlarge / A United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) logo is displayed on the door of a truck (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

UPS is crossing the threshold into healthcare, with plans for a new service that will deliver vaccine-toting nurses to customers' doorsteps.

A test for the new service is scheduled for later this year, but UPS didn’t name where it will take place or which vaccine it will offer, only saying that it would be an immunization for adults against a viral illness. Vaccine-maker Merck & Co is reportedly considering partnering with UPS on the service.

News of the plan was first reported by Reuters. Ars confirmed the report with UPS, but a UPS spokesperson specifically working on the project did not immediately get back to us. This post will be updated with any additional information we receive.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 11:28 am

You can help “rescue” weather data from the 1860s
The wreck of the Royal Charter in 1859 led to systematic weather observations in the UK—but researchers need help reading them all.

Enlarge / The wreck of the Royal Charter in 1859 led to systematic weather observations in the UK—but researchers need help reading them all. (credit: Wikimedia)

“Weather Rescue” sounds like it could be a Baywatch-style TV show about the adventures of an emergency response team. But the Weather Rescue project led by University of Reading researcher Ed Hawkins is actually focused on data that needs rescuing.

The UK Met Office has an incredible trove of historical weather data in its archives that is trapped on paper. While it’s safe there, scientists need it in digital form in order to do anything interesting with it. The collection goes all the way back to 1860 and includes the first weather forecasts coordinated by Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy—the same Robert FitzRoy who captained the HMS Beagle on Charles Darwin’s historic trip.

After a storm sunk 200 ships off the coast of Wales (including the Royal Charter and its crew of 450), FitzRoy set about creating a network of UK weather stations that could telegraph daily observations to him in London. In February 1861, he put out the first forecast storm warning. After some of the fishermen who ignored this new-fangled sorcery sank in the storm, the forecasts encountered an increasingly attentive audience.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 9:33 am

Fast and fun, but flawed: The Acura RDX reviewed
The 2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance.

Enlarge / The 2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance. (credit: BradleyWarren Photography)

Like anything else, an automobile can evoke mixed feelings. This is especially true for the 2019 Acura RDX, which marks the third generation of Acura's midsize SUV. The luxury automaker offers a pair of SUVs, and the RDX is the first to get a makeover. This is a good thing, because the previous generation of Acura SUVs and crossovers feel dated compared to those from the likes of BMW, Audi, and Volvo. With the RDX, Acura has largely succeeded in making a stylish vehicle that is genuinely fun to drive. At the same time, it has the feeling of a new, first-generation Apple product with unexpected bugs hitting at strange times.

Driving the current generation of Acuras, Infinitis, and Lexuses (Acurae, Infiniti, et Lexi?) has largely left me feeling cold. By and large, they are fine SUVs, but for a few thousand dollars more, European carmakers offer a better all-around experience—especially with the infotainment and driver-assist features. The Acura RDX really has the potential to change that. It's the first vehicle from one of the Japanese-owned luxury carmakers that I felt could hold its own against a BMW X3, Volvo XC60, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, or Audi Q5—at least until the bugs started popping up.

The RDX is the smaller of Acura's two SUVs, and this year's refresh sees a number of substantive changes from the second-generation model. Gone is the 3.5-liter V6, replaced by a 2.0L, direct-injected, inline-four turbocharged engine common to compact crossovers. In the case of the RDX, it translates to 272hp (200kW) at 6,500rpm—trailing only the Stelvio from the previous paragraph—and 280lb-ft (380Nm) of torque at anywhere from 1,600rpm to 4,500rpm. Acura accomplishes this in part with a mono scroll IHI turbocharger with a small-diameter and low-inertia turbine, which enables the turbo to build boost at lower RPMs. For the driver, that translates into quick throttle response at most speeds.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 9:12 am

Dashcam video shows Tesla steering toward lane divider—again
Dashcam video shows Tesla steering toward lane divider—again

Enlarge (credit: Tesla)

The afternoon commute of Reddit user Beastpilot—who requested that we not use his real name—takes him past a stretch of Seattle-area freeway with a carpool lane exit on the left. Last year, in early April, the Tesla driver noticed that Autopilot on his Model X would sometimes pull to the left as the car approached the lane divider—seemingly treating the space between the diverging lanes as a lane of its own.

This was particularly alarming, because just days earlier, Tesla owner Walter Huang had died in a fiery crash after Autopilot steered his Model X into a concrete lane divider in a very similar junction in Mountain View, California.

Beastpilot made several attempts to notify Tesla of the problem but says he never got a response. Weeks later, Tesla pushed out an update that seemed to fix the problem.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 9:02 am

AT&T’s “5G E” is actually slower than Verizon and T-Mobile 4G, study finds
Screenshot from an AT&T commercial showing text that reads,

Enlarge / Screenshot from an AT&T commercial. (credit: AT&T)

AT&T's "5G E" service is slightly slower than Verizon's and T-Mobile's advanced 4G LTE networks, a study by OpenSignal has found.

As Ars readers know, AT&T renamed a large portion of its 4G network, calling it "5G E," for "5G Evolution." If you see a 5G E indicator on an AT&T phone, that means you're connected to a portion of AT&T's 4G LTE network that supports standard LTE-Advanced features such as 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO, and three-way carrier aggregation. All four major carriers have rolled out LTE-Advanced. But while Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile accurately call it 4G, AT&T calls it 5G E.

Sprint sued AT&T, alleging that AT&T is gaining an unfair advantage by making false and misleading claims to consumers.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 9:00 am

Earth is (always has been) round, so why have the flat-out wrong become so lively?

For posterity's sake, here's Ars' recent look at reality vs. belief about the shape of the Earth. Click for a full transcript.


Until the 17th century, the Fens—a broad, flat swath of marshland in eastern England—were home only to game-hunters and fishermen. Eventually, though, their value as potential agricultural land became too enticing to ignore, and the Earl of Bedford, along with a number of “gentlemen adventurers,” signed contracts with Charles I to drain the area, beginning in the 1630s. A series of drainage channels were cut, criss-crossing the wetlands of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. The plan was a qualified success; a vast area was now farmable, though wind-powered pumps were needed to keep the water at bay.

The most notable feature of the Fens is their pancake-like topography. It’s said that if you climb the tower of Ely Cathedral on a clear day, you can make out the silhouette of Peterborough Cathedral, some 30 miles to the northwest. Indeed, one could see even further if it wasn’t for the curvature of the Earth.

Enter one Samuel Birley Rowbotham, a 19th-century inventor and quack doctor who went by the name “Parallax.” Rowbotham believed that the Earth was flat, and that the Fens were the perfect place to prove it. In particular, he set his sights on the Old Bedford River, one of the 17th-century drainage cuts built under the tenure of the Earl of Bedford. The river—it’s really a canal—runs straight as an arrow for some 22 miles, from Earith, Cambridgeshire, to Downham Market, Norfolk, where it meets the River Great Ouse.

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Source: Ars Technica | 22 Mar 2019 | 7:45 am

FaceTime bug lets callers eavesdrop on you (even if you don't accept the call) - CNET
The bug affects calls to iPhones and reportedly impacts calls to Macs, potentially turning any device into a hot mic.

Source: CNET News | 29 Jan 2019 | 12:07 am

How to disable FaceTime (so no one can eavesdrop on your iPhone or Mac) - CNET
A new Apple FaceTime bug has the potential to let callers hear you and see you, even if you don't accept the call. Here's how to protect yourself until there's a fix.

Source: CNET News | 29 Jan 2019 | 12:06 am

Fortnite is back after login issues - CNET
For two and half hours on Monday, the biggest video game in the world was down.

Source: CNET News | 28 Jan 2019 | 11:42 pm

I Am the Night: Chris Pine charms in dark mystery based on true events - CNET
Review: Set in 1965, this miniseries directed by Wonder Woman's Patty Jenkins captivates with its rich imagery.

Source: CNET News | 28 Jan 2019 | 11:31 pm

Scientists say song lyrics are getting angrier over time - CNET
But which came first: the sad, angry music or the bummer cultural zeitgeist?

Source: CNET News | 28 Jan 2019 | 10:58 pm

Super Bowl 2019 ads we've seen so far - CNET
Lebowski's Dude meets Carrie Bradshaw, Amazon taps Harrison Ford and T-Mobile makes everything magenta.

Source: CNET News | 28 Jan 2019 | 8:57 pm

Lexus is considering building its first F-branded hot crossover - Roadshow
Lexus execs have hinted that it could be a breathed-upon UX with a more potent hybrid drivetrain.

Source: CNET News | 28 Jan 2019 | 8:38 pm

US hammers Huawei with 23 indictments for stolen trade secrets, fraud - CNET
The charges come amid heightened scrutiny for the world's largest telecom supplier and No. 2 smartphone maker.

Source: CNET News | 28 Jan 2019 | 8:31 pm

T-Series closes in on PewDiePie's YouTube subscriber record - CNET
Two YouTube titans are slugging it out to be No. 1, but PewDiePie continues to hold on.

Source: CNET News | 28 Jan 2019 | 8:22 pm

We found the toughest iPhone XR case - CNET
A lot of phones were broken in this drop test to find the toughest iPhone case.

Source: CNET News | 28 Jan 2019 | 8:15 pm