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Deepfakes for scrawl: With handwriting synthesis, no pen is necessary

2 hours 47 min ago
An example of computer-synthesized handwriting generated by Calligrapher.ai.

Enlarge / An example of computer-synthesized handwriting generated by Calligrapher.ai. (credit: Ars Technica)

Thanks to a free web app called calligrapher.ai, anyone can simulate handwriting with a neural network that runs in a browser via JavaScript. After typing a sentence, the site renders it as handwriting in nine different styles, each of which is adjustable with properties such as speed, legibility, and stroke width. It also allows downloading the resulting faux handwriting sample in an SVG vector file.

The demo is particularly interesting because it doesn't use a font. Typefaces that look like handwriting have been around for over 80 years, but each letter comes out as a duplicate no matter how many times you use it.

During the past decade, computer scientists have relaxed those restrictions by discovering new ways to simulate the dynamic variety of human handwriting using neural networks.

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Q4 2022 was a disaster for smartphone sales, sees the largest-ever drop

3 hours 26 min ago
An empty Samsung Store.

Enlarge / An empty Samsung Store. (credit: Samsung)

With a million layoffs and rising inflation, it turns out consumers also aren't interested in spending a ton on a new smartphone. The International Data Corporation has the latest numbers for worldwide smartphone sales in Q4 2022, and it's a disaster. Shipments declined 18.3 percent year-over-year, making for the largest-ever decline in a single quarter and dragging the year down to an 11.3 percent decline. With overall shipments of 1.21 billion phones for the year, the IDC says this is the lowest annual shipment total since 2013.

In the top five for Q4 2022—in order, they were Apple, Samsung, Xiaomi, Oppo, and Vivo—Apple was, of course, the least affected, but not by much. Apple saw a year-over-year drop of 14.9 percent for Q4 2022, Samsung was down 15.6 percent, and the big loser, Xiaomi, dropped 26.5 percent. For the year, Samsung still took the No. 1 spot with 21.6 percent market share, Apple was No. 2 with 18.8 percent, and Xiaomi took third place at 12.7 percent.

The Q4 2022 bloodbath.

The Q4 2022 bloodbath. (credit: IDC)

The IDC also notes consumers are keeping smartphones longer than ever now, with "refresh rates" or the time that passes before people buy a new phone 'climb[ing] past 40 months in most major markets.' The report closes saying: "2023 is set up to be a year of caution as vendors will rethink their portfolio of devices while channels will think twice before taking on excess inventory. However, on a positive note, consumers may find even more generous trade-in offers and promotions continuing well into 2023 as the market will think of new methods to drive upgrades and sell more devices, specifically high-end models."

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Antibiotic resistance induced by the widespread use of… antidepressants?

3 hours 42 min ago
Image of a smiley face with a frown, with the lines drawn using pills.

Enlarge (credit: Larry Washburn)

Jianhua Guo is a professor at the Australian Centre for Water and Environmental Biotechnology. His research focuses on removing contaminants from wastewater and the environmental dimensions of antimicrobial resistance. One of those dimensions is the overuse of antibiotics, which promotes resistance to these drugs.

Guo wondered if the same might hold true for other types of pharmaceuticals as well. His lab found that they definitely do. Specific antidepressants—SSRIs and SNRIs—promote resistance to different classes of antibiotics. This resistance is heritable over 33 bacterial generations, even once the antidepressant is removed.

So much work

Antidepressants are among the most prescribed and ingested drugs there are. They account for roughly 5 percent of the pharmaceutical market share—about the same as antibiotics—and four of the top 10 most prescribed psychiatric meds in the US.

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Do mechanical keyboards really need arrow keys? 

3 hours 54 min ago
A recent keyboard announcement explores a space-saving alternative to dedicated arrow buttons.

Enlarge / A recent keyboard announcement explores a space-saving alternative to dedicated arrow buttons. (credit: Scharon Harding)

Which keys are absolutely essential to a keyboard? Many will tell you the entire numpad is, while others demand macro keys. I personally insist on some sort of volume knob for my home office setup. And as someone who has tested 60 percent keyboards, which have no numpad or arrow keys, I'd add that for productiveness and my sanity, arrow keys are also mandatory.

Arrow-less keyboards have their market, but for the vast majority, no arrows on a keyboard is dealbreaker. A mechanical keyboard Angry Miao announced today asks us to consider an alternative, though. Instead of arrow keys or relying on a key combo for arrow input (like most 60 percent keyboard users do), it has a capacitive touch panel on the front edge for inputting arrow and other functions with your thumbs.

Is Angry Miao on to something here?

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MSG probed over use of facial recognition to eject lawyers from show venues

4 hours 23 min ago
A man dressed as a Christmas tree walks near Radio City Music Hall on December 14, 2021 in New York City.

Enlarge / Radio City Music Hall on December 14, 2021, in New York City. (credit: Getty Images | Alexi Rosenfeld )

The operator of Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall is being probed by New York's attorney general over the company's use of facial recognition technology to identify and exclude lawyers from events. AG Letitia James' office said the policy may violate civil rights laws.

Because of the policy, lawyers who work for firms involved in litigation against MSG Entertainment Corp. can be denied entry to shows or sporting events, even when they have no direct involvement in any lawsuits against MSG. A lawyer who is subject to MSG's policy may buy a ticket to an event but be unable to get in because the MSG venues use facial recognition to identify them.

In December, attorney Kelly Conlon was denied entry into Radio City Music Hall in New York when she accompanied her daughter's Girl Scout troop to a Rockettes show. Conlon wasn't personally involved in any lawsuits against MSG but is a lawyer for a firm that "has been involved in personal injury litigation against a restaurant venue now under the umbrella of MSG Entertainment," NBC New York reported.

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Microsoft said to be working on an overhauled File Explorer for Windows 11

6 hours 38 min ago
A PC running Windows 11.

Enlarge / A PC running Windows 11. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft is working on an overhaul of the File Explorer app in Windows 11, according to a report from Windows Central. The new Explorer will allegedly feature redesigned and more touch-friendly navigation, better photo viewing with larger previews, keyword and color tagging for organizing files, and tighter integration with Microsoft 365 and OneDrive.

An internal mock-up of the new interface shows a new "recommended" section of files alongside the existing areas for pinned and recent files, with large previews of various documents and information about where the files are located (OneDrive, SharePoint, and the local Downloads folder are all listed) and information about recent updates to the files. The new look will also come with "more modern code" under the hood.

The report says Microsoft wants to release the new Explorer before the end of the year. It could be part of this year's annual Windows update in the fall, but Microsoft has taken a "whenever they're ready" approach to releasing new Windows features in the Windows 11 era—it could be released at any time, or never.

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Get your first look at the OnePlus Pad, OnePlus’ first tablet

6 hours 51 min ago

OnePlus is scheduled to launch the OnePlus 11 smartphone internationally on February 7, but it looks like a big surprise is coming along with that event: OnePlus' first tablet. On the event teaser page for the US, a new banner image features the upcoming phone and earbuds sitting on a big tablet. On the event's Indian page, there's even a new tab for the "OnePlus Pad" and an extra picture.

In the official pictures, we can see a big round camera bump, which looks just like the one on the OnePlus 11. If you zoom in, you can see there's a single camera lens and an LED flash, but cameras aren't that important on tablets. It's also very green. The other picture shows the sides of the tablet, which appear to be flat aluminum. There's even a big, flat oval on the side of the tablet, which usually signifies a side fingerprint sensor.

We have more than OnePlus' teaser images to look at, though. Just before OnePlus posted the official teaser, OnLeaks (aka Steve Hemmerstoffer) and MySmartPrice released renders, and while OnLeaks has a great track record, we don't even have to guess here—these images have already been proven accurate by OnePlus' teaser. The accompanying report says to expect an 11.6-inch display and a metal unibody chassis.

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Meta will allow Donald Trump back on Facebook, sparking wave of criticism

8 hours 2 min ago
Photo illustration showing Donald Trump's Facebook profile on a phone screen. A Facebook logo is seen behind the phone.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto /)

Meta will restore Donald Trump's access to his Facebook and Instagram accounts "in the coming weeks" but "with new guardrails in place" to prevent real-world harm, the company said in a blog post yesterday.

Facebook suspended Trump "following his praise for people engaged in violence at the Capitol on January 6, 2021," Meta President of Global Affairs Nick Clegg noted in the blog post. "We then referred that decision to the Oversight Board—an expert body established to be an independent check and balance on our decision-making. The Board upheld the decision but criticized the open-ended nature of the suspension and the lack of clear criteria for when and whether suspended accounts will be restored, directing us to review the matter to determine a more proportionate response."

After the board review, Facebook decided to make Trump's suspension last until at least January 7, 2023. "Now that the time period of the suspension has elapsed, the question is not whether we choose to reinstate Mr. Trump's accounts, but whether there remain such extraordinary circumstances that extending the suspension beyond the original two-year period is justified," Clegg wrote yesterday.

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Airlines and cattle ranchers have beef with Google’s climate math

8 hours 17 min ago
Airlines and cattle ranchers have beef with Google’s climate math

Enlarge (credit: Damien Meyer/Getty Images)

Flying premium from San Francisco to Los Angeles, a common trip for some Californians, could generate 101 kilograms of carbon emissions, or perhaps 142 or even 366 kilograms—depending on what source you search online.

The wide range of estimates stems from what some climate experts view as a growing problem, with Google at the center. More people are trying to factor climate change impacts into life choices such as where to vacation or what to eat. Yet scientists are still debating how to accurately estimate the impacts of many activities, including flying or producing meat. While the math gets sorted out, some industries decry emissions estimates as unfair.

Google has led the way among Big Tech companies in trying to inform users about their potential carbon footprint when traveling, heating their homes, and, as of recently, making dinner. But airlines, cattle ranchers, and other industry groups are pushing back, saying Google’s nudges could hurt their sales. They have demanded—successfully, in the case of airlines—that the search giant rethink how it calculates and presents emissions data.

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By learning to hunt otters, wolves decimate a deer population

9 hours 10 min ago
Image of a sea otter floating with its pup.

Enlarge / So cute yet—for some animals—so tasty. (credit: Arthur Morris)

People love otters, wolves, and deer. Respectively, they’re crafty, intelligent, and majestic. Put them all together on an island, though, and things get unpleasant pretty quickly. These are the findings of a new paper analyzing how a wolf population came to Pleasant Island in Alaska, learned to hunt otters, and, using this unexpected food source, thrived to the point of wiping out the native Sitka black-tailed deer population.

“To the best of our knowledge, the deer population is decimated. We haven't found evidence of deer recolonizing the islands,” Gretchen Roffler, wildlife research biologist for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and an author of the paper, told Ars.

Deer diary

The deer have been on Pleasant Island for a long time. The sea otters had also been in the waters off the coast of Alaska until the fur trade killed most of them off by the late 1800s or early 1900s, Roffler said. However, the otters were declared an endangered species, and a population was reintroduced to the area in the 1960s. In the 1980s, they moved into the waters near Pleasant Island and continued to propagate.

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RSA’s demise from quantum attacks is very much exaggerated, expert says

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 17:15
Abstract futuristic electronic circuit board high-tech background

Enlarge

Three weeks ago, panic swept across some corners of the security world after researchers discovered a breakthrough that, at long last, put the cracking of the widely used RSA encryption scheme within reach by using quantum computing.

Scientists and cryptographers have known for two decades that a factorization method known as Shor’s algorithm makes it theoretically possible for a quantum computer with sufficient resources to break RSA. That’s because the secret prime numbers that underpin the security of an RSA key are easy to calculate using Shor’s algorithm. Computing the same primes using classical computing takes billions of years.

The only thing holding back this doomsday scenario is the massive amount of computing resources required for Shor’s algorithm to break RSA keys of sufficient size. The current estimate is that breaking a 1,024-bit or 2,048-bit RSA key requires a quantum computer with vast resources. Specifically, those resources are about 20 million qubits and about eight hours of them running in superposition. (A qubit is a basic unit of quantum computing, analogous to the binary bit in classical computing. But whereas a classic binary bit can represent only a single binary value such as a 0 or 1, a qubit is represented by a superposition of multiple possible states.)

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Drug maker paid for “news” story on CBS’s 60 Minutes, doctors’ group alleges

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 14:33
A broken watch.

Enlarge / A broken watch. (credit: Getty | Carlos Garcia Granthon/Fotoholica Press)

A 13-minute segment on a recent episode of CBS's 60 Minutes appeared to be a news story on Novo Nordisk's weight-loss drug Wegovy, but was actually a sponsored promotion violating federal regulations, according to the nonprofit public health advocacy organization Physicians Committee.

The group filed a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration last week, arguing that the segment, which aired on January 1, violates the FDA's "fair balance" requirement. This law requires that drug advertisements give a fair balance to a drug's risks and benefits.

The Physicians Committee claims that CBS's 60 Minutes received advertising payments from Novo Nordisk prior to the coverage, and that the aired segment only included experts who had also been paid by Novo Nordisk. The segment lauded the drug with words and phrases such as "highly effective," "safe," "impressive," "fabulous," and "robust," but didn't delve into side effects or alternative treatments and strategies for weight loss.

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Tesla made an annual profit of $12.6 billion in 2022

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 14:16
Tesla CEO Elon Musk speaks during the unveiling of the new Tesla Model Y in Hawthorne, California on March 14, 2019.

Enlarge / Elon Musk had plenty of headaches in 2022 but Tesla making money wasn't one of them. (credit: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Tesla published its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2022 on Wednesday afternoon. The company brought in $24.3 billion in revenue, a 37 percent increase on Q4 2021. Automotive revenues accounted for the lion's share—$21.3 billion, a 33 percent increase from Q4 2021. That translated to $3.7 billion in net profit once generally accepted accounting practices (GAAP) were applied—an impressive 59 percent increase from Q4 2021.

That means Tesla had an excellent 2022, despite missing its sales forecast. Automotive revenues grew by 51 percent compared to 2021, bringing in $71.5 billion. Total revenues were up by the same percentage year-over-year at $81.4 billion. Operating expenses accounted for $7.2 billion, and once GAAP was applied, Tesla ended the year with a net profit of $12.6 billion. Free cash flow dropped by 49 percent to $1.4 billion.

Tesla recognized revenue for its highly controversial "Full Self Driving" assist this year after making the beta open to all Tesla owners—provided they paid $15,000. However, despite CEO Elon Musk's claims that the financial future of the company depends upon FSD, in 2022 that only translated to $324 million. Tesla's financial presentation does claim that "we expect to recognize nearly $1 billion of deferred revenue that remains for such customers over times as software updates are delivered." Elsewhere in its financial presentation, it claims that there are approximately 400,000 FSD users in the US and Canada.

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Rocket Lab’s first US launch: Big for the company and the site

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 13:01
Rocket Lab’s first US launch: Big for the company and the site

Enlarge

Off in the southwest, the last colors of sunset lit up the rim of the sky, as a crescent Moon and two planets lined up above. It was a gorgeous scene, but one that everyone was ignoring. Instead, all eyes were focused on a bright patch of artificial light on a barrier island a couple of miles away. The lights there were focused on a small, slender needle—small enough to be hauled to the launch pad by a pickup truck.

For years, the Electron rocket and the company behind it had been stuck in limbo at the Virginia launch site, waiting on various approvals—for regulatory agencies to share enough paperwork with each other to convince everyone that the launch was safe. Then weather and the end-of-year holidays kept pushing the launch back. But on Tuesday, everything went as smoothly as it is possible to imagine, and the Electron shot to orbit almost as soon as the launch window opened.

The launch is critical for Rocket Lab, which in some ways invested the future of the company in its Virginia operations. But it's also critical for the launch site, which is billed as a spaceport but hasn't seen much traffic leaving Earth.

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Poop on planes may help CDC probe international pathways of pathogens

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 12:46
A bathroom on an Airbus A321neo.

Enlarge / A bathroom on an Airbus A321neo. (credit: Getty | Nicolas Economou/NurPhoto)

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is considering blending sewage sampling from airplanes into the mix of its wastewater surveillance system, which has proven useful for monitoring the spread and prevalence of a variety of pathogens, particularly SARS-CoV-2.

Amid the pandemic, the CDC launched wastewater testing programs across the nation, trying to get ahead of SARS-CoV-2 surges. Viral particles are often shed in fecal matter and can be an early indication of an infection. The fecal focus has proven useful for sniffing out community-wide transmission trends and disease spread for not only COVID-19 but also other recent outbreaks as well, namely polio and mpox (formerly monkeypox). Adding surveillance from airplanes and airports could flush out yet more information about infectious disease spread, such as global travel patterns and the debut of novel viral variants.

A study published last week in PLOS Global Public Health found such sewage surveillance in UK airport terminals and airplanes was effective at tracking SARS-CoV-2 among international travelers. Overall, the surveillance data suggested that it is a "useful tool for monitoring the global transfer rate of human pathogens and other disease-causing agents across international borders and should form part of wider international efforts to monitor and contain the spread of future disease outbreaks," the authors, led by Kata Farkas of Bangor University, concluded.

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DirecTV dumps Newsmax instead of paying new fee, drawing Republican outrage

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 11:20
Two men sit in front of a TV that displays only static.

Enlarge

Newsmax is no longer on DirecTV, as the satellite video provider today said it decided not to renew an expiring deal because of Newsmax's money demands.

"On multiple occasions, we made it clear to Newsmax that we wanted to continue to offer the network, but ultimately Newsmax's demands for rate increases would have led to significantly higher costs that we would have to pass on to our broad customer base," DirecTV said in a statement provided to Ars. (AT&T owns 70 percent of DirecTV.)

The carriage deal expired at midnight last night. The "rate increase" demanded by Newsmax was actually from a base of $0 because DirecTV didn't have to pay Newsmax to carry the network under their now-expired deal, a DirecTV spokesperson told Ars. DirecTV says it was one of the first pay-TV providers to carry Newsmax starting in 2014.

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Samsung’s new touch tech enables thinner, lighter OLED laptops

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 11:03
16-inch notebook concept product with touch-integrated OLED of Samsung Display

Enlarge / A concept laptop with Samsung Display's new 16-inch OLED touchscreen. (credit: Samsung Display)

As plenty of laptop makers proved at CES earlier this month, there will be plenty of OLED laptops to choose from in 2023. The technology's high-contrast, rich image quality has tempted creatives and power users alike. A new year means new ways to entice shoppers, though, so one approach Samsung plans to take with its next series of Galaxy Books concerns the screen's physical build.

On Tuesday, Samsung Display, which makes display panels for various companies, including parent company Samsung Electronics, announced that it started mass production of a new touch-capable OLED laptop screen. Samsung Display is calling it the first On Cell Touch AMOLED (OCTA) screen for laptops. Per a Google translation of the South Korea-based company's announcement, these screens use embedded touch sensors, whereas other OLED laptop panels use adhesive to apply a film screen with touch sensors.

According to Samsung Display, skipping the film results in a panel that's 6 to 11 percent thinner and lighter in weight. Because it uses fewer materials, Samsung Display also claims the technology is more environmentally friendly than the preceding design.

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Stolen League of Legends source code being ransomed, and Riot Games won’t pay

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 10:29
League of Legends and TFT characters in artistic profile

Enlarge / The theft of Riot Games' source code for League of Legends, TeamFight Tactics, and an anti-cheat platform could have implications for future cheats and exploits. (credit: Riot Games)

Riot Games has confirmed that an attack on its development environment last week included the theft of source code for its League of Legends and Teamfight Tactics games, along with a "legacy anticheat platform." The company has received a ransom demand but states that it will not pay.

The release of source code by the attackers, whether publicly or by sale, could have implications for cheat software, providing direct knowledge of the game's mechanisms rather than relying on reverse engineering. Riot acknowledged that the attack, attributed to "social engineering," "could cause issues in the future," but added that it was confident "no player data or player personal information was compromised."

"Truthfully, any exposure of source code can increase the likelihood of new cheats emerging," Riot posted in a reply tweet. "Since the attack, we've been working to assess its impact on anticheat and to be prepared to deploy fixes as quickly as possible if needed." Riot added that the code "includes a number of experimental features," though it's mostly "in prototype and there's no guarantee it will ever be released."

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General Motors is investigating small EV “party” trucks

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 09:27
General Motors is investigating small EV “party” trucks

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

General Motors provided flights from San Francisco to Detroit and back, plus a night in a hotel, so we could visit the GM design center. Ars does not accept paid editorial content.

After years of insisting that truck buyers are demanding larger and larger vehicles, automakers have seen the light and understand that many people want smaller, more efficient pickups. Maybe.

Hot on the heels of the explosive sales of the Ford Maverick and the relatively good sales of the Hyundai Santa Cruz, GM seems to have caught “small trucks with efficient powertrains” fever. Well, at least the designers have come down with that rare—and hopefully incurable—condition.

During a tour of GM’s design center in Warren, Michigan, the automaker gave Ars Technica a peek into its thoughts about future EVs.

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RNC sued Google for filtering spam but never used Gmail tool that bypasses filter

Wed, 01/25/2023 - 08:24
Illustration of an envelope stamped with the word

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | pagadesign)

Google is ending a pilot program that let political emails bypass the Gmail spam filter, and it says it hasn't decided whether to convert the pilot into a more long-term option for political campaigns. The Republican National Committee (RNC) sued Google in October 2022 over its spam-filtering practices but never participated in the pilot program, Google said Monday in a motion to dismiss the RNC's lawsuit.

"The Pilot Program was made available to all eligible participants on a non-partisan basis" and "is scheduled to run through January 31, 2023," Google's court filing said.

The Federal Election Commission approved Google's pilot program in August 2022 amid Republican claims of Google bias. "As the Complaint makes clear, the RNC has chosen not to participate in Google's FEC-approved Pilot Program," Google's motion to dismiss said.

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