Age of Empires IV Wants to Teach You a Lesson

Can a video game be historically accurate? The team behind the iconic series wanted to give it a try.
2021-10-25 03:15:03 preview's
How Misinformation - and one Facebook Group - Threatened a Federal Investment in Montana

The New York Times describes a six-year grass roots effort to fund historic preservation and natural resource conservation in Montana — and how it collided with Rae Grulkowski, a 56-year-old businesswoman who had never before been involved in politics, and her very influential Facebook group: Ms. Grulkowski had just heard about a years-in-the-making effort to designate her corner of central Montana a national heritage area, celebrating its role in the story of the American West. A small pot of federal matching money was there for the taking, to help draw more visitors and preserve underfunded local tourist attractions. Ms. Grulkowski set about blowing up that effort with everything she had. She collected addresses from a list of voters and spent $1,300 sending a packet denouncing the proposed heritage area to 1,498 farmers and ranchers. She told them the designation would forbid landowners to build sheds, drill wells or use fertilizers and pesticides. It would alter water rights, give tourists access to private property, create a new taxation district and prohibit new septic systems and burials on private land, she said. None of this was true. Yet it soon became accepted as truth by enough people to persuade Montana's leading Republican figures and conservative organizations, including the farm bureau, Gov. Greg Gianforte and Senator Steve Daines, to oppose the proposal and enact a state law forbidding the federal government to create any heritage area in Montana. It is a ban that the state has no authority to enforce. Some comments on the episode (via the New York Times): Ellen Sievert, retired historic preservation officer for Cascade County: "We've run into the uneducable. I don't know how we get through that." Bob Kelly, the mayor of Great Falls: "Misinformation is the new playbook. You don't like something? Create alternative facts and figures as a way to undermine reality." (In fact, it's now become an issue in the mayor's race.) The episode was especially distressing for Richard Ecke, who spent 38 years at the town's local newspaper until being laid off in 2016 — and is also vice chairman of the proposed heritage area's board. The Times reports that "In the paper's place, information and misinformation about the heritage area spread on Facebook and in local outlets that parroted Ms. Grulkowski." And meanwhile, "Ms. Grulkowski now has ambitions beyond Montana. She wants to push Congress not to renew heritage areas that already exist." [There are 55 of them, in 34 different states.] Finally the Times interviewed Ed Bandel, who'd led the Montana Farm Bureau's opposition to the Montana heritage area. When asked for his supporting evidence, "Mr. Bandel said he trusted Ms. Grulkowski." And when asked about the argument that it in fact posed no threat to property rights, Bandel remained unconvinced. "They say, 'Don't worry, we're going to do it right. Don't worry, we'll take care of you. I think Adolf Hitler said that, too, didn't he...?" Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2021-10-24 23:45:02 preview's
Xpeng Unveils a Flying Car That Also Drives on Roads - Plus a Bionic Horse

"HT Aero, an affiliate of Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng Inc., launched a new flying car on Sunday that it says can also drive on roads," reports CNBC (in a story shared by Slashdot reader PolygamousRanchKid ): The company says it plans for a rollout in 2024. The car is not commercially available right now. And HT Aero said the final design might change. HT Aero's vehicle will have a lightweight design and a rotor that folds away, the company said. That will allow the car to drive on roads and then fly once the rotors are expanded. The vehicle will have a number of safety features including parachutes, the company said. Elsewhere CNBC reports that Xpeng also launched a new charger for its electric cars. "The company says that with just five minutes of charging with the new charger, the car's battery will have a range of 200 kilometers [123 miles]." And Xpeng also makes an assisted-driving system, Bloomberg notes, and "will also partner with others to explore robo-taxi operations starting from the second half of next year." And in addition, Bloomberg adds, the company also unveiled its prototype for a ridable robot horse, "equipped with bionic senses and multi-mode recognition technologies." Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2021-10-24 20:00:02 preview's
US Air Force Announces Plans for a Micro Nuclear Reactor in Alaska

This week the U.S. Air Force announced that it's chosen Alaska's Eielson Air Force Base as the site for its first "micro" nuclear reactor test program. The Drive reports: The U.S. military, as a whole, together with the Department of Energy has been increasingly looking into micro-reactor designs as possible ways to meet ever-growing electricity demands, including for units on the battlefield, as well as to help cut costs and improve general operational efficiency by reducing reliance on fossil fuels. The base is situated deep within the interior of Alaska near the city of Fairbanks and is around 110 miles south of the Arctic Circle [and 26 miles from Fairbanks]. It is not clear exactly what the specifications might be for the reactor that is now set to be constructed at Eielson... The Air Force did say that the project in question had been initiated in response to language in the annual defense policy bill, or National Defense Authorization Act for the 2019 Fiscal Year and that the goal is for the micro-reactor to be fully operational by the end of 2027. This would seem to indicate that this reactor is the one that the Office of the Secretary of Defense's Strategic Capabilities Office is leading the development of as part of an effort known as Project Pele. The goal of that project, which started in 2019 and that you can read more about here, is to demonstrate a small reactor capable of producing between one and five megawatts of power... In March, the Pentagon awarded contracts for prototype Project Pele reactors to X-Energy and BWX Technologies. These deals cover the continued maturation of the respective designs over the next two years, with the expectation being that a winning design will be selected afterward. The hope is that work on an actual microreactor will begin by the end of the 2022 Fiscal Year... It is worth pointing out that 19,780 acres associated with Eielson are already designated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a so-called "Superfund site," due to existing toxic chemical contamination related to "closed and active unlined landfills, shallow trenches where weathered tank sludge was buried, a drum storage area, and other disposal and spill areas." Waste from the micro-reactor "will be subject to the same rigorous storage and control requirements of the commercial nuclear industry," explains an Air Force FAQ. (Though more specifically, it says that "Used fuel will be stored on-site using NRC-licensed storage casks pending a decision on the ultimate disposition of commercial spent fuel.") The FAQ also notes the reactor will not be connected to the commercial grid. The Drive points out that currently the Air Force has just been using a fleet of diesel locomotives that bring the base trainloads of coals. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2021-10-24 16:45:02 preview's
Digital Nomad Communities Want to Build the Infrastructure for an Internet Country

It's estimated there are 10.9 million digital nomads just in the U.S. — and two digital nomads writing for The Next Web point out they're just part of a larger trend. "As of 2021, there are over 35 million digital nomads Are they also about to start changing the world? Digital nomads' growing numbers and financial clout have caused dozens of tourist-starved countries to update their travel policies for borderless workers. In Summer 2020, a handful of nations launched visa programs to attract digital nomads, starting with Estonia in June, then Barbados, Bermuda, Costa Rica, Anguilla, Antigua, and later, most of Eastern Europe. Now, 30+ nations offer some form of incentive for traveling remote workers. Sweetheart deals like income tax breaks, subsidized housing, and free multiple entry have become as popular as employee work benefits. The opportunities are so numerous, solutions exist just to help you "amenity shop" the perfect country Airbnb style... Some ambitious nomads, like activist and author Lauren Razavi, have also started to advocate for their rights as global citizens and the future of borderless work... Remote workers like Lauren (and us) want to completely redefine the role governments play in digital nomads' movement and regulation. How? By laying the foundation for the next generation of travel and work, an internet country called Plumia... Plumia wants to build the alternative using decentralized technologies, while also working with countries and institutions on policies that achieve common goals... Begun in 2020 as an independent project by remote-first travel insurance company, SafetyWing, Plumia's plan is to combine the infrastructure for living anywhere with the functions of a geographic country... Blockchain enthusiasts are also testing an approach that begs the question: are traditional countries still necessary? Bitnation advocates for decentralizing authority by empowering voluntary participation and peer-to-peer agreements. They've âhosted the world's first blockchain marriage, birth certificate, refugee emergency ID, and more as proof of concept... Currently in development, Plumia is focusing on developing member-focused services and content... Verifying a digital identity, maintaining a 'permanent address' whilst on the move, switching service providers and jurisdictions on the fly, complying with complicated tax and labor laws — these are all thorny issues to solve. Initiatives like Plumia are jumping into quite an active ring, however. In addition to countries competing to serve and attract digital nomads, a number of well-financed startups such as Jobbatical, Remote, and Oyster are creating private-sector solutions to issues posed by people and companies going remote. Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2021-10-24 14:45:02 preview's
Trump's Truth App Bans Criticism of Itself - and Also 'Excessive Use of Capital Letters'

Time magazine spotted three things in the terms of service for former U.S. president Trump's "Truth Social" site: - Despite advertising itself as a platform that will "give a voice to all," according to a press release, TRUTH Social's terms of service state that users may not "disparage, tarnish, or otherwise harm, in our opinion, us and/or the Site." In other words, any user who criticizes Trump or the site can be kicked off the platform... - [W]hile portraying itself as a refuge for free speech and the "first major rival to 'Big Tech,'" TRUTH Social's terms of service make it clear that the platform not only intends to moderate content — just as Twitter and Facebook do — but reserves the right to remove users for any reason it deems necessary. The terms go on to say that if TRUTH Social decides to terminate or suspend your account, the platform may also sue you — something that Twitter and Facebook's terms don't say. "In addition to terminating or suspending your account, we reserve the right to take appropriate legal action, including without limitation pursuing civil, criminal, and injunctive redress," TRUTH Social's terms state... - Maybe most notably, the site's list of prohibited activities includes the "excessive use of capital letters," an idiosyncrasy that Trump became known for on Twitter and that no other major social network specifically bans. TRUTH Social's terms also contain some sections written in all-caps. The terms also specify explicitly that the site considers itself "not responsible" for the accuracy/reliability of what's posted on the site. Yet the Washington Post reports the newly-formed "Trump Media & Technology Group" has already applied for trademark rights for the terms "truthing," "post a truth," and "retruth." Meanwhile, the Software Freedom Conservancy believes the end of the site's public test launch was directly tied to a recently-discovered violation of a Conservancy license. "Once caught in the act, Trump's Group scrambled and took the site down." One of the license's authors emphasizes that the license "purposefully treats everyone equally (even people we don't like or agree with), but they must operate under the same rules of the copyleft licenses that apply to everyone else..." To comply with this important FOSS license, Trump's Group needs to immediately make that Corresponding Source available to all who used the site today while it was live. If they fail to do this within 30 days, their rights and permissions in the software are automatically and permanently terminated. That's how AGPLv3's cure provision works — no exceptions — even if you're a real estate mogul, reality television star, or even a former POTUS." Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2021-10-24 12:45:01 preview's
Traffic-Redirecting Rootkit Somehow Got a Microsoft-issued Digital Signature

Cybersecurity researchers at Bitdefender say cyber criminals have been using a rootkit named FiveSys "that somehow made its way through the driver certification process to be digitally signed by Microsoft," reports ZDNet: The valid signature enables the rootkit — malicious software that allows cyber criminals to access and control infected computers — to appear valid and bypass operating systems restrictions and gain what researchers describe as "virtually unlimited privileges". It's known for cyber criminals to use stolen digital certificates, but in this case, they've managed to acquire a valid one. It's a still a mystery how cyber criminals were able to get hold of a valid certificate. "Chances is that it was submitted for validation and somehow it got through the checks. While the digital signing requirements detect and stop most of the rootkits, they are not foolproof," Bogdan Botezatu, director of threat research and reporting at Bitdefender told ZDNet. It's uncertain how FiveSys is actually distributed, but researchers believe that it's bundled with cracked software downloads. Once installed, FiveSys rootkit redirects internet traffic to a proxy server, which it does by installing a custom root certificate so that the browser won't warn about the unknown identity of the proxy. This also blocks other malware from writing on the drivers, in what's likely an attempt to stop other cyber criminals from taking advantage of the compromised system. Analysis of attacks shows that FiveSys rootkit is being used in cyber attacks targeting online gamers, with the aim of stealing login credentials and the ability to hijack in-game purchases. The popularity of online games means that a lot of money can be involved — not only because banking details are connected to accounts, but also because prestigious virtual items can fetch large sums of money when sold, meaning attackers could exploit access to steal and sell these items. Currently, the attacks are targeting gamers in China — which is where researchers also believe that the attackers are operating from. "The campaign started slowly in late 2020, but massively expanded during the course of summer 2021," ZDNet adds. "The campaign is now blocked after researchers at Bitdefender flagged the abuse of digital trust to Microsoft, which revoked the signature." Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2021-10-24 11:45:03 preview's
The Man Who Stole and Then Sold Data on 178 Million Facebook Users Gets Sued by Facebook

"Facebook has filed a lawsuit on Friday against a Ukrainian national for allegedly scraping its website and selling the personal data of more than 178 million users on an underground cybercrime forum," reports the Record. According to court documents filed Friday, the man was identified as Alexander Alexandrovich Solonchenko, a resident of Kirovograd, Ukraine. Facebook alleges that Solonchenko abused a feature part of the Facebook Messenger service called Contact Importer. The feature allowed users to synchronize their phone address books and see which contacts had a Facebook account in order to allow users to reach out to their friends via Facebook Messenger. Between January 2018 and September 2019, Facebook said that Solonchenko used an automated tool to pose as Android devices in order to feed Facebook servers with millions of random phone numbers. As Facebook servers returned information for which phone numbers had an account on the site, Solonchenko collected the data, which he later collected and offered for sale on December 1, 2020, in a post on RaidForums, a notorious cybercrime forum and marketplace for stolen data. The article also notes that Facebook's court documents say Solonchenko scraped data from some of the largest companies in the Ukraine, including its largest commercial bank and largest private delivery service. And the Record points out that he's not the only person known to have this hole to scrape Facebook's user data and then sell it on the forum.) Days after another incident in April involving 533 leaked phone numbers of Facebook user, Facebook "revealed that it retired the Messenger Contact Importer feature back in September 2019 after it discovered Solonchenko and other threat actors abusing it." Read more of this story at Slashdot.
2021-10-24 07:45:02