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Rights violations ripple across war-torn Sudan

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“For nearly a year now, accounts coming out of Sudan have been of death, suffering and despair, as the senseless conflict and human rights violations and abuses have persisted with no end in sight,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk.

The report details multiple indiscriminate attacks by both the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) in densely populated areas between April and December 2023, including sites sheltering internally displaced people, particularly in the capital Khartoum, Kordorfan and Darfur.

By mid-December, more than 6.7 million people had been displaced by the conflict, both within Sudan and into neighbouring countries. This number has since increased to more than eight million.

“This report underlines once more the dire need to end the fighting and to break the cycle of impunity that gave rise to this conflict in the first place,” the UN rights chief said.

Silence the guns

Based on interviews with 303 victims and witnesses, including dozens conducted in Ethiopia and eastern Chad, and analysis of photographs, videos, and satellite imagery and other open source information, findings show a pattern of ethnic-based attacks as well as the use of heavy, sophisticated weaponry.

Both parties to the conflict used explosive weapons with wide-area effects, such as missiles fired from fighter jets, unmanned aerial vehicles, anti-aircraft weapons and artillery shells in densely populated areas.

This week, the UN Human Rights Office reviewed credible video evidence showing several students travelling by road in North Kordofan state may have been beheaded by men in SAF uniform in El-Obeid City – the victims were seen as being RSF supporters based on their perceived ethnicity.

The footage was posted on social media on 15 February showing troops parading with decapitated heads in the street while chanting ethnic slurs, the Office said.

“The guns must be silenced, and civilians must be protected,” Mr. Türk said.

Women waiting for aid distribution in Wad Madani, Sudan.

Women waiting for aid distribution in Wad Madani, Sudan.

Death toll reaches into the thousands

The report highlights more examples, including two separate incidents in April in Khartoum, where eight missiles fired by the SAF killed at least 45 civilians. In Omdurman, two artillery shells fired by the RSF hit a market in June, killing at least 15 civilians, and 10 civilians died when RSF shells exploded in a bus station in September.

Between May and November 2023, the report found, the RSF and its allied Arab militia carried out at least 10 attacks against civilians in El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur, killing thousands, most from the African Masalit ethnic community. There were also killings by the RSF and its allies in the town of Morni and in Ardamata, where at least 87 bodies were buried in a mass grave.

Sexual violence, gang rape

The report reveals that by 15 December 2023, at least 118 people had been subjected to sexual violence, including rape, gang rape and attempted rape, among them 19 children.

Many of these crimes were committed by RSF members, in homes and on the streets, according to the report, which stated that one woman had been held in a building and repeatedly gang raped over a period of 35 days.

The report also found that both parties were actively recruiting across the country. The RSF was recruiting children from Arab tribes in Darfur and Kordofan, and a pro-SAF entity, People’s Authority to Support the Sudanese Armed Forces, stated that it had “armed 255,000 young men in camps across Sudan”

African ethnic communities, including the Fur, Masalit and Zaghawa, also reportedly responded to recruitment campaigns by the SAF, according to the report.

Warning of war crimes

Some of these violations would amount to war crimes,” said Mr. Türk.

“There must be prompt, thorough, effective, transparent, independent and impartial investigations into all allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights and violations of international humanitarian law and those responsible must be brought to justice.”

The High Commissioner called on both parties to the conflict to ensure rapid and unimpeded access to humanitarian aid in all areas under their respective control.

“A credible re-start of inclusive talks to restore civilian-led government is desperately needed to open a path forward,” the UN rights chief said.



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SpaceX May Be Withholding Satellite Internet in Taiwan, Congressman Contends

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China hawk Mike Gallagher said in a letter to Elon Musk that SpaceX could be in violation of contract obligations with the U.S. government if the company were holding back its Starshield service.



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Rights experts call for probe into alleged violations against Palestinian women and girls

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Palestinian women and girls have reportedly been arbitrarily executed in Gaza, often together with family members, including their children, according to information they have received.

Killed while fleeing 

“We are shocked by reports of the deliberate targeting and extrajudicial killing of Palestinian women and children in places where they sought refuge, or while fleeing. Some of them were reportedly holding white pieces of cloth when they were killed by the Israeli army or affiliated forces,” the experts said.

They voiced serious concern about the arbitrary detention of hundreds of Palestinian women and girls, including human rights defenders, journalists and humanitarian workers, in Gaza and the West Bank since the start of the conflict on 7 October following the deadly Hamas terror attacks in Israel. 

Many of the detainees have reportedly been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, denied menstruation pads, food and medicine, and severely beaten, they said. Furthermore, on at least one occasion, Palestinian women detained in Gaza were allegedly kept in a cage in the rain and cold, without food. 

Sexual assault in detention 

“We are particularly distressed by reports that Palestinian women and girls in detention have also been subjected to multiple forms of sexual assault, such as being stripped naked and searched by male Israeli army officers. At least two female Palestinian detainees were reportedly raped while others were reportedly threatened with rape and sexual violence,” the experts said.

Photos of women detainees in degrading circumstances were also “reportedly taken by the Israeli army” and uploaded online, they added. 

The experts were also concerned that an unknown number of Palestinian women and children, including girls, have reportedly gone missing after contact with the Israeli army in Gaza. 

“There are disturbing reports of at least one female infant forcibly transferred by the Israeli army into Israel, and of children being separated from their parents, whose whereabouts remain unknown,” they said. 

Call for probe

“We remind the Government of Israel of its obligation to uphold the right to life, safety, health, and dignity of Palestinian women and girls and to ensure that no one is subjected to violence, torture, ill-treatment or degrading treatment, including sexual violence.”  

The rights experts called for an independent, impartial, prompt, thorough and effective investigation into the allegations and for Israel to cooperate with any probe.

“Taken together, these alleged acts may constitute grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, and amount to serious crimes under international criminal law that could be prosecuted under the Rome Statute,” they warned. 

The Rome Statute is the July 1998 treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC), which investigates and tries individuals charged with genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression. 

Independent voices 

The statement was issued by Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences, and Francesca Albanese, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, alongside the members of the UN Working group on discrimination against women and girls: Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Claudia Flores, Ivana Krstić, Haina Lu, and Laura Nyirinkindi. 

Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to report and advise on specific thematic issues or country situations. 

They work on a voluntary basis and are independent of any government or organization.  They serve in their individual capacity and are not UN staff and do not receive payment for their work.   



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Vision Pros are cracking for no apparent reason: Here’s what to do if yours cracks

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Apple Vision Pro on a purple background

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

If you spent $3,500 on Apple’s Vision Pro headset (or $5,000 for a maxed out version), you’re probably doing everything you can to treat it with care. But what if it breaks completely on its own?

Apparently, that’s happening to some users, as reports spread about the device developing a crack in the front glass despite not being dropped or bumped. For most of these users, it’s the same story — the device was tucked away in its case charging, and when it was removed, there was an inches-long crack running from the nose bridge.

Also: Apple Vision Pro review: Fascinating, flawed, and needs to fix 5 things

On the Vision Pro subreddit, user inphenite wrote, “Like a few others, I just discovered a long crack in the front glass of my Vision Pro. It’s been sitting neatly in the Apple travel case, and it’s been subject to very light use a couple of hours a day – I haven’t dropped it or similar.”

User dornbirn posted a similar story: “Last night I polished the front of the headset, packed it away with the cover on, and when I woke up this morning, I see this crack. No drop, no shuffling in the case.”

Overall, at least a dozen users have reported the issue – just on Reddit.

So what’s happening? 

So far, Apple hasn’t offered up any answers. Some people speculate it’s due to the headset being charged while in a case, causing the glass to overheat, expand, and eventually break. Others theorize that the impacted users are tightening the strap too tight, bending the surrounding frame and breaking it at the nose. 

What should you do if your screen cracks? 

Also: My 5 biggest takeaways from iFixit’s Apple Vision Pro teardown

If you paid the extra $500 for Apple Care, you shouldn’t have much of an issue getting a replacement, provided you pay the deductible. If you didn’t, things may be a little more difficult. One Reddit user reported that Apple initially wanted him to pay $800 out of pocket for a repair, but eventually relented and replaced the device for free. Still, others are reporting that Apple isn’t offering any help at all.

However, given that users are reporting exactly the same crack in exactly the same place — all without reason — this seems like an issue that’s not the user’s fault.

Either way, contacting your local Genius Bar seems to be the place to start. 





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World News in Brief: Fresh Ukraine attacks condemned, Gaza healthcare, DR Congo needs escalating

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The latest strikes in the centre and south occurred on the eve of the solemn commemoration marking two years of war and one day after deadly attacks in the Donestsk region, located in the east.

‘Grim reality’ unchanged

Denise Brown, UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Ukraine, took to social media to voice her condemnation.

“Today’s attacks on Ukraine are yet another blatant example of the Russian Federation’s disregard for their obligations under international humanitarian law, a grim reality that remains unchanged since the escalation of the war two years ago,” she said in a post on X, formerly Twitter.

Ukrainian authorities reported that grain stocks and civilian infrastructure, including a power plant, were hit during the strikes.

Meanwhile, the UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, said aid organizations continue to do all they can to help people affected by ongoing attacks.

On Friday, they mobilized to provide first aid and critical assistance to people in Odesa and Dnipro, distributing hot drinks and meals as well as repair materials to residents whose homes were damaged. 

Lack of functioning UNRWA health centres in Gaza 

The UN agency that assists Palestine refugees, UNRWA, said just seven of its 23 health centres in Gaza are operational, with only one still functioning in the north.

That information comes from UN humanitarian affairs office, OCHA, which reported that nearly 600 UNRWA staff continue to work in these facilities, where they provided more than 11,000 medical consultations this past Monday.

More than 8,000 additional medical consultations also were carried out by staff at shelters and at newly established medical points in Mawasi area, where people displaced from Khan Younis have been flocking.

Meanwhile, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) continues to support pregnant and breastfeeding women in Gaza, where some 5,500 women are expected to give birth in the coming month, with little to no access to medical support. 

UNFPA has been distributing critical medicine and equipment to health facilities, where access allows, including the Al-Helal Al-Emirati Hospital in Rafah. Items include supplies for maternity, postpartum and reproductive health as well as dignity kits. 

Concern for families caught in DR Congo violence 

UN agencies continue to sound the alarm over the escalating violence and worsening humanitarian needs in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), where government troops have been battling M23 rebels.

Since the resurgence of fighting around the town of Sake in North Kivu province earlier this month, some 144,000 people have been forced to flee the outskirts of the provincial capital, Goma. 

Other non-State armed groups have also launched a spate of targeted attacks against civilians this week in the city of Beni and in the Irumu territory in neighbouring Ituri province.

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, said on Friday that its protection monitoring teams have received reports of killings, kidnappings and the burning of homes. 

Separately, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) alongside the World Food Programme (WFP) called for immediate action to protect children and families. 

They said the increase in violence and displacement is straining their resources to mount a comprehensive response that includes food, clean water, good sanitation, safe shelter, basic health care and protective services for women and children.

The DRC has become one of the most significant internal displacement crises in Africa, with nearly seven million people displaced, primarily due to conflict in the east. The UN migration agency, IOM, estimates that 1.6 million people have been displaced in the past year alone.

This week, the DRC Government and humanitarian partners launched a $2.6 billion appeal to provide lifesaving assistance and protection to 8.7 million people in need. 



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I confused Google’s most advanced AI – but don’t laugh because programming is hard

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confused-devgettyimages-1560259012

skynesher/Getty Images

Care to have some fun? Fun at Google’s expense? And when I say fun, I mean fun in, well, a morbid fascination, what-were-they-thinking, I’m-glad-I’m-not-the-product-manager kind of way?

Our story begins with a Gemini Advanced release notes update published by Google on Tuesday. It talks about a new inline editor for the programming language Python:

release-notes

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

What we’re going to focus on is the word “now” in the phrase, “you can now edit and run Python code snippets directly.” This seemed cool, so earlier today I set out to test it out in order to report back to you about this cool new feature.

Also: What is Google’s Gemini AI tool? Everything you need to know

Only…not so much.

Signing up for Gemini Advanced

Just a quick recap. Google’s version of ChatGPT (its generative AI) was called Bard and is now called Gemini Advanced. What Gemini is to ChatGPT, Gemini Advanced is to ChatGPT Plus, including the $20/month fee. I went ahead and signed up for Gemini Advanced, adding it to my collection of monthly AI-related bills.

Also: You can try Google’s new ‘AI Premium Plan’ for free. Here’s how

signup

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Gemini Advanced adds a bunch of new features. Note the highlighted line below:

advanced

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Yes, it says, “Our most capable AI model.” Keep that in mind, along with the word “now” from earlier in this story. Here’s what the Gemini Advanced web interface looks like:

web-interface

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Trying out Python

I went ahead and pasted in a simple Python script. This one simply creates and outputs the string “hello world” in upper case and sentence case.

python-script

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Gemini Advanced first deconstructed my code and gave me a nice little explanation

code-breakdown

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

It was then kind enough to give me the output of the script. Points to Gemini Advanced. The output was correct.

output

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

But ask yourself this: Do you see any way to edit that code? Any way to run the code as one might in a traditional code interpreter? No? Neither do I.

The quest for ‘you can now edit and run’

Obviously, I’m missing something. 

Now, let me be clear. I’m about to mock. I specifically asked my editor if I had permission to mock, because this is Google and we like Google. I was granted a full release to let loose and mock.

Also: Want to work in AI? How to pivot your career in 5 steps

I’ll try to be gentle.

Looking back at the release notes, there was this phrase, “Exclusive to Gemini Advanced, you can now edit and run Python code snippets directly in Gemini’s user interface.” So, my first question was whether or not I was actually using Gemini’s user interface. Here’s what I was told.

how-to-find

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Notice, next to the arrow, a recommendation to go to https://www.gemini.com. No problem. Of course, Google owns the domain Gemini.com, right? No, they don’t.

gemini-com

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Gemini.com is a crypto exchange. When I asked Gemini Advanced (which, don’t forget, I had to agree to pay an extra $20/month for) how to use Gemini’s Python interface, which was promoted in the release notes as “now” available, Gemini pointed me to a crypto site.

That, folks, is what we in the AI business call a hallucination. Oopsie. Yeah, and it gets better.

Also: How I tricked ChatGPT into telling me lies

When I pointed out to Gemini Advanced that it sent me to a crypto site, it apologized for the misdirection. Then it told me it couldn’t find the interface. And then it told me that what I was looking for might be internal to Google and might not be publicly accessible.

misdirection

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

Gemini Advanced then ended that prompt response by asking me where I had originally read about Gemini’s ability to process Python scripts. Uh, Google’s own release notes. Duh.

source-pointer

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

By this point, I was feeling a Full-On Grade A Mockportunity forming in the cosmos. I fed Gemini Advanced the URL to its own release notes, and got this:

polluxed-up

Screenshot by David Gewirtz/ZDNET

I want to point out some fun Gemini phrases (in italics below):

  • Again with: “It seems like Google’s Gemini interface and features are indeed still under development and might not have a public release just yet.”
  • “Here’s what we can infer from that updates page.” What we can infer?
  • When talking about Gemini Advanced with Ultra 1.0: “This suggests a tiered subscription model.”  Suggests? As if Google hasn’t been banging the drums on Ultra 1.0
  • “The feature might not be live yet: The code editing capability might be in development or only available internally at Google.”  That’s fine, had Google not advertised availability “now” on its updates page.
  • Now, here’s the best: “Keep an eye on the updates page: That page (https://gemini.google.com/updates) is the best place to get notified when this feature becomes available.” That’s the page where I got the information, that I just fed into Gemini Advanced to get more information.

From Bard to baffled

So, where does that leave us? Instead of an article showing off how you could dynamically edit Python inside of Gemini Advanced, you got this little romp through the verdant fields of “what else can possibly go wrong?”

Also: How Google’s AI helped me fix a Gmail technical problem

The feature in question shouldn’t be all that difficult to implement. Inline editors and interpreters have been found in coding environments for decades. Linking one into the Google Advanced interface should just not be that hard, even if there’s a need to pass some text between the interpreter and the AI.

To be fair, product and feature releases are challenging, especially for a company the size of Google. A tremendous amount of coordination needs to happen. Many teams and constituencies are involved. Everything has to go off with clockwork precision.

Also: How to take the mystery out of managing multiple projects successfully

As you can see here, this does not always happen — even if the company is Google. I’m sure the inline edit and test feature for Python will show up eventually. When it does, we’ll test it out. In fact, the company has announced that Gemini 1.5 (Gemini Advanced currently uses Gemini 1.0) is now in early testing. When that’s available, we’ll test it, too.

In the meantime, I’m going to hoist a mug of gloriously hot coffee to the Gemini Advanced marketing and engineering teams. “Here’s to you! It’ll go better next time.”

What about you? Have you tried Bard, Gemini, or Gemini Advanced? Have you signed up for either the added cost ChatGPT Plus or the Gemini Advanced subscription? What has your experience been? Are you looking forward to inline Python editing? Let us know in the comments below.


You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to subscribe to my weekly update newsletter on Substack, and follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.





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We all want an Afghanistan at peace, UN chief says in Doha

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Speaking to journalists during a two-day meeting with regional and national special envoys for Afghanistan, António Guterres said that there was consensus among delegates over what needs to happen, although the Taliban are not taking part.

“We want an Afghanistan in peace, peace with itself and peace with its neighbours and able to assume the commitments and the international obligations of a sovereign State … in relation to the international community, its neighbours and in relation to the rights of its own populations,” he said.

There was also consensus on the process to reach this objective, he added, noting proposals outlined in an independent review on an integrated and coherent approach conducted by Feridun Sinirlioğlu, in line with Security Council resolution 2679.

Key concerns

It covered all the main areas of concern, Mr. Guterres said, including ensuring Afghanistan does not become a “hotbed” of terrorist activity and that it has inclusive institutions in which all its diverse groups feel represented in a “truly inclusive” State.

The review notes the importance of upholding human rights, in particular for women and girls, and a recognition of the progress made in combatting drug production and drug trafficking.

The UN chief also underscored the need for effective humanitarian assistance to the country as well as long-term questions on Afghanistan’s future development.

Mr. Guterres further noted ongoing cooperation between Afghanistan and neighbouring countries, such as trade and infrastructure development or bilateral arrangements on combatting illicit drug trade.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the media in Doha, Qatar.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres addresses the media in Doha, Qatar.

Key questions

However, there are a set of key questions “in which we are stuck”, he added.

“On one hand, Afghanistan remains with a government that is not recognized internationally and in many aspects not integrated in the global institutions and global economy,” he said.

And on the other hand, there is a common international perception of deteriorating human rights, particularly for women and girls.

“To a certain extent we are in the kind of situation of the chicken or the egg,” he said, stating the need to overcome the deadlock and produce a common road map which addresses international concerns and those of the de facto authorities simultaneously.”

Unacceptable pre-conditions

In response to a correspondent’s question on the lack of participation of Taliban de facto authorities, the UN chief said that the group presented a set of conditions for its participation “that were not acceptable.”

“These conditions first of all denied us the right to talk to other representatives of the Afghan society and demanded a treatment that would, I would say, to a large extent be similar to recognition.”

On another question, Mr. Guterres said the meeting was very useful and the discussions were “absolutely needed”.

“Obviously it would be better if we would also have the opportunity after the meeting … to discuss our conclusions with the de facto authorities. It did not happen today; it will happen in the near future.”

Secretary-General Guterres addressing the media in Doha.



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The most immersive speaker system I’ve ever tested is not from Bose or Sonos

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A pair of Arena 9 speakers on a table that is between two chairs. An orange dinosaur decor piece is between the speakers, and a cat sits above them in a window seat, looking at the camera.

Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

ZDNET’s key takeaways

  • The SteelSeries Arena 9 5.1CH speaker system is available at Amazon, Best Buy, and SteelSeries for $550.
  • It allows you to connect three devices simultaneously via Bluetooth, USB, and optical cable. And it offers robust EQ customization via the OLED dial and Sonar desktop app.
  • Note that the OLED dial doesn’t give you as much control as the Sonar app for non-PC devices.

I have to admit: when I first saw the SteelSeries Arena 9 speaker system, I thought it was complete overkill. Five speakers and a subwoofer (plus the OLED controller and the many, many cables) felt like an absurd amount of audio equipment for most gamers who may only have one platform they prefer: PC, Xbox, Switch, or PS5. And it is. 

But if you frequently switch between console and PC gaming, or your home office doubles as your gaming room, the Arena 9 transforms into a home theater powerhouse that’s a more affordable option than a traditional 5.1CH system from brands like LG or Samsung. I’ve been testing the Arena 9 for the past several weeks, and here’s everything you need to know about it.

View at Best Buy

Setting up the Arena 9 is a lot less intimidating than the included quick-start guide makes it seem. The main left, right, and center speakers connect directly to the subwoofer, while the rear speakers connect wirelessly (and have their own AC power cable). The system also comes with an OLED control dial for quick and easy adjustments to volume and EQ presets, as well as for connecting via Bluetooth and viewing essential product information like the serial and model numbers for warranty claims. 

Close-up of the OLED dial controller for the SteelSeries Arena 9 on a table with a PlayStation 5

Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

The subwoofer also acts as the main connection point for audio output via USB, Bluetooth, or optical cable; you can use the subwoofer as an optical passthrough for theoretically connecting third-party sound bars or speakers if you already have something you’re using to boost dialogue or ambient sound. While you can set up all three connection types at once, you can only use one physical connection at a time, along with the Bluetooth-connected device. And the Bluetooth source will mix with the physical one, allowing you to catch PC or console notifications while using another device or stream music, movies, and shows.

I connected the Arena 9 to my PS5 via USB and used Bluetooth to connect to my iPhone 13 and desktop PC. While you’ll get an excellent dialogue and hi-tone boost straight out of the box, you do have to take some time to tweak settings either via the OLED controller or Sonar desktop app to get the best tones and volume levels for each set of speakers. The rear speakers like to be very quiet and flat-sounding at first, but switching to the Excite or Bass Boost EQ preset on the OLED controller immediately improved the surround sound effect and overall quality. 

Also: These wireless speakers deliver rich lows and crisp highs for just about any style of music

The OLED dial gives you a good amount of flexibility and control when selecting EQ presets or making manual adjustments, especially if you’re connected to a non-PC device like a cell phone. You can toggle the 5.1CH Upmix on and off, which disables the rear speakers for more focused audio, though it does sound much more flat and uninteresting than when enabled. SteelSeries has introduced a brand-new streamer mode for the app, which allows you to separate your programs into different output streams for unprecedented control over your audio. 

Close-up of a speaker for the SteelSeries Arena 9. It is on a shelf next to an in-box Skeleton Gerard Way Funko Pop

Taylor Clemons/ZDNET

You can set programs to be recognized as games, media, or chat and customize the output mix to favor one or another. This was a godsend when organizing Discord movie nights with friends, allowing me to boost the film’s audio over the voice chat so I didn’t miss any important plot or dialogue. And if you want even more in-depth customization options, each media type has its own EQ tab within the app, letting you choose different presets than what you find on the OLED controller or tweak frequencies to suit your space and preferences. You can even toggle spatial audio on and off, which is great for switching between games where you need to be able to pinpoint audio cues and movies where you may not want the audio to feel like it’s coming from different places.

Also: This portable Bluetooth speaker from Anker is so good, I forgot how affordable it was

I spent several days working my way through a New Game+ run of Gotham Knights‘ Heroic Assault mode on my PS5 while also bingeing The Real Housewives of Orange County on my dual-purpose work/gaming desktop. Not only did the Arena 9 handle both connections beautifully, but it was also easy enough to tweak settings within the Sonar app to balance the two, so I didn’t get overwhelmed with arguments about not getting invited to a party while I was trying to escort a laser cannon through a mob.

The speaker system is also excellent for streaming music; I played the Old Gods of Asgard album Rebirth while doing photography for upcoming reviews, and the original 13-minute cut of “Herald of Darkness” is a borderline religious experience with the right EQ tweaks. 

My one big complaint against the SteelSeries Arena 9 is that you really do feel that drop in control when dealing with a device that’s been connected via USB or optical cable. The OLED dial allows you to choose between a few different presets, but only offers a single option for a custom sound profile. Whereas the Sonar app lets you create a custom soundscape for every media type and connected device.  

ZDNET’s buying advice

There is a lot that comes with the SteelSeries Arena 9, between the speakers and subwoofer, controller, and cables. It’s easily one of the best-sounding systems I’ve tested, and the ability to tweak specific audio settings is game-changing. That said, if you mainly use a single platform like the PC or a console for gaming, you may want to opt for the smaller but still capable Arena 7 instead, since it comes with a single pair of speakers and a subwoofer. It doesn’t include a control dial like the Arena 9, but you can quickly adjust basic volume and bass boost levels with the on-device knobs for watching shows and movies. 

And if you’re simply looking for a reliable set of PC speakers, the Arena 3 is an excellent choice; and they don’t have the RGB lighting features like the Arena 7 and 9, making them a better choice for shared work spaces or home offices that double as gaming rooms.  





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The Life and Gruesome Death of a Bog Man Revealed after 5,000 Years

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Before he was bludgeoned to death and left in a Danish bog, an ancient individual now known as Vittrup Man was an emblem of past and future ways of living.

He was born more than 5,000 years ago into a community of Mesolithic hunter-gatherers who probably lived in northern Scandinavia as their ancestors had for millennia. But Vittrup Man spent his adult life across the sea in Denmark among farming communities, whose ancestors came from the Middle East.

It’s impossible to know the lives that Vittrup Man touched during his lifetime, but it was his death that caught people’s imagination thousands of years later. His remains — ankle and shin bones, a jawbone and a skull fractured by at least eight heavy blows — were discovered in the early twentieth century in a peat bog near a town called Vittrup in northern Denmark, alongside a wooden club that was probably the murder weapon.


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His “unusually violent” death distinguished Vittrup Man from other similarly aged remains found in bogs, says Karl-Göran Sjögren, an archaeologist at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who co-led a team that charted Vittrup Man’s life in a study published last week.

But nothing else about Vittrup Man stood out until researchers examined his ancestry for a study that came out earlier this year. Vittrup Man, they learnt, was related to hunter-gatherers from what is now Norway and Sweden, and not to the farming communities with Middle Eastern roots that had arrived in Denmark hundreds of years before his death.

“This is an indication that his origin may be a bit further north,” says Sjögren, possibly near the Arctic Circle where people still lived by fishing, hunting and gathering. Carbon and nitrogen isotope levels in bones and teeth, which can reveal aspects of diet, suggest that Vittrup Man got his calories from the ocean as a child, before transitioning to freshwater fish and wild game as a teenager and a diet including cereals, dairy and meat typical of farming communities starting as a young adult. Incorporated into his teeth, the researchers found protein fragments from seals, whales and fish as well as sheep or goats.

A childhood among northern Scandinavian hunter-fisher-gatherers might have prepared Vittrup Man for a long open-sea voyage to Denmark. What’s not clear is why he left the familiar to live among farmers. Some archaeologists, including some of Sjögren’s co-authors, surmise that Vittrup Man was taken captive and enslaved before being killed — a fate not uncommon in early Neolithic Scandinavia, when numerous social groups coexisted.

Sjögren favours the idea that Vittrup Man lived like a foreign merchant, mediating the exchange of goods between farmers and hunter-gatherers. Flint axes made of high-quality Danish stone, which have been identified along the Norwegian coast, could have been traded for materials from northern Scandinavia such as basalt.

“Maybe once he came of age, his role in society was to establish connections with farmer that lived across the sea,” says Thomas Booth, a bioarchaeologist at the Francis Crick Institute in London. He lived with the farmers for the last decades of his life, but it’s not inconceivable that he voyaged back and forth between homes old and new, adds Sjögren.

What, then, of Vittrup’s Man violent death, probably in his early thirties? Dozens of Neolithic human remains — many of them young males, like Vittrup Man — have been discovered in bogs, and archaeologists think ritual sacrifice explains many of these deaths. Many of these people had bone malformations that would have marked them out among their peers, but not Vittrup Man, says Sjögren.

Genome analysis suggests that Vittrup Man was blue-eyed and his skin may have been darker than typical Neolithic farmers, but his dark hair colour and height wouldn’t have stood out. “Why they chose to sacrifice some people, it’s really hard to say,” says Sjögren.

Vittrup Man’s hunter-gatherer ancestry more or less vanished from all of Scandinavian in the centuries after his death, and it’s not clear if any close relatives survived him. Researchers sequencing ancient human genomes by the hundreds have begun to build genealogies of ancient families, and it’s not inconceivable that a relative could one day be found.

The life — and death — of Vittrup Man goes to the heart of one Europe’s biggest transitions, says Booth, when hunter-gathering communities like his sat on the edge of a new way of life. “It gives you a sense of the worlds that these people are inhabiting.”

This article is reproduced with permission and was first published on February 21, 2024.



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‘High time for peace’, UN chief says, as Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine enters third year

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“Two years on and a decade since Russia’s attempted illegal annexation of Ukraine’s Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol, the war in Ukraine remains an open wound at the heart of Europe,” António Guterres said.

“It is high time for peace – a just peace, based on the UN Charter, international law and General Assembly resolutions,” he stressed.

Addressing Security Council members, with several Ministers and ambassadors in attendance, the Secretary-General reminded them of the United Nations principle of the sovereign equality of all its Members.

He stated that as per the UN Charter, international disputes shall be settled by peaceful means, and that all States shall refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any other State.

‘In any war, everyone suffers’

Mr. Guterres pointed to the suffering of civilians on both sides of the war.

In Ukraine, at least 10,500 civilians have died and many more have been injured; schools, hospitals and other vital civilian infrastructure have been destroyed, and several hundred towns and villages are cut off from electricity during a brutal winter.

Nearly four million people have been driven from their homes, and countless families, especially on the frontlines, depend on humanitarian assistance.

“Many Ukrainians are experiencing the living nightmare of losing their children. All children that have been deported must be reunited with their families,” Mr. Guterres said.

“The war is also hurting the people of Russia. Thousands of young Russians are dying on the frontlines. Civilians hit by strikes on Russian cities are also suffering,” he added.

Danger of escalation ‘very real’

The Secretary-General also voiced deep concern over the danger of the conflict escalating and expanding “is very real”.

“Around the world, the war is deepening geopolitical divides. Fanning regional instability. Shrinking the space available to address other urgent global issues,” he said.

Concluding his address, Mr. Guterres said that since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, “we have had two years of fighting, two years of suffering, two years of stoking global tensions and straining global relations.”

“Enough,” he stressed, noting that scorning the Charter has been the problem, and honouring it is the solution.

“That means honouring the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine, within its internationally recognized borders. It is time to recommit to the Charter and renew respect for international law,” he said.

“That is the path to peace and security – in Ukraine and around the world.”

The UN Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

The UN Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

France: Russia must end war now

Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné of France addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Stéphane Séjourné of France addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

French Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Séjourné said that Russia has been waging a war for two years, an unjust, unjustifiable and illegal war of aggression after seeking to invade its neighbour and take its territory for 10 years.  

Neither Moscow’s false pretexts nor its propaganda and massive disinformation on social networks can hide this clear and indisputable situation, he said.

Unlike Russia, Ukraine wants peace, he continued.

President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was in Paris last week, proposed a peace plan more than a year ago, and Ukraine has identified key principles and started discussions with numerous partners from all continents and not just the European continent.

“No one wants peace more than the Ukrainian people,” he said.

“Our Council must work for the victory of Ukraine, because it would be the victory of the Charter. The overthrow of societies through brutal and imperialist aggression should not be accepted. Russia must put an end to this war and withdraw its troops from Ukrainian territory, which will never belong to it.”

UK: ‘We all must stand up to Putin’

David Cameron, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom, addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

David Cameron, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom, addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

David Cameron, Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom, said the Council is meeting two years since Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a wholly unprovoked invasion of a sovereign UN Member.

“My question to Putin is simple: Why?” he asked. “How is Russia living up to its responsibilities as a permanent member of this Council to uphold international peace and security? How many ridiculous explanations have we now had for the invasion?”

That is the simple truth: Mr. Putin believes he can take territories, redraw borders, exercise force to build his empire, he said, wondering if the Council will “let this stand”.

“We know Ukraine’s answer, for we saw the courage of President Zelenskyy two years ago; the Kremlin expected Ukraine to fold, but they are standing firm for their freedom,” Mr. Cameron said, adding that on Thursday, the UK imposed further sanctions, clamping down on Russia’s military-industrial complex and those enablers seeking to keep it running.

“These sanctions are a reminder,” he continued. “In acting so brazenly, Putin is in fact openly trying to upset the international order, replacing it not with some progressive vision of equality of nations, but with a return to a 19th century ideology where might – particularly his might – is right.”

He said, “this is why we all must stand up to Putin, not just out of sympathy for Ukraine, but because his actions in Ukraine are dangerous for everyone else,” adding that respect for sovereignty lies at the heart of the international system and the UN.

“And that’s why nothing should matter more to us than seeing Putin fail,” he said. “We must not falter.  We must stand firm.”

US urges global support for Ukraine

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the United States addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield of the United States addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United States to the UN, recalled that two years ago, as Council members sitting around the same table called for diplomacy and de-escalation, “President [Vladimir] Putin openly chose war.”

“We could see the reality of Russia’s brutal aggression unfolding in real time; the world could see that choice between violence and diplomacy, war and peace unfolding in real time,” she said.

“Today, despite President Putin’s best efforts, the world continues to bear witness to Russian brutality, Russian hypocrisy and Russian cruelty,” she added. 

The US ambassador said the “senseless war” has worsened global food insecurity, impacted global energy, caused incalculable damage to the environment, and undermined the global non-proliferation regime. 

She added that in the face of such cruelty, death and destruction, the Ukrainian people have fought back effectively – “vastly outnumbered, they have not only defended their land but their freedoms, their democracy and their identity.”

Ms. Thomas-Greenfield called for greater support for Ukraine, to help it fight not only for peace but for a just, lasting peace, rooted in the UN Charter’s fundamental principles.

“Let us be exceedingly clear here: if Russia puts down its weapons today, the war will end; if Ukraine puts down its weapons, Ukraine would be over,” she said. 

Russia: ‘In this proxy war…Ukraine is losing’ 

Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of the Russian Federation addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia of the Russian Federation addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

Russian Ambassador and Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia said that one year ago, the Western bloc had tried to promote its peaceful initiatives and openly instilled in Ukrainian President Zelenskyy the notion that he could beat Russia. Ukraine has completely failed, while the West continues to pump weapons into the country and to discuss “dead end” peace prospects.

“For the people of Ukraine, it’s increasing clear how ineffective its Government is and how much it lacks independence,” he said. “In this proxy war…Ukraine is losing.”

Meanwhile, the European Union has become “a satellite of the US”, and Germany, for instance, has suffered losses of billions of dollars stemming from sanctions against Russia.  

Instead of having relations with its neighbour, Russia, the bloc is “shooting itself in the foot” by falling into a harsher energy dependency with the US and has fallen into Russophobia.

He said that two years ago, “we sent our boys to fight to end a war” against the Donbas region, “not to start one”.

Turning to the Minsk agreements, he said France, the UK and others did not take these treaties seriously. At the same time, Ukraine stepped up military activities with foreign States.

“Any conflict ends sooner or later,” he said. “There’s no doubt that the Ukrainian conflict will end as well. There’s no doubt that the longer it lasts due to the sustained support by the West, the less advantageous the peace dividends will be for Ukraine.”

Europe is in the throes of strategic blindness while denying to Russia its own legitimate defence interests, which is a short-sighted approach, he said, adding that the bloc continues to promote anti-Russia propaganda, which the US tried to do during the Cold War.

A fair Euro-Atlantic security system must be discussed, he said, noting that NATO’s current actions include expectations that its expansion is “an absolute right”.

China: Search for a sensible solution

Ambassador Zhang Jun of China addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

Ambassador Zhang Jun of China addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security in Ukraine.

Zhang Jun, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of China to the UN said that the international community should actively search for a for a sensible solution to the conflict to ensure that that peace can prevail. 

Efforts should remain focused on a political settlement, he said, stating that the priority should be to stop hostilities, launch direct talks and restore peace.

He called the parties to the conflict to show a sense of responsibility and to promote detente.  

Providing arms and stoking the fire is not the solution, the Chinese ambassador continued, stating that we must stay the course towards common security.

We must be responsive to the legitimate concerns of all countries, he said.

The situation Europe is facing today is directly related to the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), he said, adding that there must be a soul-searching and for looking at the world through an objective lens.

All countries, large and small, are entitled to a place in the international arena, he added, noting that sliding back into the colonial era is not an option.

Bullying will not work, win-win cooperation will, the ambassador highlighted, voicing China’s opposition to sanctions imposed by the US and UK, using the Ukraine issue as an excuse.

China is not a party to the conflict, he said, stating that it has always maintained that the sovereignty and the territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine, must be respected.

Ukraine: Russia has no legal right

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine.

Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba of Ukraine addresses the Security Council meeting on the maintenance of peace and security of Ukraine.

The Foreign Minister of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba, noted that the Council meeting was taking place at the same time of another air raid in the country and less than an hour after a residential building in Odesa had been hit, severely wounding two civilians.

“I’m afraid that someone is going to die in Ukraine before this meeting is adjourned because talking about negotiations is one thing, but throwing more drones and missiles on Ukraine as Russia does every day is completely another thing,” he said.

Mr. Kuleba told the Council that Russia’s name “is synonymous with aggression, war crimes and barbarism” while “its ugly face is the direct result of its impunity, stemming first and foremost from its presence in this chamber’s seat.”

He said the Russian Federation is occupying the place of the Soviet Union, which no longer exists, and the legal transfer of its seat in the Council never occurred.

“This is an example of how a small fraud led to a global catastrophe,” he said. “We continue to insist that Russia has no legal right to be present at this table, and the future reform should correct this historic mistake that led to deadly consequences.”

He said roughly 24 years of President Putin’s regime “has already ruined millions of lives” as during this time, Russia has launched or joined at three major wars – Georgia, Ukraine and Syria – or roughly one every eight years.  

The country has stands behind the attempted coup in Montenegro and destabilizing efforts in the Sahel region in Africa, he continued.

“And the scariest thing is that we must now focus not only on the lives already taken by Russia, but also on the lives that it is prepared to take in the future.”

Mr. Kuleba stated that it is only through resolute and joint action “that we can put the aggressor in its place and restore international peace and security.” 



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