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Industry & Technology

Shazam! review: Shameless mining of Spielberg, Big pays off for DC Comics

Ars Technica - April 5, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / How much fun is Shazam! at its best? This fun. (credit: Warner Bros.)

In order to have a reputation as a more fleshed-out film studio, DC Comics doesn't just need the likes of Wonder Woman. It also needs films like Shazam!—one-off morsels that are free from the weight of a connected universe, that can unabashedly walk the same ground as the best '80s kids-action films, that let us laugh with an infusion of Spielberg-ian heart.

Shazam! is in no position to "redeem" DC Comics' reputation in comparison to Marvel Studios' fare, and it succeeds the most by wearing that fact on its giddy-teen sleeve. Of course, Marvel comparisons are inevitable, so I'll start with one: the resulting film lands somewhere between the first and second Ant-Man films. It's fun. It's funny. It's fine. Shazam! can easily be criticized for issues and lapses, but its worst issues are nitpicks, not damning reasons to steer clear.

We have a Monster Squad apologist here

I was particularly charmed by the solid cast of kids and teens. If shameless mining of the '80s well that brought us Big, The Goonies, and E.T. brings us more talented young actors having fun and kicking butt with magical powers while learning valuable friendship lessons, then, sure. I for one don't really tire of that formula. (Gosh, I still like Monster Squad, which was already an unnecessary Goonies rip-off when it came out 30 years ago.)

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Box lifting warehouse robots unveiled

BBC Technology News - April 5, 2019 - 10:00am
BBC Click's Jen Copestake looks at some of the week's best technology stories.

5G: World's first commercial services promise 'great leap'

BBC Technology News - April 5, 2019 - 5:40am
South Korea and the US turned on 5G networks that promise ultra-fast speeds and new applications.

VR modes coming to Super Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild on Nintendo Switch

Ars Technica - April 5, 2019 - 3:44am

The Nintendo Labo VR Kit, launching later this month, is arguably the Japanese game maker's first virtual reality product in 24 years. Up until today, the product (which starts at $40) was a self-contained collection of new mini-games, all designed around foldable cardboard controllers.

That changed with a Thursday night announcement: two of the biggest games on Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will receive free VR-mode updates on April 25, two weeks after the Labo VR Kit's launch date. Both will require said VR Kit, which includes a pair of lenses that affix to the Switch's screen and turn it into a makeshift VR headset.

Odyssey's free update will open up three newly designed levels, all based on existing flat-screen worlds from the 2017 game. In these, players will look at Mario from a third-person perspective, which they can shift by rotating their head. This resembles existing VR platforming games like Moss, as opposed to a VR adventure viewed from the famous plumber's first-person perspective. It's unclear whether the camera will remain at a fixed, central point in these three levels or whether it will follow Mario's movement a la the more dynamic Astro Bot: Rescue Mission.

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Video app TikTok fails to remove online predators

BBC Technology News - April 5, 2019 - 1:18am
The app popular with teens fails to suspend accounts of users who send sexual messages, the BBC finds.

Pet Sematary remake may be the funniest film of 2019—no, that’s not a typo

Ars Technica - April 5, 2019 - 12:19am

Enlarge / Ellie Creed (Jeté Laurence) visits the Pet Sematary. (credit: Paramount Pictures)

The good news about this week's remake of the 1989 film Pet Sematary is that it's better than the original. The bad news is that this week's stab (pun intended) at a Stephen King story barely got its feet over that incredibly low bar.

Pet Sematary, after all, remains one of the darkest King properties to come out of the author's booze-and-coke '80s period, and while the book burnt up early '80s sales charts and critics' lists, the same couldn't be said for its garbage 1989 film adaptation. The best I can say about the new film is that it really swims a few laps in that boozy, drug-filled pool and relishes its bad-film origins. The result, however, is far more comedic than any trailer would indicate.

“They spelled it wrong!”

Let's review: family moves to the woods to "get away from it all." Family is initially stoked about the massive backyard in their new property, only to learn via one Google search that it's linked to a few really troubling stories about murders and animals, uh, coming back to life. The property also has a very short driveway with no gate that leads to a two-lane, 60mph highway.

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Cyber-attacks 'damage' national infrastructure

BBC Technology News - April 5, 2019 - 12:02am
Power plants, hospitals and other key installations are regularly being hit by hackers, finds a report.

The nations of the Amazon want the name back

BBC Technology News - April 5, 2019 - 12:00am
Rainforest nations have opposed the creation of a new .amazon internet domain name. Why?

Email chain prompts Microsoft to investigate reports of sexual harassment ignored by HR

Ars Technica - April 4, 2019 - 11:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Mike Mozart)

Women at Microsoft have been sharing reports of sexual harassment by both fellow coworkers and external partners that were often ignored by managers and human resources alike, according to a report by Quartz.

On March 20, an employee emailed other women at the company to ask for advice on moving up the chain after six years without promotion. This brought forward dozens of stories of discrimination and harassment, such as one woman being told to sit on another coworker's lap or a woman in a technical role having her contribution to a project restricted to booking meeting rooms, making dinner reservations, and taking minutes. Quartz verified the contents of the thread with employees at the company, and it has reviewed more than 90 pages of emails.

In many cases, employees say that they reported the events to their managers or to HR, only to have those complaints dismissed or overlooked—for example, written off as "just flirting" or ignored for lack of evidence.

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Judge ends Arizona coal-mine owners’ attempt to compel power customer to stay

Ars Technica - April 4, 2019 - 11:19pm


A federal judge in Arizona dismissed a lawsuit that sought to force the state's major water supplier to continue buying power from the Navajo Generating Station (NGS), a 2.25 gigawatt (GW) coal-fired power plant in Arizona.

NGS is the largest coal plant west of the Mississippi River. But in 2017, its owners decided they would close the plant by the end of 2019, as profits steadily eroded.

The Central Arizona Project (CAP), which buys millions of megawatt-hours of power a year from NGS to operate pumps that irrigate and hydrate higher-elevation portions of Arizona, said it would buy power elsewhere after NGS closed. CAP has maintained for several years (PDF) that coal-fired power from NGS has been more expensive than natural gas and renewable power on the wider market.

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Apple slashes HomePod price and introduces Powerbeats Pro

Ars Technica - April 4, 2019 - 10:44pm

Enlarge / Siri on Apple's HomePod speaker. (credit: Jeff Dunn)

Apple has lowered the standard suggested retail price of its HomePod smart speaker from $349 to $299. The price drop follows slow and disappointing sales for the product, according to most analysts.

The speaker has seen temporary discounts at certain retailers before, but this appears to be a permanent adjustment to the base price. It is uncommon for Apple to cut a price like this in the middle of a product's lifespan, but it's not unprecedented.

Reviews (including our own) praised the HomePod's strong sound quality and other aspects of its engineering and design, but they commonly lamented the high price and criticized smart-home and voice-assistant features that lagged behind those in Google's and Amazon's products. Apple may be hoping this price drop will make the HomePod accessible to new potential buyers and drive more sales.

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God of War wins best game at Bafta Awards

BBC Technology News - April 4, 2019 - 10:24pm
The winners of the Bafta Games Awards were revealed at a glitzy ceremony in central London.

Bafta Games 2019: God of War wins best game

BBC Technology News - April 4, 2019 - 10:18pm
The mythical adventure game wins Best Game at the Bafta Games awards.

Judge warns Elon Musk that even “big fish” need to follow court orders

Ars Technica - April 4, 2019 - 9:40pm

Enlarge / Elon Musk arrives at federal court in New York on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (credit: Natan Dvir/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Elon Musk appeared in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday to listen as his lawyers defended him against claims that he had violated a September deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The SEC told Judge Alison Nathan that Musk violated the deal by publishing a February tweet stating that Tesla would produce "around 500k" vehicles in 2019—without getting the tweet pre-approved by a Tesla attorney.

Musk's lawyers disagreed, arguing that his September deal gave him discretion to decide which tweets needed legal review. The settlement requires Musk to seek legal review for tweets that "contain or may reasonably contain" information that's "material"—i.e., significant for people trading Tesla's stock. But Musk's lawyers argue that the 500k figure is consistent with Tesla's past guidance (the SEC disputes this) and therefore wasn't new information that needed fresh legal approval.

People who came to the courthouse hoping to see Musk smacked down—or vindicated—by Judge Nathan left disappointed. Rather than ruling directly on the SEC's contempt motion, she ordered the parties to go back to the bargaining table and draw up a new, more-specific agreement governing Musk's use of social media.

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'Prince Harry and Meghan took my Instagram name'

BBC Technology News - April 4, 2019 - 9:03pm
Kevin Keiley says his Instagram handle "sussexroyal" was taken without warning.

Android TV update puts home-screen ads on multi-thousand-dollar Sony Smart TVs

Ars Technica - April 4, 2019 - 8:53pm

Google is trying out a new "Pilot Program" that puts a row of advertisements on the Android TV home screen. XDA Developers was the first to report on the new phenomenon, saying, "We're currently seeing reports that it has shown up in Sony smart TVs, the Mi Box 3 from Xiaomi, NVIDIA Shield TV, and others."

The advertising is a "Sponsored Channel" part of the "Android TV Core Services" app that ships with all Android TV devices. A "Channel" in Android TV parlance means an entire row of thumbnails in the UI will be dedicated to "sponsored" content. Google provided XDA Developers with a statement saying that yes, this is on purpose, but for now it's a "pilot program."

Android TV is committed to optimizing and personalizing the entertainment experience at home. As we explore new opportunities to engage the user community, we're running a pilot program to surface sponsored content on the Android TV home screen.

Sony has tersely worded a support page detailing the "Sponsored channel," too. There's no mention here of it being a pilot program. Sony's page, titled "A sponsored channel has suddenly appeared on my TV Home menu," says, "This change is included in the latest Android TV Launcher app (Home app) update. The purpose is to help you discover new apps and contents for your TV."

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Why Elon Musk is an increasingly bad choice to run Tesla

Ars Technica - April 4, 2019 - 8:28pm

Enlarge / Elon Musk in 2018. (credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

There have been a lot of signs recently that Elon Musk's tenure as CEO of Tesla is not going well.

Musk's lawyers are scheduled to appear in a New York courtroom today to convince a judge not to hold Musk in contempt for tweeting out a production forecast without first clearing the tweet with Tesla's lawyers—something the Securities and Exchange Commission says Musk committed to do in a September settlement.

Yesterday, Tesla announced a 31 percent quarter-over-quarter drop in vehicle shipments. The decline was partly driven by difficulties shipping the Model 3 to Europe and China and partly by a dramatic 44 percent fall in shipments of the more expensive Model S and Model X. Tesla's stock dropped about 9 percent when trading opened this morning.

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Here’s the real reason why Terracotta Army weapons are so well-preserved

Ars Technica - April 4, 2019 - 8:05pm

Enlarge / View of Pit 1 of the Terracotta Army showing the hundreds of warriors once armed with bronze weapons. (credit: Xia Juxian)

Ever since archaeologists excavated the first figures of the famous Terracotta Army of Xi'an in the 1970s, they have marveled at the pristine condition of bronze weapons accompanying the figures. Scholars suggested that this was evidence of one of the earliest known anti-rust technologies, and over time, this hypothesis took on the veneer of fact, at least in popular accounts. But according to a new study in Nature: Scientific Reports, it's the unique chemical composition of the surrounding soil that is responsible for the exceptional preservation.

The Terracotta Army is composed of thousands of life-sized ceramic figures dating back to the late third century BCE, housed in three large pits inside the mausoleum of the first emperor of China, Qin Shihuang (259-210 BCE). Essentially a form of funerary art, these warrior figures were meant to accompany the emperor to the afterlife. They once held fully functional bronze weapons: spears, lances, swords, crossbows, and so forth. Over the decades, archaeologists have excavated tens of thousands of valuable weapon artifacts from the site, many of which were in nearly pristine condition, even though handles, scabbards, and similar organic pieces had long since rotted away.

Early tests showed traces of chromium on the bronze weapon surfaces, a metal element found in stainless steel that is resistant to tarnishing. Those traces suggested that the Qin artisans who made the weapons might have employed an early forerunner to the chromate conversion coatings invented in the 20th century, which are still used for preservation today.

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In mice, ecstasy keeps social-developmental window open

Ars Technica - April 4, 2019 - 7:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images / Aurich Lawson)

Referring to a drug as "mind altering" generally refers to its influence on immediate perceptions. But a lot of drugs that have been used for these effects have turned out to be mind altering in a more general sense: they can elicit longer-term changes in how the brain operates. Ketamine, for example, appears to provide rapid and sustained relief from depression.

A study released this week suggests we can shift MDMA, also known as ecstasy, into this category of mind alteration. Researchers have shown that the drug holds a developmental window open, allowing mice to learn social interactions much later in life than they otherwise would.

Social rewards

In humans and other animals, there are points in development when the brain is better able to learn specific things. Young children, for example, are able to pick up languages far more readily than older ones. The window where learning is easy is called a critical period, and these periods can been seen in a number of contexts. We know much less, however, about what opens and closes these developmental windows.

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House Democrats refuse to weaken net neutrality bill, defeat GOP amendments

Ars Technica - April 4, 2019 - 7:37pm

Enlarge / Democrats vs. Republicans. (credit: Getty Images | Linda Braucht)

Democrats in the US House of Representatives yesterday rejected Republican attempts to weaken a bill that would restore net neutrality rules.

The House Commerce Committee yesterday approved the "Save the Internet Act" in a 30-22 party-line vote, potentially setting up a vote of the full House next week. The bill is short and simple—it would fully reinstate the rules implemented by the Federal Communications Commission under then-Chairman Tom Wheeler in 2015, reversing the repeal led by FCC Chairman Ajit Pai in 2017.

Commerce Committee Republicans repeatedly introduced amendments that would weaken the bill but were consistently rebuffed by the committee's Democratic majority. "The Democrats beat back more than a dozen attempts from Republicans to gut the bill with amendments throughout the bill's markup that lasted 9.5 hours," The Hill reported yesterday.

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