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Industry & Technology

Elderly Israelis beat isolation with tech lessons

BBC Technology News - April 6, 2020 - 3:20pm
Tech innovators are giving older Israelis online lessons to overcome Covid-19 isolation.

Aircraft carrier captain lost his command because of “Catch-22” COVID-19 dilemma

Ars Technica - April 6, 2020 - 1:48pm

Enlarge / Captain Brett Crozier addresses the crew of the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt on November 1, 2019. (credit: Sean LYNCH / US NAVY / AFP)

There has been a great deal of outrage expressed over acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly’s decision to “relieve” Captain Brett Crozier of his command over the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt after Crozier raised the alarm over a COVID-19 outbreak aboard his ship. Crozier’s letter was leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle, and Modly called the letter "poor judgement" by Crozier.

Modly had said on April 1 that Crozier’s actions "would absolutely not result in any type of retaliation," stressing the need for commanding officers to be candid about their concerns. But that was apparently an April Fool’s prank, as Modly moved the next day to dismiss Crozier because he had gone outside the chain of command.

There are two schools of thought on Crozier’s dismissal. The Navy’s official position is that Crozier stepped out of line by blasting a letter to "20 or 30" people in the Navy, didn’t walk down the passageway to go through his direct superior to elevate the request, and created unneeded panic. His own crew and many observers not hampered by their office believe that Crozier did the right thing and that the Navy—and the Trump administration—are shooting the messenger of bad news.

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Airbnb hosts defy lockdown laws with 'Covid-19 retreats'

BBC Technology News - April 6, 2020 - 1:35pm
Government criticises "dangerous and irresponsible" listings of coronavirus isolation properties.

Quibi, day one: This phone-focused TV service really isn’t that bad

Ars Technica - April 6, 2020 - 1:17pm

Enlarge / They want us to pronounce it "kwib-ee." We're going to pronounce it "kee-bee" to spite them. But silly as the name is, the service isn't that bad. (credit: Quibi)

If you're a frequent TV watcher, you may have noticed a significant change in daily and weekly series over the past month. TV crews have scrambled in the face of coronavirus shutdowns to generate content without their usual tools or studios, and, gosh, it's been sloppy. The results from most major networks have featured problems with lighting, microphones, camera resolutions, and editing across the board as hosts transition to filming themselves from home.

Even as of press time, many of these shows still feature awkward pauses and silences, not to mention grainy, compression-filled video feeds captured from online chat platforms. It seems like networks don't know what to do in a world where "social distancing" means not taping in front of a live studio audience, and the results look quite bad compared to home-filmmaker stars on YouTube. Major TV networks have long been accused of not understanding the streaming landscape, and that accusation has rung all the more true recently.

Which brings us to the latest streaming-exclusive service: Quibi. Unlike most other streaming services of the past few years, which have largely battled over which classic TV exclusives they can secure, this one has been built out of new, celeb-filled series with one thing in common: the "mini-sode" concept. Every Quibi video clocks in at 10 minutes or less.

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Final Fantasy VII Remake spoiler-free review: Our kind of Cloud gaming

Ars Technica - April 6, 2020 - 11:00am

Enlarge / We're going back to Midgar. (credit: Square Enix)

This week's Final Fantasy VII Remake, in spite of its flaws and oddities, does the unimaginable: it delivers to just about any audience who might be interested in this specific RPG series and this specific game. That's good news for anyone who has awaited this popular game's return for 23 years. But big as that niche may be, it's still a niche.

Are you a series veteran who has followed the Warriors of Light since the NES era? Maybe you're a JRPG diehard who knows your way around every inscrutable Final Fantasy spinoff (VII or otherwise)? Or, what if you're a lapsed player who got swept up in 1997's FFVII fever hoping this new game will be a cool, modernized reason to return to your PlayStation 1 heyday?

If so, you count among the millions who will likely enjoy what FFVIIR has to offer. The production values, at their best, are exhilarating. The updated combat system sees Square Enix get its closest yet to nailing battles in a JRPG, with a system that runs at a bombastic-yet-smooth clip. And it's nice to get to know some familiar faces in a stretched-out return to the iconic fantasy city of Midgar. Even better, you can rest assured that Square Enix has avoided two of its usual sins this time around. FFVIIR doesn't "take 10 hours to get good," and its plot doesn't devolve into a Kingdom Hearts-like mess of indecipherable gibberish.

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Coronavirus: Defence firm Babcock to make 10,000 ventilators

BBC Technology News - April 6, 2020 - 8:05am
The move comes as tech giant Apple says it will start making face shields for medical workers.

Zoombombing is a crime, not a prank, prosecutors warn

Ars Technica - April 6, 2020 - 12:54am

Enlarge (credit: Charlotte Nation / Getty)

Coronavirus-related social distancing measures have given a big popularity boost to Zoom, a video conferencing platform that's known for its ease of use but not necessarily strong security or privacy protections. Internet trolls and other troublemakers have responded with "Zoombombing": joining Zoom meetings uninvited and disrupting them. Zoombombers have exposed themselves to schoolchildren and shouted racial slurs.

In a Friday statement, federal prosecutors in Michigan warned the public that Zoombombing isn't a harmless prank; it's a crime.

"Hackers are disrupting conferences and online classrooms with pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language," wrote the US Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Michigan. "Anyone who hacks into a teleconference can be charged with state or federal crimes."

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Coronavirus: Video games add 'stay at home' Covid-19 adverts

BBC Technology News - April 6, 2020 - 12:04am
Candy Crush Saga, Dirt Rally 2.0 and Sniper Elite 4 are among titles that show a government campaign.

Don’t Panic: The comprehensive Ars Technica guide to the coronavirus [Updated 4/5]

Ars Technica - April 5, 2020 - 5:35pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

More than 1.2 million people have been infected with a new coronavirus that has spread widely from its origin in China over the past few months. Over 67,000 have already died. Our comprehensive guide for understanding and navigating this global public health threat is below.

This is a rapidly developing epidemic, and we will update this guide periodically to keep you as prepared and informed as possible.

March 8: Initial publication of the document.

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Flagship sedans like the Audi A8 are a dying breed

Ars Technica - April 5, 2020 - 2:30pm

The flagship sedan has been one of the more tragic victims of the SUV craze. Cars like the Mercedes-Benz S-Class, BMW 7 Series, and the Audi A8 used to be considered the ultimate expression of a carmaker's craft. Advanced technologies like anti-lock brakes, airbags, and infotainment systems would show up in these expensive machines years before they trickled down to the rest of us. But two decades into the 21st century, sedans are becoming increasingly irrelevant. Much of the most interesting new car technology—to us at least—is now found in plug-in powertrains and in the mass-market, like the Model 3, Polestar 2, or VW's ID family. So each year, fewer and fewer flagship sedans find homes, particularly as those same OEMs offer supersized luxury SUVs as well.

The A8 is a perfect example. Despite its Ronin connection, the biggest Audi has never been as popular as the S-Class, 7 Series, or Lexus LS. In 2019, the first full calendar year when the car was on sale in the United States, Audi sold 2,963 A8s. Over the same 12 months, the company sold 14,256 Q8s, the five-seat range-topping SUV that gets all the same gadgets but in much more on-trend packaging. You should be able to read Managing Editor Eric Bangeman's review of that SUV in the next few weeks, but having sampled both vehicles from the driver's seat and also riding as a passenger in the back, my take is that the sedan should come out ahead on both counts.

Despite its 17.3-foot (5.3m) length and 6.3-foot (1.9m) width, you only have to drive an A8 for a day or two before its bulk seems to shrink around you. And a curb weight of at least 4,773lbs (2,164kg) for the lightest variant (the $85,200 A8 55 TFSI, which uses a 3.0L V6 gasoline engine) makes it no featherweight, but it feels nimble nonetheless. And as long as you tick the $3,500 option for the rear-seat comfort package, the back seat of an A8 will outdo many business-class airline seats when it comes to comfort and adjustability, with heating, ventilation, and lumbar massages thrown in.

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How to refuel a nuclear power plant during a pandemic

Ars Technica - April 5, 2020 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / The Palo Verde Nuclear generating plant, the nation's largest nuclear power plant. (credit: Jeff Topping / Getty)

Each spring, nearly 1,000 highly specialized technicians from around the US descend on the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station near Phoenix, Arizona, to refuel one of the plant’s three nuclear reactors. As America’s largest power plant—nuclear or otherwise—Palo Verde provides around-the-clock power to 4 million people in the Southwest. Even under normal circumstances, refueling one of its reactors is a laborious, month-long process. But now that the US is in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, the plant operators have had to adapt their refueling plans.

Palo Verde is expected to begin refueling one of its reactors in early April—a spokesperson for Arizona Public Service, the utility that operates the plant, declined to give an exact start date—but the preparations began months in advance. The uranium fuel started arriving at the plant last autumn, delivered in the cargo bay of an unmarked semi truck. The fuel arrives ready for the reactor as 1,000-pound rectangular bundles of uranium rods that are 12 feet tall and about 6 inches on each side.
The latest shipment of fuel arrived at the plant well before the coronavirus pandemicbrought the world to a standstill, says Greg Cameron, the nuclear communications director at Palo Verde. The biggest change with this refueling cycle, he says, is the scope of the operation. “We’ve tried to trim down the amount of work to just what is necessary to ensure that we run for the next 18 months without impacting the reliability of the plant,” Cameron says.

Each of Palo Verde’s three nuclear reactors are ensconced in their own bulbous concrete sarcophagus and operate almost entirely independent of one another. This allows plant operators to periodically take one of the reactors offline for refueling and maintenance without totally disrupting the flow of energy to the grid. Each reactor is partially refueled every year and a half, with about one-third of the fuel in the reactor core being swapped out for a fresh batch.

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Coronavirus: Tech firms summoned over 'crackpot' 5G conspiracies

BBC Technology News - April 5, 2020 - 10:54am
Government will tell social media firms to take down posts more quickly after attacks on masts.

Pixar pioneers behind Toy Story animation win 'Nobel Prize' of computing

BBC Technology News - April 5, 2020 - 12:07am
The men who made Toy Story and Finding Nemo possible speak to the BBC about their Turing Award win.

We now know the effect of altitude on classic “Diet Coke and Mentos“ fountain

Ars Technica - April 4, 2020 - 7:20pm

Enlarge / A well-coordinated Mentos-and-Diet-Coke explosion filmed in slow motion for The Slow Down Show in 2013. (credit: YouTube/The Slow Down Show)

Back in 2006, Fritz Grobe and Stephen Voltz—the self-described mad scientists behind Eepybird—ignited an Internet sensation with their viral video of an elaborate version of the Diet Coke and Mentos fountain experiment, recreating the choreography of the Bellagio's world-famous fountain display in Las Vegas. The underlying physics and chemistry of the fountain effect is well-known.

But an intrepid pair of scientists at Spring Arbor University in Michigan wondered whether altitude, and associated changes in atmospheric pressure, would have any measurable impact on the intensity of the foaming fountain and performed a series of experiments to find out. They reported their results in a recent paper in the Journal of Chemical Education. The upshot: If you really want to get the most foaming action for your buck, conduct the Diet Coke and Mentos experiment at high altitudes.

Grobe and Voltz didn't invent the basic demo. That has been around since at least the 1980s, although originally creative science teachers used Wint-O-Green Lifesavers threaded onto a pipe cleaner to induce the fountains of foam in soda bottles. In 1990, the size of the Lifesavers changed and were too big to fit into the bottle mouths. So science teachers switched to Mint Mentos candy to achieve the same effect.

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Mast fire probe amid 5G coronavirus claims

BBC Technology News - April 4, 2020 - 7:05pm
There have been fires at masts in Birmingham, Liverpool and Melling in Merseyside.

Will SARS-CoV-2 have a long-term impact on the climate?

Ars Technica - April 4, 2020 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / China has seen pollution levels plunge. (credit: NASA)

COVID-19 is bad for human activity and enterprise. Human activity and enterprise is bad for the environment. So, since our present situation reduces human activity and enterprise, is COVID-19 good for the environment?

The cessation of manufacturing and transportation in Hubei Province has caused a drop in air pollution levels all over China so dramatic—emissions were estimated to be down 25 percent—that the relative dearth of both nitrogen dioxide and carbon dioxide in the air can be observed from space. Most of the effect came from a sharp drop in coal burning, which still provides the bulk of energy in China. Coal is used to heat homes in rural areas there, but also to fuel power plants and industry.

However, pollution—much like the virus itself—may come roaring back after the lockdowns are lifted. This “revenge pollution” can easily negate the temporary drop in emissions we are now seeing. That’s exactly what happened in China in 2009, when the Chinese government responded to the global financial crisis with an enormous stimulus package that funded large-scale infrastructure-type projects.

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The party goes on in massive online worlds

Ars Technica - April 4, 2020 - 2:15pm

You don't have to be so socially distant when playing Final Fantasy XIV online.

My friends and I were taking a pit stop after an aimless drive when we heard a stranger loudly invite anyone within earshot to her friends’ party. Our plans had ended at “go for a drive;” before that, we were loitering between some collapsed columns in a crystalline wasteland.

We debated whether to attend from inside our car. The party seemed a little raunchy—its promoter, Nina, a minuscule woman with pink blush marks painted on either side of her button nose, advertised “drinks and good company” but also “ERP,” which stands for “erotic role-play.” That’s not generally our thing. We’re more stand-outside types than the types to cast a flashy glamour spell and chat up the nearest cat girl. But, hey, it’s Final Fantasy XIV online, and where my body sat in New York, the epicenter of America’s Covid-19 outbreak, there certainly weren’t any parties.

On Fridays, Saturdays, and basically any given weeknight, my Brooklyn neighborhood is alive with throbbing house music, over-earnest open mics, DJ sets, roiling apartment bashes, and cars blasting reggaeton. In this new-normal world, events as we know them no longer exist, unless you count texting your 20 closest acquaintances a DRINKS ON ZOOM!!!! invite, give or take a couple of cloying emojis. With all of this newfound time to overthink the mundane, I recognize now that social outings are dedicated units of time for self-expression, coloring-book pages onto which we and our friends draw outlines that we pour ourselves into. Social distancing has separated us from our social contexts; without them, all the color drains out.

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Subscription drive, day 5: A plea from a punny pandemic reporter

Ars Technica - April 4, 2020 - 1:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

What a turd of a year, eh? 2020 didn’t start with a bang. It started with a plop. It’s only April and already we’re all frantically fumbling for a lever, hoping to flush this deuce as quickly as possible, praying our toilet-paper stash holds out and the stench doesn’t linger.

Maybe we should have seen it all coming. After all, the year began with Gwyneth Paltrow’s ridiculous lifestyle brand, Goop, releasing a six-episode Netflix series. Yep, Gwyneth Paltrow: the college-drop-out-turned-actor who couldn’t identify a vagina on a diagram while claiming to empower women with a smorgasbord of pseudoscience. The same self-proclaimed wellness guru who endorsed squirting coffee up your keister, shoving a rock into your hooha, and letting bees sting you.

In her Netflix series, the madness continued. Among other things, she praised a wizard chiropractor who manipulates people’s energy fields by pretending to do Tai chi near them—like a weird guy in your neighborhood park who wears parachute pants and always smells like sandalwood. (At least it’s a social-distancing-compliant method, I guess.)

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Coronavirus: Russia uses facial recognition to tackle Covid-19

BBC Technology News - April 4, 2020 - 12:02am
As Russian cities go into lockdown to try to contain coronavirus, Moscow uses the latest technology to keep track of residents.

Bugs that let sites hijack Mac and iPhone cameras fetch $75k bounty

Ars Technica - April 3, 2020 - 11:07pm

Enlarge (credit: Ryan Pickren)

A security bug that gave malicious hackers the ability to access the cameras of Macs, iPhones, and iPads has fetched a $75,000 bounty to the researcher who discovered it.

In posts published here and here, researcher Ryan Pickren said he discovered seven vulnerabilities in Safari and its Webkit browser engine that, when chained together, allowed malicious websites to turn on the cameras of Macs, iPhones, and iPads. Pickren privately reported the bugs, and Apple has since fixed the vulnerabilities and paid the researcher $75,000 as part of the company’s bug bounty program.

Apple tightly restricts the access that third-party apps get to device cameras. For Apple apps, the restrictions aren’t quite as stringent. Even then, Safari requires users to explicitly list the sites that are allowed camera access. And beyond that, cameras can only have access to those sites when they are delivered in a secure context, meaning when the browser has high confidence the page is being delivered through an HTTPS connection.

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