Valentine's Day and consumer technology don't exactly go hand in hand. Every couple is different, but if you're getting a loved one a gift for the holiday, it should come from the heart. A new smartphone or portable hard drive is nice, but it doesn't always scream "romance."
For the tech-obsessed robots at Ars Technica, though, good gear will always win out against fickle concepts like "human emotions." So instead of posting a more conventional gift guide, I decided to celebrate this Valentine's Day in a more Arsian manner: by asking my colleagues to point their hearts not toward other people but toward the tech in their lives that they appreciate the most.
Here are a few things we love.
The geo-fencing technology that means drones cannot fly near airports is improved.
In a memorandum released Monday night, the US Department of Defense Office of the Inspector General informed Air Force leadership that it will evaluate the military's certification of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy for national security missions.
"We plan to begin the subject evaluation in February 2019," the memorandum states. "Our objective is to determine whether the US Air Force complied with the Launch Services New Entrant Certification Guide when certifying the launch system design for the Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicle-class SpaceX Falcon 9 and Falcon Heavy launch vehicles."
The memorandum does not explain why the inspector general believes such an evaluation is necessary. Signed by Deputy Inspector General Michael Roark, the memorandum only states that the evaluation will take place at the Space and Missile Systems Center, which is headquartered at Los Angeles Air Force Base in El Segundo, California. This is just a few miles from SpaceX's headquarters in neighboring Hawthorne.
Four Americans are celebrated for their roles in developing the sat-nav Global Positioning System.
LAS VEGAS—For obvious reasons, the automotive coverage at Ars often focuses on ADAS—advanced driver assistance systems. From convenience features like adaptive cruise control and lane keeping to more safety-oriented features like blind spot monitoring or automatic emergency braking, ADAS are becoming more common in new vehicles—usually with brand-specific and potentially confusing names. When the features are implemented well, they can be incredibly useful; I've found that rear cross-traffic alerts regularly come in handy when reversing out of a space in a crowded parking lot. Which is why I was very surprised to find out that these kinds of systems are only now just being rolled out to the biggest, heaviest vehicles on our roads: class 8 semi-trailer trucks.
As we've remarked (or complained about) on more than one occasion, the annual CES trade show in January has effectively turned into an auto show, with OEMs and their suppliers demoing their latest tech advances. And Daimler's truck brand, Freightliner, is part of that crowd. In 2015, it used the Hoover Dam to show off an autonomous truck concept, and this year it returned with the production version. Called "Detroit Assist 5.0," it features many of the same assists you might find in a current Mercedes-Benz passenger vehicle: adaptive cruise control down to zero mph, lane-keeping assistance, automatic emergency braking, and even blind spot monitoring that keeps a virtual eye on the passenger-side length of the trailer as well.
Although Volvo (for instance) has offered automatic emergency braking on its biggest trucks for some years now, Daimler says that the model year 2020 Freightliner Cascadia is the first US class 8 truck to offer a full ADAS suite and is first to market with trailer-length blind spot monitoring and lane keeping.
Amazon has announced that it will acquire Eero, one of the biggest players in the networking hardware space known for its easy-to-set-up mesh Wi-Fi solutions.
Bay Area-based Eero, named after Finnish industrial designer Eero Saarinen, has been in operation since early 2015. It has already shipped several products. Neither Amazon nor Eero revealed how much money the tech giant paid in the acquisition, but Eero had raised $90 million in venture capital since its founding.
In case there was any doubt that the acquisition is part of a larger smart home strategy, a quote in Amazon's press release from SVP of Amazon Devices and Services Dave Limp named that as a reason right off the bat:
The landmark review also recommended the BBC should do more to share its technical and digital expertise.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that there will be 559 million electric vehicles on the road by 2040. But electric vehicles don't last forever. And their batteries are not always filled with the kinds of materials you would want leaching into the environment if they're disposed of haphazardly. Policy makers and researchers have started considering how to deal with end-of-life on electric batteries, and recycling is often considered as an option.
Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University published a paper in Nature Sustainability this week that looks at the emissions and economic costs associated with recycling automotive batteries. They specifically addressed batteries with three types of cathode chemistry: nickel manganese cobalt oxide (NMC), nickel cobalt aluminum oxide (NCA), and iron phosphate (LFP). The first two cathode chemistries are common in passenger vehicles, and LFP is common in buses (bus maker BYD uses LFP batteries, for example).
Since the packaging of batteries is important to the recycling method, cylindrical batteries (the types of cells that Tesla makes) are compared to pouch cell batteries in the analysis.
Media execs at several major outlets used anonymous accounts to harass women writers and activists.
Fresh off the blockbuster success of Aquaman, Director James Wan has produced an upcoming film that returns to his horror roots. And judging by the latest trailer, The Curse of La Llorona will offer chills aplenty in the same spirit as his Conjuring and Insidious franchises.
The titular ghost La Llorona (which translates as "The Weeping Woman") is based on Latin American folklore; there are many variants, but the film seems to be based on the Mexican version. A beautiful young woman named Maria marries into a wealthy family, and because her new in-laws disapprove of the match, the newlyweds build a home in her rural village. She bears her man two sons, but he eventually abandons her for a younger woman. A distraught Maria drowns the boys in a blind rage and then drowns herself.
For this crime, she is barred from the afterlife. She is condemned to spend eternity looking for her lost sons, trapped between the worlds of the living and the dead. Her constant weeping is why she is called La Llorona, and legend has it that, if you hear her wailing, you will have bad fortune and possibly die. La Llorona also kidnaps children wandering alone at night, mistaking them for her dead sons, and she is said to drown those children, too, all while begging for forgiveness.
The mapping organisation's craft will collect images and data for businesses and organisations to use.
We've still got several months of waiting for the debut of season 3 of Stranger Things. Fans hungry for the backstory to the various residents of Hawkins, Indiana, can play the mobile game. Or they might try one of the prequel novels published by Del Rey Books that delves into the pasts of some of the peripheral characters.
Suspicious Minds, published earlier this month, tells the story of Eleven's mother, Terry Ives, and how she got involved with MKUltra. A second prequel novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town, will arrive June 4 and focuses on police Chief Jim Hopper's early years in New York City as a homicide detective. And yes, both are considered "canon," for fans who are purists.
(Minor spoilers for the first two seasons of Stranger Things below.)
Video consultations are saving doctors time and money, but are they good for patients, too?
Microsoft is expected to reveal a new version of its HoloLens headset at Mobile World Congress later this month. The company has an event scheduled for February 24, and that date is being promoted in the rather mysterious video published by HoloLens' creator Alex Kipman.
The planned 2019 release of the next-generation headset was leaked last year. Codenamed Sydney, the new model is expected to be lighter, more comfortable, and sport a better display. The sensors are updated (likely to something close to the Project Kinect for Azure standalone sensor), and Microsoft has confirmed that it will include an updated Holographic Processing Unit (HPU) with AI acceleration capabilities. The processor is believed to be a Qualcomm Snapdragon 850, replacing the Intel Atom of the first-generation unit.
This comes as Microsoft has sold out of original HoloLens units. Neither the developer kit nor the commercial version is available to buy.
Malware pushers are experimenting with a novel way to infect Mac users that runs executable files that normally execute only on Windows computers.Researchers from antivirus provider Trend Micro made that discovery after analyzing an app available on a Torrent site that promised to install Little Snitch, a firewall application for macOS. Stashed inside the DMG file was an EXE file that delivered a hidden payload. The researchers suspect the routine is designed to bypass Gatekeeper, a security feature built into macOS that requires apps to be code-signed before they can be installed. EXE files don’t undergo this verification, because Gatekeeper only inspects native macOS files.
“We suspect that this specific malware can be used as an evasion technique for other attack or infection attempts to bypass some built-in safeguards such as digital certification checks, since it is an unsupported binary executable in Mac systems by design,” Trend Micro researchers Don Ladores and Luis Magisa wrote. “We think that the cybercriminals are still studying the development and opportunities from this malware bundled in apps and available in torrent sites, and therefore we will continue investigating how cybercriminals can use this information and routine.”
Over the years, Valve has made dozens of changes to the system-level software behind SteamVR. Most of them aren't inherently interesting if you're not a VR developer. Then there's the latest update, which Valve says was prompted by a change in the "limits of what we thought was humanly possible for controller motion."
After looking at "tracking data from Beat Saber experts," Valve says it had to increase the theoretical limits for how quickly a human can move in VR. In the comments, Valve developer Ben Jackson details how top-level Beat Saber players were sometimes overwhelming the "internal sanity checks" that make sure SteamVR's lighthouse tracking system is working correctly.
"One of these checks relates to how fast we thought it was physically possible for someone to turn their wrist," Jackson writes. "It turns out that a properly motivated human using a light-enough controller could go faster (3,600 degrees/sec!) than we thought."
A Texas lawmaker is proposing a state law that would prohibit wireless carriers from throttling mobile Internet service in disaster areas.
Bobby Guerra, a Democratic member of the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives, filed the bill last week. "A mobile Internet service provider may not impair or degrade lawful mobile Internet service access in an area subject to a declared state of disaster," the bill says. If passed, it would take effect on September 1, 2019.
The bill, reported by NPR affiliate KUT, appears to be a response to Verizon's throttling of an "unlimited" data plan used by Santa Clara County firefighters during a wildfire response in California last year. But Guerra's bill would prohibit throttling in disaster areas of any customer, not just public safety officials.
To the surprise of almost no one, Mars One appears to be dead. This project, founded in 2013, said it would raise funds from fees and marketing rights in order to send humans on a one-way mission to settle the Red Planet.
Now, thanks to a user on Reddit, we know that the effort has come to an apparent end. Mars One consists of two entities: the Dutch not-for-profit Mars One Foundation and the publicly traded, Swiss-based Mars One Ventures. A civil court based in Basel, Switzerland, opened bankruptcy proceedings on the latter company in mid-January. Efforts on Monday to contact officials with Mars One were not successful. (See update below).
To say this site was skeptical of Mars One would be putting it mildly. In May 2013—after more than 30,000 people around the world applied to become "astronauts" for Mars One—Ars' Lee Hutchinson scoffed at the venture, writing an article about some of the technical challenges it would face.
Lawmakers in Oregon and Washington state are scrambling to pass new vaccination laws as a swiftly spreading measles outbreak rages in Washington’s Clark County, a hotbed of anti-vaccine sentiment just north of Portland, Oregon.
New bills aim to eliminate personal and philosophical exemptions for standard life-saving vaccines in schoolchildren—exemptions that have fueled such outbreaks and allowed once-bygone infectious diseases to come roaring back in the United States. But as the lawmakers work to craft their new bills, they may do well to keep a close eye on their counterparts in California, who are now realizing the pitfalls of such laws—and debating how to avoid them.
Since California banned non-medical vaccine waivers three years ago, the number of children with medical exemptions in the state has tripled. The medical exemption rate rose from 0.2 percent to 0.7 percent statewide. While California’s overall vaccination level increased two percent, there are still small pockets where vaccination rates are low. The boom in medical exemptions has left some counties’ vaccinations rates below the threshold necessary to keep diseases, such as measles, from spreading.