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Industry & Technology

It’s definitely aliens: Teen girls save the world in genre-bending Snatchers

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 9:30pm

Enlarge / Sara (Mary Nepi) and Hayley (Gabrielle Elyse) team up to save their Arizona town from an alien invasion in Snatchers. (credit: Stage 13)

A teen pregnancy goes horribly awry in Snatchers, a charming genre-bending send-up of B-movie creature features, infused with the anything-goes spontaneity of sketch comedy. The horror/comedy debuted last weekend at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas.

(Mild spoilers for Snatchers below.)

High school student Sara (Mary Nepi) is pretty and popular, but she's also just been dumped by her hunky boyfriend, Skyler (Austin Fryberger) because she wanted to wait to have sex. He tells her he's "changed" during his trip to Mexico over the summer and now has "different priorities"—essentially he's turned into a mass of teenage hormones seeking any outlet for release. Desperate to hang onto her social status, Sara relents to his advances, but they don't use protection. She wakes up a day later not just pregnant, but fully nine months pregnant. And what she's carrying is definitely not a baby but some parasitic alien creature that shoots out from her uterus like a bloody cannonball. Things just get weirder (and gorier) from there.

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Windows 7 end-of-life nag messages will start showing up next month

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 9:02pm

Enlarge / Licensing and support lifecycles are not really the easiest topics to illustrate. (credit: Peter Bright)

As the end of Windows 7's free extended support period nears, Microsoft is going to do more to tell Windows 7 users that their operating system will soon cease receiving security updates.

Starting next month, the operating system will show users a "courtesy reminder" to tell them that security updates will cease and that Windows 10 (and hardware to run it on) exists. Microsoft promises that the message will only appear a "handful of times" during 2019 and that there will be a "do not notify me again" checkbox that will definitely suppress any future messages.

For those organizations that intended to keep using Windows 7 beyond its January 14, 2020 cut-off date, Microsoft has up to three years of paid fixes through its new Extended Security Update (ESU) scheme. These will be available to any organization with a volume license and will have a ratcheting cost structure that doubles the price each year.

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Dealmaster: Take 23% off the latest waterproof Amazon Kindle Paperwhite

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 7:30pm

Enlarge (credit: TechBargains)

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a deal on Amazon's latest Kindle Paperwhite, which is currently available for $100. That's the typical sale price Amazon likes to slap on its e-book reader every now and then, but it's still good for a solid $30 discount.

You can check out our review of the Kindle Paperwhite for more in-depth feedback, but the short take on the 10th-gen e-reader is that it's the obvious choice for most people in this market. It's still light (6.4 ounces), thin (0.32 inches), and easy to use, with a massive library of things to read. The 6-inch display is still sharp (300 ppi), bright, and evenly lit, and it now sits flush against the display instead of having a cheaper recessed look.

The big upgrade with this particular model is that it's now waterproof with an IPX8 rating, so there's no need to worry about dropping it in the tub or getting it soaked by the pool. It can now play Audible audiobooks back through Bluetooth headphones, too—though there's no headphone jack—and its battery should last for weeks before it needs recharging.

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Red’s Hydrogen One smartphone won’t actually get those camera modules

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 6:39pm

Late last year, professional movie camera company Red dove into the smartphone market with the extremely industrial-looking Red Hydrogen One. It was big, ugly, and built with carbon fiber and aluminum, just like Red's ~$20,000 movie cameras. But other than a 3D display and the aggressive design, the $1,300 Hydrogen One was built from mostly standard smartphone parts. The main sales pitch for the device was Red's modular accessory system, which someday promised to bring a real Red-developed camera sensor to the Red smartphone. It now sounds like the modular system is dead. Red has scrubbed the mention of the modules from its website and announced "radical changes" to its smartphone program that seemingly include a new device with a Red sensor built in.

Anyone familiar with the company would naturally expect a Red smartphone to come with a great camera. Instead, Red used off-the-shelf smartphone parts and turned in a device with standard camera performance. The modular accessory system was due out in 2019, and it was supposed to work via a set of copper contacts on the back. Besides a promised power pack and expandable storage modules, this was supposed to be the way to finally put Red's camera magic into its smartphone. The "cinema grade camera module" would have doubled or tripled the thickness of the phone, but it would have come with a Red sensor and a removable lens system.

The camera module photo and any other mention of modules was quietly removed from Red's website almost a month ago (you can compare this archive to the live site). After Red forum members started to notice, Red founder Jim Jannard made a vague and incoherent statement addressing the move. Jannard admitted that the Hydrogen smartphone project ran into "a series of obstacles," and he said that "changes" were coming to the program. At no point did Jannard say that the modular system would continue to be developed, and with the removal of the photos, we're going to call the modular system dead.

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AT&T raises DirecTV Now price—again—after promising lower post-merger bills

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 6:26pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | ljhimages)

AT&T is reportedly raising the price of DirecTV Now by $10 a month and notifying current subscribers that they will pay the new, higher price starting in April.

DirecTV Now packages today cost $40 to $75 a month before add-ons such as HBO, and current customers will reportedly pay $10 a month more regardless of which package they subscribe to, making the prices $50 to $85. News reports say AT&T is also reconfiguring its channel packages for new subscribers, adding HBO to basic packages while eliminating dozens of channels that aren't part of the AT&T-owned Time Warner Inc. New customers will reportedly be able to choose from two slimmer plans costing $50 or $70 a month.

The price hike and channel reduction are happening despite AT&T promising that its acquisition of Time Warner would lower prices for customers. When the Department of Justice tried to stop the merger, AT&T told a judge in a May 2018 court filing that the merger "will enable the merged company to reduce prices."

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Without federal help, local governments are trying to save coal

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 6:16pm

Enlarge / A truck loaded with coal is viewed at the Eagle Butte Coal Mine, which is operated by Alpha Coal, on Monday May 08, 2017 in Gillette, Wyoming. (credit: Photo by Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As the Trump administration's attempts to save coal have stalled, a record number of coal plants were shut down or scheduled for shut down in 2018.

The federal government has floated extra compensation for coal and nuclear plants, it has tried to use federal wartime powers to mandate that coal plants stay open, and it has rolled back the Clean Power Plan in the hopes that fewer regulations would help coal power plants stay solvent. Still, though, coal plants close and threaten to close largely because coal is more expensive than natural gas and renewable energy, and it's more cost-effective for utilities and energy companies to retire old plants than to refurbish them.

The federal government is still working to boost coal. In yesterday's budget proposal, the Trump administration proposed extensive cuts to a variety of renewable and efficiency programs run by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, but it said it wanted to increase the Bureau of Land Management's coal management program funding by $7.89 million. In addition, the Office of Fossil Energy Research and Development saw a proposed increase in funds by $60 million.

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Unknown NES wrestling game discovered, beaten 30 years later

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 6:02pm

After all this time, you might think we already know about every NES game made during the system's '80s heyday, but to this day collectors are still discovering and preserving one-of-a-kind prototypes that were produced but never released for the system. The latest example of this gaming history trend is UWC, a surprisingly complete prototype wrestling game made in 1989 by obscure Japanese developer Thinking Rabbit (perhaps best known for block-pushing puzzle game Sokoban) and published by defunct Japanese company Seta.

The name might sound familiar to classic wrestling fans, as UWC was the acronym for the Universal Wrestling Corporation, which later grew into World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Thus, the UWC prototype includes digitized versions of real wrestlers, including Ric Flair, the Road Warriors, and Sting, as part of what was apparently planned to be a fully licensed game. A completely different, officially licensed WCW game was released in the US in 1990 from publisher FCI, which could explain why this UCW prototype never saw an official release.

Unlike previous long-lost NES finds like Bio Force Ape, Happily Ever After, and SimCity, UWC was never even announced for the system, much less released to retailers. The only reason we know about it is a discovery by NES collector Stephan Reese. He says in a recent YouTube video that he obtained the game from a former Nintendo of America employee who held on to a prototype that was submitted to the company for review. "They gave it to him to test because he was a wrestling fan," Reese says.

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Bandersnatch was a hit, so Netflix plans to make more interactive shows like it

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 5:18pm

Enlarge / Bandersnatch was an interactive story that was loosely part of Netflix's Black Mirror speculative fiction series.

According to a Netflix executive, the interactive film Bandersnatch was such a success that Netflix will double down on the format, with plans to make new interactive TV series across multiple genres.

Netflix Vice President of Product Todd Yellin delivered the keynote address at Mumbai-based media conference FICCI-Frames, in which he talked about plans to double Indian content production. But he also discussed the company's future plans for interactive TV. Here's what he said, as quoted in entertainment industry publication Variety:

It’s a huge hit here in India, it’s a huge hit around the world, and we realized, wow, interactive storytelling is something we want to bet more on. We’re doubling down on that. So expect over the next year or two to see more interactive storytelling. And it won’t necessarily be science fiction, or it won’t necessarily be dark. It could be a wacky comedy. It could be a romance, where the audience gets to choose—should she go out with him or him.

The announcement is not surprising; Bandersnatch was the talk of social media for a brief period after its release. When multiple Ars staffers assessed it in our "choose-your-own-opinion" review format, most impressions were relatively positive.

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EA says it failed in response to Sims influencer’s alleged sexual harassment

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 5:05pm


In the social media age, companies have to be able to quickly vet and evaluate any "influencers" that they partner with to promote their brand online. Electronic Arts now admits its process for doing just that broke down when the company was told of credible allegations of sexual harassment by a member of its Sims Game Changer community partnership program.

A report by Kotaku details allegations of sexual harassment made by Sims community members against a YouTube creator and Game Changer partner with the online handle "Dylan Simz." The report outlines multiple instances where Simz allegedly shared unwelcome sexual fantasies with teenage boys online and at least one instance where he allegedly exposed himself on camera to a fellow player.

The report suggests that Simz's status as an EA Game Changer—which granted him early access to in-game content and direct access to EA events and members of the game's development team—helped him establish and maintain the illicit contact with these alleged victims. "I know that he’s friends with a lot of those [bigger] Game Changers, and I had some friends who were friends with him, so I was like, 'Oh am I going to lose friends over this too?’” one fellow Game Changer told Kotaku. "He did mention to me 'Oh, I’m a Game Changer, if you didn’t know,' multiple times, so I think he knew that, too."

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UK, Australia, others also ground Boeing 737 MAX after crash [Updated]

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 3:18pm

[Update, March 12, 9:00am] The civil aviation authorities of the United Kingdom, Australia, Singapore, and Malaysia have now also grounded 737 MAX aircraft flown by their airlines. The additional groundings account for about 40 percent of all 737 MAX aircraft in service. The United States' Federal Aviation Administration has not yet taken any action, citing the absence of conclusive data on the crash's cause. An investigation is still underway.

Boeing announced late yesterday that a software update would be issued for the 737 MAX's flight controls:

For the past several months and in the aftermath of Lion Air Flight 610, Boeing has been developing a flight control software enhancement for the 737 MAX, designed to make an already safe aircraft even safer. This includes updates to the Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System (MCAS) flight control law, pilot displays, operation manuals and crew training. The enhanced flight control law incorporates angle of attack (AOA) inputs, limits stabilizer trim commands in response to an erroneous angle of attack reading, and provides a limit to the stabilizer command in order to retain elevator authority.

A Boeing spokesperson said that the FAA was expected to approve and mandate the updates no later than April.

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Fitbit Inspire HR review: A worthy $99 investment in your health

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Apple may be dominating the wearable space, but Fitbit isn't far behind. Long before Apple even made smartwatches, Fitbit made fitness trackers for all types of people who would like to become healthier or advance their training to the next level. And as of late, Fitbit's $129 Alta HR surpassed others as our favorite simple-yet-powerful fitness band that could work for almost anyone.

But now, Fitbit is retiring the Alta HR and replacing it with the new $69 Inspire and $99 Inspire HR fitness trackers. These devices are meant to not only fix some of the shortcomings of the Alta HR but to also attract users who have never worn a wearable before. There are plenty of those people, and Fitbit is betting that a good portion of them don't want a smartwatch and would jump at the chance to spend less on something that's just as capable when it comes to fitness.

We recently spent about a week with the Inspire HR to see for ourselves if Fitbit had taken what Ars saw as the best tracker out there and in fact made it better. And perhaps more importantly to this fitness brand, how compelling is this new wearable for newbies?

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Elon Musk denies being in contempt of court

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 1:48pm
Tesla founder Elon Musk has denied that a tweet placed him in contempt of court.

Facebook restores ads calling for it to be broken up

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 1:08pm
The social network removed ads then restored them to "help debate" about its status and power.

Uber driver kidnapped passenger to boost fare

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 12:57pm
The driver "groped" a sleeping female passenger while taking her on a long ride to boost his fare.

Brexit: Foreign far-right Twitter users 'manipulated debate'

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 12:53pm
Research shows that fake accounts tried, for example, to amplify far-right narratives about Brexit.

Stuffed documentary: Maybe taxidermy isn’t such a dead industry after all

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 12:30pm

The trailer for Stuffed, a taxidermy documentary.

AUSTIN, Texas—Growing up in a suburb of a suburb in Pennsylvania, my hometown's main street looked like you might expect: funeral home, gas station/convenient mart, VFW pub... and a taxidermy office. (Back then, the state even gave public schools a day off at the start of deer-hunting season.) As someone more interested in playing text-based adventure games afterhours on my dad's work computer, I never saw the inside of that last communal institution. But I had a pretty crude mental image based on context clues: antlers lining the walls, camouflage outerwear tossed over a chair, pickup truck parked out back with dead animals in the bed.Ars at SXSW 2019

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Hosting its world premiere this week at South by Southwest, the new documentary Stuffed has come to fix this exact kind of misconception. "You get anything from, 'You do taxes?' to 'That's really creepy.'" That's how one profiled taxidermist describes people's reactions when he tells them what he does. (It's easy to see why another taxidermist has rebranded as a "3D-animal preservationist.") "Some folks will lie and say it's not creepy, but in the back of their mind, they think you're Ted Bundy."

The reality, of course, has little to do with any kind of fascination with death or killing. If Stuffed's ~85-minute ride is to be believed, modern taxidermy is as much if not more about art and nature preservation as it is about dead animals.

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Web creator discusses what went wrong

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 8:33am
Sir Tim Berners-Lee says he feels problems such as data breaches, hacking and misinformation can be tackled.

Meet Tengai, the job interview robot who won't judge you

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 2:10am
Employers can make unconscious - and unfair - judgements about interviewees within a few seconds.

The interview robot that doesn't make snap judgements

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 2:09am
We are all susceptible to unconscious bias - making assumptions about people. Is a robot any better?

Could electric vehicles be the future for Kenyan travel?

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 1:52am
Kenya's electricity surplus could be capitalised on by a company reconditioning electric vehicles.

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