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Industry & Technology

Where will the world’s first autonomous rocket factory be built? Mississippi

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / An artist's concept of what the interior of Relativity Space's Mississippi rocket factory may look like in a few years. (credit: Relativity Space)

Relativity Space has signed an agreement with NASA to convert a large industrial building in southern Mississippi into what may become the world's first autonomous rocket factory. The factory is conveniently located just two miles from where Relativity plans to test engines and stages for its Terran 1 rocket.

Building 9101 at Stennis Space Center encompasses 220,000 square feet of factory facilities, which is greater than the combined area of three American football fields. NASA inherited the space from the US military about 20 years ago but has not used it. The property also includes multiple bridge cranes, which is useful for moving large aerospace parts around, and an 80-foot-high bay for the vertical integration of rockets.

"This building will be a long-term enabler of our vision," said Jordan Noone, co-founder and chief technology officer for Relativity. Based in Los Angeles, the company aspires to use 3D printing, machine learning, and automated technologies to build rockets at a lower cost in days or weeks instead of years.

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It watches you drive: Subaru Forester review

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 1:20pm

When it comes to cars, there are two types of people: those who pledge their eternal love for Subaru, and everyone else. When I'm testing a Subaru, I get more questions and comments from friends and acquaintances than just about anything else I drive. And that was the case for Subaru's most popular model, the Forester.

Redesigned for 2019, the Forester comes standard with EyeSight, Subaru's suite of driver-assist technology. New to the Forester—and available only with the Touring model—is DriverFocus. Designed to fight distracted driving, DriverFocus uses the facial-recognition tech that has also found its way into smartphones. It can store profiles for up to five drivers and provides visual and auditory feedback if the system detects you're not paying attention to the road.

Look and feel

Sitting smack dab between the sub-compact Crosstrek and the sort-of-mid-size Outback, the Forester starts at $24,295 for the base model and comes in Premium, Sport, Limited, and Touring trim. The last is the most expensive, with an MSRP of $34,295. All five editions get the same 2.5-liter boxer four-cylinder engine, continuously variable transmission, all-wheel drive, EyeSight, and Subaru's above-average dual-screen StarLink infotainment system. A panoramic moonroof is standard on all models other than the base.

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Guidemaster: Ars picks 11 gifts you can get Dad for Father’s Day 2019

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / These kids evidently got their dad a tie or some kind of parking lot toy... were wireless, noise-cancelling headphones not yet a thing? (credit: Los Angeles Examiner/USC Libraries/Corbis)

The annual day devoted to dads is approaching yet again, so it's time to start thinking (if you haven't already) about what you can do to make your father figure feel special. In addition to spending quality time with Dad, a gift that shows how much you care for him (and how much you listen to him) can make the day even better.

We've combed through our recent reviews, guides, and personal testing to pick out 11 possible tech gifts for Father's Day that we heartily recommend. Some of these ideas have full Ars reviews available to peruse while others are devices that we've personally used, loved, and simply thought would be great additions to any dad's life. And in case the father figure in your life is the kind who never tinkered past programming the VCR clock, we've even included a few picks for the less-tech-savvy dads among us—and those suggestions are better than ho-hum polo shirt or tie gift options, too. Check out the full list of Father's Day gift ideas below and find what works for you before the two-day shipping deadlines pass us by later this week.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Tens of thousands of images stolen in US border hack

BBC Technology News - June 11, 2019 - 12:34pm
Images of tens of thousands of travellers crossing the US border were taken, officials say.

E3: Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order makers don’t want to ‘screw up’

BBC Technology News - June 11, 2019 - 11:36am
The makers of Jedi: Fallen Order on the pressures of working in a galaxy far, far away.

Ocado invests £17m in 'vertical' farms

BBC Technology News - June 11, 2019 - 9:26am
The food delivery giant wants vegetables grown on the farms to be delivered within an hour of being picked.

Final Fantasy VII Remake headlines Square Enix E3 event, gets March 2020 launch

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 3:20am

LOS ANGELES—Square Enix's E3 press conference began by wasting no time with its big, expected news: Final Fantasy VII Remake finally has a release date. The PlayStation 4-exclusive JRPG will launch on March 3, 2020. If that sounds like too long to wait, and you're in Los Angeles this week, Square Enix says all E3 2019 attendees will have a chance to play the game's first real-time demo on the show floor.

Monday night's event included the clearest demonstration yet of how the game's combat system will work: as a mix of real-time attacking and dodging, and an "active time battle" (ATB) system of pausing to activate special abilities and items. The latter will only activate once players have built up enough of their fighters' ATB meters, which grow as players pull off more successful weapon swipes and dodges. (This means crucial items like potions and Phoenix Down revives won't work until you rack up enough hits on foes, and using those will mean waiting longer to activate magical spells and special melee attacks.)

More familiar FFVII characters finally got their in-game reveals, as well, particularly the popular martial arts ally Tifa. One of her ATB special attacks, a flurry of punches followed by a flashy bicycle kick, fit in nicely with Cloud's barrage of sword swipes within a Japanese kanji character, a massive lighting-ball blast from Barret's machine gun, and a green, particle-filled explosion of healing power from Aerith. Barret's standard attacks will largely revolve around gun shots, not melee swipes, so he will be able to control real-time combat from a distance—and that likely means other popular FFVII characters will work the same.

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Microsoft working to get “every single Xbox One game” working on Scarlett

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 1:57am

LOS ANGELES—When Microsoft announced the first details of its next game console Sunday, it said that "thousands of games across four console generations will look and play best on Project Scarlett." In a video follow-up focused on backward compatibility posted Monday, the company clarified that its goal is that "every single game you play on Xbox One today [will] work on the Scarlett device."

That would be a change from previous Xbox console generations, which have only supported a significant subset of previous generations' titles through software updates. It sounds like getting Xbox One games to run on Project Scarlett will also take some specific software-level effort on the part of Microsoft, rather than being supported directly at the hardware level.

"Ensuring every game that runs on Xbox One is going to run incredibly well on Scarlett will take a ton of commitment and time from our team," Microsoft Head of Xbox Phil Spencer said in the video. "The team is dedicated. We're ramping up our testing facilities to make sure we can hit the ground running and make sure that stuff works."

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Apple may have leaked the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR release month

Ars Technica - June 11, 2019 - 1:35am

This says "coming this fall" now, but it said something else earlier today. (credit: Apple)

Apple introduced two pricy and powerful pieces of pro-targeted hardware at its developer conference last month: the modular desktop tower Mac Pro and the creative-focused Pro Display XDR. Although Apple said the devices would come this fall when discussing them during its keynote stage last week, the industry giant didn't get any more specific than that. But an apparent mistake in the Apple Store may have narrowed down the date.

Earlier today, MacRumors and 9to5Mac discovered that, when you clicked on the option to "Notify Me" of availability for the products, they were presented with text that said "coming in September." This was while other parts of the website all said "coming in the fall." Since the news broke, Apple quietly changed the copy in the "notify me" panel to also say "coming in the fall."

September would make sense as a narrower launch window. Apple often holds an event focused on the iPhone and Apple Watch around that time each year, so the company could announce final public availability of the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR there.

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How to cope with email overload

BBC Technology News - June 11, 2019 - 12:24am
It might be inefficient but we still use email, despite the emergence of rival systems.

As summer heats up, Calif. utility starts cutting power to prevent wildfires

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 11:31pm

Enlarge / A firefighter passes by a Smokey the Bear fire danger sign during a brush fire in Burbank, Calif., on May 25, 2018. (credit: Ronen Tivony/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

This weekend, one of California's largest utilities—Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E)—elected to shut off power to customers in two counties as part of its newly expanded "Public Safety Power Shutoff" plan.

The plan was approved by California regulators in May as a way to minimize the risk of wildfire in Northern California. As climate change has made summers hotter and winter rain more unpredictable, PG&E's power lines sparked dangerous and destructive fires in 2017 and 2018. In recent years, California fires caused by power lines have burned millions of acres of land, razing homes and towns and killing residents who couldn't evacuate quickly enough.

In order to combat these fires, PG&E is proactively shutting down both distribution and transmission lines when conditions are dangerous enough. This weekend, hot, windy weather with low humidity resulted in power outages for 20,500 residents of Butte and Yuba counties, just west of the Tahoe and Plumas National Forests.

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UPlay+ subscription lets you play every Ubisoft game on PC and Stadia

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 10:37pm

Enlarge / Just a few of the titles and franchises coming to Ubisoft's UPlay+ service. (credit: Ubisoft)

LOS ANGELES—At its E3 press conference today, Ubisoft announced a new subscription service called UPlay+. For $14.99 a month, subscribers will be able to access every title in Ubisoft's catalog—over 100 games—as a PC download (starting September 3) and through Google's Stadia streaming service (starting in 2020).

That list of available games includes:

  • Upcoming releases: Watch Dogs: Legion, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Rainbow Six Quarantine, Gods & Monsters
  • Recent games: Tom Clancy's The Division 2, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege, Far Cry 5, Anno 1800
  • Classic Ubisoft Titles: Titles from the Far Cry and Rayman franchises, Prince of Persia, Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell, Beyond Good & Evil
  • Beloved PC Franchises: Heroes of Might and Magic, Silent Hunter, The Settlers, Anno

A subscription to UPlay+ will also include the "earliest available access to new games," including beta and early access editions of upcoming titles. Additional content "such as DLCs, expansions and automatic updates" is also included as part of the package.

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Leading voting-machine vendor vows to ditch paperless voting

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 10:30pm

Enlarge / Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) co-sponsored the Secure Elections Act with Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). (credit: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Election Systems & Software, which describes itself as the nation’s leading elections-equipment provider, has vowed to stop selling paperless electronic voting systems—at least as the "primary voting device in a jurisdiction." And the company is calling on Congress to pass legislation mandating paper ballots and raising security standards for voting machines.

"Congress must pass legislation establishing a more robust testing program—one that mandates that all voting-machine suppliers submit their systems to stronger, programmatic security testing conducted by vetted and approved researchers," writes ES&S CEO Tom Burt in an op-ed for Roll Call.

Over the last 18 months, election-security advocates have been pushing for new legislation shoring up the nation's election infrastructure. Election-security reform proposals enjoy significant support among Democrats—who control the House of Representatives—and have picked up some Republican co-sponsors, too.

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Watch Dogs Legion gameplay premiere: Taking the “N” out of “NPC”

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 10:15pm

LOS ANGELES—The rumors and leaks are true: the next Watch Dogs video game is titled Watch Dogs Legion, it's set in near-future London, and it lets you play the game as any of the characters you encounter in its GTA-like open world.

What we didn't know until this week is exactly how that works in action. But a 45-minute hands-on demo with WDL's E3 alpha version filled in a few gaps on what to expect when the game launches on March 6, 2020. In short: yes, even sweet British grandmas can become killing machines, but it's not as simple as "haxoring" their brains.

Grateful (to) Dedsec

WDL's "control anyone" twist works in a twofold manner. First is the incredible claim that its "heroes" are so distributed that, according to game director Clint Hocking, "there is no 'main character' or guy on the box cover art who stars in all the cut scenes." In fact, every voice-acted sequence, including "60+ story missions," can play out with any of the game's characters as lead actors (hence rendering the usual gaming acronym of NPC, or non-player character, a bit moot.)

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Roller Champions hands-on premiere: Ubisoft’s fun, F2P answer to Rocket League

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 10:15pm

LOS ANGELES—During its E3 2019 press conference, Ubisoft revealed a previously leaked three-on-three sports game, Roller Champions. But the company still had a tidy surprise for anyone who already knew about this virtual take on roller derby: the game is now available to download and play as part of a limited, E3-timed online demo for free.

Based on a half-hour of hands-on time playing the game ahead of the conference, we strongly suggest anyone with a Windows PC and the UPlay game launcher—and an affinity for the virtual-sports action of Rocket League—do just that.

The above gallery will tell you mostly everything you need to know about how the game looks and plays. Flashy, clear character designs whip around an oval skate track at high speeds, all vying for possession of a ball that must be carried or tossed all the way around the track at least one full lap before it can be "scored." Tossing the ball into a single hoop, hanging on the side of the track, will score your team that point, or you can try to keep possession for another lap or two to increase your shot's score value. Lose the ball, and the lap-count resets for the other team. First team to five points wins.

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iOS 12.3.2 fixes a camera bug but doesn’t do much else

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 9:40pm

Enlarge / The iPhone 8 Plus has a dual-camera setup. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Today, Apple is pushing out a new update to iOS, its software for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch—but this update is targeted at fixing an issue on just one device: the iPhone 8 Plus.

iOS 12.3.2 doesn't seem to do anything else worth remarking upon. Apple's notes simply say:

iOS 12.3.2 resolves an issue that could cause Camera to capture Portrait mode photos without depth effect on some iPhone 8 Plus devices.

Updates don't get much more minor than this. Apple typically releases updates that contain new features for macOS, iOS, watchOS, and tvOS simultaneously. But sometimes the company updates only one operating system at a time when deploying a targeted bug fix, as is the case here. If you don't have an iPhone 8 Plus, this update isn't for you.

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Project Xcloud demo of Halo 5 nearly indistinguishable from local play

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 9:26pm

Enlarge / Project xCloud running Gears of War 4 at an E3 Microsoft Theater demonstration.

After Microsoft's pre-E3 press conference yesterday, we got our first chance to try out Project Xcloud, the cloud-based streaming gaming service the company will be launching in October. Video analysis of those hands-on tests shows response times via Wi-Fi that are practically indistinguishable from local gameplay—at least for a streaming version of Halo 5. For something as sensitive to latency as a first-person shooter, seeing is believing.

We tried out Project Xcloud on a Samsung Galaxy S8, mounted to an Xbox One controller connected via USB. The game was running on the Microsoft Theater's Wi-Fi connection, but a Microsoft representative couldn't comment on the bandwidth or other details of that connection.

Playing Halo 5 on that setup felt responsive to my fingers, running at an apparent 60fps. We didn't have a high-end, custom-built latency testing rig to measure things precisely. But we did have an iPhone with a slow-motion camera to do some quick visual testing.

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Huawei’s export ban is wider in scope than most people imagine

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 8:58pm

Enlarge (credit: Huawei)

The tech industry is still trying to wrap its collective head around the Trump administration's export ban on Huawei. We've seen Huawei be de-listed and then re-listed from industry groups like the Wi-Fi Alliance, Bluetooth SIG, and the SD Association. Companies like Panasonic provided a statement to the BBC saying it would suspend transactions with Huawei, then later said it believed its transactions with Huawei were not in breach of US regulations. We've even seen non-US companies like ARM cut off contact with Huawei due to the US export ban. If you're not familiar with how export law works, it can be tough to understand exactly what's going on.

For the ins and outs of export law, there's probably no better person to turn to than international trade lawyer Kevin Wolf, who recently wrote a bulletin detailing some of the finer points of how export law applies to Huawei. Wolf is the former assistant secretary of commerce for export administration during the Obama administration—from 2010 to 2017, Wolf's job was to enforce export regulations like this. In the article, Wolf says a lot of the media coverage around Huawei's export ban hasn't been thorough enough, as it hasn't taken into account the full scope of US export law.

Trade War! USA v. China

View more stories As Wolf explains, export law applies not just to the country of origin for end products like a smartphone processor or chip, but it also covers commodities—the base components—as well as software and technology used in its construction. Export law has this sort of viral property to it, in that anything that contains more than a trivial amount (the legal term is "de minimis") of US-origin items also becomes a US-origin item. The objects then become subject to US export law.

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E3’s first VR-exclusive gaming press conference was actually pretty rad

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 8:35pm

E3 hasn't even begun, and we're already a bit weary about so many gaming publishers and companies hosting press conferences at the event. What's one more, right?

In the case of the virtual reality enthusiasts at UploadVR—a media site, not a publisher or developer—their first take on the press conference format actually managed to raise our VR-loving eyebrows. The hour-long conference included some delightful surprises and solid fare for PlayStation VR, Oculus Quest, and gaming-PC platforms. Here are a few highlights from the indie-heavy event.

Every major article about virtual reality in 2016 included at least some mention of the immersive stealth demo Budget Cuts, but when that full game finally launched in 2018, the results fell a little flat. The lack of variety in terrain, enemies, and tactics made the game's original sales pitch—Metal Gear Solid in VR—harder to swallow.

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Comcast’s fight against racial-bias lawsuit is taken up by Supreme Court

Ars Technica - June 10, 2019 - 7:46pm

Enlarge / A Comcast sign at the Comcast offices in Philadelphia. (credit: Getty Images | Cindy Ord )

The US Supreme Court has agreed to hear a Comcast appeal in a case centering on whether the telecommunications giant discriminated against an African American-owned TV network operator by refusing to carry the company's channels on its cable service.

The case involves Byron Allen's Entertainment Studios Networks (ESN), which claimed that Comcast's refusal to carry ESN channels was racially motivated. Comcast tried to get the case thrown out of court before the central claim of racial bias could be ruled upon. But in November 2018, the US Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled that the case can move forward to a trial, saying that a US District Court improperly granted Comcast's motion to dismiss ESN's complaint.

Comcast subsequently petitioned the Supreme Court to take up the case. It told the court that ESN's claim is based on the purported existence of "an outlandish racist plot against '100% African American-owned media companies'—a contrived racial category gerrymandered to include Plaintiffs and virtually no one else."

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