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Industry & Technology

TED 2019: 10 years of 'ideas worth spreading'

BBC Technology News - April 15, 2019 - 9:25am
TED talks have become synonymous with cutting-edge ideas and are watched by millions.

Winter is here: Humans rally as Night King advances on GoT S8 debut episode

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 6:58am

Enlarge / Jon Snow (Kit Harington) brings Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) home to meet the family at Winterfell. (credit: HBO)

Winter is here! The first episode of the hotly anticipated final season of HBO's Game of Thrones aired Sunday night, and it proved a solid, if not scintillating showing. There were reunions galore, a bit of sniping and tension, a nifty new opening credits sequence, and the dragons (the true stars at this point) got plenty of screen time.

(Spoilers for first seven seasons; mild spoilers for last night's episode.)

Based on George R.R. Martin's best-selling epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, HBO's Game of Thrones long ago outpaced the novels in terms of plot, although the author had some early input in shaping the TV series' broad narrative arc. We've seen plenty of sex, blood, and horrifying death over the course of seven seasons, and now it's time for the endgame. This being George R.R. Martin, there's no guarantee of a happy ending.

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How social media is changing comedy

BBC Technology News - April 15, 2019 - 12:59am
Social media changed many aspects of modern life, but how has it impacted traditional stand-up comedy?

Stratolaunch, the world’s biggest airplane, takes flight

Ars Technica - April 15, 2019 - 12:08am

Enlarge / The Stratolaunch aircraft takes off on its maiden flight on April 13. (credit: Stratolaunch)

On Saturday morning, exactly 45 minutes after the sun began to rise over the Mojave Desert, the largest airplane ever created—and its record-breaking 385-foot wingspan—took off for the very first time. The aircraft, from the company Stratolaunch, has been eight years in the making. By 2022, the company hopes to use the twin-fuselage, six-engined, catamaran-style aircraft to launch satellite-bearing rockets into space.

"All of you have been very patient and very tolerant over the years waiting for us to get this big bird off the ground, and we finally did it," Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd told reporters on a press call. The company reported the airplane hit speeds of 189mph and heights of 17,000 feet during its 150-minute test flight, before landing safely at the Mojave Air and Space Port.

"The systems on the airplane ran like a watch," test pilot Evan Thomas told reporters.

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Gatwick drone attack possible inside job, say police

BBC Technology News - April 14, 2019 - 6:00pm
The drone operator was monitoring activities at the airport during the attack, officials believe.

Terry Gilliam’s Don Quixote film finally hits the big screen after 25 years

Ars Technica - April 14, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / Jonathan Pryce stars as an aging Spanish cobbler who becomes convinced he is Don Quixote in Terry Gilliam's film, The Man Who Killed Don Quixote. (credit: YouTube/Warner Bros.)

It has been 25 years in the making, but The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, director Terry Gilliam's tribute to the classic Spanish novel, has finally hit the silver screen. The project has floundered and been revived so many times, it became a poster child for Hollywood's notorious development hell, with a reputation of being cursed. But Gilliam persevered, and while the finished product isn't exactly a masterpiece, it definitely reflects the singular vision of one of our most original filmmakers.

(Mild spoilers for the film and Miguel de Cervantes' 17th-century novel below.)

Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote is inarguably one of the most influential works of Spanish literature. The book is written in the picaresque tradition, which means it's more a series of loosely connected episodes than a plot. It follows the adventures of a nobleman (hidalgo) named Alonso Quixano who has read far too many chivalric romances and becomes convinced he is a knight errant. With his trusty peasant sidekick, Sancho Panza, he embarks on a series of random tragicomic adventures, with the Don's hot temper frequently getting them into scraps. (Sancho usually gets the worst of the beatings and humiliations.) Don Quixote is the archetype of the delusional dreamer, tilting at windmills and believing them to be giants, preferring his fantasy to mundane reality.

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Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp suffer outages

BBC Technology News - April 14, 2019 - 2:56pm
Users said the sites, and messaging service WhatsApp, were unavailable for more than three hours.

Science and bicycling meet in a new helmet design

Ars Technica - April 14, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Trek)

When we recently did an overview of the evolution of bicycling technology, helmets were barely mentioned. They've been made out of the same materials for decades, and the only improvement they've seen in that time is a more efficient venting layout. But the timing of that article turned out to be propitious because, a few months later, Trek got in touch to let me know it was introducing the first major change in helmet technology in years.

Normally, emails like that are little more than marketing, or failing that, everything's proprietary and can't be talked about. But in this case, Trek promised that there was peer-reviewed science behind the announcement and I'd get the chance to talk to the scientists themselves. A few weeks later, I got the chance to check out the helmets and meet the scientists (though I narrowly missed my chance to shake hands with cycling legend Jens Voigt).

What does a helmet actually do?

The obvious answer is that helmets are meant to protect your brain when your head experiences an impact. But the more detailed answer requires delving into a little bit of physics. On a simple level, an impact generates force that, if nothing is protecting you, is translated directly to your skull. A helmet's job is to dissipate that force. If a helmet could be arbitrarily large or heavy, this would not be a problem. But cyclists are notoriously picky about their equipment's weight and aerodynamics, which means that a helmet has to do all its redirection of forces in as little space as possible, using light materials.

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Plane with the largest wingspan in the world takes flight

BBC Technology News - April 14, 2019 - 12:42am
Its wingspan measures 117m - the length of an American football field.

A security researcher with a grudge is dropping Web 0days on innocent users

Ars Technica - April 13, 2019 - 4:18pm

(credit: Pixabay)

Over the past three weeks, a trio of critical zeroday vulnerabilities in WordPress plugins has exposed 160,000 websites to attacks that allow criminal hackers to redirect unwitting visitors to malicious destinations. A self-proclaimed security provider who publicly disclosed the flaws before patches were available played a key role in the debacle, although delays by plugin developers and site administrators in publishing and installing patches have also contributed.

Over the past week, zeroday vulnerabilities in both the Yuzo Related Posts and Yellow Pencil Visual Theme Customizer WordPress plugins—used by 60,000 and 30,000 websites respectively—have come under attack. Both plugins were removed from the WordPress plugin repository around the time the zeroday posts were published, leaving websites little choice than to remove the plugins. On Friday (three days after the vulnerability was disclosed), Yellow Pencil issued a patch. At the time this post was being reported, Yuzo Related Posts remained closed with no patch available.

In-the-wild exploits against Social Warfare, a plugin used by 70,000 sites, started three weeks ago. Developers for that plugin quickly patched the flaw but not before sites that used it were hacked.

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Who had the most merciful death on Game of Thrones? Science has an answer

Ars Technica - April 13, 2019 - 3:15pm

Enlarge / You know nothing, Jon Snow—like, maybe wear a hat when conditions are freezing in the North. Even if it musses up your luscious locks. (credit: HBO)

Warning: This story contains some mild spoilers from the first seven seasons of Game of Thrones.

The world of Game of Thrones may be fictional, but that doesn't stop its fans from heatedly arguing about all the possible underlying science, because nerd-gassing about one's favorite science fiction is a time-honored tradition. Just how hot is dragon's breath? Is there a real-world equivalent of wildfire? What's the best and worst way to die? And how fast would Gendry have to run back to the wall to send a raven to King's Landing requesting help?

These and other scintillating topics are discussed in a forthcoming book by physicist (and uber-fan) Rebecca Thompson, Fire, Ice, and Physics: The Science of Game of Thrones. The book comes out in October from MIT Press, but as we gear up for the premiere of the final season Sunday night, Thompson graciously gave us a sneak preview into some of the burning science questions she investigated.

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How a mobile game is reopening a hidden chapter in Taiwan’s history

Ars Technica - April 13, 2019 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / Some imagery from the mobile game, Unforgivable.

Thirty years ago, the grandfather of a Taiwanese-American NYPD detective named Danny Lin was thrown off a cliff in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. The killing took place during what is known today as the White Terror, a 40-year period of violent political suppression and martial law in Taiwan in the middle 20th century. The killer was never identified. Bent on solving his grandfather’s cold case and prompted by the admissions of a mysterious Japanese-Taiwanese woman in a Manhattan ramen restaurant, Lin travels to Taiwan. He knows little about the place, only that, somehow, he must find answers.

Until the last couple of decades, this kind of story, focused on Taiwan’s brutal authoritarianism under military rule, would have been a touchy topic in Taiwan. Today, though, Detective Lin’s saga is the fictional plot behind Unforgivable: Eliza, a popular augmented reality game played on a smartphone, similar to Pokemon Go. The game unfolds as a digitally enhanced tour of New York and then Taipei, with bright manga-esque presentation.

Unforgivable was penned by the Taiwanese-American crime novelist Ed Lin (Incensed, Ghost Month, One Red Bastard) and developed by Allen Yu, the 34-year-old Taiwanese founder of Flushing-based Toii Inc. For these game makers, Lin’s story has been a way to get a new generation to engage with the country’s past. Their efforts parallel a larger trend of younger Taiwanese people exploring their parents’ and grandparents’ lives under military rule.

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Review: Beloved board game Castles of Burgundy is now an app

Ars Technica - April 13, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / Let's get ready for some hot Renaissance action!

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at

The Castles of Burgundy has long been one of my favorite strategy board games, a 90-120 minute game of tile-laying with a complex scoring system that is often derided as “point salad,” meaning you can get points from so many different paths that there might seem to be no logic to it. I mention that up front because I think it’s a fair criticism of this style of game. Still, Castles of Burgundy is the best implementation I’ve seen of that sort of scoring, especially since designer Stefan Feld, who specializes in this sort of game, connects the different tile types in multiple ways, creating a game that scratches that complex scoring itch but is also well-balanced and coherent.

Digidiced has now brought Castles of Burgundy to Steam and to mobile platforms in a great-looking app that uses new artwork and allows for quick gameplay against AI opponents. Despite a few quirks in the first release, it’s a strong introduction to the game for new users and smooth experience for local play, although I’d like to see a smarter “hard” AI opponent and perhaps a more streamlined tile-placement system. Online multiplayer games could still use some work, especially regarding how the app handles timed play and an occasional bug that occurs when switching games (which is enough of a concern that I’d suggest holding off on purchasing the app if you prefer online play versus local or solo games).

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Cook your burgers well this weekend: Beef tied to massive E. coli outbreak

Ars Technica - April 12, 2019 - 10:24pm

Enlarge / Organic hamburgers are grilled at a outdoor Farmer's Market August 15, 2013, in Washington, DC. PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images (credit: Getty | Paul Richards)

It may be safe to eat salad again, but tasty meatballs and juicy burgers are in for some side eye.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday announced that ground beef appears to be the culprit in the latest, ongoing multi-state outbreak of E. coli infections.

The outbreak began early last month and has sickened at least 109 people across six states since then, making it the third largest multistate E. coli outbreak in the last two decades. Thirteen of those 109 cases have been tallied since Tuesday, April 9. Additional illnesses that started as far back as March 19 may not yet be reported, the agency cautioned, suggesting the outbreak could continue to bulk up. So far, 17 people have been hospitalized.

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FCC “consumer advisory” panel includes ALEC, big foe of municipal broadband

Ars Technica - April 12, 2019 - 10:04pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaking at a press conference on October 1, 2018, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Mark Wilson )

A committee that advises the Federal Communications Commission on consumer-related matters now includes a representative of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which lobbies against municipal broadband, net neutrality, and other consumer protection measures.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced his Consumer Advisory Committee's new makeup on Wednesday. One new member is Jonathon Hauenschild, director of ALEC's Task Force on Communications and Technology. He and other Consumer Advisory Committee will serve two-year terms.

ALEC writes model state laws and urges state legislatures to adopt them, and it has helped convince about 20 states to pass laws that make it difficult or impossible for cities and towns to offer broadband service.

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New video of Intelsat 29e satellite reveals dramatic “anomaly”

Ars Technica - April 12, 2019 - 9:41pm

After another satellite went out of service in geostationary orbit this week, at least temporarily, new data now suggests the spacecraft may not be recoverable.

On Wednesday, the satellite operator Intelsat acknowledged a "service outage" on its Intelsat 29e satellite, which had affected maritime, aeronautical, and wireless operator customers in Latin America, the Caribbean, and North Atlantic. During the incident on Sunday, April 7, the spacecraft's propulsion system "experienced damage that caused a leak of the propellant on board the satellite," Intelsat said. At that time, Intelsat was periodically losing communication with the satellite, but the company was working with its manufacturer, Boeing, to restore the connection.

However, new data from ExoAnalytic Solutions, which has a network of 300 telescopes around the planet to track satellite movements in geostationary space, shows the situation has gotten markedly worse.

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Microsoft’s Spring Sale makes Xbox Game Pass an absolute bargain

Ars Technica - April 12, 2019 - 9:00pm

Enlarge / Ten days to ponder whether Fallout 76 is worth a console discount. Hmm. (credit: Microsoft)

We're expecting some imminent changes to Microsoft's Game Pass service, but right now the company is offering something of a bargain: three months of Xbox Game Pass, with more than 100 games available, for just $1.

This is part of Microsoft's broader Spring Sale, which includes some significant discounts on both Xbox and PC games, consoles, and accessories. One month of Gold is also available for $1.

Because nothing's ever easy, the exact deals on offer depend on which day you want to buy. Most deals run through April 22, though a few go a little shorter or longer, and some deals aren't available until next week. Aside from the Game Pass, the other standout is $100 off certain Xbox One X models, bringing them down to $399. The downside? They come with a bundled copy of Fallout 76.

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Dealmaster: The iPhone SE is back (again) at Apple, starting at $249

Ars Technica - April 12, 2019 - 8:46pm

Enlarge (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

The iPhone SE is available for purchase again as Apple brought the small handset back to the clearance section of its online store. While supplies last, you can get a 32GB iPhone SE for $249 and a few select 128GB models for $299. Those prices represent up to $150 off of the iPhone SE's listing price of $349 to $449.

This isn't the first time in recent memory that the iPhone SE has popped up discounted on Apple's website. A few weeks ago, Apple listed a small number of the handsets, but they sold out within hours. It's unclear how long these deals will last, but we expect this batch of clearance iPhone SEs to disappear just as quickly as the last.

The relatively tiny iPhone first debuted back in March 2016 and has gleaned a passionate following among those who prefer smaller handsets. It has a 4-inch IPS Retina display (with bezels that would make the current family of iPhones shudder), a physical Home button, and a 3.5mm headphone jack, among other features. It runs on Apple's A9 chipset and, while it doesn't have the newest technology for FaceID, it does have TouchID.

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Yet another state (Washington, this time) passed 100% clean energy legislation

Ars Technica - April 12, 2019 - 6:41pm

Enlarge / The Grand Coulee Dam in Washington state is the largest hydroelectric producer in the United States. A generator rotor stands on the floor of the Grand Coulee's Third power plant for refurbishing on August 9, 2016 in Grand Coulee, Washington. (credit: Photo by Alfredo Sosa/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images.)

On Thursday, Washington state's House of Representatives passed a bill that will require 100 percent of the state's electricity generation to be carbon emissions-free by 2045.

A previous bill was passed in the state's Senate in early March, though the House amended its version, so the Senate will have to vote again on the bill's updated language, according to the Associated Press. However, the bill previously passed the Senate on a 28-19 vote, and it is expected to pass again. The legislation was part of a key campaign promise made by Governor Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign the resulting bill.

Washington has massive hydroelectric resources as well as a 1.1 gigawatt (GW) nuclear power facility in Richland, Washington. Seventy-five percent of the electricity it produces is already free of carbon emissions.

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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker has been revealed with a stunning trailer

Ars Technica - April 12, 2019 - 6:21pm

On Friday, a world premiere trailer at the annual Star Wars Celebration event confirmed the name of the final film in the "Skywalker Saga." Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the official name for Episode IX, which is slated to land in theaters "this Christmas."

After hearing narration from Luke Skywalker ("A thousand generations live in you now, but this is your fight"), the trailer focuses largely on dramatic action sequences. We see a few Millennium Falcon flights and some desert-speeder combat before this teaser reveals at least one scene starring Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia. (We already knew Fisher would appear in the film by way of footage shot before her 2016 death.) This new footage concludes with the primary new-trilogy cast staring at the landed wreckage of a Death Star.

The trailer appeared at the end of an hour-long event hosted by CBS' Stephen Colbert; other reveals included world-premiere photos of various cast members in the film and the live-action unveiling of BB-8's new robotic buddy, a one-wheeled junk-heap character named Dio.

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