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Industry & Technology

SpaceX Nasa Mission: Astronauts welcomed to the space station

BBC Technology News - May 31, 2020 - 10:02pm
Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken have floated into the International Space Station.

Amazon UK website defaced with racist abuse

BBC Technology News - May 31, 2020 - 5:51pm
The online giant blames a "bad actor" for the language appearing alongside multiple product listings.

SpaceX Nasa Mission: Astronaut capsule docks with ISS

BBC Technology News - May 31, 2020 - 4:12pm
Nasa astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken have successfully docked with the ISS after 19 hours in orbit.

Good podcast vibes for the nerdy set: Our recent faves in science, research

Ars Technica - May 31, 2020 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / Ars' creative director Aurich Lawson describes this image as: "good vibes, friends, and listening to the reaches of space." We like to think that fits well with our latest podcast recommendations. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

In some ways, podcasts are among the most quarantine-proof forms of entertainment right now. Maybe some bigger hosts have been forced to move their microphones and wall padding to a home office, or they're now hiding in closets for better sound quality (but not as an anxious reaction to terrifying and confusing news headlines).

But that doesn't mean all podcasts currently in production are a perfect fit for a nerd's listening diet, whether because they're too flippant or too doom-and-gloom. In my case, at least, I seek a mix of emotional support, comfort, and normalcy in my regular podcast library. Hence, I'm recommending the five podcasts below as my favorites if you're looking for that much-needed connection to the outside world. (These are in addition to other podcasts I've previously recommended at Ars.)

My latest selections tell uplifting stories; they feature friends talking about things they love; and while they've had to adapt to keep their hosts safe from COVID-19, they've held onto the joy and optimism that drew me to them in the first place. All of these podcasts have new, regularly updated episodes in common, and all of them revolve around research and science.

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Electrifying West Africa with a renewable grid

Ars Technica - May 31, 2020 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / A new hydroelectric power station in the Ivory Coast. (credit: Xinhua News Agency)

There has been a lot of discussion about how areas that are seeing explosive renewable growth can manage the large amount of intermittent electricity sources. But these mostly focus on regions with mature electric grids and a relatively static growth in demand. What would happen if you tried to grow renewables at the same time you're trying to grow a grid?

A EU-US team of researchers decided to find out what a good renewable policy might look like in West Africa, an area similar in size to the 48 contiguous US states but composed of 16 different countries. Some of these nations already get a sizable chunk of their power from renewables in the form of hydropower, but they are expected to see demand roughly double in the next decade. Although renewables like solar and wind are likely to play a role purely based on their price, the researchers' analysis suggests that a smart international grid can balance hydro, wind, and solar to produce a far greener grid.

Hydro as a giant battery

The new work has a mix of focuses. It's run against the backdrop of the expectation that West Africa's demand for electricity will explode over the next decade. Right now, the region has nearly 400 million inhabitants who consume a bit over 100 terawatt-hours a year (compared to the United States' 4,000TW-hr). By 2030, that demand is expected to be more than 200TW-hr—a fourfold increase from where demand was in 2015.

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Can we save the night sky from satellite streaks?

Ars Technica - May 31, 2020 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / The solar eclipse and ISS transit back in August of 2017. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

As much of the world has slowed down amid COVID-19, the same cannot be said for the burgeoning small satellite broadband industry. In recent weeks, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk announced he hopes to move the company’s Starlink broadband service to public beta in about six months. And that very same day, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved new rules for preventing orbital debris and collisions in space (those rules have been revised so as to not hamper NASA, but they still require more analysis, tracking, and disclosure from satellite companies). It's a small snapshot of what's been an ongoing debate: astronomy advocates say we are running out of time to preserve pristine views in the night sky, companies sending satellite constellations into space say they are mitigating the threat their satellites could pose to skywatchers.

The fleets of low-cost satellites will certainly be beneficial for telecommunications and Earth observation customers, particularly those living in remote areas. Crowds of satellites decrease the "revisit time" between satellite passes and make it easier to stay in touch, or to get frequent images during natural disasters.

Yet astronomers warn that without care, the satellites could ruin science observations and also make it difficult for groups like Native Americans who see the sky as part of their culture. Space organizations in Europe and the United States are already sounding alarm bells in reports and press releases. The European Southern Observatory (which operates the Very Large Telescope in Chile, among others) recently warned their observatories would be "moderately affected" if constellations launch at current rates. The National Science Foundation's Vera C. Rubin Observatory in northern Chile said nearly every image obtained during twilight "would be affected by at least one satellite trail."

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Walmart employees are out to show its anti-shoplifting AI doesn’t work

Ars Technica - May 31, 2020 - 11:45am

Enlarge (credit: Roberto Machado Noa | Getty Images)

In January, my coworker received a peculiar email. The message, which she forwarded to me, was from a handful of corporate Walmart employees calling themselves the “Concerned Home Office Associates.” (Walmart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas, is often referred to as the Home Office.) While it’s not unusual for journalists to receive anonymous tips, they don’t usually come with their own slickly produced videos.

The employees said they were “past their breaking point” with Everseen, a small artificial intelligence firm based in Cork, Ireland, whose technology Walmart began using in 2017. Walmart uses Everseen in thousands of stores to prevent shoplifting at registers and self-checkout kiosks. But the workers claimed it misidentified innocuous behavior as theft and often failed to stop actual instances of stealing.

They told WIRED they were dismayed that their employer—one of the largest retailers in the world—was relying on AI they believed was flawed. One worker said that the technology was sometimes even referred to internally as “NeverSeen” because of its frequent mistakes. WIRED granted the employees anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press.

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Supernatural: The next-generation keep-fit coach?

BBC Technology News - May 31, 2020 - 4:51am
Will virtual reality fitness classes lead a revolution in home workouts - or is it a passing craze?

“The trampoline is working”—SpaceX returns human spaceflight to America

Ars Technica - May 31, 2020 - 2:30am

The rain showers ended. The clouds parted. And so on Saturday afternoon, SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket had blue skies above it during the final minutes of a countdown to launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The Falcon 9 rocket had launched 84 times before. In fact, no US rocket now flying has launched as much as the Falcon 9 rocket. So, this was all kind of routine in that sense. But for the first time, the Falcon 9 rocket carried two humans on board, inside a Crew Dragon spacecraft. That changed everything.

So much was at stake, the immensity of this almost became too much to bear as the clock ticked down.

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Dearth of women in classic Hollywood was result of studio system, study finds

Ars Technica - May 30, 2020 - 11:41pm

Enlarge / Olivia de Havilland—pictured here as Melanie Hamliton in the 1939 Oscar-Winning film Gone with the Wind—successfully sued Warner Bros. in 1943 to free herself from her studio contract. The groundbreaking lawsuit contributed to the breakup of the Hollywood studio system. (credit: YouTube/MGM)

The so-called Golden Age of Hollywood produced some of the most memorable films ever made, from 1927's The Jazz Singer to Gone with the Wind (1939) and Citizen Kane (1941). But it wasn't so golden for women in the film industry, according to a recent paper published in PLOS One that analyzed a century's worth of data and concluded that the rise of the infamous studio system produced severe gender inequality. Female representation started rising again in the 1950s, after two pivotal lawsuits effectively broke the studios' stranglehold on the industry.

Lead author Luis Amaral, of Northwestern University, is a physicist by training, specializing in the study of complex systems. This latest work builds on a 2015 study that he co-authored, examining correlations between production budget, box office gross, and total number of user votes for films on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). That study concluded that the total number of IMDB votes was a strong indicator of a given film's prominence or notability.

Three years ago, co-author Murielle Dunande, then a high school student spending her summer break in Amaral's lab, proposed a study of the representation of women in the movies. Initially, she focused on films in the 1960s, but Amaral thought it would be interesting to go back to the birth of the film industry to better understand the historical origins of the gender disparity.

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SpaceX launch: Nasa astronauts blast off to the International Space Station

BBC Technology News - May 30, 2020 - 8:45pm
Two astronauts launched into orbit for historic mission to the International Space Station.

SpaceX successfully launches two humans into orbit [Updated]

Ars Technica - May 30, 2020 - 6:40pm

After nine years without a human launch from Florida, it's about damn time, isn't it?

During Wednesday's technically smooth countdown, NASA astronauts Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken came within 17 minutes of launching before a scrub due to poor weather. The crew will suit up and try again on Saturday despite still iffy weather.

SpaceX is working toward an instantaneous launch at 3:22pm ET (19:22 UTC). The company's Falcon 9 rocket will lift Hurley and Behnken, aboard SpaceX's Crew Dragon capsule, into outer space, and the Crew Dragon will carry them to the International Space Station. The big concern again today is the development of thunderstorms near the launch site this afternoon, which could violate a number of weather criteria, including not just precipitation, but also residual electric energy from lighting in the atmosphere. Overall, the chance of acceptable weather at launch time is about 50 percent, forecasters estimate. They are also watching for down-range conditions in case an emergency abort is required during the rocket's ascent to space.

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An advanced and unconventional hack is targeting industrial firms

Ars Technica - May 30, 2020 - 5:19pm

Enlarge / Binary code, illustration. (credit: KTSDESIGN/SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY / Getty Images)

Attackers are putting considerable skill and effort into penetrating industrial companies in multiple countries, with hacks that use multiple evasion mechanisms, an innovative encryption scheme, and exploits that are customized for each target with pinpoint accuracy.

The attacks begin with emails that are customized for each target, a researcher at security firm Kaspersky Lab reported this week. For the exploit to trigger, the language in the email must match the localization of the target’s operating system. For example, in the case of an attack on a Japanese company, the text of the email and an attached Microsoft Office document containing a malicious macro had to be written in Japanese. Also required: an encrypted malware module could be decrypted only when the OS had a Japanese localization as well.

Recipients who click on a request to urgently enable the document’s active content will see no indication anything is amiss. Behind the scenes, however, a macro executes a Powershell script. The reason it stays hidden: the command parameters:

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The Vast of Night is an alien encounter film like no other

Ars Technica - May 30, 2020 - 1:38pm

The official trailer for Amazon's The Vast of Night.

AUSTIN, Texas—Everyone kinda, sorta knows the story of The Vast of Night before they even hear of this movie. Filmmaker Andrew Patterson readily admits he partially based his debut feature on a real-life event—the 1965 Kecksburg incident—and even the initial idea that led him to researching Kecksburg struck Patterson as familiar. “I have a document in my phone of three or four dozen single line movie ideas,” he told Ars. “This one said, ‘1950s, black and white, New Mexico, UFO film.’”Ars at Fantastic Fest

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But The Vast of Night ultimately doesn’t hinge on how its plot plays out. This small budget, tightly scoped sci-fi film has wowed festival audiences enough to attract Amazon money largely on its spectacle—individual images you’d gladly frame for the office wall, dialogue that draws you in no matter the subject, sonic flourishes that stick with you long after the credits roll. Talking to the filmmaker after a recent Fantastic Fest screening, it becomes hard to shake the feeling he’ll be managing a much larger studio budget of his choosing in the very near future.

“We knew we were working in a genre that was shop-worn, nothing new,” Patterson says. “We wanted to let people know, ‘OK this is an abduction in New Mexico—we know this story, you know this story. How can we find a way in and do something special, to make something new?' I wanted to make it like the films I enjoy, which are usually about people learning about each other, their dynamics and relationships. So, OK, I want to start this like it’s a Richard Linklater movie… then we get side-swiped into something extraordinary.”

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‘Why I recreated my local pub in virtual reality’

BBC Technology News - May 30, 2020 - 1:10pm
Tristan Cross taught himself how to make the 3D models from scratch by watching YouTube videos.

Everyone’s ordering delivery, but apps aren’t making money

Ars Technica - May 30, 2020 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / Two Uber Eats delivery courier wait outside Mc Donalds fast food in Ghent, Belgium on May 14, 2020. As Belgium takes steps in easing Restrictions, Restaurant and cafe are not allowed to open to customers only fast food and take away is allowed. restaurants and restaurants may not reopen before June 8. (Photo by Jonathan Raa/NurPhoto via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

When Luke Edwards opened OH Pizza & Brew in 2014, the Columbus, Ohio, restaurateur thought delivery apps could help his business. His chicken wings and specialty pizzas—the most popular and appropriately named “Bypass,” topped with pepperoni, sausage, ham, salami, bacon, and extra cheese—needed an audience. And he says working with apps such as DoorDash, Grubhub, Postmates, and Canada’s SkipTheDishes helped him build a loyal following, allowing him to open two more OH Pizza & Brews, with another location on the way.

But by January 2019, Edwards had had enough. For one, he didn’t think the services were helping his bottom line. “Even though we were bringing in more money, after paying out the commission rates, we were seeing a decrease in net profits,” he says. The drivers were inconsistent, he reports, and sometimes lacked equipment like insulated food bags to keep deliveries warm. Edwards also found it harder to get in touch with customer service reps for the apps, who would sometimes refund customers at the eatery's expense for deliveries he believed had gone well.

“Quickly, I realized [the apps] were good at the search and optimization thing,” he adds. “They were terrible at delivery.” Today, OH Pizza & Brew pays its own contracted drivers to deliver, which Edwards believes saves him money.

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Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro mini-review: A vast improvement

Ars Technica - May 30, 2020 - 12:30pm

The past year has brought big changes to the iPad. First, the branch from iOS to iPadOS—and some accompanying changes to the software—signaled an effort by Apple to make real productivity possible on the platform. Second, Apple introduced trackpad support, bringing a whole new user interface paradigm to the iPad.

The latest product of that particular effort is the introduction of the Magic Keyboard peripheral from the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models. It combines a keyboard modeled after the keyboard peripheral of the same name for Macs—a generally beloved design—with the first trackpad made by Apple specifically for the iPad.

After spending some time with the Magic Keyboard, we’re ready to share our impressions. It’s just a peripheral, though, so this is going to be a very short review. We’re not going to get too much into the software side of things, as we’ve done that in our previous coverage of iPadOS as well as our most recent iPad Pro review. And we’re going to go into even more detail in an upcoming article entirely about working with trackpads and keyboards on the iPad.

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Whoooaaa duuuuude: Why we stretch words in tweets and texts

Ars Technica - May 30, 2020 - 11:35am

Enlarge (credit: Paul Linse | Getty Images)

On Twitter, when a simple ha won’t do, there’s always hahahaaaa, haaaahaaaa, or even hahahahahahahahahahahahaha, indicating you’ve just read the funniest thing you’ve ever seen. (Or that you’re a sarcastic talking raccoon.) These are known as stretchable or lengthened words, and now researchers from the University of Vermont have figured out just how pervasive they are on Twitter, uncovering fascinating patterns about their use.

Stretchability is a powerful linguistic device that visually punches up a written word, imparting a wide range of emotions. That goes for the gooooooaaaaaaal of a soccer announcer, a teenager’s exasperated finallyyyyy, and a surfer’s aweeeeeesome. And booooyare they popular on Twitter. Writing today in the journal PLOS One, the researchers detail how they combed through 100 billion tweets, mapping how often these words are stretched, and how far they are elongated—haha versus hahahahaaaa, for example.

Consider dude and its many formulations. “That can convey basically anything, like ‘Duuuuude, that's awful,’” says University of Vermont applied mathematician Peter Sheridan Dodds, one of the study’s coauthors. On the other hand, “Dude!” is different. “It could be excitement; it could be joy,” says Dodds.

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'Scorching-hot hacked computer burned my hand'

BBC Technology News - May 30, 2020 - 12:15am
Student's computer overheated after it was hit with a "crypto-jacking" attack.

Twitter hides Trump tweet for 'glorifying violence'

BBC Technology News - May 29, 2020 - 11:45pm
For the first time, Twitter has hidden a tweet on the president's profile behind a warning.

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