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A fidget spinner to detect urinary tract infections

Ars Technica - 2 hours 7 min ago

The diagnostic spinner in action. (credit: Yoon-Kyoung Cho (Nature )

Urinary tract infections have been called the “canary in the coal mine” of global antibiotic resistance. With more than half of all women having a UTI in their lifetime and men increasing in susceptibility as they age, UTIs are one of the most common bacterial infections in the world.

Because it’s not always possible to check for a bacterial infection in a urine sample, patients are often given antibiotics on the basis of symptoms alone—a practice that contributes to the growing resistance of many UTIs to the most common treatments.

We may be rescued by an unexpected hero: the fidget spinner. In a paper in Nature Biomedical Engineering this week, researchers in South Korea and India describe a new test for UTIs that needs nothing more than a couple of spins, by hand, of a spinner-like device. Its results—which can be read by anyone—are ready in around an hour.

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Deep Space Nine: The Trek spinoff that saved the day by staying put

Ars Technica - 2 hours 40 min ago

Enlarge / Chances are, you and your loved ones might get into anxious quarantine moments like this one, shared between Sisko (Avery Brooks) and Quark (Armin Shimerman) in the DS9 season two episode "The Jem'Hadar." (credit: CBS / Getty Images)

As millions binge-watch Netflix and coop up indoors, virus-inspired films such as Outbreak and Contagion, as well as television shows like The CW’s Containment, have found new audiences for those looking to tackle pandemic-related anxiety. After all, research seems to show that seeking out forms of entertainment that scare us—a method of confronting fears in a safe environment—can be a coping mechanism against perceived threats.

When thinking about the above criteria, however, one not-so-scary show comes to mind as a fitting series to retread: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. That prompts a fair question: how does a '90s Star Trek spinoff about a space station in the 24th century relate to a coronavirus-driven pandemic in 2020?

Deep Space Nine turned the Star Trek paradigm upside-down when it debuted in 1993. Instead of going where no one has gone before, this show largely trapped its crew in a single place: aboard an isolated station located near the galaxy’s only stable wormhole, where any form of alien life—hopefully benign, though often scary and hostile—might suddenly appear and invade. Encountering never-before-seen threats was the norm, forcing the barebones senior staff and medical crew to solve problems they didn’t have either the skills or equipment for.

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Pixel Buds 2 review: These earbuds are “much better than OK,” Google

Ars Technica - 3 hours 10 min ago

Enlarge / OK Google, try again with Pixel Buds 2. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

The 2017 Pixel Buds were one of Google's worst hardware launches in the company's history. Really, these things were an utter nightmare. Their sound quality, feature set, awkward fit, and finicky case might have been tolerable as a free pair of buds included with a Google-branded phone—but not a standalone $160 purchase.

Any hardware refresh had enough work to do to catch up to 2017's standard of quality and convenience, but Google put itself into a deeper hole by launching this month's Pixel Buds 2 nearly three years later. Lucky for us, the company's new Buds, priced at $180, have turned out to be real buds. As in, buddies, homies, the kind I wanna lug around with me on a regular basis.

Google needed some good hardware news right about now, and that news comes in the form of Pixel Buds 2: a solid, competitive option for everyday earbuds in the year 2020. "Competitive" does not mean "perfect," but it does mean they're worth considering next time you think about buying earbuds.

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The Nigerian fraudsters ripping off the unemployment system

Ars Technica - 3 hours 46 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Daniel Grizelj | Getty Images)

As millions of people around the United States scrambled in recent weeks to collect unemployment benefits and disbursements through the federal CARES Act, officials warned about the looming threat of COVID-19-related scams online. Now they're here.

Last Thursday, the Secret Service issued an alert about a massive operation to file fraudulent unemployment claims in states around the country, like Washington and Massachusetts. Officials attributed the activity to Nigerian scammers and said millions of dollars had already been stolen. New research is now shedding light on one of the actors tied to the scams—and the other pandemic hustles they have going.

The email security firm Agari today will release findings that an actor within the Nigerian cybercriminal group Scattered Canary is filing fraudulent unemployment claims and receiving benefits from multiple states, while also receiving CARES payouts from the Internal Revenue Service. So far, this has netted hundreds of thousands of dollars in scam payments. Regular unemployment, the extra $600 per week that out-of-work Americans can claim during the pandemic, plus the one-time $1,200 payment eligible adults are receiving under the CARES Act are all vulnerable targets for cybercriminals. In the midst of a pandemic and critical economic downturn, though, the theft of those benefits could have particularly dire consequences. The Secret Service warns that hundreds of millions of dollars could be lost to such scams just as states are running out of money to fund unemployment on their own.

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Coronavirus: How Chinese rivals are trying to take Zoom's crown

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 28 min ago
The coronavirus lockdown has fuelled the market for teleconferencing technology apps.

Could coronavirus kickstart more accessible tech?

BBC Technology News - 8 hours 9 min ago
Video calling has risen during the pandemic but for some disabled people it also brought challenges.

How Coronavirus lockdown made a 'Zoom boom' generation

BBC Technology News - 15 hours 15 min ago
Digital transformation has advanced two years in just two months, says Microsoft.

Fresh UK review into Huawei role in 5G networks

BBC Technology News - May 24, 2020 - 10:41pm
The National Cyber Security Centre involvement follows new US sanctions on Chinese telecoms giant.

Formula E driver disqualified for gamer swap-in

BBC Technology News - May 24, 2020 - 7:12pm
Formula E driver Daniel Abt is disqualified and ordered to pay £8,900 to charity for getting a professional gamer to compete under his name in an official esports race.

Homecoming S2: The most fun you’ll have with an evil company this spring

Ars Technica - May 24, 2020 - 4:50pm

Enlarge / Name? Date of birth? Home address? "I don't know." (credit: YouTube/Amazon Prime)

Warning: This story references happenings from Homecoming S1 but tries to avoid any major spoilers for FX's Devs and the new second season of Homecoming.

Sometimes Hollywood at large seems to embrace the infamous Google strategy: make two of everything and see what sticks. Who recently asked for twin dog-as-best-friend-but-end-of-life tearjerkers? And did audiences need dual "Nikola Tesla races to make electricity" biopics starring beloved heartthrobs? (In a world where The Prestige already exists, probably not.)

This spring, streaming TV got in on this strategy, too. A pair of shows centered on secretive, shady startups—companies doing almost otherworldly things that piqued government interest but really complicated an employee's life—each arrived with star-boasting casts and filmmaking pedigrees behind the camera. Like a dutiful TV reviewer, I watched the first four episodes of both series. Despite each having oodles of style, one felt opaque and unnecessarily complex, like piecing together a puzzle without knowing what the full picture was at the start.

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Coronavirus: Could these social distancing hacks make it to market?

BBC Technology News - May 24, 2020 - 4:36pm
People around the world are inventing their own gadgets and designs to adhere to social distancing.

When COVID-19 is a joke: Stand-up comedy versus livestreaming’s limits

Ars Technica - May 24, 2020 - 3:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

“Was that a stinky DD coming from a big giraffe? It’s definitely not coming from our 14 different pooper dooper locations!”

Moments after stand-up comedian Meg Stalter drops this punchline, as part of a routine mocking the Disney Work Orientation process, her crowd of 11,400 viewers is silent. But she’s not bombing. Stalter is streaming her comedy set via Instagram Live, and as soon as the joke drops, her audience members begin furiously tapping their phone screens, thus sending a wave of pink, yellow, and blue diaphanous hearts up from the right-hand side of her own livestreaming interface.

“I’m about to puke this is so funny,” one fan types. It’s not the immediate feedback of a laughing crowd, but for Stalter, she’ll take it.

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Ars’ summer reading guide for our very surreal summer

Ars Technica - May 24, 2020 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / A lot of literature in this. (credit: Liyao Xie / Getty Images)

Look, we're admittedly biased around the Ars Orbital HQ. Whether the best of times or worst of times, we routinely find comfort in a good book. COVID-19 has changed so much about our day-to-day lives, including some of our entertainment habits around things like gaming or streaming TV and film. But when it comes to precious reading time in between work and busy personal lives, we're continually drawn to the stories that grip us—as grim as some of those may be.

This year's staff summer recommendation/To Be Read list has a few newer releases, plenty of old classics, and a lot of alternate reality/sci-fi. Ars' book tastes remain nothing if not on-brand, meaning we may never get through one of these without Douglas Adams being mentioned. Here's everything, Hitchhiker's Guides and others, we've been escaping to.

The Collapsing Empire, by John Scalzi (credit: Sparth)

Series starters

Sci-fi fans who enjoy engaging characters and story driven more by human interaction than technical wharrgarbl will enjoy John Scalzi's latest trilogy, The Interdependency. The third book just released last week, and it ties things up neatly—a first, for Scalzi. The Interdependency is an old-school galaxy-spanning empire, with a twist—habitable planets are almost impossibly difficult to find, and in an effort to curtail war, the Interdependency was designed so that no system can survive without trade with the others.

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Can a trip to the iconic Monaco Grand Prix cure an F1 cynic?

Ars Technica - May 24, 2020 - 2:00pm

For the first time since 1954, the Monaco Grand Prix will not take place this year—and, for some F1 fans, that’s not entirely a bad thing. The iconic race has been maligned in recent years, and for good reason: who wants to watch modern F1 cars drive single file across narrow city streets, with virtually no chance for overtakes, as billionaires look on from enormous yachts? Critics have argued the event is boring, outdated, and downright obnoxious.

For years, I believed that, too. That is, until I actually attended the race in 2019 and witnessed the pomp and circumstance firsthand. From bombastic ceremonies to surprisingly passionate locals, the experience wound up defying my expectations, resulting in a charming weekend that could sway even the most hardened F1 cynic.

So take a trip with me to last year’s race and find out how you, too, can check this Grand Prix off your bucket list—without breaking the bank—and maybe even rekindle your love of F1 in the process.

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Gears of war: When mechanical analog computers ruled the waves

Ars Technica - May 24, 2020 - 12:46pm

The Advanced Gun System, left, is intended to take on the role of the battleship's 16-inch guns, right. Aside from its GPS-guided shell, the digital technology of the AGS's fire control system does exactly what the USS Iowa's Rangekeeper Mark 8 did—just with fewer people and less weight. (credit: US Navy)

Update: We are resurfacing this feature from 2014 for your reading pleasure on this holiday weekend.

The USS Zumwalt, the latest destroyer now undergoing acceptance trials, comes with a new type of naval artillery: the Advanced Gun System (AGS). The automated AGS can fire 10 rocket-assisted, precision-guided projectiles per minute at targets over 100 miles away.

Those projectiles use GPS and inertial guidance to improve the gun’s accuracy to a 50 meter (164 feet) circle of probable error—meaning that half of its GPS-guided shells will fall within that distance from the target. But take away the fancy GPS shells, and the AGS and its digital fire control system are no more accurate than mechanical analog technology that is nearly a century old.

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On the Moon, astronaut pee will be a hot commodity

Ars Technica - May 24, 2020 - 11:56am

Enlarge / Future moon bases could be built with 3D printers that mix materials such as Moon regolith, water, and astronauts’ urine. (credit: ESA/Foster and Partners)

Ever since President Donald Trump directed NASA to get boots on the Moon by 2024, the agency and its partners have been hard at work trying to make it happen. Late last month, NASA awarded contracts to three companies to develop a crewed lunar lander, but getting to the Moon is just the start. The agency also plans to build a permanent Moon basebefore the end of the decade and use it as a stepping stone to Mars.

If astronauts are going to spend weeks at a time on the Moon, they’re going to have to figure out how to live off the land—er, regolith. It’s too expensive to ship everything from Earth, which means they’ll have to get creative with the limited resources on the lunar surface. Moon dirt is a great building material and there’s water in the form of ice at the south pole that can be turned into rocket fuel. But the hottest commodity of them all may very well turn out to be an astronaut’s own pee.

Earlier this year, a team of European researchers demonstrated that urea, the second-most common compound in human urine after water, can be mixed with Moon dirt and used for construction. The resulting material is a geopolymer, which has similar properties to concrete and could potentially be used to build landing pads, habitats, and other structures on the Moon.

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Coronavirus: How do we record history in the internet age?

BBC Technology News - May 24, 2020 - 12:05am
People's coronavirus experiences in Wales are being documented, using WhatsApp and Facebook messages.

Coronavirus: The 3D artists helping fashion through Covid-19

BBC Technology News - May 24, 2020 - 12:00am
British artist Harriet Davey is among the CGI artists creating virtual models for fashion shows.

After 12 years, Clark Gregg prepares to bid farewell to Agent Coulson. Maybe.

Ars Technica - May 23, 2020 - 7:17pm

Enlarge / Clark Gregg never imagined that Agent Phil Coulson would become such an emotional touchstone in the MCU, and beyond, when he first signed on for the role. (credit: ABC)

Get ready to bid farewell to another Marvel property when the seventh and final season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. premiers next week. Over the course of six seasons, the team has battled Hydra, hostile Inhumans, and alien species and traveled through time—sometimes aligning with the broader MCU, sometimes sticking to its own separate storylines. It's been an equally eventful journey for actor Clark Gregg, who plays team leader Agent Phil Coulson.

(Spoilers for The Avengers and prior six seasons of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. below.)

First introduced in 2008's Iron Man, Coulson quickly became a fan favorite, appearing in Iron Man 2 (2010)  and Thor (2011), before Director Joss Whedon broke our hearts by unexpectedly killing off the character in The Avengers (2012). Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. brought Coulson back from the dead to lead an elite squad of agents to take on the terrorist group Hydra, eventually incorporating the superhuman race called Inhumans into the storyline.  

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The best Memorial Day sales on headphones, smartphones, and more tech

Ars Technica - May 23, 2020 - 7:15pm

Enlarge / The Apple Watch Series 5. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Greetings, Arsians! It’s Memorial Day weekend, so the Dealmaster is back with a special holiday edition of their usual tech deals roundup.

To be candid, Memorial Day sales aren’t typically known for providing big tech discounts, and that’s generally the case again this year. Most of the significant offers you’ll see out there apply to mattresses, home goods, and appliances instead of electronics. Per usual, those who can hold out until the holiday season will still see better prices on Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

With that caveat said, we have seen a few good deals on noteworthy smartphones, headphones, video games, and other gadgets. Below are the best Memorial Day sales on electronics we could find.

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