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Industry & Technology

Logitech’s $100 Adaptive Gaming Kit finishes what Xbox’s XAC started

Ars Technica - 5 hours 30 min ago

Enlarge / The four button types included in the 12-button Logitech Adaptive Gaming Kit bundle, along with one of its two "hook-and-loop" mounting boards. (credit: Logitech)

Last year's Xbox Adaptive Controller (XAC) heralded a new era of gaming accessibility, but not necessarily in conclusive fashion. What Microsoft's specially engineered slab of a controller delivered in options and openness, particularly for gamers who can't use standard gamepads, the device lost in clarity.

The $99 XAC only comes with two useful buttons for standard PC and console games, and Microsoft said that was by design so that special-needs gamers could attach preferred buttons and control options into an array of 19 plugs. This was great news for anybody familiar with the wild world of accessible gaming or who already owned extra attachable buttons. But trouble arose, accessory-maker Logitech says to Ars Technica, when XAC's good press and popularity drew new, confused people into the fold—and into official Microsoft Stores, to boot.

"We talked to Microsoft retail—to people in the Microsoft Stores—and they kept telling us, 'We don't know what to recommend to people,'" Logitech Product Manager Mark Starrett tells Ars Technica. "People buy an XAC, then ask, 'What [buttons] should go with this?' The guy at the store can't assess the needs. The caregiver doesn't know [from a gaming standpoint], either."

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Yahoo Japan and Line set to merge

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 20 min ago
The deal would combine Japan's largest messaging service with its largest search engine.

Watch out, Tesla—Ford gets serious with Mustang Mach-E electric crossover

Ars Technica - 11 hours 1 min ago

LOS ANGELES—The electric car market is about to get extremely interesting. After what feels like an interminable wait, the battery EV may soon finally cross over from curio to the big time as a slew of new models arrive in 2020. Each targets the all-important crossover buyer, and all in roughly the same $40,000 to $60,000 price range. After slurping up most everyone's sporty sedan sales, Tesla will start shipping the Model Y. Volkswagen will reveal its ID.4 on Tuesday at the LA Auto Show, and the MEB-based BEV is destined for US production in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Volvo's excellent XC40 crossover is getting a big-old battery pack and shares its tech with the exciting Polestar 2. And then there's the Ford Mustang Mach-E, which made its formal debut at a live-streamed event on Sunday evening.

Compliance car to Mustang

It was a contentious move, using the Mustang brand. It wasn't the plan, either—not at first. Originally Ford was working on what it openly described as "a compliance car," one built simply to meet incoming emissions rules in the US and Europe. But in 2017 it threw out those plans, putting together an internal skunk works called Team Edison with a brief to reimagine the project. Its goal was to design a BEV that could only be a Ford, and there's little that's more iconically Ford than the galloping pony.

In just over a year, and with heavy reliance on VR instead of clay models, Team Edison pulled at the shape to get away from a more generic take on the crossover. The main electric motor moved from the front of the car to the rear. The wheelbase grew by 8.5 inches (216mm), and the dash-to-axle ratio was lengthened. The A-pillar was pulled back toward the rear of the car, lengthening the hood line, and there's a clever visual trick with the roof rails that really works to place the Mach-E within the Mustang family when you see the car in profile or from the rear three-quarter angle.

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Should we be worried by ever more CCTV cameras?

BBC Technology News - 13 hours 20 min ago
The global surveillance market continues to grow at a fast pace, led by Chinese technology.

Sexist and biased? How credit firms make decisions

BBC Technology News - 13 hours 24 min ago
Amid probes into Apple's "sexist" credit card, questions are being asked of IT-based financial decisions.

California’s methane super-emitters

Ars Technica - November 17, 2019 - 4:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Oregon Metro)

Methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, trapping much more heat. Point-source methane emitters are typically small—usually less than 10 meters in diameter—but they emit plumes of highly concentrated methane. So if we want to reduce the amount of methane we’re spouting into the air (which we obviously should, although we’re not), they’d be great potential targets. If only we could identify them.

To map such point emissions, scientists in California flew over the state with an airborne imaging spectrometer, using it to measure methane emissions. They focused on a long list of potential sources: oil and gas production, processing, transmission, storage, and distribution equipment; refineries; dairy-manure management sites; landfills and composting facilities; wastewater-treatment plants; gas-fired power plants; and liquified and compressed natural gas facilities.

Most facilities, especially the dairies and the oil fields, were in the San Joaquin Valley. The researchers ended up measuring emissions from 564 distinct sources at 250 different facilities. These point emitters had not really been examined before, because they often only belch out their methane intermittently or in a somewhat sporadic manner. To catch them in the act, the researchers repeated the flyovers five times between August 2016 and October 2018.

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Google Pixel 4 review—Overpriced, uncompetitive, and out of touch

Ars Technica - November 17, 2019 - 3:30pm

The Pixel 4 arrived on the market as one of the most leaked, most talked about smartphones of 2019. This year, Google seems like it is really trying to find something unique to offer, with new features like the Google-developed "Motion Sense" radar gesture system, face unlock, a 90Hz display, the next-gen Google Assistant, and a new astrophotography mode.

At the prices Google is asking, though, the Pixel 4 is hard to recommend. The company saddled the phone with an ultra-premium price tag, but the Pixel 4 can't compete with ultra-premium phones. The phone falls down on a lot of the basics, like battery life, storage speed, design, and more. The new additions like face unlock and Motion Sense just don't work well. It seems like Google just cut too many corners this year.

The strongest feature of the Pixel line—the camera—hasn't really gotten better, either. The camera sensor is the same as last year, and the big new software feature, astrophotography mode, is also available on older Pixel devices and the much cheaper Pixel 3a.

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Unrelenting “ad blocker” plasters users with—you guessed it—ads

Ars Technica - November 17, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge (credit: captcreate / Flickr)

A fake ad blocker available outside of Google Play is bombarding Android users with ads, many of them vulgar, and to make matters worse, the cleverly hidden adware is hard to uninstall.

As documented by antimalware provider Malwarebytes, Ads Blocker, as the app is called, employs several tricks to surreptitiously and constantly bombard users with ads. The first is to simply ask for usage rights to display over other apps. Next, it makes a connection request to "set up a VPN connection that allows it to monitor network traffic." Finally, it seeks permission to add a widget to the homescreen.

In fact, approving the VPN connection—a standard requirement for some legitimate ad blockers—allows Ads Blocker to run in the background at all times. Combined with the permission to display over other apps, the app is free to plaster ads in a variety of aggressive and annoying ways. It displays full-page ads across the screen. It delivers ads in the default browser. It includes ads in notifications. And it places ads in the homescreen widget.

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Microsoft sends a new kind of AI processor into the cloud

Ars Technica - November 17, 2019 - 1:05pm

Microsoft rose to dominance during the '80s and '90s thanks to the success of its Windows operating system running on Intel’s processors, a cosy relationship nicknamed “Wintel”.

Now Microsoft hopes that another another hardware–software combo will help it recapture that success—and catch rivals Amazon and Google in the race to provide cutting-edge artificial intelligence through the cloud.

Microsoft hopes to extend the popularity of its Azure cloud platform with a new kind of computer chip designed for the age of AI. Starting today, Microsoft is providing Azure customers with access to chips made by the British startup Graphcore.

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Xbox's boss: Years before game streaming is mainstream

BBC Technology News - November 17, 2019 - 10:35am
BBC Click's Marc Cieslak talks to Xbox's Phil Spencer about the future of gaming.

Why US tech giants are putting billions into housing

BBC Technology News - November 17, 2019 - 1:28am
The booming tech industry has pushed San Francisco house prices out of the reach of ordinary workers.

Frank Miller inks deal for a Sin City TV series based on his neo-noir comics

Ars Technica - November 16, 2019 - 7:42pm

Enlarge / Mickey Rourke played tough guy Marv in the 2005 film, Sin City, and its 2014 sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. (credit: YouTube/Miramax)

We're getting a TV adaptation of Sin City, Frank Miller's series of neo-noir comics inspired by crime pulp fiction, Deadline Hollywood reports. Miller just inked a deal with Legendary Television for the project, and apparently a similar agreement is close to completion with Robert Rodriguez, who collaborated with Miller on the film adaptions of the comic series in 2005 and 2014. The agreement comes with a first season guarantee, pending a partnership with one of the major networks or streaming platforms. Given that Miller wants the series to rate a hard "R," streaming seems the most likely option.

Miller cut his teeth in the 1980s on Marvel Comics' Daredevil series and DC Comics' The Dark Knight Returns. A longtime fan of film noir, especially the films of James Cagney and Humphrey Bogart, Miller wanted to bring that same tone to Sin City, an anthology of stories set in the fictional Western town of Basin City (aka Sin City). The series art was noteworthy for its unique aesthetic, drawn almost entirely in black and white, with occasional bright splashes of color (red, yellow, blue, or pink) to highlight certain characters. And Miller drew on classic pulp fiction for the writing as well.

Almost every inhabitant of Sin City is corrupt, from the police department to the wealthy Roark family dynasty, with different factions carving out niches in the overall hierarchy. Miller has said he wanted it to be "a world out of balance, where virtue is defined by individuals in difficult situations, not by an overwhelming sense of goodness that was somehow governed by this godlike Comics Code." So we get stories, or "yarns," about one man's brutal rampage to avenge his lover's killer; gang wars; and the hunt for a disfigured serial killer targeting young women. The yarns aren't necessarily connected, but they all take place in the same fictional world, and various characters recur in different stories.

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Tapestry: Has the mythical “2-hour civ-building board game” arrived?

Ars Technica - November 16, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / Gettin' ready for some two-hour civ building. (credit: Dan Thurot)

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

As a longtime player of cardboard civilization games, I’m always looking for titles that break the mold. From the moment it was revealed, Jamey Stegmaier’s Tapestry looked like it might fit the bill. With its pre-painted buildings, non-historical civilizations, and the hieroglyphic script that runs the perimeter of the board, it seemed to promise a civilization game that wasn’t quite like any other.

And, well, it certainly delivers on that front. Tapestry is indeed unlike most of its civ-game peers.

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The science of audio: How a podcast reveals the pleasant mysteries of hearing

Ars Technica - November 16, 2019 - 4:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images / Aurich Lawson)

The first episode of audio-obsessed podcast Reasonably Sound that made me stop and think was an early entry called "Whisper Quiet." As my introduction to Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR), and the specific auditory cues related to its reported physical reactions, I felt like someone had taken the top off my head, rummaged around in my brain, and found something overlooked inside that was suddenly useful. And not just in an ASMR sense, though the sample clips of Bob Ross hit all the right notes for that, as did host Mike Rugnetta getting into the spirit of ASMR by whispering the end credits.

Reasonably Sound is a podcast about audio and about the historical and cultural context of particular sounds and sonic experiences. In his episode about ASMR, Rugnetta not only introduces his audiences to what ASMR is, but he also contextualizes the rise of ASMR culture on YouTube within the broader history of communication technology, starting with an AT&T advertising campaign from the 1970s promoting long-distance calls as a medium for emotional intimacy. He also digs into the jargon of ASMR culture, comparing the pleasant "triggers" found in ASMR videos to the more serious triggers of trauma responses.

Research into the causes of ASMR didn't start being published in earnest until 2015, months after the release of "Whisper Quiet," so Rugnetta mentions in a later episode that he's skeptical of the phenomenon’s existence. But, real or imagined, he acknowledges ASMR's memetic status and delights in exploring the cultural context that produced it.

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Dark matter link to regular matter’s dominance fails to show up

Ars Technica - November 16, 2019 - 2:30pm

Enlarge / Given how messy a typical physics lab is, CERN is just as likely to lose the antimatter it intends to store. (credit: Maximilien Brice, Julien Ordan/CERN)

Matter, despite being omnipresent here on Earth, is a bit of a mystery. Most of the matter in the Universe comes in the form of dark matter, which doesn't seem to have significant interactions with light or other matter. Meanwhile, the more familiar form of matter shouldn't be here at all. It should have been created in equal amounts to antimatter, allowing the two to annihilate each other following the Big Bang.

Physicists have found a few ways of breaking the matter/antimatter symmetry, but they aren't sufficient to account for matter's vast predominance. So, there are lots of ideas floating around to handle it, and some of them are even testable. One of the more intriguing categories of solution links the two big problems with matter: tying the prevalence of matter to the existence of a specific dark matter particle.

Now, scientists have made some antimatter in a lab and used that to test one of these ideas. The test came up blank, putting limits on the possible link between dark matter and antimatter's absence.

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Uber's paradox: Gig work app traps and frees its drivers

BBC Technology News - November 16, 2019 - 12:54pm
Ride pick-up app's algorithm offers drivers freedom while trapping them at the same time, experts say.

The version of Star Wars on Disney+ changes the canon once again

Ars Technica - November 16, 2019 - 12:38pm

Enlarge / Who shot first? (credit: Lucasfilm Ltd. | Disney)

Drew Stewart got the call at around 2am: They broke the universe again, you should check it out.

So Stewart did something he's done countless times before; he has no idea how many. He turned on Star Wars. But this time was different—literally. The galaxy had changed, like a glitch in the Matrix (if you'll allow a mixed cinematic metaphor). And it wasn't the first time.

As the person behind a Twitter account called Star Wars Visual Comparison, Stewart is a kind of unofficial keeper of apocrypha, of the sometimes subtle, sometimes extraordinary changes wrought by their makers upon three Star Wars movies: A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and The Return of the Jedi. These alterations to the canon are the stuff of many nerd debates, and Stewart has followed them closely. That's why, at 2:50am on the day Disney+ launched with the whole Star Wars catalog in 4K resolution (pretty!), he found himself watching A New Hope yet again. What he found was yet another wrinkle: an all-new, all-different shoot-out between Han Solo and the lizardish bounty hunter Greedo.

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Google search results have more human help than you think, report finds

Ars Technica - November 15, 2019 - 10:41pm

Enlarge / Mountain View, Calif.—May 21, 2018: Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters of Google and parent company Alphabet. (credit: Getty Images | zphotos)

Google, and its parent company Alphabet, has its metaphorical fingers in a hundred different lucrative pies. To untold millions of users, though, "to Google" something has become a synonym for "search," the company's original business—a business that is now under investigation as more details about its inner workings come to light.

A coalition of attorneys general investigating Google's practices is expanding its probe to include the company's search business, CNBC reports while citing people familiar with the matter.

Attorneys general for almost every state teamed up in September to launch a joint antitrust probe into Google. The investigation is being led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who said last month that the probe would first focus on the company's advertising business, which continues to dominate the online advertising sector.

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Supreme Court agrees to review disastrous ruling on API copyrights

Ars Technica - November 15, 2019 - 9:57pm

Enlarge / Signage stands at the Oracle Corp. headquarters campus in Redwood City, California, on March 14, 2016. (credit: Michael Short/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

The Supreme Court has agreed to review one of the decade's most significant software copyright decisions: last year's ruling by an appeals court that Google infringed Oracle's copyrights when Google created an independent implementation of the Java programming language.

The 2018 ruling by the Federal Circuit appeals court "will upend the longstanding expectation of software developers that they are free to use existing software interfaces to build new computer programs," Google wrote in its January petition to the Supreme Court.

The stakes are high both for Google and for the larger software industry. Until recently, it was widely assumed that copyright law didn't control the use of application programming interfaces (APIs)—standard function calls that allow third parties to build software compatible with an established platform like Java.

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Physicists capture first footage of quantum knots unraveling in superfluid

Ars Technica - November 15, 2019 - 9:10pm

Enlarge / Researchers captured the decay of a quantum knot (left), which untied itself after a few microseconds and eventually turned into a spin vortex (right). (credit: Tuomas Ollikainen/Aalto University)

The same team who tied the first "quantum knots" in a superfluid several years ago have now discovered that the knots decay, or "untie" themselves, fairly soon after forming, before turning into a vortex. The researchers also produced the first "movie" of the decay process in action, and they described their work in a recent paper in Physical Review Letters.

A mathematician likely would define a true knot as a kind of pretzel shape, or a knotted circle. A quantum knot is a little bit different. It's composed of particle-like rings or loops that connect to each other exactly once. A quantum knot is topologically stable, akin to a soliton—that is, it's a quantum object that acts like a traveling wave that keeps rolling forward at a constant speed without losing its shape.

Physicists had long thought it should be possible for such knotted structures to form in quantum fields, but it proved challenging to produce them in the laboratory. So there was considerable excitement early in 2016 when researchers at Aalto University in Finland and Amherst College in the US announced they had accomplished the feat in Nature Physics. The knots created by Aalto's Mikko Möttönen and Amherst's David Hall resembled smoke rings.

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