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Industry & Technology

Console makers warn Trump’s trade war could increase hardware prices 25%

Ars Technica - 19 min 51 sec ago

Enlarge / This could all be 25% more expensive if the Trump administration's latest Chinese tariff threats go through.

With the long-running trade war between the United States and China continuing to escalate, the Trump administration is now threatening to institute a 25% tariff on an additional $300 billion in goods from the country, a move that would cover almost all Chinese exports. In light of that threat, Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony issued a letter today asking the administration to exempt video game consoles from any such tariff plans.

The seven-page letter, signed by the business affairs VPs of the three major console makers, argues that any tax on game console imports would "injure consumers, video game developers, retailers, and console manufacturers; put thousands of high-value, rewarding U.S. jobs at risk; and stifle innovation in our industry and beyond."

Since game consoles are sold at or slightly above the cost of manufacture, the cost of any import tariff would have to be passed directly on to "extremely price sensitive" consumers, the letter argues. "A price increase of 25% will likely put a new video game console out of reach for many American families who we expect to be in the market for a console this holiday season," the letter says.

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Amino acids make beautiful music to design novel protein structures

Ars Technica - 29 min 11 sec ago

There's an app for that: Android users can now create their own bio-based musical compositions.

Nearly seven years ago, MIT scientists mapped the molecular structure of proteins in spider silk threads onto musical theory to produce the "sound" of silk in hopes of establishing a radical new way to create designer proteins. That work even inspired a sonification art exhibit, "Spider's Canvas," in Tokyo last fall. Artist Tomas Saraceno created an interactive instrument inspired by the web of a Cyrotophora citricola spider, with each strand in the "web" tuned to a different note.

Now MIT materials engineer Markus Buehler and his colleagues are back with an even more advanced system of making music out of a protein structure—and then converting it back to create novel proteins never before seen in nature. The team also developed a free app for the Android smartphone, called the Amino Acid Synthesizer, so users could create their own protein "compositions" from the sounds of amino acids. They described their work in a new paper in ACS Nano.

Much like how music has a limited number of notes and chords and uses different combinations to compose music, proteins have a limited number of building blocks (its 20 amino acids) which can combine in any number of ways to create novel protein structures with unique properties. Furthermore, "Any genre of music has patterns," said Buehler. "You'll see universality in terms of sound, the tones, but you also see repetitive patterns, like motifs and movements in classical music. These kinds of patterns are also found in proteins."

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A 10-year-old natural gas plant in California gets the coal plant treatment

Ars Technica - 1 hour 21 min ago

Enlarge / Inland Empire Energy Center outside of Riverside, California. (credit: Oohlongjohnson)

Late last week, General Electric told a California regulator that it would close down a 10-year-old Southern California natural gas plant because it's no longer economically competitive in California's energy market.

The news, first reported by Reuters, is surprising because natural gas plants tend to have 30-year lifespans on average, and natural gas is currently the cheapest fossil fuel on the market today. But the two 376 megawatt (MW) turbines at the Inland Empire Energy Center (IEEC) outside of Riverside, California, are not built to play well with the increasing amount of renewable energy on California's grid. On top of that, renewables' low marginal cost and ubiquity throughout the state mean that during certain times of day, they're often the cheapest energy option.

Natural gas needs quick-start options

GE told the California Energy Commission on Thursday that the natural gas plant is “not designed for the needs of the evolving California market, which requires fast-start capabilities to satisfy peak demand periods.”

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FCC battles meteorologists again over plan to help wireless industry

Ars Technica - 2 hours 15 min ago

Enlarge / Artist's rendering of a NOAA weather satellite. (credit: NOAA/NASA)

Meteorologists and other experts are urging the Federal Communications Commission to drop a spectrum-sharing plan that they say could interfere with transmissions of weather-satellite imagery.

The dispute is over the 1675-1680MHz frequencies and is separate from the other FCC/weather controversy we've been covering, which involves the 24GHz band and has pitted the FCC against NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the US Navy.

The American Geophysical Union (AGU), American Meteorological Society (AMS), and National Weather Association (NWA) told the FCC in a filing last week that its plan for 1675-1680MHz should be scrapped because of the "likelihood of interference with the reception of weather satellite imagery and relayed environmental data to receive-only antennas that members of America's weather, water, and climate enterprise use."

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Oppo’s first under-display camera demo looks decidedly first-generation

Ars Technica - 3 hours 26 min ago

Smartphone design is slowly dumping notches, hole punches, and other blemishes that cut into the display to make room for the front camera. Devices like the OnePlus 7 Pro have reached the final form of all-screen front designs thanks to a complicated, motorized pop-up camera, but it would be nice if we could do all-screen phones without all the moving parts. A possible solution is coming in the form of an under-display camera—a camera that sits behind the pixels of your display to take a selfie through the screen.

So far we've seen both Oppo and Xiaomi show off prototypes of this technology in blurry social media phones, but at Mobile World Congress Shanghai, Oppo showed off its prototype to the public for the first time. Engadget attended the show to see the device in person, and well, it looks like this first generation isn't the seamless all-screen camera solution we were hoping for.

With Oppo's prototype, you get a full screen design, but Engadget reports that the display over the camera "appears to be more pixellated" than the rest of the display. Oppo's solution involves making the display over top of the camera transparent with a transparent anode and a "redesigned pixel structure for improved light transmittance." This "redesigned pixel structure" is, well, less dense than the normal screen, so the image over it looks bad. In the pictures it looks like a semi-transparent notch.

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We asked, you answered: Rebecca Ford reviews your Warframe frames

Ars Technica - 5 hours 41 min ago

Video shot by Sean Dacanay, edited by Justin Wolfson. Click here for transcript.

About a month ago, Ars posted a couple of calls to action in our forums and on Reddit: we wanted to take your coolest Warframe designs and get them in front of the game's developers at Digital Extremes to see what the company thinks of the community's creations. Digital Extremes told us they don't have a great way of sorting through all the different player designs on the backend, so we asked you to show us what you got.

It took a bit to get things filmed, but this morning we're happy to present Digital Extremes Community Director Rebecca Ford with some analysis of the submissions. We last heard from Rebecca just about a year ago when we ran a video featuring her and game director Steve Sinclair answering questions about Warframe's lore and unsolved mysteries, but this time we had an extra ask for her: after dissecting some community frames and their build strategies, would she be willing to show us what she flies around in? (Spoiler: it's purple. Very, very purple.)

Thanks to Rebecca for being such a good sport and playing along—and also congrats to Warframers RekiSanchez, pacading, rytlocknroll, ninjakivi2, and Bedchuck for being picked. Special shout-out to ninjakivi2 for having an all-around awesome set of customizations—I particularly dug the giant pile of Ayatan sculptures. You're a decorator after my own heart.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Swapping spark plugs for nanopulses could boost engine efficiency by 20%

Ars Technica - 6 hours 1 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Transient Plasma Systems)

Here in 2019, only the most fringe reactionaries are able to claim with a straight face that climate change is not a thing. But after years of the media doing its "two sides" thing, recalcitrant policy makers dragging their heels, a continued lack of investment in public transport, and intense, well-funded opposition from vested interests like the oil industry, there has been a heavy cost on attempts to decarbonize. When it comes to the transportation sector, even with the best will in the world, it will be decades before we see the end of the internal combustion engine. So when a new technology comes along that offers a really meaningful improvement in fuel efficiency when fitted to existing engines, my interest gets piqued. Such is the case with a new ignition system from a company called Transient Plasma Systems.

The company has its roots in pulsed power technology developed for the Department of Defense at the University of Southern California, specifically nanosecond-duration pulses of power. Since 2009, it has been working on commercializing the technology for the civilian market in a number of applications, but obviously it's the automotive one that interests me.

In a conventional four-stroke internal combustion gasoline engine, which works on the principle of suck-squeeze-bang-blow, the bang is created by a spark plug igniting the fuel-air mixture in the cylinder. That spark typically lasts several milliseconds, and although the control of that spark is now controlled electronically rather than mechanically, the principle is the same today as it was in 1910 when Cadillac added it to its engines.

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Bitcoin soars past $12,500 five days after hitting $10,000

Ars Technica - 6 hours 17 min ago

Enlarge (credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls)

Bitcoin has risen above $12,500, its highest level in 2019. The new milestone comes just five days after bitcoin rose above $10,000.

Bitcoin's value has risen by almost a factor of four since last December, when the price bottomed out around $3,200. Bitcoin's price is still well below the all-time high of around $19,500 reached in December 2017.

Bitcoin's rise is part of a broader rally in cryptocurrency markets. The price of ether, the currency of the Ethereum network, is up 11% over the last 24 hours to nearly $350. Bitcoin Cash, a bitcoin spinoff optimized for higher transaction volumes, is now worth more than $500 for the first time since the start of 2019.

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Europe says SpaceX “dominating” launch, vows to develop Falcon 9-like rocket

Ars Technica - 7 hours 23 min ago

This month, the European Commission revealed a new three-year project to develop technologies needed for two proposed reusable launch vehicles. The commission provided €3 million to the German space agency, DLR, and five companies to, in the words of a news release about the project, "tackle the shortcoming of know-how in reusable rockets in Europe."

This new RETALT project's goals are pretty explicit about copying the retro-propulsive engine firing technique used by SpaceX to land its Falcon 9 rocket first stages back on land and on autonomous drone ships. The Falcon 9 rocket's ability to land and fly again is "currently dominating the global market," the European project states. "We are convinced that it is absolutely necessary to investigate Retro Propulsion Assisted Landing Technologies to make re-usability state-of-the-art in Europe."

SpaceX began testing supersonic retro-propulsion as far back as September 2013, when the company first flew its upgraded Falcon 9 rocket, v1.1. This involves relighting the rocket's Merlin engines as the Falcon thunders toward Earth through the atmosphere at supersonic speeds. Relighting a rocket's engines and controlling its descent with aerodynamic surfaces was a huge engineering challenge that the company has now mostly mastered.

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Super Mario Maker 2 review: A great sequel, playable on a better console

Ars Technica - 7 hours 52 min ago

Enlarge / The swinging crane makes for some interesting puzzle options.


When I reviewed the first Super Mario Maker in 2015, I lamented that the game didn't debut years earlier as a Wii U console launch title. No other game before or since so easily showed off the benefits of that 2012 system’s tablet controller and online community features. And though the Wii U’s retail life fizzled shortly after Super Mario Maker’s release, a dedicated community of makers and players kept their aging consoles plugged in, carefully pushing the game’s course-making systems as far as they could go with truly inventive and imaginative levels.

This week, Nintendo is finally bringing a Mario Maker sequel to a platform with a healthy future ahead of it, rebuilding the game for a Switch tablet that can also be played on the go. The long-awaited sequel brings enough new features and quality-of-life improvements to justify the impending permanent loss of literally millions of levels created for the first game. But the package is still missing some key features that have me worried about how easy it will be to discover quality levels after launch.

One of the biggest additions in Super Mario Maker 2 is an offline Story Mode. Seemingly inspired by the similar (and excellent) course collection in the wholly offline Super Mario Maker for 3DS, Story Mode here comprises over 120 pre-built courses, all made with the game’s construction set.

In this, Story Mode acts as an extended tutorial not just on individual building parts, but on how to build those parts into a quality course. Most of these courses aren’t long, and most aren’t all that challenging for those with some Mario experience, but they’re built with the kind of guided care and internal thematic consistency that you don’t reliably find when playing random online levels. Spending a few hours working through them is great inspiration for your own course construction efforts.

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US meteorologists worried over 5G roll-out

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 20 min ago
Weather forecasters think parts of the 5G network could interfere with meteorology communications.

US Huawei supplier resumes some shipments

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 37 min ago
Chipmaker Micron has restarted some shipments to Huawei despite US sanctions.

Second US town pays up to ransomware hackers

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 50 min ago
Lake City becomes the second Florida town in two weeks to pay up after a ransomware attack.

Security firms demonstrate subdomain hijack exploit vs. EA/Origin

Ars Technica - 10 hours 51 min ago

Israeli security firms Check Point and CyberInt partnered up this week to find, exploit, and demonstrate a nasty security flaw that allows attackers to hijack player accounts in EA/Origin's online games. The exploit chains together several classic types of attacks—phishing, session hijacking, and cross-site scripting—but the key flaw that makes the entire attack work is poorly maintained DNS.

This short video clip walks you through the entire process: phish a victim, steal their account token, access their account, and even buy in-game stuff with their saved credit card. (You might want to mute before you press play—the background music is loud and obnoxious.)

If you have a reasonably good eye for infosec, most of the video speaks for itself. The attacker phishes a victim over WhatsApp into clicking a dodgy link, the victim clicks the shiny and gets owned, and the stolen credentials are used to wreak havoc on the victim's account.

What makes this attack different—and considerably more dangerous—is the attacker's possession of a site hosted at a valid, working subdomain of ea.com. Without a real subdomain in their possession, the attack would have required the victim to log in to a fake EA portal to allow the attacker to harvest a password. This would have immensely increased the likelihood of the victim becoming alert to a scam. With the working subdomain, the attacker was able to harvest the authentication token from an existing active EA session before exploiting it directly and in real time.

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Robots 'to replace up to 20 million factory jobs' by 2030

BBC Technology News - 11 hours 23 min ago
A huge acceleration in the use of robots will affect jobs around the world, Oxford Economics says.

Chinese viewers watch webcast tour of tiny village museum

BBC Technology News - 19 hours 34 min ago
A live stream tour of a tiny museum open only one day a week attracts nearly half a million viewers.

Why a former Nazi sub base in Marseille is becoming a data center

Ars Technica - 21 hours 27 min ago

Marseille—France's largest city on the Mediterranean coast—is many things. It's the country's largest commercial port, the birthplace of French hip-hop, and the home of the French Foreign Legion. It's also a tech industry hotspot and the landing station for 13 major submarine cables. These cables connect Europe with North America, Africa, Cyprus, the Middle East, and Asia. Two more are scheduled to come online next year.

From a networking standpoint, the cables place Marseille very close to Cairo, Dubai, and Saudi Arabia. According to Fabrice Coquio (the managing director for France of data center operator Interxion), there are only five or six milliseconds of network latency to any of those locations—less than to Paris 800 kilometers (roughly 500 miles) away.

That has made Marseille a magnet for data-center operations—where data and application providers can "put platforms in a safe environment in terms of legal and financial environments like Europe and particularly the European Union and at the same time be connected to 46 countries directly with a very low latency," Coquio explained. "Basically, in the last 15 years, we have [cut] the cost of a submarine cable to a [10th of what it was] and multiplied the capacity by 50."

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SpaceX just aced a critical Air Force test of its Falcon Heavy rocket

Ars Technica - 21 hours 52 min ago

On Tuesday afternoon—a little more than 12 hours after the launch of a Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center in Florida—the US Air Force's Space & Missile Systems Center declared that all had gone well with the complicated mission. "All satellites are on orbit and have made contact," the Air Force unit tweeted.

SpaceX had a lot on its plate with Tuesday morning's launch, which occurred at 2:30am ET (06:30 UTC). Once again, the company recovered the two side-mounted Falcon 9 first stage boosters at a landing site along the Florida coast. But for the second time out of three Falcon Heavy launches, SpaceX was unable to land the center core on a drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. This is perhaps understandable because, due to mission requirements, the center core used in Tuesday's launch had to shed more energy than any previous launch—its attending drone ship was positioned more than 1,200km away from the launch site.

More favorably for SpaceX, the company succeeded in catching one half of a payload fairing for the first time. SpaceX did so with its rebranded Ms. Tree ship, which sports a large catcher's mitt-like netting. "Ms. Tree caught the Falcon fairing!!" company founder Elon Musk shared on Twitter. For a few years, the company has been experimenting with various approaches to capturing the payload fairing halves, which split apart after a rocket reaches space to allow the payload access to space.

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Microsoft OneDrive gets a more secure Personal Vault, plus additional storage options

Ars Technica - 22 hours 14 min ago

Enlarge / Microsoft at a trade show. (credit: Getty Images | Justin Sullivan)

Microsoft is launching a new layer of security for users of its OneDrive cloud storage service. OneDrive Personal Vault is a new section of your storage that's accessed through two-step verification, or a "strong authentication method," although Microsoft didn't define the latter term.

Microsoft notes that fingerprinting, face scans, PINs, and one-time codes by email, SMS, or an authenticator app are among the acceptable two-step verification methods. And you’ll automatically get de-authenticated after a period of inactivity—that's the key to Microsoft's special security argument here. Two-factor authentication using text or email is less secure than other options. Using the more heavy-duty face or fingerprint verification will require the appropriate hardware, such as a device with Windows Hello.

It also has options for transferring physical documents to the OneDrive mobile app. You can scan documents or take photos directly into the Personal Vault section without needing to store the file in a less secure part of your device first.

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FedEx sues US government over export controls after Huawei problems

Ars Technica - 22 hours 32 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

FedEx is suing the US Department of Commerce, arguing that US export control laws are so onerous that it's impossible for FedEx to comply with them. US laws "require considerably more screening than possible from common carriers like FedEx," the company argues in a legal complaint filed in a DC federal court on Monday.

The lawsuit doesn't mention Huawei, but it was filed after a string of disputes between FedEx and Huawei that may be connected to US export control laws.

FedEx is one of the many international companies feeling pressure from the escalating trade war between the United States and China. Last month, the Trump administration added Huawei and its affiliates to an "entity list" under export control law. That made it illegal to ship a range of US-made technology to Huawei.

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