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Industry & Technology

The bat-virus détente

Ars Technica - 42 min 24 sec ago

Enlarge / Researchers examine a bat as part of their search for dangerous animal pathogens in the Global Viral Forecasting Initiative Lab in Yaounde, Cameroon. (credit: Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

For several weeks in March, Arinjay Banerjee would eat breakfast at 6am and then drive the empty roads of Toronto to a restricted-access lab. Then he’d ready himself for work, donning three layers of gloves, a helmeted mask kitted with an air-purifying respirator, and a surgical-style gown.

The interlocked doors and special filtered ventilation system of the lab, fitted with alarms should air circulation malfunction, are designed to stop outward air flow. After eight hours at the bench, Banerjee would put aside his scrubs and boot covers for sterilization, change out of his work sneakers and return to a basement apartment in the home of a colleague.

The stringent conditions in that Toronto lab—only one level below the most secure in the biosafety hierarchy—were crucial. Banerjee, a virologist, was on a team working to isolate the SARS-CoV-2 virus from one of the first patients in Canada. As the pandemic unfolded, he almost felt safer suited up in the containment lab than he did when out in the world.

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Reckful: Tributes paid after gaming star's death

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 11 min ago
Streaming platform Twitch said it was "devastated" at the loss of a "streaming pioneer".

Rocket Report: SpaceX faces South Texas review, the Angara 5 costs too much

Ars Technica - 1 hour 42 min ago

Enlarge / SpaceX has launched the Falcon 9 rocket 88 times, including 11 times in 2020. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 3.06 of the Rocket Report! On Saturday, Americans will celebrate the Fourth of July with preposterously small solid rockets. Readers of this report, however, will know that every day of the year is worth celebrating with rockets. And there's plenty of news to go around this week, so let's get to it.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Weather forces a very long delay in Vega launch. The European rocket firm Arianespace has been trying to launch a Vega rocket carrying dozens of small satellites for the better part of a year. Most recently, unfavorable upper-level winds scuttled three different launch attempts in late June. On Wednesday, Arianespace seemed to throw up its hands in frustration and postpone the flight until August 17, "when the forecast is expected to be more favorable based on modeling of the winds."

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BBC Sport website at 20: How the site has changed over the past two decades

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 37 min ago
To mark the BBC Sport website's 20th anniversary, we look back at how the changing needs of sports fans helped shape its history.

Humanoid robot set for film role and other tech news

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 45 min ago
BBC Click's Jen Copestake looks at the best of the week's technology stories.

George Floyd: Twitter drops 'master', 'slave' and 'blacklist'

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 12 min ago
The social media platform along with JPMorgan are the latest firms to address their internal language.

EVO 2020 game tourney canceled, co-founder fired [Updated]

Ars Technica - 11 hours 47 min ago

Enlarge (credit: EVO)

EVO—the long-running video game tournament dedicated to fighting-game series like Street Fighter and Tekken—was rocked by departures on Thursday in the wake of startling allegations lodged against its co-founder.

Shortly afterward, the man in question, Joey Cuellar, apparently acknowledged these accusations of sexual assault against a minor in a brief, frank post on social media. This was swiftly followed by EVO firing Cuellar from the organization and canceling EVO 2020's online tournaments outright.

After accusations came departures

Capcom announced its decision to withdraw all participation from EVO 2020 on Thursday evening, minutes after NetherRealm Studios, the developers of the Mortal Kombat and Injustice series, did the same. That means tentpole games Street Fighter V and Mortal Kombat 11 will no longer be played; the latter game figured largely into EVO's transition to an online-only event, owing to its reputation for superior netcode. Mane6, the developers behind new EVO participant Them's Fightin' Herds, followed suit shortly after.

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TikTok's Boogaloo extremism problem

BBC Technology News - 13 hours 3 min ago
Extremists have found a home on Tiktok, and the platform is working out what to do about it.

Coronavirus: A lockdown journey from couch to kettlebells

BBC Technology News - 13 hours 7 min ago
Sometimes life throws you curveballs - and at the moment they're shaped like kettlebell weights.

Is Facebook losing the boycott battle?

BBC Technology News - 13 hours 16 min ago
An advertising boycott wants Facebook to do more about hate speech and misinformation.

Finding the 'invisible' millions who are not on maps

BBC Technology News - 13 hours 31 min ago
How open map data is filling in the world's missing maps and helping trace the spread of disease.

Top tips for making sure what you're seeing online is legitimate

BBC Technology News - 13 hours 41 min ago
Members of the BBC's disinformation team offer tips on how to verify photos and videos.

NY partygoers get subpoenas after stonewalling COVID-19 contact tracers

Ars Technica - 14 hours 35 min ago

Enlarge / This picture taken on April 5, 2019, shows nurses waiting for patients at the Rockland County Health Department in Haverstraw, Rockland County, New York, amid a measles outbreak. (credit: Getty | JOHANNES EISELE )

Test, isolate, trace, quarantine: these are the bedrock public health measures proven effective at stamping out an infectious disease before it flares to the point where the only option left is to foist draconian lockdowns on whole populations.

The World Health Organization and public health experts have uttered and re-uttered the strategy ad nauseam since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted in January. And health officials in many places followed the advice, quickly testing those at risk, isolating those infected, tracing people with whom patients had contact, and quarantining anyone exposed. It’s a strategy that requires leadership and resources but also public cooperation and commitment from everyone to do their part to defeat a common viral enemy for the greater good. With all of that, the strategy works. The places that followed the advice and largely stood together—Hong Kong and South Korea, for instance—are among those that have been the most successful at containing the devastating new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2.

The United States, meanwhile, did not take the advice, and the virus has spread widely, triggering lockdowns and now re-lockdowns. So far, the US has recorded over 2.7 million cases and more than 128,000 deaths—and counting. The country has more than 25 percent of the cases globally, while only having around 4 percent of the world’s population. Still, the lesson has not sunk in.

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Commerce Inspector General says “Sharpiegate” report being blocked

Ars Technica - July 2, 2020 - 8:36pm

Enlarge / Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. (credit: NASA HQ PHOTO / Flickr)

Last month, we covered the results of a NOAA investigation into scientific integrity violations associated with its handling of President Donald Trump’s self-inflicted hurricane controversy.

The problems started when Trump incorrectly tweeted that Alabama was likely going to be impacted by Hurricane Dorian. After seeing an influx of questions, the Birmingham National Weather Service office tweeted a clarification. Rather than simply correcting the mistake, the White House insisted that the President was right, an insistence that eventually led to his marker-amended forecast map, presented from the Oval Office.

NOAA’s issue was that its leadership released an unsigned statement that sided with President Trump, criticizing the Birmingham office for speaking “in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

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Can’t afford to fly to space? Settle for smelling like it

Ars Technica - July 2, 2020 - 8:10pm

Enlarge / "Listen—do you smell something?" (credit: QAI Publishing)

If you ask a US Navy submariner the most visceral part of the underwater and underway experience, you'll get the same answer almost every time—it's the smell. "Eau de Boat," as we sailors called it, is a unique combination of diesel fuel, machine oil, laundry hamper, and flatulence. To the best of my knowledge, nobody's ever attempted to bottle and sell Eau de Boat—but a Kickstarter campaign is trying to do the same thing for space travel.

But why, though?

In late June, the US National Space Council's Executive Secretary Scott Pace expressed his desire to support companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin in developing minimal commercial space tourism—brief suborbital round trips which take a few people above the atmosphere, then return them to the same spot they started. Virgin Galactic even plans to send some NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, eventually.

But these are likely to be small and expensive affairs that very few people will get to experience, for several more decades at least. In the meantime, space enthusiasts can more accessibly and affordably experience the ISS to some degree in virtual reality. Even with six degrees of freedom, the experience is sharply limited.

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Heated seats as a service? BMW wants to sell car features on demand

Ars Technica - July 2, 2020 - 7:55pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

I'm all too aware that connected cars aren't a popular topic around these parts, and that's unlikely to change with today's news. BMW is planning to move some features of its new cars to a subscription model, something it announced on Wednesday during a briefing for the press on the company's digital plans.

It's not an entirely new idea to the auto industry—Tesla has pioneered the idea of shipping vehicles with hardware that can be enabled at the time of purchase or later on for a fee. And BMW has done something similar in the past with infotainment features; for a while, if you wanted access to Apple CarPlay, you had to pay an $80 yearly subscription until the automaker abandoned that idea.

But those were for digital services—now the Bavarian carmaker has plans to apply that model to features like heated seats. BMW says that owners can "benefit in advance from the opportunity to try out the products for a trial period of one month, after which they can book the respective service for one or three years." The company also says that it could allow the second owner of a BMW to activate features that the original purchaser declined.

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Police infiltrate encrypted phones, arrest hundreds in organized crime bust

Ars Technica - July 2, 2020 - 7:42pm

Enlarge / It is not specified if Encrochat users were required to stand in silhouette or otherwise apply film-noir style lighting while using their encrypted phones to do crime. (credit: Catherine Falls Commercial | Getty Images)

Almost 750 individuals in the UK have been arrested so far after an international coalition of law enforcement agencies infiltrated an encrypted chat platform in which the suspects openly discussed murder, arranged hits, illegal drug purchases, gun sales, and other alleged crimes.

The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) today announced the results of an investigation it dubbed Operation Venetic. UK agencies, taken together, have to date arrested 746 suspects and seized 77 guns, two metric tons of drugs, 28 million illicit pills, 55 "high value" cars, and more than £54 million ($67.4 million) in cash.

The arrests followed a breakthrough into an encrypted communications platform, Encrochat, used widely in the European underground. "The infiltration of this command and control communication platform for the UK’s criminal marketplace is like having an inside person in every top organized crime group in the country," NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said in a written statement. "This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organized crime."

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Grab an excellent Razer Viper gaming mouse for a new low of $50

Ars Technica - July 2, 2020 - 7:16pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a new low price on the Razer Viper, one of our favorite wired gaming mice for most players. Originally retailing for $80, it's currently available for $50. This is $10 cheaper than its previous best price, which we've seen the device hit on multiple occasions.

We recommended the Razer Viper in our tech-enthusiast gift guide last holiday season, and we currently recommend its wireless equivalent, the Razer Viper Ultimate, as the best gaming option in our wireless mouse buying guide. While there are plenty of cheaper mice out there, even at this deal price, the Viper is a decidedly premium device both in terms of comfort and performance.

Its biggest draw is that it's supremely lightweight: at 69 grams, the Viper is quick to slide around without locking you into the "honeycomb" design of most other ultralight mice. It's not too large for smaller hands, and its slightly humped design is contoured in a way that should work well with all grip types. (Though it'll likely be more comfortable with a claw or fingertip grip than a palm grip, especially if you have large hands.) Its rubberized sides help you keep a better grip on the device, and the design is truly ambidextrous, with two customizable side buttons on its left and right. And while the Viper is primarily made of plastic, it's smooth to the touch and feels sturdily put together.

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Undulating their bodies keeps flying snakes from tumbling out of control

Ars Technica - July 2, 2020 - 6:48pm

How flying snakes glide by swimming through the air.

Flying snakes can glide as far as 78 feet (24 meters) without tumbling out of control because they undulate their bodies mid-flight, as if they were swimming through the air. This seems to be a specialized strategy to stabilize their flight rather than an evolutionary remnant of general snake behavior, according to a new paper in the journal Nature Physics. The work could eventually lead to a new, improved control template for dynamic flying robots.

Co-author Jake Socha of Virginia Tech has been studying these fascinating creatures for about 20 years. The peculiar gliding ability of these snakes—there are five known species, including Chrysopelea pelias and Chrysopelea paradisi—was first noted by a British scientist in the late 1800s, who observed one gliding through his tea garden in southeast Asia one day. But scientists had paid little attention to determining the precise physics and biomechanics at play until Socha published a 2002 paper outlining his preliminary findings on the fundamental aerodynamics.

Socha found that the snake will push its ridge scales against the tree trunk, using the rough surface to maneuver up to a branch. Then it dangles its body off the end of the branch and contracts sharply like a spring to launch itself into the air. The initial angle of inclination as the snake is hanging determines the flight path. To ensure maximum gliding distance, the snake will suck in its stomach and flatten its body, curving inward like a Frisbee to create lift, undulating its body in an S-shaped motion, which serves to increase the air pressure underneath.

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House OKs $100B broadband plan with $50 monthly discounts for poor people

Ars Technica - July 2, 2020 - 6:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Bonilla1879)

The US House of Representatives yesterday approved $100 billion worth of broadband funding as part of a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill.

The broadband portion is modeled on the Democrats' "universal fiber" plan we wrote about last week. The plan includes $80 billion in fiscal year 2021, money that the Federal Communications Commission would use to fund high-speed broadband projects in unserved and underserved areas. Funded projects would have to provide 100Mbps download and upload speeds, along with low latencies, conditions that would spur fiber-to-the-home development.

The bill has additional money for broadband-deployment loans, grants for states to pursue digital-inclusion projects, Wi-Fi on school buses, and network equipment for schools and libraries. It also includes a $9 billion Broadband Connectivity Fund to provide $50 monthly discounts for low-income broadband users, and $75 monthly discounts for low-income households in Tribal lands. The broadband portions of the infrastructure bill are in this set of amendments.

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