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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 16 min 15 sec ago

The nuclear option: EA bans “abusive” FIFA player from all of its games

55 min 23 sec ago

Fenech responds to his competitive ban in November in a lengthy YouTube message.

Electronic Arts has banned controversial 25-year-old Maltese FIFA esports player Kurt "Kurt0411" Fenech from all EA games and services. The move is an unprecedented escalation in punishment for a player EA has been struggling to deal with publicly for well over a year.

EA says Fenech has "continued to post abusive and threatening messages and videos about EA employees and competitive players on social media and he has encouraged others to do the same. His messages have crossed a line of decency into very personal attacks and breach our Terms of Service. We will not tolerate threatening behavior."

An Important message regarding FIFA player Kurt0411.

— Electronic Arts (@EA) February 24, 2020

Fenech, who has been banned from EA's professional FIFA esports competitions since November, has continued to host popular FIFA streams on Twitch in a personal capacity in recent months (despite previous threats to quit the game). He wrote on Twitter Monday that "I have never said anything I shouldn’t have. This is just deeper than anyone thinks. They didn’t want me competing at events [because] they were scared I’d win them, now I’m the 2nd biggest streamer of their game and they’re scared I’ll overtake their golden boy. But when everything is said and done we’ll beat them trust me. They have money but we have numbers. Fuck [them] and everyone on their side."

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Delay seems likely as parachute problems plague European Mars lander

2 hours 35 min ago

Enlarge / ESA’s ExoMars rover (foreground) and Russia’s stationary surface science platform (background) are scheduled for launch in July 2020, (credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

The European and Russian space agencies have announced they will decide the fate of their ExoMars mission at a meeting on March 12.

The joint mission to deliver a rover and suite of scientific instruments to the surface of the red planet is set for a July on a Proton rocket from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. However, serious questions were raised about the viability of the lander's complicated parachute systems last year and ongoing problems in testing them.

According to a spokesperson for the European Space Agency (ESA), a "working-level review" for the project was held among ESA and Roscosmos officials in late January, and a preliminary assessment was forwarded to the respective heads of the space agencies, Jan Wörner of ESA and Dmitry Rogozon of Roscosmos, on February 3.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

VW to appoint “aggressive” climate activist to scrutinize policies

3 hours 15 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Alexander Koerner / Stringer / Getty Images)

Volkswagen’s chief executive has pledged to employ a young climate campaigner to “aggressively” challenge the company’s environmental policies, as he acknowledged the world’s largest carmaker was moving too slowly in the race to roll out electric vehicles.

“I’m looking to hire an activist,” Herbert Diess told the Financial Times. “We have so many ideas, but they take too long to implement in our big organization, so I need someone really aggressive internally.”

In a rare move for a multinational, the appointee will be granted direct access to Diess and other top VW executives.

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Marsquakes and ancient magnetic fields: InSight’s first data

3 hours 42 min ago

Enlarge / A self portrait of InSight's hardware on the Red Planet. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

While the rovers seem to get most of the attention, they're just one part of a suite of instruments we're using to understand the history and geology of Mars. We have an orbiting telescope pointed down toward its surface and an orbiting atmospheric observatory trying to help us understand why Mars is so sparse. And, for nearly a year, we have had a seismograph, weather observatory, and magnetic sensor parked at Mars' equator.

The InSight mission (from the bacronym "Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport") is a stationary lander and contains a suite of instruments designed to give us a clear picture of Mars' workings. It landed toward the end of 2018 and has had instruments in operation since early last year. Now, in a large series of papers, the teams behind the lander's hardware have analyzed the first data to come back from InSight, which includes the first recordings of marsquakes, along with some details on the local magnetic field.

At the equator

InSight landed at a region of Mars called Elysium Planiti, a region sandwiched between the southern highlands and the second largest volcano on the planet, Elysium. Billions of years ago, that volcano left large rock deposits that spread across parts of Elysium Planitia. But to the east, there's additional volcanic terrain that appears to have formed as little as 10 million years ago and terrain that's associated with the flow of liquid water.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A peanut butter brand has put its spoon into the GIF pronunciation debate

4 hours 1 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Last week, an email popped into my mailbox with a simple subject: "Jif vs. GIF." Its sender asked if I was interested in hearing about a peanut butter producer's interest in "setting the record straight on how to pronounce GIF."

That's not quite what I got. The powers that be at Smucker's advertising department thought we at Ars Technica might bite on their proposal that a new jar of Jif would put the years-long pronunciation debate to rest. Instead, I ended up spending too much time talking about, contemplating, and researching the pronunciation of the letter G—and of other invented brands and acronyms in general.

Does Wilhite have it right?

If you're wondering, the J.M. Smucker Company—known on the street as Smucker's—comes down on the "hard-G" side of this debate. The company does this in order to support its latest advertising campaign that says—wouldn't you know it—the soft-G version has already existed for decades in the form of a massive peanut butter brand. Thus, the people at Smucker's say, don't mix up the two. Soft G "jiff" for food; hard G "giff" for an animated image format that came into vogue during GeoCities' heyday.

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The mid-engined Corvette was 60 years in the making, now we’ve driven it

4 hours 10 min ago

Predicting the arrival of a mid-engined Corvette has been a perennial bench-racing sport in the auto news game for decades. The first of the Chevrolet research cars that placed an engine behind the driver goes back to 1960, conceived by the first chief engineer of the Corvette, Zora Arkus-Duntov. Now, after thinking about it very, very long and very, very hard, Chevrolet starts building production mid-engined Corvettes this year, some 60 years after that first research vehicle.

With all that pent-up anticipation, could the new $59,995 Corvette actually be both brilliant and actually shy of the mark? We tested several with different suspensions on the road and the track around Spring Mountain Raceway in Nevada to glean the truth.


The inescapable reality of designing a mid-engine layout in the sports car segment is that, well, the Italians basically own it. But they didn't pioneer it. Post-WWII, Porsche built sports-racing 550 Spyders, RSKs and 904s, but Ferrari and Lamborghini built street cars placing engines behind drivers' heads in earnest by the 1960s.

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Push-button warfare: How artists use games to capture drone strike horror

5 hours 30 min ago

Enlarge / "Cowardly Drones," a piece by Jospeh Delappe, is a bit more direct about its message than some of his more interactive work.

In 1983, President Reagan gave a speech about the role of computers in military preparation and recruiting that seems more relevant than ever nearly 40 years later.

In it, he noted the “incredible hand, eye, and brain coordination” many young people were developing by playing video games, and said the “Air Force believes these [game-playing] kids will be outstanding pilots should they fly our jets.” Reagan also pointed out that the “computerized radar screen in the cockpit is not unlike the computerized video screen,” and that if you “watch a 12-year-old take evasive action and score multiple hits while playing Space Invaders… you will appreciate the skills of tomorrow's pilot.”

What Reagan didn’t know was that some of those kids-turned-pilots would grow up never needing to take evasive action. That is because they’d be flying deadly drone warplanes remotely over villages half a world away. “Right now you're being prepared for tomorrow in many ways, and in ways that many of us who are older cannot fully comprehend,” Reagan said at the conclusion of his speech.

Read 36 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Firefox turns encrypted DNS on by default to thwart snooping ISPs

7 hours 32 sec ago

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Anadolu Agency)

Firefox will start switching browser users to Cloudflare's encrypted-DNS service today and roll out the change across the United States in the coming weeks.

"Today, Firefox began the rollout of encrypted DNS over HTTPS (DoH) by default for US-based users," Firefox maker Mozilla said in an announcement scheduled to go live at this link Tuesday morning. "The rollout will continue over the next few weeks to confirm no major issues are discovered as this new protocol is enabled for Firefox's US-based users."

DNS over HTTPS helps keep eavesdroppers from seeing what DNS lookups your browser is making, potentially making it more difficult for Internet service providers or other third parties to monitor what websites you visit. As we've previously written, Mozilla's embrace of DNS over HTTPS is fueled in part by concerns about ISPs monitoring customers' Web usage. Mobile broadband providers were caught selling their customers' real-time location data to third parties, and Internet providers can use browsing history to deliver targeted ads.

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Removing a GPS tracking device from your car isn’t theft, court rules

17 hours 23 min ago

Enlarge / Indiana Chief Justice Loretta Rush. (credit: Indiana Supreme Court)

An Indiana man may beat a drug prosecution after the state's highest court threw out a search warrant against him late last week. The search warrant was based on the idea that the man had "stolen" a GPS tracking device belonging to the government. But Indiana's Supreme Court concluded that he'd done no such thing—and the cops should have known it.

Last November, we wrote about the case of Derek Heuring, an Indiana man the Warrick County Sheriff's Office suspected of selling meth. Authorities got a warrant to put a GPS tracker on Heuring's car, getting a stream of data on his location for six days. But then the data stopped.

Officers suspected Heuring had discovered and removed the tracking device. After waiting for a few more days, they got a warrant to search his home and a barn belonging to his father. They argued the disappearance of the tracking device was evidence that Heuring had stolen it.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

WHO tries to calm talk of pandemic, says the word “does not fit the facts”

17 hours 48 min ago

Enlarge / World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus gives a press conference on the situation regarding the COVID-19 at Geneva's WHO headquarters on February 24, 2020. (credit: Getty | Fabrice Coffrini)

As outbreaks of the new coronavirus flare up in several countries beyond China, experts at the World Health Organization on Monday tried to rein in fears and media speculation that the public health emergency will become a pandemic.

“I have spoken consistently about the need for facts, not fear,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press briefing Monday. “Using the word ‘pandemic’ now does not fit the facts, but it may certainly cause fear.”

As always, the director-general (who goes by Dr. Tedros) and his colleagues at WHO tried to shift the conversation away from speculation and worst-case scenarios. Instead, they want to focus on data and preparation. In doing so, though, Dr. Tedros noted that some of the latest figures in the epidemic are “deeply concerning.”

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple Maps expands its Street View competitor to Boston, DC, Philadelphia

18 hours 36 min ago

Apple Maps has been slowly expanding regional coverage for its Google Street View-like Look Around feature, and now MacRumors forum members have spotted rollouts for the feature in the US cities of Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, DC.

Look Around was added as a feature in iOS 13 last September, but it launched with coverage only in or near San Francisco. Like Google Street View, the feature allows users to zoom in to street-level photography of most streets in an urban area. Apple displays Yelp listings and other data on real-world buildings and monuments in the viewport when Look Around is displayed in full screen.

Generally, we have observed that the resolution and quality of the photography is better than what we've usually seen in Google's version, and Apple applies some slick animations and parallax effects to make the view more immersive and natural-looking.

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The next Xbox will quadruple XB1’s CPU, octuple its GPU performance

February 24, 2020 - 8:50pm

Back in December, Microsoft showed us what the outside of the Xbox One Series X would look like. Today, the company is announcing in more detail what will be on the inside of the box, with a blog post discussing the machine's internal specs and new features focused mostly on speed and compatibility.

Forward compatible

Microsoft reconfirmed today that "existing Xbox One games, including backward-compatible Xbox 360 and original Xbox games" would still be playable on the Series X with "steadier framerates, faster load times and improved resolution and visual fidelity—all with no developer work required." More exciting, though, Microsoft seemingly announced a new commitment to forward compatibility throughout the Xbox line via a program called Smart Delivery.

In Microsoft's words, Smart Delivery "empowers you to buy a game once and know that—whether you are playing it on Xbox One or Xbox Series X—you are getting the right version of that game on whatever Xbox you're playing on." That sounds a lot like the existing system that automatically downloads higher-resolution packages for "Xbox One X enhanced" versions of older Xbox One games. Extending the same system to the Series X, though, lets publishers take advantage of features like ray-tracing and SSD load times without needing to develop and sell an entirely new Series X-exclusive version of the game.

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Petnet goes offline for a week, can’t answer customers at all

February 24, 2020 - 6:54pm

Enlarge / This pup will stare at you balefully until someone—or something—feeds it already. (credit: Petnet)

Automated or otherwise mechanized pet feeders aren't particularly new; you can find analog models dating back to 1939 at least. But the 21st century being what it is, of course there are now app-driven, cloud-connected "smart" feeders that you control from your phone. And when some mysterious outage takes out that system for a full week, you and your furry friend may end up deeply annoyed.

The Petnet smartfeeder is one such system, and it did indeed recently suffer one such outage, as spotted by TechCrunch. Systems do occasionally go offline, it is true—but Petnet's outage seems emblematic of the difficulties consumers face with customer service in the app-driven economy. Namely, can you actually reach someone to complain?

Petnet began posting messages on Twitter on February 14 advising customers that some of its SmartFeeders "will appear offline," although they still would nominally work to dispense food. Of course, when something doesn't work, most people will try to turn it off and back on again, as that's the first-line repair for basically everything with a power switch. That, alas, was not the solution here, and Petnet explicitly advised against turning feeders off or on, adding, "We will continue to provide updates on this matter."

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New Sony Xperia 1 II smartphone looks handsome, costs a ridiculous $1,300

February 24, 2020 - 6:34pm

It would have been Mobile World Congress this week if not for the panic over the coronavirus—so get ready for plenty of news from the world of international smartphones. First up, we have a reminder that Sony is still out there making cellular telephones, and last night it announced the "Sony Xperia 1 II." Wait, the what?! The "Sony Xperia One Two?" Actually, this is branded similarly to the Sony cameras, so just as the "Sony A7 III" is pronounced "Sony Alpha seven mark three," this thing is apparently the "Sony Xperia One Mark Two." Wild.

Like most of the phones that will be announced this week, this is a flagship 2020 smartphone with the Snapdragon 865 and 5G, though Sony opted to only include mid-band 5G and not mmWave. There is a 6.5-inch, 3840×1644 OLED display, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 4000mAh battery. The phone is IP68 rated, and it has a MicroSD slot and wireless charging. It may also be the only flagship smartphone in 2020 with a headphone jack.

Like every other Sony smartphone, the design is very square and rather handsome looking. While the rest of the industry is all about maximizing display space with camera notches and other display blemishes, Sony has a pair of symmetrical bezels on the top and bottom that house front-facing stereo speakers and the front camera. The combination of bezels and a 21:9 display makes this one of the tallest smartphones on the market, with measurements of 166mm×72mm×7.9mm.

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One of NASA’s greatest mathematicians, Katherine Johnson, has died

February 24, 2020 - 4:26pm

Enlarge / Katherine Johnson sits at her desk with a globe, or "Celestial Training Device." (credit: NASA)

Katherine Johnson, a trailblazing mathematician best known for her contributions to NASA's human spaceflight program and who gained fame later in life due to the movie Hidden Figures, died Monday. She was 101 years old.

"At NASA, we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "We will continue building on her legacy and work tirelessly to increase opportunities for everyone who has something to contribute toward the ongoing work of raising the bar of human potential."

Born in rural West Virginia on August 26, 1918, Johnson showed an aptitude for mathematics early in life. “I counted everything," she said late in life of her formative years. "I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed… anything that could be counted, I did."

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Open source licenses: What, which, and why

February 24, 2020 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / Most open source projects are vastly more restrictive with their trademarks than their code. OpenBSD's Puffy, Linux's Tux, and the FSF's Meditating Gnu are among the few FOSS logos that can easily and legally be remixed and reused for simple illustrative purposes. (credit: OpenBSD, Free Software Foundation, Larry Ewing, Seattle Municipal Archives)

Most people have at least heard of open source software by now—and even have a fairly good idea of what it is. Its own luminaries argue incessantly about what to call it—with camps arguing for everything from Free to Libre to Open Source and every possible combination of the above—but the one thing every expert agrees on is that it's not open source (or whatever) if it doesn't have a clearly attributed license.

You can't just publicly dump a bunch of source code without a license and say "whatever—it's there, anybody can get it." Due to the way copyright law works in most of the world, freely available code without an explicitly declared license is copyright by the author, all rights reserved. This means it's just plain unsafe to use unlicensed code, published or not—there's nothing stopping the author from coming after you and suing for royalties if you start using it.

The only way to actually make your code open source and freely available is to attach a license to it. Preferably, you want a comment with the name and version of a well-known license in the header of every file and a full copy of the license available in the root folder of your project, named LICENSE or LICENSE.TXT. This, of course, raises the question of which license to use—and why?

Read 39 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Georgia Tech physicists unlock the secret to perfect wok-tossed fried rice

February 23, 2020 - 4:30pm

Enlarge / Wok tossing has long been suspected of causing the high shoulder injury rate among Chinese chefs. (credit: Hunting Ko and David Hu/Georgia Tech)

Fried rice is a classic dish in pretty much every Chinese restaurant, and the strenuous process of tossing the rice in a wok over high heat is key to producing the perfect final product. There's always chemistry involved in cooking, but there's also a fair amount of physics. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have devised a model for the kinematics of wok-tossing to explain how it produces fried rice that is nicely browned but not burnt. They described their work in a recent paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society: Interface.

This work hails from David Hu's lab at Georgia Tech, known for investigating such diverse phenomena as the collective behavior of fire ants, water striders, snakes, various climbing insects, mosquitos, the unique properties of cat tongues, and animal bodily functions like urination and defecation—including a 2019 Ig Nobel Prize-winning study on why wombats produce cubed poo. Hu and his graduate student, Hungtang Ko—also a co-author on a 2019 paper on the physics of how fire ants band together to build rafts—discovered they shared a common interest in the physics of cooking, particularly Chinese stir-fry.  

Hu and Ko chose to focus their investigation on fried rice (or "scattered golden rice"), a classic dish dating back some 1,500 years. According to the authors, tossing the ingredients in the wok while stir-frying ensures that the dish is browned but not burned. Something about this cooking process creates the so-called "Maillard reaction": the chemical interaction of amino acids and carbohydrates subjected to high heat that is responsible for the browning of meats, for instance.

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The Ars Technica semi-scientific guide to Wi-Fi Access Point placement

February 23, 2020 - 3:30pm

Enlarge / The top floor of our test house is relatively straightforward—although like many houses, it suffers from terrible router placement nowhere near its center. (credit: Jim Salter)

Here at Ars, we've spent a lot of time covering how Wi-Fi works, which kits perform the best, and how upcoming standards will affect you. Today, we're going to go a little more basic: we're going to teach you how to figure out how many Wi-Fi access points (APs) you need, and where to put them.

These rules apply whether we're talking about a single Wi-Fi router, a mesh kit like Eero, Plume, or Orbi, or a set of wire-backhauled access points like Ubiquiti's UAP-AC line or TP-Link's EAPs. Unfortunately, these "rules" are necessarily closer to "guidelines" as there are a lot of variables it's impossible to fully account for from an armchair a few thousand miles away. But if you become familiar with these rules, you should at least walk away with a better practical understanding of what to expect—and not expect—from your Wi-Fi gear and how to get the most out of it.

Before we get started

Let's go over one bit of RF theory (radio-frequency) before we get started on our ten rules—some of them will make much better sense if you understand how RF signal strength is measured and how it attenuates over distance and through obstacles.

Read 53 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Climate change is drying up the Colorado River

February 23, 2020 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / The shores of Lake Mead, faded from previously higher water levels. (credit: Chris Richards / Flickr)

In 2014, the Colorado River reached the ocean for the first time in 16 years. Most years, the river doesn't make it that far because it has been dammed and diverted along the way, supplying fresh water to approximately 40 million people and supporting agriculture and economic activity in the dry Southwestern United States.

As climate change disrupts historical patterns of rainfall and temperature, the Colorado River has not been faring well, and it's getting even increasingly unlikely that the river will reach the sea again. A paper published this week in Science reports that the river's flow has been declining by an alarming 9.3 percent for every 1°C of warming—and that declining snow levels are the main culprit for this dramatic decline.

Some history

For a resource as critical and carefully managed as the Colorado River, precision is key. Just knowing that it's declining in response to climate change is not enough; more crucial is knowing how much that decline is likely to be.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Cities fighting climate woes hasten “green gentrification”

February 23, 2020 - 1:07pm

Enlarge (credit: Michael Lee | Getty Images)

Boston’s plans to harden its waterfront against the perils of climate change—storm surge, flooding, and sea-level rise—seem like an all-around win. The only way to keep a higher, more turbulent Atlantic out of South Boston and Charlestown is to build parks, bike paths, gardens, and landscaped berms with waterfront views. These are all things that make a greener, more walkable, more livable city. If this is adaptation to a warmer world, bring it on.

Except geographers and community activists are getting more and more worried about how cities choose which improvements to build and where. They’re noticing that when poorer neighborhoods get water-absorbing green space, storm-surge-proof seawalls, and elevated buildings, all of a sudden they aren’t so poor anymore. The people who lived there—who would’ve borne the brunt of whatever disasters a changing climate will bring—get pushed out in favor of new housing built to sell at or above market rates to people with enough money to buy not just safety but a beautiful new waterfront. In real estate lingo, “adaptations” are also “amenities,” and the pursuit of those amenities ends up displacing poor people and people of color. The phenomenon has a name: green gentrification.

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