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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 30 min 17 sec ago

Low pay, poor prospects, and psychological toll: The perils of microtask work

44 min 51 sec ago

Enlarge / The Amazon Mechanical Turk, or mturk.com, website is displayed on a computer screen for a photograph in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)

Microtask platforms recruit humans to do the rating, tagging, review-writing, and poll-taking work that can't quite be automated with an algorithm yet. In the US, the most common such platform is Amazon's Mechanical Turk, but other platforms are prominent in other parts of the world.

Proponents of this kind of work say that these quick, simple tasks allow people flexible hours to make money, or help "fill in the gaps" for the un- and under-employed.

But a new study (PDF) from the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO) questions whether these platforms are as good for society as the Silicon Valley investors and digital evangelists claim. The ILO surveyed 3,500 people across 75 countries who worked for Mechanical Turk, as well as Crowdflower, Clickworker, Prolific, and Microworker.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Solar panels replaced tarmac on a motorway. Here are the results.

1 hour 44 min ago

Enlarge / A road to nowhere? (credit: Robert B.D. Brice/Wattway)

Four years ago a viral campaign wooed the world with a promise of fighting climate change and jump-starting the economy by replacing tarmac on the world’s roads with solar panels. The bold idea has undergone some road testing since then. The first results from preliminary studies have recently come out, and they’re a bit underwhelming.

A solar panel lying under a road is at a number of disadvantages. As it’s not at the optimum tilt angle, it’s going to produce less power and it’s going to be more prone to shading, which is a problem as shade over just 5 percent of the surface of a panel can reduce power generation by 50 percent.

The panels are also likely to be covered by dirt and dust, and would need far thicker glass than conventional panels to withstand the weight of traffic, which will further limit the light they absorb.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

OnePlus takes just 45 days to bring Android 9 Pie to the OnePlus 6

2 hours 44 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Google Android)

OnePlus continues its trend of getting better and better at updates. Earlier this year, it finally released a formalized update plan for its devices, and now it's releasing one of its fastest device updates in recent memory. The OnePlus 6 is being updated to Android 9 Pie.

This release comes just 45 days after Google's release of Android 9 Pie. This might sound pretty slow compared to the millions of users that just got iOS 12 on launch day, but for Android, anything under three months is pretty good! OnePlus' old flagship, the OnePlus 5T, took a whopping five months to get updated from Android 7.1 Nougat to 8.0 Oreo, so this is a big improvement.

The update speed of Android devices is worth paying attention to this release cycle because things are actually different. Android 8.0 Oreo totally revamped the Android update process with Project Treble, a massive undertaking that modularized the OS away from the hardware. With Treble in place with Oreo, the update from Oreo to Pie should be faster and easier. So far we've seen a few signs that it might be working.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Rainbow” weevil could hold the secret to generating nature’s colors in the lab

3 hours 14 min ago

Enlarge / The colorful spots of a rainbow weevil (left) as seen through a bright-field light microscope (right) (credit: Bodo D. Wilts)

There are many insects that boast one or two bright colors on their cells. But the so-called "rainbow weevil" is unique because it has many different colored spots. Now researchers from Yale-NUS College and the University of Fribourg in Switzerland have discovered the mechanism behind this rainbow effect, and it is very like the way that squid or cuttlefish shift color for camouflage. They described their results in a recent paper in the journal Small.

Nature produces color in its creatures in various ways. For instance, the bright colors in butterfly wings don't come from any pigment molecules but from how the wings are structured. The scales of chitin (a polysaccharide common to insects) are arranged like roof tiles. Essentially they form a diffraction grating, except photonic crystals only produce certain colors, or wavelengths, of light, while a diffraction grating will produce the entire spectrum, much like a prism.

This is a naturally occurring example of what physicists call photonic crystals, or photonic bandgap materials. That's because photonic crystals are "tunable," precisely ordered in such a way as to block certain wavelengths of light while letting others through. Alter the structure by changing the size of the tiles, and the crystals become sensitive to a different wavelength. Even better (from an applications standpoint), the perception of color doesn't depend on the viewing angle.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Cody Wilson arrives back in the States, enters US Marshals custody

3 hours 25 min ago

Enlarge / In addition to a press release, USMS sent an updated wanted poster to media. (credit: USMS)

In a late evening press release on Saturday, September 22, US Marshals announced they have received and taken custody of Cody Wilson at the International Airport in Houston. The 3D printed guns activist is charged in nearby Travis County for the alleged sexual assault of a female minor.

US Marshals shared this image of Wilson arriving into custody in Houston. (credit: USMS)

Wilson's arrival marks the end of a multi-day, international search. It started on Wednesday, September 19, when a warrant (PDF) was issued for Wilson in Austin, Texas. Austin police revealed later that afternoon that the Defense Distributed founder had flown to Taipei, Taiwan earlier in the month (on September 6) but skipped his return flight after receiving a tip about the allegations.

On Thursday, September 20, Wilson was spotted trying to rent an apartment in Taipei. Wilson reportedly tried to pass himself off as an American student living in the city, and he even made an initial downpayment on a rental. But the rental agency ultimately recognized Wilson and called the authorities, leading to Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau to pick up the search.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Thrustmaster TPR: The best flight sim pedals you can buy in a store like a normal person

4 hours 15 min ago

Enlarge / This is probably the TPR pedals' best angle—looks almost like a race car engine. (credit: Lee Hutchinson)

Specs at a glance: Thrustmaster Pendular Rudder pedals Manufacturer Thrustmaster Device type Flight simulator rudder pedals with toe brakes Axes Three Sensor type 3D Hall effect magnetic Controller precision 16-bit (all axis) Interface USB type-B Price $499.99 at Amazon

As someone who's gone so far as to put money in a Polish bank account for a Belarusian man named Slaw in exchange for high quality pedals, I was overjoyed when Thrustmaster’s PR people reached out recently and offered to send a review sample of their new TPR rudder pedals. As a long-time Thrustmaster Warthog owner, the key question I had about the company’s new rudder pedals was about build quality: would they be worth the $499 MSRP, or would they be like the Warthog stick and throttle—beautiful on the outside but stuffed full of crazy wires and hot glue and plastic?

Let’s answer that question right up front: no, they’re not like the Warthog. I took the things apart, and there were no loose wires and no hot glue. It’s all neat and tidy in there (and we’ve got pictures and more details a little further down).

Overall, the TPR pedals are an impressive freshman effort by Thrustmaster in a niche field where they haven’t played before—that is, high-end rudder pedals. The quality is there, but the design itself feels less like a cohesive whole and more like a design-by-committee product. It gets the job done—very well, in fact!—but I don’t think anyone could call it pretty.

Read 68 remaining paragraphs | Comments

AI learns to decipher images based on spoken words—almost like a toddler

5 hours 14 min ago

Enlarge / Given this picture and audio of the word "airliner," a neural network identifies the portions of the image where there's an airplane (indicated by the red lines). The software learned to do this entirely by looking at 400,000 pictures, each paired with a brief, free-form spoken description of the scene. (credit: David Harwath et al.)

Babies learn words by matching images to sounds. A mother says "dog" and points to a dog. She says "tree" and points to a tree. After repeating this process thousands of times, babies learn to recognize both common objects and the words associated with them.

Researchers at MIT have developed software with the same ability to learn to recognize objects in the world using nothing but raw images and spoken audio. The software examined about 400,000 images, each paired with a brief audio clip describing the scene. By studying these labels, the software was able to correctly label which portions of the picture contained each object mentioned in the audio description.

For example, this image comes with the caption "a white and blue jet airliner near trees at the base of a low mountain."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Two Japanese robots are now happily hopping on an asteroid [Updated]

September 22, 2018 - 3:15pm

Enlarge / The Hayabusa2 spacecraft spies its shadow Thursday night as it descends toward Ryugu to deploy two small rovers. (credit: JAXA)

Saturday update: More than 24 hours after they were released by the Hayabusa2 spacecraft to fly down to the surface of the asteroid Ryugu, the Japanese Space Agency has finally provided an update on the fate of the two tiny robots. And they're doing quite well indeed.

"We are sorry we have kept you waiting!" the space agency, JAXA, tweeted. "MINERVA-II1 consists of two rovers, 1a & 1b. Both rovers are confirmed to have landed on the surface of Ryugu. They are in good condition and have transmitted photos & data. We also confirmed they are moving on the surface."

Then, the rovers shared some pictures, including these two.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Founders of Gloomhaven groans beneath its own weight

September 22, 2018 - 3:00pm

Enlarge

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

“In the age after the Demon War, the continent enjoys a period of prosperity. Humans have made peace with the Valrath and Inox. Quatryls and Orchids arrive from across the Misty Sea looking to trade. It is decided that a new city will be built on the eastern shores—a hub of trade and a symbol of many races working in harmony. Each race brings their own specialty to the city, and each race holds a desire for influence over the city by contributing the most to its construction.”

This, the opening paragraph of Founders of Gloomhaven’s bewilderingly dense manual, might mean something to hardcore board gamers—but to anyone who hasn’t played the original Gloomhaven, the current heavyweight champion of board gaming, it’s confusing (to say the least). As you’ll see, confusion and complexity are the order of the day with Founders.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Post-Cody Wilson’s arrest, few know what’s up with his company or legal efforts

September 22, 2018 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / At Defense Distributed's nondescript space among the North Austin business parks, it was business as usual on September 21, 2018. (credit: Nathan Mattise)

AUSTIN, Texas—On the surface, everything appears to be normal at Defense Distributed, the firearms company founded by 3D printed guns activist Cody Wilson. Employees have been reporting to work as usual. Sales of the Ghost Gunner and the related 3D-printed gun files on a USB stick continue. And the Defense Distributed team has been working to fulfill those just like any other week.

But of course, it hasn't been just any other week for the Austin company. On Wednesday, September 19, an arrest warrant was issued for Wilson related to his alleged sexual assault of an unnamed underage girl. And on Friday, September 21, Wilson was arrested in Taipei, Taiwan. He flew to the country roughly two weeks earlier, and the Austin Police Department said that Wilson had skipped his return flight to the US after they believe the man received a tip about the allegations.

So while business at Defense Distributed rolls along at the moment, the company founder likely faces criminal charges upon returning to his home city. And that means Wilson could be effectively out at Defense Distributed.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ecuador wanted to make Julian Assange a diplomat and send him to Moscow

September 22, 2018 - 12:45pm

Enlarge / Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks, gestures from the balcony of Ecuador's embassy in London. (credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

Last year, Ecuador attempted to deputize WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange as one of its own diplomats and send him to Russia, according to a Friday report by Reuters.

Citing an "Ecuadorian government document," which the news agency did not publish, Assange apparently was briefly granted a "special designation" to act as one of its diplomats, a privilege normally granted to the president for political allies. However, that status was then withdrawn when the United Kingdom objected.

The Associated Press reported earlier in the week that newly-leaked documents showed that Assange sought a Russian visa back in 2010. WikiLeaks has vehemently denied that Assange did so.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Newly discovered letter by Galileo resolves puzzling historical mystery

September 22, 2018 - 12:34pm

Enlarge / The original letter in which Galileo argued against the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church. (credit: Royal Society)

Renowned astronomer Galileo Galilei has been lauded for centuries for his courageous principled stance against the Catholic Church. He argued in favor of the Earth moving around the Sun, rather than vice versa, in direct contradiction to church teachings at the time. But a long-lost letter has been discovered at the Royal Society in London indicating that Galileo tried to soften his initial claims to avoid the church's wrath.

In August, Salvatore Ricciardo, a postdoc in science history at the University of Bergamo in Italy, visited London and searched various British libraries for any handwritten comments on Galileo's works. He was idly flipping through a catalogue at the Royal Society when he came across the letter Galileo wrote to a friend in 1613, outlining his arguments. According to Nature, which first reported the unexpected find, the letter “provides the strongest evidence yet that, at the start of his battle with the religious authorities, Galileo actively engaged in damage control and tried to spread a toned-down version of his claims.”

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe that I have discovered the letter that virtually all Galileo scholars thought to be hopelessly lost,’” Ricciardo told Nature. “It seemed even more incredible because the letter was not in an obscure library, but in the Royal Society library.”

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Telltale Games begins wave of layoffs, cancels Stranger Things game [Updated]

September 21, 2018 - 8:52pm

Enlarge / If today's news about Telltale Games' closure is true, that "final" season description may prove more accurate than Telltale originally intended. (credit: Telltale Games)

Update, 5:49 p.m. ET: Telltale Games has issued a statement to Ars Technica confirming that the game maker has begun taking steps to shut down completely. The full statement, below:

Today Telltale Games made the difficult decision to begin a majority studio closure following a year marked by insurmountable challenges. A majority of the company’s employees were dismissed earlier this morning, with a small group of 25 employees staying on to fulfill the company’s obligations to its board and partners. CEO Pete Hawley issued the following statement:

“It's been an incredibly difficult year for Telltale as we worked to set the company on a new course. Unfortunately, we ran out of time trying to get there. We released some of our best content this year and received a tremendous amount of positive feedback, but ultimately, that did not translate to sales. With a heavy heart, we watch our friends leave today to spread our brand of storytelling across the games industry.”

Original report:

A wave of layoffs has apparently hit the video game studio Telltale Games, responsible for popular branching-narrative games based on the Walking Dead franchise. According to online reports, those affected by the layoffs have alleged that the studio is either shutting down entirely or staying afloat as a meager skeleton crew, ahead of The Walking Dead: The Telltale Series' final season launch throughout this fall.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Potential buyers for largest coal plant in the Western US back out

September 21, 2018 - 8:25pm

Enlarge / Navajo Generating Station and Navajo Mountain. (Photo by: Education Images/UIG via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

Two investment companies that had been negotiating a purchase of the Navajo Generating Station (NGS) outside of Page, Arizona, have decided to end talks without purchasing the coal plant. The 2.25 gigawatt (GW) plant is the biggest coal plant in the Western US, and it has been slated for a 2019 shutdown. That decision came in early 2017, when utility owners of the plant voted to shut it down, saying they could find cheaper, cleaner energy elsewhere.

The 47-year-old plant employs hundreds of people from the Navajo and Hopi tribes in the area. It is also served by Arizona's only coal mine, the Kayenta mine, which is owned by the world's largest private coal firm, Peabody Energy. After the news of NGS' proposed shutdown, Peabody began a search for a potential buyer for the coal plant so as not to lose its only customer.

The Salt River Project, the majority-owner of NGS, published a press release on Thursday saying Peabody Energy retained a consulting firm to identify potential buyers of the massive coal plant. That firm came up with 16 potential buyers who had expressed some interest. Salt River Project says that it hosted numerous tours for prospective buyers and set up meetings with various regulators as well as the Navajo Nation. Ultimately, a Chicago firm called Middle River Power and a New York City firm called Avenue Capital Group (which invests in "companies in financial distress") had entered into negotiations to potentially take over the coal plant and keep it running.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Skype support coming to Alexa later this year

September 21, 2018 - 8:12pm

Enlarge / Skype calling on Alexa hardware. (credit: Microsoft)

Later this year you'll be able to say "Alexa, call Mom on Skype" and have Amazon's digital assistant do the right thing with Microsoft's messaging network.

Microsoft and Amazon have been working to integrate their technology. Earlier in the year, Cortana and Alexa gained the ability to talk to each other (albeit with some limitations), and the Skype integration is another sign of cooperation between the two companies.

Any Alexa-enabled device will support voice calls, and hardware with screens and cameras, such as the Echo Show, will also support video calling. The Skype support includes SkypeOut support calls to phone numbers, and you'll be able to receive incoming calls on Alexa hardware, too.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

PayPal bans Alex Jones, saying he “promoted hate”

September 21, 2018 - 7:54pm

Enlarge / Alex Jones in Cleveland in 2016. (credit: Brooks Kraft/ Getty Images)

Payment processing giant PayPal has cut off the account of Alex Jones—the latest in a long line of technology companies to cut ties with the radio host and online provocateur.

"We undertook an extensive review of the Infowars sites and found instances that promoted hate or discriminatory intolerance," a PayPal spokesperson told New York Times journalist Nathaniel Popper.

PayPal has given Jones' site, Infowars, 10 days to find a new payment processor.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

iFixit’s iPhone XS and XS Max teardown: Like the iPhone X with a couple surprises

September 21, 2018 - 6:40pm

iFixit

When we went hands-on with the iPhone XS and XS Max, we were mainly struck by how similar they felt to the iPhone X—particularly the iPhone XS. But it turns out that inside, it's the iPhone XS that diverges with an unusual new battery design. iFixit tore down both phones and provided analysis and gorgeous pictures as always. Be sure to check out their full teardown, but a few highlights stand out.

Let's be clear: both of these phones are the iPhone X in more ways than not. Last year brought that quasi-radical redesign of Apple's product, but what was quasi-radical in 2017 is standard in 2018. Most of the components in both phones are the same, or very close, to what we saw in the iPhone X. Small changes include an added antenna band on the bottom of each device near the Lightning port (which iFixit speculates has to do with Gigabit LTE), a 32 percent larger wide angle sensor and increased pixel size for the rear camera in both phones, and a larger taptic engine and extended logic board in the iPhone XS Max.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NYT sues FCC, says it hid evidence of Russia meddling in net neutrality repeal

September 21, 2018 - 6:02pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaks to the media after the vote to repeal net neutrality rules on December 14, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Alex Wong )

The New York Times has sued the Federal Communications Commission over the agency's refusal to release records that the Times believes might shed light on Russian interference in the net neutrality repeal proceeding.

The Times made a Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) request in June 2017 for FCC server logs related to the system for accepting public comments on FCC Chairman Ajit Pai's repeal of net neutrality rules. The FCC refused to provide the records, telling the Times that doing so would jeopardize the privacy of commenters and the effectiveness of the agency's IT security practices and that fulfilling the records request would be overly burdensome.

This led to a months-long process in which the Times repeatedly narrowed its public records request in order to overcome the FCC's various objections. But the FCC still refuses to release any of the records requested by the Times, so the newspaper sued the commission yesterday in US District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Drugged puppies blamed for spreading diarrhea superbugs in multi-state outbreak

September 21, 2018 - 5:15pm

Enlarge / I don't feel so good. (credit: Getty | Christopher Furlong)

Puppies given a startling amount of antibiotics have spurred a multi-state outbreak of diarrhea-causing bacterial infections that are extensively drug resistant, federal and state health officials report this week.

The finding, published in the September 21 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suggests that the dog industry is in serious need of training and obedience classes. The “widespread administration of multiple antibiotic classes” to puppies, including all of the classes commonly used to treat diarrhea infections in humans, is an alarming finding, the officials suggested. They called for fairly simple fixes including better hygiene and animal husbandry practices, as well as veterinary oversight of antibiotic use.

“Implementation of antibiotic stewardship principles and practices in the commercial dog industry is needed,” they concluded bluntly.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Taiwanese authorities arrest Cody Wilson, intend to deport him

September 21, 2018 - 4:58pm

Enlarge / Cody Wilson speaks at the 2015 SXSW Conference for the premiere of the documentary, Deep Web. (credit: Amy E. Price/Getty Images for SXSW)

Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson was arrested at a hotel in Taipei City's Wanhua District at around 6pm local time in Taipei today, according to reports in Taiwanese outlets The Liberty Times (Chinese, Google Translate) and United Daily News (Chinese, Google Translate).

Authorities had seen Wilson on hotel security monitors earlier in the day, around 3pm local time. They soon sent staff to wait outside the door, and Wilson eventually walked out three hours later. Liberty Times notes Wilson did not have any contraband on him at the time of the arrest, and he appeared calm when approached by authorities. Wilson was arrested for illegally entering Taiwan after the US cancelled his passport (Google Translate).

Taipei police reportedly handed Wilson over to the National Immigration Agency. Though Taiwan lacks an extradition agreement with the US, the NIA told media (Google Translate) they are quickly making arrangements to deport him back to the US. Details about how that will be coordinated were not reported.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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