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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 22 min 48 sec ago

Telltale Games begins wave of layoffs, cancels Stranger Things game

1 hour 15 min ago

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)

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.

On Friday, independent reporter Andrea Ayres posted an allegation that the studio had shut down, based on feedback from a game-development Facebook community that simply said, "Telltale Games is closing their doors." Shortly afterward, Telltale narrative designer Emily Grace Buck confirmed that she does "not have a job anymore" and added that she was looking for job opening information for "a lot of other amazing people I love dearly."

After Gamasutra reported on the story by saying Telltale was "closing its doors," The Verge followed up to indicate that a team of 25 staffers will remain on board—perhaps to usher the company's remaining Walking Dead episodes to launch. USGamer separately reports that a new game in Telltale's The Wolf Among Us series, and a previously announced series based on the Netflix show Stranger Things, have been canceled.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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

1 hour 42 min ago

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

1 hour 55 min ago

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.

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PayPal bans Alex Jones, saying he “promoted hate”

2 hours 13 min ago

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

3 hours 27 min ago

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 haptic 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

4 hours 5 min ago

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

4 hours 51 min ago

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

5 hours 9 min ago

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 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Valkyria Chronicles 4 review: Same as it ever was

5 hours 37 min ago

Enlarge / Once you take aim, behind-the-scenes math takes control.

Turn-based tactics with an action game twist: that’s the simple, potent blend that made the original Valkyria Chronicles so immediately striking back in 2008. Now, two PSP sequels and one ill-conceived pseudo-spin-off later, that formula returns to consoles in Valkyria Chronicles 4. It has the same hooks of that original game, including the watercolor-and-pencil graphics and plenty of anime relationships to tease out over 35-ish combat-heavy hours.

In fact, despite being the fourth game in the series, VC4 even returns to the series’ original conflict—a sort of Norse-flavored, alternate-history World War II. An evil empire (a fantastical mix of Nazi Germany and the USSR) is invading the “Atlantic Federation,” and a plucky crew of volunteers from Gallia (basically fantasy Holland) signs up to bring the fight back to the fascists, big tank in tow.

All of these beats feel so much like that first game that VC4 comes across almost as a soft reboot of the original rather than a side story.

The more things don’t change

Combat and progression have been simplified compared to the previous sequels. Battle begins from an overhead perspective but shifts to an over-the-shoulder view when you select a unit. From there you can move your units in real time, limited only by the soldier’s dwindling “Action Points.” While you line up shots as in any over-the-shoulder shooter, a weapon’s precise aim is out of your control. It’s up to the JRPG math behind the scenes—massaged by your reticle placement—to land blows and critical headshots.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Get ready for a flood of new exoplanets: TESS has already spotted two

6 hours 17 min ago

Enlarge (credit: NASA)

NASA's successor to the Kepler mission, the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite (TESS), is already paying dividends. The satellite was only launched in April and spent time undergoing commissioning and calibration. But it has now started its science mission, and researchers have already discovered two new planets.

These are expected to be the first of as many as 10,000 planets spotted by TESS. So we thought this was a good opportunity to take a careful look at the planet hunter's design, the goals that informed the design, and what its success should mean for our understanding of exoplanets.

Four eyes

The body of TESS is pretty simple, being composed largely of a fuel tank and thrusters. It has reaction wheels for fine control of its orientation and a pair of solar panels for power. The business end of TESS consists of a sun shield protecting not one but four telescopes. Instead of being able to focus on faint objects, the telescopes (each a stack of seven lenses above CCD imaging hardware) are designed to capture a broad patch of the sky.

Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Matt Murdock is back and darker than ever in new trailer for Daredevil season 3

6 hours 45 min ago

Marvel’s Daredevil season 3 trailer.

Man, Marvel is on a roll these days. Season two of Iron Fist just dropped a few weeks ago, and Marvel is already trotting out the teaser trailer for Daredevil's third season. It's clear Charlie Cox's Matt Murdock is in for a dark descent, psychologically, along with the regular beatings that leave him bloodied but unbowed. And could Kingpin be making a reprise as Matt's arch nemesis?

(Mild spoilers for first two seasons below)

Daredevil S1 is among my favorite stories in the Defenders universe, second only to Jessica Jones S1, in large part because Wilson Fisk (aka Kingpin, played to perfection by Vincent D'Onofrio) was such an incredibly complex and even occasionally sympathetic villain. Strong villains are key to these series' success, and season two suffered a bit because of Fisk's absence (apart from a brief prison appearance), focusing instead on introducing the Chinese crime syndicate the Hand in preparation for their role as the Big Bad in the first Defenders series. But a vast syndicate isn't nearly as compelling as a violent psychopath with exquisite taste who also longs for love.

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Japan has attempted to land two tiny rovers on a distant asteroid

8 hours 9 min ago

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

Japan's Hayabusa2 spacecraft hasn't garnered much attention in the western world, but on Friday night the 609kg vehicle attempted something rather amazing. The spacecraft descended from its station-keeping orbit 20km above a small asteroid down to just 60 meters, and there it deployed two miniature rovers bound for the surface.

Each weighed only about a kilogram, and after separating from the main spacecraft they approached the asteroid named Ryugu. Japanese mission scientists think the rovers touched down successfully, but are not completely sure. Communication with the two landers stopped near the moment of touchdown.

This is presumably because Ryugu's rotation took the rovers out of view from the Hayabusa2 spacecraft, but scientists won't know for sure until later Friday (or Saturday morning, in Japan) when they attempt to download images from the rovers. And thus we are left with a suspenseful situation.

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FCC angers cities and towns with $2 billion giveaway to wireless carriers

8 hours 37 min ago

Enlarge / A Verizon construction engineer inspects a pair of radio heads on a mock small cell near Sacramento City Hall in 2017. (credit: Verizon)

The Federal Communications Commission's plan for spurring 5G wireless deployment will prevent city and town governments from charging carriers about $2 billion worth of fees.

The FCC proposal, to be voted on at its meeting on September 26, limits the amount that local governments may charge carriers for placing 5G equipment such as small cells on poles, traffic lights, and other government property in public rights-of-way. The proposal, which is supported by the FCC's Republican majority, would also force cities and towns to act on carrier applications within 60 or 90 days.

The FCC says this will spur more deployment of small cells, which "have antennas often no larger than a small backpack." But the commission's proposal doesn't require carriers to build in areas where they wouldn't have done so anyway.

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Inside the eight desperate weeks that saved SpaceX from ruin

9 hours 37 min ago

Enlarge / The Falcon 1 rocket ascends toward space on its fourth flight. (credit: SpaceX)

They bunked in a double-wide trailer, cramming inside on cots and sleeping bags, as many as a dozen at a time. In the mornings, they feasted on steaming plates of scrambled eggs. At night, beneath some of the darkest skies on Earth, they grilled steaks and wondered if the heavens above were beyond their reach. Kids, most of them, existed alone on a tiny speck of an island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It was the middle of nowhere, really.

And they worked. They worked desperately—tinkering, testing, and fixing—hoping that nothing would go wrong this time. Already, their small rocket had failed three times. One more launch anomaly likely meant the end of Space Exploration Technologies.

Three times, in 2006, 2007, and 2008, SpaceX tried to launch a Falcon 1 rocket from Omelek Island in the Pacific Ocean, a coral shelf perhaps a meter above sea level and the size of three soccer fields. Less than two months after the last failure, the money was running out. SpaceX had just one final rocket to launch, with only some spare components left over in its California factory.

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Rocket Report: SpaceX says it would launch weapons, Bezos plays for defense, too

10 hours 7 min ago

Enlarge / The Rocket Report is published weekly. (credit: Arianespace/Aurich Lawson)

Welcome to Edition 1.18 of the Rocket Report! Lots of news on medium- and large-sized rockets, including milestones for the Delta II and Ariane 5 rockets, as well as a round-up of SpaceX's big announcement of its first customer for the Big Falcon Rocket. Oh yeah, we even try to make some sense of propulsion based on quantized inertia. (We fail).

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.

Georgia's spaceport gets a tenant. The Camden County Joint Development Authority, which seeks to develop a spaceport near the Atlantic coast, announced this week that it has reached an agreement with ABL Space Systems to establish an integration and testing facility for the small launch vehicle that company is developing. The RS1 rocket, which has a test launch planned for 2020, is designed to place up to 900kg into low Earth orbit at a price of $17 million a launch, SpaceNews reports.

Read 28 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Cult classic TV show Veronica Mars is Hulu’s latest resurrection

22 hours 16 min ago

Enlarge / Veronica Mars, circa season three. (credit: Rob Thomas)

Hulu, Amazon, and Netflix seem to have all settled on one recipe for success: rebooting cult classic TV series that didn't quite hit it big in their original broadcast runs. Netflix grabbed Arrested Development (for better or worse), Amazon picked up The Expanse. Now Variety reports that Hulu is going for an even deeper cutVeronica Mars.

The cult-classic feminist crime drama premiered on UPN in 2004 and continued for three seasons. The last ran on The CW. Between its ties to struggling new broadcast networks and the fact that it was way too smart and had way too much social commentary for its own good—especially for a series that was framed as a teen show but that in a lot of ways really wasn't—the series met an early mid-season demise with low ratings.

It found a cult following on DVD before the streaming hype hit full volume, and in 2013, creator Rob Thomas, star Kristen Bell, and others banded together to launch a Kicksarter campaign to follow it up with a feature film. That campaign raised $5.7 million compared to its target of $2 million and was, at the time, one of the most successful Kickstarters yet.

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As coal stalls, Wyoming considers new environmental clean-up rules

September 20, 2018 - 10:20pm

Enlarge / GILLETTE, Wyo.: A truck loaded with coal is viewed from the Eagle Butte Coal Mine Overlook which is operated by Alpha Coal. The area is a large producer of coal. Gillette uses the moniker of "The Energy Capital of the Nation". (Photo by (credit: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, Wyoming's Land Quality Advisory Board voted to limit so-called "self-bonding" in the state, a practice that allows coal and other mining companies to avoid putting up any collateral to reclaim land when the company is done with the mine. The new proposed rules will go through a public comment period and then need to be signed by the governor of the state to take effect, according to the Casper Star-Tribune.

The board's passage of the proposed rules is somewhat surprising in a coal-heavy state, because it could potentially raise the cost of coal mining in Wyoming for some companies. However, there is political support for more stringent environmental rules after a number of coal companies filed for bankruptcy in recent years. Although no companies ended up abandoning mine cleanup to the state, the specter of hundreds of millions of dollars of cleanup in the event of another coal downturn has left regulators eager to limit how much damage the state could be on the hook for. The five-person advisory board voted 4-1 in favor of limiting self-bonding. The board member who voted against limits to self-bonding works for Peabody Energy, a major coal producer in the state.

The limits wouldn't do away with self-bonding in Wyoming. Instead, to qualify for self-bonding, a coal company would have to have a strong credit-rating and would be expected to run the mine for at least five more years. The Star-Tribune notes that credit ratings for coal firms also factor in the health of the market, so the state of Wyoming wouldn't have to independently evaluate the larger economic risks to a mine going under.

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Cody Wilson reportedly trying to rent an apartment in Taiwan, per local media

September 20, 2018 - 9:30pm

Enlarge / Cody Wilson (right), the founder of Defense Distributed, spoke to reporters in Austin on August 28. (credit: Nathan Mattise)

After skipping his flight back to the US in the wake of accusations of sexual assault against a minor, Defense Distributed founder Cody Wilson attempted to rent an apartment in Taipei this week, according to United Daily News (Chinese, Google Translate), a Chinese-language media outlet based in Taiwan.

That article indicates that Wilson appears to have initially passed himself off as an American student living in the city. But after Wilson seemed to have secured an apartment by making an initial down payment, the rental agency reportedly recognized him and called the authorities. UDN writes that area police and Taiwan's Criminal Investigation Bureau are now trying to again locate Wilson.

On Wednesday, police in Austin, Texas, first announced that they had a warrant out for the arrest of the 3D-printed gun pioneer on that allegation of sexual assault of an underage girl. At a press conference later that afternoon, the Austin Police Department revealed that Wilson’s last known location was Taiwan and that the department was not sure whether Wilson had gone to Taiwan on legitimate business or whether he was expressly trying to flee the United States.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

GPS tracked the land sink under the weight of Hurricane Harvey’s rain

September 20, 2018 - 9:29pm

Enlarge (credit: US Coast Guard / Flickr)

Shortly after Hurricane Harvey unleashed its flooding on Houston, we wrote about a remarkable observation shared by a scientist on Twitter: the weight of all that floodwater had measurably depressed the Earth’s crust. This week, a more detailed study of that observation was published in the journal Science Advances.

A team of researchers led by Chris Milliner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory extended its analysis to the weeks after the hurricane and found that the network of sensitive GPS sensors could actually track the volume of floodwater as it receded.

While bedrock is commonly considered representative of concepts like “firm” and “unmovable,” it has some compressibility when the forces are big enough. This “elastic” behavior explains how the land surface around Houston could sag slightly under the weight of Harvey’s prodigious rainfall.

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Top drone: Reaper scores drone kill in air-to-air missile test

September 20, 2018 - 9:15pm

Enlarge / The MQ-9 Reaper isn't a fighter aircraft. But it could soon be armed to take out other drones, helicopters, or other aircraft, after a successful kill with a heat-seeking missile in a November 2017 test. (credit: US Air Force)

The US Air Force has revealed that an MQ-9 Reaper uncrewed aircraft successfully shot down a smaller drone with a heat-seeking air-to-air missile in a test last November. The details, provided by Col. Julian Cheater, commander of the 432nd Wing, came in an interview with Military.com at the Air Force Association's Air, Space, and Cyber Conference in Washington, DC, yesterday.

The Air Force's Air Combat Command has been exploring ways to arm the MQ-9 with air-to-air weapons since 2003. That was when the Air Force was preparing to issue a contract to General Atomics for the uncrewed aircraft, which was known at the time as the Predator-B. Much of the problem has been that the MQ-9, which is flown over a satellite communications link by Air Force operators, lacks the kind of sensors a fighter aircraft would use to track and target other aircraft. Its Lynx multimode radar is a synthetic aperture radar intended for tracking surface targets on land and sea and for providing ground imaging—but not for searching for other aircraft. Its other sensors (other than navigational cameras) were intended for tracking things below as well. And the MQ-9 lacks the sort of electronic-warfare sensors and countermeasures of crewed combat aircraft.

However, the Reaper's Multispectral Targeting System (MTS) has proven to be usable for tracking some types of flying targets. In 2016, the latest version of MTS, the MTS-C, successfully tracked missile launches in a test conducted by the Missile Defense Agency. The MTS-C added long-wave infrared to the short and medium infrared wavelength sensors used in previous versions, allowing the sensor to track "cold body" objects.

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