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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 24 min 15 sec ago

Introducing Classic View, a new way for subscribers to browse Ars

53 min 37 sec ago

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

We launched Ars Pro, our ad-free subscription service, at the beginning of the year. At the time, we told you we wanted to hear your ideas on how to make Ars Pro and Ars Pro++ more compelling. And we've been listening. Last spring, we removed tracking scripts for subscribers. More recently, we added PayPal as a payment option in response to your feedback. Today, we're excited to offer Classic View, an old-school way of browsing the front page.

When Ars launched in 1998—two whole decades ago—it was a simple site with the entire text of stories appearing on the front page. The only exceptions were things like Cæsar's lengthy musings on the blue-and-white Power Macintosh G3 ("Bottom line: I like the machine") and John Siracusa's epic Mac OS X reviews. Everything else was right there on the front page for you to read.

Classic View isn't exactly like the Ars of 20 years ago. Our stories are longer on average than they were back then, so putting the entire text of all of our stories on each page would result in an insane amount of scrolling. Instead, Ars Pro subscribers will see headlines, lower deks (the brief summaries that accompany story headlines), and the first three paragraphs of each story.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Amazon said to release eight new Alexa devices before year’s end

1 hour 4 min ago

Alexa. Did he do it?

The world could have an Alexa-enabled microwave before 2018 is finished—yes, a microwave. According to a report by CNBC, Amazon may be gearing up to reveal up to eight new Alexa devices before the end of this year. Among those could be a microwave oven, a subwoofer, an amplifier, and an "in-car gadget." CNBC's report claims that an internal Amazon document points at the online retailer revealing some or all of these devices at an event scheduled for later this month.

All of the rumored devices would have Alexa built in, or have easy access to the virtual assistant (likely over an Internet connection). While the microwave oven would be new, Amazon has already partnered with companies like Sonos to make Alexa-enabled amplifiers and other audio equipment. The company also partnered with Garmin recently to make the Garmin Speak Plus, a dash cam that connects to Alexa for in-car voice commands.

It's unclear if the new devices will consist solely of collaborations between Amazon and other tech manufacturers, or if all of the devices will be made and sold by Amazon. The company's Echo family has grown a lot since the first Echo speaker debuted in 2014. Around this time last year, Amazon revealed the newest members of the Echo family: the Echo Spot and updated Echo speakers.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ice volcanoes have likely been erupting for billions of years on Ceres

1 hour 13 min ago

Enlarge / Ahuna Mons, a likely cryovolcano. (credit: Dawn Mission, NASA, JPL-Caltech, UCLA, MPS/DLR/IDA)

All of the bodies in our Solar System started out hot, with energy built up by their gravitational collapse and subsequent bombardment. Radioactivity then contributed further heating. For a planet like Earth, that has kept the interior hot enough to sustain plate tectonics. Smaller bodies like Mars and the Moon, however, have cooled and gone geologically silent. That set the expectations for the dwarf planets, where were thought to be cold and dead.

Pluto, however, turned out to be anything but. It turns out that water and nitrogen ices need far less energy input to participate in active geology, and radioactive decay and sporadic collisions seem to be enough to sustain it. Which brings us to Ceres, a dwarf planet that's the largest body in the asteroid belt. The Dawn spacecraft identified an unusual peak called Ahuna Mons that some have suggested is a cryovolcano, erupting viscous water ice. But why would Ceres only have enough energy to support a single volcano?

A new paper suggests it doesn't. Instead, there may be more than two dozen cryovolcanoes on Ceres' surface. We just haven't spotted them because geology on the dwarf planet didn't stop when the cryovolcanoes stopped erupting.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The math of why it’s so hard to build a spherical Death Star in space

4 hours 38 min ago

Enlarge / Geometry puts some real design constraints on Darth Vader's desire for a spherical Death Star. (credit: Ben Orlin)

Opting to build the Death Star in the shape of a sphere may not have been classic Star Wars villain Darth Vader's wisest move, according to math teacher Ben Orlin. He investigates this burning question, and so much more, in his fabulous new book, Math with Bad Drawings, after Orlin's blog of the same name.

Orlin started using his crude drawings as a teaching tool. He drew a figure of a dog one day on his chalkboard to illustrate a math problem, and it was so bad the class broke out in laughter. "To see the alleged expert reveal himself as the worst in the room at something—anything—can humanize him and, perhaps, by extension, the subject," he writes. When he started his blog, he knew that pictures would be crucial to helping readers visualize the mathematical abstractions. Since he had no particular artistic talent, he opted to just cop to it up front. And thus, the "Math with Bad Drawings" blog was born.

The book is a more polished, extensive discussion of the concepts that pepper Orlin's blog, featuring his trademark caustic wit, a refreshingly breezy conversational tone, and of course, lots and lots of very bad drawings. It's a great, entertaining read for neophytes and math fans alike, because Orlin excels at finding novel ways to connect the math to real-world problems—or in the case of the Death Star, to problems in fictional worlds.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NASA isn’t going to pay for the BFR, so Musk charts a new course

4 hours 48 min ago

Enlarge / Elon Musk speaks as Yusaku Maezawa, founder and president of Start Today Co., looks on at an event at the SpaceX headquarters in Hawthorne, California, on Monday, (credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On a Monday night filled with emotion as much as engineering, one of the most poignant moments came toward the end of the program at SpaceX's rocket factory in California. The company's founder, Elon Musk, choked up as he described the financial contribution from a Japanese businessman, Yusaku Maezawa, to his Big Falcon Rocket project.

"I’ll tell you, it’s done a lot to restore my faith in humanity," Musk said, seated in front of the end of a Falcon 9 rocket and its nine engines. "That somebody is willing to do this, take their money and help fund this new project that’s risky, might not succeed, it’s dangerous. He’s like donating seats. These are great things."

The headline news out of Monday's event was that Maezawa has bought all of the seats on the first human flight of SpaceX's Big Falcon Rocket (BFR) and upper stage spaceship (BFS)—a sortie around the Moon as early as 2023. Although neither Musk nor Maezawa would specify how much it had cost, Musk said, "This is a non-trivial amount that will have a material impact on the BFR program."

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Judge to Georgia voting officials: You’re terrible at digital security

6 hours 33 min ago

Enlarge / An electronic voting machine in Atlanta, Georgia. (credit: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Georgia’s upcoming November 6, 2018 election will remain purely electronic and will not switch to paper to ward off potential hackers, a federal judge in Atlanta ruled on Monday evening.

But as US District Judge Amy Totenberg wrote, she is not at all happy with the inadequate efforts by state officials to shore up their digital security measures.

"The Court advises the Defendants that further delay is not tolerable in their confronting and tackling the challenges before the State’s election balloting system," she wrote in her order.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla’s most credible rival raises $1 billion from Saudi Arabia

September 17, 2018 - 9:51pm

Enlarge / The Lucid Air, due out in 2020. (credit: Lucid Motors)

Lucid Motors, the electric car startup we described as Tesla's most credible rival last year, got a shot in the arm on Monday as Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund announced a $1 billion investment. The company aims to bring its first car to market in 2020.

Lucid has been building up to this moment for more than a decade. The company was founded in 2007 under the name Atieva to build technology related to electric cars—but not the entire car itself. In 2015, the Chinese state-owned automaker BAIC became Lucid's biggest investor, and we learned that Atieva was pivoting to face Tesla head-on by building an electric car of its own.

The company rebranded as Lucid two years ago and has a number of Tesla veterans—including chief technology officer Peter Rawlinson—helping design its first car, the Lucid Air.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

WikiLeaks founder sought Russian visa in 2010, per AP report

September 17, 2018 - 9:25pm

Enlarge / Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London, England. (credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The Associated Press has published a cache of 10 documents that it says are part of a leaked "larger trove of WikiLeaks emails, chat logs, financial records, secretly recorded footage, and other documents."

AP reporter Raphael Satter declined to elaborate as to how much more material the AP had or why that material was not being released now.

Among those documents is a purported November 30, 2010 effort by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to seek a Russian visa via its London consulate. That's just a week before Assange surrendered to British authorities who sought him for questioning on behalf of Swedish prosecutors who wanted him on allegations of sexual misconduct. By June 2012, Assange had entered the Ecuadorian embassy in London, where he has remained since. Assange has denied any wrongdoing in the Swedish case.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft Managed Desktop lets Redmond handle your desktop devices

September 17, 2018 - 8:58pm

Enlarge (credit: Thomas Claveirole / Flickr)

Just as the cloud freed many administrators from the day-to-day tedium of tending to Exchange servers and infrastructure like Domain Controllers, Microsoft Managed Desktop (MMD) could do the same for the corporate desktop. The new service combines Microsoft 365 Enterprise (a combined Windows 10, Office 365, and Enterprise Mobility bundle), hardware leasing, and cloud-based device management to deliver secured, updated, and maintained systems, all with software maintenance handled by Microsoft.

Redmond says that it's offering the service in response to customer desire to hand off day-to-day device management tasks and spend more time addressing the needs of their organizations.

The new service will work on what the company calls "modern hardware": systems with the right hardware security features and remote-management capabilities. This will include both first-party Surface systems and, in coming months, third-party machines from companies such as Dell and HP. With MMD, customers will be able to put their credentials into systems straight from the OEM. Machines will retrieve their configuration, enroll in device management, and install necessary applications using Windows AutoPilot. There should be no need for IT personnel to ever touch the machines.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

British cave explorer sues Elon Musk for defamation over “pedo guy” tweets

September 17, 2018 - 8:19pm

Enlarge / Elon Musk in 2015. (credit: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/Getty Images)

For weeks, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has been spoiling for a legal fight with Vernon Unsworth, the British cave explorer who played a key role in rescuing a dozen teenagers and their coach from a flooded cave in Thailand.

After Unsworth criticized the "submarine" Musk built to help with the rescue effort, Musk responded by calling Unsworth a pedophile—without a shred of evidence. Unsworth then threatened to sue Musk for defamation.

"I fucking hope he sues me," Musk said in an email to a Buzzfeed News reporter in late August.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Musical instrument goes flat in presence of adulterated medicine

September 17, 2018 - 7:10pm

Enlarge / A mbira—the researchers removed all the tines and placed a single loop of metallic tubing in their place. (credit: Joanna Bourne)

Even without the rise of online pharmacies, there have been multiple food and medicine adulteration cases, some due to carelessness, some due to greed. One unfortunate part of the story is that most cases of adulteration are pretty clumsy, and lives could have been saved if we had simple and widely available tests for contaminants.

That is precisely what a team of engineers has recently tried to achieve. They have taken some pretty old ideas and rejigged them to create a rather innovative testing system that can detect adulteration in liquid medicines and maybe even food.

Sounding off

The challenge with making a generic test for contamination is that all sorts of things can end up in food and medicine. The key to this new idea is that you don’t necessarily need to know what has been added, only that it is different from the standard formulation. In almost all cases, changing the formulation changes the density of a liquid. A sensitive mass sensor, then, should be able to detect medicines that have not been produced properly.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Switch’s replica NES controllers only work with emulated NES games

September 17, 2018 - 6:50pm

Enlarge / This cute little Switch controller won't work with your cute little Switch game library; only downloadable NES classics will be supported.

I've been on record for years now in my position that the Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons are "hand-crampingly small" when being held horizontally, NES-controller style, by adult-sized hands. So I was hopeful that the Switch-compatible replica NES controllers Nintendo announced last week would let me play a variety of old-school Switch games with a full-sized controller, complete with an old-school d-pad and full-sized buttons.

Those hopes have been dashed, as Nintendo-watchers have noticed the following disclaimer on the UK and Australian versions of the Nintendo's Switch Online information pages (though, oddly enough, not on the US version of the page)

Please note: Nintendo Entertainment System Controllers can only be used while detached from the Nintendo Switch system, and only to play NES – Nintendo Switch Online games [emphasis added]. Nintendo Entertainment System Controllers can be charged by attaching to the Nintendo Switch system.

In its recent Nintendo Direct video presentation, the company only highlighted the controllers' use with downloadable NES games, and the fine print of that video did state that "Controllers do not include Joy-Con functionality." Still, these newly spotted Web disclaimers confirm that the special controllers won't work with any other Switch games.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

iOS 12 on the iPhone 5S, iPhone 6 Plus, and iPad Mini 2: It’s actually faster!

September 17, 2018 - 6:00pm

Enlarge / iOS 12 is the rare update that actually noticeably improves performance across a range of older devices. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

When we tested iOS 11 on the iPhone 5S, it was clear that it was slower than iOS 10 had been but that the iPhone 5S’ hardware was fast enough to keep everything usable. That’s especially true if you tempered your expectations: the phone was going on four years old at the time.

But at the time, some of you asked us to test a handful of other older iOS devices, particularly the A7-equipped iPad Air and Mini 2 and the A8-equipped iPhone 6 Plus. In the iPads, the same A7 CPU and GPU that powers the iPhone 5S’ screen has to adequately support a tablet with more than three times as many pixels. And the A8 in the 6 Plus draws a 2208×1242 image which is then downscaled to the phone’s 1080p screen; that means using a CPU that was around 25 percent faster than the A7 and a GPU that was only 50 percent faster to support a phone with 277 percent as many pixels.

The upshot is that those devices can often feel sluggish or laggy compared to subsequent models. Later Apple chips—from the A8X in the iPad Air 2 and the A9 in the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus onward, approximately—remain more than fast enough to run iOS 11 without any huge degradation of performance. But with iOS 12 this year, we’re testing an iPad Mini 2 and iPhone 6 Plus in addition to the old 5S to get an idea of how well Apple was able to improve the responsiveness of these older devices, many of which are still in use as secondary phones and tablets or hand-me-downs (or by people who just see no particular reason to upgrade).

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

iOS 12, thoroughly reviewed

September 17, 2018 - 6:00pm

Enlarge / iOS 12 on an iPhone X. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Apple's iOS 12 software update is available today for supported iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch devices, and on the surface, it looks like one of the smallest new iOS releases Apple has pushed out.

This isn't a surprise; Apple said earlier this year that iOS 12 would be more about performance and stability than adding new features. Some major additions that were originally planned—like an overhauled home screen—were reportedly delayed to a later release.

And it's also not a bad thing. Frankly, iOS 11 had some problems. Apple released several small updates in late 2017 and throughout 2018 to fix those problems, all while battling some frustrated customers' perceptions that the company was deliberately making older devices obsolete to encourage new sales as overall smartphone sales slowed their growth industry-wide.

Read 183 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ajit Pai calls California’s net neutrality rules “illegal”

September 17, 2018 - 5:39pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai with his oversized coffee mug in November 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

California's attempt to enforce net neutrality rules is "illegal" and "poses a risk to the rest of the country," Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai said in a speech on Friday.

Pai's remarks drew an immediate rebuke from California Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who authored the net neutrality bill that passed California's legislature and now awaits the signature of Governor Jerry Brown.

California's net neutrality rules are "necessary and legal because Chairman Pai abdicated his responsibility to ensure an open Internet," Wiener said in a press release.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Russians tried to hack Swiss lab testing samples from Skripal attack

September 17, 2018 - 5:19pm

Enlarge / This picture, taken on September 14, 2018, shows the Spiez Laboratory, Swiss Federal Institute for NBC-Protection (nuclear, biological, chemical), in Spiez, 40km from the capital Bern, as Swiss newspapers reported that two Russian agents suspected of trying to spy on the laboratory were arrested in the Netherlands and expelled early this year. At the time, Spiez was analyzing data related to poison gas attacks in Syria, as well as the March 4 attack using the nerve agent Novichok on Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury, Swiss newspapers reported. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (credit: FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images)

Last Friday, Dutch officials revealed that they had arrested and expelled two alleged Russian intelligence agents who were caught attempting to hack into the Spiez Laboratory, a Swiss national laboratory that is home to the Swiss Federal Institute for NBC (Nuclear, Biological, and Chemical) Protection.

The Spiez lab was testing two sets of samples that were of interest to the Russian government on behalf of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW): the "Novichok" agent used in an attack in the UK against former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia and samples from a poison gas attack in Syria. The OPCW's headquarters is in The Hague in the Netherlands, which may explain why the attack on the Spiez lab was launched from there.

The incident, reported both by Joep Dohmen of the Dutch newspaper NRC Handelsblad and by Thomas Knellwolf and Titis Plattner of the Swiss newspaper Tages Anzeiger, occurred this spring. The circumstances of the arrests were not shared. An investigation carried out jointly by the two papers found that the pair were arrested as the result of a joint operation by multiple European intelligence services in Europe, including the Dutch Military Intelligence and Security Service (MIVD). The Swiss intelligence service, the NDB, issued a statement confirming a "case of Russian spies discovered in The Hague and then expelled."

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

15 countries and one US state team up to fight gambling in video games

September 17, 2018 - 5:07pm

Enlarge / Buying this innocuous-looking Overwatch loot box could be considered a form of gambling.

Thus far, the fight to regulate video game loot boxes has been a piecemeal effort moving forward in very different ways in different jurisdictions. Today, though, an international group of regulators from 15 European regulation bodies and Washington state in the US signed a declaration stating their increasing concern "with the risks being posed by the blurring of lines between gambling and other forms of digital entertainment such as video gaming."

The declaration identifies four specific areas of concern:

  • Skin betting—Third-party sites that allow users to wager money or in-game items for a chance at earning better items. Valve has already faced pushback from Washington State regulators for Steam's role in "facilitating" such skin-gambling schemes.
  • Loot boxes—In-game purchases that offer randomized rewards. Some loot boxes have already been ruled as illegal in the Netherlands and Belgium, and there have been some attempts to do the same from some US lawmakers.
  • Social casino gambling—Apps like Big Fish Casino in which users can optionally spend money on virtual gambling chips if they don't feel like waiting for the in-game currency to replenish. A US District court ruled Big Fish Casino constituted illegal gambling earlier this year, and there are multiple active lawsuits surrounding other such games.
  • "The use of gambling themed content within video games available to children."—In addition to the above, this would seemingly apply to games with poker or slot-machine-style minigames (or, uh, Casino Kid for the NES).

The declaration says that the types of games and services listed above have "similar characteristics to those that led our respective legal frameworks and authorities to provide for the regulation of online gambling." But the signatories don't commit to any specific actions against such games for now, beyond "working together to thoroughly analyze the characteristics of video games and social gaming." The declaration also notes that there are different frameworks for gambling regulation in different countries.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Linus Torvalds apologizes for years of being a jerk, takes time off to learn empathy

September 17, 2018 - 4:20pm

Linus Torvalds flips off Nvidia. (credit: aaltouniversityace)

Linux creator Linus Torvalds has apologized for years of rants, swearing, and general hostility directed at other Linux developers, saying he's going to take a temporary break from his role as maintainer of the open source kernel to learn how to behave better.

For many years, Torvalds has been infamous for his expletive-filled, aggressive outbursts on the Linux Kernel Mailing List (LKML), chewing out developers who submit patches that he believes aren't up to the standards necessary for the kernel. He's defended this behavior in the face of pushback from other developers, insisting that people being nice to one another was an American ideology.

But that may be coming to an end. In a lengthy email posted to the LKML on Sunday night, Torvalds expressed a change of heart. Taken to task over attacks that he recognizes were "unprofessional and uncalled for," he says he now recognizes that his behavior was "not OK" and he is "truly sorry." He's going to step back from kernel development for a while—something he's done before while developing the Git source control system—so that he can "get help on how to behave differently."

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

OnePlus announces it’s building a “OnePlus TV”

September 17, 2018 - 4:10pm

Enlarge / OnePlus' last phone, the OnePlus 6. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Here's an unexpected news item that popped up over the weekend: OnePlus, the Android smartphone maker, wants to start making televisions. OnePlus CEO Pete Lau made an announcement on the company forums that a smart TV was on the way. "We are building a new product of OnePlus’ premium flagship design, image quality, and audio experience to more seamlessly connect the home," Lau said. "We call it: OnePlus TV."

OnePlus made a name for itself in the smartphone space by shipping high-end, quality smartphones at a low price. There are other Chinese firms, like OnePlus rival Xiaomi, that are also using price as a big differentiator, but OnePlus does business in Western markets like the US and Europe that Xiaomi won't touch. There have been some bumps along the way, and OnePlus raises its prices every year, but the company's products are still a good value.

Building a TV certainly seems to be in the realm of possibility for OnePlus. The company has already released eight smartphones in five years, and it broke into the Western market with zero brand recognition. OnePlus didn't do this on its own. The company won't say that Oppo (owned by Chinese smartphone giant BBK) is its parent company, but the two companies are very close. The official line is that OnePlus "leases Oppo’s manufacturing line," "shares part of the supply chain," and "shares common investors" with Oppo. This close relationship with Oppo has allowed the company to survive the cutthroat world of launching a new smartphone brand. Consider the companies that have crashed and burned in the US smartphone market around the same time OnePlus was succeeding: products from Amazon, Facebook, Blackberry, EssentialLeEco, and Nextbit are all dead. Huawei and Xiaomi can't get a sustained US presence off the ground, and ZTE's misdeeds in the US have nearly killed the company. Somehow, OnePlus just keeps going.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Study: people tend to cluster into four distinct personality “types”

September 17, 2018 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / Average, Reserved, Role Model, and Self-centered: not everyone falls into these four categories, but you might. (credit: Northwestern University)

People love taking online quizzes; just ask Buzzfeed and Facebook. A new study has sifted through some of the largest online data sets of personality quizzes and identified four distinct "types" therein. The new methodology used for this study—described in detail in a new paper in Nature Human Behavior—is rigorous and replicable, which could help move personality typing analysis out of the dubious self-help section in your local bookstore and into serious scientific journals.

Frankly, personality "type" is not the ideal nomenclature here; personality "clusters" might be more accurate. Paper co-author William Revelle (Northwestern University) bristles a bit at the very notion of distinct personality types, like those espoused by the hugely popular Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Revelle is an adamant "anti-fan" of the Myers-Briggs, and he is not alone. Most scientists who study personality prefer to think of it as a set of continuous dimensions, in which people shift where they fall on the spectrum of various traits as they mature.

What's new here is the identification of four dominant clusters in the overall distribution of traits. Revelle prefers to think of them as "lumps in the batter" and suggests that a good analogy would be how people tend to concentrate in cities in the United States.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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