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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 59 min 46 sec ago

No exomoons yet, but we may have spotted a disk that will form them

1 hour 6 min ago

Enlarge / There's a lot going on near a young star with at least two planets forming around it.

Up until the last few decades, our picture of what might reside around distant stars was shaped entirely by the planets, moons, asteroids, and other bodies in our own Solar System. But the discovery of thousands of exoplanets has dramatically improved our picture of what's out there in terms of large bodies. Comets and asteroids, in contrast, are well below our ability to image for the indefinite future.

Moons, however, are awkwardly in between. It should be possible to image them indirectly, as their gravitational influence will alter the timing with which their planets orbit the star. And we might get a more direct indication of their presence as they will sometimes add to the shadow cast as transiting planets pass in front of their host star. We've searched for these effects, but they'll be subtle, so it could be that it will take years of observations for them to rise above the noise.

But now scientists are suggesting that we've observed an exomoon in the making. By looking at some planets forming around a young star, they think they've spotted a disk around one of the planets that may ultimately condense into moons. And, as a bonus, they found an odd, diffuse structure that they can't explain around a second planet.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Minecraft Earth’s closed beta: This augmented reality needs more augmenting

1 hour 13 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Mojang / Microsoft)

When Microsoft acquired Mojang, the maker of Minecraft, in 2014, we all feared the worst: a zillion cash-in video games. Turns out, Microsoft has been really smart about its Minecraft output in the past five years. Only one Minecraft-related game has launched since then (2015's solid Minecraft Story Mode), and 2020's Minecraft Dungeons felt ridiculously good to play at this year's E3. (Plus, Mojang has been allowed to keep polishing the original game on every console and smartphone in the world, instead of turning into an Xbox-only studio. Whew.)

Thus, it wasn't necessarily inevitable that Minecraft would get a clone to compete with every major gaming genre (no Super Steve Bros., no Minecraft Kart Racers). That got our hopes up for Minecraft Earth, Microsoft's first salvo in the "augmented reality on phones" war, which was unveiled in May of this year. It sure seemed like a clever move: take Minecraft's go-anywhere, punch-any-tree, build-anything philosophy, then dump it into the real world à la Pokemon Go.

After five days with the game's closed beta (which launched seconds ago as a closed, invite-only beta in the Seattle area), I must report that the game's early version is missing the series' magic—and Mojang is going to need to put some more pixelated blocks into place before calling this one a victory.

Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla cuts prices and simplifies its product line

2 hours 44 min ago

Enlarge / A Model 3 at a Tesla showroom on March 1, 2019 in California. (credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Tesla implemented across-the-board price cuts for its vehicles on Monday, making most versions of the Model S, Model X, and Model 3 more affordable. At the same time, Tesla eliminated the most affordable versions of the Model S and Model X, called Standard Range, from its product lineup.

The price of the Long Range Model S (now the cheapest Model S) dropped from $85,000 to $79,990. The Standard Range Model S cost $75,000 before it was discontinued.

The price of the high-end Model S Performance model actually increased from $96,000 to $99,990. However, that reflects the fact that "Ludicrous Mode" is now included as a standard feature for the Performance model. Previously, "Ludicrous Mode" was a $20,000 upgrade on top of the Performance model's $96,000 base price.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: The best Prime Day tech deals from retailers besides Amazon

3 hours 53 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! Tuesday marks day two of Amazon Prime Day 2019, and the Dealmaster is still highlighting and compiling the better offers from that sales event in a separate jumbo-sized roundup. Today, though, we wanted to cater to those who want nothing to do with Amazon, the cost of a Prime membership, or made-up holidays, but would still like to get a good price on some gear before the holidays.

To that end, the Dealmaster has done his usual thing and rounded up the best tech deals of the day from non-Amazon retailers. Walmart, Best Buy, Newegg, Lenovo, and various other shops have all put out their own sales promotions to stem the tide of shoppers heading toward Amazon.

While the collective selection isn't quite as robust what's out there for Prime Day, to be frank, there's still a fair amount of noteworthy discounts to be had, including new lows for Google devices, Instant Pots, Samsung Galaxy phones, and the like. In some cases, the offers match the offers running on Amazon, meaning you can get the same discount without having to sign up for a month of Prime. You can take a look at our full list on "non-Prime Day" deals below.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

American kids would much rather be YouTubers than astronauts

4 hours 42 min ago

Enlarge / A team of 10 designers and LEGO "Master Builders" spent nearly 300 hours designing and building a life-size LEGO model of Aldrin in his iconic pose on the lunar surface. (credit: LEGO)

Exactly 50 years ago today, a Saturn V rocket launched from Kennedy Space Center carrying Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins to the Moon. Four days later, Armstrong and Aldrin would land on the Moon and inspire a generation of young people to become scientists, engineers, and mathematicians.

The Apollo program's effect of inspiring America's children to pursue careers in STEM fields is one of the most powerful lasting legacies of the Moon race. Unfortunately, this effect seems to be coming to an end.

On the eve of the Apollo 11 anniversary, LEGO asked The Harris Poll to survey a total of 3,000 children in the United States, China, and the United Kingdom about their attitudes toward and knowledge of space. The results reveal that, at least for Western countries, kids today are more interested in YouTube than spaceflight.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Measles is killing more people in the DRC than Ebola—and faster

18 hours 48 min ago

Enlarge / A man receives a vaccine against Ebola from a nurse outside the Afia Himbi Health Center on July 15, 2019 in Goma. (credit: Getty | PAMELA TULIZO )

As the world anxiously monitors the outbreak of Ebola in Democratic Republic of the Congo, health officials note that a measles outbreak declared last month in the country has killed more people—mostly children—and faster.

Since January 2019, officials have recorded over 100,000 measles cases in the DRC, mostly in children, and nearly 2,000 have died. The figures surpass those of the latest Ebola outbreak in the country, which has tallied not quite 2,500 cases and 1,665 deaths since August 2018. The totals were noted by World Health Organization Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, in a speech today, July 15, at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland.

"Frankly, I am embarrassed to talk only about Ebola," Dr. Tedros said (he goes by his first name). He gave the speech in response to two new developments in the Ebola outbreak. That is that two Ebola responders were murdered in their home in the DRC city of Beni and that officials on Sunday had identified the first case of Ebola in Goma, a DRC city of over one million at the border with Rwanda.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX nears completion of Dragon investigation, has a “good path forward”

19 hours 49 min ago

Enlarge / A 2018 view of the clean room where the spacecraft for the first crewed Dragon mission was nearing completion. It will now be used for an In-Flight Abort test instead. (credit: Eric Berger)

On Monday, officials from SpaceX and NASA provided an update on the investigation of an anomaly that occurred in April, which destroyed a Crew Dragon spacecraft. Generally, they were upbeat with their assessment: "I'm pretty optimistic right now, because we have a good path forward," said Hans Koenigsmann, SpaceX's vice president of mission assurance.

After nearly three months of work—which has included the collection of debris from the ground-based incident, assessing large volumes of data, and a series of tests at SpaceX's rocket development facility in McGregor, Texas—the company is about 80% complete with its analysis, Koenigsmann said. He characterized the findings discussed Monday as "preliminary."

The accident occurred during tests of the Crew Dragon's thruster systems in Florida. The capsule has "Draco" thrusters used to maneuver in space as well as powerful "SuperDracos." They would fire in the event of an emergency with the rocket to pull the crew safely away during a launch. Specifically, the April 20 anomaly occurred during the activation phase of the SuperDraco thruster system, when it is pressurized and valves are opened and closed.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ajit Pai’s new gift to cable companies would kill local fees and rules

July 15, 2019 - 9:24pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai speaking at a press conference on October 1, 2018, in Washington DC. (credit: Getty Images | Mark Wilson )

Ajit Pai is continuing his multi-year battle against local broadband regulation with a plan that would stop cities and towns from using their authority over cable TV networks to regulate Internet access.

Chairman Pai's proposal, scheduled for a vote at the Federal Communications Commission's August 1 meeting, would also limit the fees that municipalities can charge cable companies. Cable industry lobbyists have urged the FCC to stop cities and towns from assessing fees on the revenue cable companies make from broadband.

If approved, Pai's proposal would "Prohibit LFAs [local franchising authorities] from using their video franchising authority to regulate most non-cable services, including broadband Internet service, offered over cable systems by incumbent cable operators." Pai's proposal complains that "some states and localities are purporting to assert authority" to collect fees and impose requirements that aren't explicitly allowed by Title VI, the cable-regulation section that Congress added to communications law with the Cable Act of 1984.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Twitter is changing Twitter.com to be more like mobile app

July 15, 2019 - 8:26pm

 

 

In a blog post today, Twitter announced the rollout of a new version of the Twitter.com website that revamps the Web interface to bring it more in line with the design and functionality of the mobile client application. The redesign is focused on unifying Twitter's code base across platforms and simplifying the deployment of new features.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Lawrence of Arabia takes on Rasputin in first trailer for The King’s Man

July 15, 2019 - 7:41pm

Ralph Fiennes plays T.E. Lawrence, who forms a fledgling spy agency in The King's Man, 20th Century Fox's prequel to the popular Kingsman film series.

Lawrence of Arabia is setting up an independent intelligence agency to take down Grigori Rasputin and Mata Hari, among others, in the first trailer for The King's Man. Even though it's Director Matthew Vaughan's prequel to his popular Kingsman franchise, the trailer is conspicuously lacking in the dark humor that made its predecessors so broadly appealing. But there's enough hyper-stylized action sequences to assure us that, stylistically, this will be very much a Kingsman movie.

(Spoilers for first two Kingsman films below.)

The Kingsman franchise is based on the Marvel comic series The Secret Service by Mark Millar and Dave Gibbons, which spawned two very successful action/comedy spy films. In the first film, Eggsy (Taron Egerton), the young son of a deceased Kingsman agent, is recruited to follow in his father's footsteps by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), aka Galahad. (All the Kingsman agents take on the monikers of the Knights of the Round Table.)

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Italian police raid of neo-fascist militants finds air-to-air missile [Updated]

July 15, 2019 - 6:52pm

Enlarge / Hmm, what's this doing there? (credit: Italian General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS))

A neo-Nazi group in northern Italy had sent members to allegedly fight alongside Russia-backed separatists in the Donbass region of Ukraine. Apparently, the group brought some things back from their adventures—including a French-made air-to-air missile that somehow found its way from Qatar into the home of a neo-fascist extremist.

The missile and an assortment of other weapons were discovered in the latest of a series of raids by Italian federal police from the General Investigations and Special Operations Division (DIGOS). The raids are part of an ongoing investigation into the Forza Nuova political party and Rebel Firm extremist groups that had fought in the Donbass region.

Other raids had turned up pro-Nazi and pro-fascist propaganda and relics alongside caches of knives and other illegal weapons—including brass knuckles, and a baseball bat inscribed with the words "Dux Mussolini" (Leader Mussolini) and a portrait of Italian Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. The groups were also being investigated under Italy's anti-fascist laws, following pro-fascist comments by Forza Nuova's leader in Turin, Luigi Cortese. But in a raid today in the province of Pavia, south of Milan, police discovered a collection of modern automatic weapons—including nine assault rifles, a submachine gun, seven pistols, silencers, bayonets, and other military weapons.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Office 365 declared illegal in German schools due to privacy risks

July 15, 2019 - 5:58pm

Enlarge / Germany's government continues its history of principled Microsoft opposition. (credit: Flickr user fdecomite)

Last week, the German state of Hesse declared that its schools may not legally use the Office 365 cloud product. Hesse is one of the sixteen federal states of Germany, with a population of roughly six million (of roughly 83 million Germans). Although the press release specifically targets Office 365, it notes that competing Apple and Google cloud suites also do not satisfy German privacy regulations for use in schools.

This isn't the first time part of Germany has publicly broken up with Microsoft Office; some German cities including Munich and Freiburg famously ditched Microsoft Office applications in favor of OpenOffice in the early 2000s. Those open source adoption programs have had a notoriously rough ride, plagued with interoperability issues—just because one town changes its office applications doesn't mean its neighboring towns, parent state, or even its own citizens have. The municipalities have also been targeted heavily with lobbying from Microsoft itself, up to and including Steve Ballmer (then Microsoft's CEO) interrupting a ski vacation to fly to Munich to try to cut a pro-Microsoft deal in person.

However, the early-2000s attempts to break free of Microsoft were a function of choice. This time around, the Hessian commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information (HBDI) isn't just saying that schools would prefer not to use Microsoft, he's stating that their use of Office 365 is outright illegal. In August 2017, the HBDI ruled that Office 365 could legally be used by schools so long as the back end for the school accounts was stored in Microsoft's German-located cloud. A year later, Microsoft closed its German cloud datacenter, and schools migrated their accounts to the European cloud. Now, the HBDI states that the European cloud may offer access to US authorities; with no way for the German government to monitor such access; this makes use of that cloud illegal without specific consent being granted by its individual users.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Why is there no smoking in Gears 5? It depends on who you ask

July 15, 2019 - 5:38pm

Enlarge / Don't expect any more cigar-chomping characters to show up in the Gears games going forward.

The upcoming Gears 5 will not feature any on-screen depictions or references to smoking, according to the developers at The Coalition. But the precise sequence of events leading to that decision is apparently up for some debate.

The smoke-free story gained attention over the weekend with a report in Variety that linked the decision to a pressure campaign from the anti-smoking advocates at the Truth Initiative. According to Variety, The Coalition decided to remove the smoking references after Truth reached out to Turner Broadcasting, which featured Gears 5 as part of an invitational tournament filmed during its ELeague esports over the weekend.

That sequence seems plausible, especially considering that Truth is a presenting sponsor of the tournament, which is officially titled "Eleague Gears Summer Series Invitational powered by Truth." And Truth has a long history of pressuring media companies to remove smoking references from their products, a move that recently led to changes in Netflix's youth-focused programming.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Flay your mind: Stranger Things S3 just might be the show’s best season yet

July 15, 2019 - 5:02pm

Enlarge / Eleven (Millie Bobby Brown) and the gang are back to face down yet another supernatural threat to Hawkins, Indiana, in the third season of Stranger Things. (credit: YouTube/Netflix)

Warning: This story contains spoilers for episodes 5-8 of Stranger Things' third season, following up on Nathan Matisse's slightly spoiler-y review of episodes 1-4. You can read our non-spoiler preview of the new season here, or catch up on what's come before with past Ars stories on season one and season two.

Everyone's favorite teen sleuthing squad is back, taking on Russian operatives, local corruption, and the latest supernatural evil to emerge from the Upside Down in the third season of Netflix's Stranger Things. Anyone who feared the series might be losing its luster, three years on, should rest easy: season three is just as good as the first—in some respects, even better.

The first season was set in November 1983, when an accident at a secret government lab opened an inter-dimensional portal and unleashed a supernatural threat from a different dimension onto the unsuspecting town of Hawkins, Indiana, in the form of a creature dubbed the Demogorgon. The source of that accident? A young girl with psychokinetic powers, known only as Eleven (Milly Bobby Brown). She escaped the lab and was befriended by a group of preteens whose friend Will (Noah Schnapp) mysteriously disappeared into an alternate dimension dubbed the Upside Down. They teamed up to find Will and defeat the monster that took him.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Snapdragon 855 is getting an upgrade to the Snapdragon 855+

July 15, 2019 - 3:56pm

Enlarge

Today Qualcomm announced a mid-cycle upgrade for the Snapdragon 855, called the "Snapdragon 855+." As a mid-cycle upgrade, there aren't huge changes here. It's still an eight-core, 7nm SoC, but the CPU and GPU are a bit faster thanks to higher clock speeds.

First up: the CPU, which sees the 855's "Prime" core clock speed get bumped from 2.84GHz to 2.96GHz in the Plus version. Remember the 855's "Prime" core layout was a bit of a new thing for Qualcomm. It was typical to split the eight CPU cores up into two sets of four cores. The "Big" core set got a more advanced core design and a higher clock rate for the heavy workloads, while a "little" set of cores had slower, more power-efficient cores for smaller workloads. The 855 took that bigger core set and pumped a single core up to a "Prime" core, so you had one Cortex A76-based core at 2.84GHz, three A76-based cores at 2.42GHz, and four 1.8GHz Cortex A55-based cores for the smaller cluster. The new "Prime" core clock speed means that only the single main core is faster.

As for the faster Adreno 640 GPU, Qualcomm's press release promises "15 percent faster graphics rendering" and offers no technical details. We're going to assume that means the 585MHz clock rate from the Snapdragon 855 is now somewhere around 673MHz.

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Ars is hiring a technology reporter

July 15, 2019 - 2:05pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

Ars Technica seeks a Technology Reporter with deep expertise in GPUs, CPUs, systems architecture, storage innovations, networking, and other consumer-focused hardware.

The Technology Reporter will report to the Senior Reviews Editor and will produce daily content including informed news and analysis—plus regular long-form reviews with an emphasis on benchmarks and testing as well as the analysis Ars Technica is known for.

We are looking for a strong writer who can not only grok the business that drives today’s technological innovations but who can also write clean and compelling prose accessible to readers from a wide variety of technical backgrounds.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

There’s a slight problem with Russia’s proposed Federation spacecraft

July 15, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / A mock-up of the next-generation manned spacecraft Federation (Federatsia, Federatsiya) at the offices of Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation in 2017. (credit: Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images)

It has been more than half a century since Russia developed its last new spacecraft for carrying humans into orbit—the venerable Soyuz capsule, which still flies both Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts into orbit today. However, over the last decade, the Russian space program has been designing and developing a new vehicle, named Federation.

Like NASA's own Orion spacecraft, the Federation capsule has been beset by delays and cost overruns for more than a decade's worth of development. But when it flies, possibly as early as 2022 aboard a Soyuz-5 rocket for a test flight, Federation would be the rare human vehicle designed to fly beyond low-Earth orbit.

However, Russian sources are reporting a problem with the vehicle's launch escape system. Federation will lift off from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in far eastern Russia, located within about 600km of the Pacific Ocean. Under certain scenarios, during which Federation's launch abort system would pull it away from the rocket during an emergency, Federation could splash down in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

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Dealmaster: All the best Amazon Prime Day 2019 tech deals we can find

July 15, 2019 - 12:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! Your friendly neighborhood Dealmaster is back and reporting for bargain-hunting duty—and boy, is he going to need some extra coffee. That's because today marks the start of Amazon Prime Day 2019, the increasingly misnamed sales event that sees the nation's largest online retailer discount products beyond number to Black Friday-level prices midsummer. This year's Prime Day lasts 48 hours, from July 15-16, because time is a social construct and trillion-dollar companies can pretty much do whatever they want.

Before we dig in to our deals roundup, a disclaimer: as is often the case with big sales events like this, most of this year's Prime Day deals aren't really deals at all. Amazon will promote thousands of "discounts" over the next two days, but with that much volume, the majority of those offers will naturally have less-than-special prices or apply to less-than-desirable products.

Many "deal prices" are relative to MSRPs that products have not sold at for months, for instance, and some companies artificially raise product prices before the event starts. (As always, price checker sites are a handy tool for verifying good deals.) Prime Day is not a "holiday" for Amazon Prime users—the only people who can take part in the event—so much as a multibillion-dollar business for a retailer looking to gin up sales during a typically slow shopping period. It's also a way for Amazon to convert more shoppers into Prime members, who are estimated to spend twice as much on the site than non-Prime users.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Amazon discounts almost its entire product lineup for Prime Day 2019

July 14, 2019 - 8:41pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Prime Day is nearly upon us, and Amazon has already pushed out a bunch of deals on its own devices. Like Prime Days past, Amazon has discounted most of its devices and services in the hopes that more people will take the plunge and try Echo speakers or other Alexa-enabled devices, Kindle e-readers, Fire TV devices, and more. As with all Prime Day deals, the discounts are only available to members of Amazon’s Prime service.

Fire TVs

Speaking of Fire TVs, Amazon has heavily discounted many of those streaming devices, including the Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV Stick 4K. For Prime Day, the Fire TV Stick with an Alexa Remote for $14.99 (down from $39.99) or a Fire TV Stick 4K with an Alexa Remote for $24.99 (down from $49.99). Fire TV Sticks are the most affordable Alexa-enabled streaming devices from Amazon, but these Prime Day prices are both new lows for the respective devices.

The most obvious difference between the two is video resolution: the Fire TV Stick has a max resolution of 1080p, while the Fire TV Stick 4K supports 4K video as well as HDR10 and Dolby Vision technology. The Fire TV Stick 4K also has an updated quad-core processor so it will have noticeably faster and smoother performance when compared to older Fire TV devices. Otherwise, both streaming sticks have 8GB of RAM, 802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi, and Alexa voice command support via the included remote.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Alternative theory of gravity makes a nearly testable prediction

July 14, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Galaxy clusters generated by the Universe simulator IllustrisTNG. (credit: TNG Collaboration)

From our current perspective, the Universe seems to be dominated by two things we find frustratingly difficult to understand. One of these is dark matter, which describes the fact that everything from galaxies on up behaves as if it has more mass than we can detect. While that has spawned extensive searches for particles that could account for the visual discrepancy, it has also triggered the development of alternative theories of gravity, ones that can replace relativity while accounting for the discrepancies in apparent mass.

So far, these proposals have fallen well short of replacing general relativity. And they say nothing about the other big mystery, dark energy, which appears to be accelerating the expansion of the Universe. Instead, researchers have developed an entirely separate class of theories that could modify gravity in a way that eliminates the need for dark energy. Now, researchers have run simulations of galaxy and star formation using this alternative version of physics, and they found we might be on the cusp of testing some of them.

Gravitational alternatives

General relativity explains a broad range of phenomena, and it works well to describe the Universe as a whole, provided dark matter and dark energy exist as separate entities. Any alternatives to gravity have to account for everything that's explained by general relativity while also accounting for the additional effects of at least one of these two dark forces. A class of theories, collectively termed MOND (for Modified Newtonian Dynamics), is intended to do away with dark matter, but it struggles to account for things relativity handles with ease.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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