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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 14 min 45 sec ago

The 2019 Volvo S60 is Swedish style at a surprisingly good price

2 hours 29 min ago

Jonathan Gitlin

They say the sedan is dead and that the public only wants crossovers and SUVs now. If true, that's really too bad, because I think we're in something of a golden era for the four-door. At the cheaper end of the market, you can't beat the new Honda Accord. Increase the MSRP a little—cars starting in the mid 30s, say—and it's hard to find a clear winner because we're spoiled for choice. And now that choice is a little harder thanks to this: the new Volvo S60.

This is Volvo's first American-made car, built at a new plant in Charleston, South Carolina. And it's the latest car to use Volvo's Scalable Product Architecture, the toolkit that also gave us the XC60 SUV, plus the bigger S90 sedan, V90 wagon, and XC90 SUV. We've been quite taken with each of the previous SPA Volvos we've tested; they've looked good, felt well-screwed together, and the Sensus infotainment system is better than most. (If you follow those links you can read about all that in greater depth.) As a rule, I prefer smaller vehicles to larger ones and cars to SUVs, so the S60 (and the new V60 wagon you can read about tomorrow) have been the SPA cars I've been waiting for.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Paul Allen—Microsoft co-founder, Seahawks owner, and space pioneer—dies at 65

11 hours 31 min ago

(credit: Miles Harris)

Paul Allen, who with Bill Gates founded Microsoft, has died at the age of 65. His death comes shortly after he resumed treatment for non-Hodgkin's lymphoma; the cancer had returned after being in remission for nine years.

Allen was a Seattle native and went to high school with Gates. The two kept in touch at university—Allen at Washington State, Gates at Harvard—and when Allen dropped out in 1975 to start a company to develop software for the MITS Altair 8800, he soon convinced Gates to follow. That company was Micro-Soft, which shed its hyphen the following year. In 1980, Microsoft was chosen by IBM to develop DOS for its new PC. With the success of the PC and PC compatibles, Microsoft became hugely successful.

Allen had his first run-in with cancer in 1982, when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins lymphoma and drastically cut back his work at the company while recovering. He formally left Microsoft in 1983, but he retained his share of ownership and became a billionaire when the company went public in 1986.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Already facing an uphill misinformation fight, Facebook loses to scammers, too

12 hours 17 min ago

Enlarge / A partial screenshot of one of the scam profiles pushing an adult dating scam on Facebook.

Responding to critics in the US Congress and elsewhere who say Facebook isn’t doing enough to stop the flow of disinformation, the social network in recent days has purged hundreds of accounts it found were designed to sway elections, sow social division, and prop up ruthless governments. The focus has left an opening for scammers who routinely use Facebook to send unsuspecting users to fraudulent dating sites.

Randy Abrams, a senior security analyst at Webroot, told Ars that the account belonging to one of his family members was recently compromised. The people behind the compromise used the hacked account to send Abrams requests to like various accounts, which all showed images of scantily clad women inviting visitors to view videos. Many of the fake profiles had followers and likes in excess of 6,500, an indication the scam has been gaining traction. At the time this post went live, the campaign remained active, even after Ars reported it to the company's PR representatives.

The videos redirected to a variety of sites that invited viewers to meet nearby women who wanted sex. Many of the images on these sites showed nude women and asked visitors to enter credit card numbers to proceed. Clicking the browser's back arrow created an endless series of new sites. The only way to get out of the never-ending loop was to close the tab.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Winamp 6, due out in 2019, aims to whip more llama ass

October 15, 2018 - 9:11pm

Enlarge (credit: Keng Susumpow / Flickr)

Rejoice, llama-whipping fans, a new version of Winamp is set to be released in 2019, according to a Monday report by TechCrunch.

Alexandre Saboundjian, the CEO of Radionomy, said that the upgrade would bring a "complete listening experience."

AudioValley, Radionomy's parent company, did not immediately respond to Ars' request for comment.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The full Photoshop CC is coming to the iPad in 2019

October 15, 2018 - 7:50pm

Adobe is bringing Photoshop CC to the iPad. Set for release next year, Photoshop CC for iPad will bring the full Photoshop engine to Apple's line of tablets.

Photoshop for iPad has a user interface structured similarly to the desktop application. It is immediately familiar to users of the application but tuned for touch screens, with larger targets and adaptations for the tablet as well as gestures to streamline workflows. Both touch and pencil input are supported. The interface is somewhat simpler than the desktop version, and although the same Photoshop code is running under the hood to ensure there's no loss of fidelity, not every feature will be available in the mobile version. The first release will contain the main tools while Adobe plans to add more in the future.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Verizon fiber suffered “unprecedented” damage from Hurricane Michael

October 15, 2018 - 5:40pm

Enlarge / Vehicles sit partially submerged in floodwaters after Hurricane Michael hit in Panama City, Florida, US, on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Nearly 300,000 households were still without home Internet, phone, or TV service yesterday in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, as telcos scramble to repair networks damaged by Hurricane Michael. More than 200,000 of the households without cable or wireline service are in Florida, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Mobile service has also taken a big hit, with outages affecting about 15 percent of cell sites in the 21 Florida counties where the FCC is tracking hurricane-related outages.

Carriers have made progress in reducing those outage numbers the past few days. Nearly 29 percent of tracked cell sites in Florida were out as of October 11, but the outage rate has been nearly cut in half since.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Palm rises from the dead as a zombie brand, launches tiny smartphone

October 15, 2018 - 5:28pm

Palm

Legendary PDA pioneer Palm is back as a zombie brand, and it's launching a tiny smartphone.

If you recall, Palm, creator of the Palm Pilot and WebOS, bombed out of the smartphone market and was purchased by HP. Palm died at HP after a short run of tablets and smartphones, and eventually Chinese smartphone company TCL snatched up the rights to the Palm brand in 2014, and things have been quiet since then. You might know TCL from running that other smartphone zombie brand, Blackberry.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Pixel 3 XL review—Google software deserves better than this hardware

October 15, 2018 - 5:00pm

Ron Amadeo

The Pixel 3 has been one of the wildest product launches in recent memory. The leaks arrived early and continuously, starting with the screen protector leak all the way back in May. This not only gave us the basic outline of the phone, but it provided some extremely accurate renders, too, giving the Internet a look nearly five months before Google intended to ship. The initial response to the design was brutal, but it was too late—the Pixel 3 was already in the late stages of production. From there, leaks continued, and the launch lead-up felt like a slow-motion car crash. Dread it. Run from it. The Pixel 3 design arrives all the same.

It's now year three of Google's hardware initiative, and some product categories are clearly going better than others. The shining example of what Google Hardware should be is probably the Google Home brand. Google built a comprehensive lineup of unique, beautiful, well-performing hardware and paired it with industry-leading software, all at a range of prices that make the ecosystem easy to dive into.

Read 103 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Players are exploiting Black Ops 4 emotes to peek around corners

October 15, 2018 - 4:32pm

Enlarge / In first-person view, you're staring at a wall. With the third-person emote camera, you can see what's coming around that corner. (credit: Twitter / GameSkinny)

The first-person perspective in shooters usually brings an inherent kind of balance to the constant battle for cover—if you peek your head out to see an opponent, they'll be able to see you as well. Over the weekend, though, Black Ops 4 players found the game's new gesture system had the unintended side effect of breaking this balance, letting players easily and safely see around cover from a third-person perspective.

When you perform a Fortnite-style gesture in Black Ops 4, the camera instantly zooms out to a third-person view with full, free-look control of the camera. The intent is for players to enjoy their own animations from any angle. But the new viewpoint also allows for illicit and completely protected peeking around walls and corners, as can be seen in multiple video and photo examples that have been posted online since the game's launch.

Developer Treyarch is wasting no time in addressing player concerns over the apparently unintended unbalancing. In a statement posted to Reddit Saturday, the company wrote that it is working on an update that will remove the free-look third-person camera from the "competitive" portions of the game.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A roadmap to agriculture that’s sustainable and climate-neutral

October 15, 2018 - 4:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Julie Doll, MSU/NSF KBS LTER Site)

The climate crises humanity is producing due to our profligate burning of fossil fuels is happening in the face of mounting evidence that said burning was very, very bad for the Earth. Some of the problems are now officially going to come even sooner than anticipated. If we want to have a hope of even mitigating these problems, we must change our habits, preferably yesterday.

While burning fossil fuels is a huge part of the problem, food production is also a primary driver of climate change. It is responsible for about 25 to 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Beyond that it also depletes groundwater, converts carbon-sequestering forest and jungle into cropland, and dumps excess nitrogen and phosphorous into soil, water, and air. Under business-as-usual scenarios, these effects will probably at least double by 2050 since the global population is slated to increase by about a third, and the income of the global population is also slated to increase—all of those new and newly rich(er) people are likely going to want to eat and eat well.

At that point, the environmental effects of food production will be “beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity.”

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Barley shortages from climate change could mean less beer worldwide

October 15, 2018 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / Barley grain used in the production of beer at the Asahi Kanagawa Brewery in Japan. (credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

There's nothing quite like putting your feet up after a long, hot summer day and enjoying a refreshing cold brew if you're a beer lover. But a warming climate could give rise to global barley shortages, with a resulting shortage of beer. That's the conclusion of a new study just published in Nature Plants.

Beer brewers account for roughly 17 percent of the barley consumption worldwide, although it varies from region to region, with the vast majority of crops harvested as feed for livestock. If barley becomes too scarce, more of it will be funneled to livestock, since beer is technically a luxury good. The shortage of barley will give rise to steep price hikes and corresponding decreases in global consumption. While the most affluent beer lovers will still be able to indulge in a pint or two, "Future climate and pricing conditions could put beer out of reach for hundreds of millions of people around the world," says study co-author Steven Davis of the University of California, Irvine.

Davis himself is a beer aficionado and home brewer, who frequently travels to China for research collaborations. During one such trip a couple of years ago, he spoke with a scientist at the Chinese Agricultural Academy of Sciences, who was studying the global supply of beer. (China is currently the largest consumer of beer and thus would be hit hard by a severe barley shortage.) They decided to collaborate on a study investigating the impact of climate change on beer, partnering with other researchers in the United Kingdom and Mexico.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

1,000mph land speed record project now in doubt due to funding woe

October 15, 2018 - 4:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Stefan Marjoram)

There's sad news from the UK this morning, and it doesn't even involve Brexit. (Actually, it does, sort of.) Bloodhound SSC, the land speed record car that's been designed to break the 1,000mph limit, has entered administration (a process similar to bankruptcy in the US). This isn't the final outcome for the project, but Bloodhound SSC does need to raise about $33 million (£25 million) in order to see things through to completion. And as if fate were not cruel enough, the announcement comes 21 years and a day after the last successful land speed record attempt, one that involved many of the same people.

Setting a new land speed record is no easy task. First, you have to build a wheeled vehicle capable of the speed required. In this case it's a single-seat machine, powered by a one-two combo of jet engine (a Rolls-Royce EJ200) and rocket (a hybrid solid fuel/liquid oxidizer design from Nammo).

But even once you have your vehicle working, you need somewhere suitable to run it. A successful land speed record requires timed runs over a one-mile distance, run in both directions within one hour, so even a really long runway is only good if you want to test the first 20 percent of the speed range.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dell’s newest monitor is a 49-inch, dual QHD, curved behemoth

October 15, 2018 - 2:00pm

Valentina Palladino

Ultra-wide monitors are overwhelming yet impressive to behold, and Dell thinks it has made one that will appeal to all types of professionals. The new U4919DW UltraSharp 49-inch curved monitor nods to the massive gaming monitors made by Samsung, MSI, and others, but it adds a workplace spin while upping the resolution to QHD.

Dell describes the U4919DW as the equivalent of two 27-inch monitors stuck together, and its dual mode cements that comparison. Users can fill the entire screen with their desired programs, or they can split it down the middle so the display literally looks like a beast with two heads—two different screens sitting side by side on a single stand.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

All the dumb things? UFO project has $37 million deficit [Updated]

October 15, 2018 - 1:50pm

Enlarge / Tom DeLonge with one of his new novels about "The Phenomenon." (credit: Brandon Williams/Getty Images)

A couple of years ago, I received a review copy of a book titled Sekret Machines: Gods, which was billed as an "investigation of the UFO phenomenon." The lead author was Tom DeLonge, a founder of the rock band Blink 182 and its former long-time lead singer.

I'd been a fan of the irreverent band in my younger days, and my now-wife and I had attended a few concerts and enjoyed ourselves. It was difficult for me to imagine that the former lead singer of a band with an album titled Take Off Your Pants and Jacket had engaged in any kind of serious scholarship or research. Queen guitarist Brian May, however, went on to earn a PhD in astrophysics, so you never know.

I made it about half way through the book before I gave up. The authors, DeLonge and Peter Levenda, spent most of the pages I slogged through cherry-picking ancient cultures and religion to find curious or unexplained things. Then, they attribute these experiences to mysterious alien influences.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Fixed mindsets” might be why we don’t understand statistics

October 14, 2018 - 4:30pm

Enlarge / The wrongful conviction of Sally Clark for the murder of her two sons is a famous case of misuse of statistics in the courts. (credit: Chris Young, PA Images/Getty Images)

In 1999, an English solicitor named Sally Clark went on trial for the murder of her two infant sons. She claimed both succumbed to sudden infant death syndrome. An expert witness for the prosecution, Sir Roy Meadow, argued that the odds of SIDS claiming two children from such an affluent family were 1 in 73 million, likening it to the odds of backing an 80-1 horse in the Grand National four years in a row and winning every time. The jury convicted Clark to life in prison.

But the Royal Statistical Society issued a statement after the verdict insisting that Meadow had erred in his calculation and that there was "no statistical basis" for his stated figure. Clark's conviction was overturned on appeal in January 2003, and the case has become a canonical example of the consequences of flawed statistical reasoning.

A new study in Frontiers in Psychology examined why people struggle so much to solve statistical problems, particularly why we show a marked preference for complicated solutions over simpler, more intuitive ones. Chalk it up to our resistance to change. The study concluded that fixed mindsets are to blame: we tend to stick with the familiar methods we learned in school, blinding us to the existence of a simpler solution.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New Jersey wants to know why Florida is exempt from Trump’s offshore drilling plans

October 14, 2018 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / Oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico. There are nearly 5,000 functioning oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico and 27,000 abandoned wells. (credit: Dave Walsh/VW Pics/UIG via Getty Images)

This week, New Jersey's attorney general sued the US Department of the Interior (DOI) for failing to comply with a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking more information about why the DOI exempted Florida from offshore oil drilling lease auctions but not any other state.

The drama started earlier this year when Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke moved to open more than 90 percent of federal offshore land to lease by oil and gas companies for oil drilling. State waters extend three miles offshore, at which point federal control over the waters and sea bed underneath it begin. This means that states don't always have a lot of control over whether there's an oil drilling rig 3.1 miles offshore and beyond.

But some states contend that they should have more say in whether the federal government leases out its waters to offshore oil drilling because the states bear the economic brunt of any oil spills that happen. (The Deepwater Horizon rig, for example, was 41 miles off the coast of Louisiana.) For that reason, Democratic and Republican governors alike, from 10 of the states near newly opened federal waters, have opposed the Trump administration's efforts to open up their offshore areas.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Luxury on a budget: The Lexus NX 300h hybrid reviewed

October 14, 2018 - 3:00pm

In 2005, Lexus became the first luxury carmaker to deliver a hybrid to market. The RX 400h was an all-wheel drive 3.3-liter V6 with a pair of electric motors, one for each set of wheels. Lexus had the luxury hybrid market to itself for several years, so if you wanted a luxury ride with a side of green, it was the only game in town. At the cusp of the 2019 model year, however, there are now plenty of options to choose from—including some promising EVs from the likes of Jaguar and Audi. But Lexus—the second-most-popular luxury badge in the US—is still in the game, with five models at different price points.

Starting at $38,535, the NX 300h sits at the low end of the luxury-SUV price spectrum. Marketed by Lexus as a compact SUV, the NX 300h measures 182.3" (4,632cm), which is just a couple of inches shorter than an Audi Q5, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, or BMW X3. The NX 300h got a makeover at the beginning of 2018, adding a larger infotainment display, enhanced safety features, modest design tweaks, and a larger touchpad on the center console. While the NX 300 (formerly the NX200t) has a 2.0-liter inline four-cylinder engine, the NX 300h has a larger 2.5-liter inline four coupled with a pair of electric motors that charge via the internal combustion engine and regenerative braking. Combined, the hybrid power plant is capable of 194hp (144.7kW) and 152lb-ft (206.1Nm) of torque. It's no speed demon, getting you from zero to 60mph in 9.1 seconds.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Laika: Forget historic tragedy, this first space dog saves alien planets

October 14, 2018 - 2:00pm

Trailer for Laika


The story of Laika—the first pup launched into space—has been documented everywhere from Ars Technica to Arcade Fire songs. This decidedly tragic tale starts with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev wanting to press his country's perceived space advantage over the United States after the USSR's Sputnik had beaten US efforts into the heavens back in October 1957.

"We never thought that you would launch a Sputnik before the Americans," Khrushchev told famed rocket guru Sergei Korolev, according to cosmonaut Georgy Grechko. "But you did it. Now please launch something new in space for the next anniversary of our revolution."

That "something" would be a female dog named Laika. And Soviet space leaders had just one month to get this effort together. Picked off Moscow streets and sent into the lab then the skies, Laika's contribution to space history would be largely symbolic. Her capsule contained a temperature-control system and some dog food, but the Soviets must've always viewed this as a one-way, suicide mission—no one had yet solved the problem of how to safely return a spacecraft through Earth's atmosphere, after all. Within a couple of hours after launch, the thermal control system failed and the capsule overheated. Humanity's first attempt to send a living creature into space ended, well, not great.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fifth-century child’s skeleton shows evidence of “vampire burial”

October 13, 2018 - 8:25pm

Enlarge / Archaeologists excavated the skeleton from a fifth-century cemetery in the Umbria region of Italy. (credit: David Picked/Stanford University)

Archaeologists have discovered the skeleton of a 10-year-old child at an ancient Roman site in Italy with a rock carefully placed in its mouth. This suggests those who buried the child—who probably died of malaria during a deadly fifth century outbreak—feared it might rise from the dead and spread the disease to those who survived. Locals are calling it the "Vampire of Lugnano."

"This is a very unusual mortuary treatment that you see in various forms in different cultures, especially in the Roman world," says Jordan Wilson, a graduate student in bio-archaeology at the University of Arizona who studied the remains. He added that this could "indicate a fear that this person might come back from the dead and try to spread disease to the living."

Pretty much every culture on Earth has some version of a vampire (or proto-vampire) myth. Chinese folklore has the Jiang shi, [corrected] which are reanimated corpses that rise from the grave to prey on the living; one type has sharp fangs, the better to bite into the neck of said prey. Russian, Albanian, Indian, and Greek folklore have similar undead monsters. Russian villagers in the Middle Ages often drove stakes into the bodies of suspected vampires upon burial to keep them from rising again.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

What developers say Apple needs to do to make the Apple TV a gaming console

October 13, 2018 - 6:26pm

Enlarge / The Apple TV 4K and remote. (credit: Samuel Axon)

As we observed in our review last year, the Apple TV 4K has so much potential for gaming. Its hardware is actually pretty powerful given the type of device it is. It shares development tools and infrastructure with one of the most successful gaming marketplaces in the world—the iPhone and iPad App Store. But a recent announcement shows that, instead of thriving as a gaming platform, Apple TV is struggling.

Last month, users who logged in to the Apple TV version of Minecraft were greeted with a message telling them that the game's support for the Apple TV would end. Minecraft is one of the most popular video games, and its particular resonance with families and its relatively undemanding hardware requirements made it seem like a natural fit for the platform.

Unfortunately, that fit was not to be. This is the message users saw:

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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