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TVA board votes to close coal plants despite Trump tweet

Ars Technica - February 15, 2019 - 12:42am

Enlarge / A coal train passes beside two cooling towers during unloading operations at the Tennessee Valley Authority Paradise Fossil Plant in Paradise, Kentucky, on Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2013. (credit: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Thursday, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), a federally owned utility that operates in Tennessee and Kentucky, voted 5 to 2 to close two coal-fired power-generating units by 2023, according to the Chattanooga Times Free Press.

The decision includes closing the last coal-fired unit at the Paradise Fossil Plant by 2020, as well as closing the coal-fired Bull Run Steam Plant by 2023. On Thursday morning, the TVA tweeted: "The TVA Board votes to retire Paradise Unit 3 and Bull Run within the next few years. Their decision was made after extensive reviews and public comments and will ensure continued reliable power at the lowest cost feasible. We will work with impacted employees and communities."

The TVA announced back in August that it would review the viability of the two generators. According to the Times Free Press, the TVA's Chief Financial Officer John Thomas estimated that "the retirement of the two plants will save TVA $320 million, because the plants are the least efficient of TVA's coal plants and are not needed to meet TVA's power needs."

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Airbus Is Giving Up On the A380

Slashdot - February 14, 2019 - 11:45pm
Categories: Geek, Opinion

Tetris 99 isn’t just a great twist on a classic—it’s a gameplay revolution

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 10:49pm

Enlarge / What happens when more people get their hands on Tetris pieces in a single online match? A lot more than you might realize. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

In an interview with Ars Technica last year, Brendan Greene, the game designer best known for PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds (PUBG), offered a throwaway opinion: every genre should have a battle royale mode. It wasn't necessarily the best-received suggestion at the time, as backlash against the battle royale phenomenon had begun, but Greene was in a good position to say it. He'd already struck gold multiple times slapping battle royale into other games as a modder.

Since then, we've mostly seen battle royale options land in PUBG-like shooters, but Wednesday's Nintendo Direct presentation shook everything up with its own surprise launch. Tetris 99, a Nintendo-published game, would launch immediately on Wednesday as a "free" perk, with zero microtransactions, for paying Nintendo Switch Online customers.

Shortly after cataloguing the Direct's firestorm of announcements, I booted up my Nintendo Switch and confirmed two things. First, this was Tetris.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google’s Waymo risks repeating Silicon Valley’s most famous blunder

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 10:10pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images / Waymo)

Everyone in Silicon Valley knows the story of Xerox inventing the modern personal computer in the 1970s and then failing to commercialize it effectively. Yet one of Silicon Valley's most successful companies, Google's Alphabet, appears to be repeating Xerox's mistake with its self-driving car program.

Xerox launched its Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in 1970. By 1975, its researchers had invented a personal computer with a graphical user interface that was almost a decade ahead of its time. Unfortunately, the commercial version of this technology wasn't released until 1981 and proved to be an expensive flop. Two much younger companies—Apple and Microsoft—co-opted many of Xerox's ideas and wound up dominating the industry.

Google's self-driving car program, created in 2009, appears to be on a similar trajectory. By October 2015, Google was confident enough in its technology to put a blind man into one of its cars for a solo ride in Austin, Texas.

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The 2019 Genesis G70—can a good car overcome brand snobbery?

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 9:58pm

It has been fascinating to watch the progression of the Korean car industry—these days all under the umbrella of Hyundai Group—over the past decade. Not too long ago, Kia and Hyundai were known for cheap and potentially unreliable cars that felt a generation behind the competition from Japan. Today, the brands top annual surveys for reliability, and some of their products are among the best in class; we've been particular fans of the Kia Niro hybrids, and the Hyundai Nexo fuel cell EV even made me forget about my hydrogen skepticism while I was driving it.

Perhaps the hardest hill to climb is in the luxury end of the market. At first, Genesis was a name for a particular Hyundai model, but in 2015 a decision was made to set up a new brand of its own. Or, as an SAT question might phrase it, Genesis is to Hyundai as Lexus is to Toyota.

But the luxury market is a tough nut to crack; sales of sedans are in freefall, they tell us, and with these cars, badges matter. Plenty of people want an Audi, BMW, or Mercedes-Benz because it's an Audi, a BMW, or a Mercedes-Benz and because of the way other people perceive those marques.

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NASA emphasizing “speed” in its return to the Moon

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 9:26pm

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine would like the agency to return to the Moon "fast" but sustainably. (credit: NASA)

On Thursday, NASA leaders held an industry day to answer questions about the space agency's plans to develop landers that will ultimately enable a human return to the Moon. Their overriding message to the US aerospace community is that NASA is serious about returning to the Moon, and the agency needs the community's help in order to do so as soon as possible.

"We want to strike a balance between getting to the Moon as fast as possible while also, when we get to the Moon, we're there to stay," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said during a media call before the event. "This is the big vision."

First step

NASA has a two-pronged approach in its return to the Moon. To reach the lunar surface quickly and support the nascent commercial industry interested in exploring there, the agency launched a commercial lunar-payloads program last year. That program meant NASA was offering to buy rides for small scientific payloads to the Moon from nine different providers.

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Amazon cancels New York City campus plan

BBC Technology News - February 14, 2019 - 9:10pm
The internet giant hit local opposition over the roughly $3bn in subsidies it had been promised.

JPMorgan is creating a cryptocurrency pegged to the dollar

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 9:02pm

JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. (credit: Steve Jurvetson)

JPMorgan Chase is developing a new cryptocurrency called JPM Coin whose value will be tied to the US dollar, the bank said on Thursday. The new private blockchain platform is designed to help large JPMorgan clients move money around the world. The new cryptocurrency will be built atop JPMorgan's Quorum blockchain technology, a variant of Ethereum that has been modified to serve the needs of a major financial institution like JPMorgan.

The Ethereum network is public and open to anyone; Quorum is a private blockchain where a network owner can control who has access. All transactions on the Ethereum network are visible to everyone on the network. In contrast, nodes in the Quorum network can create encrypted transactions (and smart contracts) that are only visible to parties to the transaction.

Quorum also jettisons the wasteful proof-of-work algorithm that secures the Ethereum network in favor of a simpler scheme that relies on majority voting among network nodes. Public blockchain networks like Ethereum use proof-of-work algorithms to guard against Sybil attacks, in which someone tries to take over a network by creating a lot of zombie nodes. But Sybil attacks aren't a concern in a permissioned blockchain like Quorum, because each node is tied to a real-world identity that has been vetted by the network owner.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft begins work on its 2020 Windows releases in new preview

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 8:49pm

Enlarge / Windows is now perpetually under construction. (credit: David Holt)

Microsoft has published a new preview release of Windows 10, build 18836, to participants of the "Skip Ahead" group. But it's not quite the preview that they were expecting to get.

Microsoft's preview program has a number of different channels to let people use and test Windows feature updates, Microsoft's twice-yearly Windows 10 upgrades. The two main channels are Fast and Slow; Fast receives builds more regularly, while Slow generally receives only those builds that are felt to be stable. Both channels look ahead to the next feature update. For example, right now, the stable Windows 10 version is 1809. The Fast and Slow channels are receiving previews of version 1903, codenamed 19H1, which is due for release in April.

Skip Ahead is a third channel. Most of the time, Skip Ahead is identical to the Fast channel, but in the last few weeks of each update's development, the two diverged. The Fast ring continues to receive builds of the next feature update; Skip Ahead, well, skips ahead to the update after the next one. As such, one would expect today's Skip Ahead release to be a preview of 19H2, version 1909, due in October. But it isn't; it's skipping ahead not one but two releases, all the way to 20H1, due in April 2020.

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Our favorite psychopath, Villanelle, is back in trailer for Killing Eve S2

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 8:35pm

Villanelle (Jodie Comer) is back for another round of cat and mouse with Eve (Sandra Oh) in Killing Eve season 2 trailer.

Killing Eve topped the list of our favorite TV shows last year, and we've been eagerly awaiting news of a second season. So BBC America gave us a Valentine's Day gift: the first trailer for season 2, picking up right where the first season left off.

(Spoilers for season 1 below.)

Based on Luke Jennings' series of thriller novellas, Codename Villanelle, Killing Eve stars Jodie Comer as Villanelle, a self-described psychopathic killer for hire. Her string of corpses catches the attention of an MI5 (later MI6) officer named Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), who is obsessed with female killers and correctly guesses there is a new player among their ranks. What follows is a sexually charged cat-and-mouse game where it's not entirely clear who is the predator and who is the prey.

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Dealmaster: Take $20 off Red Dead Redemption 2 or Marvel’s Spider-Man

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 8:21pm

Enlarge (credit: TechBargains)

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a pair of deals on high-profile video games that launched toward the end of 2018, as both Red Dead Redemption 2 and Marvel's Spider-Man are currently down to $40. In both cases, that's a 33% discount.

While Spider-Man has hit this price a couple times in the past, this is as cheap as we've seen Red Dead 2 at a major retailer since launch. Note that both deals here apply to the physical copies of the game, so you won't be able to play either immediately upon purchasing, but the savings should make the wait worthwhile.

No video game is objectively great, but for what it's worth, we liked Spider-Man and Red Dead 2 enough to include both in our best games of 2018 list a couple months ago. You should read our reviews for each game for a more in-depth look, but if you want the Dealmaster's ultra-short take: Red Dead 2, while paced a bit slowly and hamstrung by a few of Rockstar's most outdated game conventions, is still as gorgeous, staggeringly detailed, and engrossing as you'd expect from the GTA maker. Spider-Man, meanwhile, is light on narrative substance but as gratifying to play as any action game in recent memory. It's like playing a Marvel movie.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ajit Pai orders phone companies to adopt new anti-robocall tech in 2019

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 8:14pm

Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai at The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research on May 5, 2017 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Chip Somodevilla)

The Federal Communications Commission will consider "regulatory intervention" if major phone companies fail to adopt a new anti-robocall technology this year.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has been pressuring phone companies to implement the "SHAKEN" and "STIR" robocall-blocking protocols, which perform Caller ID authentication. Most major providers have committed to doing so, but Pai issued a warning to laggards yesterday.

"I applaud those companies that have committed to deploy the SHAKEN/STIR framework in 2019," Pai said in his statement yesterday. "This goal should be achievable for every major wireless provider, interconnected VoIP operator, and telephone company—and I expect those lagging behind to make every effort to catch up. If it appears major carriers won't meet the deadline to get this done this year, the FCC will have to consider regulatory intervention."

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LG keeps leaking G8 features; the latest is a vibrating display speaker

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 7:30pm

LG is still making smartphones. The latest is the LG G8, which is expected to debut at Mobile World Congress at the end of the month. It has leaked a lot.

First up is this press image from Evan Blass, which leaves little of the G8 to the imagination. LG's last big smartphone design was the LG G6, which was a return to a normal smartphone after the disastrously modular LG G5. You can draw a straight line from the LG G6 through the G7 to the G8, which looks pretty much identical to the phone LG released two years ago. In a year when many OEMs are switching to a minimal "hole punch" camera cutout, the LG G8 still has a notched camera cutout on the front like the LG G7. In a year when many OEMs are switching to an in-screen fingerprint reader, LG still has a capacitive fingerprint reader on the back. Possibly on the plus-side, at least there's still a headphone jack.

There are a few surprises in the LG G8 design, though. If you notice in the render there's no earpiece on the top of the phone; that's because the phone won't have an earpiece. LG has announced the phone will use the display itself as a speaker diaphragm, a feature LG is calling "Crystal Sound OLED." LG says the feature works by "vibrating the entire surface to produce sound," promising "impressive volume" and "improved clarity" over a normal speaker. LG has put a lot of focus in the loudness and quality of its speakers, and the all-speaker display sounds like another step in this strategy. LG doesn't mention anything about phone calls, though, and I wonder if there is a localized mode that could replicate the privacy of an earpiece for phone calls. The press release makes it sound like you'll only get a speakerphone for phone calls.

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Startup will store energy by forcing compressed air in a defunct zinc mine

Ars Technica - February 14, 2019 - 7:20pm

An energy storage startup called Hydrostor is planning to build an Advanced Compressed Air Energy Storage (A-CAES) project in Australia, using an out-of-operation underground zinc mine as a container for the compressed air.

Hydrostor announced its plans this week after being awarded AUD $9 million (USD $6.4 million) in grants from Australian government institutions.

Compressed air energy storage (CAES) is a sort of physical battery (as opposed to a chemical battery) that uses excess electricity to compress air. The compressed air is stored in a tank, in a balloon, or in an underground cavern. When more electricity is needed, the compressed air is heated, which drives a turbine as it expands.

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