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Study finds ultimate fate of Leidenfrost droplets depends on their size

Ars Technica - May 12, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / A new study shows the ultimate fate of Leidenfrost droplets, liquid drops that levitate above very hot surfaces. Larger drops explode violently with an audible crack. Smaller ones simple shrink and fly away. (credit: Lyu/Mathai)

In 1756, a German scientist named Johann Gottlob Leidenfrost reported his observation of an unusual phenomenon. Normally, water splashed onto a very hot pan sizzles and evaporates very quickly. But if the pan's temperature is well above water's boiling point, "gleaming drops resembling quicksilver" will form and will skitter across the surface. It's known as the "Leidenfrost effect" in his honor.

In the ensuing 250 years, physicists came up with a viable explanation for why this occurs. If the surface is at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit (well above the boiling point of water), cushions of water vapor, or steam, form underneath them, keeping them levitated. The Leidenfrost effect also works with other liquids, including oils and alcohol, but the temperature at which it manifests will be different. In a 2009 Mythbusters episode, for instance, the hosts demonstrated how someone could wet their hand and dip it ever so briefly into molten lead without injury, thanks to this effect.

But nobody had been able to identify the source of the accompanying cracking sound Leidenfrost reported. Now, an international team of scientists has filled in that last remaining gap in our knowledge with a recent paper by Mathai et al. in Science Advances.

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Ubuntu 19.04: The Disco Dingo arrives and will really make your IT dept. happy

Ars Technica - May 12, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Behold, the default desktop for the latest Canonical release: Ubuntu 19.04, gloriously nicknamed "Disco Dingo." (credit: Scott Gilbertson)

Canonical recently released Ubuntu 19.04, the latest version of its flagship GNOME-based Linux desktop. But if you're a desktop user, you might be feeling a little left out.

The big points of emphasis in this latest release are on Ubuntu as a tool for infrastructure development, server deployment, and the good old Internet of Things. For the server version of Ubuntu, the OS ships with all the latest cloud computing tools. In fact, that's already available in optimized builds on the major cloud services.

Elsewhere, the latest version of the venerable Ubuntu desktop packs quite a few additional, tempting reasons to upgrade for Linux gamers. Ubuntu 19.04 makes the leap to the Linux kernel 5.x series, for instance, which offers much improved graphics support.

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Social media: Senior police officer calls for boycott over abuse images

BBC Technology News - May 12, 2019 - 6:28am
The UK's leading child protection police officer says action is needed to force firms to act.

Massive Lego National Cathedral built with Vader, droids, Harry Potter wands

Ars Technica - May 11, 2019 - 3:00pm

WASHINGTON, DC—As millions of dollars in donations stacked up for the Notre-Dame Cathedral following the horrific fire last month, the Washington National Cathedral was quietly building its own restoration fund—brick by plastic brick.

Together with the Lego-building company Bright Bricks, officials at the cathedral have embarked on a project to build a massive replica of the cathedral out of Lego bricks. The project will raise money for much needed earthquake repairs. When complete, the towering yet detailed 1:40-scaled replica will be the largest Lego cathedral in the world. It will contain an estimated 500,000 bricks, weighing 612 kilograms, measuring nearly 4-meters long, 2.5-meters wide, and rising 3.35-meters from its elevated platform. It may also be the largest Lego structure ever built from instructions—officials at the cathedral are in talks with Guinness World Records.

Those instructions—created by the designers and professional Lego aficionados at Bright Bricks—are used by volunteers and kind donors who buy individual bricks and place them on the growing replica by hand. The bricks go for $2 each and all the money goes toward the $19 million needed to repair damage from a 5.8-magnitude earthquake in 2011.

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A tale of two “inside-out” VR headsets: The $400 Oculus Rift S, $600 HP Reverb

Ars Technica - May 11, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / The $600 HP Reverb (left) and $400 Oculus Rift S (right).

By the end of 2019, many major VR headset manufacturers seem poised to launch a new "statement" product for PCs. This month sees two such headsets reach store shelves: the Oculus Rift S (coming May 21, priced at $400) and the HP Reverb (out now, starting at $600).

In both companies' cases, the statement from each headset is a mix of upgrade and compromise. Rift S sees Oculus take two steps forward, two steps back, from its three-year-old Rift headset to establish a new "baseline" PC-VR experience, particularly with active hand tracking in mind. Meanwhile, Reverb aims to deliver the most affordable "high-res" VR headset ever made—which, as you might expect, includes a few imperfections, ranging from the obvious to the surprising.

After living with both headsets, I can report that each headset's sales pitch is totally fine, not game-changing, and both are worth scrutinizing—because neither is currently a slam-dunk recommendation.

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Silky-smooth with plenty of speed: Maserati Levante GTS review

Ars Technica - May 11, 2019 - 12:45pm

When we last checked in with Maserati, the Italian luxury carmaker had unleashed the Levante on the North American car-buying public. Starting at around $75,000, the Levante is a striking, six-cylinder SUV that ticked all the boxes when it comes to riding in comfort and style. With corporate sibling Alfa Romeo and VW-owned Lamborghini building some ridiculously fast SUVs, the otherwise-impressive stats—424hp (316kW), a top speed of 164mph (264km/h), and a 0-60mph time of 5.0 seconds—on the V6 Levante S looked less so.

Enter the Levante GTS and Levante Trofeo. Both models swap out the six-cylinder engine for a V8. The Trofeo starts at $169,980. And with 590hp (440kW) at its disposal, it is capable of making zero to 60 in 3.7 seconds on its way to a top speed of 187mph (300km/h). Impressive, but that price tag definitely isn't for the faint of heart. If you love fast and stylish Italian crossovers and are OK with spending, say $120,000 instead of $170,000 on one, keep reading. And if you're thinking about the Porsche Cayenne, take note of the GTS and Trofeo's price points—they're almost identical to the Cayenne.

When I reviewed the Levante S last year, I called it a "stunner." A year later, the Levante is still easily the most beautiful SUV or crossover on the market (which for some may be akin to calling someone the best-looking forward in a scrum). The Levante GTS has some subtle tweaks to the exterior to differentiate it from the V6 models, primarily to the rear bumper and front fascia. On the interior, the GTS has premium leather seats, Alcantara headliners, a tweaked gearshift lever, and an upgraded MTS+ infotainment system.

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Judge rejects Musk’s arguments to dismiss “pedo guy” defamation suit

Ars Technica - May 11, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge (credit: VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

A federal judge in California has rejected Elon Musk's request to dismiss a defamation lawsuit filed by Vern Unsworth, a British caver who aided with the rescue of a dozen boys in Thailand last year.

Musk's lawyers had argued that his remarks describing Unsworth as a "pedo guy" were mere statements of opinion that cannot be defamatory under US law. Judge Stephen Wilson rejected these arguments and scheduled a jury trial to start on October 22.

“Sorry pedo guy, you really did ask for it”

Musk's feud with Unsworth began last summer, when Musk had a team of SpaceX engineers build a miniature submarine to help extract the Thai boys. The device turned out to be unnecessary, as divers had already rescued the boys before it arrived.

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Facebook sues analytics firm Rankwave over alleged data misuse

BBC Technology News - May 11, 2019 - 4:07am
The network accuses South Korean firm Rankwave of using "at least 30" apps to unlawfully scrape data.

Microsoft: The open source company

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 10:51pm


The news from Microsoft's Build developer conference that surprised me most was that Microsoft will ship a genuine Linux kernel—GPLed, with all patches published—with Windows. That announcement was made with the announcement of Windows Terminal, a new front-end for command-line programs on Windows that will, among other things, support tabs.

Microsoft's increased involvement with open source software isn't new, as projects such as Visual Studio Code and the .NET runtime have operated as open source, community-driven projects. But this week's announcements felt a bit different.

The Linux kernel will be powering Microsoft's second generation Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL). The first generation WSL contains a partial re-implementation of the Linux kernel API that uses the Windows NT kernel to perform its functionality. In choosing this approach, Microsoft avoided using any actual Linux code, and hence the company avoided the GPL license with its "viral" stipulations that would have arguably forced Microsoft to open source WSL and perhaps even parts of Windows itself.

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Uber suffers disappointing stock market debut

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 10:20pm

Enlarge / Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi. (credit: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Uber's long-anticipated debut on public stock markets failed to live up to expectations on Friday, with the company's stock falling 7.6 percent during its first day of trading. As the closing bell rang, Uber's stock was worth $41.57, valuing the entire firm at $76 billion.

Uber has suffered from steadily diminishing expectations in recent months. When Uber solicited proposals from banks to handle the massive stock offering, some banks reportedly estimated that the company could be worth as much as $120 billion. By the time Uber's shares actually went on sale, the company was seeking a more modest $82 billion. Now the company isn't worth even that much.

Still, Uber raised $8.1 billion in the initial public offering, replenishing the company's warchest. That's important because Uber has yet to turn a profit. In fact, Uber reportedly lost more than $1 billion in each of the last three quarters.

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Japanese railway company starts testing 249mph bullet train speeds

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / JR East unveils to the media its new test bullet train "ALFA-X" in Rifu, Miyagi prefecture on May 9, 2019. (credit: JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images)

This week, Japanese railway company JR East showed off its new Alfa-X, a high-speed bullet train that is designed to achieve a top speed of 400kph, or 249mph, which would make it the fastest commercial train in the world. In day-to-day operations, the train would shuttle passengers at 360kph, or roughly 224mph.

On Friday, JR East will begin testing the Alfa-X, without passengers, on its railways. According to Bloomberg, the 10-car train will make the trip "between the cities of Aomori and Sendai at night" for the next three years during a testing phase. JR East hopes to use the Alfa-X commercially by 2030. Japan News says the line will eventually be extended to Sapporo.

That long lead time suggests that there might be an opening for another high-speed bullet train option to overtake the Alfa-X Shinkansen train in speed for commercial railway service.

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Why Google believes machine learning is its future

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 8:15pm

Enlarge / Google CEO Sundar Pichai speaks during the Google I/O Developers Conference on May 7, 2019. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

One of the most interesting demos at this week's Google I/O keynote featured a new version of Google's voice assistant that's due out later this year. A Google employee asked the Google Assistant to bring up her photos and then show her photos with animals. She tapped one and said, "Send it to Justin." The photo was dropped into the messaging app.

From there, things got more impressive.

"Hey Google, send an email to Jessica," she said. "Hi Jessica, I just got back from Yellowstone and completely fell in love with it." The phone transcribed her words, putting "Hi Jessica" on its own line.

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FCC says carriers failed Florida after hurricane—but lets them off the hook

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 6:02pm

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

The Federal Communications Commission isn't punishing carriers for their horrible response to Hurricane Michael in Florida, despite a commission investigation finding that the carriers' mistakes prolonged outages caused by the hurricane.

Mobile carriers' response to the hurricane was so bad that even FCC Chairman Ajit Pai—who normally avoids any criticism of the industry he's paid to regulate—called it "completely unacceptable" in October 2018. Outages left many customers without cell service for more than a week, as Verizon and others struggled to restore service.

Pai initiated an investigation and released the FCC Public Safety Bureau's resulting report yesterday. The report recommends changes that carriers can make to improve future hurricane responses, and Pai said he is "call[ing] on wireless phone companies, other communications providers, and power companies to quickly implement the recommendations contained in this report."

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Amazon stops selling 'toxic' goods for children in US

BBC Technology News - May 10, 2019 - 4:35pm
Products high in toxic metals were being sold to children, a US investigation finds.

Detective Pikachu: 'Pokémon created a world I wanted to live in'

BBC Technology News - May 10, 2019 - 3:34pm
Detective Pikachu is in cinemas now and for Pokémon fans, it's the first time to see the world in live action.

HP Spectre 15 x360 2019 review: Carving a niche in a crowded space

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 12:15pm

Enlarge / The unusual, gemstone-inspired edges are designed to make this laptop stand out. (credit: Samuel Axon)

The HP Spectre 15 x360 is a good laptop, but it seemed we always found one or two things to quibble with.

With the 2017 model, we liked some key design decisions but felt let down by the performance and battery life. We were bigger fans of the 2018 update, which amped up performance while also improving battery life and making the 4K display standard. But we felt the trackpad was awfully small and didn't like that the fingerprint reader and power button were separate.

Now we're working with the 2019 model, and it brings a whole new design along with some faster internals and extras like clever port placement and a hardware webcam kill switch. At its heart, the 2019 HP Spectre 15 x360 still seeks to accomplish the same things as its predecessors. It's an eye-catching (if a bit bulky) convertible packed with most of the features creatives and heavy consumers of media are looking for.

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Nest, the company, died at Google I/O 2019

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 12:09pm

(credit: Ron Amadeo / Nest)

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—Don't be distracted by the shiny new "Nest" smart display that was just announced: Nest died at Google I/O 2019. "Google Nest" is the new reality now, where Nest is no longer a standalone company but instead is a sub-brand (not even a division) of Google. The shutdown of Nest as an independent company was announced in 2018, but the pile of announcements at and around I/O 2019 marks the first time we're seeing what the future of Nest looks like inside of Google.

Nest laid out its future in an ominously titled "What's Happening" page on and a notice on the Works with Nest page. It sounds like a brutal outcome for users, who are looking at a dead-end ecosystem, potentially broken smart homes, and the shattering of the Google/Nest privacy firewall.

Meet the “Google Nest Learning Thermostat”

First up is Google's salvaging of the Nest brand as a general purpose smart home sub-brand. Just as Google has the "Pixel" brand for smartphones and laptops, it will now use the "Nest" brand similarly, so get used to saying and reading "Google Nest," which now means "a Google smart home product."

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Rocket Report: NASA considers Falcon 9 triple header, Indiana pol eyes Moon

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (credit: Aurich Lawson/SpaceX)

Welcome to Edition 1.48 of the Rocket Report! Mostly good news this week, with launch-related successes in Japan, the United States, and New Zealand. We also have an interesting article written by a friend of Vice President Mike Pence, who says NASA should use Falcon Heavy rockets for the lunar return.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Japanese startup launches suborbital rocket. Interstellar Technologies launched its suborbital Momo-3 booster to an altitude of 114km on Saturday, The Japan Times reports. The booster fell into the Pacific Ocean 10 minutes after the launch. "It was a complete success. We'll work to achieve stable launches and mass-produce (rockets) in quick cycles," company founder Takafumi Horie told the publication.

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Instagram blocks vaccine hoax hashtags

BBC Technology News - May 10, 2019 - 11:56am
Instagram will block hashtags spreading "verifiably false" information about vaccinations.

Detective Pikachu film review: This is how you adapt a video game for theaters

Ars Technica - May 10, 2019 - 11:45am

Enlarge / How do you know it's Detective Pikachu, not just standard Pikachu? Clues: the hat, the magnifying glass, the lush fur. (credit: Warner Bros. / The Pokemon Company)

Pokémon: Detective Pikachu is the best video game adaptation I've ever seen in a theater. And it's even better than that weak praise might imply.

We could spend this entire article regretting the existence of Uwe Boll or arguing the merits of the Tomb Raider and Resident Evil film series, but Detective Pikachu is such a fun, polished film that those comparison points really don't make sense. The more important comparison point is Pokémon itself—and the many feature-length cartoons that it has already been attached to.

Detective Pikachu is brisk, whimsical, and family-friendly, but it particularly wins out—and survives its pitfalls—by doing something really surprising: fully breaking from the Pokémon game-plot paradigm.

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