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NASA’s next Mars mission has now burned nearly half of its launch window

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 11:29pm

NASA says it will be forced to delay the launch of its multibillion-dollar Perseverance mission to no earlier than July 30. The Mars-bound large rover must launch on an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida before the middle of August, or it will miss Earth's conjunction with the Red Planet.

This is the third delay in the launch campaign for Perseverance, formerly known as Mars 2020, and the most concerning because a new, formal launch date has not been set.

A problem arose during a Wet Dress Rehearsal test earlier this month. During this standard prelaunch test, an Atlas V rocket is fueled with propellant and a countdown is conducted until the final moments before ignition. So what happened? "A liquid-oxygen sensor line presented off-nominal data during the Wet Dress Rehearsal, and additional time is needed for the team to inspect and evaluate," NASA said in a statement on Tuesday afternoon, in response to a query from Ars.

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Amazon’s latest PC game to be delisted from Steam after less than two months

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 11:07pm

Enlarge / Crucible is going back into a "closed beta" cell starting July 1. (credit: Amazon / Getty Images / Sam Machkovech)

Less than two months after the formal launch of Amazon Games' first major PC game on Steam, Crucible, the company has chosen to yank it right out of Steam's store. Its developers at Relentless Studios (a wholly owned Amazon subsidiary) have announced plans to delist the free-to-play action-MOBA game from Steam starting tomorrow, July 1, while continuing to operate the game as a "closed beta" for anyone who already downloaded the game (or paid for one of its "founders packs" of cosmetic DLC).

In an announcement on the game's official site, its developers describe this change as a way to "help us focus on providing the best possible experience for our players." As far as remaining players go, however, that assurance may ring a bit hollow, since its delisting will likely reduce the available player pool from its already minuscule population (as of press time, it has only had more than 200 concurrent players once over the past week).

Although the game will continue to launch through Steam, starting at 12pm on July 1, new players will no longer be able to search for the game and freely download its client. Instead, they'll have to sign up to play the game at the official site, where they will wait for a closed-beta invite. (If you think you'll want to play the game eventually and want to save yourself some headaches, head to Crucible's Steam listing and add it to your library right now.)

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The Apple TV is getting 4K YouTube, and Macs are getting 4K HDR Netflix

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 10:46pm

Enlarge / macOS Big Sur. (credit: Apple)

An update to Safari in the macOS Big Sur developer release brings a long-absent, much-requested feature: support for 4K HDR streams from Netflix. Further, Apple TV is getting support for the VP9 video codec, meaning Apple TV 4K owners will finally be able to watch 4K YouTube videos in that device's YouTube app.

Both changes address frustrations users have had in the Apple ecosystem when consuming video content. The Apple TV 4K is positioned as the world's most capable consumer streaming box, but it didn't support higher resolutions on one of the world's most popular apps. And while there has been less demand for 4K HDR on Macs given that most Macs don't have 4K or fully HDR screens, this is a welcome change for those who use external displays that do support those things.

There is one important caveat, though. 4K HDR Netflix streams are only supported on a few Macs. Only the 2018 or 2019 MacBook Pro models and the iMac Pro support HDR on the device's own display (though again, the specs don't meet the same HDR brightness standards that high-end TVs do). Those machines plus the 2018 Mac mini and the 2019 Mac Pro can do HDR on external displays.

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Facebook: Aviva and Intercontinental Hotels Group pause ads

BBC Technology News - June 30, 2020 - 10:40pm
Aviva and the Intercontinental Hotels Group are the latest to suspend advertising via Facebook.

Lady of the Lake takes center stage in Netflix’s Arthurian retelling Cursed

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 10:29pm

Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why) stars as Nimue in the new Netflix series Cursed.

A young, outcast fey woman finds herself in possession of a mystical sword of great power in Cursed, a reimagining of the Arthurian legend told from the perspective of Nimue, aka the Lady of the Lake.

The 10-episode Netflix series is an adaptation of the young adult novel of the same name, written by Tom Wheeler and illustrated by none other than the legendary Frank Miller (Sin City, 300, The Dark Knight Returns). It was published last year by Simon & Schuster—with eight full-color and 30 black-and-white original illustrations, making it a collector's item for diehard Miller fans—but the series was already in development prior to the book's publication. Wheeler is a well-known screenwriter, producer, and showrunner, with such credits as Empire (ABC) and The Cape (NBC), as well as the Oscar-nominated Puss in Boots and The Lego Ninjago Movie.

Katherine Langford (13 Reasons Why) stars as Nimue in the series. The show also stars Devon Terrell (Barry) as Arthur; Gustaf Skarsgård (Westworld) as Merlin; Daniel Sharman (Fear the Walking Dead) as the Weeping Monk; Peter Mullan (Ozark) as Father Carden; Lily Newmark (Pin Cushion) as Pym; Shalom Brune-Franklin (Our Girl) as Morgan le Fay; Sebastian Armesto (Broadchurch) as King Uther Pendragon; Matt Stokoe (Bodyguard) as Gawain; Emily Coates (Flack) as Iris; and Billy Jenkins (The Crown) as Squirrel.

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Supreme Court says generic domains like can be trademarked

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 10:12pm

Enlarge / The headquarters of Booking Holdings in Amsterdam. (credit: poludziber / Getty)

The US Patent and Trademark Office erred by finding the term was too generic for trademark protection, the Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday.

Trademark law prohibits anyone from registering generic terms that describe a class of products or services. Anyone can start a store company called "The Wine Company," but they can't use trademark law to stop others from using the same name. When the online travel giant Bookings Holdings sought to trademark its domain name almost a decade ago, the US Patent and Trademark Office concluded that the same rule applied.

Booking Holdings challenged this decision in court. The company pointed to survey data showing that consumers associated the phrase "" with a specific website as opposed to a generic term for travel websites. Both the trial and appeals courts sided with, finding that was sufficiently distinctive to merit its own trademark—even if the generic word "booking" couldn't be trademarked on its own.

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YouTube TV jumps 30% in price effective immediately

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 9:47pm

Enlarge / An odd coincidence: YouTube TV and AT&T rolled out price hikes on the same day. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Chances are, if you pay for a streaming alternative to live cable TV in the United States, your bills are about to go up, thanks to a glut of Tuesday announcements.

First up is YouTube TV, which announced a 30 percent price hike, its largest since rolling out as a product in 2017, effective immediately for all customers. The news came at the end of a lengthy announcement of various new channels, which users cannot opt out of, all coming from the CBS/Viacom family of cable TV networks.

Brand-new customers can expect to pay $65/mo for the service from here on out, while existing customers will see the price jump from $50 to $65 on their July bill. Shortly after mentioning the new price point, YouTube TV VP Christian Oestlien directed users to this landing page to pause or cancel their service if they want to.

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Foreign adversaries likely to try exploiting critical networking bug, US says

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 9:16pm

Enlarge (credit: Ivan Radic)

Foreign hackers backed by a well-resourced government are likely to attempt exploiting a critical vulnerability in a host and VPN and firewall products sold by Palo Alto Networks, officials in the US federal government warned on Tuesday.

In worst-case scenarios, the security vendor said in a post, the flaw allows unauthorized people to log in to networks as administrators. With those privileges, attackers could install software of their choice or carry out other malicious actions that have serious consequences. The vulnerability, tracked as CVE-2020-2021, can be exploited when an authentication mechanism known as Security Assertion Markup Language is used to validate that users gave the proper permission to access a network. Attackers must also have Internet access to an affected server.

Shortly after Palo Alto Networks issued the advisory, the official Twitter account for the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency warned that the vulnerability is likely to be exploited in the wild by APTs, short for advanced persistent threats. APT is the term many researchers use for sophisticated hacker groups that attempt to breach select targets of interest over extended periods of time.

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Qualcomm made a modern smartwatch chip: Meet the Snapdragon Wear 4100

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 8:55pm

Enlarge / A Qualcomm watch. (credit: Qualcomm)

After years of repackaging the same basic smartwatch chip over and over again, Qualcomm has graced Wear OS with a modern smartwatch SoC. Meet the Snapdragon Wear 4100, a Qualcomm smartwatch chip that, for the first time ever, is faster than the previous chip.

The Wear 4100 uses four 1.7GHz Cortex A53 CPUs built on a 12nm manufacturing process, a major upgrade from the 28nm Cortex A7s that every other Qualcomm smartwatch chip has been up until now. It's not the state-of-the-art 7nm process that Qualcomm's high-end chip uses, and the Cortex A53 is an old CPU design, but for Qualcomm, it's a major upgrade. Between the new CPU, the Adreno 504 GPU, and faster memory, Qualcomm is promising "85% faster performance" compared to the Wear 3100.

There are actually two versions of the 4100, the vanilla "4100" and the "4100+." The plus version is specifically for smartwatches with an always-on watch face, and like previous Wear SoCs, comes with an extra low-power SoC (based around a Cortex-M0) to keep the time updated and log sensor data (like step counts). Qualcomm is promising a better display image quality in this low-power mode, with more colors and a smoother display.

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Comcast’s data cap and overage fees return tomorrow after 3-month break

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 8:31pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Comcast is scheduled to reinstate its home-Internet data cap tomorrow, July 1, after more than three months in which customers were provided unlimited data to help them through the coronavirus pandemic.

AT&T, by contrast, announced today that it is "continuing to waive home-Internet data overage charges for AT&T Internet customers through September 30." There is a big caveat with AT&T, though: the company's announcement said the extended data-cap waiver does not apply to DSL and fixed wireless. Customers of AT&T fiber and the copper/fiber hybrid service formerly called U-verse will have unlimited data for another three months, but other AT&T home-broadband customers will face data caps and overage fees starting tomorrow.

Comcast and AT&T suspended their data caps and overage fees in mid-March, initially promising two months of unlimited data. The companies later extended that pledge to June 30, but Comcast hasn't granted any further extensions. We contacted Comcast yesterday but didn't receive answers to questions about its data cap, and Comcast's website still says the data-cap waiver only goes through June 30. While Comcast didn't answer the data-cap questions, a spokesperson pointed out that the cable company extended other pandemic offers for college students and people with low incomes beyond June 30, and it is keeping its Wi-Fi hotspots open to the public for free for the rest of 2020.

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Coronavirus: Plane-maker Airbus to cut 15,000 jobs

BBC Technology News - June 30, 2020 - 8:10pm
The aerospace firm blames coronavirus for the cuts, warning of 1,700 job losses at its UK plants.

A bunch of microSD cards and other storage devices are on sale today

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 8:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by an Amazon Gold Box sale on storage products from SanDisk and WD. The discounts cover a number of microSD cards, SD cards, flash drives, and portable hard drives, among other devices.

The highlights include the 128GB version of SanDisk's microSDXC Card for Nintendo Switch, a speedy and reliable microSD card we recommended in our guide to the best Nintendo Switch accessories, down to $22.35. This isn't the lowest price we've ever seen, but it's a nice drop from its usual $28 and the cheapest this model has been since it went for $20 on Black Friday. If you're more concerned with storage space than performance, the 400GB SanDisk Ultra is a slower card but offers a much lower cost-per-GB ratio for devices like the Switch. It's currently down to $48 from its usual $60.

Elsewhere, the SanDisk Extreme is a durable portable SSD we've tested and recommended before—its 1TB model is down to $136 from a typical street price around $170. The company's iXpand Flash Drive Go, meanwhile, is a useful flash drive with a Lightning connector that's about $10 off its normal going rate. There are plenty more deals beyond that, but just note that, like all Gold Box sales, the deals are available for today only.

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Ban on Chinese apps, including TikTok, surprises India content makers

BBC Technology News - June 30, 2020 - 8:06pm
India's decision to ban 59 Chinese apps on national security grounds follows a deadly border clash.

China moves forward with COVID-19 vaccine, approving it for use in military

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 7:35pm

Enlarge / Chinese President Xi Jinping learns about the progress on a COVID-19 vaccine during his visit to the Academy of Military Medical Sciences in Beijing on March 2, 2020. (credit: Getty | Xinhua News Agency)

China has approved an experimental COVID-19 vaccine for use in its military after early clinical trial data suggested it was safe and spurred immune responses—but before larger trials that will test whether the vaccine can protect against SARS-CoV-2 infections.

This marks the first time any country has approved a candidate vaccine for military use. China’s Central Military Commission made the approval June 25, which will last for a year, according to a filing reported by Reuters.

The vaccine, developed by biotech company CanSino Biologics and the Chinese military, is a type of viral vector-based vaccine. That means researchers started with a viral vector, in this case a common strain of adenovirus (type-5), which typically causes mild upper respiratory infections. The researchers crippled the virus so that it doesn’t replicate in human cells and cause disease. Then, they engineered the virus to carry a signature feature of SARS-CoV-2—the coronavirus’s infamous spike protein, which juts out from the viral particle and allows the virus to get a hold on human cells.

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After Tuesday’s launch, SpaceX expands its fleet of used rockets [Updated]

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 7:20pm

Enlarge / SpaceX added a new core to its fleet with the Demo-2 mission in late May. (credit: NASA)

4:20pm ET Update: A Falcon 9 rocket lifted off at the end of its launch window on Tuesday afternoon, and delivered a GPS satellite into a good parking orbit. The spacecraft was due to deploy from the Falcon 9 rocket's second stage about 1 hour and 29 minutes after liftoff.

After dropping off the second stage, the first stage descended back toward the Earth to successfully land on the Just Read the Instructions droneship. SpaceX now has five used first stages available for additional missions.

Original post: On Tuesday, SpaceX will attempt to launch a 3.7-ton Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite for the US Air Force. This GPS III launch is scheduled to occur on a Falcon 9 rocket between 3:55pm ET and 4:10pm ET (19:56-20:10 UTC) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

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COVID-19 spread 4X faster in one Amazon warehouse than local area

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 6:04pm

Enlarge / An Amazon worker in a fulfillment center in the Orlando area, April 2019. (credit: Paul Hennessy | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

After eliminating temporary "hazard" pay raises, Amazon is saying "thank you" to its hourly workers with a one-time bonus of $500, while at least one Amazon warehouse has been found to have a COVID-19 rate four times higher than the general population nearby.

Amazon yesterday announced its one-time bonuses for "front-line" employees. Full-time workers in warehouses and Whole Foods stores, as well as full-time delivery drivers, will receive $500. Part-time workers in those roles will get $250, and Amazon Flex drivers who worked 10 hours or more will get $150. Managers on-site in distribution centers or Whole Foods stores will get $1,000, and owners of the third-party firms that handle delivery for Amazon will get $3,000.

The company saw a massive spike in consumer demand as in-person retail shuttered around the nation and the world this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Amazon hired an additional 175,000 employees in its warehouses, logistics, and grocery businesses since early March to meet increased demand. The company also increased wages by $2 in warehouses, to a minimum of $17 per hour, to get new workers in the door.

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Rental e-scooters to be made legal on roads in Great Britain from Saturday

BBC Technology News - June 30, 2020 - 5:57pm
Hired, but not private, e-scooters will be allowed on roads in Great Britain, the government says.

Mercury and algal blooms poisoned Maya reservoirs at Tikal

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 5:32pm

Enlarge / UC graduate student Brian Lane climbs out of the Perdido Reservoir. (credit: Photo/Nicholas Dunning)

For centuries, Tikal was a bustling Maya city in what is now northern Guatemala. But by the late 800s CE, its plazas and temples stood silent, surrounded by mostly abandoned farms. A recent study suggests a possible explanation for its decline: mercury and toxic algal blooms poisoned the water sources that should have carried the city through dry seasons.

Tikal’s Maya rulers built the city’s reservoirs to store water from rain and runoff during the winter months. The pavement of the large plazas in the heart of the city tilted slightly, helping funnel rainwater into the reservoirs. Over the centuries, dust and litter settled into the bottom of the reservoirs, too, providing a record of what the environment around Tikal was like—and what was washing into the city’s water supply. University of Cincinnati biologist David Lentz and his colleagues sampled layers of sediment dating back to the mid-800s, and they found that two of Tikal’s central reservoirs would have been too polluted to drink from.

An X-ray fluorescence spectrometer (which identifies the chemicals in a sample based on how they react to being zapped with an X-ray light) revealed that the sediment on the bottom of the reservoirs was laced with dangerous amounts of mercury. Lentz and his colleagues also found ancient DNA from blue-green algae, or cyanobacteria, which can produce deadly toxins.

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Huawei: Ministers signal switch in policy over 5G policy

BBC Technology News - June 30, 2020 - 5:28pm
Digital secretary says US sanctions are "likely to have an impact on the viability" of using firm's kit.

How holographic tech is shrinking VR displays to the size of sunglasses

Ars Technica - June 30, 2020 - 5:21pm

For all the advancements in virtual reality technology in recent years, one major factor still holding the space back is the size and relative discomfort of current headset design. Even the most compact and comfortable VR headsets today still resemble something like a cross between ski goggles and a motorcycle helmet, requiring massive headstraps to secure a heavy display that protrudes multiple inches away from the face. Reference designs for "eyeglasses" style VR displays help a bit, but they still look like coke-bottle spectacles from a steampunk cosplay event (and provide a limited field of view, to boot).

Now, researchers at Facebook Reality Labs are using holographic film to create a prototype VR display that looks less like ski goggles and more like lightweight sunglasses. With a total thickness less than 9mm—and without significant compromises on field of view or resolution—these displays could one day make today's bulky VR headset designs completely obsolete.

In the newly published ACM Siggraph paper Holographic Optics for Thin and Lightweight Virtual Reality, researchers Andrew Maimone and Junren Wang detail the optics behind their lightweight prototype. The key to the thinness is a series of flat, polarized films that use a "pancake optics" light-folding technique to reflect the displayed image multiple times in a small space.

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