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Industry & Technology

Hands-on with the new $399 Oculus Rift S: More pixels, zero webcams, better fit

Ars Technica - March 20, 2019 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / Behold, the Oculus Rift S, the VR company's newest wired PC headset produced by Lenovo. From this angle, you can see four of its five built-in sensing cameras, including two in the front, two on the sides (slightly pointing down), and an upward-facing sensor. (credit: Kyle Orland)

SAN FRANCISCO—One thing was conspicuously missing from the Oculus demos at GDC 2019: cameras.

You need at least two (if not three) of the company's signature webcams to run its PC headset, the Oculus Rift. Those cameras are not great. They come with funky, oversized stands. They're not as effective at sensing a headset as the HTC Vive's "dumb" infrared boxes. And they must be plugged into a PC, which creates a certain kind of cord hell and requires a PC with plenty of spare USB 3.0 slots.

So, as we filed into this week's demo center of mock "living room" spaces, complete with VR headsets, the lack of Oculus cameras was apparent. Indeed, it was a statement.

Read 38 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple’s updated AirPods are here, cost $199 with new wireless charging case

Ars Technica - March 20, 2019 - 3:16pm

Enlarge / Apple AirPods.

After announcing new iPads and iMacs earlier this week, Apple has released details about its next-generation AirPods. The new wireless earbuds, which are available for preorder today starting at $159, come with an updated, Apple-designed chip, more battery life, and "Hey Siri" voice-command support. Apple also debuted a new wireless charging case for AirPods that can be charged with any Qi wireless charger.

We didn't expect Apple to radically redesign the AirPods this time around, and they look nearly identical to the previous model. Inside, however, is a new H1 chip that Apple designed specifically for headphones. The company claims the new chip will provide up to 50 percent more talk time than previous models, faster connect times when switching between iPhone, iPad, and other Apple host devices, and general performance improvements.

The new H1 chip also lets AirPods listen for the "Hey Siri" voice command. Previously, users had to touch the side of one AirPod before speaking a command to Siri, Apple's virtual assistant. Now, users can just say the waking command before asking Siri to do things like adjust the volume, play a different song, and more.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook settles job discrimination case

BBC Technology News - March 20, 2019 - 3:13pm
The social media giant bans targeting ads for jobs, accommodation or credit on the basis of gender, age or postcode.

Google will implement a Microsoft-style browser picker for EU Android devices

Ars Technica - March 20, 2019 - 2:16pm

European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager during one of the Google antitrust announcements. (credit: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

Back in 2009, the EU's European Commission said Microsoft was harming competition by bundling its browser—Internet Explorer—with Windows. Eventually Microsoft and the European Commission settled on the "browser ballot," a screen that would pop up and give users a choice of browsers. Almost 10 years later, the tech industry is going through this again, this time with Google and the EU. After receiving "feedback" from the European Commission, Google announced last night that it would offer Android users in the EU a choice of browsers and search engines.

In July, the European Commission found Google had violated the EU's antitrust rules by bundling Google Chrome and Google Search with Android, punishing manufacturers that shipped Android forks, and paying manufacturers for exclusively pre-installing Google Search. Google was fined a whopping $5.05 billion (€4.34 billion) (which is it appealing) and then the concessions started. Google said its bundling of Search and Chrome funded the development and free distribution of Android, so any manufacturer looking to ship Android with unbundled Google apps would now be charged a fee. Reports later pegged this amount as up to $40 per handset.

This was how Microsoft did a Windows browser ballot back in 2010. (credit: Peter Bright)

Android is a free and open source operating system, so Google's control over Android is derived from the Google apps. Anyone can take the core Android package and distribute it without Google's involvement, but if they want access to the millions of apps on the Google Play Store, they will need to get a license from Google. It's the same story with killer apps like Google Maps, Search, Gmail, and YouTube. Android is free (as in speech); the Google apps are not. Previously, shipping Android without the Google apps—"forking" Android—would mean expulsion from the Google ecosystem. Google was forced to lift this restriction as part of the EU concessions, and now manufacturers can simultaneously ship forked Android and Google Android on different devices.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

More mid-range Google Pixel rumors include updated specs, OLED display

Ars Technica - March 20, 2019 - 1:30pm

It's amazing that, despite originally hitting the rumor mill almost a full year ago and putting out pictures four months ago, Google's mid-range Pixel phone is still the subject of rumors. The latest report comes from 9to5Google, which has a new round of specs.

Just like with the flagship lineup, there are two phone sizes in Google's supposedly-launching-someday mid-range lineup. What exactly these devices will be called is still up in the air. These devices have had the codename "Bonito" and "Sargo," and the rumor mill has referred to the consumer names as "Pixel 3 Lite" and "Pixel 3 XL Lite" in the past. As discovered by XDA, though, the recent Android Q Beta is calling Bonito and Sargo the "Pixel 3a" and "Pixel 3a XL." The names are not quite as bad as "LG V50 ThinQ 5G." But they're still pretty wordy.

9to5Google says the smaller "Pixel 3a" has a 2220×1080 5.6-inch screen, while the bigger "Pixel 3a XL" has a 6-inch screen of unspecified resolution. One important bit of news is that the site claims the display technology is actually OLED instead of the LCD tech that previous rumors have claimed. The report says the Pixel 3a has a Snapdragon 670, 4GB of RAM, a 3000mAh battery, a USB-C port, and again reiterates that the camera is identical to the industry-leading camera on the premium Pixels. The Pixel 3a XL likely has similar specs, of course with a bigger battery.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Guidemaster: The best Windows ultrabooks you can buy right now

Ars Technica - March 20, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Buyers looking for premium Windows laptops today have plenty of choices; every few months sees some splashy launch of a new high-end PC. Ultrabooks have become the standard design for most premium Windows laptops, and they represent the best of what companies like Acer, Asus, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft have to offer in terms of design, power, and innovation.

If you're looking for a thin-and-light laptop that's still powerful enough to handle work and play with ease—and doesn't run macOS—a Windows ultrabook is what you want. But not all ultrabooks are created equal. That's why Ars has tested some of the most popular Windows laptops to see which are worthy for consideration as your next high-end notebook.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Read 54 remaining paragraphs | Comments

People brought food from all over Britain to feast near Stonehenge

Ars Technica - March 20, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / Feasts at nearby Durrington Walls drew attendees from all over Britain. (credit: Stefan Kühn / Wikimedia)

The remnants of prehistoric monuments still dot the modern British landscape. Around 4,500 years ago, people gathered at these sites or in nearby communities for annual winter feasts where the main delicacy on the menu was pork. Chemical analysis of the pig bones left behind after feasts at four major henge sites in southern Britain reveals a surprisingly far-flung network of Neolithic travel.

This little piggy went to Stonehenge...

Mount Pleasant Henge is a stone circle about 70km (44 miles) southwest of Stonehenge, near the coast of the English Channel. West Kennet Palisaded Enclosures is a set of circular ditches and palisades near the famous stone circle at Avebury, about 39km (24 miles) north of Stonehenge, while Marden Henge, between Avebury and Stonehenge, is a 14-hectare site surrounded by ditches and embankments that once held its own circle of standing stones. Durrington Walls, a large settlement (which eventually built its own stone circle) just 3km (1.86 miles) northeast of Stonehenge, was closely linked with the iconic monument itself.

"Stonehenge is for the dead, Durrington Walls for the living: the place of the builders of Stonehenge and the places of Stonehenge's feasts," archaeologist Richard Madgwick of Cardiff University told Ars Technica. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of ancient feasting at all four sites: broken ceramics, discarded stone tools, and the bones of butchered pigs. Those 4,500-year-old leftovers suggest that these sites were hubs linking a Neolithic social network that connected far-flung communities from Scotland to Wales.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google tweaks search after EU competition scrutiny

BBC Technology News - March 20, 2019 - 11:56am
Rival companies' price comparison results will be displayed more prominently thanks to the changes.

Ars Technica is hiring an experienced reporter

Ars Technica - March 20, 2019 - 11:30am

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Ars Technica is looking for an experienced reporter—a true journalistic hustler who will work the (literal and metaphorical) phones to bring our readers fresh, hot news about the interaction between technology and society.

What do we mean by "technology and society"? We mean stories about the growing political and cultural "Big Tech backlash," copyright clashes, the culture of Silicon Valley firms, tech-policy battles, and important tech-related court cases—not a review of the science in the latest sci-fi blockbuster.

We're looking for someone "experienced to senior" (at least 3 years of quality reporting experience) who already knows what we mean by an "Ars story."

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

San Francisco moves to ban e-cigarettes until health effects known

BBC Technology News - March 20, 2019 - 10:37am
The law would halt sales until vaping's health effects are fully evaluated by US regulators.

Tokyo 2020: Robots to feature at Olympic and Paralympic Games

BBC Technology News - March 20, 2019 - 10:27am
The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games are set to revolutionise the way spectators experience sporting events - by introducing robots

£36 iPhone XR ad criticised

BBC Technology News - March 20, 2019 - 9:12am
Advertising body criticises a Black Friday promotion for iPhones, following complaints from the public.

PayPal urged to block essay firm cheats

BBC Technology News - March 20, 2019 - 3:11am
Ministers call for payments companies to block essay writing firms, in a bid to beat university cheats.

Future transport: How will we get around in 2050?

BBC Technology News - March 20, 2019 - 1:02am
The push for cleaner air will mean more electric vehicles that are driverless and shared, according to experts.

An astronaut with PTSD loses her cool in first trailer for Lucy in the Sky

Ars Technica - March 19, 2019 - 11:58pm

Natalie Portman stars as an astronaut who starts to unravel after returning from space in Lucy in the Sky.

A female astronaut returns to Earth and starts a downward psychological spiral in the first trailer for Lucy in the Sky, a forthcoming film from Fox Searchlight Pictures.

Lucy in the Sky tells the story of married astronaut Lucy Cola (Portman), who has an affair with fellow astronaut Mark Goodwin (Jon Hamm). When he dumps her for another woman in the program, she begins to lose her grip on reality. Originally titled Pale Blue Dot, the movie is the feature-film debut for director Noah Hawley, whose TV credits include Fargo and Legion. Reese Witherspoon was initially considered for the lead role of Lucy but dropped out to shoot the second season of Big Little Lies. Portman came aboard instead, making this at least her second song-titled film alongside Jane Got a Gun.

The film is loosely based on the real-world case of NASA astronaut and US Naval officer Lisa Nowak, who became involved with fellow astronaut William Oefelein in 2004 after his divorce. The affair lasted a couple of years, until Nowak discovered her lover had taken up with an Air Force engineer named Colleen Shipman. In February 2007, Nowak drove from Houston to Orlando International Airport with a car full of kidnapping gear (including an 8-inch folding knife) and confronted Shipman in her car in the airport parking lot. Nowak copped a guilty plea in 2009 and received two years' probation; she also received an "other than honorable" discharge from the Navy.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hands on with Google Stadia: It works, but is that enough?

Ars Technica - March 19, 2019 - 11:41pm

SAN FRANCISCO—Shortly after Google announced its upcoming Stadia streaming platform this morning at the Game Developers Conference, the company opened up a few kiosks showing off the technology in a corner of a Moscone Center West hallway. Unfortunately, these extremely limited demos didn't answer most of the burning questions that Google has still left unanswered about it much-hyped platform.

The most popular demo, judging by the crowds gathered around the screen, was an opportunity to play Assassin's Creed Odyssey on a standard Chromebook via Stadia streaming. The game—running at apparently native resolution and 60 frames per second on a 1080p display—was for all intents and purposes indistinguishable from a local copy running on a high-end gaming rig. Playing and watching the games for a few minutes, I didn't notice any of the input delay, dropped frames, or stuttering that sometimes characterizes the current state of game streaming.

The important caveat here, of course, is that the demo was running on a wired Ethernet connection hooked to the Moscone Center's industrial-strength Internet hookup. The demo team couldn't confirm the location for the Google data center where the game was actually running, but we can't imagine it would be very far from the heart of San Francisco, where the demo was being played.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

People who live near wind turbines prefer them to solar and fossil plants

Ars Technica - March 19, 2019 - 11:12pm

Enlarge / Wind turbines near Palm Springs, Calif. (credit: nate2b / Flickr)

More and more people are finding themselves with a new neighbor: a commercial electricity-generating system. As electricity grids move from centralized fossil fuel plants to decentralized renewables, the world is switching from fewer, larger plants to more, smaller ones. For some people, this means they're looking out of their windows at wind turbines that weren't there a few years ago.

How do people feel about these turbines? That may seem like a question best answered with "why should we care?" but if we get serious about addressing climate change, lots of people might end up living with generating hardware. To better understand people's preferences, researchers Jeremy Firestone and Hannah Kirk analyzed the results of a large-scale survey on attitudes toward wind turbines. The results, published this week in Nature Energy, show that people in both red and blue states who live near wind turbines would rather keep them than swap them out for either solar or fossil fuel plants.

Wind over coal

The results came from a survey of 1,705 people living less than five miles from at least one commercial-scale wind turbine across the United States. The survey, conducted in 2016 by the US Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, included a hefty set of questions aiming to get a full understanding of how community members feel about their local turbines. It asked questions like how involved people felt in the planning process for the project, how noticeable the turbines are from people's homes, and whether they notice the impact of things like turbine noise.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Devin Nunes’ ludicrous $250 million lawsuit against Twitter, explained

Ars Technica - March 19, 2019 - 10:52pm

Enlarge / Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) in 2018. (credit: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A lot of people on Twitter have been criticizing and mocking Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), and he's not going to take it anymore. On Monday, he sued several of his online critics—as well as Twitter itself—for defamation, negligence, and conspiracy. He claims that his critics' harsh words have cost him $250 million in "pain, insult, embarrassment, humiliation, emotional distress and mental suffering, and injury to his personal and professional reputations."

Eric Goldman, a legal scholar at Santa Clara University, isn't optimistic about Nunes's chances. "There were so many obvious examples in the complaint of tweets that were clearly not defamatory," Goldman told Ars in a phone conversation. "It's not a lawsuit I would have wanted to bring, as a lawyer or as a plaintiff."

Nunes will face a particularly uphill battle with respect to Twitter, Prof. Goldman argues. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act gives online platforms like Twitter broad immunity against liability for the writings of their users. "Twitter is clearly going to qualify for Section 230," Goldman says. And that means that Nunes won't get a dollar—to say nothing of $250 million—from the social media giant.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

D3D raytracing no longer exclusive to 2080, as Nvidia brings it to GeForce 10, 16

Ars Technica - March 19, 2019 - 10:35pm

Enlarge / A screenshot of Metro Exodus with raytracing enabled. (credit: Nvidia)

Microsoft announced DirectX raytracing a year ago, promising to bring hardware-accelerated raytraced graphics to PC gaming. In August, Nvidia announced its RTX 2080 and 2080Ti, a pair of new video cards with the company's new Turing RTX processors. In addition to the regular graphics-processing hardware, these new chips included two extra sets of additional cores, one set designed for running machine-learning algorithms and the other for computing raytraced graphics. These cards were the first, and currently only, cards to support DirectX Raytracing (DXR).

That's going to change in April, as Nvidia has announced that 10-series and 16-series cards will be getting some amount of raytracing support with next month's driver update. Specifically, we're talking about 10-series cards built with Pascal chips (that's the 1060 6GB or higher), Titan-branded cards with Pascal or Volta chips (the Titan X, XP, and V), and 16-series cards with Turing chips (Turing, in contrast to the Turing RTX, lacks the extra cores for raytracing and machine learning).

The GTX 1060 6GB and above should start supporting DXR with next month's Nvidia driver update. (credit: Nvidia)

Unsurprisingly, the performance of these cards will not match that of the RTX chips. RTX chips use both their raytracing cores and their machine-learning cores for DXR graphics. To achieve a suitable level of performance, the raytracing simulates relatively few light rays and uses machine-learning-based antialiasing to flesh out the raytraced images. Absent the dedicated hardware, DXR on the GTX chips will use 32-bit integer operations on the CUDA cores already used for computation and shader workloads.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Severe” ransomware attack cripples big aluminum producer

Ars Technica - March 19, 2019 - 9:46pm

Enlarge / Notes posted on a window of Norsk Hydro's headquarters in Norway on March 19, 2019. (credit: Getty Images)

One of the world’s biggest producers of aluminum has been hit by a serious ransomware attack that shut down its worldwide network, stopped or disrupted plants, and sent IT workers scrambling to return operations to normal.

Norsk Hydro of Norway said the malware first hit computers in the United States on Monday night. By Tuesday morning, the infection had spread to other parts of the company, which operates in 40 countries. Company officials responded by isolating plants to prevent further spreading. Some plants were temporarily stopped, while others, which had to be kept running continuously, were switched to manual mode when possible. The company’s 35,000 employees were instructed to keep computers turned off but were allowed to use phones and tablets to check email.

“Let me be clear: the situation for Norsk Hydro through this is quite severe,” Chief Financial Officer Eivind Kallevik said during a press conference Tuesday. “The entire worldwide network is down, affecting our production as well as our office operations. We are working hard to contain and solve this situation and to ensure the safety and security of our employees. Our main priority now is to ensure safe operations and limit the operational and financial impact.”

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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