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Industry & Technology

There’s a slight problem with Russia’s proposed Federation spacecraft

Ars Technica - July 15, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / A mock-up of the next-generation manned spacecraft Federation (Federatsia, Federatsiya) at the offices of Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation in 2017. (credit: Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images)

It has been more than half a century since Russia developed its last new spacecraft for carrying humans into orbit—the venerable Soyuz capsule, which still flies both Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts into orbit today. However, over the last decade, the Russian space program has been designing and developing a new vehicle, named Federation.

Like NASA's own Orion spacecraft, the Federation capsule has been beset by delays and cost overruns for more than a decade's worth of development. But when it flies, possibly as early as 2022 aboard a Soyuz-5 rocket for a test flight, Federation would be the rare human vehicle designed to fly beyond low-Earth orbit.

However, Russian sources are reporting a problem with the vehicle's launch escape system. Federation will lift off from the new Vostochny Cosmodrome in far eastern Russia, located within about 600km of the Pacific Ocean. Under certain scenarios, during which Federation's launch abort system would pull it away from the rocket during an emergency, Federation could splash down in the equatorial Pacific Ocean.

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Dealmaster: All the best Amazon Prime Day 2019 tech deals we can find

Ars Technica - July 15, 2019 - 12:50pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! Your friendly neighborhood Dealmaster is back and reporting for bargain-hunting duty—and boy, is he going to need some extra coffee. That's because today marks the start of Amazon Prime Day 2019, the increasingly misnamed sales event that sees the nation's largest online retailer discount products beyond number to Black Friday-level prices midsummer. This year's Prime Day lasts 48 hours, from July 15-16, because time is a social construct and trillion-dollar companies can pretty much do whatever they want.

Before we dig in to our deals roundup, a disclaimer: as is often the case with big sales events like this, most of this year's Prime Day deals aren't really deals at all. Amazon will promote thousands of "discounts" over the next two days, but with that much volume, the majority of those offers will naturally have less-than-special prices or apply to less-than-desirable products.

Many "deal prices" are relative to MSRPs that products have not sold at for months, for instance, and some companies artificially raise product prices before the event starts. (As always, price checker sites are a handy tool for verifying good deals.) Prime Day is not a "holiday" for Amazon Prime users—the only people who can take part in the event—so much as a multibillion-dollar business for a retailer looking to gin up sales during a typically slow shopping period. It's also a way for Amazon to convert more shoppers into Prime members, who are estimated to spend twice as much on the site than non-Prime users.

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Politics of automation: Factory workers and robots

BBC Technology News - July 15, 2019 - 11:47am
Humans and robots working together in a factory may excite some tech geeks, but worry others who fear job losses.

Monsters and power-ups in new go-kart experience

BBC Technology News - July 15, 2019 - 8:46am
Drivers can score points by shooting virtual monsters while racing each other.

University of Suffolk hosts all-female games jam

BBC Technology News - July 15, 2019 - 8:09am
Organisers hope the "amazing" opportunity will help encourage more women into the gaming industry.

'My son spent £3,160 in one game'

BBC Technology News - July 15, 2019 - 1:26am
As politicians call for more regulation, you share your stories about children spending money within games.

Are 5G masts dangerous or is it just fearmongering?

BBC Technology News - July 15, 2019 - 12:33am
Exposure from mobile networks including 5G fall well below limits set by international regulators.

Dealmaster: Amazon discounts almost its entire product lineup for Prime Day 2019

Ars Technica - July 14, 2019 - 8:41pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Prime Day is nearly upon us, and Amazon has already pushed out a bunch of deals on its own devices. Like Prime Days past, Amazon has discounted most of its devices and services in the hopes that more people will take the plunge and try Echo speakers or other Alexa-enabled devices, Kindle e-readers, Fire TV devices, and more. As with all Prime Day deals, the discounts are only available to members of Amazon’s Prime service.

Fire TVs

Speaking of Fire TVs, Amazon has heavily discounted many of those streaming devices, including the Fire TV Stick and the Fire TV Stick 4K. For Prime Day, the Fire TV Stick with an Alexa Remote for $14.99 (down from $39.99) or a Fire TV Stick 4K with an Alexa Remote for $24.99 (down from $49.99). Fire TV Sticks are the most affordable Alexa-enabled streaming devices from Amazon, but these Prime Day prices are both new lows for the respective devices.

The most obvious difference between the two is video resolution: the Fire TV Stick has a max resolution of 1080p, while the Fire TV Stick 4K supports 4K video as well as HDR10 and Dolby Vision technology. The Fire TV Stick 4K also has an updated quad-core processor so it will have noticeably faster and smoother performance when compared to older Fire TV devices. Otherwise, both streaming sticks have 8GB of RAM, 802.11ac dual-band MIMO Wi-Fi, and Alexa voice command support via the included remote.

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Alternative theory of gravity makes a nearly testable prediction

Ars Technica - July 14, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Galaxy clusters generated by the Universe simulator IllustrisTNG. (credit: TNG Collaboration)

From our current perspective, the Universe seems to be dominated by two things we find frustratingly difficult to understand. One of these is dark matter, which describes the fact that everything from galaxies on up behaves as if it has more mass than we can detect. While that has spawned extensive searches for particles that could account for the visual discrepancy, it has also triggered the development of alternative theories of gravity, ones that can replace relativity while accounting for the discrepancies in apparent mass.

So far, these proposals have fallen well short of replacing general relativity. And they say nothing about the other big mystery, dark energy, which appears to be accelerating the expansion of the Universe. Instead, researchers have developed an entirely separate class of theories that could modify gravity in a way that eliminates the need for dark energy. Now, researchers have run simulations of galaxy and star formation using this alternative version of physics, and they found we might be on the cusp of testing some of them.

Gravitational alternatives

General relativity explains a broad range of phenomena, and it works well to describe the Universe as a whole, provided dark matter and dark energy exist as separate entities. Any alternatives to gravity have to account for everything that's explained by general relativity while also accounting for the additional effects of at least one of these two dark forces. A class of theories, collectively termed MOND (for Modified Newtonian Dynamics), is intended to do away with dark matter, but it struggles to account for things relativity handles with ease.

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Reef rescue: Could this robot help save corals?

BBC Technology News - July 14, 2019 - 12:55am
The submersible robot delivers baby corals to damaged areas allowing reefs to regenerate.

Esports: Trying to make millions through video gaming

BBC Technology News - July 14, 2019 - 12:01am
Top stars of esports, or competitive video gaming, can earn millions of dollars a year without breaking a sweat.

RetroArch will be Steam’s biggest emulation launch yet, coming July 30

Ars Technica - July 13, 2019 - 2:30pm

Coming to Steam on July 30. (credit: Libretro)

RetroArch is coming to Steam as a free download on July 30, marking what appears to be the largest non-commercial emulation launch ever on Valve's digital download storefront. The news came on Friday via an announcement from Libretro, the open source development collective that maintains the RetroArch launcher app for a massive range of operating systems.

In an email interview with Ars Technica, Libretro's Daniel De Matteis claimed that the software's impending launch did not require any conversations with Steam over the storefront's rules about emulation. However, there does appear to be a fuzzy dance going on with this launch, as Friday's announcement includes the following curious claim: "While there is nothing particularly [sic] about RetroArch or the Libretro API that has anything to do with emulators, most do... use it for this purpose." We're not sure what other use case is enabled by RetroArch, honestly. Its menu system revolves around finding, downloading, updating, and booting "cores" that are dedicated to emulating classic video game consoles, and by default, it leads users to cores that advertise compatibility with games from popular consoles made by Nintendo, Sega, Sony, and others.

Valve doesn't appear to have any public-facing rules about whether emulators are allowed on Steam, and poking around Steam reveals a few limited emulator apps. A pair of announcements about rules for Steam's discussion boards, meanwhile, make patently clear that discussions about emulators are expressly forbidden—and are classified as a "piracy" topic. Valve representatives did not immediately answer our questions about RetroArch.

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Atari 2600 rarity Extra Terrestrials goes on sale for $90,000

Ars Technica - July 13, 2019 - 1:30pm

Got $90,000 burning a hole in your pocket? If so, you seemingly have a rare opportunity to purchase one of the rarest Atari 2600 games in existence.

Extra Terrestrials (not to be confused with the notorious movie-licensed Atari 2600 flop E.T.) was an actual Atari 2600 game sold near the tail end of the 2600's commercial existence in early 1984. But the cartridge was almost completely unknown, even among the Atari collecting community, until October of 2011. That's when a copy turned up as a contribution to Canada's Personal Computer Museum in Brantford, Ontario.

With a bit of research, curators at the museum were able to determine that the game's maker, Skill Screen Games, was centered around the Banting family of Burlington, Ontario (making this the only Canadian-produced Atari 2600 game, to boot). The Bantings, hoping to cash in on the Atari craze and the continuing hype around the E.T. movie, hired a programmer named Herman Quast to write a simple two-player maze game for the Atari 2600, with plans to sell that game through distributors for the 1983 holiday season.

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Stranger Things 3, eps. 1-4: Hawkins, Indiana, will never be the same

Ars Technica - July 13, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / Perhaps teen romance can split 'em up temporarily, but you can't keep the gang apart for long if evil lurks around Hawkins. (credit: Netflix)

Warning: This story contains some spoilers for episodes 1-4 of Stranger Things' third season. You can read our non-spoiler preview of the new season here, or catch up on what's come before with past Ars stories on season one and season two.

Russians. It always had to be Russians.

Maybe it should be called Gorbachev's Law, but put any kind of get-the-gang-together action story into the 1980s, and eventually modern democracy's favorite villain must rear its head. And in Stranger Things 3, the show wastes no time—this go-around may be once again centered in Hawkins, but S3's very first scene shows there's no going back after the events of the show's first two seasons. The scope and scale of evil facing our favorite now-teenage heroes grows simultaneously as they do.

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Norfolk village celebrates first transatlantic flight, 100 years on

BBC Technology News - July 13, 2019 - 11:30am
The village of Pulham made history when it welcomed an airship's heroic crew.

Facebook 'to be fined $5bn over Cambridge Analytica scandal'

BBC Technology News - July 13, 2019 - 7:22am
US regulators are said to have approved a penalty against Facebook over a data protection scandal.

OurPact returns to App Store, reviving debates about Apple’s impartiality

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 11:15pm

Tim Cook on stage during an Apple event in September 2018. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Software may come and go from the App Store, but this week marks a return that could have some real significance for Apple. OurPact, an app that lets parents monitor and limit their children's use of technology, has returned to the App Store after being removed this spring. Its creators posted a social message to followers informing them of the app’s return to iOS earlier this week.

“A major thank you to our community for the outpouring of support throughout these removals," the OurPact announcement reads. "Every tweet, share, and mention helped spread the word and restore the future of iOS digital parenting. We look forward to developing family screen time solutions for years to come!"

OurPact was one of 11 apps providing parental control over kids' smartphone usage to be restricted or completely removed from the App Store in April. At the time, Apple claimed the move was due to privacy concerns. It argued that the apps in question used mobile device management (MDM) technology that could "[give] a third party control and access over a device and its most sensitive information, including user location, app use, email accounts, camera permissions, and browsing history."

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Gartner, IDC agree that PC sales are up—but they don’t agree what a PC is

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / Does this Chromebook count as a traditional PC? Gartner says no, IDC says yes. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

We've been hearing for quite some time that the traditional PC is dying, but it's not quite dead yet. Business analyst firms Gartner and IDC tackle the numbers differently, but both agree that sales of traditional PCs were up—in some regions, way up—in Q2 2019.

While both firms reported market growth in year-on-year PC sales, their actual figures differed. IDC reported a 4.7% growth in Q2 sales, where Gartner only reported 1.5%. The two firms' numbers for US regional sales differed even more sharply, with Gartner claiming a 0.4% loss and IDC claiming a "high single digit gain."

We spoke to IDC's Jitesh Ubrani about the difference, and it turns out the two companies don't quite agree on what is or is not a traditional PC. IDC counts Chromebooks as traditional PCs but doesn't count Microsoft Surface tablets; Gartner does count Surface but doesn't count Chromebooks. The higher numbers from IDC indicate a stronger market for Chromebooks than Surface, which shouldn't be a surprise to anyone with children in North American schools, where the inexpensive and easily locked-down Chromebooks are ubiquitous.

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Facebook’s FTC fine will be $5 billion—or one month’s worth of revenue

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 10:26pm

Enlarge / Thumbs down. (credit: Getty Images | Ted Soqui )

The Federal Trade Commission and Facebook have reportedly agreed on a $5 billion fine that would settle the FTC's privacy investigation into the social network.

With Facebook having reported $15 billion in revenue last quarter, the $5 billion fine would amount to one month's worth of revenue.

The FTC voted 3-2 to approve the settlement this week, with three yes votes from Republican commissioners and two no votes from Democrats, The Wall Street Journal reported today, citing anonymous sources. Democrats on the commission were "pushing for tougher oversight," the Journal wrote.

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Prominent anti-vaxxers lose New York court case over religious exemptions

Ars Technica - July 12, 2019 - 9:35pm

Enlarge / Anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. during a public hearing on vaccine related bills in 2015. (credit: Getty | Portland Press Herald)

A New York State Supreme Court Justice on Friday rejected a request by 55 anti-vaccine families to block a recently passed state law eliminating exemptions to school vaccination requirements on the basis of religious beliefs.

According to the families’ attorneys, Justice Michael Mackey cited other court decisions that have held that states have the power to impose such restrictions to protect public health from the spread of infectious disease. Justice Mackey added that the families were unlikely to succeed if they tried to continue with the case.

Nevertheless, the attorneys in the case—Michael Sussman and the prominent anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.—vowed to keep fighting. Kennedy’s anti-vaccine nonprofit, Children’s Health Defense, released a statement saying, “While this decision is a set-back, it isn’t the final decision. The case will move forward with more decisions to come.”

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