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Industry & Technology

Microsoft shaking up how Windows feature updates are rolled out—again

Ars Technica - February 15, 2019 - 6:10pm

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

Customers using Windows Update for Business will lose some ability to delay the deployment of each new Windows feature release once version 1903 goes live.

When Microsoft first started delivering Windows 10 "as a Service" with a regular flow of feature updates, the company planned to have two release tracks: a "Current Branch" (CB) that was consumer-oriented and "Current Branch for Business" (CBB) aimed at enterprises. The CBB track would trail the CB one by a few months, with consumers acting as guinea pigs to iron out bugs before the quality of each release was deemed good enough for corporate customers.

That naming, though not the underlying concept, was changed in 2017 when Microsoft formalized the Windows 10 release schedule and settled on two feature updates per year, one in April and the other in October. The CB track became the "Semi-Annual Channel (Targeted)" (SAC-T), and when this was proven in the real world, it would be pushed to the "Semi-Annual Channel" (SAC), the replacement for CBB. Pro and Enterprise versions of Windows could be set to follow one track or the other, depending on how aggressively an organization wanted to adopt the feature updates. Machines that were set to SAC would automatically wait a few months after each SAC-T release, waiting for the SAC-T version to be blessed as SAC. Typically the gap has been about three months, even for the troubled version 1809 release.

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Aquaman, Khal Drogo actor may play Duncan Idaho in new Dune film

Ars Technica - February 15, 2019 - 5:42pm

Enlarge / Jason Momoa hit the big time with his portrayal of Khal Drogo in HBO's Game of Thrones and had a global box office smash hit with Aquaman. Now he's set to play Duncan Idaho in new film adaptation of Dune. (credit: HBO)

Deadline Hollywood reports that Aquaman star Jason Momoa—who immortalized Dothraki warlord Khal Drogo in the first season of Game of Thrones—is in negotiations to portray another science-fiction warrior, Duncan Idaho from Dune, Frank Herbert's beloved 1965 science fiction novel. Directed by Denis Villeneuve, this new film adaptation is expected to begin shooting this year.

(Mild spoilers for original novel below.)

Dune is set in the distant future (where else?), and follows the fortunes of various noble houses in what amounts to a feudal interstellar society. Much of the action takes place on the planet Arrakis, where the economy is driven largely by a rare life-extending drug called melange ("the spice") that also conveys a kind of prescience. There's faster-than-light space travel, a prophecy concerning a messianic figure, giant sandworms, and lots of battles, as protagonist Paul Atreides (a duke's son) strives to defeat the forces of Shaddam IV, Emperor of the known universe.

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PewDiePie: Roblox lifts ban after social media backlash

BBC Technology News - February 15, 2019 - 5:30pm
Online multiplayer game Roblox has reinstated PewDiePie after banning the YouTuber for using his name.

Why is this copy of Super Mario Bros. worth $100,000? We asked a buyer

Ars Technica - February 15, 2019 - 5:02pm

Enlarge / Of the millions of copies of Super Mario Bros. ever sold, this is the rarest and most valuable known to exist. (credit: Wata Games)

A sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES has sold for $100,150, setting a new record for the video game-collecting market and perhaps ushering in a new era for the valuation of gaming rarities.

Before you go searching to see if that old cartridge in your attic might be your gateway to riches, note that this copy of the game is so valuable primarily because it’s one of the earliest known copies of the game, and in near-perfect condition. The box in question comes from Nintendo's extremely limited "test market launch" for the NES in New York City and Los Angeles starting in late 1985 (no one actually knows the exact date). These copies didn't come in the usual shrink wrap but were instead sealed with a small matte or glossy sticker (this handy guide outlines the many different Super Mario Bros. box variants released between 1985 and 1994).

Deniz Kahn—CEO and cofounder of game-grading service Wata Games, which evaluated this specimen—estimates that only 2,000 to 10,000 copies of each of the 27 test market games were ever made in this sticker-sealed style. That makes finding even an opened box decades later rare enough. Finding one with the sticker seal intact is even rarer; Kahn estimates only a few dozen exist across the whole test-market line.

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Samsung’s new Tab S5e is super thin, supports Bixby, and costs just $399

Ars Technica - February 15, 2019 - 3:55pm

Samsung's tablets have a lot going for them as enlarged Android devices, but the models really worth considering are quite expensive. Samsung announced the new Galaxy Tab S5e today, a mid-range tablet that the company is hoping will capture people's attention with select premium features and a more accessible $399 price tag.

The high-end nature of the Tab S5e comes in its design. The all-metal unibody is the thinnest and lightest of any Samsung tablet, weighing about 14 ounces and measuring 5.5mm thick. Samsung didn't skimp too much on the display, either, sticking a 10.5-inch, 2560×1600 AMOLED panel with a 16:10 aspect ratio on the tablet. It's also the first Samsung tablet with Bixby built in, allowing users to call on the voice assistant to answer questions, control connected SmartThings devices, and more.

Samsung highlights the multitasking capabilities of the tablet, including a new continuity feature and Dex support. The former lets users make and receive calls and texts from the tablet (it will be available in Wi-Fi and LTE versions) while the latter is Samsung's experimental desktop version of Android. Users can connect a keyboard, mouse, and even an external monitor to the tablet and use Dex to expand Android into a desktop-like software that makes it easier to do many things at once.

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NJ AG: Takedown notice that led to new gun-file lawsuit came from Slovakia—not us

Ars Technica - February 15, 2019 - 3:11pm

Enlarge / Hmm, those don't seem to be the same thing. (credit: Google Maps)

Last week, it appeared that Defense Distributed's battle against the State of New Jersey over a recently enacted "ghost gun" law had new life. This week, a filing from the New Jersey Attorney General's Office puts one of the new lawsuit's inciting incidents into question.

In a February 12 letter (PDF) to District of New Jersey Judge Anne Thompson, NJ Assistant AG Glenn J. Moramarco writes that a recent takedown notice submitted to Cloudflare and aimed at the website CodeIsFreeSpeech was faked.

"A key document supporting Plaintiff's TRO application—a 'takedown notice' purportedly sent by [New Jersey AG's Division of Criminal Justice] to CloudFlare, Inc., which hosts one of the plaintiff's websites, CodeIsFreeSpeech.com—was not in fact issued by DCJ," the NJ AG's office writes in the filing. "[It] appears to have been issued by some entity impersonating the Attorney General's Office."

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Ad code 'slows down' browsing speeds

BBC Technology News - February 15, 2019 - 1:42pm
The code putting ads on webpages can stop pages loading by seconds, finds analysis of millions of sites.

Mobile networks call for 5G security inspector

BBC Technology News - February 15, 2019 - 1:33pm
The mobile network industry has called for a new security testing scheme to check 5G equipment.

Tilly Lockey: 'I can paint with my bionic arms'

BBC Technology News - February 15, 2019 - 1:24pm
Tilly Lockey, 13, has bionic arms that are so sophisticated she can now use a paintbrush and apply make-up.

Rocket Report: Russia’s new spacecraft; is the US sabotaging Iranian rockets?

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

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

Welcome to Edition 1.36 of the Rocket Report! Lots of news this week on smaller rockets and the spaceports around the world that aspire to launch them. There's also an interesting report that may explain, at least in part, why recent Iranian attempts to launch rockets have ended in failure. And so much more...

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.

Firefly targeting late 2019 launch. As part of a feature, Ars explores the factors that led to the dissolution of Firefly in 2016 and the investments by Max Polyakov that brought the company back in 2017. The company's first attempt at its Alpha rocket strove for idealism (with aspects such as an aerospike engine design) that might ultimately have cut costs but required more time and development funds to realize. Eventually, both of those resources ran out.

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Dealmaster: As Switch sales slow, Nintendo launches a new bundle

Ars Technica - February 15, 2019 - 8:46am

Enlarge / The bundle includes the neon red and neon blue Joy-Cons. (credit: Mark Walton)

Nintendo has released a new Switch bundle that pairs the popular game console with a $35 credit to its eShop digital store. The company announced the bundle last week, but the deal has now become available at various retailers, including Walmart, Amazon, GameStop, and Best Buy.

The bundle retails for $299.99, the Switch’s standard going rate, with the $35 credit available in the form of a download code packed with the console. Nintendo says the credit can be put toward any purchase in the eShop. The company has not provided a specific time frame for the new promotion, only saying that the bundle will be available while supplies last.

This isn’t the absolute best deal we’ve seen for the Switch—a handful of coupon codes and one-off promotions have dropped it as low as $225 in the past year. But those deals have typically been brief, and getting what effectively amounts to a $35 discount is still a pleasant bonus for those who have been interested in picking up the console. For reference, Nintendo’s primary Switch deal for Black Friday was simply bundling Mario Kart 8 Deluxe with the device.

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Made In Chelsea's Andy Jordan: Being an influencer made me 'a puppet'

BBC Technology News - February 15, 2019 - 8:03am
Made In Chelsea's Andy Jordan has a warning about the realities of being a social media influencer.

Ford puts bed hoggers in their place, and other news

BBC Technology News - February 15, 2019 - 2:20am
BBC Click's Jen Copestake looks at some of the best technology stories of the week.

Gambling, porn, and piracy on iOS: Apple’s enterprise certificate woes continue

Ars Technica - February 15, 2019 - 1:10am

Enlarge / Apps on an iPhone X. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Rival tech giants like Google and Facebook aren’t the only companies abusing Apple’s enterprise certifications to distribute unapproved apps in the Apple App Store on iOS, according to reports from Reuters and TechCrunch.

Apple’s Enterprise Developer Program is intended to facilitate distribution of apps across devices internally within corporations, governments, and other organizations. Apple explicitly forbids its use for any other purpose in its terms of service.

But the Reuters report describes the use of enterprise certificates to distribute pirated versions of popular iOS software like Minecraft, Spotify, and Pokémon Go. For example, a free version of Minecraft (which is normally a premium app) is distributed by TutuApp using the method. Another pirate distributor, AppValley, offers a version of the Spotify app with the ads that support Spotify and the music artists stripped out completely.

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Meet the tech entrepreneurs tackling sexual harassment

BBC Technology News - February 15, 2019 - 1:00am
In the wake of the #MeToo movement, new apps are helping victims gather and share evidence.

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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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.

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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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