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Industry & Technology

Fitbit Inspire HR review: A worthy $99 investment in your health

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

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Apple may be dominating the wearable space, but Fitbit isn't far behind. Long before Apple even made smartwatches, Fitbit made fitness trackers for all types of people who would like to become healthier or advance their training to the next level. And as of late, Fitbit's $129 Alta HR surpassed others as our favorite simple-yet-powerful fitness band that could work for almost anyone.

But now, Fitbit is retiring the Alta HR and replacing it with the new $69 Inspire and $99 Inspire HR fitness trackers. These devices are meant to not only fix some of the shortcomings of the Alta HR but to also attract users who have never worn a wearable before. There are plenty of those people, and Fitbit is betting that a good portion of them don't want a smartwatch and would jump at the chance to spend less on something that's just as capable when it comes to fitness.

We recently spent about a week with the Inspire HR to see for ourselves if Fitbit had taken what Ars saw as the best tracker out there and in fact made it better. And perhaps more importantly to this fitness brand, how compelling is this new wearable for newbies?

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Elon Musk denies being in contempt of court

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 1:48pm
Tesla founder Elon Musk has denied that a tweet placed him in contempt of court.

Facebook restores ads calling for it to be broken up

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 1:08pm
The social network removed ads then restored them to "help debate" about its status and power.

Uber driver kidnapped passenger to boost fare

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 12:57pm
The driver "groped" a sleeping female passenger while taking her on a long ride to boost his fare.

Brexit: Foreign far-right Twitter users 'manipulated debate'

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 12:53pm
Research shows that fake accounts tried, for example, to amplify far-right narratives about Brexit.

Stuffed documentary: Maybe taxidermy isn’t such a dead industry after all

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

The trailer for Stuffed, a taxidermy documentary.

AUSTIN, Texas—Growing up in a suburb of a suburb in Pennsylvania, my hometown's main street looked like you might expect: funeral home, gas station/convenient mart, VFW pub... and a taxidermy office. (Back then, the state even gave public schools a day off at the start of deer-hunting season.) As someone more interested in playing text-based adventure games afterhours on my dad's work computer, I never saw the inside of that last communal institution. But I had a pretty crude mental image based on context clues: antlers lining the walls, camouflage outerwear tossed over a chair, pickup truck parked out back with dead animals in the bed.Ars at SXSW 2019

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Hosting its world premiere this week at South by Southwest, the new documentary Stuffed has come to fix this exact kind of misconception. "You get anything from, 'You do taxes?' to 'That's really creepy.'" That's how one profiled taxidermist describes people's reactions when he tells them what he does. (It's easy to see why another taxidermist has rebranded as a "3D-animal preservationist.") "Some folks will lie and say it's not creepy, but in the back of their mind, they think you're Ted Bundy."

The reality, of course, has little to do with any kind of fascination with death or killing. If Stuffed's ~85-minute ride is to be believed, modern taxidermy is as much if not more about art and nature preservation as it is about dead animals.

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Web creator discusses what went wrong

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 8:33am
Sir Tim Berners-Lee says he feels problems such as data breaches, hacking and misinformation can be tackled.

Meet Tengai, the job interview robot who won't judge you

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 2:10am
Employers can make unconscious - and unfair - judgements about interviewees within a few seconds.

The interview robot that doesn't make snap judgements

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 2:09am
We are all susceptible to unconscious bias - making assumptions about people. Is a robot any better?

Could electric vehicles be the future for Kenyan travel?

BBC Technology News - March 12, 2019 - 1:52am
Kenya's electricity surplus could be capitalised on by a company reconditioning electric vehicles.

Suburban zombies are back and ravenous as ever in Santa Clarita Diet S3 trailer

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 1:35am

The family that preys together, stays together. Drew Barrymore and Tim Olyphant star as Sheila and Joel Hammond, real estate agents with a squicky secret, in The Santa Clarita Diet.

We've got our first peek at what's in store for the third season of The Santa Clarita Diet, Netflix's clever horror-comedy series about zombies in an affluent California suburb. It's what you'd get if the CW's hipster comic/horror procedural, iZombie, grew up and moved to the suburbs: same bloody, bonkers humor with more pastels and fake pasted-on smiles.

(Some spoilers for first two seasons below.)

The series centers on Joel and Sheila Hammond (Tim Olyphant and Drew Barrymore, respectively), married real estate agents who find their lives irrevocably altered after Sheila has an extreme upchucking incident while showing a house to prospective clients. She thinks it's a bad case of food poisoning but soon begins to crave human flesh. The upside: she feels better than she has in years, and her increased libido kick-starts the Hammonds' previously humdrum sex life into overdrive.

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GOP funds messaging sites that look remarkably like trusted local news

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 12:53am

Enlarge / Americans trust local newspapers... do they trust local newspaper websites? (credit: Getty Images)

A variety of Republican Party messaging websites have been popping up, styled after local news sites. These sites claim to be "unbiased," but they are actually funded by Republican donors, candidates, and organizations. Politico has been chronicling the appearance of these sites, and an investigation from Snopes published last week reveals GOP funding sources for three similar sites: The Tennessee Star, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun.

The trend started gaining steam in 2017. In Maine, a website called the Maine Examiner was revealed to be owned by a top Maine Republican Party official after the site had reportedly influenced a contentious mayoral election. Democrats lodged an ethics complaint, but the party official, Jason Savage, said his work on the website was not related to his work for the party.

The Maine Ethics Committee declined to investigate the Democratic Party's complaint, but recent news of leaked emails that were passed to Savage and the Maine Examiner during the election could reopen the possibility of an investigation.

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“It’s show time:” Apple confirms March 25 event at the Steve Jobs Theater

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 12:25am

Enlarge / The event invite strongly hints at the upcoming video service. (credit: Apple)

Apple has sent invites out to members of the press and other guests for a March 25 "special event." The tagline and animation on the invitation strongly suggest that the company's long-rumored streaming TV service will take center stage.

The invitation is accompanied by the words "it's show time." Apple used the same tagline in 2006 for an event at which it unveiled its then-future Apple TV product. TechCrunch editor Matthew Panzarino tweeted out a GIF of the animation: it is a countdown throwback to old films and film production, again suggesting that video content will be a focus for the event.

Apple has been courting Hollywood writers and other talent from its rapidly expanding Culver City, California, offices in the Los Angeles area. The company is reportedly seeking family-friendly content and has acquired an enormous amount of content from established entertainers. For example, it will reboot Steven Spielberg's Amazing Stories, distribute a film from the Oscar-winning director of La La Land, launch a new series from Battlestar Galactica and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine showrunner Ronald D. Moore, and run a series based on Isaac Asimov's Foundation series of stories. It also has a deal of some sort with Oprah Winfrey.

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Next Windows release will include DTrace support

Ars Technica - March 12, 2019 - 12:10am

Enlarge / The bits in the dashed box are the CDDL parts that are more or less common to every platform offering DTrace. (credit: Microsoft)

The forthcoming Windows 10 feature update will bring support for DTrace, the open source debugging and diagnostic tracing tool originally built for Solaris. The port was announced at the Ignite conference last year, and today the instructions, binaries, and source code are now available.

DTrace lets developers and administrators get a detailed look at what their system is doing: they can track kernel function calls, examine properties of running processes, and probe drivers. DTrace commands use the DTrace scripting language, with which users can specify which information is probed and how to report that information.

After its initial Solaris release, DTrace spread to a wide range of other Unix-like operating systems. Today, it's available for Linux, FreeBSD, NetBSD, and macOS. The original Solaris code was released under Sun's Common Development and Distribution License. Microsoft has ported the CDDL portions of DTrace and built an additional driver for Windows that performs some of the system-monitoring roles. The latter driver will ship with Windows; the CDDL parts are all a separate download.

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Three men cop to $21 million vishing and smishing scheme

Ars Technica - March 11, 2019 - 11:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Klaus with K)

Three Romanian citizens have pleaded guilty to carrying out a scheme that used recorded messages and cellphone texts to trick thousands of people into revealing their social security numbers and bank account information, federal authorities said.

The "vishing" and "smishing" scams are variations of phishing that use voicemails and SMS messages instead of email, federal prosecutors in Atlanta, Georgia, said on Friday. From 2011 to 2014, the three Romanians compromised computers located in the US and installed interactive voice response and bulk emailing software on them. The hacked computers initiated thousands of phone calls and text messages that tricked recipients into disclosing personal information, including account numbers, PINs, and social security numbers.

"When a victim received a telephone call, the recipient would be greeted by a recorded message falsely claiming to be a bank," federal prosecutors said. "The interactive voice-response software would then prompt the victim to enter their PII. When a victim received a text message, the message purported to be from a bank and directed the recipient to call a telephone number hosted by a compromised Voice Over Internet Protocol server. When the victim called the telephone number, they were prompted by the interactive voice response software to enter their PII."

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New White House budget spells trouble for NASA’s SLS rocket

Ars Technica - March 11, 2019 - 11:05pm

An artist's impression of the Space Launch System on the launch pad in Florida. (credit: NASA)

With a Republican White House and a Democratic House of Representatives, it almost goes without saying that the President's fiscal year 2020 budget request won't get far within Congress. Yet with NASA's budget, there are intriguing hints about the increasingly commercial nature of lunar exploration.

Two sources familiar with the thinking of Vice President Mike Pence—who leads US space policy—have said he is frustrated with the slow pace of the nation's efforts to send humans to the Moon. In particular, he is growing tired of delays with NASA's Space Launch System rocket, which was originally due to launch in 2017 and is now likely delayed until 2021 at the earliest.

Notably, President Donald Trump's budget request calls for a 17 percent reduction in the budget for NASA's Space Launch System rocket, once viewed as the backbone of the space agency's efforts to explore deep space. The president's budget request chips away at the supremacy of the SLS booster in three important ways.

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A small-molecule drug can block a broad range of flu viruses in mice

Ars Technica - March 11, 2019 - 10:13pm

Enlarge (credit: Mike Mozart / Flickr)

Our bodies are good at generating extremely specific antibodies, targeting a single pathogen among a dizzying mix of harmless bacteria and the proteins made by our own cells. But in some cases, like the flu virus, that specificity is limiting. Those antibodies will generally pick out a very specific strain of the flu virus, leaving us vulnerable to other strains and the new variants that evolve each season.

In recent years, however, it has become apparent that the immune system sometimes gets wildly lucky by generating a single antibody that can neutralize a huge range of viruses. These "broadly neutralizing antibodies" provide a significant protection against viruses that the immune system normally struggles against, like HIV, Ebola, and the flu virus. Mass production of these antibodies might provide a useful therapy, and the hope is that we can incorporate what they tell us into the design of future vaccines for these pathogens.

But some clever researchers have figured out how to use a broadly neutralizing antibody as a tool to design a drug that can block the activity of a large range of flu viruses.

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Tim Berners-Lee: 'Stop web's downward plunge to dysfunctional future'

BBC Technology News - March 11, 2019 - 10:09pm
Thirty years after he invented it, Sir Tim Berners-Lee says the web is not what it should be.

Microsoft proves the critics right: We’re heading toward a Chrome-only Web

Ars Technica - March 11, 2019 - 9:49pm


One of the greatest fears when Microsoft announced that it was ditching its EdgeHTML rendering engine and switching to Chromium—the open source engine that powers Google's Chrome, along with a range of others such as Vivaldi, Brave, and Opera—is that Web developers would increasingly take the easy way out and limit their support and testing to Chrome. That would leave Mozilla's Firefox, Apple's Safari, and any other browsers, present or future, out of the fun.

This is, after all, substantially what we saw during Internet Explorer's heyday. Microsoft's browser grew to about 95 percent of the market, and wide swathes of the Web proudly announced that they were "best viewed in Internet Explorer," often to the point of not working at all in any other browser. IE's hegemony presented an enormous challenge for the upstart Firefox browser, which was built to support Web standards rather than Microsoft's particular spin on those standards. Though Internet Explorer was eventually displaced—by Chrome—this arguably would have gone much quicker if developers had been less fixated on Microsoft's browser.

Last week, Microsoft made a major update to the Web version of its Skype client, bringing HD video calling, call recording, and other features already found on the other clients.

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Netflix’s Formula 1: Drive to Survive finds pressure at the core of F1

Ars Technica - March 11, 2019 - 9:15pm

Enlarge / Daniel Ricciardo is one of the best drivers in F1, and he absolutely shines in Formula 1: Drive to Survive, a new 10-part documentary on Netflix. (credit: Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

For much of this century, the sport of Formula 1 was trapped in amber. Its owners were more interested in sucking out profits than reinvesting them. As a result, the sport's management was able to ignore the Internet for as long as possible, a fad that would soon surely die. But in 2017 Liberty Media bought F1 from the vultures, with a promise to embrace the Internet, not ignore it. And it has. F1's YouTube content is great, and the sport got a bit more tolerant to people sharing their experiences on social media. Last year, Formula 1 launched a streaming platform in markets where TV contracts made that permissible. And now, F1 is on Netflix.

Formula 1: Drive to Survive is a 10-part series from the producer of the documentaries Senna and Amy. It's officially blessed, which means cameras got access to everything in a sport that has spent years redefining the art of keeping people out. The series follows F1 across the 2018 season, one that I think was better than most of the recent hybrid era what with two teams vying for the title. Don't expect to see much of that story, though. When Liberty asked all the teams to take part, Mercedes and Ferrari told them to pound sand.

That means no Lewis Hamilton trolling his haters or Vettel talking about pressure and unforced errors. Their loss is the rest of the sport's gain, and the show is better because of it. Daniel Ricciardo shines, swearing like a trooper along the way. As does Guenther Steiner, the similarly foul-mouthed team principal for Haas, the sole American team in the sport. The title makes plenty of sense: each episode, we get a new example of the pressure one can feel at the leading edge of motorsport.

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