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Russian space chief questions NASA plans, praises partnership with China

Ars Technica - 1 hour 47 min ago

Enlarge / China's Vice Premier Wang Yang (standing) and Russia's then-Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin at Russian-Chinese talks at Constantine Palace in 2016. (credit: Alexander AstafyevTASS via Getty Images)

The chief of Russia's space corporation, Dmitry Rogozin, offered less-than-flattering comments about NASA's Moon program in a recent interview with a Russian tabloid newspaper, Komsomolskaya Pravda.

Asked about Russia's interest in sending humans to the Moon and possibly partnering with NASA, Rogozin dismissed the Artemis program. He responded: "Frankly speaking, we are not interested in participating in such a project."

The Russian space chief has publicly complained for some time that NASA has chosen a 2024 landing date for political reasons. He has also compared US efforts to build a sustainable program of exploration on the surface of the Moon to American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

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Disappointed by Formula E’s plan for its next car? Here’s an alternative

Ars Technica - 1 hour 58 min ago

Enlarge / The future Formula E car will look almost nothing like this. (credit: Matthias Kulka/Getty Images)

Formula E only adopted its second-generation electric race car at the beginning of last season, but the motorsport is finalizing plans for the next iteration—called Gen3—set to debut in season nine (2022/2023). The plan is to make the car more powerful and lighter, with more ability to regenerate energy under braking. It will even adopt mid-race fast-charging. All of that is an improvement on the Gen2 car, but here at Ars, we can't help but feel that Formula E is missing an opportunity to be bolder. And we're not alone. Lucas di Grassi—season 3's champion—has his own idea for the direction Gen3 should take, and it's one the EV crowd will probably like.

Formula E’s plan

Formula E's plan for the Gen3 car is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Power is going up, with 350kW (469hp) available in qualifying, compared to the current 250kW (335hp), which will put speeds somewhere between Formula 3 and Formula 2. (Power output during the 45-minute races is capped at 300kW/402hp.) The battery is going to get considerably lighter, weighing 397lbs (180kg) compared to the current 547lbs (248kg), albeit with a slight reduction in capacity to 51kWh.

The battery will be able to charge at 600kW, more than twice the power of even the best EVs on sale today. That will enable mid-race fast charging, which will add 4kWh in 30 seconds. And the cars will be able to regenerate energy under deceleration at the same power level, thanks to a front-axle 250kW generator unit that works in conjunction with the 350kW motor-generator unit (MGU). However, the front wheels will only regenerate energy—there's no plan to allow the cars to deploy power to the front wheels, unlike just about every high-performance electric road car on sale or in development.

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This 1.4 million-year-old hand axe was chipped off a hippo femur

Ars Technica - 2 hours 8 min ago

Enlarge (credit: By Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Hand axes are fairly common finds at sites dating between 2 million and 1 million years old. These sturdy tools have two sides (also called faces) and a sharp edge at one end. But hand axes are usually made of stone, so archaeologists working at the Konso Formation in southern Ethiopia were surprised to find a hand axe worked from a large chunk of bone buried in a 1.4 million-year-old layer of sediment. When Tohoku University archaeologist Katsuhiro Sano and his colleagues compared the bone to a collection of bone samples from large mammals, they found that their ancient hand axe had once been part of a hippopotamus femur (thigh bone).

From hippopotamus to hand axe

The Konso find is only the second bone hand axe archaeologists have ever found, and one of just a handful of bone tools from sites older than 1 million years. Based on fossils found at Konso, the hominin who flaked off a chunk of hippo femur and worked it into a nice, sharp hand axe was probably a Homo erectus. Members of the species walked upright and were built a lot like modern humans, and they eventually spread from Africa, across Europe and Asia, and all the way to modern Indonesia.

At least one member of this species left behind a 13cm-long hand axe that is, according to Sano and his colleagues, an excellent piece of craftsmanship. The toolmaker apparently flaked a large, flattish piece of bone off the side of a hippo femur; you can still see the outer surface of the bone on one side of the hand axe. That fits the standard Acheulean approach to making hand axes and other tools; the first step is to make a large “blank” in the right general shape, then gradually flake off smaller pieces to shape the finished product.

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Ars readers hated this startup’s privacy policy—so the company changed it

Ars Technica - 2 hours 32 min ago

Enlarge / This isn't the relationship you want to see between a company with access to your private data and its affiliates. (credit: Camerique / Getty Images)

When we covered subscription-based search engine startup Neeva in June, most reader focus wasn't on the search engine itself so much as its privacy policy, which left much to be desired—particularly given the option Neeva gives its users to search their email via the service. Shortly after publication, Neeva CEO Sridhar Ramaswamy reached out to Ars to discuss what went wrong and how the company planned to fix it.

Updated privacy policy

Ramaswamy told Ars that the company's intention was to provide a secure and privacy-respecting platform from the start. But, he added—and we're paraphrasing here—"lawyers will be lawyers," and it was "on him" that he had not inspected the policies drafted by the company's legal counsel closely enough. He told us that he heard our readers' feedback loud and clear, and he pledged to overhaul the policy to bring it in line with the company's actual vision.

The gallery above displays the three areas in the policy that have changed since the call with Ars. Both references to third-party advertising—and tracking technologies associated with such advertising—have been entirely removed. The major impact here lies in expectations for third-party intrusions into the Neeva site itself, and it's an important one—there isn't much point in paying a monthly subscription in return for privacy if your search metadata might be leaking to the public giants you're trying to avoid in the first place.

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How COVID-19 transformed Pokémon Go into “Pokémon stay-at-home”

Ars Technica - 3 hours 13 min ago

Enlarge / Gotta catch 'em all while not catching coronavirus (TM). (credit: Niantic / Aurich Lawson)

Since its launch in 2016, the premise of mobile titan Pokémon Go has centered on roaming the outdoors in search of mystical little creatures. As a result, it’s a game that’s particularly ill-suited to pandemic-derived restrictions on movement.

In an attempt to remedy this, Pokémon Go developer Niantic has rolled out regular updates to make the game more quarantine-compatible in recent months. This has led to a new era of play among many in the Pokémon Go scene. Call it “stay-at-home, play-at-home.”

Such a systemic change in the way Pokémon Go is played was likely necessary for the game to survive in an era where many (if not most) players were unable or afraid to travel and gather together for their usual raids. By providing players with a way to play from home, Niantic is effectively removing the golden geese taunting them from the park across the road.

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Spreading rock dust on farms could be a major climate action

Ars Technica - 4 hours 2 min ago

Enlarge / What if we spread finely crushed basalt—or even cement—on cropland? (credit: AgriLife Today)

Eventually (ideally sooner rather than later), efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are going to have to be joined by a technology that actively removes CO2 from the atmosphere. There are a number of options—from re-growing forests to burning biofuels in power plants that capture the emitted CO2—and we'll probably need several of them to get us to net zero emissions. Some of these options involve agriculture, and a new feasibility study suggests that one of them—spreading crushed rock on farm fields—deserves serious consideration.

The study was led by the University of Sheffield’s David Beerling; it estimates both the potential for this method of carbon capture in each country and the cost required to do so.

Carbon crush

Using crushed rocks isn't a new idea. Some common minerals react with water and CO2 as they weather, converting CO2 from the air into bicarbonate dissolved in water. That bicarbonate (along with some calcium and magnesium) may hang out in groundwater or make its way into the ocean. And along the way, it can also turn into solid carbonate. Whatever route it takes, it’s no longer a greenhouse gas in the air.

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UK's first e-scooter trial starts in Middlesbrough

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 18 min ago
Middlesbrough is the first place to allow e-scooters in a bid to ease pressure on public transport.

Google bans ads for stalkerware apps—with some exceptions

Ars Technica - 5 hours 45 min ago

Enlarge / Google's corporate headquarters. (credit: Alex Tai | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

Google is trying to make it a little harder for a determined stalker to spy remotely on their spouse, partner, or ex by prohibiting advertising for stalkerware apps on its services—with one giant loophole.

The search giant updated its advertising policy to say that effective August 11, the company will no longer allow "the promotion of products or services that are marketed or targeted with the express purpose of tracking or monitoring another person or their activities without their authorization." Notably, the ban does not include private investigation services or apps and services designed for parents to track or monitor their minor children.

The change may sound like it addresses only a tiny niche, but the problem of stalkerware is unfortunately widespread. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in four women and one in ten men have experienced some form of violence, stalking, or abuse from a partner. About 10 percent of women and 2 percent of men specifically report experiencing stalking by an intimate partner.

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Ubisoft: Sexual misconduct probe sees three senior heads resign

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 59 min ago
Three more top executives at game-maker Ubisoft step down as the company investigates allegations.

Sadly, none of the big rockets we hoped to see fly in 2020 actually will

Ars Technica - 7 hours 10 min ago

Enlarge / Artist's view of the configuration of Ariane 6 using four boosters on the ELA-4 launch pad together with its mobile gantry. (credit: ESA-D. Ducros)

This was supposed to be the year of the big rocket. At one point, as many as four large, powerful boosters were slated to take flight this year. Alas, we now know for sure that none of them are going to make it.

Two years ago, Ars published an article outlining the four large and powerful rockets expected to make their debuts: Arianespace's Ariane 6, NASA's Space Launch System, Blue Origin's New Glenn, and United Launch Alliance's Vulcan-Centaur. Our confidence in each of these boosters launching in 2020 ranged from medium-high for the Ariane 6 (oops!) to low for New Glenn and Vulcan-Centaur.

Given that none of these rockets will, in fact, debut this year, we decided to revisit the realm of heavy lift. We will also add three more contenders for a 2021 launch: Japan's H3 rocket, Northrup Grumman's Omega booster, and SpaceX's Super Heavy first stage. Here, we try to rank these seven vehicles by which will launch soonest. Please note these are estimates based upon vastly incomplete information and are almost certainly wrong.

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ISIS 'still evading detection on Facebook', report says

BBC Technology News - 8 hours 3 min ago
A new report finds ISIS-linked groups are using a number of tactics to hide content from moderation.

Decades later, these remakes haven’t fixed their racial representation issues

Ars Technica - 9 hours 10 min ago

Enlarge / Barret was a complex character in Final Fantasy VII. Then you hear him speak in the remake...

April saw the release of both Final Fantasy VII Remake (FF7R) and Trials of Mana, two 20-plus-year-old roleplaying games recreated for modern times. These re-imaginings have received solid receptions from both critics and players and introduced these titles to a new generation of potential fans.

But despite all the changes introduced in the intervening decades, both remakes unfortunately still include some of the same issues present in their original inspirations. Specifically, these games still do a poor job portraying people of color, via Barret in Final Fantasy and Kevin in Trials of Mana.

Blaxpoitation Barret

In the Final Fantasy VII Remake, Barret Wallace is many things: he is a good parent, a vigilante, a commanding officer, a robust party member, and a hero. He is shown to be an interesting and endearing person in a number of different ways. Through him we learn of how dedicated Avalanche is to stopping Shinra. He’s the first character to fully accept that their eco-terrorism has serious consequences, such as harm to innocents. Barret also reminds players of the hypocrisy in working for an evil corporation.

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Nicole Thea: Pregnant social media star dies with unborn son

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 32 min ago
A statement says the 24-year-old had named her child Reign with her partner Boga.

Huawei: BT says 'impossible' to remove all firm's kit in under 10 years

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 44 min ago
On Tuesday, the UK government is expected to announce deadlines to stop using the Chinese firm's kit.

Beyond Zoom: The future of virtual meetings

BBC Technology News - 16 hours 10 min ago
Chris Fox explores how virtual reality could become the office of the future.

How video is challenging the traditional CV

BBC Technology News - 21 hours 58 min ago
Personal videos are increasingly being used in the job application process.

Social media firms 'must do more' to tackle racism

BBC Technology News - 22 hours 41 min ago
Match of the Day 2 pundit Jermaine Jenas says social media companies must do more following the news that Wilfried Zaha received racist abuse online.

Ensigns are the scrappy underdogs in new Star Trek: Lower Decks trailer

Ars Technica - 22 hours 44 min ago

Tawny Newsome and Jack Quaid lend their voices to the new animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks, premiering next month on CBS All Access.

With the success of Star Trek: Discovery and Picard, CBS continues to expand its offerings within the Star Trek universe, this time with a new animated comedy series: Star Trek: Lower Decks. The series boasts a unique angle: it focuses on telling the stories of the lower-ranking crew members, with all the big dramatic events of a typical Star Trek episode happening in the background. As Ensign Beckett Mariner (Tawny Newsome, Space Force) says in the new trailer, "We're not really elite. We're more the cool scrappy underdogs." That sounds like a Star Trek series the fans can get behind.

This is the first animated Star Trek series since the Emmy-award-winning Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS), which ran from 1973 to 1974. That show served as a sequel to the live-action Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS)—effectively a fourth season—with many of the original cast members returning to voice the characters. Among the new characters introduced were a three-armed, three-legged alien crew member named Arex, and a Caitian (a cat-like alien) crew member named M'Ress. The 22 episodes included a sequel to the famous "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode from TOS, in which the breed is genetically altered to not reproduce—with the tradeoff being that they grow extremely large (or rather, clusters of tribbles are able to function as a single whole).

Star Trek: Lower Decks is a different beast. It's part of a five-year overall deal Discovery co-creator and showrunner Alex Kurtzman signed with CBS to expand the franchise. Kurtzman tapped Rick and Morty head writer Mike McMahan to spearhead the project. “Mike won our hearts with his first sentence: ‘I want to do a show about the people who put the yellow cartridge in the food replicator so a banana can come out the other end,’” Kurtzman told Variety back in October 2018. “His cat’s name is Riker. His son’s name is Sagan. The man is committed. He’s brilliantly funny and knows every inch of every Trek episode, and that’s his secret sauce: he writes with the pure, joyful heart of a true fan."

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Watch Dogs: Legion hands-on: Play as anyone, care about no one

Ars Technica - July 12, 2020 - 8:45pm

Enlarge / If you're looking for an open-world adventure full of generic, unclear rebellion, Watch Dogs: Legion might hit the spot when it launches later this year. (credit: Ubisoft)

Last year, Watch Dogs: Legion emerged from Ubisoft's coffers with an ambitious pitch for the open-world genre: play as any character in the game. Security guards, grandmas, and even members of rival factions can be "recruited" to become a playable character (with some being trickier to convince than others). It's certainly a first for a GTA-like: why run people over with your car when you can sign them up to your cause?

But is this twist enough to boost the Watch Dogs series to a compelling romp, years after its "GTA with hacking" conceit was already wearing thin? After a delay from its original 2019 launch window, players across the world will find out October 29 on PC (UPlay, Epic Games Store), Stadia, Xbox One, and PS4. (The game will also launch on next-gen consoles "upon their launch," Ubisoft reps have told Ars.) In the meantime, I got to play a preview build for nearly four hours last week to find out for myself. And while the play-as-anyone conceit really works as advertised and is impressive as a feat of engineering, its execution within a video game is currently hard to recommend.

Taking the “N” out of NPC

This version of Watch Dogs is set in a near-future version of London (with most of its historic landmarks intact) on the eve of a terrorist attack. A spate of explosions goes off across the city, and the evil mastermind behind it frames a vaguely anti-government, anti-corporation group called Dedsec. A privatized, automation-minded security firm wrests control of London's police forces, then ramps up body-scanning checkpoints and security drones. Dedsec's ranks are arrested and otherwise detained, but their message—of, uh, fighting the power, but not in any specific or controversial way—lives on, carried in part by an AI entity.

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Assassin’s Creed Valhalla hands-on: An incomplete Witcher-ization

Ars Technica - July 12, 2020 - 8:44pm

Enlarge / Assassin's Creed Valhalla stars Eivor, a Viking in the Early Middle Ages. Note: all images in this article were captured directly from live demo gameplay, not altered or sweetened by the publisher. (credit: Ubisoft)

Assassin's Creed's many-year transition to becoming a full-blown RPG is complete. The November 17 launch of Assassin's Creed Valhalla on PC (UPlay, Epic Games Store), Stadia, PS4, and Xbox One follows the progression we saw in 2017's AC Origins and 2018's AC Odyssey, which guided the series' open-world formula away from sneak-and-assassinate parkour and toward a full-fledged hero story.

Ahead of today's Ubi Forward reveal event, Ubisoft invited us to a 3.5-hour hands-on session with a prerelease build of AC Valhalla. And our experience confirmed exactly what we'd assumed when the game's concept (codenamed Ragnarok) leaked late last year: the series has gone full Witcher. Sadly, thus far, that comparison isn't as watertight as AC fans may hope.

The world feels real, but not the characters

My demo put me in control of Eivor, the game's Viking protagonist, roughly halfway in the middle of the game. (AC Valhalla's protagonist has the same name whether you pick their male or female version.) I've arrived in East Anglia in the Early Middle Ages with the goal of helping a deposed local king regain command from an invading force—to stabilize the region and thus engender my Viking brethren to its leadership.

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