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Industry & Technology

Jedi: Fallen Order game review: More like, the Force goes back to sleep

Ars Technica - 2 hours 28 min ago
Years after EA paid ridiculously for the rights to Star Wars's gaming universe, the game publisher has finally arrived with what fans wanted from it in the first place: a solid single-player adventure. Low as that bar might be, that's the archetype that the most beloved '80s and '90s Star Wars fare delivered on, and it's the kind of experience we haven't seen for nearly a decade.

Really, 2010's Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II is an appropriate reference point as we peel back the EA-ization of Star Wars games—from MMO-related bloat to cancellations to loot boxes—and dive into Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order. Respawn Entertainment's new game, out now on PCs and consoles, pits you (and a suite of Force powers) against armies of AI-controlled foes. Sounds familiar, right? And is that a good thing?

After playing its 12-hour campaign, I can only muster a shoulder shrug as a response. I guess. Sure. If you want.

That's not to say Fallen Order isn't polished or, at times, quite impressive. But it's also a painfully safe game, built to check a list of "hardcore gamer" boxes instead of forging particularly new paths for the Jedi power fantasy. Respawn was given the unenviable task of winning back some of the most opinionated fans in the world, and the developer charted a tried-and-true course of doing so: a third-person adventure that combines lightsaber waving and a healthy mix of Force superpowers. (You know, like Force Unleashed II.)

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General election 2019: Labour pledges free broadband for all

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 6 min ago
Labour would part-nationalise BT to deliver the policy and tax tech giants to help cover the £20bn cost.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is the single leading source of anti-vax ads on Facebook

Ars Technica - 4 hours 41 min ago

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

Just two organizations were responsible for the majority of anti-vaccine advertisements on Facebook before the social media giant restricted such content in March of this year, according to a November 13 study in the journal Vaccine.

Of 145 anti-vaccine Facebook advertisements that ran between May 31, 2017, and February 22, 2019, the World Mercury Project and a group called Stop Mandatory Vaccination together ran 54% of them.

The World Mercury Project, which ran the most ads of any single source, is an organization closely aligned with the anti-vaccine group Children's Health Defense. Both are spearheaded by Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer turned prolific peddler of dangerous anti-vaccine misinformation. He and his organizations promote conspiracy theories about vaccine safety, including the roundly debunked claim that safe, life-saving immunizations are linked to autism. More recently, Kennedy has become a prominent opponent of laws aimed at increasing vaccination rates among school children.

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Life-like Russian androids and other news

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 19 min ago
BBC Click's Paul Carter looks at some of the week's best technology stories.

Google gives up on US carriers, will roll out its own RCS chat system

Ars Technica - 8 hours 21 min ago

Enlarge / Promotional image of two smartphones. (credit: Google)

Will RCS ever matter? The standard has been hanging around for years as an upgrade to the aging carrier SMS texting standard, but since the carriers are in charge of it, the Rich Communication Service (RCS) has been going nowhere fast. Google is apparently tired of waiting for the carriers, and after launching its own RCS service in the UK and France earlier this year, the industry giant is now bringing its own RCS implementation to the United States, carriers be damned.

Google is rolling out RCS through the Google Messages app, Google's ninth messaging app after Google Talk, Google Voice, Google Buzz, Google+ Messenger, Hangouts, Spaces, Allo, and Hangouts Chat. Users of Google's app will eventually see a notification to "Do more with Messages," and then they'll be able to "enable chat features" which is RCS. Google says it will start enabling this for US users "in the coming weeks" and the service will be "broadly available in the US by the end of year."

RCS is pretty lame as a messaging standard in 2019, but remember this is a replacement for SMS—the spec has been driven by the carriers that are members of the GSMA. So you've got to lower your expectations. RCS upgrades carrier messaging with functionality like typing indicators, presence information, location sharing, group messages, longer messages, and better media support. These are all things you would expect from any over-the-top instant messaging app in the modern era, but as a carrier-integrated replacement for SMS, these basics are still not there yet.

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Apple plans a Prime-like subscription bundle, but that has News+ publishers worried

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 11:03pm

Enlarge / Tim Cook announces Apple TV+ at an event on March 25, 2019. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

According to a report in Bloomberg, Apple may be planning to launch a bundled subscription service that would include services like Apple News+, Apple TV+, and Apple Music as soon as 2020. This strategy would be similar to that of Amazon Prime, though not as far-reaching—at least at first.

The report says that, at a minimum, Apple has left the door open for this in its contracts with Apple News+ content providers. Its sources say that there is "a provision that Apple included in deals with publishers that lets the iPhone maker bundle the News+ subscription service with other paid digital offerings."

While this would likely be appealing to consumers and could bolster Apple's services revenue, not all stakeholders in the decision are likely to be happy about it. Bloomberg's sources said they believed that publishers could see reduced revenues from Apple News+ because they'd likely be sharing a smaller piece of the subscription pie than they do under the $10/month Apple News+ service. Currently, Apple pockets 50% of the money that comes in to Apple News+, while the other 50% is split between publishers based on how much their content is read and engaged with.

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Another company is dialing back expectations for self-driving taxis

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 10:45pm

Enlarge / Ola Källenius of Daimler AG. (credit: Christoph Schmidt/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Daimler is planning to "rightsize" its spending on self-driving taxis, Chairman Ola Källenius said on Thursday. Getting self-driving cars to operate safely in complex urban environments has proved more challenging than people expected a few years ago, he admitted.

"There has been a reality check setting in here," Källenius said, according to Reuters.

He is just the latest executive to acknowledge that work on self-driving taxi technology is not progressing as fast as optimists expected two or three years ago. Earlier this year, Ford CEO Jim Hackett sought to dampen expectations for Ford's own self-driving vehicles. Industry leaders Waymo and GM's Cruise missed self-imposed deadlines to launch driverless commercial taxi services in 2018 and 2019, respectively.

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Stadia what? Xbox game streaming will become part of Game Pass in 2020

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 10:29pm

Enlarge / This controller attachment was shown in Microsoft's xCloud promo video, and Bluetooth wireless controller support is also planned. (credit: Microsoft)

At Microsoft's annual X0 fan conference in London on Thursday, Microsoft confirmed a huge piece of news for its game-streaming platform, Project xCloud. The service will launch with full compatibility for all Xbox software in "2020," meaning that it will work with "all games you own, or games you purchase in the future," according to xCloud reps.

What's more, Xbox may have just thrown the gauntlet down in the game-streaming price wars by announcing a clear tie between the Project xCloud streaming service and the paid Xbox Game Pass subscription service.

"Next year, we will bring game streaming to Xbox Game Pass, so that you are free to discover and play anywhere and everywhere," xCloud General Manager Catherine Gluckstein told the X019 crowd on Thursday.

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New 3D display combines visuals, haptic feedback, and sound

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 10:20pm

Plenty of technology development comes in areas where we've already settled on an efficient design. Wind turbines are a great example. Several decades ago, some radical ideas were floating around, touted as providing heightened efficiencies. But wind turbines have since stabilized on a standard design, and most research now goes into figuring out how to get the most out of that design. In a lot of ways, it's boring compared to the lingering potential for a complete reinvention.

Right now, 3D displays are back in the much more fun "radical ideas" phase. While various VR technologies are on the market, they're unsatisfying in various ways. A handful of technologies has been demonstrated that provide 3D images without the need for goggles or glasses. But these ideas have their own problems, including slow refresh and complicated hardware, and they lack a standardized mode of user interaction. One company has developed a 3D display that can be manipulated by hand, but without any feedback, this can be tricky.

This week, researchers are describing a new take on a recent 3D display development that mixes in a key ingredient: sound. The use of ultrasound allows the researchers to both run the display and provide haptic feedback for interactions with it. As an added bonus, the new display can allow audible sound to originate from objects within the display itself.

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NASA report finds Boeing seat prices are 60% higher than SpaceX

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 9:59pm

Enlarge / Teams from NASA, Boeing, and the White Sands Missile Range rehearse landing and crew extraction from Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner on Monday, Sept. 9, 2019. (credit: NASA)

On Thursday, NASA's inspector general released a report on the space agency's commercial crew program, which seeks to pay Boeing and SpaceX to develop vehicles to transport astronauts to the International Space Station.

Although the report cites the usual technical issues that the companies are having with the development of their respective Starliner and Dragon spacecraft, far more illuminating is its discussion of costs. Notably, the report publishes estimated seat prices for the first time, and it also delves into the extent that Boeing has gone to extract more money from NASA above and beyond its fixed-price award.

Boeing's per-seat price already seemed like it would cost more than SpaceX. The company has received a total of $4.82 billion from NASA over the lifetime of the commercial crew program, compared to $3.14 billion for SpaceX. However, for the first time the government has published a per-seat price: $90 million for Starliner and $55 million for Dragon. Each capsule is expected to carry four astronauts to the space station during a nominal mission.

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FCC sued by dozens of cities after voting to kill local fees and rules

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 9:23pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | eccolo74)

The Federal Communications Commission faces a legal battle against dozens of cities from across the United States, which sued the FCC to stop an order that preempts local fees and regulation of cable-broadband networks.

The cities filed lawsuits in response to the FCC's August 1 vote that limits the fees municipalities can charge cable companies and prohibits cities and towns from regulating broadband services offered over cable networks.

"At least 46 cities are asking federal appeals courts to undo an FCC order they argue will force them to raise taxes or cut spending on local media services, including channels that schools, governments, and the general public can use for programming," Bloomberg Law wrote Tuesday.

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FTC head asks Congress for real privacy laws he can enforce

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 9:07pm

Enlarge / FTC Chairman Joseph Simons testifying about antitrust matters before a Senate committee in September 2019. (credit: Alex Edelman | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

In testimony before a House subcommittee Wednesday, Federal Trade Commission Chairman Joseph Simons renewed his call for Congress to pass new privacy legislation, telling representatives, essentially, he can't enforce a law that doesn't exist.

Simons was on Capitol Hill testifying in a hearing on "Online Platforms and Market Power," the probe the House Antitrust subcommittee launched in June to dig into Apple, Amazon, Facebook, and Google.

At the highest level, the FTC is responsible for basically two things: protecting competition and protecting consumers. To that end, it's one of the two bodies with antitrust oversight, sharing responsibility with the Justice Department for reviewing mergers and challenging anticompetitive behavior.

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Dealmaster: Get discounts on board games, AirPods Pro, Xbox Game Pass, and more

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 7:40pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back again with a new round of discounts and price drops. We'll admit, though, that we're in the calm before the Black Friday storm. With more and more retailers detailing their holiday sales plans, the number of worthwhile deals available right now has understandably shrunk. Tons of games, gear, and gadgets are still on sale, but the Dealmaster is hesitant to recommend various items that'll drop further in a couple of weeks.

That said, the deals landscape isn't totally barren for those who would rather shop before the holiday rush. Today's roundup is highlighted by a $15 discount on Apple's new AirPods Pro earbuds (albeit with a fairly sizable shipping wait as of this writing), an offer for new Xbox Game Pass Ultimate users to get three months of service for $1, and sales on a few well-regarded board games, including CatanPandemic, and 7 Wonders. Beyond that, we've also got deals on USB-C hubs and chargers, various discounts on Amazon services like Audible and Music Unlimited, a nice drop on Bose's wired SoundSport earphones, and more. Have a look at the full list for yourself below.

Dealmaster: An Ars newsletter The Dealmaster is launching its very own newsletter! Sign up to receive a shorter, tightly curated list of the very best tech deals on the Web—no nonsense, direct to your inbox, and often before they make it to the Ars homepage. Sign Me Up!

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

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Impeachment hearing reveals major White House phone security fail

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 6:39pm

Enlarge / US Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland's phone conversation with President Trump in June was overheard by embassy staffers with Sondland at a Kiev restaurant (and probably by other countries' intelligence services). (credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

In testimony yesterday before the House Intelligence Committee, diplomat William Taylor said that he had recently learned of a phone call between George Sondland—the US ambassador to the European Union—and President Donald Trump. Taylor, the senior diplomat for the US in Ukraine, said that his staff overheard Trump during a call with Sondland while at dinner with the ambassador at a restaurant in Kiev.

The contents of that discussion—that Trump asked Sondland about "the investigations" Trump wanted Ukraine to conduct as an alleged condition of releasing military aid—may or may not be damaging to the president's case that he was not seeking foreign assistance for his 2020 presidential campaign. But as anyone in national or diplomatic security will attest to, an open phone call between the president and an ambassador regarding topics of diplomatic interest in a public place like a restaurant—a place where any foreign intelligence organization could be monitoring for collection purposes—would be a major breach of operational (and national) security.

This is not the first time that the administration has let issues of national security play out before a public audience. In February of 2017, President Trump consulted with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe regarding a North Korean ballistic missile test and made phone calls from the restaurant of his Mar-A-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida, in plain view and within earshot of other diners—some of whom essentially live-streamed the situation from their cell phones. A few months later, Trump shared intelligence data with Russia's foreign minister and ambassador in an Oval Office meeting concerning an Islamic State plot to bring down passenger planes with laptops turned into bombs.

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Google Maps translate feature will speak local place-names

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 5:40pm

Enlarge / This new speaker button in Google Maps will verbally speak the location's name and address.

Traveling the world but don't speak the local language? Google Maps should be a bit more useful soon, thanks to some new integration with Google Translate.

Typically if you're in a foreign-language country, Google Maps will show the English place-name followed by the name in the local language below it. Sometime this month, Google Maps will get a new speaker button next to the local place-name, which will fire up Google Translate's text-to-speech engine. Until now, if you needed to communicate with a driver or ask for directions, you might have handed over your smartphone and let them read the screen. Now, though, you'll be able to have your phone shout out the pronunciation in a synthesized Google Translate voice, or you can practice pronouncing the name yourself beforehand.

This all happens in a new pop-up window, which lets your phone speak the place-name or address in the local language.There's also a handy "get more translations" button at the bottom, which will kick you out to the full Google Translate app. The language selection is all based on the locale chosen in your system settings, which is then compared to the local language of the place you're looking up.

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Google Stadia will be missing many features for Monday’s launch

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 5:04pm

As Google barrels forward toward streaming gaming with Monday's planned launch of Stadia, the company is talking about the many promised features that won't be available to Founder and Premier pre-order purchasers on day one.

In a wide-ranging Reddit AMA Wednesday, Google employees said that missing features will "start popping up as soon as one week after launch." Director of Product Andrey Doronichev defended this by saying that Google products "always start with nailing the key user-journey and then proceed with releasing extra features. YouTube started with 'watch video.' For Stadia it’s 'Play the Game on your biggest screen.'"

Game platforms often launch with limited feature sets that get expanded via firmware updates over multiple years. That said, the list of promised features that won't be ready when Stadia launches next week is surprising in its breadth and variety.

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Ford opens its order books for Mustang Mach-E electric crossover

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 4:29pm

The glacial pace at which some of the world's major automakers are electrifying their product line-ups can be rather frustrating. I've been particularly critical of Ford, although there's clear evidence that the Blue Oval wants that to change. It invested $500 million in Rivian, an electric vehicle startup that has also seen big investment from Amazon. And it's going to use Volkswagen's MEB architecture to build battery EVs for European markets. But next year, before either of those efforts bears fruit, we'll get to see Ford's first in-house, long-range BEV hit the showroom. And now it's official—the new vehicle will be badged the Mustang Mach-E.

Right now there aren't really any more details to share. I've heard rumors of a 4-second 0-60 time and 300+ miles of range for the range-topping version. But I'm off to California tomorrow morning for an embargoed briefing on the new BEV, and you'll have to wait until the Mach-E is revealed to the world at 6:30pm ET on Sunday, November 17 to find out what I learned. You'll also be able to put a refundable $500 deposit down once the car is unveiled by Idris Elba via livestream, in both the US and EU.

As of now, all I have to officially share are the above photos of the plastic, faceted pony that Ford sent out as an invite and the augmented reality version taken with the event app that Ford made me download. If you're particularly taken with the stealth-horse, keep an eye out for our end-of-year charity drive, as it will be up for grabs (along with a very heavy Mustang Shelby GT500 supercharger paperweight).

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Physics holds the secret to volleyball’s highly unpredictable “float serve”

Ars Technica - November 14, 2019 - 3:59pm

Enlarge / PARIS, FRANCE - Alen Pajenk #2 of Slovenia serves the ball during the EuroVolley 2019 Final match between Serbia and Slovenia at AccorHotels Arena on September 29, 2019 in Paris, France. (credit: Catherine Steenkeste | Getty Images)

A good float serve at just the right moment in volleyball can make or break a tight game, since the ball's trajectory is so tough to predict. It's the surface panels on conventional volleyballs that give rise to these unpredictable trajectories, and modifying the surface patterns could make for a more consistent flight, according to a recent paper in Applied Sciences.

It all comes down to gravity and aerodynamics. Any moving ball leaves a wake of air that trails behind it as it flies through the air. The inevitable drag slows the ball down. The trajectories of various sports balls are affected not just by their diameter and speed but also by any tiny irregularities on their surface. Golf balls have dimples, for example, while baseballs have stitching in a figure-eight pattern—both sufficiently bumpy to affect the airflow around the ball.

It's well known that the movement of a baseball creates a whirlpool of air around it, commonly known as the Magnus effect. The raised seams churn the air around the ball, creating high-pressure zones in various locations that (depending on the type of pitch) can cause deviations in its trajectory. Golf ball dimples reduce the drag flow by creating a turbulent boundary layer of air, while the ball's spin generates lift by creating a higher air pressure area on the bottom of the ball than on the top.

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'Cryptoqueen' brother admits role in OneCoin fraud

BBC Technology News - November 14, 2019 - 3:29pm
Konstantin Ignatov, brother of Dr Ruja Ignatova, pleads guilty to money laundering and fraud.

Social-media influencers: Incomes soar amid growing popularity

BBC Technology News - November 14, 2019 - 3:28pm
A post worth just £104 in 2014 is now banking £1,276 a report suggests.

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