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Industry & Technology

Coronavirus clobbers Uber, leading to $1.8 billion quarterly loss

Ars Technica - 50 min 13 sec ago

Enlarge / Passengers load their luggage into their Uber cars Sydney Airport on August 05, 2020. (credit: James D. Morgan/Getty Images)

The coronavirus pandemic hammered Uber's finances in the second quarter of 2020, the company announced on Thursday. Gross bookings for Uber's core ride-hailing business plunged by 75 percent compared with a year earlier—from $12.2 billion to $3 billion.

That was offset somewhat by rapid growth in Uber's delivery business. Delivery bookings more than doubled from $3.4 billion to $7 billion.

The company lost $1.8 billion in the second quarter on a GAAP basis. Ignoring one-time charges, Uber has been losing around $1 billion per quarter for the last couple of years.

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Updated hurricane-season outlooks: Expect plenty more storms

Ars Technica - 52 min 24 sec ago

Enlarge / Hurricane Isaias passed north of Haiti and the Dominican Republic on July 31 before spinning up the East Coast. (credit: NASA EO)

Hurricane season in the Atlantic has so far been quite active, with nine storms chewing through the alphabet already—two of them (Hanna and Isaias) reached hurricane strength before making landfall. Unfortunately, this pattern isn’t expected to let up, as hurricane outlooks have upgraded the odds that this highly active season is going to continue. In fact, NOAA is suggesting that we could be considering names starting with Y before things settle down for the winter.

In May, NOAA’s hurricane season outlook gave 60 percent odds of above-average activity, with something like 13 to 19 named storms, six to 10 hurricanes, and three to six major hurricanes of Category 3 or higher.

On Thursday, NOAA released an updated outlook with higher probabilities. “The season is now expected to be one of the more active in the historical record,” it notes. The outlook now calls for between 19 and 25 named storms and with seven to 11 hurricanes, though the number of major hurricanes is unchanged. Because the potential energy available for storms can produce one big storm or multiple smaller ones, the total is often calculated as “Accumulated Cyclone Energy,” or ACE. An above-normal hurricane season hits 120 percent of the median ACE, while clearing 165 percent defines an extremely active season. The new outlook sees the 2020 season hitting anywhere from 140 to 230 percent of median ACE.

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FCC lowers some prison phone rates after blaming states for high prices

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 8:58pm

Enlarge (credit: Jason Farrar)

The Federal Communications Commission today voted unanimously to lower the prices inmates pay for phone calls from prisons and jails, but the organization reiterated its position that state governments must take action to lower prices on the majority of inmate calls.

Today's action is a proposal to "substantially reduce [the FCC's] interstate rate caps—currently $0.21 per minute for debit and prepaid calls and $0.25 per minute for collect calls—to $0.14 per minute for debit, prepaid, and collect calls from prisons, and $0.16 per minute for debit, prepaid, and collect calls from jails." This is part of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which means the commission will take public comment before finalizing the new caps and could change the plan before making it final.

Since the proposed rate cap limits prices on interstate calls only, it won't affect the approximately 80 percent of prison calls that don't cross state lines. Last month, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai urged state governments to cap intrastate calling prices, saying the FCC lacks authority to do so. Pai said that "33 states allow rates that are at least double the current federal cap, and 27 states allow excessive 'first-minute' charges up to 26 times that of the first minute of an interstate call."

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Catch up with Final Fantasy VII Remake for a new low of $40 today

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 7:55pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a new low price on Final Fantasy VII Remake, with the PlayStation 4 exclusive currently available for $40 at various retailers. The discount covers both physical and digital copies. For reference, we've typically seen the game retail between $50 and $60 online since it launched this past April.

As for the game itself, "remake" is the key word here. Final Fantasy VII Remake isn't just the original PlayStation classic in high definition: it's the first installment in a planned series of action RPGs, one that takes the first few hours of the original and stretches them out into a full-length 35-hour melodrama.

On paper, that whole sentence sounds like a nightmare. But Remake manages to make it work through a thrilling combat system that fuses real-time action and menu-based commands, as well as a surprisingly subversive story that interrogates the game's past and its fanbase's expectations. It certainly has problems—some of them small, others impossible to truly look past—but if you're in the mood for a modernized JRPG, Remake is worth a look during these slower summer months.

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Trump campaign’s false COVID-19 claims taken down by Facebook and Twitter

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 6:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

For the first time, both Facebook and Twitter acted to remove content shared by the campaign to re-elect President Donald Trump from their platforms, citing policies against spreading false claims about COVID-19.

Both the @TeamTrump campaign Twitter account and the official Donald Trump Facebook account shared a video late yesterday in which Trump claimed children are immune from the novel coronavirus. The video was a clip from an interview in which the president spoke by phone with Fox & Friends hosts about schools reopening this fall. "My view is that schools should be open," Trump said. "If you look at children, children are almost—and I would almost say definitely—but almost immune from this disease. So few, they’ve got stronger, hard to believe, I don’t know how you feel about it, but they have much stronger immune systems than we do somehow for this. They don’t have a problem. They just don’t have a problem. They are virtually immune from this problem."

Children are in fact people and are just as susceptible as the rest of us to breathing in and sneezing out germs. (Possibly more so, if you ask any parent of a toddler.) Kids do, on average, tend to have much less severe cases of COVID-19 than adults when they catch it, but repeated outbreaks in camps and schools since June have made it abundantly clear that children can both catch and transmit the virus.

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Coronavirus: England's contact-tracing app readies for launch

BBC Technology News - August 6, 2020 - 6:04pm
The app will use QR barcode scans as well as Bluetooth handshakes to determine if users are at risk.

Fifa 21: 'Toxic behaviour' cut from goal celebrations

BBC Technology News - August 6, 2020 - 5:47pm
Players will no longer be able to use the "shushing" goal celebration to gloat and stall games.

Google kills the Pixel 4, making it the shortest-lived Pixel ever

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 5:46pm

The Pixel 4 is dead. That's the official confirmation that Google sent to The Verge after people noticed that the Google Store listed the phone as "out of stock." The Pixel 4 started shipping October 24, 2019, so it was available for only nine-and-a-half months.

The Verge writes:

"Google Store has sold through its inventory and completed sales of Pixel 4 [and] 4 XL,” a Google spokesperson confirms to The Verge. “For people who are still interested in buying Pixel 4 [and] 4 XL, the product is available from some partners while supplies last. Just like all Pixel devices, Pixel 4 will continue to get software and security updates for at least three years from when the device first became available on the Google Store in the US.”

The Pixel 4 had the shortest life span of any Pixel phone, only lasting half as long as the other high-end models. The Pixel 1, 2, and 3 were all for sale for around 18 months. The midrange Pixel 3a, had a similarly short lifespan and was discontinued after about 13 months of sales.

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Trump admin shrugs off FCC court loss to fight Calif. net neutrality law

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 5:27pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Rafe Swan)

The Trump administration and broadband industry are resuming their fight against California's net neutrality law, with the US Department of Justice and ISP lobby groups filing new complaints against the state yesterday.

The case is nearly two years old but was put on hold because California in October 2018 agreed to suspend enforcement of its law until after litigation over the Federal Communications Commission's repeal of US net neutrality rules and the FCC's attempt to preempt state net neutrality laws. That lawsuit was decided in October 2019 when the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld the FCC repeal of its own rules but overturned the FCC's attempt to impose a blanket, nationwide preemption of any state net neutrality law.

"At bottom, the Commission lacked the legal authority to categorically abolish all 50 States' statutorily conferred authority to regulate intrastate communications," judges in that case wrote. But that doesn't prevent the Trump administration and ISPs from trying to block state laws on a case-by-case basis.

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Twitter to label state-controlled news accounts

BBC Technology News - August 6, 2020 - 5:02pm
The social network will stop affected accounts being promoted by its recommendation algorithms.

TikTok twins charged over bank robbery 'prank'

BBC Technology News - August 6, 2020 - 4:15pm
Alan and Alex Stokes are accused of faking a bank robbery "to gain popularity on social media".

Sony takes on Bose with new WH-1000XM4 noise-cancelling headphones

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 4:00pm

Sony on Thursday announced its latest flagship pair of wireless noise-cancelling headphones: the WH-1000XM4. The new over-ear cans are the follow-up to Sony's WH-1000XM3, which have been widely regarded as being among the best premium pairs of noise-cancelling headphones on the market—and have been an Ars favorite—since launching in 2018.

The XM4 is available for pre-order starting today, with shipping to start sometime in "mid-August," according to Sony. The headphones cost $350, which is the same price as the XM3 at launch and Bose's competing QuietComfort 35 II, but $50 less than Bose's Noise Cancelling Headphones 700.

I've had the XM4 on hand for the past couple of days; I plan to have a more detailed comparison in the near future, but for now I can share some initial impressions alongside today's news.

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Seeed Studio’s Odyssey is a mini-PC for big projects and small wallets

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 3:43pm

Today we're going to take a look at Seeed Studio's Odyssey X86J4105—a maker/builder-tailored, Celeron-powered mini-PC. The little device seems like what you'd get if a Chromebox and a Raspberry Pi made sweet, sweet love—it's a Celeron-powered all-in-one system-on-chip (SoC) board, sold without a case, with Raspberry Pi-compatible GPIO headers and an Arduino coprocessor for more hardware-based maker projects.

I have a confession to make: I've never really loved the Raspberry Pi. Heresy, I know! But despite how seriously cheap the much-loved little boxes are, they never seem quite powerful enough for the projects I'd be interested in tackling. On occasion, I've flirted with other ARM mini-PCs that are a little more expensive and a lot more powerful—like Odroid XU4, or the newer Odroid N2—but they still felt pretty constrained compared to even budget x86 PCs. The Odyssey seems tailor-made to address those performance concerns.

Specifications and capabilities Specs at a glance: Odyssey X86J4105 OS Windows 10 Enterprise (activated) CPU Quad-core Celeron J4105 RAM 8GiB LPDDR4 GPU integrated Intel UHD 600 Wi-Fi Dual-band Intel 9650 Wi-Fi 5 + Bluetooth 5.0 SSD Sandisk 64GB (59.6GiB) eMMC Connectors
  • 40-pin Raspberry Pi-compatible GPIO
  • 28-pin Arduino header
  • 3.5mm audio combo jack
  • 2x Intel I211 1Gbps Ethernet
  • 1x SATA
  • 2x M.2 (1 B-key, 1 M-key)
  • 2x USB2 type-A
  • 1x USB3.1 type-A
  • 1x USB 3.1 type-C
  • 1x MicroSD card slot
  • 1x SIM (LTE) slot
  • 1x 12-19VDC power
Price as tested Odyssey with activated Win10 Enterprise: $258
Seeed re_computer case: $20 Seeed Studio Odyssey X86J4105 Mini PC Buy Now $229 from Amazon (64GB eMMC)$218 from Seeed Studio (64GB eMMC) (Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Odyssey's quad-core Celeron SoC might not be a powerhouse by desktop standards—but it's more than powerful enough to run a full Windows 10 desktop experience. Add in 8GiB of RAM, 64GB eMMC storage, one SATA-III port, two 1Gbps Ethernet jacks, dual M.2 slots (one B-key and one M-key), Intel 9560 Wi-Fi, Intel UHD 600 graphics and a full-size HDMI port, and it's hard to figure out what this $260 box can't do.

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Uber to expand across UK with Autocab takeover

BBC Technology News - August 6, 2020 - 2:41pm
The move will see Uber made available in about 170 towns and cities.

TikTok deal tests Microsoft’s decades of China experience

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 2:23pm

Enlarge (credit: Cindy Ord | Getty Images)

More than two decades of efforts by Microsoft to put down roots in China may soon bring a partial pay-off if it succeeds in steering through the purchase of TikTok’s US business.

But as relations between the US and China continue to deteriorate, the software company’s long-term bet on the Chinese market is also facing its most uncertain period yet.

Microsoft’s involvement in the Chinese tech world, dating from its creation of a research centre in Beijing in the late 1990s, has left it with important personal connections. Zhang Yiming, the founder of ByteDance, the company that owns TikTok, worked at Microsoft, though only for a few months before he left to join a start-up.

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ARM: Tudor Brown says chip-maker should remain independent

BBC Technology News - August 6, 2020 - 1:44pm
The UK-based chip designer's ex-president Tudor Brown warns of the risks of the firm being sold on.

Untitled Goose Game ditches plastic for its eco-friendly game cases

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 1:23pm

When Untitled Goose Game finally sees a physical release later this year (after a highly successful digital launch last year), it will also see the debut of a new line of "eco-packaging" that publisher iam8bit says it "hope[s] leads an entire industry into the future."

Iam8bit's so-called "Lovely Edition" release of the game will be the first PS4 title to eschew the standard plastic Blu-ray DVD case in favor of a cardboard box made with "100% post-consumer, recycled material with heavy duty 20-pt stock and no harmful inks." The packaging also makes use of a biodegradable plastic shrinkwrap called biolefin, which breaks down into biomass after just one to three years, instead of the usual 300 to 600, according to its manufacturer.

The eco-friendly decisions extend to what comes inside the game box, as well. A booklet and foldout poster included in the package get their paper from sources certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, ensuring the wood "comes from only the most well-managed and environmentally responsible forests," as iam8bit puts it. And the included "No Goose" sticker is made from sugar cane waste, which the company assures us is fully biodegradable but not as delicious as it sounds.

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Here’s why Apple believes it’s an AI leader—and why it says critics have it all wrong

Ars Technica - August 6, 2020 - 12:45pm

Machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) now permeate nearly every feature on the iPhone, but Apple hasn't been touting these technologies like some of its competitors have. I wanted to understand more about Apple's approach , so I spent an hour talking with two Apple executives about the company's strategy—and the privacy implications of all the new features based on AI and ML.

Historically, Apple has not had a public reputation for leading in this area. That's partially because people associate AI with digital assistants, and reviewers frequently call Siri less useful than Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa. And with ML, many tech enthusiasts say that more data means better models—but Apple is not known for data collection in the same way as, say, Google.

Despite this, Apple has included dedicated hardware for machine learning tasks in most of the devices it ships. Machine intelligence-driven functionality increasingly dominates the keynotes where Apple executives take the stage to introduce new features for iPhones, iPads, or the Apple Watch. The introduction of Macs with Apple silicon later this year will bring many of the same machine intelligence developments to the company's laptops and desktops, too.

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Instagram rolls out TikTok 'rip-off' Reels

BBC Technology News - August 6, 2020 - 10:01am
As TikTok faces uncertainty, Instagram adds new features that will be very familiar to TikTok fans.

What's new in Fifa 21?

BBC Technology News - August 6, 2020 - 9:19am
A new trailer for Fifa 21 reveals new gameplay features. Newsround takes a look at them.

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