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Industry & Technology

Why is this copy of Super Mario Bros. worth a record $114,000?

Ars Technica - 4 hours 42 min ago

A sealed, early copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES sold for $114,000 Friday at specialist house Heritage Auctions, setting a new record for the sale price of an individual video game.

The online auction surpassed the old record set by a $100,000 sale of a "sticker-sealed" Super Mario Bros. early last year. At the time, the seller behind that $100,000 edition told Ars that it was “probably the wrong move, long-term, to sell.”

For context, the Guinness World Records certified the world's largest video game collection sold at auction for $750,000 in 2014. That collection contained over 11,000 games, including over 8,300 in their original box.

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This self-driving startup built a “car without wheels” for remote driving

Ars Technica - 8 hours 17 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Voyage)

The ideal self-driving car would drive itself all the time, in all situations. But achieving that goal in practice is difficult—so difficult, in fact, that most self-driving companies have provisions for human backup to help cars get out of tricky or confusing situations.

But companies are often secretive about exactly how these systems work. Perhaps they worry that providing details—or even admitting they exist—will cast their self-driving technology in an unflattering light.

So it was refreshing to see the self-driving startup Voyage unveil its remote driving console as if it was announcing a major new product—which, in a sense, it is. Voyage didn't just create software that allows a remote operator to give instructions to a self-driving car—it built a physical "Telessist Pod" where a remote driver sits to control the vehicle.

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How small satellites are radically remaking space exploration

Ars Technica - 9 hours 17 min ago

Enlarge / An Electron rocket launches in August 2019 from New Zealand. (credit: Sam Toms/Rocket Lab)

At the beginning of this year, a group of NASA scientists agonized over which robotic missions they should choose to explore our Solar System. Researchers from around the United States had submitted more than 20 intriguing ideas, such as whizzing by asteroids, diving into lava tubes on the Moon, and hovering in the Venusian atmosphere.

Ultimately, NASA selected four of these Discovery-class missions for further study. In several months, the space agency will pick two of the four missions to fully fund, each with a cost cap of $450 million and a launch late within this decade. For the losing ideas, there may be more chances in future years—but until new opportunities arise, scientists can only plan, wait, and hope.

This is more or less how NASA has done planetary science for decades. Scientists come up with all manner of great ideas to answer questions about our Solar System; then, NASA announces an opportunity, a feeding frenzy ensues for those limited slots. Ultimately, one or two missions get picked and fly. The whole process often takes a couple of decades from the initial idea to getting data back to Earth.

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SpaceX stands down from Starlink launch for the third time [Updated]

Ars Technica - 9 hours 47 min ago

10:15am ET Saturday Update: The third time was not a charm. A little more than an hour before a Falcon 9 rocket was due to launch on Saturday morning from Florida, SpaceX announced it was, "Standing down from today's launch of the tenth Starlink mission to allow more time for checkouts; team is working to identify the next launch opportunity. Will announce a new target date once confirmed with the Range."

Notably, this is the second time this rocket—the first stage of which has flown four times previously—has been scrubbed on launch day due to the need for additional "checkouts."

8:30am ET Saturday Update: SpaceX first tried to launch its tenth batch of Starlink satellites on June 26 before standing down a couple of hours before liftoff, citing the need to perform additional "pre-flight checks."

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Coronavirus: How can we make post-pandemic cities smarter?

BBC Technology News - 21 hours 29 min ago
Will the "anthropause" brought on by lockdowns make our cities greener, cleaner and quieter in future?

Huawei: Why the UK might hang up on 5G and broadband kit supplier

BBC Technology News - 21 hours 32 min ago
The Chinese telecoms equipment provider's fate in the UK is set to be revealed on Tuesday.

WHO still skeptical SARS-CoV-2 lingers in air—despite what the NYT says

Ars Technica - 22 hours 17 min ago

Enlarge / World Health Organization (WHO) Chief Scientist Soumya Swaminathan attends a press conference organized by the Geneva Association of United Nations Correspondents (ACANU) amid the COVID-19 outbreak, caused by the novel coronavirus, on July 3, 2020 at the WHO headquarters in Geneva. (credit: Getty | Fabrice Coffrini)

If you happened to read The New York Times this week, you may be under the false impression that the World Health Organization significantly changed its stance on whether the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, spreads by lingering in the air.

Around midday Thursday, the paper declared: “W.H.O., in Reversal, Affirms Virus May Be Airborne Indoors.” The paper also called it an “admission” and, in a subsequent article, said the WHO had “conceded.” The articles both noted that a group of more than 200 researchers had also published a commentary piece this week urging the WHO and other public health bodies to acknowledge and address the potential for airborne transmission of SARS-CoV-2.

The problem: the WHO did not change its stance on airborne transmission. And, as such, it did not issue any new recommendations or guidance on how people can stay safe.

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TikTok: Amazon says email asking staff to remove app 'sent in error'

BBC Technology News - 22 hours 35 min ago
Earlier, the company had asked staff to remove the TikTok app from phones over "security risks."

CERN has discovered a very charming particle

Ars Technica - 23 hours 4 min ago

Enlarge / Particle tracks from the LHCb detector. (credit: Brookhaven National Lab)

The quark model was an intellectual revolution for physics. Physicists were faced with an ever-growing zoo of unstable particles that didn't seem to have a role in the Universe around us. Quarks explained all that through an (at least superficially) simple set of rules that built all of these particles through combinations of two or three quarks.

While that general outline seems simple, the rules by which particles called "gluons" hold the quarks together in particles are fiendishly complex, and we don't always know their limits. Are there reasons that particles seem to stop at collections of three quarks?

With the advent of ever-more powerful particle colliders, we've found some indications that the answer is "no." Reports of four-quark and even five-quark particles have appeared in different experiments. But questions remain about the nature of the interactions in these particles. Now, CERN has announced a new addition to growing family of tetraquarks, a collection two charm quarks and two anti-charm quarks.

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Yes, Apple silicon Macs will have Thunderbolt ports

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 9:55pm

Enlarge / Tim Cook begins his announcement of Apple Silicon. (credit: Apple)

Macs with Apple silicon will still support Thunderbolt, according to Apple. The clarification came after Intel's Thunderbolt 4 announcement led many to speculate that Macs without Intel CPUs would not have Thunderbolt ports.

Here's Apple's statement, which was provided to The Verge:

Over a decade ago, Apple partnered with Intel to design and develop Thunderbolt, and today our customers enjoy the speed and flexibility it brings to every Mac. We remain committed to the future of Thunderbolt and will support it in Macs with Apple silicon.

Earlier this week, Intel announced the minimum requirements for Thunderbolt 4 certification, as well as the features consumers can expect in Thunderbolt 4-ready devices and a timeline and details about the rollout of the first devices using the standard. It will first arrive later this year in laptops equipped with Intel's Tiger Lake CPUs, and Intel is producing controller chips for computers and peripherals.

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'I left Smile Bank today due to the ongoing outage'

BBC Technology News - July 10, 2020 - 9:47pm
Smile Bank customers have been unable to access their accounts for days due to an ongoing outage.

Amazon bans TikTok on employee phones, then calls it a mistake [Updated]

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 8:57pm

Enlarge / A person using the video-sharing application TikTok on a smartphone in Faridabad in India on June 30, 2020. (credit: AFP)

Update at 5:15pm ET: Amazon now says it sent the email announcing a TikTok ban by mistake, according to The Verge. "This morning's email to some of our employees was sent in error," an Amazon spokesperson said, according to the Verge article. "There is no change to our policies right now with regard to TikTok." We're still waiting to hear back from Amazon.

Original story follows:

Amazon ordered employees to delete TikTok from their phones today, citing "security risks."

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Review: Charlize Theron shines as a world-weary immortal in The Old Guard

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 8:25pm

Four immortal warriors who have secretly protected humanity for centuries become targeted by a corporate CEO keen on extracting and marketing the key to their mysterious powers—just as a new immortal emerges to join their ranks—in The Old Guard. It's the latest action thriller from Netflix, starring Charlize Theron, and very much in the same vein as the Chris Hemsworth vehicle Extraction, which the streaming platform released earlier this year. But in this case, The Old Guard is a solid, entertaining action thriller whose individual parts, while strong, don't quite add up to a compelling whole.

(Some spoilers below, but no major twists revealed.)

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (Love and Basketball), the film is an adaptation of the comic of the same name by Eisner-award-winning author Greg Rucka (Lazarus, Wonder Woman), with art by Leandro Fernández (Deadpool, Punisher: MAX). The main protagonist is Andromache of Scythia (Theron), aka Andy, who has been trapped in an immortal life for centuries for reasons that are never explained. The term "immortal" isn't entirely accurate, since these people do eventually die; one day, in some unforeseen future, their bodies will simply stop regenerating as mysteriously as they started. But by typical human lifespan standards, they're pretty much immortal.

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For the second time this year, Amazon Games puts a new title into hiding

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 8:08pm

Enlarge / An ominous explosion of a previous release window, as seen in this New World obelisk. (credit: Amazon Games)

After years of fumbling with game launches, mostly in the mobile and free-to-play sector, Amazon Game Studios seemed poised to make a splash in 2020 with two major new games with heavy online components. Today, that count drops back to zero.

New World, a fantasy MMO that revolves around colonizing a new continent, has seen its public launch pushed back from August 25 to "Spring 2021." The news came in a Friday update at the game's blog from studio director Richard Lawrence, who cited the current game's lack of "middle and endgame experiences" as a reason for the multi-month delay.

Helping players “understand”

This delay means the studio's original plans for a "closed beta" test, set to launch by "July 2020," have been canceled; that test would have been available exclusively to paying pre-order customers. In a way, this is still happening: paying customers will still be allowed into the game's "closed alpha" test on the original retail launch date of August 25, but only for a brief testing period. Lawrence didn't clarify how long this testing period will last, but he did tell fans that such a test will help players "understand why we want to take the extra time to make this experience the best it can be at release."

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IBM has a problem with Google’s Open Usage Commons

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 7:45pm

Enlarge / Nobody from IBM is proposing any lawsuits over Google's addition of Istio to its new Open Usage Commons foundation. But they're not happy about it. (credit: Nick Youngson)

This Wednesday, Google announced a new open source initiative—the Open Usage Commons, a sort of stewardship project for open source trademarks. The move drew immediate criticism from IBM, which claims an interest in Istio, one of the three projects Google seeded the OUC with at launch.

What is the Open Usage Commons?

Before we can really get into IBM's beef, we need to spend some time investigating what the Open Usage Commons is trying to do in the first place. From its own FAQ:

The Open Usage Commons gives open source projects a neutral, independent home for their project trademarks, and provides assistance with conformance testing, establishing mark usage guidelines, and handling issues around trademark usage that projects encounter.

The Open Usage Commons does not provide services that are outside the realm of usage, such as technical mentorship, community management, project events, or project marketing.

In some ways, this sounds like a standard item from the open source playbook: establish a conservancy to manage things neutrally and keep them free for all. But so far, trademarks have largely been the one thing that open source projects have kept to themselves, and for good reason—tarnishing a project's brand damages the project itself in difficult or impossible to repair ways.

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Google’s new Nest smart speaker is all cloth

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 7:19pm

Say hello to Google's next smart speaker, which is expected to be a replacement for the original Google Home. Earlier this week, the speaker leaked via testing at Japan's FCC equivalent (which has the way-cooler name of "Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications" or "MIC"), and because MIC took some pretty unflattering pictures, Google decided to set the record straight and send an official press shot and a video to various press outlets.

9to5Google previously mentioned the existence of this device in June. The report said the speaker was codenamed "Prince" and would be a replacement for the original Google Home. According to the report, the speaker had a "high excursion speaker with 2-inch driver" which would supposedly be a sound upgrade over the current Google Home.

The new speaker has an all-cloth design, with four lights on the front, which matches the Nest Mini/Google Home Mini and the Google Home Max. The old Google Home is the one outlier in Google's lineup, with a hard plastic top and 12 lights. There's not much to the design other than the cloth exterior. On the back, you'll find a DC barrel connector for power, a "G" logo, and a mute switch.

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Charter’s hidden “Broadcast TV” fee now adds $197 a year to cable bills

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 7:03pm

(credit: Getty Images | DonNichols)

Charter Communications is raising the "Broadcast TV" fee it imposes on cable plans from $13.50 to $16.45 a month starting in August, Stop the Cap reported.

Charter says the Broadcast TV fee covers the amount it pays broadcast television stations (e.g. affiliates of CBS, NBC, ABC, and Fox) for the right to carry their channels. But for consumers, it is essentially a hidden fee because Charter's advertised TV prices don't include it.

Charter has raised the fee repeatedly—it stood at $9.95 in early 2019 before a series of price increases. At $16.45 a month, the fee will cost customers an additional $197.40 per year. Charter sells TV, broadband, and phone service under its Spectrum brand name and is the second largest cable company in the US after Comcast.

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Commerce “Sharpiegate” report finally released without redaction

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 6:54pm

Enlarge / Hurricane Dorian on September 3, 2019. (credit: NASA EO)

Recent weeks have seen some additional drama over last September’s hurricane dust-up between President Trump and the National Weather Service. Last week, the Commerce Department’s inspector general was crying foul over leadership stonewalling the release of her report on any legal issues arising from the dustup. That report is now out, and it brings some resolution to the tale.

If you’re unfamiliar with the background, as Hurricane Dorian approached the US coast, President Trump tweeted that Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated”—a statement that was untrue, as the storm was set to turn north and up the Eastern Seaboard. His statement, however, prompted calls from concerned people in Alabama, who wondered if the forecast had changed. In response, the Birmingham National Weather Service office tweeted, “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian.”

Annoyance and investigations

This tweet perturbed the White House, eventually resulting in a controversial, unsigned statement released by NOAA that essentially said the president was technically right and the Birmingham office should have qualified their tweet. (There was also an incident in which a hurricane forecast map in the Oval Office was modified with a black marker to make it look like Alabama might have been in danger.)

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Florida men charged with selling bleach as COVID-19 cure, threatening “a Waco”

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 6:07pm

Enlarge / Bottles of MMS, the bleach product that Genesis II Church of Health and Healing was ordered to stop selling. (credit: Genesis II Church of Health and Healing)

Four members of the infamous “Church of Bleach”—a father and his three adult sons—are facing fraud and contempt charges in Florida in connection to selling industrial bleach as a “miracle cure-all.”

Mark Grenon, 62, and his sons, Jonathan Grenon, 34, Jordan Grenon, 26, and Joseph Grenon, 32, all from Bradenton, Florida, were charged Wednesday.

Federal prosecutors in Miami allege that the men have been selling their industrial bleach product—called “Miracle Mineral Solution” or MMS—as a treatment for COVID-19 and other conditions. The prosecutors say the men willfully violated a federal order made in April that they stop selling and distributing the product. The family also allegedly sent letters threatening violence to the federal judge who issued the order and warned that they may stage “a Waco.”

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Tesla rival Rivian raises $2.5 billion to make electric trucks and SUVs

Ars Technica - July 10, 2020 - 5:45pm

Enlarge / Rivian's R1T at the New York Auto Show in 2019. (credit: Jonathan Gitlin / Ars)

Upstart electric vehicle maker Rivian has added $2.5 billion to its war chest, the company announced on Friday.

It's Rivian's fifth fundraising round in just 18 months. The company raised $2.85 billion in four previous fundraising rounds between February and December of 2019. This gives Rivian more than $5 billion to spend on manufacturing capacity for its forthcoming electric trucks and SUVs.

Rivian is planning to build two consumer vehicles that were both introduced to the public in 2018. There's an electric truck called the R1T and an SUV called the R1S. Both are based on the same battery-powered all-electric skateboard platform and boast ranges up to 400 miles.

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