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Industry & Technology

SpaceX releases a Payload User’s Guide for its Starship rocket

Ars Technica - 53 min 8 sec ago

Enlarge / Starship comes in two flavors, crewed (top) and cargo (bottom). (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX has released the first edition of a Payload User's Guide for its Starship launch system, which consists of a Super Heavy first stage and the Starship upper stage. The six-page guide provides some basic information for potential customers to judge whether a launch vehicle meets their needs for getting payloads into space.

The new guide is notable because it details the lift capabilities of Starship in reusable mode, during which both the first and second stages reserve enough fuel to return to Earth. In this configuration, the rocket can deliver more than 100 metric tons to low-Earth orbit and 21 tons to geostationary transfer orbit.

The killer application, however, is the potential to refuel Starship in low-Earth orbit with other Starships, enabling transportation deeper into the Solar System for 100 tons or more. "The maximum mass-to-orbit assumes parking orbit propellant transfer, allowing for a substantial increase in payload mass," the document states. SpaceX has yet to demonstrate this technology—which has never been done on a large scale in orbit—but the company's engineers have been working on it for several years and partnered with NASA last summer.

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Coronavirus: World leaders' posts deleted over fake news

BBC Technology News - 1 hour 39 min ago
Social networks usually leave world leaders’ posts alone - but the pandemic is changing that.

As Volvo goes electric, here’s how it’s making its batteries top-notch

Ars Technica - 2 hours 39 min ago

Electric cars are becoming much more important to automakers, and that means those companies are having to learn how to get good with batteries. That was baked into Tesla from day one, but for existing automakers, batteries have to become a new core competency. Recently, Volvo opened its doors in Gothenburg, Sweden, to show us how that's happening, ahead of the launch later this year of its new battery EV, the XC40 Recharge.

Volvo was an early advocate for going electric, announcing a plan for its model range shortly after it told us that it was ending development on diesel engines. That plan calls for 50 percent of its sales to be BEVs by 2025, but actually implementing that plan is more involved than just holding a press conference, and it's a transformation that affects the entire company. Engineers are being retrained to work with electric motors instead of internal combustion engines. Supply lines and purchasing have to get to grips with responsibly sourcing a new range of materials. The carmaker even has to think about what its new EVs should sound like.

Volvos have to be safe

Volvo has built its reputation on safety, and obviously the move to electric powertrains can't be allowed to compromise that.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Coronavirus: Contagion cast share Covid-19 advice

BBC Technology News - 3 hours 8 min ago
Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Jennifer Ehle and Laurence Fishburne post public service announcements.

Houseparty offers $1m reward for proof of sabotage

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 7 min ago
The company says claims it exposed users data were part of a commercial smear campaign.

'The phone slipped into the bath': Conference call tales

BBC Technology News - 14 hours 23 min ago
How to avoid some of the pitfalls of teleconferencing and how it is changing the way we meet and do business.

Neural implants plus AI turn sentence-length thoughts to text

Ars Technica - 14 hours 43 min ago

Enlarge / Several generations of neural implants from Neuralink. (credit: Neuralink)

For people with limited use of their limbs, speech recognition can be critical for their ability to operate a computer. But for many, the same problems that limit limb motion affect the muscles that allow speech. That had made any form of communication a challenge, as physicist Stephen Hawking famously demonstrated. Ideally, we'd like to find a way to get upstream of any physical activity and identify ways of translating nerve impulses to speech.

Brain-computer interfaces were making impressive advances even before Elon Musk decided to get involved, but the problem of brain-to-text wasn't one of their successes. We've been able to recognize speech in the brain for a decade, but the accuracy and speed of this process are quite low. Now, some researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are suggesting that the problem might be that we weren't thinking about the challenge in terms of the big-picture process of speaking. And they have a brain-to-speech system to back them up.

Lost in translation

Speech is a complicated process, and it's not necessarily obvious where in the process it's best to start. At some point, your brain decides on the meaning it wants conveyed, although that often gets revised as the process continues. Then, word choices have to be made, although once mastered, speech doesn't require conscious thought—even some word choices, like when to use articles and which to use, can be automatic at times. Once chosen, the brain has to organize collections of muscles to actually make the appropriate sounds.

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iPad Pro teardown basically finds 2018’s iPad Pro with a lidar sensor

Ars Technica - 15 hours 21 min ago

As expected, iFixit has published a teardown of the 12.9-inch 2020 iPad Pro, assessing both what's new in the device compared to 2018 and how straightforward the device is to open up and repair. It turns out, not too much has changed (which we already knew), and the Pro remains quite difficult to service.

In the video (sorry, no blog post this time, it seems), we see the various steps required to replace interior components like the screen or USB-C port that might have failed. Just about every step involves "lots of adhesive" and "precarious prying." In fact, it's a conundrum from the very first step, as opening up the casing will leave you trying to figure out how to detach two cables that Apple clearly didn't intend users to be futzing with.

Unsurprisingly, iFixit gave the 2020 iPad Pro a 3 out of 10 for repairability—the same as it gave the 2018 model. That's because for these intents and purposes, this is the same tablet as was introduced in 2018.

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Saudi Arabia reportedly tracked phones by using industry-wide carrier weakness

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 10:58pm

Enlarge (credit: Gary Lerude / Flickr)

The Guardian says it has evidence that Saudi Arabia is exploiting a decades-old weakness in the global telecoms network to track the kingdom’s citizens as they travel in the United States.

The publication cited data provided by a whistleblower that suggests Saudi Arabia is engaged in systematic spying by abusing Signalling System No. 7. Better known as SS7, it’s a routing protocol that allows cell phone users to connect seamlessly from carrier to carrier as they travel throughout the world. With little built-in security for carriers to verify one another, SS7 has always posed a potential hole that people with access could exploit to track the real-time location of individual users. SS7 abuse also makes it possible for spies to snoop on calls and text messages. More recently, the threat has grown, in part because the number of companies with access to SS7 has grown from a handful to thousands.

The data provided to The Guardian “suggests that millions of secret tracking requests emanated from Saudi Arabia over a four-month period beginning in November 2019,” an article published on Sunday reported. The requests, which appeared to originate from the kingdom’s three largest mobile phone carriers, sought the US location of Saudi-registered phones.

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How to play Pokémon Go when everyone’s stuck inside

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 10:29pm

Enlarge / Remember when Pokemon were allowed to get within 6 feet of each other? (credit: Niantic)

While most game makers are seeing booming usage statistics in the era of coronavirus-induced social distancing, Niantic is in the opposite position. The company's games—including Pokémon Go, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and Ingress—are all built around the idea of leaving the house and meeting up with people in real-world locations.

Now that those things are impossible or discouraged for large portions of the population, Niantic is adjusting its game design philosophy to "embrace real-world gaming from home," as it says in a blog update today.

"We have always believed that our games can include elements of indoor play that complement the outdoor, exercise and explore DNA of what we build," the company writes. "Now is the time for us to prioritize this work, with the key challenge of making playing indoors as exciting and innovative as our outdoor gameplay."

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Coronavirus misinformation is the latest test for social media platforms

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 9:26pm

Enlarge / It's just you and your devices now, in this socially distanced world we all live in for the time being. Too bad the misinformation campaigns aren't also all on hold. (credit: Luis Alvarez | Getty Images)

The presidential race has fallen off the top of every front page nationwide in favor of coronavirus coverage, but 2020 is still very much a high-stakes election year. Twitter, Facebook, and Google have all promised to beef up their efforts to let information spread freely while limiting falsehoods and disinformation, but it's a long uphill battle—and with a little more than seven months to go until the election, it's one they do not seem to be winning.

The problem, a report today by The New York Times points out, is that not only are foreign disinformation campaigns in full swing, but the metaphorical calls are also coming from inside the house. Some platforms seem to be handling the challenge better than others.

The Times spoke with several employees at both Facebook and Twitter about how they have to change their tactics endlessly, as their adversaries continually modify their own approaches.

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Long after some hominins were bipedal, others stuck to the trees

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 9:14pm

Enlarge / The excavation site where the bones were found. (credit: Georgiou et al. 2020)

We already know that, at various points in our species' past, several hominin species were wandering around Africa. But now it turns out they may have been living very different lives. A team of anthropologists took a closer look at the internal structure of leg bones from two South African hominins. It turns out that around the time our genus emerged, some hominins were living the bipedal life, while others were still spending a lot of time in the trees.

Climbing in the hominin family tree

For most of the last few million years, our ancestors shared their world with several other hominin species. In some ways, most of those species looked and acted like their neighbors, but there were undoubtedly some striking differences, too. Every hominin species in the fossil record has its own unique mix of familiar human traits and more ape-like ones, shaped by their environments and lifestyles.

In some cases, we're not even entirely sure which of those species were our direct ancestors and which were more like cousins. That complexity makes it difficult to figure out exactly when (and why) hominins stopped hanging out in trees and started walking upright.

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The year of Mario: A ton of classic 3D games reportedly coming to Switch in 2020

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 7:25pm

Enlarge / Our own approximation of Super Mario Galaxy on a Switch. Nintendo has yet to confirm a slew of rumors that emerged on Monday morning. (credit: Nintendo / Sam Machkovech)

According to a flurry of Monday morning reports, Super Mario is coming back in 2020 in a huge way. And it's mostly about reliving the Nintendo mascot's 3D era on Nintendo Switch.

The first rumor domino to fall came from VGC, which pushed forward with a report suggesting "most of Super Mario's 35-year back catalog" would arrive on Nintendo Switch by the end of 2020, according to "multiple sources." Nintendo had originally planned to make a physical event out of the announcement during this summer's E3, VGC reported, but E3 2020 was canceled earlier this month in the wake of organizational woes and coronavirus concerns.

VGC was able to report on one specific game coming to Nintendo Switch, but it wasn't a remaster. Instead, VGC suggested that the Paper Mario action-RPG series would receive a new entry in 2020.

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OneWeb goes bankrupt, lays off staff, will sell satellite-broadband business

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 5:32pm

Enlarge / Illustration of a OneWeb satellite. (credit: OneWeb)

OneWeb has filed for bankruptcy and intends to sell its business, bringing an abrupt end to the company's plan to offer high-speed satellite Internet service around the world.

OneWeb announced Friday that it "voluntarily filed for relief under Chapter 11 of the [US] Bankruptcy Code," and "intends to use these proceedings to pursue a sale of its business in order to maximize the value of the company." OneWeb made the decision "after failing to secure new funding from investors including its biggest backer SoftBank," largely because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Financial Times wrote. OneWeb also "axed most of its staff on Friday," the FT article said.

OneWeb previously raised $3 billion over multiple rounds of financing and was seeking more money to fund its deployment and commercial launch. "Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis," OneWeb CEO Adrián Steckel said in the bankruptcy announcement. "We remain convinced of the social and economic value of our mission to connect everyone everywhere."

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Ars Pro week: Support Ars, get gear, stay informed

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 5:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

I don't often get to write for the Ars Technica front page anymore—I'm usually off pulling levers behind the scenes—but I count it a privilege every day to work with the team we've assembled here at Ars for the express purposes of serving you, the reader! As such, I hope that you will consider supporting Ars Technica by buying a subscription.

Ars launched its first subscription program in post-bubble 2001 when ad money dried up. Even then, we did not institute a "paywall." Our deep desire was (and is) that our work remains accessible to as many people as possible. This has meant living in a world where we rely on both subscriptions and advertising. Without either, we wouldn't be here.

For the next week, we are going to mount a subscription drive with the goal of convincing 5,000 more of you to join one of our membership tiers. The reason is simple: we need your financial support to weather the next several months, as advertising dollars are all drying up thanks to the current state of the economy. Each and every subscription dollar goes against our direct editorial costs. So please consider joining us!

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NASA officials outline plans for building a Lunar Gateway in the mid-2020s

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 4:58pm

Enlarge / Artist's concept of initial configuration of the Lunar Gateway. (credit: NASA)

The concept of NASA's Lunar Gateway—a small outpost to be built in a halo orbit around the Moon—is about five years old.

Although a lunar space station might serve many useful purposes, the concept came about for one basic reason. Due to limitations in the upper stage of NASA's Space Launch System rocket and an under-powered propulsion system in the Orion spacecraft, these vehicles do not have enough performance to get astronauts into low-lunar orbit, and then back out of it again for a return to Earth. Thus, NASA came up with a waypoint farther from the Moon and not so deep within its gravity well.

For more than a year, as NASA has developed its Artemis plan to return humans to the Moon by 2024, the space agency has positioned Gateway as the "Command Module" where it would aggregate components of a Human Landing System and from where astronauts would descend down to the surface of the Moon.

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Court: Violating a site’s terms of service isn’t criminal hacking

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 4:36pm

Enlarge (credit: Jamie Grill / Getty)

A federal court in Washington, DC, has ruled that violating a website's terms of service isn't a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, America's primary anti-hacking law. The lawsuit was initiated by a group of academics and journalists with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.

The plaintiffs wanted to investigate possible racial discrimination in online job markets by creating accounts for fake employers and job seekers. Leading job sites have terms of service prohibiting users from supplying fake information, and the researchers worried that their research could expose them to criminal liability under the CFAA, which makes it a crime to "access a computer without authorization or exceed authorized access."

So in 2016 they sued the federal government, seeking a declaration that this part of the CFAA violated the First Amendment.

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WireGuard VPN makes it to 1.0.0—and into the next Linux kernel

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 4:20pm

Enlarge / WireGuard will be in tree for Ubuntu 20.04 LTS (pictured), as well as the upcoming 5.6 kernel. (credit: WireGuard)

We've been anticipating WireGuard's inclusion into the mainline Linux kernel for quite some time—but as of Sunday afternoon, it's official. Linus Torvalds released the Linux 5.6 kernel, which includes (among other things) an in-tree WireGuard. Phoronix has a great short list of the most interesting new features in the 5.6 kernel, as well as a longer "everything list" for those who want to make sure they don't miss anything.

If this is the first time you're hearing about WireGuard, the TL;DR is that it's a relatively new VPN (Virtual Private Network) application that offers a leaner codebase, easier configuration, faster connect times, and the latest and most thoroughly peer-reviewed and approved encryption algorithms. You can find a more detailed introduction in our initial August 2018 coverage.

Can I use this on Windows? Mac? BSD? Android? IOS?

Although WireGuard is now version 1.0.0 in the Linux world, its Windows package is in beta at 0.1.0; it has added significant performance, stability, localization, and accessibility features since our walkthrough preview of an older version.

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Nintendo Switch sells out at retail, leading to third-party price inflation

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 4:14pm

Enlarge / All of these consoles are pretty hard to find at retailers these days... (credit: Photo Illustration by Guillaume Payen/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

As citizens worldwide self-quarantine to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, major retailers are selling out of the Nintendo Switch, leading to secondhand price markups similar to those seen just after the console's successful launch.

The Switch is currently unavailable at Amazon, GameStop, Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and other major online retailers, though some local stores may still have spotty availability. When new stock does come in to these online stores, it tends to be gone in less than an hour, according to listings from retail tracker NowInStock.

"Nintendo Switch hardware is selling out at various retail locations in the US, but more systems are on the way," Nintendo said in a statement late last week. "We apologize for any inconvenience."

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Galaxy S20 Ultra Review—Overhyped and outrageously priced

Ars Technica - March 30, 2020 - 4:06pm

Samsung never changes. The company's flagship smartphone strategy has always focused on designing for marketability rather than the end-user experience, and the result is always devices with gigantic spec sheets, gimmicky new features, and questionable user benefits. If it demos well in a Verizon showroom or helps win an Internet spreadsheet comparison, toss it in! The Galaxy S20 is the latest paper tiger from the company, and this cynical approach to smartphone design oozes from every IP68-rated pore of Samsung's new flagship.

Just look—but not too closely—at all the whiz-bang features the Galaxy S20 offers. The camera has an industry-leading 100x zoom (it's actually a 4x optical zoom, and the camera autofocus is terrible). There's a 120Hz, 1440p display (you can't actually run the display at 120Hz and 1440p). And who could forget the revolutionary 5G connectivity (5G is probably not available in your area).

The Galaxy S line is bigger than ever this year, and each model comes with Samsung's biggest-ever price tags. The phones now start (start!) at $1,000, while the bigger Galaxy S20+ is $1,200, and the even bigger S20 Ultra is an astonishing $1,400.

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