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Industry & Technology

Coronavirus face mask lights up with moving mouth shapes

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 41 min ago
A games designer creates a face mask that shows animated mouth shapes as you speak.

How Bill Gates became the voodoo doll of Covid conspiracies

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 42 min ago
The ex-Microsoft head is currently the target of all kinds of outlandish theories and false claims.

We put Western Digital’s dreaded SMR Red drive to the test

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / Western Digital's EFAX Red—an SMR disk—squares off against a Seagate Ironwolf in today's testing. (credit: Jim Salter)

Western Digital has been receiving a storm of bad press—and even lawsuits—concerning their attempt to sneak SMR disk technology into their "Red" line of NAS disks. To get a better handle on the situation, Ars purchased a Western Digital 4TB Red EFAX model SMR drive and put it to the test ourselves.

Although Western Digital's 4TB SMR disk performed adequately in Servethehome's light duty tests, it performed miserably when they used it to replace a disk in a degraded four-disk RAIDz1 vdev. (credit: ServeTheHome)

Recently, the well-known tech enthusiast site Servethehome tested one of the SMR-based 4TB Red disks with ZFS and found it sorely lacking. The disk performed adequately—if underwhelmingly—in generic performance tests. But when Servethehome used it to replace a disk in a degraded RAIDz1 vdev, it required more than nine days to complete the operation—when all competing NAS drives performed the same task in around sixteen hours.

This has rightfully raised questions as to what Western Digital was thinking when it tried to use SMR technology in NAS drives at all, let alone trying to sneak it into the market. Had Western Digital even tested the disks at all? But as valuable as Servethehome's ZFS tests were, they ignored the most common use case of this class of drive—consumer and small business NAS devices, such as Synology's DS1819+ or Netgear's ReadyNAS RN628X00. Those all use Linux kernel RAID (mdraid) to manage their arrays.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Americans are drinking bleach and dunking food in it to prevent COVID-19

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 9:21pm

Bleach (credit: Adina Firestone)

Americans are doing more housecleaning and disinfecting amid the COVID-19 pandemic and many are turning to wild and dangerous tactics—like drinking and gargling bleach solutions.

Back in April, the agency noted an unusual spike in poison control center calls over harmful exposures to household cleaning products, such as bleach. The timing linked it to the spread of the pandemic coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2 (not statements by President Trump). But to get a clearer idea of what was behind the rise, CDC researchers set up an online survey of household cleaning and disinfection knowledge and practices.

In all, they surveyed 502 US adults and used statistical weighting to make it representative of the country’s population. The findings—published Friday in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report—are stunning.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Archaeologists find a way to look for ancient beer

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 9:10pm

Enlarge / Barley grain used in the production of beer at the Asahi Kanagawa Brewery in Japan. (credit: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Over the last few years, archaeologists have learned a lot from ancient people’s dirty dishes. Microscopic residues clinging to the inside of potsherds contain chemical traces of ancient food and drink, which have revealed remarkable details of ancient people’s diets. But as much as we now know about when people started eating certain grains or fermenting milk to make cheese, we’re still not sure when people first started brewing beer. It’s hard to tell a container used for beer from one that was just storing plain old grain.

But by looking at the remains of ancient grains under a microscope, archaeologists can tell whether the grains had been malted—the first step in the process of brewing beer.

When grains start to germinate, or sprout, they release an enzyme called diastase, which converts the grain’s stockpile of starch into sugar. The whole point of malting is to make the grains release diastase but then stop the process before the starch gets turned into sugar. Once the brewer adds yeast to the malted grain, then, the diastase can produce more sugar to feed the yeast—and that produces carbon dioxide, alcohol, and a sweet taste. To make this happen, brewers soak grains in water so they start to germinate, then stop the process by air-drying the grains and heating them in an oven.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tear gas is more dangerous than police let on—especially during the pandemic

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 8:20pm

Enlarge / A woman holds a placard reading 'I can't breathe' amid tear gas in Toulouse, France. (credit: Alain Pitton/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

When Amira Chowdhury joined a protest in Philadelphia against police violence on Monday, she wore a mask to protect herself and others against the coronavirus. But when officers launched tear gas into the crowd, Chowdhury pulled off her mask as she gasped for air. “I couldn’t breathe,” she said. “I felt like I was choking to death.”

Chowdhury was on a part of the Vine Street Expressway that ran underground. Everyone panicked as gas drifted into the dark, semi-enclosed space, she said. People stomped over her as they scrambled away. Bruised, she scaled a fence to escape. But the tear gas found her later that evening, inside her own house; as police unleashed it on protesters in her predominantly black neighborhood in West Philadelphia, it seeped in.

“I can’t even be in my own house without escaping the violence of the state,” said Chowdhury, a rising senior at the University of Pennsylvania. On Wednesday, she said her throat still felt dry, like it was clogged with ash.

Read 41 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New iPad keyboard shortcuts aim to make up for lack of function keys

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 8:15pm

Apple may soon add keyboard shortcuts for the iPad that would perform some of the actions Mac and PC users use the function or media keys for, according to 9to5Mac. The claim is based on analysis of code within iPadOS 13.5.5 beta.

When we reviewed the iPad Pro's new Magic Keyboard peripheral, one of our main complaints was the lack of physical media keys. Some features like managing media playback or changing screen brightness are available in the Control Center, which is a simple swipe away.

But others, like keyboard backlight brightness, have to be changed deep within the Settings app, whereas they could be changed with one or two taps on the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar or the MacBook Air's function keys. The Apple-made keyboard attachments for the various iPad models have no Touch Bar, and they lack function or media keys.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

George Floyd: Reddit co-founder quits board and asks for black replacement

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 8:14pm
Alexis Ohanian says the move was inspired by protests over the death of George Floyd.

Motorola’s sub-$200 Moto G Fast and Moto E pack modern designs, big batteries

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 7:34pm

Motorola is releasing some cheap smartphones for 2020. You might think the company had already done this with the April release of the Moto G Stylus ($299) and the Moto G Power ($249), but today Motorola is announcing more budget devices for the US: the Moto G Fast ($199) and the 2020 version of the Moto E ($149).

Motorola's 2020 lineup of phones-at-$50-increments is getting pretty complicated, so maybe a big table would help:

Moto E (2020) MOTO G FAST MOTO G POWER MOTO G STYLUS STARTING PRICE $149.99 $199.99 $249.99 $299.99 SCREEN 6.2-inch 1520×720p LCD 6.4-inch 1560×720p LCD 6.4-inch 2300×1080 LCD 6.4-inch 2300×1080 LCD CPU Snapdragon 632
Four 1.8GHz A73 cores,
four 1.8GHz A53 cores, 14nm Snapdragon 665
Four 2GHz A73 cores, four 1.8GHz A53 cores, 11nm RAM 2GB 3GB 4GB 4GB STORAGE 32GB 32GB 64GB 128GB CAMERA 13MP Main
2MP Depth
5MP Front 16MP Main
8MP Wide Angle
2MP Macro
8MP Front 16MP Main
8MP Wide Angle
2MP Macro
16MP Front 48MP Main
16MP Wide Angle
2MP Macro
Laser autofocus
16MP Front PORTS Micro-USB, headphone jack USB-C, headphone jack BATTERY 3550mAh 4000mAh 5000mAh 4000mAh

One big oddity in Motorola's phone lineup is that none of these phones has NFC. You won't be able to use tap-and-pay with Google Pay anywhere, which is disappointing. They at least all have headphone jacks, Android 10, rear capacitive fingerprint readers, and Micro SD slots, which is nice. The Moto E is the only phone that is still using the dusty old Micro USB standard, which sadly is a normal occurrence at this price point.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Command & Conquer Remastered Collection review: Loving the smell of Tiberium

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 6:00pm

The strategy, the explosions, the FMV sequences, the ripping guitars, and the Kane-fueled cheese—they're all back. The original 1995 game Command & Conquer: Tiberian Dawn and its 1996 prequel Red Alert have returned in today's launch of the C&C: Remastered Collection on Windows 8/10 (AmazonSteamOrigin). In good news, the package is right for the price: $20 gets you both original games, all of their expansion packs (one for C&C:TD, two for Red Alert), and each game's console-exclusive content. The complete package has been aesthetically touched up for the sake of working on modern PCs.

I've spent the past week tinkering with Command & Conquer: Remastered Collection to break down exactly what to expect and how you should temper your real-time strategy expectations. Despite a few quality-of-life tweaks, the package is otherwise faithful to the originals—almost to a fault—while its compatibility with modern PCs is mostly good enough.

From 400p to 2160p, but not without issues

The package's biggest selling point is a new coat of high-res paint. Every single asset and map element has been redrawn, and like other recent classic-game remaster projects, this one includes a handy "graphic-swap" button. By default, tap the space bar at any time during single-player modes to switch from the original 400p assets to a new, 2160p-optimized suite of units, buildings, and terrain. Here, enjoy an after-and-before gallery of both zoomed-in units and full battleground scenes.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Elon Musk calls for 'break up' of Amazon

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 5:53pm
The entrepreneur condemned the online retailer after it rejected a book about coronavirus.

Investors argue against excessive pay package for Activision CEO

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 4:32pm

Enlarge

A major investment group with substantial holdings in Activision stock is speaking out this week against the high compensation for Activision Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick. The move comes ahead of a shareholder vote on executive pay scheduled for June 11.

"Over the past four years, Activision Blizzard CEO Robert Kotick has received over $20 million in combined stock/option equity per year," the CtW investment group writes in a letter filed with the SEC this week. "These equity grants have consistently been larger than the total pay (the sum of base salary, annual bonus, and equity pay) of CEO peers at similar companies."

CtW—which works with union-sponsored pension funds to speak out against "irresponsible and unethical corporate behavior and excessive executive pay"—said Kotick's excessive compensation is especially concerning in light of the wave of nearly 800 layoffs the company rolled out in 2019. Those layoffs were implemented amid the announcement of "record results in 2018" for Activision and reportedly focused on "non-development teams" that were no longer needed thanks to a lighter slate of releases from the company going forward.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Combat drone to compete against piloted plane

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 2:27pm
The US Air Force will pit an advanced autonomous aircraft against a piloted plane in tests.

Whatever happened to the NHS contact-tracing app?

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 1:52pm
The app, first tested on the Isle of Wight, had been expected to be rolled out at the end of May.

Coronavirus: National Rail to offer 'busy station' alerts

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 1:34pm
Rail passengers will be warned if trains or stations are busy, to aid social distancing.

From Zelda to Civ to Frostpunk—can climate change be fun?

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 12:30pm

For decades now, video games have concerned themselves with the end of things. From the bombed-out nuclear wasteland of Washington, DC in Fallout 3 to the flooded Hyrule of The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, popular games have explored the concept of the apocalypse with both goofy humor and stark seriousness, often revealing unpleasant truths in the process. So perhaps it’s no surprise that as the all-too-real climate change crisis continues to creep towards a breaking point—even as the ongoing public health disaster known as COVID-19 eclipses it in the public imagination—video game developers are taking steps to systematize the ways that rising sea levels or other ecological catastrophes might overwhelm us in the coming years.

While many of these climate changed-focused games focus on depicting the dire future that experts predict if we refuse to radically alter our behavior patterns, others are a bit more traditional in their approach. And some notable game-makers like Firaxis Games (Civilization) and 11-Bit Studios (This War of Mine) are drawing inspiration from climate-change to craft ludic dilemmas that force players to make radical decisions in the face of overwhelming odds. In other words: if these studios can't necessarily make living through the apocalypse as fun as it sounds, they can at least make it interesting.

The picturesque environments of Civ6 were about to experience some hardships.

A game that can do both

To be fair, climate scientists have understood for years now that video games have a unique ability to communicate the stakes and severity of this global crisis to a mass audience. Historically, many of these games fit well-within the strategy genre, and developers have tried different approaches to lure players in. For example, the commercial game Fate of the World often overwhelms new players with the heft of its interlocking systems: make a few bad decisions early on, and you'll quickly find yourself hurtling towards a bad ending. All you can do then is apply the lessons learned to a future playthrough. On the other hand, educational fare like the underwater exploration sim Beyond Blue lean more towards accessibility. By focusing on the specific effects of climate change—in this case, the destruction of the Earth's oceans—the game can communicate the costs of a warming climate to a wider audience.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Report: Falcon 9 leaps forward; a gator and a Dragon

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / Falcon 9 lifts off on its most important mission to date: carrying NASA Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley into orbit. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann)

Welcome to Edition 3.03 of the Rocket Report! We just passed a week of the highest of highs, with Saturday's Crew Dragon launch, and the lowest of lows, as this country's racial prejudice was laid bare. Jeff Manber, the CEO of Nanoracks, said it well: "The space community can, and must, do better to become part of the solution to the horrific challenges America faces today." We agree.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Vega set for return-to-flight mission. After an in-flight accident in July 2019 and the COVID-19 pandemic, Arianespace has resumed preparations for the Vega rocket's return to service mission. This launch will also demonstrate the rocket's utility as a platform for rideshare missions. Launch is targeted for June 18, local time, NASASpaceflight.com reports.

Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Coronavirus: NHS contact-tracing app in place by end of month, says minister

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 10:47am
The app will "be running as soon as we think it is robust", a government minister says.

‘Venus flytrap hand’ has gentle touch and other tech news

BBC Technology News - June 5, 2020 - 7:05am
BBC Click's Paul Carter looks at some of the best of the week's technology news stories.

A lost Maxis “Sim” game has been discovered by an Ars reader, uploaded for all

Ars Technica - June 5, 2020 - 6:33am

Wow. It may only be an incomplete prototype, but in a breathtaking span of time, SimRefinery has gone from a seemingly lost legend to a playable, downloadable video game. (That's its real, full-resolution opening screen, as captured using a DOSBox emulator.) And it's all thanks to an Ars Technica commenter. (credit: archive.org / Maxis / Chevron)

We at Ars Technica are proud to be members of video game archiving history today. SimRefinery, one of PC gaming's most notoriously "lost" video games, now exists as a fully playable game—albeit an unfinished one—thanks to an Ars Technica reader commenting on the story of its legend.

Two weeks ago, I reported on a story about Maxis Business Solutions, a subdivision of the game developer Maxis created in the wake of SimCity's booming success. Librarian and archivist Phil Salvador published an epic, interview-filled history of one of the game industry's earliest examples of a "serious" gaming division, which was formed as a way to cash in on major businesses' interest in using video games as work-training simulators.

As Salvador wrote in May:

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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