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Industry & Technology

New archaeological layer discovered at L‘Anse aux Meadows

Ars Technica - 1 hour 14 min ago

Enlarge / Paul Ledger and Véronique Forbes examining the cultural horizon. (credit: Linus Girdland-Flink)

L’Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland is famed for being a site where Norse travelers set up a colony hundreds of years before Europe at large became aware of North America's existence. The colony was thought to be short-lived, but a new find may extend the length of its occupancy.

While taking sediment cores from a nearby peat bog to help study the ancient environment, archaeologist Paul Ledger and his colleagues discovered a previously unknown chapter in the story of L’Anse aux Meadows. Buried about 35cm (14 inches) beneath the modern surface, they found signs of an ancient occupancy: a layer of trampled mud littered with woodworking debris, charcoal, and the remains of plants and insects.

Based on its depth and the insect species present, the layers looks like similar surfaces from the edges of Viking Age Norse settlements in Greenland and Iceland. But organic material from the layer radiocarbon dated to the late 1100s or early 1200s, long after the Norse were thought to have left Newfoundland for good.

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The Greatest Leap, part 2: The 50/50 bet that won the Space Race for America

Ars Technica - 2 hours 29 sec ago

Video shot by Joshua Ballinger, edited and produced by Jing Niu and David Minick. Click here for transcript.

By the summer of 1968, a sense of deep unease had engulfed the American republic. Early in the year, the Tet Offensive smashed any lingering illusions of a quick victory in the increasingly bloody Vietnam conflict. Race relations boiled over in April when a single rifle bullet took the life of Martin Luther King, Jr. Two months later, as Bobby Kennedy walked through a hotel kitchen, he was shot in the head. The red, white, and blue threads that had bound America for nearly two centuries were faded and fraying.

Amid this national turmoil, senior planners at the country’s space agency were also having a difficult year. Late that summer they quietly faced their most consequential decision to date. If NASA was going to meet the challenge laid out by President John F. Kennedy, its astronauts would soon have to take an unprecedented leap by leaving low-Earth orbit and entering the gravity well of another world—the Moon. Should they do it?Apollo: The Greatest Leap

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Such a bold step could provide a glimmer of hope to a fractured nation. It would cement America's lead in the "Space Race" against the Soviet Union and remind Americans of their potential for greatness on the world stage. But a romp around the Moon also carried tremendous risks. If NASA failed, its Moon dreams would expire. The agency might, too. NASA had already lost three astronauts during a launch pad fire in early 1967. Neither the public—nor Congress—would accept three more dead astronauts.

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Can you trust FaceApp with your face?

BBC Technology News - 2 hours 5 min ago
An app that transforms photos of people's faces into younger and older versions has gone viral.

OneWeb’s low-Earth satellites hit 400Mbps and 32ms latency in new test

Ars Technica - 2 hours 11 min ago

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

OneWeb says a test of its low-Earth orbit satellites has delivered broadband speeds of more than 400Mbps with average latency of 32ms.

"The tests, which took place in Seoul, South Korea, represent the most significant demonstration of the OneWeb constellation to date, proving its ability to provide superior broadband connectivity anywhere on the planet," OneWeb said in an announcement yesterday.

The company said it's on track toward creating "a fully functioning global constellation in 2021 and delivering partial service beginning as early as 2020." The test described yesterday involved six OneWeb satellites that were launched in February. OneWeb says its commercial network "will start with an initial 650 satellites and grow up to 1,980 satellites."

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NASA’s large SLS rocket unlikely to fly before at least late 2021

Ars Technica - 2 hours 34 min ago

Enlarge / NASA Administrator James Bridenstine testifies before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on July 17, 2019. (credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

As recently as last month, both NASA planning documents and officials with Boeing said the space agency was still working toward a 2020 launch of the Artemis-1 mission. This is the first launch of the large, costly, and delayed Space Launch System rocket that NASA hopes will serve as the backbone for its efforts to explore the Moon and eventually Mars with humans.

This uncrewed test flight, which will boost an Orion capsule to the Moon, is the first of three main missions in NASA's Artemis campaign to land humans on the Moon by 2024. However, for the first time, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Wednesday foreclosed the possibility of a 2020 launch date.

Twice during testimony before the US Senate Committee Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Bridenstine referenced 2021 as the expected launch date for Artemis-1. "I think 2021 is definitely achievable for the Artemis-1 launch vehicle," Bridenstine said in response to a question from Sen. Roger Wicker, the Mississippi Republican who chairs the committee.

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War Stories: Designing Dead Cells was a marriage of man and machine

Ars Technica - 3 hours 34 min ago

Video shot by Justin Wolfson, edited by John Cappello. Click here for transcript.

Is it better to build a game by hand, piece by piece, or to program a computer that can build that game for you? In the cast of MotionTwin's Dead Cells, the answer is a little mix of both.

In Ars Technica's latest War Stories video, Motion Twin's "Lead Whatever" (as he calls himself) Sebastien Bénard, talks about the difficulty of designing interesting and playable environments for the game. At one point, the game was "traumatized by huge levels with no actual meaning," he told us. That's because, while the team's computer algorithm was good at generating maze-like rooms, it couldn't tell when it had created a "good result."

After that, the team transitioned to a hybrid approach, hand-designing individual rooms with distinct entrances and exits and a strong sense of flow. Then they designed a computer algorithm that could link these rooms together into a game that felt fresh but also well-designed every time.

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Ford designs a pickup truck emoji, petitions Unicode Consortium

Ars Technica - 3 hours 42 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Ford)

Did you know that July 17 is World Emoji Day? No, me neither—at least not until Ford used the celebration of these 21st century hieroglyphs to announce that it wants a pickup truck emoji. In fact, Ford was so serious about the idea that in 2018, it submitted an official proposal to the Unicode Consortium to make that happen. On Wednesday, it revealed that the little blue truck had made it as far as the short list for inclusion in the next official emoji update, which is scheduled for 2020.

"When customers started demanding a truck emoji, we knew we had to help make it happen," said Joe Hinrichs, Ford's president of automotive. "Given the popularity of Ford trucks globally, there's no one better than Ford to help bring an all-new pickup truck emoji to hard-working texters around the globe."

The emoji as proposed by Ford is unmistakable as a pickup truck, but it's generic enough to work for any make or model of pickup. (Although, as the cheeseburger emoji scandal of 2017 proved, that might not stop some app or OS team from implementing their version with the wheels on the top, or the load bed out front of the cab.)

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New standard Switch model will improve battery life 40 to 80 percent

Ars Technica - 4 hours 44 min ago

Enlarge (credit: YouTube / Aban Tech)

Last week, we broke down the evidence that Nintendo was working on a new model of the standard Switch to go alongside the recently announced, portable-only Switch Lite. Today, Nintendo confirmed the existence of that new model via product page listings that promise improved battery life over the existing Switch.

Switch model HAC-001-01 will last approximately 4.5 to 9 hours on a single charge, depending on the game being played, according to Nintendo. That's a 38 to 80 percent increase from the 2.5 to 6.5 hours of the original model HAC-001. For The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Nintendo promises an increase from approximately three hours of single-charge play on the old model to approximately 5.5 hours on the new model. For comparison, the Switch Lite will get three to seven hours on a single charge, and it can last four hours on Breath of the Wild, according to Nintendo. [Update: Edited to correct percentage math].

The new model should be available in the US in mid-August and in Japan in late August, according to Nintendo. Eurogamer reports that Nintendo expects it in the UK "starting from early September." Besides the model numbers, consumers will be able to tell the new extended-battery Switch units from the old ones by looking for a serial number starting with "XKW."

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Google suspends ticket site Viagogo from advertising

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 5 min ago
The move follows further legal action against the ticket resale website.

New research on Tunguska finds such events happen less often than we thought

Ars Technica - 7 hours 18 min ago

Enlarge / The famed Tunguska event of 1908 scorched a five-mile swath of trees and caused many to fall away from the center of the blast in a distinct radial pattern. (credit: Photo12/Universal Images Group via Getty Image)

Last month marked the 111th anniversary of the Tunguska event, a blast that flattened trees across half a million acres of Siberian forest on June 20, 1908. Scientists have been puzzling over the details ever since. We now have fresh evidence about what transpired back then, in the form of new data gleaned from a well-documented rare meteor burst near Chelyabinsk, Russia, in February 2013. That data shores up the hypothesis that the Tunguska event was most likely due to an asteroid impact. The findings are described in a series of scholarly papers commemorating the event, published in a special July 15 issue of the journal Icarus.

Seismometers all over the world recorded the Tunguska impact, which hit 5.0 on the Richter scale in some locations. But there weren't many human eyewitnesses, given its remote location—first-hand observations came mostly from a few Russian settlers and Evenki natives. They described a streak of light across the sky, followed by another flash of light and a loud sound with accompanying shock wave. "Suddenly the sky appeared like it was split in two, high above the forest, the whole northern sky appeared to be completely covered with blazing fire," a farmer named Sergei Semenov recalled; he'd been having breakfast just 40 miles (64km) from the impact. "At that moment, I felt a great wave of heat as if my shirt had caught fire." The shock wave was strong enough to knock him off his chair.

Sky fall

Still, the impact site was so remote that nobody investigated for more than a decade. It wasn't until 1927 that Russian mineralogist Leonid Kulik led a scientific expedition to the area. His Evenki guides believed the blast had been a punishment from their god of thunder, Agda. Kulik, on the other hand, believed it had been a meteor and was surprised to find no impact crater. But trees had been scorched over a five-mile radius, with all their branches blown off. Kulik made three more expeditions, during which he discovered small bogs resembling potholes. He thought those might be impact craters but found an old stump at the bottom of one when he drained it, effectively ruling out that hypothesis.

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Google's Project Dragonfly 'terminated' in China

BBC Technology News - 8 hours 25 min ago
The firm's plan to launch a censored search engine in China had faced much criticism.

Losing yourself in virtual worlds can have good as well as negative effects

Ars Technica - 8 hours 29 min ago

Enlarge / A visitor holds a hand control unit to play Minecraft during the EGX gaming conference in London, September 2014. (credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

As a teenager, Pete Etchells lost his father to motor neuron disease, and often, when the anniversary of his death rolled around, he found solace in playing video games, like hunting for the elusive Time Lost Proto-Drake in World of Warcraft. Gaming started as an escape, but over time, he found those virtual worlds helped him grapple with the difficult questions of human mortality and death. He even recreated a log cabin in Minecraft, drawing on memories of where he'd stayed at Yosemite on vacation with his father.

Now a psychologist at Bath Spa University in England but still an avid gamer, Etchells specializes in understanding the behavioral effects—both positive and negative—of video games. He chose that focus after going on an alcohol-fueled pub rant as a graduate student, annoyed by a fear-mongering newspaper headline claiming that computer games cause dementia in children. He knew from personal experience how gaming had helped him process his grief, and his research has helped bring concrete evidence to bear on the lingering debate about whether video games are bad for you.

Etchells explores all this and more in his first book, Lost in a Good Game—part personal memoir, part cultural history, part popular science. Ars sat down with Etchells to learn more about how gaming can be a force for good, instead of rotting our collective brains.

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Elon Musk reveals brain-hacking plans

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 37 min ago
Start-up NeuraLink wants to start testing its human computer interface on humans.

Data of 'nearly all adults' in Bulgaria stolen

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 13 min ago
A hacker targeted the Balkan country's tax agency and reportedly offered local media access to stolen data.

Justice John Paul Stevens, dead at 99, promoted the Internet revolution

Ars Technica - 17 hours 21 min ago

Former Supreme Court justice John Paul Stevens died Tuesday at the age of 99. During Stevens' tenure on the high court, which stretched from 1975 to 2010, Stevens had a huge impact on legal issues affecting the technology sector. Tonight we're republishing a lightly edited version of our 2010 story that originally marked his retirement from the Supreme Court.

In April 2010, the Supreme Court's most senior justice, John Paul Stevens, announced his retirement. In the weeks that followed, hundreds of articles were written about his career and his legacy. While most articles focus on "hot button" issues such as flag burning, terrorism, and affirmative action, Stevens' tech policy record has largely been ignored.

When Justice Stevens joined the court, many of the technologies we now take for granted—the PC, packet-switched networks, home video recording—were in their infancy. During his 35-year tenure on the bench, Stevens penned decisions that laid the foundation for the tremendous innovations that followed in each of these areas.

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'Cordless' Dyson fan advert falls foul of watchdog

BBC Technology News - 19 hours 8 min ago
The UK Advertising Standards Authority bans a Dyson ad for implying fan is cordless.

Disability emojis: Guide dog and wheelchair user revealed

BBC Technology News - 19 hours 9 min ago
The Emojis have been released by Apple and Android to better represent disabled people.

Apple is planning to buy up original podcasts with exclusivity in mind

Ars Technica - 19 hours 51 min ago

Enlarge / Apple will replace iTunes with Music, Podcasts, and TV on Mac. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Podcast fans will want to keep their ears to the ground with the latest Apple news. Bloomberg reported that Apple may be looking for deals to bring exclusive original shows to its podcast-listening platform. Unnamed sources say the company is reaching out to media companies to secure rights for podcast exclusivity.

This development would mark a shift in how Apple runs its podcast platform. Shows that list on Apple Podcasts can also make their episodes available elsewhere. Exclusive arrangements in the future could come with different restrictions. This might mean that Apple’s app is the only place where you can hear an entire show, or this could be a windowing deal where new episodes first appear on Apple before the podcaster can send them to other platforms.

Apple’s app for podcast listening has long been the most popular place to get your fix of the latest shows. However, as the audience for podcasts has grown over the past few years, more and more businesses are trying to secure their own dedicated listener bases, which could erode Apple’s dominance in the space.

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The toy-sized satellites with an eye on the world

BBC Technology News - 20 hours 7 min ago
Small, cheap satellites can help us track pollution, crop yields and congestion like never before.

Musk’s newest startup is venturing into a series of hard problems

Ars Technica - 20 hours 8 min ago

Enlarge / Elon Musk in Idaho in 2015. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Tonight, Elon Musk has scheduled an event where he intends to unveil his plans for Neuralink, a startup company he announced back in 2017, then went silent on. If you go to the Neuralink website now, all you'll find is a vague description of its goal to develop "ultra-high-bandwidth brain-machine interfaces to connect humans and computers." These interfaces have been under development for a while, typically under the moniker of brain-computer interfaces, or BCIs. And, while there have been some notable successes in the academic-research world, there's a notable lack of products on the market.

The slow progress comes, in part, because a successful BCI has to tackle multiple hard problems and, in part, because the regulatory and market conditions are challenging. Ahead of tonight's announcement, we'll take a look at all of these and then see how Musk and the people who advise him have decided to tackle them.

A series of problems

An effective BCI means figuring out how to get the nervous system to communicate with digital hardware. Doing so requires solving three problems, which I'll call reading, coding, and feedback. We'll go through each of these below.

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