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Industry & Technology

Commerce Inspector General says “Sharpiegate” report being blocked

Ars Technica - 1 hour 51 min ago

Enlarge / Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. (credit: NASA HQ PHOTO / Flickr)

Last month, we covered the results of a NOAA investigation into scientific integrity violations associated with its handling of President Donald Trump’s self-inflicted hurricane controversy.

The problems started when Trump incorrectly tweeted that Alabama was likely going to be impacted by Hurricane Dorian. After seeing an influx of questions, the Birmingham National Weather Service office tweeted a clarification. Rather than simply correcting the mistake, the White House insisted that the President was right, an insistence that eventually led to his marker-amended forecast map, presented from the Oval Office.

NOAA’s issue was that its leadership released an unsigned statement that sided with President Trump, criticizing the Birmingham office for speaking “in absolute terms that were inconsistent with probabilities from the best forecast products available at the time.”

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Can’t afford to fly to space? Settle for smelling like it

Ars Technica - 2 hours 18 min ago

Enlarge / "Listen—do you smell something?" (credit: QAI Publishing)

If you ask a US Navy submariner the most visceral part of the underwater and underway experience, you'll get the same answer almost every time—it's the smell. "Eau de Boat," as we sailors called it, is a unique combination of diesel fuel, machine oil, laundry hamper, and flatulence. To the best of my knowledge, nobody's ever attempted to bottle and sell Eau de Boat—but a Kickstarter campaign is trying to do the same thing for space travel.

But why, though?

In late June, the US National Space Council's Executive Secretary Scott Pace expressed his desire to support companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin in developing minimal commercial space tourism—brief suborbital round trips which take a few people above the atmosphere, then return them to the same spot they started. Virgin Galactic even plans to send some NASA astronauts to the International Space Station, eventually.

But these are likely to be small and expensive affairs that very few people will get to experience, for several more decades at least. In the meantime, space enthusiasts can more accessibly and affordably experience the ISS to some degree in virtual reality. Even with six degrees of freedom, the experience is sharply limited.

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Heated seats as a service? BMW wants to sell car features on demand

Ars Technica - 2 hours 33 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

I'm all too aware that connected cars aren't a popular topic around these parts, and that's unlikely to change with today's news. BMW is planning to move some features of its new cars to a subscription model, something it announced on Wednesday during a briefing for the press on the company's digital plans.

It's not an entirely new idea to the auto industry—Tesla has pioneered the idea of shipping vehicles with hardware that can be enabled at the time of purchase or later on for a fee. And BMW has done something similar in the past with infotainment features; for a while, if you wanted access to Apple CarPlay, you had to pay an $80 yearly subscription until the automaker abandoned that idea.

But those were for digital services—now the Bavarian carmaker has plans to apply that model to features like heated seats. BMW says that owners can "benefit in advance from the opportunity to try out the products for a trial period of one month, after which they can book the respective service for one or three years." The company also says that it could allow the second owner of a BMW to activate features that the original purchaser declined.

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Police infiltrate encrypted phones, arrest hundreds in organized crime bust

Ars Technica - 2 hours 46 min ago

Enlarge / It is not specified if Encrochat users were required to stand in silhouette or otherwise apply film-noir style lighting while using their encrypted phones to do crime. (credit: Catherine Falls Commercial | Getty Images)

Almost 750 individuals in the UK have been arrested so far after an international coalition of law enforcement agencies infiltrated an encrypted chat platform in which the suspects openly discussed murder, arranged hits, illegal drug purchases, gun sales, and other alleged crimes.

The UK's National Crime Agency (NCA) today announced the results of an investigation it dubbed Operation Venetic. UK agencies, taken together, have to date arrested 746 suspects and seized 77 guns, two metric tons of drugs, 28 million illicit pills, 55 "high value" cars, and more than £54 million ($67.4 million) in cash.

The arrests followed a breakthrough into an encrypted communications platform, Encrochat, used widely in the European underground. "The infiltration of this command and control communication platform for the UK’s criminal marketplace is like having an inside person in every top organized crime group in the country," NCA Director of Investigations Nikki Holland said in a written statement. "This is the broadest and deepest ever UK operation into serious organized crime."

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Grab an excellent Razer Viper gaming mouse for a new low of $50

Ars Technica - 3 hours 12 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a new low price on the Razer Viper, one of our favorite wired gaming mice for most players. Originally retailing for $80, it's currently available for $50. This is $10 cheaper than its previous best price, which we've seen the device hit on multiple occasions.

We recommended the Razer Viper in our tech-enthusiast gift guide last holiday season, and we currently recommend its wireless equivalent, the Razer Viper Ultimate, as the best gaming option in our wireless mouse buying guide. While there are plenty of cheaper mice out there, even at this deal price, the Viper is a decidedly premium device both in terms of comfort and performance.

Its biggest draw is that it's supremely lightweight: at 69 grams, the Viper is quick to slide around without locking you into the "honeycomb" design of most other ultralight mice. It's not too large for smaller hands, and its slightly humped design is contoured in a way that should work well with all grip types. (Though it'll likely be more comfortable with a claw or fingertip grip than a palm grip, especially if you have large hands.) Its rubberized sides help you keep a better grip on the device, and the design is truly ambidextrous, with two customizable side buttons on its left and right. And while the Viper is primarily made of plastic, it's smooth to the touch and feels sturdily put together.

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Undulating their bodies keeps flying snakes from tumbling out of control

Ars Technica - 3 hours 40 min ago

How flying snakes glide by swimming through the air.

Flying snakes can glide as far as 78 feet (24 meters) without tumbling out of control because they undulate their bodies mid-flight, as if they were swimming through the air. This seems to be a specialized strategy to stabilize their flight rather than an evolutionary remnant of general snake behavior, according to a new paper in the journal Nature Physics. The work could eventually lead to a new, improved control template for dynamic flying robots.

Co-author Jake Socha of Virginia Tech has been studying these fascinating creatures for about 20 years. The peculiar gliding ability of these snakes—there are five known species, including Chrysopelea pelias and Chrysopelea paradisi—was first noted by a British scientist in the late 1800s, who observed one gliding through his tea garden in southeast Asia one day. But scientists had paid little attention to determining the precise physics and biomechanics at play until Socha published a 2002 paper outlining his preliminary findings on the fundamental aerodynamics.

Socha found that the snake will push its ridge scales against the tree trunk, using the rough surface to maneuver up to a branch. Then it dangles its body off the end of the branch and contracts sharply like a spring to launch itself into the air. The initial angle of inclination as the snake is hanging determines the flight path. To ensure maximum gliding distance, the snake will suck in its stomach and flatten its body, curving inward like a Frisbee to create lift, undulating its body in an S-shaped motion, which serves to increase the air pressure underneath.

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House OKs $100B broadband plan with $50 monthly discounts for poor people

Ars Technica - 3 hours 55 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Bonilla1879)

The US House of Representatives yesterday approved $100 billion worth of broadband funding as part of a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill.

The broadband portion is modeled on the Democrats' "universal fiber" plan we wrote about last week. The plan includes $80 billion in fiscal year 2021, money that the Federal Communications Commission would use to fund high-speed broadband projects in unserved and underserved areas. Funded projects would have to provide 100Mbps download and upload speeds, along with low latencies, conditions that would spur fiber-to-the-home development.

The bill has additional money for broadband-deployment loans, grants for states to pursue digital-inclusion projects, Wi-Fi on school buses, and network equipment for schools and libraries. It also includes a $9 billion Broadband Connectivity Fund to provide $50 monthly discounts for low-income broadband users, and $75 monthly discounts for low-income households in Tribal lands. The broadband portions of the infrastructure bill are in this set of amendments.

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Apple throws in another Mac Pro GPU configuration: The AMD Radeon Pro W5500X

Ars Technica - 4 hours 4 min ago

Apple has added a new GPU configuration option for its Mac Pro desktop tower: AMD's Radeon Pro 5500X. It's a mid-range pick amid the other configurations available on this machine.

The W5500X adds $200 over the base config (which has the Radeon Pro 580X, the same found in some high-end iMacs) and comes with 8GB of GDDR6 memory. Other options include the Radeon Pro W5700X ($600 more than the base config), the Radeon Pro Vega II ($2,400), and the Radeon Pro Vega II Duo ($5,200), as well as dual-GPU variants of the W5700X, Radeon Pro Vega II, and Radeon Pro Vega II Duo configurations.

This is the copy Apple provides to explain the W5500X to potential buyers:

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RIP to the Google Pixel 3a, which is officially discontinued

Ars Technica - 4 hours 14 min ago

Google is no longer selling cheap phones. At least, that's the temporary situation the company is in now, thanks to the (probably planned) discontinuation of the Pixel 3a and the (definitely unplanned) delays of its successor, the Pixel 4a. 9to5Google first noticed that the phone was pulled from the Google Store yesterday, and Google confirmed to several outlets that the phone is officially no longer for sale.

Google was supposed to have a replacement by now. Google's new cheap phone, the Pixel 4a, was expected to be announced at Google I/O 2020, the same show that launched the Pixel 3a. That would have happened in May, and while the coronavirus pandemic put a stop to Google I/O and every other public gathering, that still doesn't quite explain why it's July now and the Pixel 4a is still missing in action. It's possible that Google is having COVID-related supply issues, but other manufacturers like HTC, Motorola, and Huawei have had launches lately.

The Pixel 3a launched in May 2019 and was a real crowd-pleaser. After killing the Nexus line and only selling expensive Pixel phones for years, Google returned to the budget market with the $400 device. The cheaper phone had the same great camera as the more expensive Pixel 3, and the same great Google-Android build with a three-year update plan. There were only small budget concessions like a slightly slower SoC and a plastic body, but neither of those were a major downside. Google's cheap phone was maybe a little too good (or maybe the expensive phones were not good enough): there wasn't much reason to pick a more expensive Pixel 3 or 4 over a Pixel 3a.

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The Rock ranks as Instagram's 'most valuable star'

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 55 min ago
Film star Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson can charge more than $1m for a sponsored post, analysts say.

Katie Price calls for penalties for online abuse

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 21 min ago
The former model and reality TV star talks about her experiences as MPs launch a new inquiry.

2K breaks gaming’s de facto $60 ceiling, asks $70 for next-gen NBA 2K21

Ars Technica - 5 hours 32 min ago

Enlarge / Artist's conception of consumer reactions to NBA 2K21's $70 asking price.

A new generation of video game consoles may come with a new standard price point for big-budget games. That's the impression 2K Games is giving, at least, with today's announcement that the Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 versions of NBA 2K21 will come in at an MSRP of $69.99.

That price point is $10 higher than the $59.99 asking price for the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the same game, which are due to launch September 4. And an NBA 2K spokesperson confirmed to Ars Technica that the premium pricing is based on what it sees as the increased value represented by the power of new consoles.

"We believe our suggested retail price for NBA 2K21 on next-generation platforms fairly represents the value of what's being offered: power, speed, and technology that is only possible on new hardware," the representative told Ars Technica. "While we are confident that NBA 2K21 will be a monumental leap forward for the franchise and a standout visual showcase on next-generation consoles, we recognize that it's our responsibility to prove this value to our fans and NBA 2K players."

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Hundreds arrested as crime chat network cracked

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 24 min ago
Police forces across Europe collaborated on the UK's "most significant" law enforcement operation.

Zuckerberg: Advertisers will be back to Facebook 'soon enough'

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 41 min ago
Facebook's chief dismisses claims in leaked comments that the ads boycott poses a financial threat.

LIGO is so sensitive it shudders with the quantum noise of light

Ars Technica - 7 hours 12 min ago

Enlarge / The mirrors of LIGO are a bit large to be experiencing quantum effects. (credit: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

Quantum effects are generally thought of as small and fragile. Typically, we're only able to detect them when things are tiny and kept near absolute zero, and they're swamped by non-quantum effects outside of those conditions. Mostly. In Wednesday's issue of Nature, researchers are reporting that quantum effects can be detected in some very large objects: the 40kg mirrors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO.

The paper details how researchers were able to detect noise in the mirrors of LIGO caused by quantum fluctuations in the light reflecting off them. And by adding some specially prepared light, the researchers limited that noise, allowing increased sensitivity in the detection of gravitational waves.

Putting on the squeeze

There are plenty of sources of noise in the LIGO hardware. Key hardware sits inside a vacuum chamber, but we can't really eliminate all stray molecules from bumping into it. The mirrors are kept at room temperature, so there's some thermal noise that's always interfering with our measurements. And then there's quantum noise. LIGO is based on mirrors separated by kilometers reflecting laser beams back and forth multiple times. And those laser beams are composed of photons that obey the rules of quantum mechanics.

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Tesla stock leaps again on unexpectedly strong delivery numbers

Ars Technica - 7 hours 24 min ago

Enlarge / A Tesla facility in Lathrop, CA. (credit: Andrei Stanescu / Getty)

Tesla has surprised Wall Street again with better-than-expected delivery numbers. The electric carmaker delivered 90,650 vehicles in the second quarter of 2020, up slightly from the 88,400 vehicles delivered in the first quarter. This despite the fact that Tesla's main factory in Fremont, California, was shut down by county officials for the first half of the quarter.

Tesla's stock leapt at the news. After closing at a record high of $1,120 yesterday, Tesla's shares rose above $1,200 in pre-market trading on Thursday morning.

While Tesla's Q2 deliveries were up from the previous quarter, they're down slightly from the 95,200 vehicles produced in the second quarter of 2019. Tesla also delivered more cars in Q3 and Q4 of 2019 than it did last quarter. That presumably reflects the effects of the coronavirus over the last two quarters, as well as the phaseout of the federal tax credit for purchasing a Tesla. The credit fell by half on June 30, 2019 and phased out completely on December 31.

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PS5 and Xbox Series X: Video game NBA 2K21 to cost more on new consoles

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 28 min ago
2K Games is the first publisher to reveal it will charge more for a PS5 and Xbox Series X title.

Iron Man VR review: A sad, painful end to the PS4’s PlayStation VR era

Ars Technica - 9 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / This image of Iron Man VR's suit-customization interface was provided by SIE, but the actual PSVR experience doesn't look as crisp. Scroll through the below gallery for more on that. (credit: Sony Interactive Entertainment / Marvel)

Maybe it's time for the virtual reality world to give up on the prospect of licensed superheroes.

The best game in the subgenre (faint praise) is 2016's brief-and-cute Batman Arkham spinoff, which let early PlayStation VR users play with gadgets and do little else. The worst example is the 2018 Oculus exclusive Marvel Powers United, a dumbed-down, wave-based brawler with little payoff for its superpowers.

And the biggest disappointment of them all—by a margin as big as Tony Stark's ego—is this week's Iron Man VR. This PlayStation VR exclusive admittedly tries to deliver something new in the VR genre, but it's too hung up on its ambition to concede that maybe, just maybe, it was never a good fit for PSVR's inherent limits.

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Google's Fitbit takeover probed by EU regulators

BBC Technology News - 9 hours 30 min ago
The EU questions whether Google's takeover of Fitbit will harm competition or give it too much data.

The ~$100 tablet shootout—Amazon Fire 8 HD Plus vs. Walmart Onn 8 Tablet Pro

Ars Technica - 9 hours 58 min ago

Amazon versus Walmart! Two of the world's biggest retailers compete in endless ways, but they're currently going head-to-head in an unexpected market: dirt-cheap Android tablets. And after spending some time recently with the $109.99 Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus and the $99.99 Walmart Onn Tablet 8 Pro, these two cheap tablets look like a microcosm of the companies' retail efforts at large. Walmart is the old-school brick-and-mortar outfit doing its best to keep up with the modern times, while Amazon is the trailblazing technology company and has been doing this tech-focused tablet thing for a long time.

Cheap, but useful

The designs of the two tablets could not be more different. Amazon is on its 10th generation of Android tablets and has the hardware design down to a science. This is only Walmart's second-generation Onn tablet, and it's mostly a cookie-cutter device that has room for improvement. While Amazon wins on hardware, its tablets also come with Fire OS, a fork of Android (Android 9) that doesn't have the Play Store, Google apps, or a huge app selection. Getting the apps I've wanted has been a nonstop sideloading fest, and Fire OS, since it was designed by a retail company, often acts like its primary goal is to get you to spend money with Amazon. Walmart, on the other hand, ships regular-old Google Play Android, which is much less of a hassle to use, has a much bigger app selection, and is actually a newer version: Android 10.

SPECS AT A GLANCE Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus Walmart Onn 8 Tablet Pro SCREEN 8-inch 1280×800 (189 ppi) LCD 8-inch 1280×800 (189 ppi) LCD OS Android 9 with Fire OS Android 10 CPU MediaTek MT8168

(Four Cortex A53s, 2GHz)

MediaTek MT8768

(Eight Cortex A53s, 2GHz)

GPU Mali-G52 MC1 PowerVR Rogue GE8320 RAM 3GB 2GB STORAGE 32GB or 64GB 32GB NETWORKING 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 5.0, GPS PORTS USB Type-C, headphone jack REAR CAMERAS 5MP 5MP FRONT CAMERA 5MP 5MP BATTERY 4850mAh 4500mAh OTHER PERKS Micro SD slot Amazon Fire HD 8 Plus and Walmart Onn 8 Tablet Pro Buy Now Fire HD 8 Plus: $110 at AmazonOnn 8 Tablet Pro: $99 at Walmart (Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.)

Amazon's Fire tablet is designed primarily for horizontal mode—so it's a media tablet—while Walmart's tablet is designed for vertical mode, which means big phone apps. With auto-rotate, of course, you can use both tablets in either direction, but what you can't change is the location of the hardware components, and you'll see the camera, speakers, power button, and volume buttons arranged differently on each tablet since they favor different orientations. The Walmart Onn 8 Pro is a vertical tablet with two speakers on the bottom edge, so in landscape mode, they aren't really "stereo" speakers since they'll both point out the same side of the device. The Fire tablet, when held in landscape mode, has two speakers on left and right sides of the top edge, so they're roughly in line with your ears. You've got to pick a primary orientation for the speakers, and it's hard to argue against landscape, which is the primary orientation for media and maybe half the games. So that's a point for Amazon.

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