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Industry & Technology

AT&T charged customers for a corporate tax that it doesn’t have to pay

Ars Technica - 2 hours 52 min ago

Enlarge / An AT&T store in Chicago. (credit: Getty Images | jetcityimage)

AT&T charged customers in Portland, Oregon for a corporate tax that AT&T doesn't actually have to pay. AT&T has agreed to provide refunds to customers who were wrongly charged the tax over the past few months, but it's facing a lawsuit that seeks additional payments of at least $200 to each of those customers.

AT&T's mistake relates to Portland's new Clean Energy Surcharge, a 1% tax on retail sales in the city. AT&T has been passing this tax along to its mobile customers, even though the city law exempts utilities such as AT&T from the tax.

"The city only recently notified us that we are exempt from the tax," AT&T said a statement Friday, according to The Oregonian. "We will be issuing refunds to our customers."

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The world’s oldest leftovers, left in Pleistocene storage containers

Ars Technica - 2 hours 57 min ago

Enlarge / SAMSUNG (credit: By 66AVI - צילמתי, CC BY-SA 3.0,

At Qesem Cave in Israel, Neanderthals or early Homo sapiens appear to have stored marrow-rich deer bones for several weeks, relying on the bones and their outer layer of dried skin and flesh to keep the marrow relatively fresh—like storing leftovers in Pleistocene Tupperware.

Based on the cut marks on the bones, people extracted the marrow after a few weeks, when the bones and their covering of skin and tendons had had time to dry out. That suggests the people who lived at Qesem were planning ahead for their future needs—which is one more piece of evidence that Neanderthals and the earliest members of our own species were smarter than we’ve often given them credit for.

Stone Age Tupperware

People of various groups have lived at Qesem Cave off and on for hundreds of thousands of years. Archaeologists haven’t found hominin fossils at the site so far, but in the oldest layers of artifacts, they’ve unearthed oval and pear-shaped handaxes in the Acheulian style—a stone calling card of Homo erectus or their descendants, Homo heidelbergensis. In layers dating from 300,000 to 200,000 years old, the stone blades and scrapers belong to a set of stone tool cultures called the Acheulo-Yabrudian, which has turned up at Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens sites.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Comet from another Solar System looks a lot like our own

Ars Technica - 3 hours 33 min ago

Enlarge / Comet C/2019 Q4 (Borisov). Note the fuzzy appearance and faint tail. (credit: Canada-France-Hawaii Telescope)

Interactions among the small bodies of our Solar System are expected to hurl small objects out into interstellar space with some regularity, and the frequency was probably much higher early in the system's history. Given that the same thing almost certainly happens at exosolar systems—and we now know there are a lot of those—it's likely that the vast volume of interstellar space is lightly sprinkled with small objects, some of which may sporadically pass through our own Solar System. But up until very recently, we'd had no evidence of their existence.

That situation changed with the discovery of 'Oumuamua, a strange, cigar-shaped body that was the first confirmed exosolar visitor. But 'Oumuamua was so strange that it set some astronomers speculating that it could be an alien craft. Earlier this year, however, scientists spotted a second potential exosolar visitor, and this one looked a lot like a comet. Now, the first data on the object, 2I/Borisov, is in, and it's clearly exosolar in origin but looks so much like our existing comets that we might not have realized where it was from if we didn't have a good grip on its orbit.

The Crusher

The results come from quick work by a team of European researchers, who got a heads-up about 2I/Borisov's existence due to a software package they put in place. The code, called "Interstellar Crusher," is a Python software package that scans the Possible Comet Confirmation Page for new objects and attempts to calculate their orbits as they come in. As we described in our earlier coverage of 2I/Borisov, orbits that have a certain set of properties, called hyperbolic orbits, indicate that a body has come from outside our Solar System. These orbits indicate a body will only pass by the Sun once and originate from a source that's far outside the plane in which our planets orbit.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“The Switcher” is real: Witcher 3 on Switch is a blurry, tolerable compromise

Ars Technica - 4 hours 27 min ago

Enlarge / In good news, you can boot straight into expansion content when loading this version of The Witcher 3. I imagine more than a few fans of the game will use this Switch version to dive deeply into either or both of the expansions.

Since Nintendo's Switch console launched in 2016, we've seen no shortage of holy-cow ports of games we never thought would work on what turned out to be the most underpowered console of this generation. Doom 2016, Dark Souls, Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Wolfenstein: The New Colossus—that's a list of demanding 3D games I never expected to launch on Switch, let alone games I'd actually recommend for the system.

But I do so with a pretty hefty asterisk attached. The charm of these games on Switch comes almost entirely due to them being playable on the go, at which point their severe compromises (image quality, rendering resolution) become much more acceptable. What looks iffy on a full-sized TV is easier to shrug off when seen on a six-inch 720p panel.

This week marks the arrival of arguably the most holy-cow port yet on the portable console: CD Projekt Red's 2015 action-RPG The Witcher 3. This is a game, after all, whose other console versions required quite a few patches to get their most troublesome spots up to a locked 30 frames per second. We went hands-on over the weekend with the game's final retail version (which launches for Switch on Tuesday) to answer a crucial question: could we expect playability in CDPR's acclaimed adventure game on an even weaker system?

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Sikorsky makes its bid for Army’s next scout copter

Ars Technica - 4 hours 35 min ago

Enlarge / An artist's rendering of Sikorsky's proposed Raider X attack-scout helicopter. (credit: Sikorsky)

As the Association of the US Army (AUSA) kicks off its annual Washington, DC meeting—a combination of Army conference and land-warfare trade show—Lockheed Martin's Sikorsky unit has unveiled the company's entry into the Army's Future Attack Reconnaissance Aircraft (FARA) design shoot-out. As predicted, the "Raider X" is based heavily on the S-97 Raider demonstrator that Sikorsky showed off at the 2015 AUSA conference.

But there are some significant differences in the proposed design, differences that echo an earlier attempt by the Army to build a light-attack helicopter. Much like Bell's Invictus design, the Raider X's stealthy design bears a passing resemblance to the Boeing/Sikorsky RAH-66 Comanche.

Sikorsky's video introducing the Raider X design.

The Raider X has the same side-by-side crew configuration as the Raider demonstrator. But instead of additional crew and passenger seating, it has modular internal weapons and sensor mounts, reducing its potential radar cross-section. As with Bell's Invictus, the design included a "Modern Open Systems Architecture"-based avionics suite, theoretically allowing for rapid and low-cost upgrades over the life of the aircraft. And as with the S-97 before it, the Raider X is designed to be "optionally manned"—meaning that it can be flown remotely or operate autonomously for missions that either don't require an aircrew or would put aircrew at an unacceptable risk.

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How well has China’s ultra low-emissions policy worked?

Ars Technica - 4 hours 53 min ago

In 2014, China introduced an ambitious policy to rapidly reduce air pollution from coal-fired power stations. How well did that work?

A paper published in Nature Energy last week analyzed data from pollution monitoring systems and found dramatic changes. According to the monitoring data, China's emissions of some common air pollutants dropped by 65% to 72% in just three years.

China shoots for clean skies

Air pollution is a global health crisis, and China's pollution problem is particularly severe: in 2017 alone, nearly a million deaths were attributed to pollution.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Video: How (and why) Blizzard finally ported Overwatch to Switch

Ars Technica - 5 hours 20 min ago

Video shot by Ross Buran and edited by Aulistar Mark. Click here for transcript.

Two weeks ago, Ars visited Blizzard Entertainment's headquarters in Irvine, California, to get hands-on time with popular hero-based, multiplayer shooter Overwatch on Nintendo's portable Switch game console.

We also talked with game director Jeff Kaplan and Overwatch Switch producer Wes Yanagi about why Blizzard decided to do this now, what the challenges were, and what players should expect to be different about the Switch version from launch into the future.

For the interview, check out the video above. For impressions, keep on reading.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Government dodges 'full fibre for all by 2025' pledge

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 25 min ago
Gigabit broadband is promised but the government neither says it must be full-fibre nor sets a deadline.

Dealmaster: There’s a bunch of newer video games on sale at Amazon today

Ars Technica - 5 hours 39 min ago

Enlarge (credit: IGDB)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with a special batch of deals to share for Columbus Day. Amazon is currently having a sale on a number of Xbox One and PS4 games, many of which normally go for $49 to $59 but are now priced much lower.

Notable titles such as Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Devil May Cry 5, Resident Evil 2, and Mortal Kombat 11 are all at the lowest prices we've seen, or close to it, but the sale also includes brand-new titles as well. Gears 5, Control, and Borderlands 3, all of which came out within the past two months, are the newest and arguably biggest titles on sale right, and now you can get Gears 5 and Control for around $37.50 and Borderlands 3 for $44.99.

Almost all of the games in Amazon's sale have extra discounts tacked on at checkout, so don't be alarmed if you don't see the sale price immediately when you add them to your cart. The additional savings will be accounted for when you see the final price right before you place your order.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New drug-pricing data shows stunning hikes—one whopping 667% increase

Ars Technica - 5 hours 46 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Ute Grabowsky )

Pharmaceutical companies continue to raise prices on hundreds of drugs at rates well over that of inflation, according to a newly released report on drug-pricing data.

The data was made public thanks to a mandate from a California transparency law passed in 2017. Under the law, drug makers are required to report their price increases quarterly. This is the first report from the law and includes data on drugs that had price increases of 16% or more over their January 2017 prices.

The hikes in these cases are to the wholesale acquisition cost, which is the list price for wholesalers—they may not reflect how much patients will pay out of pocket. Still, they can add to overall healthcare spending and drive up the costs of insurance.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Food writer Jack Monroe 'loses £5,000 in phone-number hijack'

BBC Technology News - 6 hours 13 min ago
Jack Monroe's bank and PayPal accounts were used after her mobile phone number was hijacked.

Liveblog: Google’s Pixel 4 (and friends) launch event starts 10/15

Ars Technica - 6 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / Google's first official picture of the Pixel 4. (credit: Google)

It's that time of year again! Google's big hardware event kicks off Tuesday, October 15 at 10am Eastern, and we'll be there with full live coverage of the event. That starts with a liveblog, where we'll be covering everything announced at the show as it happens.

This year should see a whole suite of Google products launch. Headlining the event will be Google's next smartphone, the Pixel 4, with a 90Hz display, an air-gesture system powered by Google's radar "Soli" technology, and a next-gen version of the Google Assistant. There should also be a new Pixelbook, the Pixelbook Go, which sees a return to a more traditional form factor after the collapse of the Pixel Slate.

With Nest's recent demotion from a standalone company to a Google smart home sub-brand, we should see two new products with the weird branding of "Google Nest." We're expecting to see a sequel to the Google Wifi called the "Google Nest Wifi." This new rev of Google's mesh Wi-Fi system will reportedly have a primary router that hooks up to your modem and then several satellite devices that are both Wi-Fi mesh nodes and Google Home speakers that accept Google Assistant voice command and can play music. A second-gen Google Home Mini should also launch at the show with an aux jack and better sound, and this one will be rebranded "Google Nest Mini."

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After a “corrective action,” Boeing back at work on SLS rocket core stage

Ars Technica - 7 hours 3 min ago

Nearly a month ago, NASA announced that Boeing had assembled the core stage structure that forms the backbone of its Space Launch System rocket. This meant that all technicians needed to do to complete the full core stage was bolt on four space shuttle main engines and connect their plumbing.

Completing the core stage at NASA's rocket factory, the Michoud Assembly Facility in Southern Louisiana, would represent a significant milestone for the program. However, after assembling the core stage structure in September, two sources familiar with Boeing's work at the factory said the company had to "stand down" operations due to some issues.

“Corrective action”

Now, NASA officials have provided a little information about the causes of the delay. In a statement, the space agency's headquarters told Ars that "NASA initiated a forward looking corrective action request focused on improving the production system in preparation for Core Stage 2 and beyond." As a result of this corrective action, which was not specified, "Boeing chose to stand down in some areas and ensure the whole production team was aware of the intent behind the corrective action request."

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China's Study the Great Nation app 'enables spying via back door'

BBC Technology News - 7 hours 37 min ago
Study the Great Nation could be used to monitor phone-users' activity, a security firm warns.

I watched over 100 Tesla Smart Summon videos—here’s what I learned

Ars Technica - 8 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

In late September, Tesla released a major software update that included a new feature called Smart Summon. It enables a customer to summon their car from across a parking lot with no one inside—though the owner is expected to continuously monitor the car from outside.

People immediately started testing the feature and documenting their experiences on social media. Over the last few weeks I've watched more than 100 YouTube videos of people testing out Smart Summon. I've also read dozens of comments on Twitter, Reddit, and Tesla forums discussing the new feature.

Smart Summon worked well enough for most owners, but a fair number of them experienced problems. Take well-known YouTuber Judner Aura, for example. He had his cousin walk in front of his Tesla car as it turned out of a parking spot. The car got uncomfortably close to his cousin before Aura halted the test.

Read 45 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The $103,800 Porsche Taycan 4S electric car will arrive in Spring 2020

Ars Technica - 8 hours 52 min ago

A lot of expectations grew in the build up to the launch of Porsche's Taycan electric vehicle. After our first drive a few weeks ago, it was clear that the Taycan Turbo and Turbo S are deeply accomplished cars—Porsches first and foremost, that just happen to be electric. And being Porsches, they weren't exactly cheap: the Taycan Turbo starts at $150,900 and the Turbo S begins at $185,000. On Monday morning, Porsche filled in the blank many of us were waiting for with news that the next Taycan variant, called the Taycan 4S, will arrive in Spring 2020. And this one is a lot cheaper—at least by Porsche standards.

The Taycan 4S, like the more expensive versions, has an all-wheel drive layout with permanent synchronous magnet motors driving each axle. The rear motor still gets a two-speed transmission, and like the Taycan Turbo it uses a 300V inverter for the front motor and 600V in the rear. The biggest differences are the battery and power output. The Taycan 4S has two battery and motor options: a single-layer 79kWh battery and 390kW (552hp) total power output, which costs $103,800; or the same double-layer 93kWh battery from the Turbo and Turbo S, which has a total power output of 420kW (563hp), which will cost $110,380. (All prices are before the $7,500 IRS tax credit or any local incentives.) Range for either version of the Taycan 4S has yet to be calculated by the EPA.

The single-layer battery also charges at a slightly reduced rate, maxing out at 225kW compared to 270kW for the double-layer 93kWh pack. As long as the battery is preheated and the state of charge is below 20 percent, both packs should reach 80 percent after 22.5 minutes connected to an 800V DC fast charger. Porsche says all Taycan 4S buyers will get 30 minute charging at Electrify America fast chargers free for three years, as well as free fast charging at Porsche dealers around the country. Like Audi, Porsche has partnered with Amazon to make the process of getting a home charger installed as painless as possible.

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Vodafone error sees customers hit by thousands in charges

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 9 min ago
Glitch sees customers abroad hit with thousands of pounds of charges and unable to use their phones.

How tech changed the way DreamWorks animates

BBC Technology News - 12 hours 13 min ago
Improved computer processing has allowed artists to add a great level of detail to their films.

Fortnite: Map blown up and replaced with black hole

BBC Technology News - 14 hours 31 min ago
Fortnite's Twitter page is running a livestream of a black hole to mark the end of season 10.

Robotic inspectors developed to fix wind farms

BBC Technology News - 19 hours 5 min ago
Scientists develop fully autonomous robots that could end the need for workers to scale dangerously-tall wind turbines.

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