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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 25 min ago

Dealmaster: Get an Ecovacs Deebot N79 robot vacuum for $160

3 hours 58 sec ago

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is led by a deal on the popular Ecovacs Deebot N79 robot vacuum, which can be had for $160 with a discount code on Amazon. That's a good chunk off its usual price of $200.

To be clear, the Deebot N79 is on the lower end of the botvac scale: pricier devices like iRobot's Roombas are generally more thorough at cleaning, more durable, and easier to fix with replacement parts if something goes wrong. But for a budget model, the Deebot N79 performs the basics competently. It's best used in smaller areas and shorter carpets, but it's a decent cleaner that runs quietly and does a good job of avoiding getting stuck on obstacles around the house. It also works with a smartphone app if you'd like to keep some control over it.

If you don't want a robot to invade your home, though, we also have deals on the Xbox One S, Samsung SSDs, 4K TVs, and gaming laptops. Have a look for yourself below.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Extinct gibbon in ancient Chinese tomb hints at other lost primate species

3 hours 6 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Turvey et al. 2018)

Primates, especially gibbons and other apes, are rare finds in the Asian fossil record. Fossils from the Pleistocene and Holocene are most often preserved in caves, where live gibbons almost never spend time. But humans preserved the remains of at least one gibbon for posterity by burying it in the tomb of a Chinese noblewoman 2,300 years ago during China’s Warring States Period.

The unfortunate ape was buried with a noblewoman believed to be Lady Xia, the grandmother of Qin Shi Huang, the first Chinese emperor, who ruled from 259 to 210 BCE. Lady Xia also took a leopard, a lynx, an Asiatic black bear, a crane, and several domestic animals with her to her very ornate grave in Chang’an, now the city of Shenheyuan in Shaanxi Province. Morbid menageries are a hallmark of high-status burials from this period, but primatologist Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London says archaeologists have never before seen a gibbon interred this way.

That’s interesting in its own right. By Lady Xia’s day, gibbons had become popular among the nobility as pets and symbols of the class of scholars and officials called Junzi. Thanks to the graceful way they swing through the trees, gibbons were considered noble in ancient Chinese culture. So it’s culturally significant to find a gibbon, presumably a pet, buried with the grandmother of China’s first emperor. But this particular gibbon, besides its proximity to power, may also represent a previously undiscovered—and now extinct—species.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Huge wave in Venus’ clouds changes the length of a day

3 hours 26 min ago

Enlarge / This bow-shaped wave forms only in the afternoon. (credit: ©Planet-C)

You wouldn’t expect a toy spinning top to be rotating at precisely the same rate every time you glance at it, but you probably would expect a planet to. Yet observations of Venus over the years have come up with slightly different numbers when calculating the length of a Venusian day based on its rotation.

Venus is weird enough that we have to be careful to specify what we mean by “a day.” Because Venus slowly spins clockwise as it orbits clockwise around the Sun, sunlight takes a lap around the planet faster than Venus itself does a 360. Sunrise to sunrise (metaphorically speaking, given Venus’ cloud-choked atmosphere), a day there is about 117 Earth-days long. Measurements by the Magellan spacecraft in 1990 and Venus Express in 2006 differed by about 7 minutes, though. That wasn’t slop in the measurement—it was a real change.

So why would Venus be slightly changing its rotation speed over time? The most obvious suggestion is that tidal forces from the Sun are somehow responsible. But the recent Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft spotted something strange in Venus’ clouds that shows its atmosphere may have more to do with it.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mario Tennis Aces review: Turning tennis into a fighting game

3 hours 38 min ago

Enlarge / BEHOLD YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE!


Batting a ball back and forth is one of the oldest concepts in video games, dating back to the days of William Higinbotham’s Tennis for Two oscilloscope experiments in the ‘50s. In the decades since, countless games have refined the idea of what virtual tennis can be, from as-faithful-as-possible recreations of the real sport to ultra-accessible, over-the-top arcade-inspired battles of reflex and positioning.

Like previous Mario Tennis games, Mario Tennis Aces sits far on the side of the over-the-top accessibility side of the equation. Simple controls and an ultra-forgiving hit positioning system make it easy enough for even complete gaming neophytes to get into a quick game. But Aces also adds a bit more depth to the series, introducing a new power meter system that adds a new layer of psychological brinksmanship to the proceedings.

At its most heated moments, Aces starts to resemble a fighting game more than a tennis game, and it’s all the better for it—especially when you’re playing against another human.

The best defense...

The basics here will be familiar to anyone who has played a Mario Tennis game before. As the ball comes over the net, you run to where it’s going to land, hit a button to prepare your shot and use the analog stick to aim that shot to one side of the court or the other. The opponent does the same in a battle of relative positioning that ends when someone fails to return the ball.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google’s AR “Measure” app comes to all ARCore Android phones

4 hours 22 min ago

Back when I tested Google's first augmented reality product, Project Tango, one of my favorite use cases was the Google Measure app. This would turn Tango's bevy of extra sensors into a virtual tape measure, allowing you to roughly pick any two points in the world and get the distance between them. When Project Tango died, I figured the Measure app was done for too, but Google has resurrected the app for ARCore, its new, post-Tango augmented reality framework that works on many high-end Android phones.

Tango used a time-of-flight camera, an IR projector, and a fish-eye motion camera to measure things, but now with an ARCore-compatible Android device, you can run the exact same app with normal smartphone hardware. Just point the phone at something, drag out either the "length" or "height" measurement tools onto the camera feed, and adjust the end points to measure something. When you first open the app, you have to move the phone around so it can scan the surrounding area. This isn't a fast process and can be a bit of a pain when you just want to measure something.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

After being pulled from a spaceflight in January, Jeanette Epps speaks up

4 hours 32 min ago

Enlarge / Jeanette Epps, left, is shown as an Expedition 54-55 backup crewmember on December 5, 2017. She was pulled from Expedition 56 at about this time. (credit: NASA)

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps was supposed to be in space right now, as the first African-American crew member living on the International Space Station. But instead she's on the ground doing all of the things astronauts do when they're not in space—training, monitoring programs, working as a capcom in Mission Control, and more.

Since being pulled from her flight in January, a mission that launched about two weeks ago for a six-month tour on the space station, Epps has remained quiet in public. NASA did not specify the reasons for her removal from Expedition 56 to the space station, saying only that, "These decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information."

However, Epps did finally speak publicly this week, appearing at the Tech Open Air technology festival in Berlin on June 21, where she was interviewed by journalist Megan Gannon. The website CollectSPACE provided a transcript of the discussion.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ars on your lunch break, part three: Those darn robot overlords

4 hours 40 min ago

Enlarge / HAVE YOU HEARD THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT OUR LORD AND SAVIOR SKYNET (credit: Carolco Pictures)

Today we present the third and final installment of my interview with the world-renowned roboticist and AI pioneer Rodney Brooks. Please check out parts one and two if you missed them.

We start today’s installment with the very cliffhanger sentence yesterday’s installment ended with: Rodney saying “Yeah, let’s talk about deep learning.” We proceed to do just that. For anyone giddy about the glittering newness of neural networks and the deep learning systems they power, Rodney points out that this work began in 1943.

This leads to an argument similar to yesterday’s point about self-driving cars regarding the importance of knowing a technology’s full history before handicapping its future. Rodney’s basic point is that deep learning is an overnight success that required 70 years to percolate. So the next giant breakthrough could be further off than we think.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Study: US oil and gas methane emissions have been dramatically underestimated

4 hours 42 min ago

Enlarge / PINEDALE, WY - MAY 3: A natural gas facility stands on the Pinedale Anticline, on May 3, 2018 in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

The US has been dramatically underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations, according to a new study published in Science on Thursday. The study, conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund and 15 partner universities, asserts that methane emissions from oil and gas production are likely 63 percent higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency has reported.

The discrepancy stems from the way methane is measured and monitored, the authors suggest. Methane leakages are measured at known intervals and at specific parts of equipment, without verification of the leak volume at the facility as a whole. This allows the industry to avoid counting any surprise leakage events, which the authors claim are more common than not.

The results are concerning because methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has more of a warming effect in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, part for part. On the other hand, methane is shorter lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, so restricting its escape can have positive short-term effects on warming.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Under “right-to-try” law, therapy may go for $300K—with no proof it will work

4 hours 54 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

A small biotech company called Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics Inc. is among the first companies considering selling an experimental therapy directly to patients under the “right to try” measure, signed into law late last month. And if the company moves forward, it may give its unproven therapy a price tag in the ballpark of $300,000, according to a recent report by Bloomberg,

The experimental stem cell-based therapy, called NurOwn, is aimed at treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). But despite the potentially hefty price tag that patients would likely pay out of pocket, there’s no evidence that the therapy stops the progression of the disease or improves symptoms. So far, NurOwn has only passed early clinical trials showing safety, not efficacy. But under the new “right-to-try” law, the biotech company doesn’t need such proof to sell its therapy.

The law was pitched as a compassionate measure to allow patients with life-threatening illnesses easier access to experimental drugs. But the bill was controversial, with critics noting that the Food and Drug Administration already had a swift and lenient pathway for such patients to obtain experimental drugs. Critics also worried that the law would simply weaken the FDA and open vulnerable patients to unscrupulous companies that might try to peddle unproven—and potentially sham—therapies as profit-driven endeavors.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Amazon staff to Bezos: Stop selling tech to law enforcement, Palantir

5 hours 5 min ago

Jeff Bezos stands next to the copper lining for a BE-4 engine nozzle in his Blue Origin rocket factory. (credit: Eric Berger)

In an open letter published by Gizmodo, Amazon staff have called on CEO Jeff Bezos to stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement and government agencies, due to the potential that the tech is used to "harm the most marginalized." This follows similar demands from Microsoft employees and Google workers over those companies' contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Defense, respectively.

Further, the letter demands that Amazon stop selling AWS cloud services to data analytics firm Palantir. Palantir has numerous government contracts and is involved in the operation of ICE's detention and deportation programs. Starting in May of this year, these programs have implemented a policy of systematically separating children of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants from their parents, housing them in tent cities and cages. The letter's signatories "refuse to build the platform that powers ICE" and "refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights."

Additionally, the authors call on Amazon to implement transparency and accountability measures to detail how Amazon's services are used by law enforcement agencies.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ötzi the Iceman spent his last days trying to repair his tools

5 hours 12 min ago

Enlarge / Ötzi's dagger. (credit: Wierer et al. 2018)

5,300 years ago, someone shot a man with an arrow on a high Alpine ridge near the modern Italian-Austrian border. Thousands of years after his death, a group of hikers found the victim’s mummified body emerging from a melting glacier. Today, we know the man as Ötzi, and archaeologists have spent the last 28 years studying the wealth of information about Copper Age life Ötzi brought with him into the present. Studies have examined his genome, his skeleton, his last meals, his clothes, and the microbes that lived in his gut. Now, a new study of the chert tools he carried reveals details of his lifestyle, his last days, and the trade networks that linked far-flung Alpine communities.

Archaeologist Ursula Wierer of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio in Florence, Italy, and her colleagues studied the surfaces of the tools under high-power microscopes. Separately, they made CT scans to better understand the tools' shape and structure in places where the surface couldn’t be seen, such as where blade hafts were covered by wooden handles. They also compared microscopic images of the tools with a library of chert collected from around the region to learn where and how the equipment of Copper Age hunters like Ötzi was made.

Tools of the trade

Ötzi probably hailed from the lower Vinschgau Valley, one or two days’ walk from the slopes of the Alpine ridge where he died, according to isotopic analysis of his remains and the plant species that contributed to his tools and other equipment. 5,300 years ago, the Vinschgau was home to farmers and pastoralists who were just beginning to frequent the high mountain passes for the first time since the Mesolithic.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Supreme Court rules: Yes, gov’t needs warrant to get cellphone location data

5 hours 21 min ago

Enlarge / Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court for the No Muslim Ban on April 25, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MoveOn.org)

In a 5-4 decision issued Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that if the government wants to collect a suspect’s cell-site location information (CSLI)—detailed, granular data that shows where a person is every few seconds—it needs a warrant to do so.

"Accordingly, when the Government tracks the location of a cell phone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

However, the court also suggested that there was a seeming arbitrary line of six days, ruling that law enforcement certainly definitely needed a warrant to get CSLI for more than that amount of time. The majority of the Supreme Court justices did not fully explain why they drew the line there, much to the frustration of the dissenting minority.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Police: Uber driver was streaming Hulu just before fatal self-driving car crash

5 hours 31 min ago

Enlarge / The Uber vehicle after it struck Elaine Herzberg. (credit: Tempe Police Department)

Tempe, Arizona, police have released a massive report on the fatal Uber vehicle crash that killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in March. The report provides more evidence that driver Rafaela Vasquez was distracted in the seconds before the crash.

"This crash would not have occurred if Vasquez would have been monitoring the vehicle and roadway conditions and was not distracted,'' the report concludes.

Police obtained records from Hulu suggesting that Vasquez was watching "The Voice," a singing talent competition that airs on NBC, just before the crash. Hulu's records showed she began watching the program at 9:16pm. Streaming of the show ended at 9:59pm, which "coincides with the approximate time of the collision," according to the police report.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

YouTube now lets you pay $4.99 per month to support your favorite creators [Update]

6 hours 15 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

At this year's VidCon festival, YouTube debuted new ways for creators to make money on its platform. Most YouTube creators make a profit through ad revenue, but they'll now have Channel Memberships and Merchandise features to bolster their income—if they pass specific subscriber thresholds.

Channel Memberships is a rebrand of Subscriptions, a feature that had been tested out by select creators for a while. Channel Memberships allow viewers to pay $4.99 per month to support each of their favorite creators. In return, those members get special badges and emoji, members-only posts in the Community tab, and unique perks offered by creators themselves such as exclusive livestreams, extra videos, and more. Not all creators can make use of Channel Memberships—only those with over 100,000 subscribers can.

Merch

Merchandise is exactly what it sounds like—merchandise that creators can customize and feature on a digital "shelf" on their YouTube channel. The company partnered with Teespring to bring over 20 pieces of merchandise that US-based creators can make their own and sell to their viewers. The threshold for Merchandise is lower than that of Channel Memberships, as those with over 10,000 subscribers can design and sell their own shirts and other items.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom review: This nonsense has gone full Sharknado

9 hours 24 min ago

Enlarge / Hi, old friend. (credit: Universal Pictures)

This review contains minor plot spoilers.

Whatever fans want to call Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the fifth entry in the raptor-loaded film series, at least they won't mistake it for a carbon copy of its predecessors.

Fallen Kingdom bucks every series convention to emerge as something quite different from Spielberg's established family-thriller take on the Michael Crichton novels. But the film's makers seem to have no idea how to pull it off. The resulting film is a sixth-grade sketchbook mash of dino-murder, cartoonish villains, and plot holes big enough for an apatosaurus to fit through. It may very well be the biggest-budget Syfy B-movie of all time.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Report: Chinese tourism, launch by centrifuge, SLS the “right” rocket

9 hours 40 min ago

Enlarge / We need your help to produce a new newsletter to chronicle the dynamic launch industry. (credit: Aurich Lawson/background image United Launch Alliance)

Welcome to Edition 1.05 of the Rocket Report! This collaborative effort with readers of Ars Technica seeks to diversify our coverage of the launch industry. The Rocket Report publishes as a newsletter on Thursday and on this website every Friday morning.

We welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe in the box below. 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.

Company plans to launch rockets from drone plane. An Alabama-based startup called Aevum is developing plans to launch small payloads from an autonomous air-launch system that it is calling Ravn. The aircraft could launch rockets every three hours, according to the company. Per Space.com, Aevum is working toward beginning flight testing in 2019. If the entire flight test campaign goes according to plan, Aevum has three launches planned for the fourth quarter of 2019.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Man who saved NCC-1701-D touring bridge pleads guilty to child porn charge

11 hours 8 min ago

Huston Huddleston poses with the signed panel on one of the chairs. (credit: Cyrus Farivar)

Huston Huddleston, the Los Angeles man who years ago announced that he had "saved the bridge" of a discarded Enterprise-D touring set, has now pleaded guilty to one count of possessing child pornography. The other criminal charges pending against him were dismissed during a Wednesday court hearing.

Huddleston was sentenced to time served (63 days in custody, plus 63 days for good behavior), three years probation, and he now has to register as a sex offender beginning in September 2018.

The full docket was provided to Ars by Crystal House, a former volunteer who had worked with Huddleston. She had been one of a handful of people who reported him to authorities and was ready to testify against him had there been a trial.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Air Force certifies Falcon Heavy, orders satellite launch for 2020

22 hours 6 min ago

Enlarge / The Falcon Heavy rocket took off at 3:45pm ET Tuesday, February 6, 2018, with all 27 engines firing. (credit: Trevor Mahlmann for Ars Technica)

When SpaceX debuted the Falcon Heavy rocket in February, one of the biggest questions concerned who, exactly, would use the large booster and its 27 engines. Now we have an answer: the US Air Force, which on Thursday announced that it had selected the Falcon Heavy to launch its Air Force Space Command-52 satellite.

The military launch is presently scheduled to occur in September 2020 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The Air Force will pay $130 million for the mission, which is higher than the standard rate for a Falcon Heavy launch due to the military's mission assurance requirements.

SpaceX has several other missions set for the Falcon Heavy before then, but this represents a big step for the company, as it means the Air Force has certified the rocket after just a single test flight. The Air Force Space Command-52 satellite flight is believed to be the first time that the Falcon Heavy rocket has competed head to head with a United Launch Alliance rocket for a military mission, and obviously it came out on top.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Why a 40-year-old SCOTUS ruling against software patents still matters today

June 21, 2018 - 9:15pm

Enlarge / Under the Federal Circuit appeals court, patent law swung from software patent skepticism in the 1970s to extreme permissiveness in the 1990s, then started to swing back toward skepticism with stricter Supreme Court oversight. (credit: Federal Circuit Historical Society / Aurich Lawson)

Forty years ago this week, in the case of Parker v. Flook, the US Supreme Court came close to banning software patents. "The court said, 'Well, software is just math; you can't patent math,'" said Stanford legal scholar Mark Lemley. As a result, "It was close to impossible in the 1970s to get software patents."

If the courts had faithfully applied the principles behind the Flook ruling over the last 40 years, there would be far fewer software patents on the books today. But that's not how things turned out. By 2000, other US courts had dismantled meaningful limits on patenting software—a situation exemplified by Amazon's infamous 1999 patent on the concept of shopping with one click. Software patents proliferated, and patent trolls became a serious problem.

But the pendulum eventually swung the other way. A landmark 2014 Supreme Court decision called CLS Bank v. Alice—which also marks its anniversary this week—set off an earthquake in the software patent world. In the first three years after Alice, the Federal Circuit Court, which hears all patent law appeals, rejected 92.3 percent of the patents challenged under the Alice precedent.

Read 57 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Get ready for more sales taxes on online purchases

June 21, 2018 - 8:40pm

Enlarge / The US Supreme Court building in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Mike Kline)

State governments may require online retailers to collect sales taxes even in states where the retailers have no physical presence, the US Supreme Court ruled in a decision issued today.

The 5-4 ruling could clear the way for more states to require collection of sales taxes on products ordered online from out-of-state retailers.

The case, South Dakota v. Wayfair, Inc., Et Al., involved a South Dakota state law "requiring out-of-state sellers to collect and remit sales tax 'as if the seller had a physical presence in the State,'" the decision noted. Online retailers argued that the law was unconstitutional, and the State Supreme Court agreed, but the US Supreme Court overturned the state court ruling. South Dakota expects to collect another $48 million to $58 million in taxes a year because of this ruling.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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