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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 24 min 45 sec ago

NASA to pay more for less cargo delivery to the space station

2 hours 17 min ago

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches a cargo resupply mission to the International Space Station in 2016. (credit: SpaceX)

A new analysis finds that NASA will pay significantly more for commercial cargo delivery to the International Space Station in the 2020s rather than enjoying cost savings from maturing systems. According to a report by the space agency’s inspector general, Paul Martin, NASA will likely pay $400 million more for its second round of delivery contracts from 2020 to 2024 even though the agency will be moving six fewer tons of cargo. On a cost per kilogram basis, this represents a 14-percent increase.

One of the main reasons for this increase, the report says, is a 50-percent increase in prices from SpaceX, which has thus far flown the bulk of missions for NASA’s commercial cargo program with its Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket.

This is somewhat surprising because, during the first round of supply missions, which began in 2012, SpaceX had substantially lower costs than NASA’s other partner, Orbital ATK. SpaceX and Orbital ATK are expected to fly 31 supply missions between 2012 and 2020, the first phase of the supply contract. Of those, the new report states, SpaceX is scheduled to complete 20 flights at an average cost of $152.1 million per mission. Orbital ATK is scheduled to complete 11 missions at an average cost of $262.6 million per mission.

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Genealogy websites identify rape suspect who eluded police for 40 years

2 hours 28 min ago

Enlarge / Mug shot of Joseph James DeAngelo. (credit: Sacramento County Sheriff's Department)

For over four decades, a suspect in more than 50 extremely sadistic rapes and 12 murders eluded police in Northern California. On Tuesday, he was arrested after investigators tracked him down using online genealogical databases that contained genetic information from a relative, news organizations reported Thursday.

The identification of 72-year-old Joseph James DeAngelo as the East Area Rapist began with the recovery years ago of DNA from a crime scene. Over the years, investigators compared the DNA to profiles on one or more undisclosed genealogy databases. Eventually, investigators found one or more distant relatives of DeAngelo's and traced their DNA to him. The Sacramento Bee, citing the Sacramento County District Attorney's office, reported here that the crucial lead came from "various websites that cater to individuals wanting to know more about their family backgrounds by accepting DNA samples from them."

The New York Times, meanwhile, said here that the match came from a commercial online genealogy database. The NYT continued:

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Even Windows revenue is up in Microsoft’s $26.8 billion 3Q18

4 hours 27 min ago

(credit: Julien GONG Min / Flickr)

Microsoft has posted the results of the third quarter of its 2018 financial year, running up until March 31, 2018. Revenue was $26.8 billion, up 16 percent year on year; operating income was $8.3 billion, up 23 percent; net income was $7.4 billion, up 35 percent; and earnings per share was $0.95, up 36 percent.

Microsoft currently has three reporting segments: Productivity and Business Processes (covering Office, Exchange, SharePoint, Skype, and Dynamics), Intelligent Cloud (including Azure, Windows Server, SQL Server, Visual Studio, and Enterprise Services), and More Personal Computing (covering Windows, hardware, and Xbox, as well as search and advertising). This reporting structure has been retained even though the Windows division has been reorganized with responsibilities split between different groups.

The company also continues to report numbers from LinkedIn both as part of the Productivity group and independently. Microsoft has now owned LinkedIn for a full year, enabling for the first time year-on-year comparisons. LinkedIn revenue was $1.3 billion, up 37 percent, with a cost of revenue of $0.4 billion, up 11 percent, and operating expenses of $1.1 billion, up 19 percent. This produces an operating loss of $0.25 billion, which is 35 percent lower than it was for the same quarter last year.

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iTunes is finally in the Microsoft Store

April 26, 2018 - 10:59pm

Enlarge / iTunes listing in the Microsoft Store. (credit: Apple)

Promised just over a year ago at Microsoft's Build conference in 2017, Apple iTunes is now finally available in the Microsoft Store.

It's a hefty install at some 477MB, and once installed, it's still just iTunes: it can sync and upgrade iPhones and iPads, it can play and manage music, and it can make purchases from the iTunes Store. The Store version of iTunes uses Microsoft's Centennial technology—a way of packaging up regular Windows applications for distribution and installation through the Store—so, for the most part, it's identical to the traditional iTunes application.

However, because this iTunes is a Store app, it's installed and updated not with Apple's installer and updater but with the Windows Store updater. This means that it will never try to install iCloud or other Apple software. It also doesn't install any services in the background: Centennial apps aren't allowed to do that.

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Ray Ozzie’s plan for unlocking encrypted phones gets a chilly reception

April 26, 2018 - 9:20pm

Enlarge / A patent image depicting how Clear would work. (credit: Ray Ozzie)

Ray Ozzie's proposal to end the long-simmering crypto war between law enforcement and much of the tech world is getting a chilly reception from privacy advocates and security experts. They argue his plan is largely the same key-escrow program proposed 20 years ago and suffers from the same fatal shortcomings.

Dubbed "Clear," Ozzie's idea was first detailed Wednesday in an article published in Wired and described in general terms last month. The former chief technical officer and chief software architect of Microsoft and the creator of Lotus Notes, Ozzie portrays Clear as a potential breakthrough in bridging the widening gulf between those who say the US government has a legitimate need to bypass encryption in extreme cases, such as those involving terrorism and child abuse, and technologists and civil libertarians who warn such bypasses threaten the security of billions of people.

In a nutshell, here's how Clear works:

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Dealmaster: Get an Acer laptop with a Core i7 and 1080p display for $459

April 26, 2018 - 7:37pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today, the Dealmaster has scrounged up another good-looking deal for those in need of a cheap laptop, as Acer's Aspire 5 notebook is down to $459 at Walmart.

This configuration comes with a 7th-gen Core i7-7500 processor, a 15.6-inch 1080p display, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. The familiar caveats with budget laptops still apply: it's meant for casual use more than gaming or graphics-intensive work, the build quality and display won't blow you away, and the keyboard isn't backlit. But last year's Core i7 isn't exactly a slouch for $459, and neither is a fully 1080p display. If you just can't pay for something better, you could do worse.

If your laptop situation is all set, there's also a smorgasbord of PC accessory deals going on at Amazon today, including the lowest price we've seen on the high-end AMD Threadripper 1950X CPU we praised last year. There are deals on wireless headphones, iPads, and Amazon's Fire HD 10 tablet beyond that. Check it all out for yourself below.

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With new Windows update still AWOL, Fall Creators Update reaches 92% penetration

April 26, 2018 - 7:00pm

Enlarge (credit: AdDuplex)

We're still waiting for the next Windows 10 update, probably to be named the April 2018 Update, even though April is rapidly nearing its end. This means that the Fall Creators Update, Windows 10 version 1709, is still the latest update, and hence, it's still creeping upward in usage.

This month, according to the numbers collected by AdDuplex, the Fall Creators Update was found on 92.8 percent of Windows 10 installations, adding another two percent over last month. That makes it the most widely used update yet: the Anniversary Update (version 1607) peaked at 92.1 percent after eight months of availability.

The numbers also suggest that Windows Insiders may be a little more diverse than expected. Most months, the number of people on the next version of Windows is about 0.4 percent. But in the months immediately prior to a new update—during which the putative release is pushed out not just to the usual Fast and Slow distribution channels but also the Release Preview channel—that number hits about 0.8 or 0.9 percent. This doubling of the apparent size of the Insider program suggests that there's a surprisingly large number of Insiders that are using Release Preview builds, not just wanting to use the previews unless they're close to production ready.

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AT&T’s least favorite net neutrality bill takes another step forward

April 26, 2018 - 5:18pm

Enlarge / Net neutrality supporter protests the FCC's repeal outside a federal building in Los Angeles, California on November 28, 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Ronen Tivony | NurPhoto)

A California bill that would impose the nation's strictest net neutrality law has been approved by another state Senate committee, bringing it closer to passage.

The California Senate Judiciary committee approved the bill Tuesday in a 5-2 vote, with Democrats supporting the net neutrality rules and Republicans opposing them.

“California can—and must—step up to re-establish the Obama-era net neutrality rules to protect consumers and our democracy," bill sponsor Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said in an announcement.

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Tesla Autopilot crisis deepens with loss of third Autopilot boss in 18 months

April 26, 2018 - 5:02pm

Enlarge (credit: Spencer Platt | Getty Images)

It is no secret that Tesla's Autopilot project is struggling. Last summer, we covered a report that Tesla was bleeding talent from its Autopilot division. Tesla Autopilot head Sterling Anderson quit Tesla at the end of 2016. His replacement was Chris Lattner, who had previously created the Swift programming language at Apple. But Lattner only lasted six months before departing last June.

Now Lattner's replacement, Jim Keller, is leaving Tesla as well.

Keller was a well-known chip designer at AMD before he was recruited to lead Tesla's hardware engineering efforts for Autopilot in 2016. Keller has been working to develop custom silicon for Autopilot, potentially replacing the Nvidia chips being used in today's Tesla vehicles. When Lattner left Tesla last June, Keller was given broader authority over the Autopilot program as a whole.

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Switch is selling well, but Nintendo thinks it can sell even better

April 26, 2018 - 4:47pm


Nintendo is celebrating the end of a pretty good first year for the Nintendo Switch, with just over 15 million unit sales in the 12 months ending in March (on top of almost 3 million sales in the console's launch month of March 2017). But Nintendo seems pretty sure that the system can perform even better in the coming fiscal year, and the company is projecting 20 million sales in the coming 12 months in a new annual report.

That target is actually a little below reports from last November, which suggested Nintendo would target annual sales of 25 million to 30 million Switch systems. Selling 20 million units in the coming year would put the Switch in the same sales range as the PS4 (which sold 17.7 million units in its second full year) but behind the sales mania of the Nintendo Wii, which sold 25.94 million units in its second full year.

The October launch of Super Mario Odyssey seems to be driving at least some of Nintendo's hardware optimism. The game has already sold over 10.4 million units, outpacing Mario Kart 8 (9.22 million) and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (8.48 million) despite being on the market for a much shorter time. The fact that Mario Odyssey was included in a special holiday bundle with the Switch probably didn't hurt that performance, either.

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Months of bad news has battered Tesla’s image with customers, poll finds

April 26, 2018 - 4:39pm

Enlarge (credit: Tesla)

It's no exaggeration to say that Tesla is a remarkable car company. Founded in 2003 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, the company now run by Elon Musk did what many thought impossible—it made the electric vehicle desirable.

Don't believe me? Consider the astounding demand for the Model 3. Even at the height of his powers, Steve Jobs could never have persuaded more than 400,000 people to cough up a $1,000 deposit for a product more than a year in advance. Or just look at the company's valuation—at today's share price, Tesla is worth $48.3 billion, making it worth more than companies that sell millions more cars each year.

But the past few months have been rough. The final quarter of 2017 saw Tesla's biggest loss ever. In March, the company had its debt downgraded. Production of the Model 3 has been mired in difficulties. On top of that, there have been weeks of bad publicity following a third death linked to the company's Autopilot system, resulting in a a spat with the National Transportation Safety Board. And if that wasn't enough, there have been claims that Tesla has failed to adequately report serious injuries at its factory in Fremont, California.

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The value of offshore wind energy: What the US is missing out on

April 26, 2018 - 4:31pm

Enlarge / BLOCK ISLAND, RI - AUGUST 11: Offshore turbines are constructed three miles off Block Island, RI. The nation's first off-shore wind farm is nearing completion, a milestone that clean energy advocates hope will usher in a new era of wind power. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

The US is a latecomer to the world of offshore wind. The first commercial offshore wind farm in the US, a small, five-turbine, 30MW installation off the coast of Rhode Island, only just switched on in December 2016. Since then there have been no new offshore farms, although a few preliminary plans for new farms have been announced for coastal waters off New York and Massachusetts.

Compare that to Europe. The continent now has 15,780MW of offshore wind, according to Wind Europe, 526 times the capacity that the US has. European projects added 560 new offshore wind turbines across 17 different offshore wind farms in 2017 alone.

A group of researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) is now asking: what is the value of the offshore wind that the US didn't build over the last decade? Although many analyses have studied the falling cost of installing offshore wind, assigning a value to offshore wind is ground that is less well-tread. Though it's much more expensive to construct turbines in the ocean, offshore wind can also generate more value because sea breezes tend to be stronger and more reliable, and wind turbines can be built bigger.

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Say goodbye to nearly all of Ford’s car lineup: Sales end by 2020

April 26, 2018 - 3:04pm

Enlarge / Ford’s truck business will continue growing as the company adds new models and powertrains with an eye toward continued growth in high-end trims. But if you want a sedan or hatchback, you better act now, because they're going away soon. (credit: Ford)

On Wednesday, Ford dropped a bombshell during its Q1 earnings call: it's going to stop selling almost all its cars in the US. The Mustang will remain on sale, as will the Focus Active, a model that won't debut until next year. But kiss goodbye to the Fiesta, Focus, Fusion, Taurus, and C-MAX. Instead, the company will focus almost exclusively on SUVs, crossovers, and trucks in the US domestic market.

Ford President and CEO Jim Hackett cited the declining popularity of the car—which the company pioneered more than a century ago—as the reason for the decision. "We are committed to taking the appropriate actions to drive profitable growth and maximize the returns of our business over the long term. Where we can raise the returns of underperforming parts of our business by making them more fit, we will. If appropriate returns are not on the horizon, we will shift that capital to where we can play and win," he said.

As we learned earlier this year, Ford has redesigned Explorer and Escape SUVs coming next year, with a reborn Ford Bronco plus another unnamed crossover coming soon after. And it still plans to expand its lineup of battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid EVs, launching six by 2022.

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NASA budgeting reveals dim hopes for humans going to Mars

April 26, 2018 - 2:22pm

Enlarge / The Sun sets on Mars in 2015, as seen by NASA's Curiosity rover. When might humans see this view with their own eyes? (credit: NASA)

When it comes to spaceflight, there are crazy optimistic schedules like those that SpaceX CEO Elon Musk sometimes tosses about, and then there's just plain crazy. Some recent comments from the chief executive of Boeing, an aerospace company that simultaneously holds the most lucrative contracts in NASA’s exploration, International Space Station, and commercial crew programs, seem to fall into the latter category.

Speaking at a recent forum about NASA’s plans to send humans to Mars, Boeing’s Dennis Muilenburg offered his own opinion. "I anticipate that we will put the first person on Mars in my lifetime,” he said. “I think in this decade, and the first person that gets there is going to be on a Boeing rocket."

This is a preposterous statement. NASA may one day send humans to Mars on a “Boeing rocket”—the Space Launch System—but it will not happen in this decade or the next. In fact, on the present schedule, and because the staggering development costs of Boeing’s rocket will measure in the tens of billions of dollars, NASA seems unlikely to land humans even on the Moon in the 2020s. Mars remains a distant, evanescent dream.

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Camels in Africa may have been quietly spreading prion disease for decades

April 26, 2018 - 2:08pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | AFP)

A newly identified form of prion disease may have been quietly spreading in the brains of African camels for decades, according to a report published in the June issue of Emerging Infectious Diseases.

The spread of the new, fatal neurodegenerative disease—similar to the well-known “mad cow disease” caused by misfolded proteins in the brain—is a major concern for communities and public health. There are tens of millions of camels in Africa in a rapidly evolving camel farming system. The animals are crucial sources of meat, milk, and transportation for millions of people there. But perhaps most concerning is that prion diseases are known to be able to spread across species, potentially posing a disease risk to consumers.

This "makes it necessary to assess the risk for humans and develop evidence-based policies to control and limit the spread of the disease in animals and minimize human exposure,” the authors of the new report conclude.

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Why the man who tried to sell Windows recovery discs will go to prison

April 26, 2018 - 1:41pm

Enlarge (credit: Mack Male)

A California man has been ordered to prison for 15 months after having been convicted of "counterfeiting" thousands of Windows Reinstallation Discs. Curiously, Microsoft routinely gives away this Windows download at no cost.

In short, Eric Lundgren, who runs a 100-employee Los Angeles-area e-waste company known as IT Asset Partners, was sentenced to prison for selling something that is otherwise generally free.

On Wednesday, a federal appeals court affirmed Lundgren’s sentence, as he had pleaded guilty in 2017 to criminal copyright infringement in connection to his unauthorized sale of the discs.

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Over 10,000 years ago, weapons at White Sands were aimed at giant sloths

April 26, 2018 - 1:33pm

Enlarge (credit: Bustos et al. 2018)

More than 10,000 years ago, a band of hunter-gatherers chased a group of giant ground sloths along the shores of an ancient lake, and their footprints still preserve the story. West of the sparkling white gypsum dunes of White Sands National Monument in New Mexico, at a site called Alkali Flat, layers of mud and sand left behind by a long-vanished lake hold more than 100 human and giant ground sloth tracks—rare evidence of Pleistocene hunters stalking, and sometimes cornering, giant sloths.

Most of them are so-called “ghost tracks,” visible only under very specific conditions.

“Most of the time they are invisible. There is a lot of salt in ground, and when it rains, the salt dissolves. And, crucially, as it dries out, the fill dries at a different rate and the difference between the fill (footprint) and the surrounding sediment makes the track visible for a brief time while it dries out,” explained paleoecologist Sally Reynolds of the UK’s Bournemouth University, a co-author on the paper. The team, led by the US National Parks Service’s David Bustos, used aerial photography to spot the tracks and then selected a few groups for careful excavation and study.

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A beginner’s guide to the world of weird and wonderful Japanese import cars

April 26, 2018 - 1:30pm

Enlarge / Warning: Reading this article may send you into a portal that involves a lot of Craigslist browsing, research into Japanese auto brokers, and increased familiarity with foreign-language parts websites. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Did you grow up playing Gran Turismo, marveling over the weird and wonderful Japanese market (JDM) cars that never made it to these shores? If you, too, always wanted to drive JDM exotica like a Nissan Skyline, Toyota Century, or Mazda Cosmo, prepare yourself for good news.

H.R.2628, the "Imported Vehicle Safety Compliance Act of 1988," has long been a thorn for automotive enthusiasts in the USA. This is the official reason why, after you discovered those cars in Gran Turismo, you couldn’t actually buy one. Known as the ‘25 Year Rule,' H.R.2628 essentially requires auto enthusiasts to wait 25 years to the month from when a vehicle was first manufactured before it can be legally imported if the vehicle wasn’t originally meant for sale in the US market.

Take something like the Nissan Skyline mentioned above. The company never offered it for sale in the US, which means Paul Walker’s famous R34 Skyline GT-R in 2 Fast 2 Furious isn’t legal for import. The R34 was first manufactured in 1999, placing the earliest year for importing under H.R. 2628 at 2024. Sure, there are various places in the US that will smuggle vehicles newer than 25 years into the country and play the "state legal" game (where they act like state legality somehow overrides federal law), but this isn't true. At any time, a Nissan Skyline-importer can be caught and have their car taken away with zero recourse.

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Avengers Infinity War review: What’s missing from this 2.5-hour romp? Hope

April 26, 2018 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / "Infinite war. Infinite war never changes." (That's not a quote from the film, and thank goodness.) (credit: Marvel Studios)

Warning: Avengers Infinity War is a particularly spoilable film. We have taken great care to tiptoe around plot beats in justifying our compliments and criticisms and have even avoided mentioning certain aspects already revealed in film trailers.

As the lights turned on and the credits began to roll, I blankly recalled the wreckage—figurative and literal—that had just whizzed by during Avengers Infinity War. The biggest Marvel superhero film to date leaves a ton of stuff for its viewers to unpack, and fans of Marvel's recent high-quality output may assume that's great news.

It is definitely not a spoiler to say that the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) is significantly changed by this film. Infinity War has long been touted as the face-off to end all superhero face-offs. Forget Superman dying to Doomsday's spiky hands in the '90s comic book pages; we're talking about every Avenger-affiliated movie star combining forces to face a single, long-teased foe. Thanks to satisfying action sequences, location variety, and cross-franchise pollination, the film earns its "Avengers 3" status (a feat that the second film, Age of Ultron, fell short of).

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Samsung announces 970 Pro and Evo NVMe SSDs

April 26, 2018 - 12:15pm


Samsung has announced availability of the next generation of its popular line of M.2 SSDs: the Samsung 970 Pro and 970 Evo will be available worldwide starting May 7.

Samsung impressed users with its V-NAND technology in the 950 Pro back in 2015. That SSD ditched SATA in favor of M.2 2280 and PCIe 3x4. That was a big change, given that the 850 Evo was already hugely popular as it was. A year later, Samsung shipped the 960 Evo and Pro, which offered significantly better read and write speeds and a then-new five-core controller. When we reviewed the Samsung 960 Pro, we found that it was by far the fastest consumer SSD available at that time—such that we even questioned whether very many users even needed that kind of speed.

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