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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 15 min 52 sec ago

How id Software went from skeptical to excited about Google Stadia streaming

31 min 5 sec ago

Enlarge / Google Stadia's controller. (credit: Google)

SAN FRANCISCO—Back in 2016, when Google first approached id Software about bringing some games to a potential new streaming service, the game developer was skeptical to say the least. "The proposal immediately bumped against our main bias," id Senior Programmer Dustin Land said during a talk at this week's Game Developers Conference. "Streaming adds latency to the thing we desperately want to remove latency from."

Fast forward more than two years, and id was proudly on stage this week showing a version of Doom Eternal running on Google's newly announced Stadia streaming platform. But getting from that initial skepticism to that grand unveiling wasn't always an easy process, Land said.

Getting to yes

For years, Land said, Google had been watching their YouTube analytics, waiting for a big enough group of users to reach the point where their connections would be able to handle game streaming. By September of 2016, Google thought the broadband market was mature enough to give it a try, and the company approached id for some real-world help with game testing.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Board game review: Ultimate Werewolf Legacy

1 hour 30 sec ago

Enlarge

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.

Our 16 games of Werewolf sprawled across 20 hours and two lengthy play sessions. They began well enough, with enthusiastic people enjoying each other's company, keen to backstab, betray, and devour their fellow participants. Villagers—and the occasional werewolf—were hanged, and each person’s hands were bloodied. Yes, this was the decade-old social deduction game we all knew well—but now with sealed boxes, fistfuls of stickers, and a huge leather tome for the moderator to scribble in.

Ultimate Werewolf Legacy takes an old concept and pairs it with newfangled “legacy” game mechanisms. This means components are permanently altered—mostly the moderator's diary—and decisions are made that impact future plays. In other words, it's a campaign game with irreversible decisions, promising all the drama that premise entails. 

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mini-review: Fitbit’s Versa Lite favors affordability over unnecessary features

1 hour 30 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

The Versa Lite confused me at first. When Fitbit announced the new Inspire and Inspire HR fitness trackers, the company also debuted the new Versa Lite. This smartwatch looks identical to the original Versa, which came out last year, but it lacks a few features and costs $40 less. Considering the Versa was meant to be a cheaper, more accessible version of the $300 Fitbit Ionic, it was strange to see Fitbit come up with an even more affordable version of its already affordable smartwatch.

But Fitbit is positioning itself as the company with smartwatches for all kinds of people. Instead of making one flagship device with a bunch of features like Apple has done with the Apple Watch, Fitbit is investing in numerous devices with different feature sets at various price points. Now, the Versa family has three devices: the $159 Versa Lite, the $199 Versa, and the $229 Versa Special Edition. Choice provides more accessibility, but it can also breed confusion.

We tested out the Versa Lite to see how different it really is compared to the original Versa and if it's worth pocketing that extra $40.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Those Midwestern floods are expected to get much, much worse

2 hours 15 min ago

Enlarge / HAMBURG, IOWA - MARCH 20: Homes and businesses are surrounded by floodwater on March 20, 2019 in Hamburg, Iowa. (credit: Scott Olson | Getty Images)

The record-setting floods deluging the Midwest are about to get a lot worse. Fueled by rapidly melting snowpack and a forecast of more rainstorms in the next few weeks, federal officials warn that 200 million people in 25 states face a risk through May. Floodwaters coursing through Nebraska have already forced tens of thousands of people to flee and have caused $1.3 billion in damage.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued its spring flood outlook Thursday, predicting that two-thirds of the country is at risk of "major to moderate flooding," from Fargo, North Dakota on the Red River of the North down to Nashville, Tennessee, on the Cumberland River. The floods from the past two weeks have compromised 200 miles of levees in Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, and Kansas, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers.

The rains and floods are expected to continue through May and become more dire, according to Ed Clark, director of NOAA’s National Water Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. “This is shaping up to be a potentially unprecedented flood season,” Clark said, “with more than 200 million people at risk for flooding in their communities.”

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Valve Software dreams of analyzing your brainwaves to tailor in-game rewards

March 22, 2019 - 11:15pm

Enlarge / Valve Software's Mike Ambinder offers a joking photo of what people think his job as Principal Experimental Psychologist looks like. Valve co-founder Gabe Newell was not on hand to confirm or deny Valve's use of power tools on his head. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

SAN FRANCISCO—Valve Software's famously "flat" structure means most of its game-making staffers have vague titles. One of the few exceptions is its Principal Experimental Psychologist, who presented a futuristic gaming vision at this year's Game Developers Conference—in particular, he made a few peculiar admissions about how Valve might one day study your brain activity in the middle of a game and what the company might do with it.

Before speaking, Valve Software's Mike Ambinder laid out a very loud disclaimer about GDC's "vision" track of panels: "This is supposed to be speculative," he said. "This is one possible direction things could go." Even with that caveat in mind, Ambinder's choice of details is interesting to sink our teeth into, especially coming from a company that seems to offer more speculation about the future of gaming than it does actual applications of it (i.e. new games).

The slot machine of your mind?

The above and below images of Ambinder goofing off with Valve co-founder Gabe Newell weren't just for yuks: "Every talk I've given, this reliably gets a laugh. Think about that. What if we could elicit reliable reactions [from video games] and determine we were doing so?"

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Two serious WordPress plugin vulnerabilities are being exploited in the wild

March 22, 2019 - 10:35pm

Enlarge (credit: Michael Theis / Flickr)

Attackers have been actively exploiting serious vulnerabilities in two widely used WordPress plugins to compromise websites that run the extensions on top of the content management system.

The two affected plugins are Easy WP SMTP with 300,000 active installations and Social Warfare, which has about 70,000 active installations. While developers have released patches for both exploited flaws, download figures indicate many vulnerable websites have yet to install the fixes. Figures for Easy WP SMTP, which was fixed five days ago, show the plugin has just short of 135,000 downloads in the past seven days. Figures for Social Warfare show it has been downloaded fewer than 20,000 times since a patch was published on WordPress on Friday. Sites that use either plugin should disable them immediately and then ensure they have been updated to version 1.3.9.1 of Easy WP SMTP and 3.5.3 of Social Warfare.

Attacks exploiting Easy WP SMTP were first reported by security firm NinTechNet on Sunday, the same day a patch became available. On Wednesday, a different security firm, Defiant, also reported the vulnerability was under active exploit despite the availability of the patch. The exploits allow attackers to create rogue administrative accounts on vulnerable websites.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sikorsky-Boeing joint effort for Army’s assault aircraft program makes first flight

March 22, 2019 - 10:24pm

Enlarge / The Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant. (credit: Sikorsky/Boeing)

The Sikorsky-Boeing SB-1 Defiant, one of two aircraft competing for the US Army's Future Long Range Assault Aircraft program, has finally made its first flight—a short bit of hovering around an airfield at a Sikorsky facility in West Palm Beach, Florida. The flight comes over 15 months after the Bell V-280 Valor (the other competitor for the program to replace the Sikorsky UH-60 Blackhawk) took flight. But the reasons for the delay are pretty straightforward: the SB-1 prototype is only the fourth actual aircraft ever built using Sikorsky's Advancing Blade Concept rotor design, while the V-280 is based on the (relatively) mature technology behind the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor.

The Defiant helicopter uses two stacked, contra-rotating rigid composite rotors for its lift and a pusher propeller for thrust at high speeds. Since it is a true helicopter, it has a much smaller footprint than the V-280, which has two tiltrotors positioned at its wingtips. At least in theory, the Defiant will handle more like a traditional helicopter when maneuvering in tight quarters, such as the urban environments that the Army has placed particular emphasis on in its future war planning. Manipulation of the pitch of the rotors could make for more agile maneuvering.

That, however, remains theory.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Jordan Peele’s Us should cement his status as a master of modern horror

March 22, 2019 - 7:45pm

Enlarge / Lupita Nyong’o stars as Adelaide Wilson, whose family encounters their own evil doppelgängers in Jordan Peele's new horror film, Us. (credit: Universal)

A family is terrorized by their own doppelgängers while vacationing in Santa Cruz in Jordan Peele's new film, Us. With its spot-on writing and pacing and fantastic performances from its ensemble cast, the film should cement Peele's status as a master of modern horror.

(Mildest of spoilers below, because anything more would spoil the fun.)

Us is the much-anticipated follow-up to Get Out, Peele's surprise box office hit that earned more than $250 million and snagged Peele an Oscar for best original screenplay—the first time the award has gone to a black recipient. Get Out is a subtle exploration of racial tensions that quietly builds to reveal its horrifying premise and inevitably bloody conclusion. In Us, the theme isn't so much racial tension—it's exploring, in Peele's words, the myriad ways in which "we are our own worst enemies."

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Boeing takes $5 billion hit as Indonesian airline cancels 737 MAX order

March 22, 2019 - 7:30pm

Enlarge / A Garuda Indonesia 737-800. The airline is moving to cancel orders for the 737 MAX after the Lion Air and Ethiopian Airlines crashes. (credit: Boeing)

Indonesia's largest air carrier has informed Boeing that it wants to cancel a $4.9 billion order for 49 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft. Garuda Indonesia spokesperson Ikhsan Rosan said in a statement to the Associated Press that the airline was cancelling due to concern that “its business would be damaged due to customer alarm over the crashes.”

Garuda had originally ordered 50 737 MAX aircraft, and Boeing delivered the first of those aircraft in December of 2017. The airline already operates 77 older Boeing 737 models; two of the aircraft ordered were conversions from earlier orders for 737-800s. Garuda also flies Boeing's 777-300 ER, and the company retired its 747-400 fleet in the last few years—so the airline was looking for an economical long-range aircraft to fill in gaps.

But the stigma now attached to the 737 MAX 8 may have spoiled that relationship. The airline also has orders in for 14 of Airbus' A330neo, a wide-body design comparable to Boeing's 787 Dreamliner; the airline also flies 24 earlier-model A330s. If Garuda successfully breaks its deal with Boeing, the likely winner will be Airbus. Airbus' A320neo is the most comparable aircraft to the 737 MAX in cost and range.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Building megasocieties didn’t require divine intervention, study says

March 22, 2019 - 5:55pm

Studying a societal chicken and egg situation?

A new study in Nature claims that big, complex societies arose before people started believing in major gods or powers that enforced social rules. That's a new twist in the debate over whether such "moralizing" religions were a prerequisite for social expansion.

A common theme in most of the world's major religions today is that some supernatural power will enforce a set of rules that do two things: proscribe how people worship and dictate how they relate to each other. This can be enforced via an omnipotent god or a mechanism like karma.

People have believed in, and worshipped, supernatural powers for a very long time, but the gods they worshipped haven't always done both these things. Many early ones didn’t always care whether humans played nicely with each other as long as the gods got their prescribed due. If any supernatural entity enforced human social norms, it was often a minor god or spirit, not one of the big cosmological players.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

HMD admits the Nokia 7 Plus was sending personal data to China

March 22, 2019 - 5:33pm

Enlarge / The Nokia 7 Plus.

HMD is in hot water following a report from Norwegian site NRKbeta, which found that HMD's Nokia 7 Plus was sending users' personal information to a server in China. HMD responded to the report, admitting, "Our device activation client meant for another country was mistakenly included in the software package of a single batch of Nokia 7 Plus."

NRKbeta's investigation found the Nokia 7 Plus was sending the IMEI, MAC ID, and the SIM ICCID, all of which are unique hardware or SIM card identifiers that could be used to track an individual. There was also rough location information, as the device sent the ID of the nearest cell tower. NRKbeta's article is in Norwegian, but through Google Translate the site claims this data was sent every time the phone was switched on and that the phone was sending this data for several months.

HMD admits this data ended up on "a third-party server" but claims the data "was never processed." The company identifies the information sent as "activation data" and then says that "no person could have been identified based on this data." HMD's claim here is a bit strange, considering the entire point of "activation data" is to identify someone so they can be billed for cellular access.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Clippy briefly resurrected as Teams add-on, brutally taken down by brand police

March 22, 2019 - 5:18pm

Enlarge (credit: theaelix)

On Microsoft's official Office GitHub repository (which contains, alas, not the source code to Office itself but lots of developer content for software that extends Office), the widely loved (?) Clippy made a brief appearance with the publication of a Clippy sticker pack for Microsoft Teams. Teams users could import the stickers and use them to add pictures of a talking paperclip to their conversations.

The synergy between the two seems obvious. With its various machine learning-powered services and its bot development framework, Microsoft finally has the technology to make Clippy the assistant we always wanted him to be: a Clippy that can be asked natural language questions, that we can actually speak to and that can talk back to us, that can recognize us by sight and greet us as we sit down to the working day. Teams, an interface that's conversational and text heavy, is the perfect venue for a new Clippy compliant with all the buzzwords of the late twenty-teens. Twenteens? Whatever.

The Clippy sticker pack in Teams.

Clippy is, after all, far more expressive than Cortana. While Clippy and Cortana share a tendency to reshape their basic form to meet the needs of the task at hand—Clippy can distort itself into a question mark or an envelope or whatever, and Cortana can deviate from her usual circular form—Clippy has a killer advantage in that it has eyes, and more particularly, eyebrows, enabling a range of emotions such as incredulity and contemptuous pity that Cortana can only dream of.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC has to pay journalist $43,000 after hiding net neutrality records

March 22, 2019 - 4:58pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Nicholas Rigg)

The Federal Communications Commission has settled a case over its refusal to comply with a public records request, agreeing to pay $43,000 to a journalist who sued the commission.

Freelance writer Jason Prechtel filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the FCC in mid-2017, asking for data that would identify who made bulk comment uploads in the proceeding that led to the repeal of net neutrality rules. Prechtel was trying to research comments that were falsely attributed to people without their knowledge.

The FCC didn't comply with the request and allegedly didn't even approve or deny the FOIA request within the legally allotted timeframe, so Prechtel sued the commission in September 2017. One year later, a US District Court judge presiding over the case ordered the FCC to stop withholding certain records sought by Prechtel, although the ruling didn't give Prechtel everything he asked for.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

To rival Amazon, UPS enters healthcare—with doorstep nurse delivery

March 22, 2019 - 4:28pm

Enlarge / A United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) logo is displayed on the door of a truck (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

UPS is crossing the threshold into healthcare, with plans for a new service that will deliver vaccine-toting nurses to customers' doorsteps.

A test for the new service is scheduled for later this year, but UPS didn’t name where it will take place or which vaccine it will offer, only saying that it would be an immunization for adults against a viral illness. Vaccine-maker Merck & Co is reportedly considering partnering with UPS on the service.

News of the plan was first reported by Reuters. Ars confirmed the report with UPS, but a UPS spokesperson specifically working on the project did not immediately get back to us. This post will be updated with any additional information we receive.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

You can help “rescue” weather data from the 1860s

March 22, 2019 - 2:33pm

Enlarge / The wreck of the Royal Charter in 1859 led to systematic weather observations in the UK—but researchers need help reading them all. (credit: Wikimedia)

“Weather Rescue” sounds like it could be a Baywatch-style TV show about the adventures of an emergency response team. But the Weather Rescue project led by University of Reading researcher Ed Hawkins is actually focused on data that needs rescuing.

The UK Met Office has an incredible trove of historical weather data in its archives that is trapped on paper. While it’s safe there, scientists need it in digital form in order to do anything interesting with it. The collection goes all the way back to 1860 and includes the first weather forecasts coordinated by Vice-Admiral Robert FitzRoy—the same Robert FitzRoy who captained the HMS Beagle on Charles Darwin’s historic trip.

After a storm sunk 200 ships off the coast of Wales (including the Royal Charter and its crew of 450), FitzRoy set about creating a network of UK weather stations that could telegraph daily observations to him in London. In February 1861, he put out the first forecast storm warning. After some of the fishermen who ignored this new-fangled sorcery sank in the storm, the forecasts encountered an increasingly attentive audience.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Fast and fun, but flawed: The Acura RDX reviewed

March 22, 2019 - 2:12pm

Enlarge / The 2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance. (credit: BradleyWarren Photography)

Like anything else, an automobile can evoke mixed feelings. This is especially true for the 2019 Acura RDX, which marks the third generation of Acura's midsize SUV. The luxury automaker offers a pair of SUVs, and the RDX is the first to get a makeover. This is a good thing, because the previous generation of Acura SUVs and crossovers feels dated compared to crossovers from the likes of BMW, Audi, and Volvo. With the RDX, Acura has largely succeeded in making a stylish vehicle that is genuinely fun to drive. At the same time, it has the feeling of a new, first-generation Apple product with unexpected bugs hitting at strange times.

Driving the current generation of Acuras, Infinitis, and Lexuses (Acurae, Infiniti, et Lexi?) has largely left me feeling cold. By and large, they are fine SUVs, but for a few thousand dollars more, European carmakers offer a better all-around experience—especially with the infotainment and driver-assist features. The Acura RDX really has the potential to change that. It's the first vehicle from one of the Japanese-owned luxury carmakers that I felt could hold its own against a BMW X3, Volvo XC60, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, or Audi Q5—at least until the bugs started popping up.

The RDX is the smaller of Acura's two SUVs, and this year's refresh sees a number of substantive changes from the second-generation model. Gone is the 3.5-liter V6, replaced by a 2.0L, direct-injected, inline-four turbocharged engine common to compact crossovers. In the case of the RDX, it translates to 272hp (200kW) at 6,500rpm—trailing only the Stelvio from the previous paragraph—and 280lb-ft (380Nm) of torque at anywhere from 1,600rpm to 4,500rpm. Acura accomplishes this in part with a mono scroll IHI turbocharger with a small-diameter and low-inertia turbine, which enables the turbo to build boost at lower RPMs. For the driver, that translates into quick throttle response at most speeds.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dashcam video shows Tesla steering toward lane divider—again

March 22, 2019 - 2:02pm

Enlarge (credit: Tesla)

The afternoon commute of Reddit user Beastpilot—who requested that we not use his real name—takes him past a stretch of Seattle-area freeway with a carpool lane exit on the left. Last year, in early April, the Tesla driver noticed that Autopilot on his Model X would sometimes pull to the left as the car approached the lane divider—seemingly treating the space between the diverging lanes as a lane of its own.

This was particularly alarming, because just days earlier, Tesla owner Walter Huang had died in a fiery crash after Autopilot steered his Model X into a concrete lane divider in a very similar junction in Mountain View, California.

Beastpilot made several attempts to notify Tesla of the problem but says he never got a response. Weeks later, Tesla pushed out an update that seemed to fix the problem.

Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

AT&T’s “5G E” is actually slower than Verizon and T-Mobile 4G, study finds

March 22, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / Screenshot from an AT&T commercial. (credit: AT&T)

AT&T's "5G E" service is slightly slower than Verizon's and T-Mobile's advanced 4G LTE networks, a study by OpenSignal has found.

As Ars readers know, AT&T renamed a large portion of its 4G network, calling it "5G E," for "5G Evolution." If you see a 5G E indicator on an AT&T phone, that means you're connected to a portion of AT&T's 4G LTE network that supports standard LTE-Advanced features such as 256 QAM, 4x4 MIMO, and three-way carrier aggregation. All four major carriers have rolled out LTE-Advanced. But while Verizon, Sprint, and T-Mobile accurately call it 4G, AT&T calls it 5G E.

Sprint sued AT&T, alleging that AT&T is gaining an unfair advantage by making false and misleading claims to consumers.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Earth is (always has been) round, so why have the flat-out wrong become so lively?

March 22, 2019 - 12:45pm

For posterity's sake, here's Ars' recent look at reality vs. belief about the shape of the Earth. Click for a full transcript.


Until the 17th century, the Fens—a broad, flat swath of marshland in eastern England—were home only to game-hunters and fishermen. Eventually, though, their value as potential agricultural land became too enticing to ignore, and the Earl of Bedford, along with a number of “gentlemen adventurers,” signed contracts with Charles I to drain the area, beginning in the 1630s. A series of drainage channels were cut, criss-crossing the wetlands of Cambridgeshire and Norfolk. The plan was a qualified success; a vast area was now farmable, though wind-powered pumps were needed to keep the water at bay.

The most notable feature of the Fens is their pancake-like topography. It’s said that if you climb the tower of Ely Cathedral on a clear day, you can make out the silhouette of Peterborough Cathedral, some 30 miles to the northwest. Indeed, one could see even further if it wasn’t for the curvature of the Earth.

Enter one Samuel Birley Rowbotham, a 19th-century inventor and quack doctor who went by the name “Parallax.” Rowbotham believed that the Earth was flat, and that the Fens were the perfect place to prove it. In particular, he set his sights on the Old Bedford River, one of the 17th-century drainage cuts built under the tenure of the Earl of Bedford. The river—it’s really a canal—runs straight as an arrow for some 22 miles, from Earith, Cambridgeshire, to Downham Market, Norfolk, where it meets the River Great Ouse.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket Report: SpaceX scraps costly tooling, Vandenberg lull, Starliner slip

March 22, 2019 - 12:00pm

Enlarge / The Rocket Report is published weekly. (credit: Arianespace)

Welcome to Edition 1.41 of the Rocket Report! This week we definitely have an international flavor, with news about spaceflight efforts from Brazil, Italy, Japan, the UAE, and the United States. There also is a fun story about hypersonic launch completing some initial tests with evidently promising returns.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). 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.

Brazilian spaceport wins key US agreement. Brazil's decades-long effort to launch satellites from its underused Alcântara Launch Center could finally be bearing fruit, Parabolic Arc reports. On Monday, Brazil and the United States signed a Technology Safeguards Agreement that will allow American companies to launch orbital rockets from Alcântara.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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