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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 8 min 51 sec ago

Tesla beats expectations with strong first-quarter delivery numbers

18 min 48 sec ago

Enlarge / The Tesla Factory is an automobile manufacturing plant in Fremont, California, and the principal production facility of Tesla Motors. The facility was formerly known as New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota. Tesla produces all electric automobiles. (credit: Steve Proehl / Getty Images)

Tesla produced 102,672 vehicles in the first quarter of 2020 and delivered 88,400 vehicles to customers, the company announced to investors on Thursday. While the delivery number is down from the previous quarter, the overall results were better than analysts had expected, sending Tesla's stock up more than 10 percent in after-hours trading.

The fall in deliveries isn't surprising. December 31, 2019 was the deadline for Tesla customers to receive a federal electric vehicle tax credit, so customers thinking about buying a Tesla car had a strong incentive to do it before the end of the year. Tesla saw a similar decline in deliveries between Q4 2018 and Q1 2019. That was due in part to an earlier step in the tax credit's year-long phaseout.

And notably, Tesla's latest results are a big increase over its results a year earlier; the company produced 77,100 vehicles in Q1 2019 and delivered 63,000. The growth partly reflects improved productivity at Tesla's flagship factory in Fremont, California. It also represents Tesla's new manufacturing facility in Shanghai, which began operations in late 2019.

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T-Mobile, Sprint took a risk by finishing merger without Calif. approval

31 min 28 sec ago

Enlarge / California tells T-Mobile and Sprint to halt merger. (credit: Getty Images | Stefan Jackowski | EyeEm)

California state regulators are trying to hold up the T-Mobile/Sprint merger, saying the companies don't yet have approval to combine their operations in the state.

T-Mobile and Sprint announced yesterday that the merger is a done deal and that the two companies are now one. But while the companies had almost all approvals from government authorities, they have not yet gotten the expected approval from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC). The CPUC is scheduled to vote on the merger approval and related conditions on April 16.

In response to yesterday's T-Mobile/Sprint announcement, the CPUC issued a ruling that says the companies "shall not begin merger of their California operations until after the CPUC issues a final decision on the pending applications."

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America’s COVID-19 testing has stalled, and that’s a big problem

44 min 56 sec ago

Enlarge / After growing exponentially for most of March, US testing has stalled out at around 100,000 tests per day. (credit: Eric Bangeman / Ars Technica)

One of America's biggest fumbles in the early weeks of the coronavirus crisis was inadequate testing. Thanks to a series of poor decisions by federal officials, the United States had far too little capacity to test for COVID-19 throughout the month of February, hampering our ability to contain the spread of the virus.

In early March, things seemed to be turning around. According to data from COVID Tracking Project, daily testing grew exponentially from a few hundred tests on March 5 to 107,000 tests last Friday, March 27.

But since then, progress has stalled. The US has been testing a bit over 100,000 people a day for the last six days—including 101,000 yesterday. And that's a cause for concern because the US will need to do considerably more testing to get its coronavirus outbreak under control.

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$12.8 billion Juul investment broke the law, FTC suit says

1 hour 8 min ago

Enlarge / A person holds a Juul Labs Inc. e-cigarette next to packages of flavored pods on Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018. (credit: Gabby Jones | Bloomberg | Getty Images)

Back in 2018, cigarette maker Altria—formerly known as Philip Morris— apparently saw the writing on the wall for the tobacco industry's future. In December of that year, the company dropped a cool $12.8 billion to gain a 35 percent minority stake in e-cigarette firm Juul. The Juul deal seemed like a particularly clever way to gain a massive toehold in the vaping market as traditional tobacco cigarette use waned—too clever, it seems, as now the Federal Trade Commission is suing to unwind the deal.

The transaction "eliminated competition in violation of federal antitrust laws," the FTC said yesterday, announcing the unanimous vote to move forward with the suit.

At the time of the acquisition, Juul was the leading US e-cigarette brand, the FTC alleges, but Altria's own MarkTen product was already the second most popular brand by market share. Instead of continuing to compete, however, Altria arranged to reap the benefits of its competitor without outright acquiring it.

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The Last of Us Part II is “nearly done.” So why is it being delayed?

1 hour 27 min ago

Sony and Naughty Dog have decided to delay The Last of Us: Part II "until further notice" just weeks before a previously planned May 29 rollout. But in what may be an industry first, those companies say the cause of the delay isn't a need for more development time. Instead, it's because of what Sony calls a "global crisis... preventing us from providing the launch experience our players deserve."

Games are delayed all the time, even shortly before their planned launch, in order to give developers more time to polish up their work. But Naughty Dog says that it is "nearly done with development" of The Last of Us Part II and "in the midst of fixing our final bugs." An unnamed Naughty Dog developer also told Kotaku that the game is "nearly done and ready to go."

The problem, it seems, is in getting that nearly complete game to potential players in a safe and efficient way. "Even with us finishing the game, we were faced with the reality that due to logistics beyond our control, we couldn't launch The Last of Us Part II to our satisfaction," Naughty Dog wrote in a tweet. "We want to make sure everyone plays The Last of Us Part II around the same time, ensuring that we're doing everything possible to preserve the best experience for everyone. This means delaying the game until such a time where we can solve these logistic issues."

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In a surprising change, Amazon now sells movies in its Prime Video iOS app

2 hours 56 min ago

iPhone and iPad users are now able to purchase and rent videos from Amazon directly in the Amazon Prime Video iOS and iPadOS apps in an apparent reversal of a longstanding limitation in Amazon's apps on those platforms.

Users discovered the changes in an Amazon Prime Video iOS app update—the app now displays a pop-up notifying users of the new functionality. Neither Apple nor Amazon has made an announcement about the change elsewhere yet.

Historically, Amazon Prime Video and some other apps similar to it were limited to consumption of content acquired outside the app. So the previous version of the Prime Video app let users watch videos they'd purchased on say, Amazon's website, but it would not let them purchase those videos directly from the app. And in cases where app developers do offer in-app purchases, those purchases are generally made through Apple's own payment system.

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A handful of Sonos speakers and soundbars are on sale today

3 hours 33 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a nice little sale on new Sonos speakers and soundbars. The deals take $50 off the Sonos One, Sonos One SL, and Sonos Beam, bringing the speakers down to $149, $129, and $349, respectively. This ties the lowest prices we've seen for the One and One SL and marks the biggest discount we've seen for the Beam since it went for $319 on Cyber Monday. (The Beam briefly fell to $299 on Black Friday the week prior.) The sale prices are available on the Sonos website and at online retailers such as Amazon.

Before we go any further, let's address the elephant in the room: Sonos recently came under fire for announcing it will end official software updates for a variety of its older speakers. It also drew ire for forcing users to brick those older devices if they wished to trade up to a newer speaker, only to reverse course last month.

It's worth noting that all the devices Sonos plans to "sunset" launched more than a decade ago—and will still receive security patches after the major updates stop rolling in—while the speakers on sale today launched between 2017-2019 and capably work with all the revamped software Sonos has introduced to its lineup in recent years. Still, this is a problem software-dependent speakers face and classic "dumb" speakers do not have. Sonos' official line is that it promises at least five years of software support for a speaker after it has stopped selling that device directly, so the One, One SL, and Beam should have a long road of software updates ahead of them. But, like any other computer, they do have a shelf life.

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You asked, we answered: Free wallpapers, plus a subscription update!

4 hours 26 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

Everyone at Ars is truly humbled by your support this week! Late last night, our subscription tracker crossed the 100-percent mark—and kept on going. We're going to continue the subscription drive through the weekend, and we're going to raise our goal by 50 percent because your support has been amazing.

When we started this drive on Monday, we picked a goal that felt out of reach; we wanted to shoot for the stars. You all have delivered more than we had expected, but the fact remains that each and every new subscription is a bulwark to securing our future at this incredibly trying time.

Thank you sincerely for being a reader!

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NASA brings back its iconic “worm” logo to mark return of human spaceflight

4 hours 35 min ago

Enlarge / This is the Falcon 9 rocket that will launch the Crew Dragon spacecraft, with NASA astronauts aboard. (credit: NASA)

NASA originally planned to announce that it was bringing its iconic "worm" logo back on Wednesday, but the agency was afraid people would take it as an April Fools' Day joke.

Happily, it most certainly is not. The worm has returned, and that's no joke.

The space agency said the retro-looking logo will be stamped on the side of the Falcon 9 rocket that will carry astronauts to the International Space Station as part of SpaceX's Demo-2 flight, presently scheduled for mid to late May. NASA says there’s a good chance you’ll see the logo featured in other missions, too.

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Wi-Fi 6E becomes official—the FCC will vote on rules this month

5 hours 22 min ago

Enlarge / Today's devices don't—and won't—support the new 6GHz band. Once the spectrum is ratified for Wi-Fi use, you'll need hardware upgrades before you can take advantage of it. (credit: Mahmoud Hassan)

In a press release yesterday, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai announced that he has proposed a set of rules for the new RF spectrum that the proposed Wi-Fi 6E standard will use. In this month's April 23 meeting, FCC members will vote on those proposed rules for unlicensed use of the 6GHz band (5.925–7.125GHz).

The Wi-Fi spectrum we already have—2.4GHz band

In the 1990s, the biggest concern for Wi-Fi users was "how far will the Wi-Fi reach." Today, the biggest concern—whether most users realize it or not—isn't how far the Wi-Fi will reach, it's how many different devices are competing for airtime. The legacy 2.4GHz band is almost entirely unusable for many urban dwellers—it's crowded with microwave ovens, Bluetooth headsets, and every Internet-of-Things device imaginable.

Making matters worse for 2.4GHz, the frequency band offers excellent range and penetration—which in an increasingly crowded modern setting is very much a bug, not a feature. A Wi-Fi device can only transmit if no other device in range is also transmitting—so increased range and penetration also means increased competition for airtime.

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Activision has a First Amendment right to use Humvees in Call of Duty

5 hours 31 min ago

Enlarge / Depicting a Humvee like this in Call of Duty is allowed by the First Amendment, a federal judge has ruled.

A federal judge ruled this week that Activision has a first amendment right to include Humvees in its Call of Duty titles, despite vehicle manufacturer AM General's claims of trademark infringement and false advertising for the in-game use of the military vehicles.

The ruling stems from a lawsuit first filed by AMG in 2017, which suggested that Call of Duty players were being "deceived into believing that AM General licenses the games or is somehow connected with or involved in the creation of the games." That's not a completely ridiculous idea, since Activision and other major game manufacturers generally arranged licenses for their in-game guns until 2013.

In his ruling this week, though, District Judge George B. Daniels dismissed AM General's claim. That decision hinged in part on a 1989 precedent that established that artistic works could make reference to outside trademarks as long as the usage was relevant to the work and did not "explicitly mislead as to the source of the content or work."

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Forecasters predict a busy Atlantic hurricane season

5 hours 42 min ago

Enlarge / Hurricane Dorian's satellite appearance on a Sunday morning in 2019. (credit: NOAA)

Everything else has been canceled this year, so doesn't it seem fair that we should cancel the Atlantic hurricane season as well? Alas, life is rarely fair, and that seems especially so in the midst of a pandemic.

The most prominent seasonal hurricane forecaster said Thursday there are several signals in the oceans and atmosphere that point toward a busy summer and fall for the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico.

According to the outlook from Phil Klotzbach, at Colorado State University, the best estimate for Atlantic hurricanes this year is eight (the average is 6.4), with a total of 16 named storms (12.1). "The probability of US major hurricane landfall is estimated to be about 130 percent of the long-period average," Klotzbach's report states.

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Parenting in a pandemic: Chaos, control, and an Animal Crossing meltdown

6 hours 24 min ago

Enlarge / The author and her daughter in happier times, before the Great Coconut War of 2020.

Just ten days into the newest Animal Crossing, I was already embroiled in a fight about coconuts and trying to teach a first-grader about the tragedy of the commons.

That venture, like everything else in this cursed spring of 2020, did not go well.

This level of disquiet in my peaceful Animal Crossing universe is a first for me in well over a decade of play, going all the way back to Wild World for the Nintendo DS. Back in 2005, the portable town of Villains became my constant companion on my long subway rides from Brooklyn to Astor Place and back every day. Several years and several lifetimes later, my husband—at my request—found me a refurbished 3DS (shiny purple) for Christmas 2013. In 2014, I snapped up a copy of Animal Crossing: New Leaf for it that then accompanied me on my commute through Washington, DC, every day for more than 14 months.

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The auto industry reports Q1 sales, and they’re really, really bad

9 hours 42 min ago

Enlarge / Now might be a great time to buy a car, if you need one and still have a job. (credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

On Wednesday, the auto industry started reporting its sales results for the first quarter of 2020. The industry's prospects weren't looking amazing even before the worst disease pandemic in more than a century, and 2019 saw new car and truck sales fall by 1.3 percent in the US. But those results look positively rosy compared to Q1 2020.

General Motors reports that for the first three months of the year, its sales were down by about 7 percent compared to the same period a year earlier. At Fiat Chrysler, the drop was 10 percent. Toyota's sales fell 9 percent. Subaru posted a 17-percent decrease over the quarter. Volkswagen sales fell by 13 percent, with a 14-percent drop at Audi and a 20-percent decline at Porsche. BMW sold 15-percent fewer cars in Q1 2020 than Q1 2019, with an even bigger 35-percent decrease at Mini. Nissan had a similarly dismal quarter, declining 30 percent, year on year.

Not everyone did quite so horribly. Mazda sales dropped by just 4.5 percent for the first three months of the year, and Kia actually managed to increase sales by about a percent, although Korean stablemate Hyundai posted an 11-percent drop in Q1 2020.

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It’s a “tock” year: New Nvidia laptop GPUs in 25 OEMs’ systems this month

14 hours 52 min ago

What kind of GPU year can we expect from Nvidia, one of the two largest consumer-grade GPU producers in the world? The answer is somewhat up in the air, because Nvidia is in a solid-yet-fluid position. Market worries and announcement-filled event cancellations hover on one end, while the company's surprisingly bullish financial guidance stands out on the other.

Either way, we've reached April without the company's usual announcement of some new desktop hardware by March's end, and we still don't know when wholly new desktop GPUs might come (more on that later). Instead, we start this month with a different wave of products: a new slate of laptop-grade GPUs, albeit not that new.

Nvidia has announced a wave of "Max-Q" GPUs coming to laptops from 25 OEMs by the end of April, and most, but not all, come from the company's RTX line of GPUs. This month's wave of GPUs consists of three new laptop SKUs (RTX 2080 Super, RTX 2070 Super, GTX 1650 Ti) and slight updates to four existing SKUs (RTX 2070, RTX 2060, GTX 1660 Ti, GTX 1650). Each of these GPUs is built upon the manufacturer's Turing 12nm architecture.

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No joke: Rick and Morty has a new trailer; second half of S4 will air May 3

21 hours 26 min ago

The last five episodes of Rick and Morty S4 will air a bit earlier than fans expected.

Just a few days after dropping a special samurai-themed Rick and Morty episode, "Samurai and Shogun," Adult Swim has given us the trailer for the hotly anticipated second half of the popular animated series, along with a release date: May 3. That should delight hardcore fans, who had feared the release of the special episode meant a longer wait for the regular series' return.

(A few mild spoilers for prior seasons below.)

The first five episodes of S4 aired last November and December, and they featured Rick and Morty harvesting "death crystals" that predict various outcomes for one's demise; teaming up with Mr. Poopybutthole and "Elon Tusk" for a heist; freeing horny dragons from the Wizard who enslaved them; and battling time-traveling alien snakes, among other adventures. As always, pop-culture references abounded, riffing on the films Edge of Tomorrow, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Akira, Battlestar Galactica, and Terminator, for instance.

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Study looks at how Russian troll farms are politicizing vaccines

23 hours 42 min ago

Enlarge / Have Russian trolls done a drive-by on vaccines? (credit: Bruna Prado / Getty Images)

At this point, it's old news that Russia is intervening in US society in part by using troll farms organized by its Internet Research Agency. While the farms' most high-profile activity was supporting Donald Trump during the 2016 election, the trolls were active both before and since, largely in attempts to enhance existing divisions in US society.

One divisive area they've latched on to is vaccination, which has been the subject of numerous public controversies of late. But, while it was clear Russian trolls were talking about vaccines on social media, it wasn't clear what they hoped to accomplish. A new study suggests their goals are twofold and create the risk of politicizing an issue that has largely been free of partisan politics.

The results provide a preview of where we might be going with coronavirus misinformation and why things might get worse once a vaccine becomes available.

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Modern meteorology was born 60 years ago today

April 1, 2020 - 10:48pm

Enlarge / Image taken on April 1, 1960, by TIROS 1. This was the first television picture of Earth from space. (credit: NASA)

Sixty years ago on this date, April 1, a Thor-Able rocket launched a small satellite weighing 122.5kg into an orbit about 650km above the Earth's surface. Effectively, this launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station marked the beginning of the era of modern weather forecasting.

Designed by the Radio Corporation of America and put into space by NASA, the Television InfraRed Observation Satellite, or TIROS-1, was the nation's first weather satellite. During its 78 days of operation, TIROS-1 successfully monitored Earth's cloud cover and weather patterns from space.

This was a potent moment for the field of meteorology. For the first time, scientists were able to combine space-based observations with physical models of the atmosphere that were just beginning to be run on supercomputers.

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Levandowski says Uber must pay his $179 million judgment to Google

April 1, 2020 - 10:12pm

Enlarge / Anthony Levandowski, then-VP of engineering at Uber, in 2016. Levandowski co-founded self-driving truck startup Otto and then led Uber's self-driving technology efforts before being fired in 2017. (credit: ANGELO MERENDINO/AFP/Getty Images)

Alphabet's huge legal battle with Uber over self-driving technology ended two years ago. But the engineer at the center of that fight, Anthony Levandowski, is still facing legal and financial headaches. On Monday, he told a federal bankruptcy court in California that Uber was contractually obligated to cover a $179 million legal judgment that Levandowski owes to Google. Levandowski asked the court to order Uber to enter arbitration on the matter.

Levandowski claims that Uber was fully aware of the circumstances of Levandowski's 2016 departure from Google when Uber acquired Levandowski's self-driving startup, Otto, later the same year. Prior to the acquisition, Uber hired a firm to look into the background of Otto and its founders. Levandwoski says he cooperated fully, giving investigators access to his email accounts and personal files.

According to Levandowski, the investigators found—and told Uber—that Levandowski had files belonging to Google on his devices and had tried to recruit a number of Google employees for his new company while he still worked for Google. Levandowski claims that he repeatedly warned Uber management, including CEO Travis Kalanick, that Google was likely to sue if Uber bought Otto. But according to Levandowski, Kalanick wasn't concerned. "Uber eats injunctions for breakfast," he allegedly told Levandowski.

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Frontier prepares for bankruptcy, regrets failure to install enough fiber

April 1, 2020 - 8:39pm

Enlarge / A Frontier Communications van. (credit: Getty Images | jetcityimage)

As Frontier Communications moves closer to an expected bankruptcy filing, the ISP told investors that its troubles stem largely from its failure to invest properly in upgrading DSL to fiber broadband.

The presentation for investors, which is included in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, said that "significant under-investment in fiber deployment and limited enterprise product offerings have created headwinds that the company is repositioning itself to reverse." Much of Frontier's fiber deployment was actually installed by Verizon before Verizon sold some of its operations to Frontier.

About 51 percent of Frontier revenue comes directly from residential consumers, with the rest mostly from wholesale and business customers. Frontier said the residential segment that provides most of its revenue "has the highest monthly churn," meaning that customers are leaving the company in large numbers. DSL-customer losses are expected to increase, Frontier said.

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