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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 16 min 20 sec ago

Alan Bean, the fourth human to walk on the Moon, has died

3 hours 34 sec ago

Enlarge / "Fast Times on the Ocean of Storms," one of Bean's paintings. (credit: The Alan Bean Gallery)

Alan Bean, the fourth human to walk on the Moon, one of the first Americans to live aboard a space station, and a man who left space flight behind to devote the second half of his life to painting, died on Saturday in Houston. He was 86.

With Bean's passing, just four living human beings have walked on the Moon: Buzz Aldrin, 88; Dave Scott, 85; Charlie Duke, 82; and Harrison Schmitt, 82. The eight other humans who landed on the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s during NASA's Apollo Program have died, as have all of the original seven astronauts in the Mercury space program.

After Bean earned an engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin, he was commissioned in the US Navy and became first an aviator and later a test pilot. NASA selected him as a member of its third class of astronauts in 1963. Following his astronaut training and a few stints as a back-up crew member, Bean received his assignment as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 12, which would become NASA's second mission the Moon's surface in November, 1969.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

From Win32 to Cocoa: A Windows user’s would-be conversion to Mac OS X

6 hours 24 min ago

Enlarge / OK, technically this wouldn't have even been possible at the time of this initial article, but here's Win10, Win8, Windows XP, and Mac OS X (High Sierra) all together. Thanks Parallels. (credit: Parallels)

Ten years ago around this very time—April through June 2008—our intrepid Microsoft guru Peter Bright evidently had an identity crisis. Could this lifelong PC user really have been pushed to the brink? Was he considering a switch to... Mac OS?!? While our staff hopefully enjoys a less stressful Memorial Day this year, throughout the weekend we're resurfacing this three part series that doubles as an existential operating system dilemma circa 2008. Part one ran on April 21, 2008, and it appears unedited below.

A couple of Gartner analysts have recently claimed that Windows is "collapsing"—that it's too big, too sprawling, and too old to allow rapid development and significant new features. Although organizations like Gartner depend on trolling to drum up business, I think this time they could be onto something. "Collapsing" is over-dramatic—gradual decline is a more likely outcome—but the essence of what they're saying—and why they're saying it—rings true.

Windows is dying, Windows applications suck, and Microsoft is too blinkered to fix any of it—that's the argument. The truth is that Windows is hampered by 25-year old design decisions. These decisions mean that it's clunky to use and absolutely horrible to write applications for. The applications that people do write are almost universally terrible. They're ugly, they're inconsistent, they're disorganized; there's no finesse, no care lavished on them. Microsoft—surely the company with the greatest interest in making Windows and Windows applications exude quality—is, in fact, one of the worst perpetrators.

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DropMix review: Unleash your inner DJ

7 hours 5 min ago

Enlarge / DropMix, complete with phone and cards. (credit: Charlie Theel)

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

Trying to explain what DropMix is can prove a challenge. It’s a game, it’s a chunky piece of hardware, and it’s a centerpiece that breeds discussion. But it’s primarily an experience—and one that’s wholly unique.

This product is brought to us courtesy of Hasbro teaming up with Harmonix, the studio behind the massive hit Rock Band. It’s a tabletop game of sorts that facilitates the ad-hoc creation of custom music mixes. If you ever wondered what Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” would sound like when paired with the percussion from Skrillex’s “Bangarang,” DropMix has your answer. What’s surprising is just how effective this piece of technology is.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Doctor slammed by med board for selling $5 homeopathic sound waves for Ebola

8 hours 1 min ago

Enlarge / Listen to that homeopathic energy. (credit: Getty | Ian Waldie)

The California medical board is threatening to revoke the license of Dr. William Edwin Gray III for selling homeopathic sound files over the Internet that he claims—without evidence or reason—can cure a variety of ailments, including life-threatening infections such as Ebola, SARS, swine flu, malaria, typhoid, and cholera.

In an accusation filed with the state (PDF), the medical board writes that Gray is guilty of gross negligence and requested a hearing in which the board would decide whether to possibly revoke or suspend his license.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Gray said he had decided not to contest the board’s allegations, saying it would cost too much money to fight. He added: “Frankly, I think we'd lose anyway.”

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Dealmaster: Memorial Day sales on TVs, laptops, and more are underway [Updated]

8 hours 35 min ago

Update (5/26/2018 8:50 AM ET): We've updated our original list with new deals on Roku TVs, DJI drones, and a Nest Thermostat and Google Home Mini bundle, among others. We've also crossed out a few deals that have expired as of this writing. The original post is below.

Original post: Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. It's almost Memorial Day weekend, and though the Dealmaster plans to spend plenty of time this weekend grilling and lounging outside, he's also making time to ignore his family and keep you posted on good deals.

While most Memorial Day sales traditionally focus on appliances, mattresses, and other home goods—and while it's worth holding off on deals for things like MacBooks and Amazon devices with the likes of WWDC and Amazon Prime Day just around the corner—there's at least a handful of gadget deals worth noting for those who can't wait until Black Friday.

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The Millennium Falcon is OK, but these pop culture ships make Ars hearts race

9 hours 1 min ago

Enlarge / I mean, we're still in the hands of some master filmmakers when it comes to building moments. (credit: Lucasfilm)

It's been a good month for ships. Just this week, one of the most iconic vessels to ever clear the Kessel run in 12 parsecs returned to theaters in a very high-profile manner. But May has also brought news the Rocinante may fly again, Trekkies everywhere can finally (virtually) hop aboard the Enterprise-D, and we'll all soon host a Starfighter of choice on the nearest desk in our lives. If you want to count the ho-hum Block 5 in all this, too, go right ahead.

Seeing a young Han Solo experience all the feels when first laying eyes upon the beloved Millennium Falcon had everyone around the Orbital HQ thinking. What is the ship that still has me over the moon after all these years? We already know Lee Hutchinson adores the Normandy (among others), so this weekend we let the rest of the Ars staff also launch into a liftoff love letter.

Still excellent.

A most excellent (pseudo) ship

Like the title characters, I probably already failed this assignment by not quite following the rules. Technically, my favorite pop culture ship isn't even a ship. Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventures was a formative experience for many reasons, but chief among them was the everyday nature of their preferred time-traveling vessel. The phonebooth outside the Circle K epitomized function over form and industry over innovation—with a little chewing gum and plenty of their own gumption, even two obvious idiots could recruit the most brilliant and adventurous minds from across history to help them pass a final San Dimas High School history presentation.

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Dinosaur-killing impact + volcanoes kept the Earth hot for 100,000 years

10 hours 15 min ago

Enlarge / "Wait, this global warming thing is gonna last how long?!?!" (credit: pxhxk)

Mass extinctions aren’t fun times. There’s a reason (usually more than one, actually) species disappear in droves. That makes untangling these reasons a challenge. The geological crime scene investigation is tough given that clues can be elusive after millions of years, and the events are complex.

The extinction that wiped out (most of) the dinosaurs, for example, saw both a massive asteroid impact and long-lived volcanic eruptions that covered most of what is now India in lava flows. While the impact would have darkened the sky, bringing permanent winter for a number of years, the volcanoes' injection of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere would have produced a rapid swing in the warming direction when the sky cleared.

The record of that warming in the geologic record isn’t very good, though. The problem has been to find a suitable climate record in rocks that were deposited fast enough to show relatively short time periods in detail. To obtain that sort  of record, a team led by the University of Missouri’s Kenneth MacLeod scratched through rocks in Tunisia for crushed up pieces of fossil fish bits.

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Russian unit, GRU officer linked to 2014 shoot-down of airliner over Ukraine

May 25, 2018 - 10:46pm

Enlarge / Eliot Higgins (C), founder of online investigation group Bellingcat, addresses a press conference on findings within research on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 in Scheveningen, The Netherlands, on May 25, 2018. - The Netherlands and Australia on May 25 accused Moscow of being behind the 2014 shooting down of flight MH17 over war-torn eastern Ukraine with the loss of 298 lives, in a move which may trigger legal action. (credit: REMKO DE WAAL / Getty Images)

Officials from the Netherlands and Australia today formally stated that they are convinced Russia was responsible for the deployment of the "Buk" anti-aircraft missile system that shot down Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 (MH17) in 2014.  The announcement came a day after a Dutch-led joint investigation team released a report on their findings, which concluded the missile had belonged to the Russian Army's 53rd anti-aircraft brigade, which was based outside the city of Kursk, north of the Ukrainian border.

Physical evidence collected by investigators, along with radar track and flight recorder data, pointed to the use of a specific warhead type associated with Buk surface-to-air missiles. Paint transferred from fragments of the missile to the aircraft's fuselage was matched with recovered parts of the missile.

Russia has long denied that any of its military equipment ever crossed the border into eastern Ukraine, and the Russians presented several alternative scenarios—including blaming the downing of the airliner on a Ukrainian Air Force pilot. The Russians at first claimed to have radar evidence proving their allegation, but the country then said it was lost—only to claim they had found the evidence again just two days before the Joint Investigative Team's 2016 press conference. The separate target that Russia claimed to have identified on radar was actually part of MH17’s  fuselage breaking away after the missile detonated.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FBI tells router users to reboot now to kill malware infecting 500k devices

May 25, 2018 - 7:17pm

(credit: Linksys)

The FBI is advising users of consumer-grade routers and network-attached storage devices to reboot them as soon as possible to counter Russian-engineered malware that has infected hundreds of thousands devices.

Researchers from Cisco’s Talos security team first disclosed the existence of the malware on Wednesday. The detailed report said the malware infected more than 500,000 devices made by Linksys, Mikrotik, Netgear, QNAP, and TP-Link. Known as VPNFilter, the malware allowed attackers to collect communications, launch attacks on others, and permanently destroy the devices with a single command. The report said the malware was developed by hackers working for an advanced nation, possibly Russia, and advised users of affected router models to perform a factory reset, or at a minimum to reboot.

Later in the day, The Daily Beast reported that VPNFilter was indeed developed by a Russian hacking group, one known by a variety of names, including Sofacy, Fancy Bear, APT 28, and Pawn Storm. The Daily Beast also said the FBI had seized an Internet domain VPNFilter used as a backup means to deliver later stages of the malware to devices that were already infected with the initial stage 1. The seizure meant that the primary and secondary means to deliver stages 2 and 3 had been dismantled, leaving only a third fallback, which relied on attackers sending special packets to each infected device.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

This capsule of glowing E. coli will probe your gut for signs of trouble

May 25, 2018 - 6:46pm

Enlarge / Open wide. (credit: Getty | Universal Images Group)

Whether you go in from above or below, probing the inner workings of our innards is a tricky task. Our intestines are an extensive, inaccessible tangle of tubes, full of dark tucks and turns. But with a new ingestible capsule, researchers hope to shed light on the depths of our perplexing plumbing—quite literally.

The capsule contains living bacteria engineered to sense specific molecular signs of gut troubles and, when those molecules are present, the bacteria glow. The illuminating biological sensors are paired with low-power microelectronics within the pill. This includes photodetectors, a microprocessor, and a wireless transmitter. In all, this ingestible micro-bio-electronic device, or IMBED, is designed to painlessly drift through our ductwork, probe for trouble, and relay findings wirelessly in real time as it takes its excursion through our entrails.

“Basically, our vision is that we want to try to illuminate and provide understanding into areas that are not easily accessible,” Timothy Lu, a biological and electrical engineer at MIT, said in a press briefing. Lu and electrical engineer Anantha Chandrakasan (also at MIT) led a team of researchers developing the IMBED.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Boba Fett joins the insane pile of upcoming Star Wars film projects

May 25, 2018 - 6:20pm

Boba Fett's last major toy incarnation, from 2015. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

On the eve of one major Star Wars film launch, fans learned that the Disney and Lucasfilm empire have yet another iconic-character project in the works: a Boba Fett film.

The Hollywood Reporter and Variety, each citing their own "sources," reported the film's ongoing development on Thursday, and they were able to attach two big names to the project: director and co-writer James Mangold, who previously helmed Logan and 3:10 to Yuma, and co-writer/producer Simon Kinberg, a producer with major credits on The Martian and recent X-Men films. (The duo previously teamed up on Logan.)

This hard confirmation was put into context by the Hollywood press. Both outlets also mentioned in the same breath that a standalone Obi-Wan Kenobi film, which they reported being in development back in August, still doesn't have a writer attached.

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Essential cancels its next smartphone, future of the company in doubt

May 25, 2018 - 5:36pm

Enlarge / The Essential Phone.

It sounds like the Essential Phone is dead. A report from Bloomberg says the smartphone startup has "cancelled" its next smartphone. The company, which was once valued at a billion dollars before ever shipping a product, is now "considering selling itself."

Essential introduced itself to the public in 2017 as a new technology company founded by Andy Rubin, co-founder of Google's Android OS. Its first product was the Essential Phone, a high-end, slim bezel smartphone with a notched screen and ceramic body. The Essential Phone launched in September 2017 with a pretty bad first impression. The phone was delayed three months from its original launch window, and early customers had their private information leaked by Essential customer support, an incident Rubin called "humiliating." The phone was originally $699, but poor sales quickly led to a price drop of $200. Bloomberg says Essential sold "at least 150,000 to date, according to the person familiar with the company."

The Essential Phone was designed at a time when smartphone manufacturers all thought modular smartphones would be The Next Big Thing™. Along with MotorolaLG, Fairphone, and Google's Project Ara, Essential wanted to create a proprietary accessory ecosystem of products that could snap onto the phone. Like every other modular smartphone, Essential's modular system was a failure, and only one module was ever created for the Essential Phone: a $200 360-degree camera. The camera was low resolution, bulky, and hot. It was so hot that it had an actual cooling fan inside the camera that would spin up when you took 360-degree pictures.

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Trade group prez: Loot box regulation “challenges our freedom to innovate”

May 25, 2018 - 4:54pm

Unlike this ceramic replica, video game loot boxes are not filled with real candy. (credit: ThinkGeek)

As governments around the world enact or consider regulations that would treat randomized video game loot box purchases as gambling, Entertainment Software Association President Michael Gallagher defended loot boxes as just an example of innovative and creative new monetization models his member publishers are trying.

Gallagher made his first extensive public comments on the loot box issue in a speech at the Nordic Game Conference this week (quoted extensively by GamesIndustry.biz). At the event, he said the game industry is "really, really good at... engag[ing] consumers, and build[ing] a business model around our products that is dynamic, exciting and, at the end of the day, profitable... in a way where the gamers are pleased with how we interact with them." Government regulation of loot boxes, on the other hand, "challenges our industry's freedom to innovate, and impairs our ability to continuously test new business models, which drive creativity and engagement with our audience."

Noting that loot box-style mechanisms have existed in games for a long time, Gallagher suggested that gamers can essentially vote on the practice with their wallets; a form of "the consumer telling you if something is right or wrong by their participation... Those that get it right will be rewarded," he said. "Those that don't won't."

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Google zooms by Amazon in smart speaker shipments, report says

May 25, 2018 - 4:15pm

Enlarge / A Google Home smart speaker.

Google surpassed Amazon in global smart speaker shipments in the first quarter of 2018, according to a report this week from research firm Canalys.

Canalys says Google shipped 3.2 million Google Home and Home Mini speakers over the course of the quarter. Amazon, meanwhile, is said to have shipped 2.5 million Echo speakers.

According to the report, Google jumped from taking 19.3 percent of smart speaker shipments in Q1 2017 to 36.2 percent this past quarter. Amazon accounted for a whopping 79.6 percent of shipments in the year-ago quarter but fell to 27.7 percent in Q1 2018, the report says.

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Court docs show Apple knew about the bendiness of the iPhone 6, 6 Plus

May 25, 2018 - 3:35pm

Enlarge (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Newly released court documents reveal just how much Apple apparently knew about the iPhone 6's and 6 Plus' propensity to bend. A report by Motherboard shows parts of the documents that were made public by US District Court Judge Lucy Koh (most of the documents remain sealed), and they say Apple's internal testing found that iPhone 6 and 6 Plus models were indeed bendier than previous iPhones.

"The iPhone 6 was 3.3 times more likely to bend than the iPhone 5s" and "the iPhone 6 Plus was 7.2 times more likely to bend than the iPhone 5s," the document states. Judge Koh wrote that "one of the major concerns Apple Identified prior to launching the iPhones was that they were 'likely to bend more easily when compared to previous generations.'"

Flashback to Bendgate

The bending issues with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus date back to shortly after the phones' release in September 2014. Many users reported their new smartphones bending easily from regular use, like sticking the phone in their back pocket. At the time, Apple highlighted the vigorous testing it puts handsets through before release, including a three-point bending test.

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What exactly are “preppers” prepping for?

May 25, 2018 - 3:10pm

Enlarge / For a prepper, this is badly undergoing it. (credit: California Public Health)

"Prepping," or getting ready to live without societal support, is apparently a largely American activity, and a recent one. Companies that cater to people who want to be self-reliant for food, water, and power have grown their revenue by about 700 percent over the last decade, and prepper products are now offered in places like Costco, Kmart, and Bed Bath & Beyond.

But it's not at all clear what's driving this growth—why are more people getting ready for society's collapse? Some explanations focus on a tendency toward paranoia in American society or fears of terrorism or natural disaster. But actual evidence that directly supports any of these ideas as the main reason is pretty sparse.

So Michael Mills at the UK's University of Kent decided to correct this gap in our knowledge. Mills went on an American road trip, spending time talking to (and butchering animals with) 39 preppers in 18 different US states. Rather than rampant paranoia, Mills suggests, preppers are motivated by non stop media coverage of natural disasters, as well as a government that encourages them to prepare for the worst.

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These clever students have turned the Camaro into a hybrid sports car

May 25, 2018 - 12:15pm

EcoCAR 3 / Flickr

Ever looked at your car and thought "I bet I could improve its engineering"? That's the challenge for the student teams that participate in EcoCAR 3, a competition sponsored by General Motors and the US Department of Energy. Run by Argonne National Laboratory, it's a four-year program that has had each team take the conventionally powered Camaro sports car and turn it into a high-performance hybrid. When we last checked in with EcoCAR 3 back in 2016—halfway through the run—The Ohio State University was leading the pack. Earlier this month, the Buckeyes did it again, taking top honors in the fourth and final year of the competition.

EcoCAR 3 is the latest in a long-running series of Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions sponsored by the Department of Energy. The first, the Methanol Marathon, took place between 1988 and 1989 and involved 15 teams from North American colleges and universities, each of which had to convert 1988 Chevrolet Corsicas to use alcohol as a fuel. Subsequent ATVCs saw student teams convert vehicles to use natural gas or propane, add hybrid systems, or just boost fuel efficiency.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Rocket report: China goes lunar, Antares flies, and a 140-ton Sea Serpent

May 25, 2018 - 12:00pm

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 the first edition of the Rocket Report! This collaborative effort with readers of Ars Technica seeks to diversify our coverage of the blossoming launch industry. It 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.

Another small booster company tests its engine. In a key step toward developing its Intrepid booster, Rocket Crafters has test fired a small-scale engine for 10 seconds. Florida Today reports the company's engine runs on a plastic-based hybrid fuel and that the Intrepid rocket could begin launching as soon as 2020. Under present designs, the Intrepid will carry up to half a ton into low Earth orbit. Rocket Crafters has already won a $650,000 contract from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency to help develop a larger 5,000-pound thrust engine.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

HP Spectre 15 x360 2018 review: Made better by standard 4K, great battery life

May 25, 2018 - 11:45am

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

A 15-inch laptop will rarely top anyone's list of the most comfortably portable PCs out there. However, portability is just one benefit that laptops and convertibles have. Last year, HP introduced its Spectre x360 15, a high-end convertible made for artists, creative professionals, and the like. The company updated that device this year and fixed our biggest problem with an otherwise solid two-in-one: the new model features a quad-core Intel CPU and Nvidia's MX150 graphics chip.

Those improvements alone should make the new Spectre x360 15 an improvement over its predecessor, but HP also made other small changes to up the convertible's game. With a standard 4K display, claimed 13-hours of battery life, and an optional upgrade to an Intel hexa-core processor and Radeon RX Vega M graphics, the new Spectre x360 15 could be the two-in-one to get for creatives, media lovers, and workaholics who crave powerful, well-rounded performance in addition to portability and style.

Look and feel

HP's newest big two-in-one is a leaner-looking version of last year's model. If you're familiar with the updates the company dished out to its Spectre line in the past few months, you'll recognize the changes in the new Spectre x360 15. Its edges are narrower and sharper than before, its CNC aluminum body has that sleek dark-ash finish with copper accents along its edges, hinges, and lid, and its speaker grilles have been moved to the top of the keyboard to allow more space for the new numeric pad on the right side. The geared hinges stick out when compared to the previous model's hinges—not only do they gleam with their all-copper finish, but their internal gears mesh together when you open and close the machine's lid. This makes for smoother movement and increased longevity. The hinges are also quite supportive no matter which position you're using the Spectre x360 15 in, be it laptop, tent, tablet, or another.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple has rejected iOS version of Steam Link app, Valve says

May 25, 2018 - 1:49am

Enlarge / A screenshot from the beta version of the Steam Link app, which has been denied approval by Apple. (credit: Steam)

Valve says Apple has denied approval for the iOS version of its Steam Link app—which allows users to stream PC games from a computer on the same home network—after Apple initially approved the app earlier this month.

"On Monday, May 7, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release," Valve said in a statement sent to Ars. "On Wednesday, May 9, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team."

Valve says it appealed that decision on the basis that "the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store." That includes an official Windows Remote Desktop app from Microsoft, third-party apps from LogMeIn and GoToMyPC, and many more. There are even streaming apps for iOS which use Nvidia's GameStream technology to remotely play titles running on a PC, just like the Steam Link app.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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