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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 56 min 3 sec ago

Gender confirmation surgeries rose 20% in the last two years

1 hour 9 min ago

Enlarge / Gearah Goldstein speaks with her plastic surgeon, Dr. Loren Schechter, about her gender confirmation surgery. (credit: ASPS)

Gender confirmation procedures are on the rise in the US, doctors reported Monday.

Surgeons performed 3,200 transfeminine and transmasculine procedures in 2016, according to new data from the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). That’s nearly a 20 percent increase from numbers in 2015, when the ASPS began tracking the procedures, the society says.

Gender confirmation surgeries encompass a variety of procedures, including those that contour or transform the face, chest, or genitals. “There is no one-size-fits-all approach to gender confirmation," Loren Schechter, a board-certified plastic surgeon based in Chicago, said in a statement. "There's a wide spectrum of surgeries that someone may choose to treat gender dysphoria, which is a disconnect between how an individual feels and what that person's anatomic characteristics are."

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Lawyer who founded Prenda Law is disbarred

1 hour 20 min ago

Enlarge / John L. Steele, photographed in Chicago in 2010. (credit: Nancy Stone/Chicago Tribune/MCT via Getty Images)

John Steele, one of the masterminds behind the Prenda Law "copyright trolling" scheme, has been disbarred. Court papers indicate that Steele agreed to the disbarment, which was announced by the Illinois Supreme Court on Friday.

Steele pled guilty in March to federal fraud and money laundering charges. Over the course of several years, Steele said he and a co-defendant, Paul Hansmeier, made more than $6 million with "sham entities" that threatened Internet users with copyright lawsuits.

Along with Hansmeier and a now-deceased attorney named Paul Duffy, Steele "conspired to extort settlement funds from thousands of Internet users in a multi-jurisdictional copyright litigation scheme," Illinois attorney regulators said in a statement of charges. "Specifically, they attempted to exact settlements from users who allegedly infringed on the copyrights of certain pornographic movies, including movies that Mr. Steele himself produced and distributed."

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Japan, China have extracted methane hydrate from the seafloor

1 hour 42 min ago

Enlarge / A photo from the China Geological Survey. The researchers extracted methane hydrate from the bottom of the South China Sea. (credit: China Geological Survey)

This month, teams from Japan and China have successfully extracted methane hydrate, a hydrocarbon gas trapped in a structure of water molecules, off the seafloor. The substance looks like ice but can be set on fire, and it’s energy-dense—one cubic meter of methane hydrate can contain 160 cubic meters of gas.

This makes searching for methane hydrate an attractive research project for several countries. According to the Department of Energy, methane hydrates are abundant on the seafloor and under permafrost, and they contain “perhaps more organic carbon that all the world’s oil, gas, and coal combined.”

Such vast reserves of fossil fuels are untapped because of how difficult it is to extract them. As a 2012 post from the Energy Information Agency (EIA) stated, until recently, methane hydrates “provided more problems than solutions.” Preventing their formation around deepwater oil and gas drilling operations has been a crucial part of planning ocean wells. The “ice” substance that contains the gas generally can’t just be picked up off the seafloor because it disintegrates outside of its high-pressure environment. The South China Morning Post wrote that current extraction efforts involve machinery “to depressurize or melt [the methane hydrate] on the sea bed and channel the gas to the surface.”

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Nissan Leaf EV enters 10,000-mile Mongol Rally

2 hours 30 min ago


With the public charging infrastructure for electric cars expanding apace and Tesla Superchargers popping up like mushrooms, the concept of driving a few hundred miles in an EV is no longer as absurd a suggestion as it was just a couple of years ago. But ten thousand miles across Europe and central Asia? Come on now.

That’s exactly what Chris Ramsey of Plug In Adventures plans to do, entering an all-electric Nissan Leaf in the 2017 Mongol Rally charity run. It’s the first time an electric vehicle has entered the event.

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Bludgeoned by orcs: What it’s like to die repeatedly in Shadow of War

2 hours 40 min ago

Enlarge / Like my father always said, it's always easier to climb a tower while riding a fire-breathing beast. (credit: WB Interactive / Monolith)

LOS ANGELES—Having played a fair amount of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor, I thought I knew what I was in for with its upcoming sequel, Shadow of War. The badass, "slay orcs all around" hero of the first game, Talion, returns with some supernatural twists. You'll use his new slate of dark superpowers against an even tougher crowd of Tolkien-inspired monsters.

At recent Shadow of War preview events, the series' developers at Monolith have loudly hinted at one of the game's major new concepts: leadership. Now that your ranger hero is infused with former rival Celebrimbor's dark-elf powers, he can dominate orcs and conscript them to his own army. You'll need the monsters' help to invade and overthrow evil war chiefs at various fortresses and camps. These battlegrounds are packed full of powerful orc foes who remember you, and this idea builds upon SoM's "nemesis" system of persistent enemies.

But only last week did Monolith let a particular cat (or orc?) out of the bag: how bleedin' hard this Lord of the Rings adventure game's sequel will be.

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Facebook content moderation guidelines leaked

2 hours 50 min ago

Enlarge / A wall of user photos form a Facebook logo at the company's data center in Lulea, Sweden. (credit: JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images)

Just as the Tories—in their bid to form the next UK government—push for greater policing of free content ad networks, a trove of documents revealing the secret guidelines used by Facebook's moderators to deal with posts from child abuse to suicide to terrorist propaganda has been leaked online.

The Guardian published the Facebook files on Sunday night. It reported some disturbing findings about what can and can't be moderated on Facebook, after the newspaper was passed more than 100 internal training manuals that included spreadsheets and flowcharts on how the Mark Zuckerberg-run company deals with hate speech, violence, self-harm, and a whole range of other issues.

So, it's absolutely fine—under Facebook rules—to leave up a violent, deeply misogynistic post that reads: "To snap a bitch's neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of the throat." Likewise for comments such as "kick a person with red hair," or "let's beat up fat kids." But one that carries a message such as "Someone shoot Trump" is banned from the site, with moderators being advised to remove such a post.

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HP gives Envy laptops an edgier look, updates Spectre x2 with Kaby Lake CPUs

2 hours 55 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

HP announced a slew of updates to its Envy laptop line today, in addition to a mildly revamped Spectre x2. Many of these changes focus on elevating overall design, but in a practical way that doesn't impede the power and efficiency of each device. Slimmer bezels, bold edges, and USB Type-C abound, giving way to a more modern-looking Envy family and Spectre x2.

Envy’s new edges

Envy laptops and convertibles are getting welcome improvements: in particular, the Envy 13 looks quite different now than when Ars' Andrew Cunningham reviewed it last year. The most striking difference is the hinge, which now sports a shiny, sharp edge branded with the Envy name. Compared to the previous model's rounded hinge, this looks and feels more premium, and it still lifts the laptop slightly off its surface to allow better airflow.

Although it maintains that lift-hinge and tapered design, the new Envy 13 is thinner and lighter than its predecessor, measuring .55-inches thick and weighing 2.7 pounds. Combine its new edginess with its all-metal construction and you have a laptop that appears better positioned to take on devices like the Dell XPS 13.

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Diving deep into the world of emergent gravity

4 hours 11 min ago

Enlarge / The Bullet Cluster, which has been viewed as a demonstration of dark matter. (credit: APOD)


The Universe is a strange place. Apart from the normal matter that we see around us, there appears to be a far larger amount of matter that we cannot see—the infamous dark matter. Even more puzzling, the Universe seems to be bathed in a similarly invisible dark energy, which drives the Universe to expand faster and faster. This all points to something missing from our understanding. At the moment, we tend to think that dark matter is something missing from quantum mechanics, a particle that provides dark matter. Dark energy seems to be more gravity related.

But it's possible the two are linked. According to Professor Erik Verlinde from the University of Amsterdam, it may be that dark matter does not exist. His work indicates that in a Universe with dark energy (a positive cosmological constant), gravity does not exactly follow general relativity. His preliminary calculations indicate that the difference between general relativity and his work may provide forces that we currently ascribe to dark matter.

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Moon Express chairman believes his team’s “ready to go for the end of this year”

May 21, 2017 - 4:00pm

Chatting up MoonExpress co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain (video link)

NEW ORLEANS—The day before we talked with Moon Express co-founder and chairman Naveen Jain, he sat on the Collision Conference mainstage next to a HoloLens-clad Robert Scoble. The successful investor Jain and the enthusiastic tech-evangelist Scoble chatted about “Startups as a Superpower,” exploring what it means if a private business—and not another nation-state—becomes the fourth entity to reach the Moon. And while the challenge definitely carries an inherent amount of glory, Jain believes a startup will have the next Armstrong moment for one familiar reason.

“[Successful entrepreneurs] have to look at what problems we want to solve—tech is a means to an end, and profit is a motivator,” he said. “If I want to create a $10 billion business, I need to solve a problem that affects at least one billion people.”

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LG Gram review: Amazingly light laptop either needs to be cheaper or better

May 21, 2017 - 3:00pm

Andrew Cunningham

We live in uncertain times, but when it comes to laptops, we’re actually pretty spoiled these days. The low-end still has plenty of junky machines, but buying good, thoughtfully designed computers for $700 and up is also easier than ever.

That means that sweating the details is more important than ever. A thin-and-light design, a nice IPS screen, a non-terrible keyboard and trackpad, and a good (and/or forward-looking) port selection can all be expected from a high-end laptop these days. So purchasing decisions and recommendations increasingly come down to the little things.

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Review: Running or not, you’ll want the Polar M430 on your wrist

May 21, 2017 - 2:00pm

Video shot/edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

Polar continues to improve on its existing running watches with the new M430 tracker. It's an upgrade to the M400 in many subtle ways, including an improved accelerometer, longer battery life, and the inclusion of Polar's own optical heart-rate monitor. Although it's positioned as a runner's watch, you can do much more with the M430 thanks to Polar's sport profiles. But runners will appreciate the convenience of having an accelerometer that can handle indoor and outdoor activities well, an onboard heart-rate monitor, and a GPS that doesn't make you wait when you're ready to run now. While it has stiff competition in the TomTom Spark 3, Polar's device combines enough essential features to hold its own.


Although the M430 has all-day activity tracking features, its design is best suited for training sessions. It has that rounded-rectangular shape many other Polar devices have, featuring two left-side buttons for the screen backlight and navigating back, and three right-side buttons for scrolling up and down and selecting options on the display. Physical buttons are easier to use (and more accurate) than a touchscreen would be on a serious training device, so I don't mind having them on the M430. In fact, I would have preferred them on the TomTom Spark 3 instead of its awkward touchpad below the display.

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Doctor Who review: The Time Lord goes in search of the truth in Extremis

May 21, 2017 - 3:05am

Enlarge (credit: Simon Ridgway/BBC)

This is a post-UK broadcast review of Doctor Who: Extremis. River Song always warned the Doctor against spoilers, so be sure to watch the episode first. Doctor Who, season 10, airs on Saturdays at 7:25pm UK time on BBC One, and 9pm EDT on BBC America.

Doctor Who showrunner Steven Moffat clearly wants to go out in style: might he achieve that plan with a trilogy—starting with Extremis—that brings us mysterious new enemies known only as The Monks, who are plotting to conquer Earth with the help of a simulated computer game?

VR might not have taken off in the real world yet and, in my view, looks set to join the '80s versions of the headsets in the Woolworths bargain bin (remember that?). But in Extremis, the tech is used imaginatively to create a nightmarish vision that aligns with space billionaire Elon Musk's insistence that there's a "one in billions" chance we're not living in a simulated universe.

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Gallery: War aircraft through the lens of a US Army training manual

May 20, 2017 - 7:00pm

A US Army manual updated this month stresses that soldiers should not solely rely on technology when detecting enemy aircraft. Soldiers, the Army said, must possess a skill the manual calls "Visual Aircraft Recognition" (VACR). That's military-speak for being able to determine the type of aircraft one might encounter—all in an effort to distinguish between friend and foe "to decrease any chance of fratricide."

"VACR is a highly perishable skill and must be trained on and evaluated regularly in conjunction with table training. While it is the Soldier on the ground, weapon system in hand that is executing VACR, leaders at all levels must be proficient at this skill," according to the manual, (PDF) Visual Aircraft Recognition.

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Windows 7, not XP, was the reason last week’s WCry worm spread so widely

May 20, 2017 - 6:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Kaspersky Lab)

Eight days ago, the WCry ransomware worm attacked more than 200,000 computers in 150 countries. The outbreak prompted infected hospitals to turn away patients and shut down computers in banks and telecoms. Now that researchers have had time to analyze the self-replicating attack, they're learning details that shed new and sometimes surprising light on the world's biggest ransomware attack.

Chief among the revelations: more than 97 percent of infections hit computers running Windows 7, according to attacks seen by antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab. By contrast, infected Windows XP machines were practically non-existent, and those XP PCs that were compromised were likely manually infected by their owners for testing purposes. That's according to Costin Raiu, director of Kaspersky Lab's Global Research and Analysis Team, who spoke to Ars.

While the estimates are based only on computers that run Kaspersky software, as opposed to all computers on the Internet, there's little question Windows 7 was overwhelmingly affected by WCry, which is also known as "WannaCry" and "WannaCrypt." Security ratings firm BitSight found that 67 percent of infections hit Windows 7, Reuters reported.

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Cowabunga! Playing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ new sewer-crawl board game

May 20, 2017 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / Prepare to kick some shell! (credit: Brady Dale)

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at—and let us know what you think.

The first afternoon I played the new board game, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shadows of the Past, my friends and I had been ninja fighting for an hour before someone realized that Leonardo had a special ability: he could flip right over the heads of two street toughs to prevent them from getting away. My friend was so excited by this revelation that he grabbed the Leo figure and played-acted a physical flip up and over the thugs. Turtle power!

Shadows of the Past comes from IDW Games, the gaming division of the same company publishing the latest iteration of the Turtles’ comic books. The game is built around its own simple narrative that covers 16 possible battles. One player controls the Big Bad, Shredder, and oversees all the villain action in the game, while all other players control the four Turtles.

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Windows 10 S: no command line apps, free Pro upgrades for assistive tech users

May 20, 2017 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / The Windows 10 S default wallpaper is a rather attractive simplified version of the Windows 10 default wallpaper. (credit: Microsoft)

While still not out yet, we're learning a little more about what Windows 10 S, the imminent version of Windows 10 that'll run Store apps but nothing more, will and won't be able to do.

First, a thing 10 S won't do: run command-line applications. CMD and PowerShell, the two built-in Windows command-line interfaces, won't be supported. Neither will the Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) that allows the use of Linux software on Windows. The rationale is that the built-in command-line applications include dangerous tools (for example, the diskpart partitioning program) that can break things, and the Store has no third-party command-line tools at all. To keep Windows 10 S protected against user error, they're all prohibited.

Oddly, at Microsoft's Windows 10 S launch event, I was successfully able to run both CMD and PowerShell on a number of the Windows 10 S machines that were on display. Although the obvious ways of launching these things were removed (no entry in the Start menu or the Win-X menu, for example), the programs themselves did run. Leaked builds of Windows 10 S do appear to properly prevent their execution.

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Once an astronaut, now Mike Massimino can’t wait to be a space tourist

May 20, 2017 - 2:00pm

Ars interviews an astronaut! (video link)

NEW ORLEANS—Mike Massimino wanted to be an astronaut ever since Neil Armstrong inspired the former six-year-old. He obsessed over space so much, in fact, his mom once converted an elephant costume from Massimino’s first-grade play into his official flight suit.

“She cut the tail off and made it an astronaut,” he said while sharing a vintage Polaroid on stage at this year’s Collision Conference. “I didn’t have any friends apparently, so Snoopy was my copilot.”

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The PicoBrew Pico: Getting closer to a counter-top beer-making machine

May 20, 2017 - 1:30pm

Two cold beers, ready for drinking and not spitting out. (credit: Megan Geuss)

I’m in my mother’s kitchen in Los Angeles drinking a beer with my sister on a hot spring afternoon. The beer is a bready, hoppy IPA without any overwhelming flavors that would make you think too hard. The alcohol content is acceptable. The brew is properly carbonated and doesn’t taste flat. This beer isn’t going to win any awards, but I could serve it to friends and family without having to apologize for it. In short, it’s easy drinking, something you can have a conversation over.

The beer, however, came from a beer-making machine on my countertop, which was why the overwhelming averageness of the brew instead felt amazing. Maybe that’s a low bar to clear in order to merit applause, but given my past experience with the PicoBrew Zymatic, it felt appropriate.

In 2015, I reviewed the Zymatic, a large machine that was supposed to help brewers cook up their wort automatically—but the fermentation process was largely left in the hands of the Zymatic owner. I produced two below-average beers, perhaps owing to the heatwave I was brewing in at the time (the temperatures surely killed off some yeast). But another part of the problem with the Zymatic was that it combined a machine-driven brewing process with the traditionally hands-on fermentation, bottling, and carbonating processes. It was hardly the “set-it-and-forget-it” appliance that I expected.

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F1 2017 is due in August, and classic F1 cars are back on the menu

May 20, 2017 - 12:00pm


When it comes to racing games, Codemasters' F1 2016 was my biggest surprise of last year. Here was an F1 game that was tricky to master yet engaging and fun. More fun than watching the actual 2016 F1 season, in many regards. The actual sport has had quite a few big changes this year—new ownership is bringing in fresh ideas, and the cars are quite a bit faster thanks to tires that aren't intentionally rubbish. As a result, Lee Mather's team at Codemasters has had to do the same with F1 2017, which arrives for the PC (via Steam), PS4, and Xbox One on August 25.

To be honest, if they'd stopped there, I imagine the game would still be plenty of fun based on how much I enjoyed the last installment. (Words i never thought I'd write, given my past history with F1 games.) But wait, there's more. If you've been watching F1 for a while now, you probably think things were better in the olden days—for some value of "olden days" that probably corresponds to around the time you first got hooked on the sport. If so, I've got some good news for you. For the first time in four years, classic F1 cars are making their in-game return.

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The Arctic seed vault had to deal with melting permafrost last winter

May 19, 2017 - 11:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Mari Tefre/Svalbard Globale frøhvelv)

In Arctic Svalbard, there is a vault that might sound like a sci-fi plot device. Completed in 2008, the Global Seed Vault is a remote archive for safeguarding seeds for thousands of crop varieties. If anything dramatic should happen elsewhere around the world, we want these seeds to be there.

The vault consists of a giant freezer room bored into a mountain, protected by the bedrock around it and the permafrost above it. But according to a report in The Guardian, the vault experienced an unhappy surprise recently—melting permafrost in winter.

The Arctic just experienced its second-warmest winter on record (surpassed only by 2016), and Svalbard saw remarkable temperatures and even rain. In fact, Svalbard averaged more than 4 °C above even the 2004-2013 average.

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