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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 16 min ago

Early Snapdragon 835 benchmarks show mixed results from semi-custom design

1 hour 25 min ago

(credit: Qualcomm)

When it announced the Snapdragon 835, Qualcomm promised that the latest in its family of ARM systems-on-chips would boost performance by 27 percent with a 40 percent reduction in power consumption. The first early benchmarks of the processor that Qualcomm doesn't want us to call a processor have been run and the results are... well, they're a little uneven.

Anandtech went to Qualcomm's San Diego headquarters and was shown the 835 running in a hardware platform reference—a basic smartphone built around the chip that serves as a platform for hardware testing and software development. During this visit, they were able to run a handful of basic benchmarks to gauge the performance of the new chip.

Naively, one would assume that Snapdragon 835 would be faster than the 820/821 that went before it. 835 is, after all, a higher number than 820, and higher numbers usually mean better when it comes to processors. But the situation with the 835 is more complicated than that. In the early days of the modern smartphone era, Qualcomm's 32-bit ARM Snapdragon chips were generally best-in-class. While many ARM chips use core designs that are developed by ARM itself in the UK, Qualcomm did something different; it had a pair of custom designs, Scorpion in 2008 and Krait in 2012, developed in house. These designs were broadly superior to ARM's Cortex-A8, A9, and A15 designs that other companies were using.

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With racy sperm pics on a smartphone, men can easily test fertility

March 22, 2017 - 11:04pm

Enlarge / The smartphone-based semen analyzer tests for male infertility in seconds from the privacy of home with a 3D-printed setup costing less than $5, which can analyze most semen samples in less than 5 seconds. (credit: Vignesh Natarajan)

The male equivalent of the at-home pregnancy test may have just landed.

With a simple smartphone device and a chip that slurps up sperm, men can easily and cheaply measure the count and motility of their swimmers. The test is about 98 percent accurate, takes less than five seconds, and requires no training to run, Harvard researchers report Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine. It’s also cheap—the device and the microfluidic chip cost just $4.45 total to manufacture.

Researchers are hopeful that the invention will help couples trying to have children—as well as those trying not to. Worldwide, it's estimated that more than 30 million men face fertility issues at some point. And couples in developing countries or remote areas may not have easy access to fertility clinics. On the flip side, those who undergo vasectomies are encouraged to monitor their sperm counts afterward to make sure the procedure worked. A simple, mobile phone-based test could help both groups.

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The arcade world’s first Easter egg discovered after fraught journey

March 22, 2017 - 10:15pm

(credit: Arcade Flyer Archive)

The historical record of video games received a strange shake-up on Wednesday from Ed Fries, the ex-Microsoft executive who had a huge part in the creation of the original Xbox. Fries took to his personal blog, which typically covers the world of retro gaming, to announce a zany discovery: he had found the world's earliest known arcade game Easter egg.

His hunt began with a tip from Atari game programmer Ron Milner about the 1977 game Starship 1. This tip seemingly came out of nowhere, as the duo were talking about an entirely different '70s arcade game, Gran Trak 10, which Fries was researching separately. Starship, Milner said, had a few special twists that didn't all make it to market, but one did: a secret message to players. The game would display "Hi Ron!" if players put in the right combination of button commands. This type of thing is better known to gaming fans as an Easter egg, and more than a few Atari games had them as a way to include the developer's name (which Atari never put in games or on cabinets).

Milner didn't tell anyone at Atari about the secret message for 30 years, he told Fries, and one reason is because he'd forgotten how to trigger it.

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17,000 AT&T technicians and call center workers go on strike

March 22, 2017 - 10:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Mike Mozart)

About 17,000 AT&T wireline technicians and call center employees went on strike in California and Nevada today while filing an unfair labor charge to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) alleging that AT&T violated federal law.

"The company has shown disrespect to the bargaining process by changing the work assignments of workers without bargaining as required by federal law," the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union said in its strike announcement. "Further, AT&T reneged on an agreement to resolve the dispute without any explanation."

The CWA said that AT&T "is asking its workers to do more for less—keeping them from their families with unpredictable overtime, undercutting pay and advancement, offshoring good jobs, and pushing more health care costs onto employees."

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Putting light in a spin generates a ring of fire on gold film

March 22, 2017 - 9:50pm

Enlarge / The evolution of the vortex over femtoseconds. (credit: Spektor et. al.)

The late 20th and early 21st century have seen a revolution in the study of light. Far from the old days of seeing things dimly through microscopes, we are now in the position to freeze light, use it to make materials transparent, and watch it spiral around on a gold surface.

Watching light do its thing is very difficult. This sounds a bit silly, as we observe the world through the effects of light. But what we actually see is an average effect. Light, shade, colors, and texture all come to us via the intensity of light, provided by lots of individual photons. We are in no position to see the femtosecond flickering of the field that averages to our spectacular view of the world.

All the interesting stuff we see is related to the amplitude and phase of the light field, though. And the amplitude of a light wave changes very fast, going through a complete cycle in two to three femtoseconds. The wavefront (phase) also travels very fast, moving around 300 nanometers every femtosecond. Tracking this sort of motion is tricky, but it reveals all sorts of intriguing stuff.

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The world’s first official gaming-company newsletter, now preserved online

March 22, 2017 - 9:20pm

Consider this your regularly scheduled reminder that the Internet Archive continues to host some of the coolest relics of nerd history. Now, the scan-and-upload team led by Jason Scott delivers quite the piece of video game nostalgia: the Atari Coin Connection.

Long before consumer magazines and fan newsletters ruled the industry, Atari's first publication launched in 1976 to an audience of businesses and arcade operators. The publication existed to simultaneously promote new arcade games and offer operator advice for existing machines, and full archives of the mostly black-and-white newsletter can now be accessed in the form of pristine scans. Scott confirmed to Ars that these scans have been sitting on other sites for roughly eight years. "I have been handed a pile of manuals, newsletters, and magazines today—about 20 gig—and while a lot were already on the Archive, a bunch weren't, so I'm reconciling that," Scott said to Ars via e-mail. As a result, they're bound to receive much more attention and love.

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Cheerleading company can get copyrights, pursue competitors, Supreme Court says

March 22, 2017 - 9:10pm


The Supreme Court issued a 5-2 opinion (PDF) today allowing cheerleading uniforms to be copyrighted. The case, Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, is expected to have broad effect in the fashion world and beyond. A group of 3D printing companies had also asked the high court to take up the case, asking for clarity on how to separate creative designs, which are copyrightable, from utilitarian objects that are not.

The case began when Varsity Brands, the world's largest manufacturer of cheerleading and dance-team uniforms, accused Star Athletica of infringing its copyrighted designs. Star Athletica fought back in court, saying the chevrons and stripes on the uniforms had a utilitarian function—namely, to identify cheerleaders as cheerleaders. Noting that Varsity Brands had sued or acquired several other competitors, Star's lawyers complained that Varsity's aggressive litigation led to high uniform prices, "to the detriment of families everywhere."

The district court sided with Star, saying the designs couldn't be separated from the uniform's utilitarian function. But a panel of judges at the US Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit disagreed, saying there was no utilitarian need for stripes and chevrons and that "a plain white cheerleading top and plain white skirt still cover the body" and allow for jumps, kicks, and flips.

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Nintendo offering “simple fix” for disconnecting Switch controllers [Updated]

March 22, 2017 - 8:44pm

Enlarge / The small bit of foam in the lower-right corner is apparently the only thing needed to make a Nintendo Switch left Joy-Con start working perfectly. (credit: Sean Hollister / CNet)

Update: Nintendo of America has issued the following statement to Ars Technica that seems to confirm much of what was shown in the original CNET report:

There is no design issue with the Joy-Con controllers, and no widespread proactive repair or replacement effort is underway. A manufacturing variation has resulted in wireless interference with a small number of the left Joy-Con. Moving forward this will not be an issue, as the manufacturing variation has been addressed and corrected at the factory level.

We have determined a simple fix can be made to any affected Joy-Con to improve connectivity.

There are other reasons consumers may be experiencing wireless interference. We are asking consumers to contact our customer support team so we can help them determine if a repair is necessary. If it is, consumers can send their controller directly to Nintendo for the adjustment, free of charge, with an anticipated quick return of less than a week. Repair timing may vary by region. For help with any hardware or software questions, please visit

Original Story

After initial reviews of the Nintendo Switch noted widespread issues with the left Joy-Con occasionally losing its wireless connection to the console, hackers have found that opening up the controller and adding a simple piece of wire seems to increase its effective range greatly. Now, Nintendo is offering a similar fix to users who call in to its support line, and the company may be selling redesigned, fixed controllers at stores right now.

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Highlights doesn’t kid around when it comes to science and tech

March 22, 2017 - 8:11pm

Tony Shaff, 44 Pages

AUSTIN, Texas—If you ever attended a pediatric dentist or loved reading between the ages of two and 12, chances are good you've come across Highlights. The legacy kids' magazine turned 70 in the summer of 2016, and throughout the decades it has been a cultural constant. Everyone knows about hidden picture searches or the long-running Goofus and Gallant comic, but poetry from Lewis Carroll, Emily Dickinson, and Langston Hughes has also graced its pages (and unpublished submissions from the likes of Walter Cronkite sit in the archives). The Highlights brand has become such a part of the American fabric that it has been referenced in pop culture across decades, in everywhere from Beavis and Butthead to The Colbert Report, Mad Men, The SimpsonsBlackish, and Arrested Development.

If you haven't recently flipped through the magazine, Highlights will likely surprise you after all these years. A new documentary called 44 Pages (which is the magazine's constant size, since there's no advertising) chronicles Highlights' history, process, and philosophy in the run-up to its 70th anniversary edition in June 2016. At South by Southwest, the film showed that Highlights is a more complex publication than your younger-self ever recognized. Now, as it has done throughout its history, Highlights quietly packs real, grown-up science and tech into each issue as seamlessly as it hides a hammer within the bark of some illustrated tree.

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Formula 1 starts this weekend, and we still don’t know who’s going to win

March 22, 2017 - 7:40pm


Good news, everyone: the 2017 Formula 1 season starts this weekend. As has become tradition, the first race of the year is in Melbourne, Australia, meaning those of us in Europe or North America can expect a late night or very early morning. This will be the first year under new management—with Liberty having purchased F1 from CVC, ousting Bernie in the process—and also the first year for new aerodynamics regulations and new tires. The two preseason tests have come and gone, but yet again—and despite more than 20 years following the sport—I still have no idea who's going to come out on top.

Black and round

The principal complaint about F1 in recent years—along with inaudible engines, exorbitant ticket prices, and the boredom of overwhelming Mercedes domination—has been the Pirelli tires. Specifically, it's about the tires' inability to cope with more than one heat cycle. With most racing slicks, if you push too hard and overheat the tire, backing off for a few corners lets them cool down, and everything goes back to normal. But when the F1 Pirellis of the past few years overheat, they're ruined. (It's possible this is caused by a particular chemical used in the manufacturing process that makes the tire compound extrudable.) That won't be the case this year; now the tires will suffer little to no drop-off or degradation, so expect a lot of one-stop strategies, at least for the first few races.

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Pope cautions youths about social media’s “false image of reality”

March 22, 2017 - 7:10pm

Enlarge / Pope Francis holds his homily during his weekly audience Wednesday in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City, Vatican.

Pope Francis is warning the world's youth to be wary of the "false image of reality" portrayed in social media and on reality television shows.

In a written message the Vatican issued Tuesday, the pontiff cautioned followers not to let the Internet dilute the church's message. The speech will be released in video format on World Youth Day on April 9.

"History teaches us that even when the Church has to sail on stormy seas, the hand of God guides her and helps her to overcome moments of difficulty. The genuine experience of the Church is not like a flash mob, where people agree to meet, do their thing, and then go their separate ways," Francis wrote.

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“Startlingly effective” TV ads for testosterone helped lead to over-prescription

March 22, 2017 - 6:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Marc Bruxelle)

With little evidence of health benefits, television advertisements for testosterone were very successful at persuading men to seek treatments for a questionable disorder, a new study in JAMA suggests. The potent commercials may have been a significant driver in the boom in testosterone use, which launched sales ten-fold in the US between 2000 and 2011.

The study, led by researchers at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, examined insurance claims of around 17.2 million American men in 75 television markets between 2009 to 2013. During that time, more than a million of the men got their testosterone levels tested and more than 283,000 started treatment.

Looking at advertising patterns, the researchers calculated that a single ad aired to a million men was linked to 14 new tests, five new prescriptions following testing, and two new prescriptions given without testing. Ad exposure varied by market, with some seeing as many as 200 ads during the study period.

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“Dig once” bill could bring fiber Internet to much of the US

March 22, 2017 - 6:38pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | tiero)

Years in the making, a proposal to mandate the installation of fiber conduits during federally funded highway projects might be gaining some new momentum.

If the US adopts a "dig once" policy, construction workers would install conduits just about any time they build new roads and sidewalks or upgrade existing ones. These conduits are plastic pipes that can house fiber cables. The conduits might be empty when installed, but their presence makes it a lot cheaper and easier to install fiber later, after the road construction is finished.

The idea is an old one. US Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) has been proposing dig once legislation since 2009, and it has widespread support from broadband-focused consumer advocacy groups. It has never made it all the way through Congress, but it has bipartisan backing from lawmakers who often disagree on the most controversial broadband policy questions, such as net neutrality and municipal broadband. It even got a boost from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), who has frequently clashed with Democrats and consumer advocacy groups over broadband—her "Internet Freedom Act" would wipe out the Federal Communications Commission's net neutrality rules, and she supports state laws that restrict growth of municipal broadband.

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Japanese company develops a solar cell with record-breaking 26%+ efficiency

March 22, 2017 - 5:28pm

A solar cell with 26.3 percent efficiency. (credit: Photovoltaic & Thin Film Research Laboratories (Kaneka corporation))

Solar panels are cheaper than ever these days, but installation costs can still be considerable for homeowners. More efficient solar panels can recapture the cost of their installation more quickly, so making panels that are better at converting sunlight into electricity is a key focus of solar research and development.

The silicon-based cells that make up a solar panel have a theoretical efficiency limit of 29 percent, but so far that number has proven elusive. Practical efficiency rates in the low-20-percent range have been considered very good for commercial solar panels. But researchers with Japanese chemical manufacturer Kaneka Corporation have built a solar cell with a photo conversion rate of 26.3 percent, breaking the previous record of 25.6 percent. Although it’s just a 2.7 percent increase in efficiency, improvements in commercially viable solar cell technology are increasingly hard-won.

Not only that, but the researchers noted in their paper that after they submitted their article to Nature Energy, they were able to further optimize their solar cell to achieve 26.6 percent efficiency. That result has been recognized by the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL).

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Elon Musk on new NASA legislation: “This bill changes almost nothing”

March 22, 2017 - 2:09pm

Enlarge / SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk talks with White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon at a Policy Forum in February. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

SpaceX founder Elon Musk criticizes NASA and Congress in public only very rarely—which isn't surprising given that NASA has supported his company with more than $3 billion in contracts for cargo and crew delivery to the International Space Station. But he broke that rule on Tuesday night when asked on Twitter about the new NASA authorization legislation.

"This bill changes almost nothing about what NASA is doing. Existing programs stay in place and there is no added funding for Mars," Musk tweeted. "Perhaps there will be some future bill that makes a difference for Mars, but this is not it," he added.

Musk is absolutely correct on two counts. First, an "authorization" bill does not provide funding. That comes from appropriations committees. Secondly, while Congress has been interested in building rockets and spacecraft, it is far less interested in investing in the kinds of technology and research that would actually enable a full-fledged Mars exploration program.

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Huawei updates Mate 9 handsets with incomplete Alexa integration

March 22, 2017 - 2:01pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Google Now isn't the only digital assistant available on Huawei's Mate 9 anymore. Today, the company announced an over-the-air update that will bring Amazon's Alexa to all Mate 9 smartphones. The move comes not even a week after Amazon updated its Shopping app for iOS to include Alexa, allowing Apple smartphone users access to the assistant even if they don't own an Alexa-enabled Amazon device.

Alexa won't interfere with Google Now, the default digital assistant on Android smartphones, primarily because using Alexa on a Mate 9 requires two apps: the Huawei Alexa app and the Amazon Alexa app. The Amazon Alexa is necessary when you buy an Echo, Tap, or other Amazon smart home device, and without a device, it lets you install Alexa Skills and set preferences for the digital assistant. Huawei's Alexa app, on the other hand, is simply a controller—you need to launch this app before you can ask Alexa anything.

This is similar to how Alexa works on an iOS device: you need to open the Amazon Shopping app, tap the microphone button, and then wake Alexa with a command. Both tout the on-the-go usage of Alexa thanks to this kind of integration, but while you can use Alexa anywhere you can bring your smartphone, it's certainly not a hands-free service. Huawei hasn't ruled out the possibility of hotword recognition, which would allow the handset to "hear" you asking Alexa for help even when the app isn't open, but that feature isn't available right now.

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Galaxy Tab S3 review: The high price of a well-rounded Android tablet

March 22, 2017 - 2:00pm

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

Samsung continues to compete with Apple's iPad with the revamped Galaxy Tab S3. Two years ago, the company released 8.0-inch and 9.7-inch models of the Tab S2, but Samsung is now simplifying with just one 9.7-inch model of the updated tablet. The $599/£599 tablet has an HDR-ready display, a sleek glass design, a faster processor, a fingerprint sensor, and an included and improved S Pen, just to name a few of its features.

The new S3 continues Samsung's efforts to persuade those who want a high-end, all-purpose tablet to choose its Android device over an iPad, and Samsung padded this attempt with a couple of features geared toward users of its Galaxy smartphones. But Android's tablet app gap, among other things, continues to make premium Android tablets a hard sell.

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Is the dark really making me sad?

March 22, 2017 - 12:30pm

Enlarge / If it's dark outside seemingly all the time, you must find ways to cope. (credit: Sara Andreasson)

How do Scandinavians deal with long, dark winters? For Mosaic, Linda Geddes explores what this might teach us about the relationship between our moods and sunlight. The story is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

The inhabitants of Rjukan in southern Norway have a complex relationship with the Sun. “More than other places I’ve lived, they like to talk about the Sun: when it’s coming back, if it’s a long time since they’ve seen the Sun,” says artist Martin Andersen. “They’re a little obsessed with it.” Possibly, he speculates, it’s because for approximately half the year, you can see the sunlight shining high up on the north wall of the valley: “It is very close, but you can’t touch it,” he says. As autumn wears on, the light moves higher up the wall each day, like a calendar marking off the dates to the winter solstice. And then as January, February, and March progress, the sunlight slowly starts to inch its way back down again.

Rjukan was built between 1905 and 1916, after an entrepreneur called Sam Eyde bought the local waterfall (known as the smoking waterfall) and constructed a hydroelectric power plant there. Factories producing artificial fertiliser followed. But the managers of these worried that their staff weren’t getting enough Sun—and eventually they constructed a cable car in order to give them access to it.

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Red-light camera grace period goes from 0.1 to 0.3 seconds, Chicago to lose $17M

March 22, 2017 - 12:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Bruce Leighty / Getty Images News)

In the wake of recommendations that were part of a recent study of its red-light cameras, the Chicago Department of Transportation has agreed to immediately increase the so-called “grace period”—the time between when a traffic light turns red to when a ticket is automatically issued.

Under the new policy, which was announced Monday, the grace period for Chicago’s red lights will move from 0.1 seconds to 0.3 seconds. This will bring the Windy City in line with other Americans metropolises, including New York City and Philadelphia. In a statement, the city agency said that this increase would “maintain the safety benefits of the program while ensuring the program’s fairness.”

On Tuesday, the Chicago Tribune reported that the city would lose $17 million in revenue this year alone as a result of the expanded grace period. Michael Claffey, a CDOT spokesman, confirmed that figure to Ars.

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Chicago teen reportedly gang-raped as 40 people watched on Facebook Live

March 22, 2017 - 1:16am

Enlarge (credit: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

A 15-year-old girl in Chicago was reportedly recently sexually assaulted by “five or six men or boys on Facebook Live,” according to the Associated Press.

This is the second such reported attack in Chicago that was broadcast on Facebook this year alone. In January, four teens were arrested in connection to a torture video. The Chicago Tribune reported Tuesday that this attack marks "at least the fourth Chicago crime caught on Facebook Live since the end of last October."

Tuesday afternoon, Anthony Guglielmi, a police spokesman, tweeted that the new investigation was moving forward.

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