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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 33 sec ago

Buzz Aldrin returns to Twitter, sues his son and former manager

8 hours 49 min ago

Enlarge / NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, left, meets backstage with former NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin, prior to giving the keynote speech at the Humans to Mars Summit in May, 2018, at George Washington University in Washington. (credit: NASA)

All is not well in the otherworldly world of the second human to walk on the Moon.

Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin has sued his family, including his son Andy Aldrin, former business manager Christina Korp, and several foundations. The suit alleges that the family has taken advantage of the 88-year-old through a de facto guardianship.

Filed on June 7 in a Florida judicial circuit court, and obtained Friday evening by Ars, the lawsuit alleges that Andy Aldrin and Korp used the former astronaut’s personal credit cards, trust accounts, artifacts, and social media accounts for their own purposes. It additionally alleges the following: that the family prevented Aldrin, who has been married three times, from marrying for a fourth time; that the family has “bullied” his romantic interests; and that the family has slandered the astronaut by saying he has dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple launches service program to address MacBook keyboard woes

11 hours 51 min ago

Enlarge / The keyboard on the 2016 Touch Bar MacBook Pro. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Apple has publicly acknowledged that the butterfly switch keyboards in some MacBook and MacBook Pro computers have given consumers some trouble, and it has launched a new repair service program that promises to fix problems with those keyboards for free, regardless of whether the consumer purchased AppleCare.

Apple says in its public documentation on the program that certain models of MacBook and MacBook Pro "may exhibit one or more of the following behaviors":

  • Letters or characters repeat unexpectedly
  • Letters or characters do not appear
  • Key(s) feel "sticky" or do not respond in a consistent manner

When they do, "Apple or an Apple Authorized Service Provider will service eligible MacBook and MacBook Pro keyboards, free of charge." Apple also says that consumers who previously paid for a repair can contact the company to request a refund.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Selfies show worm slithered through woman’s face for 2 weeks

June 22, 2018 - 10:19pm

Enlarge / Doctors were able to extract the worm, a D. repens. (credit: Kartashev and Simon)

A 32-year-old woman who visited a rural area outside of Moscow returned home with a surprising stowaway—in her face. And it was a restless one at that, according to a short report published this week in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM).

After her trip, she noticed an unusual lump on her cheek, below her left eye. Five days later it was gone, but another had formed just above her left eye. Ten days after that, a lump resurfaced on her upper lip, causing massive swelling.

To track the progress of her roving blemish, she took selfies. In reports to doctors, she said that the nodules caused some burning and itchiness but no other symptoms or problems. She also noted her recent trip and recalled being frequently bitten by mosquitoes.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

More details leak on “Snapdragon 1000,” Qualcomm’s chip for Windows 10 laptops

June 22, 2018 - 9:55pm

Enlarge (credit: Qualcomm)

Details of the SDM1000, tentatively named Snapdragon 1000, a new Qualcomm chip built for Windows 10 laptops, have started to trickle out.

Microsoft's development of Windows 10 for ARM has seen the company partner with chip company Qualcomm. The first Windows 10 on ARM machines use the Snapdragon 835 processor, with designs based on the Snapdragon 850 (a higher clocked Snapdragon 845 intended for laptops) expected later this year. Snapdragon 1000 will be the follow-up to the 850.

The Snapdragon 1000 is believed to be an even more powerful laptop chip intended to go head to head with Intel's Y- and U-series Core processors. These have a 4.5W and 15W power envelope, respectively, and are used in a wide range of tablets and Ultrabook-type laptops. The Snapdragon 1000 is reported to have a 6.5W power draw for the CPU itself, with a total power draw of 12W for the entire SoC. The Snapdragon 1000 test platform has 16GB of LPDDR4X RAM and two 128GB UFS flash drives. It also has 802.11ad gigabit Wi-Fi, gigabit LTE, and a new power management controller.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tesla to cut nearly 20 percent of its SolarCity installation locations

June 22, 2018 - 9:31pm

Enlarge / Close-up of logo for Tesla Solar, a home solar power generation solution offered by Tesla Motors, San Ramon, California, March 28, 2018. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

Tesla is planning to close 13 or 14 solar installation locations that were set up by SolarCity before Tesla purchased the company in 2016. Tesla will also end its partnership with Home Depot at the end of the year.

The new information was first reported by Reuters, which obtained internal emails and documents detailing the closures. A Tesla spokesperson told Ars that the closures are part of the layoffs it announced in early June.

An official statement from the company contended that Tesla's solar business is better served in its existing Tesla stores. "Tesla stores have some of the highest foot traffic of any retail space in the country, so this presents a unique benefit that is demonstrated by the growing number of Tesla vehicle customers who are also purchasing energy products through our stores,” the statement said.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Valve revamps its next controller, should make using hands in VR feel way cooler [Updated]

June 22, 2018 - 9:08pm

Valve's march toward launching new virtual reality video games—perhaps up to three of them—got more interesting on Thursday with the announcement of an update to the company's next official piece of VR hardware. After a quiet 2016 unveil, the "Knuckles" controller is back with a major revision.

Dubbed Knuckles EV2, the mold-to-your-hand controller is still a developer-only prototype, but a huge dump of official information reveals how far Valve has gone to craft what might be the ultimate VR controller: a smart twist on how hands work in virtual space and a bonus slew of buttons for older legacy games.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Switch-hacking trolls reportedly loading pornographic profile pictures

June 22, 2018 - 8:36pm

Enlarge / A shot of the leaked DevMenu tool that lets users upload custom profile pictures on the Switch (including ones much less safe for work than this one). (credit: Mizumi / Twitter)

Nintendo only lets users choose from a limited number of preset profile pictures (or custom-made Miis) for their online avatar on the Switch network. So at least one Reddit user was quite surprised to see pornographic profile pictures showing up on the user-placed balloons in Super Mario Odyssey's online "Balloon World" mode.

"The picture was changed several times over the course of my time patrolling, each picture being pornographic content," Redditor ewaison writes, including links to (censored) screenshots of the offending profile pictures in their post. "There are multiple [sic] of these balloons all being made by the same user. This is obviously intentional, and made to upset children."

The reported imagery seems to trace its source back to the recent leak of an internal Switch developer menu online. We've seen pictures and reports of that previously dev-kit-exclusive system menu in the past, but users are now able to make use of an unpatchable Switch exploit to install the leaked menu on standard retail Switch hardware (as seen in his video).

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Get an Ecovacs Deebot N79 robot vacuum for $160

June 22, 2018 - 6:39pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is led by a deal on the popular Ecovacs Deebot N79 robot vacuum, which can be had for $160 with a discount code on Amazon. That's a good chunk off its usual price of $200.

To be clear, the Deebot N79 is on the lower end of the botvac scale: pricier devices like iRobot's Roombas are generally more thorough at cleaning, more durable, and easier to fix with replacement parts if something goes wrong. But for a budget model, the Deebot N79 performs the basics competently. It's best used in smaller areas and shorter carpets, but it's a decent cleaner that runs quietly and does a good job of avoiding getting stuck on obstacles around the house. It also works with a smartphone app if you'd like to keep some control over it.

If you don't want a robot to invade your home, though, we also have deals on the Xbox One S, Samsung SSDs, 4K TVs, and gaming laptops. Have a look for yourself below.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Extinct gibbon in ancient Chinese tomb hints at other lost primate species

June 22, 2018 - 6:34pm

Enlarge (credit: Turvey et al. 2018)

Primates, especially gibbons and other apes, are rare finds in the Asian fossil record. Fossils from the Pleistocene and Holocene are most often preserved in caves, where live gibbons almost never spend time. But humans preserved the remains of at least one gibbon for posterity by burying it in the tomb of a Chinese noblewoman 2,300 years ago during China’s Warring States Period.

The unfortunate ape was buried with a noblewoman believed to be Lady Xia, the grandmother of Qin Shi Huang, the first Chinese emperor, who ruled from 259 to 210 BCE. Lady Xia also took a leopard, a lynx, an Asiatic black bear, a crane, and several domestic animals with her to her very ornate grave in Chang’an, now the city of Shenheyuan in Shaanxi Province. Morbid menageries are a hallmark of high-status burials from this period, but primatologist Samuel Turvey of the Zoological Society of London says archaeologists have never before seen a gibbon interred this way.

That’s interesting in its own right. By Lady Xia’s day, gibbons had become popular among the nobility as pets and symbols of the class of scholars and officials called Junzi. Thanks to the graceful way they swing through the trees, gibbons were considered noble in ancient Chinese culture. So it’s culturally significant to find a gibbon, presumably a pet, buried with the grandmother of China’s first emperor. But this particular gibbon, besides its proximity to power, may also represent a previously undiscovered—and now extinct—species.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Huge wave in Venus’ clouds changes the length of a day

June 22, 2018 - 6:14pm

Enlarge / This bow-shaped wave forms only in the afternoon. (credit: ©Planet-C)

You wouldn’t expect a toy spinning top to be rotating at precisely the same rate every time you glance at it, but you probably would expect a planet to. Yet observations of Venus over the years have come up with slightly different numbers when calculating the length of a Venusian day based on its rotation.

Venus is weird enough that we have to be careful to specify what we mean by “a day.” Because Venus slowly spins clockwise as it orbits clockwise around the Sun, sunlight takes a lap around the planet faster than Venus itself does a 360. Sunrise to sunrise (metaphorically speaking, given Venus’ cloud-choked atmosphere), a day there is about 117 Earth-days long. Measurements by the Magellan spacecraft in 1990 and Venus Express in 2006 differed by about 7 minutes, though. That wasn’t slop in the measurement—it was a real change.

So why would Venus be slightly changing its rotation speed over time? The most obvious suggestion is that tidal forces from the Sun are somehow responsible. But the recent Japanese Akatsuki spacecraft spotted something strange in Venus’ clouds that shows its atmosphere may have more to do with it.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mario Tennis Aces review: Turning tennis into a fighting game

June 22, 2018 - 6:02pm

Enlarge / BEHOLD YOUR WORST NIGHTMARE!


Batting a ball back and forth is one of the oldest concepts in video games, dating back to the days of William Higinbotham’s Tennis for Two oscilloscope experiments in the ‘50s. In the decades since, countless games have refined the idea of what virtual tennis can be, from as-faithful-as-possible recreations of the real sport to ultra-accessible, over-the-top arcade-inspired battles of reflex and positioning.

Like previous Mario Tennis games, Mario Tennis Aces sits far on the side of the over-the-top accessibility side of the equation. Simple controls and an ultra-forgiving hit positioning system make it easy enough for even complete gaming neophytes to get into a quick game. But Aces also adds a bit more depth to the series, introducing a new power meter system that adds a new layer of psychological brinksmanship to the proceedings.

At its most heated moments, Aces starts to resemble a fighting game more than a tennis game, and it’s all the better for it—especially when you’re playing against another human.

The best defense...

The basics here will be familiar to anyone who has played a Mario Tennis game before. As the ball comes over the net, you run to where it’s going to land, hit a button to prepare your shot and use the analog stick to aim that shot to one side of the court or the other. The opponent does the same in a battle of relative positioning that ends when someone fails to return the ball.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google’s AR “Measure” app comes to all ARCore Android phones

June 22, 2018 - 5:18pm

Back when I tested Google's first augmented reality product, Project Tango, one of my favorite use cases was the Google Measure app. This would turn Tango's bevy of extra sensors into a virtual tape measure, allowing you to roughly pick any two points in the world and get the distance between them. When Project Tango died, I figured the Measure app was done for too, but Google has resurrected the app for ARCore, its new, post-Tango augmented reality framework that works on many high-end Android phones.

Tango used a time-of-flight camera, an IR projector, and a fish-eye motion camera to measure things, but now with an ARCore-compatible Android device, you can run the exact same app with normal smartphone hardware. Just point the phone at something, drag out either the "length" or "height" measurement tools onto the camera feed, and adjust the end points to measure something. When you first open the app, you have to move the phone around so it can scan the surrounding area. This isn't a fast process and can be a bit of a pain when you just want to measure something.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

After being pulled from a spaceflight in January, Jeanette Epps speaks up

June 22, 2018 - 5:08pm

Enlarge / Jeanette Epps, left, is shown as an Expedition 54-55 backup crewmember on December 5, 2017. She was pulled from Expedition 56 at about this time. (credit: NASA)

NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps was supposed to be in space right now, as the first African-American crew member living on the International Space Station. But instead she's on the ground doing all of the things astronauts do when they're not in space—training, monitoring programs, working as a capcom in Mission Control, and more.

Since being pulled from her flight in January, a mission that launched about two weeks ago for a six-month tour on the space station, Epps has remained quiet in public. NASA did not specify the reasons for her removal from Expedition 56 to the space station, saying only that, "These decisions are personnel matters for which NASA doesn’t provide information."

However, Epps did finally speak publicly this week, appearing at the Tech Open Air technology festival in Berlin on June 21, where she was interviewed by journalist Megan Gannon. The website CollectSPACE provided a transcript of the discussion.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ars on your lunch break, part three: Those darn robot overlords

June 22, 2018 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / HAVE YOU HEARD THE GOOD NEWS ABOUT OUR LORD AND SAVIOR SKYNET (credit: Carolco Pictures)

Today we present the third and final installment of my interview with the world-renowned roboticist and AI pioneer Rodney Brooks. Please check out parts one and two if you missed them.

We start today’s installment with the very cliffhanger sentence yesterday’s installment ended with: Rodney saying “Yeah, let’s talk about deep learning.” We proceed to do just that. For anyone giddy about the glittering newness of neural networks and the deep learning systems they power, Rodney points out that this work began in 1943.

This leads to an argument similar to yesterday’s point about self-driving cars regarding the importance of knowing a technology’s full history before handicapping its future. Rodney’s basic point is that deep learning is an overnight success that required 70 years to percolate. So the next giant breakthrough could be further off than we think.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Study: US oil and gas methane emissions have been dramatically underestimated

June 22, 2018 - 4:58pm

Enlarge / PINEDALE, WY - MAY 3: A natural gas facility stands on the Pinedale Anticline, on May 3, 2018 in Pinedale, Wyoming. (Photo by Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

The US has been dramatically underestimating methane emissions from oil and gas operations, according to a new study published in Science on Thursday. The study, conducted by the Environmental Defense Fund and 15 partner universities, asserts that methane emissions from oil and gas production are likely 63 percent higher than what the Environmental Protection Agency has reported.

The discrepancy stems from the way methane is measured and monitored, the authors suggest. Methane leakages are measured at known intervals and at specific parts of equipment, without verification of the leak volume at the facility as a whole. This allows the industry to avoid counting any surprise leakage events, which the authors claim are more common than not.

The results are concerning because methane is a potent greenhouse gas that has more of a warming effect in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, part for part. On the other hand, methane is shorter lived in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, so restricting its escape can have positive short-term effects on warming.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Under “right-to-try” law, therapy may go for $300K—with no proof it will work

June 22, 2018 - 4:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

A small biotech company called Brainstorm Cell Therapeutics Inc. is among the first companies considering selling an experimental therapy directly to patients under the “right to try” measure, signed into law late last month. And if the company moves forward, it may give its unproven therapy a price tag in the ballpark of $300,000, according to a recent report by Bloomberg,

The experimental stem cell-based therapy, called NurOwn, is aimed at treating amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). But despite the potentially hefty price tag that patients would likely pay out of pocket, there’s no evidence that the therapy stops the progression of the disease or improves symptoms. So far, NurOwn has only passed early clinical trials showing safety, not efficacy. But under the new “right-to-try” law, the biotech company doesn’t need such proof to sell its therapy.

The law was pitched as a compassionate measure to allow patients with life-threatening illnesses easier access to experimental drugs. But the bill was controversial, with critics noting that the Food and Drug Administration already had a swift and lenient pathway for such patients to obtain experimental drugs. Critics also worried that the law would simply weaken the FDA and open vulnerable patients to unscrupulous companies that might try to peddle unproven—and potentially sham—therapies as profit-driven endeavors.

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Amazon staff to Bezos: Stop selling tech to law enforcement, Palantir

June 22, 2018 - 4:35pm

Jeff Bezos stands next to the copper lining for a BE-4 engine nozzle in his Blue Origin rocket factory. (credit: Eric Berger)

In an open letter published by Gizmodo, Amazon staff have called on CEO Jeff Bezos to stop selling facial recognition technology to law enforcement and government agencies, due to the potential that the tech is used to "harm the most marginalized." This follows similar demands from Microsoft employees and Google workers over those companies' contracts with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Defense, respectively.

Further, the letter demands that Amazon stop selling AWS cloud services to data analytics firm Palantir. Palantir has numerous government contracts and is involved in the operation of ICE's detention and deportation programs. Starting in May of this year, these programs have implemented a policy of systematically separating children of asylum seekers and undocumented immigrants from their parents, housing them in tent cities and cages. The letter's signatories "refuse to build the platform that powers ICE" and "refuse to contribute to tools that violate human rights."

Additionally, the authors call on Amazon to implement transparency and accountability measures to detail how Amazon's services are used by law enforcement agencies.

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Ötzi the Iceman spent his last days trying to repair his tools

June 22, 2018 - 4:27pm

Enlarge / Ötzi's dagger. (credit: Wierer et al. 2018)

5,300 years ago, someone shot a man with an arrow on a high Alpine ridge near the modern Italian-Austrian border. Thousands of years after his death, a group of hikers found the victim’s mummified body emerging from a melting glacier. Today, we know the man as Ötzi, and archaeologists have spent the last 28 years studying the wealth of information about Copper Age life Ötzi brought with him into the present. Studies have examined his genome, his skeleton, his last meals, his clothes, and the microbes that lived in his gut. Now, a new study of the chert tools he carried reveals details of his lifestyle, his last days, and the trade networks that linked far-flung Alpine communities.

Archaeologist Ursula Wierer of the Soprintendenza Archeologia, Belle Arti e Paesaggio in Florence, Italy, and her colleagues studied the surfaces of the tools under high-power microscopes. Separately, they made CT scans to better understand the tools' shape and structure in places where the surface couldn’t be seen, such as where blade hafts were covered by wooden handles. They also compared microscopic images of the tools with a library of chert collected from around the region to learn where and how the equipment of Copper Age hunters like Ötzi was made.

Tools of the trade

Ötzi probably hailed from the lower Vinschgau Valley, one or two days’ walk from the slopes of the Alpine ridge where he died, according to isotopic analysis of his remains and the plant species that contributed to his tools and other equipment. 5,300 years ago, the Vinschgau was home to farmers and pastoralists who were just beginning to frequent the high mountain passes for the first time since the Mesolithic.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Supreme Court rules: Yes, gov’t needs warrant to get cellphone location data

June 22, 2018 - 4:19pm

Enlarge / Protesters gather outside the Supreme Court for the No Muslim Ban on April 25, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for MoveOn.org)

In a 5-4 decision issued Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that if the government wants to collect a suspect’s cell-site location information (CSLI)—detailed, granular data that shows where a person is every few seconds—it needs a warrant to do so.

"Accordingly, when the Government tracks the location of a cell phone it achieves near perfect surveillance, as if it had attached an ankle monitor to the phone’s user," Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion.

However, the court also suggested that there was a seeming arbitrary line of six days, ruling that law enforcement certainly definitely needed a warrant to get CSLI for more than that amount of time. The majority of the Supreme Court justices did not fully explain why they drew the line there, much to the frustration of the dissenting minority.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Police: Uber driver was streaming Hulu just before fatal self-driving car crash

June 22, 2018 - 4:08pm

Enlarge / The Uber vehicle after it struck Elaine Herzberg. (credit: Tempe Police Department)

Tempe, Arizona, police have released a massive report on the fatal Uber vehicle crash that killed pedestrian Elaine Herzberg in March. The report provides more evidence that driver Rafaela Vasquez was distracted in the seconds before the crash.

"This crash would not have occurred if Vasquez would have been monitoring the vehicle and roadway conditions and was not distracted,'' the report concludes.

Police obtained records from Hulu suggesting that Vasquez was watching "The Voice," a singing talent competition that airs on NBC, just before the crash. Hulu's records showed she began watching the program at 9:16pm. Streaming of the show ended at 9:59pm, which "coincides with the approximate time of the collision," according to the police report.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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