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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 23 min 24 sec ago

Dealmaster: The Black Friday 2018 tech deals that might actually be worth buying

5 hours 21 min ago

Enlarge / A bundle with Sony's PS4 Slim and Marvel's Spider-Man for $200 looks like one of the better deals this Black Friday. (credit: Mark Walton)

Black Friday is less than a week away, and we’re starting to get a good sense of what deals the tech world plans to offer up.

If you’re at all familiar with how days like this go, it should come as no surprise that most of the “deals” advertised for Black Friday aren't really discounts at all. While it’s true that Black Friday and Cyber Monday bring more legitimately good tech deals than any other period of the year, they're also a time for retailers to pounce on the gift-needy public. Lots of less-than-stellar gadgets will be offered at prices that aren’t much lower than they are the rest of the year. (As always, price history sites like CamelCamelCamel are an invaluable resource if you’re on the fence about a deal.)

So to help you separate the wheat from the chaff, we’ve spent the past couple of weeks emailing device makers about their upcoming offers and digging through ad scans the major retailers have pushed out ahead of Friday's sales event. Below is a quick rundown of gadget and gaming deals that may be worth your attention—and what to expect from the bigger tech brands and product categories later this week.

Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Artifact beta: Learn how to play Valve’s first card game… and how to pay

12 hours 8 min ago

Enlarge / It's a beta! A beta that will take your money. (credit: Valve Software)

Valve's next video game, a card-battling computer game called Artifact, will be a tricky one to review for a few reasons. For one, it inevitably comes with the baggage of being "Valve's next video game." Whatever Artifact is, it isn't one of the company's innovative first-person shooters.

But the bigger issue, for a review's sake, applies to any modern card game: cards, cards, cards. The genre's fun and strategy depends on hundreds of these things. Exactly how many are there? How do they interact with each other? And how do players get their hands on more of them?

We can start answering those questions with the Artifact beta, into which Valve sneaked us ahead of the closed-beta period (that period is supposed to start on Monday the 19th for anyone who claimed a beta key at various expos like PAX West). With only one day of play under our belts, we cannot come close to "reviewing" what's on offer thus far.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Boring Company’s first tunnel is all dug up

November 17, 2018 - 5:30pm

On Friday night, Boring Company CEO Elon Musk tweeted images of his tunnel-boring machine appearing to emerge from the dirt into a cavernous hole, with bystanders at the hole's edge watching the spinning boring head.

Congratulations @BoringCompany on completing the LA/Hawthorne tunnel! Cutting edge technology! pic.twitter.com/80WbSQekCQ

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 17, 2018

The tunnel began in January 2017 in the parking lot of SpaceX's headquarters in Hawthorne, California. Musk's goal has been to improve the speed and cost of tunnel boring, not only to alleviate surface-street traffic by lowering cars onto electric skates and then speeding them through a so-called "loop" system, but also to potentially dig sewer, water, and electrical tunnels for cities in a more cost-effective manner.

In late October, Musk tweeted that the more-than-two-mile-long Hawthorne tunnel would be completed by December 10, and The Boring Company would celebrate by giving rides to the public.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sunset Overdrive review: Ride the rails to kaboom-town (finally on PCs, too)

November 17, 2018 - 4:07pm

Throw traps, shoot guns, grind rails: that's the Sunset Overdrive way.

Update: There's no shortage of new games this 2018 holiday season, but we wanted to bring a surprise gem to your attention: 2014's Sunset Overdrive, a high-octane, parkour-driven visual stunner. With seemingly zero fanfare, a $20 PC version arrived yesterday for Windows PCs (Steam, Windows Store). Nearly everything about the original games still applies to this PC version, so enjoy our original review (which first ran on October 29, 2014) below. The piece appears largely unchanged, but we have added some PC-specific thoughts (finally, Sunset in 60fps!) and a gallery from the new edition near the end.

Keep moving, keep moving, keep moving. If I stay still, the monsters attack. If I stop sliding down rails, bouncing off of car hoods, or rappelling over zip lines, everything falls apart—the music in my head stops playing; the electricity stops surging through my dodge-rolls; the fire stops spewing from my duct-taped battle-axe.

Welcome to Sunset City, a sunny, dilapidated corpse of a not-so-futuristic riverside metropolis. The place used to be overrun by selfie-snapping hipsters until they chugged a brand-new energy drink that turned them into crazed mutants (we mean literally, as opposed to the figurative craze of a caffeine high). Somehow, "you" (by way of a relatively robust character creator, which happens to sport the dumbest hairstyles known to man) avoided taking a sip, and now you must survive and escape the madness alongside the few remaining human survivors.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Enigmatic ridges on Pluto may be the remains of vanished nitrogen glaciers

November 17, 2018 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / Washboard terrain fills the basins in the right of this image. (credit: NASA/JHUAPL/SwRI)

As we've gathered more details about the other planets of the Solar System, we've largely managed to explain the geography we've found by drawing analogies to things we're familiar with from Earth. Glaciers and wind-driven erosion produce similar results both here and on Mars, for instance. But further out in the Solar System, the materials involved in the geology change—water ice becomes as hard as rock, and methane and nitrogen freeze—which raises the prospect of some entirely unfamiliar processes.

This week, scientists proposed that some weird terrain found on Pluto could be the product of large fields of nitrogen ice sublimating off into the atmosphere. While this explanation could account for some properties of Pluto's geography, it doesn't explain why the process resulted in a series of parallel ridges.

On the washboard

The strange terrain lies to the northwest of Sputnik Planitia, the heart-shaped plane that dominates the side of Pluto we have the best images of. Called "washboard" or "fluted," the area consists of large numbers of roughly parallel ridges with roughly a kilometer or two separating them. Aside from their appearance and general orientation, these ridges don't seem to have a lot in common. They're discontiguous and don't fill the entire region. They run down slopes and spread across valley floors—in some cases a single ridge will run down a slope and then flatten out. And in several cases, they create a starburst-like pattern on along the walls of craters.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Abstract board games are all the rage—and Reef is the year’s best

November 17, 2018 - 3:20pm

Enlarge / Reef is a bright, inviting game with a lot of fun, colorful pieces. (credit: Aaron Zimmerman)

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

Abstract, family-style board games are all the rage these days, and for good reason. They tend to occupy that sweetest of sweet spots—accessible to non-gamers while remaining strategic enough to keep veteran players engaged. Their simple rulesets are packaged with quality components, bright colors, and light themes. In short, they're games that just about anyone can enjoy.

The apotheosis of the form was arguably seen in 2014’s modern classic Splendor, an economic game about collecting satisfyingly hefty gem-styled poker chips. But last year, publisher Next Move Games introduced another contender to the throne: Azul, a puzzle-y abstract game about drafting and laying beautiful bakelite tiles. The game took the board gaming world by storm, eventually earning the prestigious Spiel Des Jahres (“Game of the Year”) award in Germany. So when Next Move announced another abstract spatial puzzle game, Reef (this time by Century: Spice Road designer Emerson Matsuuchi) we were hoping for a second lightning strike. It seems we’ve gotten one.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Report: Charges against Assange relate to Russian hacking

November 17, 2018 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / Julian Assange speaks to the media from the balcony of the Embassy of Ecuador on May 19, 2017 in London, England. (credit: Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has asked a federal court to unseal documents related to the federal government's pending prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

The existence of that prosecution appears to have been accidentally revealed due to a cut-and-paste error in an unrelated sex crimes case. Now that its existence has been revealed, the Reporters Committee argues, there's no good reason to continue to withhold other details of the charges against Assange.

"Both the press and the public have a particularly powerful interest in access to sealed court records related to the government's prosecution of Assange," the rights group said in its filing.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Intel’s 9th Gen Core i9 9900K processor hits 5GHz—just at a price

November 17, 2018 - 2:00pm

Richard Baguley

Let's be honest here: modern processors aren’t exciting. Speed bumps no longer thrill us, and we’ve become blasé about adding more cores. But we are living in a time when computers casually offer amounts of processing power that would have made previous generations swoon.

It’s also a competitive time, primarily with two companies fighting for your silicon spending and giving you great computing bang for your buck. On one side we have Intel, the 800-pound gorilla of the processor world. On the other side, we have AMD, the upstart that occasionally steals the crown by doing something unexpected that changes the rules.

Read 30 remaining paragraphs | Comments

After man was gunned down by US Park Police, two lawmakers want more body cams

November 17, 2018 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / Holding candles and photos, friends and family gathered at the Lincoln Memorial to remember Bijan Ghaisar, on December 8, 2017. He was killed by US Park Police, and his family still does not know exactly why. (credit: Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Two Democratic members of Congress have introduced a new bill that would mandate body cameras and dashboard-mounted cameras for uniformed federal law enforcement.

The law is meant to prevent situations like the November 2017 death of an unarmed Virginia man, Bijan Ghaisar, who died at the hands of United States Park Police officers in Fairfax County, Virginia. The 25-year-old had fled a car crash, but it remains unclear exactly why federal officers opened fire.

The House members, Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Rep. Don Beyer (D-VA), said in a Friday statement that absent dashboard camera footage, Ghaisar’s parents would know even less than they currently do as the FBI has yet to release any public information about the case.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

NASA’s daring asteroid mission unfurls its sampling arm for the first time

November 16, 2018 - 11:00pm

Enlarge / This image, taken Wednesday, shows the OSIRIS-REx Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism sampling head extended from the spacecraft at the end of the robotic arm. (credit: NASA)

NASA officials confirmed Friday that a test of a key component of the space agency's mission to sample an asteroid was completed successfully. On Wednesday, for the first time in more than two years, the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft unfurled its robotic arm and put it through a series of maneuvers to ensure its space-worthiness after being packed away for launch and a long flight to the asteroid Bennu.

The asteroid sampling mission launched in September 2016, and the spacecraft has since been traveling through space to catch up to an asteroid known as Bennu, which has a diameter of about 500 meters. The spacecraft will officially "arrive" at Bennu in about two weeks, on December 3, so mission scientists wanted to make sure the robotic arm was functional after being stowed for so long.

This arm and its sampler head, known as the Touch-and-Go Sample Acquisition Mechanism or TAGSAM, is critical to the mission's goal of retrieving at least 60 grams of material from the surface of Bennu and returning this sample to Earth by 2023. The collection device will act something like a reverse vacuum cleaner.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Report: Cheaper, disc-free Xbox One option coming next year

November 16, 2018 - 10:10pm

Psht, who needs 'em? (credit: Squirmelia)

Microsoft is planning to release a disc-free version of the Xbox One as early as next spring, according to an unsourced report from author Brad Sams of Thurrott.com (who has been reliable with early Xbox-related information in the past).

The report suggests the disc-free version of the system would not replace the existing Xbox One hardware, and it would instead represent "the lowest possible price for the Xbox One S console." Sams says that price could come in at $199 "or lower," a significant reduction from the system's current $299 starting price (but not as compelling compared to $199 deals for the Xbox One and PS4 planned for Black Friday this year). Buyers will also be able to add a subscription to the Xbox Games Pass program for as little as $1, according to Sams.

For players who already have games on disc, Sams says Microsoft will offer a "disc to digital" program in association with participating publishers. Players will be able to take their discs into participating retailers (including Microsoft Stores) and trade them in for a "digital entitlement" that can be applied to their Xbox Live account.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Database leak exposes millions of two-factor codes and reset links sent by SMS

November 16, 2018 - 10:03pm

Enlarge / 2FA via SMS happens worldwide, all. (credit: Raimond Spekking)

Millions of SMS text messages—many containing one-time passcodes, password reset links, and plaintext passwords—were exposed in an Internet-accessible database that could be read or monitored by anyone who knew where to look, TechCrunch has reported.

The discovery comes after years of rebukes from security practitioners that text messages are a woefully unsuitable medium for transmitting two-factor authentication (2FA) data. Despite those rebukes, SMS-based 2FA continues to be offered by banks such as Bank of America, cellular carriers such as T-Mobile, and a host of other businesses.

The leaky database belonged to Voxox, a service that claims to process billions of calls and text messages monthly. TechCrunch said that Berlin-based researcher Sébastien Kaul used the Shodan search engine for publicly available devices and databases to find the messages. The database stored texts that were sent through a gateway Voxox provided to businesses that wanted an automated way to send data for password resets and other types of account management by SMS. The database provided a portal that showed two-factor codes and resent links being sent in near real-time, making it potentially possible for attackers who accessed the server to obtain data that would help them hijack other people’s accounts.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The mid-range Google Pixel appears in pictures—complete with headphone jack

November 16, 2018 - 9:00pm

Rozetked

Rumors of a cheaper mid-range smartphone from Google have been circulating for some time, but now it's looking like the first pictures of this mythical device have popped up online. The Russian site Rozetked—which leaked the Pixel 3 XL earlier this year—has pictures of a device codenamed "Sargo," which looks like a cheaper version of the Pixel 3.

The phone resembles a smaller Pixel 3, but there appear to be a lot of changes to bring the price down. The body is now plastic instead of glass. The 5.5-inch OLED display has been swapped out for an LCD with a 2220×1080 resolution. Instead of the top-of-the-line Snapdragon 845, this device reportedly has a more modest Snapdragon 670. The baseline 64GB of storage has been downgraded to 32GB. It also looks like the bottom front-facing speaker has been cut, replaced by a bottom-firing speaker. It's unknown if the earpiece still functions as a second speaker for stereo sound.

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RIP William Goldman, creator of beloved film, The Princess Bride

November 16, 2018 - 8:23pm

Enlarge / Screenwriter William Goldman attends a special screening of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at Tribeca Film Festival in April 2009. (credit: Joe Kohen/WireImages/Getty Images)

Legendary Hollywood screenwriter William Goldman has died at the age of 87 from colon cancer and pneumonia, The New York Times reports. Goldman won two screenwriting Oscars, for Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969) and All the President's Men (1976). But by far his most beloved (and most widely quoted) film across multiple generations is 1987's postmodern fairytale, The Princess Bride.

The man once called "the world's greatest and most famous living screenwriter" by the Guardian actually started out as a novelist, but his early novels got mixed reviews. Discouraged, Goldman agreed to adapt Daniel Keyes' bestselling 1966 novel Flowers for Algernon into a screenplay. He was fired from the project, and even Goldman himself declared it was a "terrible" screenplay. But he learned from the experience and went on to sell his first original screenplay, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, for a record (at the time) $400,000.

The rest is Hollywood history. His other screenwriting credits include The Stepford Wives (the 1974 original, not the mediocre 2004 remake), A Bridge Too Far (1977), Chaplin (1992), and Misery (1990). Two of his screenplays are adaptations of his own novels: Marathon Man (1976) and The Princess Bride. Goldman was especially fond of the latter novel, first published in 1973. It was 15 years before Director Rob Reiner managed to bring the story to the silver screen after having long been a fan of the book.

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We’ve run wild on the Switch version of WarFrame—and it’s solid

November 16, 2018 - 6:20pm

Video shot and edited by John Cappello. Click here for transcript.

If you had asked us a year ago whether the Nintendo Switch would ever deliver a shooter on par with the online team-questing of Destiny, we would surely have laughed you off. A solid, connected, shooting-filled 3D game for Nintendo's handheld? Go back to Mario Kart, dreamer.

But the past year has seen developers unlock serious power—and reasonable compromises—in impressive Switch ports. Now, one of the industry's best Switch wranglers, Panic Button, has worked its magic on the free-to-play multiplayer shooter WarFrame, out this week on the platform.

Ahead of the launch, we had the opportunity to sit with the combined brain trust behind WarFrame on Switch—a producer at series creator Digital Extremes and the head of Panic Button's porting team—and rap about what they made happen. We also went hands-on with the results and enjoyed the tweaked options laid out, including joystick sensitivity, button mapping, and—a rarity on the Nintendo Switch—a field-of-view slider, which first-person junkies will surely appreciate.

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Houston’s cityscape squeezed extra rain out of Hurricane Harvey

November 16, 2018 - 6:15pm

Enlarge (credit: World Meteorological Organization)

Cities often see flash floods get worse as urbanization grows, as a cityscape is an incredibly efficient rainwater collector. The more land you pave, the more rain turns to surface runoff instead of soaking into the ground. If an area is connected by storm sewers, a lot of runoff can quickly come together in the same spot and pile up inconveniently.

A hurricane is no ordinary rainstorm, but the same problem applies. After Hurricane Harvey released an incredible amount of water on Houston last year, every aspect of the storm was dissected by public discussion and scientific studies. Researchers have concluded that climate change very likely played a role in Harvey’s record-setting rainfall, for example.

As for Houston’s rapid growth and development, attention has mostly focused on decisions to allow construction in risky, flood-prone areas. But a new study led by Wei Zhang and Gabriele Villarini of the University of Iowa has identified another impact beyond catching more of the rain with concrete—Houston actually increased the rainfall itself.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

HP Elitebook x360 1030 review: Small tweaks made to a stylish work 2-in-1

November 16, 2018 - 6:10pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

It has been 10 years since HP launched the original Elitebook, and the company continues to improve upon this already stellar business notebook family. This year's Elitebook x360 1030 is the follow-up to last year's model and will replace the 1020 model in the Elitebook lineup.

The new Elitebook has been sprinkled with updates that you'd expect in a convertible that didn't have many major problems: HP stuck a new processor inside, shrank some bezels, made the chassis' footprint smaller and lighter, added an LTE option, and improved the optional Active Pen. There were a few sub-par aspects about the previous model, so HP addressed them in this device, too. However, those improvements, while thoughtful, may not be crucial enough to push current Elitebook users to upgrade.

Look and feel

HP changed little about the Elitebook x360's skeleton—it's still an all-aluminum convertible with a unibody chassis and slick, diamond-cut edges. It now has a 10 percent smaller footprint than the previous model, measuring 15.8mm thick and weighing 2.76 pounds, and the bezels around its 13.3-inch touchscreen are slimmer than ever before. The side bezels are 50 percent thinner, and the chin is 39 percent smaller, too.

Read 28 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hitman 2 review: Accessible stealth oozing with style

November 16, 2018 - 5:52pm

Enlarge / Agent 47 stalking his prey.

Agent 47, the star of the Hitman series, is a man whose entire being is dedicated to one task. Every skill he has, every quirk of his appearance and personality, all of him exists for this singular reason: to find and kill any target assigned to him. He's the ultimate assassin. And Hitman 2 is the ultimate assassin simulator. Built on the work done on earlier titles by Io Interactive, especially the rebooted Hitman published by Square Enix in 2016, Hitman 2 is a singular destination for all the goofy, sneaky, and violent energy this series carries with it at its best.

It begins unassumingly on a beach with Agent 47 creeping through the tall grass like in any other stealth game. Once you reach the opening mission’s seaside resort home, though, the options spiral wildly. Soon you're hiding in closets, waiting for a target to reach the right location, juggling ideas about chloroform and bad ventilation systems with possible plans involving disguising yourself as a guard, and the nagging idea that, hey, maybe I could just throw her into the ocean…

This opening level is, in microcosm, the entire Hitman 2 experience. More than any other stealth game series, Io Interactive's stealth murder simulator is an ode to options. It’s a vast array of silly and inspired possibilities for causing mayhem, creating distractions, and, finally, slitting a victim's throat. Or blowing them up in their experimental race car. Or getting them to take a swing at an exploding golf ball, as the case may be.

Target history

The creativity and sheer excellence of Hitman 2 comes out of what is, all told, a fairly storied recent history. After its immediate predecessor, published by Square Enix, failed to achieve the sales numbers it perhaps deserved, Square Enix divested itself from Io Interactive entirely, leaving the now-independent company to work on shipping a sequel by itself. It was both a unique opportunity and an onerous challenge for Io: to create something that did justice to the long-running series with fewer resources than it has perhaps ever had.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Cut-and-paste error apparently reveals federal charges against Assange

November 16, 2018 - 5:00pm

Julian Assange, at center. (credit: acidpolly)

Federal prosecutors have accidentally revealed that criminal charges have been filed against "Assange"—an apparent reference to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The feds filed the revealing document back in August, but the slip-up wasn't noticed until it was flagged in a Thursday evening tweet.

The filing was in an unrelated sex crimes case in the Eastern District of Virginia. Federal prosecutors asked the court to seal its criminal complaint and arrest warrant against a man named  Seitu Sulayman Kokayi—for "coercion and enticement of a juvenile to engage in unlawful sexual activity"—to avoid tipping the suspect off. But in two places, the document refers to "Assange" instead of the actual defendant in the case.

The document argues that the case should be sealed because, "due to the sophistication of the defendant and the publicity surrounding the case, no other procedure is likely to keep confidential the fact that Assange has been charged."

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Wolf’s jaw” star cluster may have inspired parts of Ragnarök myth

November 16, 2018 - 1:55pm

Enlarge / Only the onset of Ragnarök can defeat Hela, the goddess of death, in Marvel's Thor: Ragnarok. (credit: Marvel Studios)

In Norse mythology, Ragnarök is a cataclysmic series of events leading to the death of Odin and his fellow Asgardian gods and, ultimately, to the end of the world. Some iconographic details of this mythical apocalypse that emerged around 1000 AD may have been influenced by astronomical events—notably comets and total eclipses.

This is not to say that the myth of Ragnarök originated with such events; rather, they reinforced mythologies that already existed in the popular imagination. That's the central thesis of Johnni Langer, a historian specializing in Old Norse mythology and literature at the Federal University of Paraíba in Brazil. He has outlined his argument in detail in a recent paper (translated from the original Portuguese) in the journal Archeoastronomy and Ancient Technologies.

Langer's analysis is based on the relatively young field of archeoastronomy: the cultural study of myths, oral narratives, iconographic sources, and other forms of ancient beliefs, with the aim of identifying possible connections with historical observations in astronomy. Both total eclipses and the passage of large comets were theoretically visible in medieval Scandinavia, and there are corresponding direct records of such events in Anglo-Saxon and German chronicles from around the same time period. These could have had a cultural influence on evolving Norse mythology, including the concept of Ragnarök.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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