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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 22 sec ago

Apple Watch’s new auto-911 calls after falls may tumble into legal trouble

1 hour 7 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Late last week, Apple released more details about how (with certain opt-in settings) the Apple Watch Series 4 will contact emergency services if the watch detects that you've had a hard fall.

Before actually contacting first responders, the Apple Watch will try to give numerous urgent alerts: tapping the wearer on the wrist, sounding an alarm, and also displaying a visual alert.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

After working with Tesla’s Australia battery, wind company wants more batteries

8 hours 47 min ago

Enlarge / Bloomberg Best of the Year 2017: Powerpacks which will be used to form the world's largest lithium-ion battery stand on display during a Tesla Inc. event at the Hornsdale wind farm, operated by Neoen SAS, near Jamestown, South Australia, on Friday, Sept. 29, 2017. (credit: Carla Gottgens/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In the first half of 2018, energy sales from Tesla's 100MW/129MWh battery installation at the Hornsdale Wind Farm in South Australia brought in €8.1 million in the first half of 2018.

€6.7 million ($7.8 million) of that revenue came from frequency control services. Another portion of the revenue was generated through a 10-year contract that Neoen has with Australian grid managers to purchase AUD $4 million (€1.4 million, USD $2.9 million) worth of electricity per year. The contractual revenue is before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization, however, so actual numbers may be higher or lower.

The battery itself cost €56 million ($66 million), documents say.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Perpetually licensed Office 2019 now available for corporate customers

9 hours 28 min ago

Microsoft

The perpetually licensed version of the desktop Office apps, branded Office 2019, was released today. It's available as a one-time purchase for volume-licensed commercial customers. A consumer release will come in the next few weeks.

Office 2019 is supported on Windows 10—exclusively; no Windows 7 or Windows 8.1 support is available—and the three most-recent versions of macOS (that is, today's release of 10.14, 10.13, and 10.12).

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft unifying search across Bing, Office, and Windows

September 24, 2018 - 10:25pm

Enlarge / Even searches on Bing will show organizational results, in a section above the regular Web results. (credit: Microsoft)

(credit: Joanna Bourne / Flickr)

Microsoft is shaking up the search boxes found in Bing, Office, Windows, Teams, and everywhere else it shows up in productivity apps. Under the common banner "Microsoft Search" the plan is to provide a consistent, unified view of search results that encompasses not just your own documents and emails but also your organization's content and conversations.

With the change, the search bar will become more prominent, with consistent behavior wherever it appears. This will include new features such as automatic suggestions—merely clicking the search box will present personalized results, such as documents you've edited recently or contacts you email regularly—and the ability to search for commands within the application. This means that instead of hunting through ribbons and dialog boxes, you'll be able to search for an application function and activate it from the search results.

The new search will subsume Windows search and show local files among its results. Greater value will be experienced by organizations using Microsoft 365. When signed into an Office 365 account, search results will include documents in SharePoint or OneDrive, conversations in Teams or Yammer, and contacts from the company directory, even when performing a search from Bing. Eventually, Microsoft plans to offer third-party data sources, too.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

macOS 10.14 Mojave: The Ars Technica review

September 24, 2018 - 6:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Apple)

I ended last year’s review of macOS High Sierra by lamenting its invisibility but praising the much-needed work it did on the macOS foundation. There weren’t a lot of ways to tell that a Mac was running High Sierra instead of Low Sierra, but Apple quietly replaced the file system and the system’s window server and added (and later finalized) official support for external graphics, among a bunch of other tweaks. The yearly release cycle just kept Apple from actually building a whole lot of new features on top of that foundation.

Mojave, macOS version 10.14, takes the opposite approach. It still does some foundation-laying, especially around iOS apps, and it finishes up a few things that didn’t quite get finished in High Sierra. But it also includes the biggest and most consequential changes to the Mac’s user interface, the desktop, and Finder that we’ve seen in years; some brand-new apps ported over from iOS; new automation features; an overhauled App Store; and significant improvements to small but frequently-used actions like taking screenshots or using Quick Look.

Read 219 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How to make your own bootable macOS 10.14 Mojave USB install drive

September 24, 2018 - 6:00pm

Enlarge / It's still pretty easy to make a bootable USB install drive for macOS Mojave. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Apple hasn’t shipped operating systems on physical media in almost a decade, but there are still good reasons to want a reliable old USB stick for macOS Mojave. Luckily, it's not hard to make one—either with a handy graphical user interface or some light Terminal use. Here's what you need to get started.

  • A Mac that you have administrator access to. We've created Mojave USB stick from both High Sierra and Mojave, but your experience with other versions may vary.
  • An 8GB or larger USB flash drive or an 8GB or larger partition on some other kind of external drive. A USB 3.0 drive will make things significantly faster, but an older USB 2.0 drive will work in a pinch.
  • The macOS 10.14 Mojave installer from the Mac App Store in your Applications folder. The installer will delete itself when you install the operating system, but it can be re-downloaded if necessary.
  • If you want a GUI, take a look at Ben Slaney's Install Disk Creator from MacDaddy. There are other apps out there that do this, but this one is quick and simple.

If you want to use this USB installer with newer Macs as they are released, you'll want to periodically re-download new Mojave installers and make new install drives periodically. Apple rolls support for newer hardware into new macOS point releases as they come out, so this will help keep your install drive as universal and versatile as possible.

There's also one new consideration for newer Macs with Apple's T2 controller chip—as of this writing, the iMac Pro and both 2018 MacBook Pros. Among this chip's many security features is one that disallows booting from external drives by default. To re-enable this feature, hold down Command-R while your Mac reboots to go into Recovery Mode, and use the Startup Security Utility to "allow booting from external media." If you're trying to install an older version of macOS, you may also need to go from Full Security to Medium Security to enable booting, but if you're just trying to install the current version of macOS, the Full Security option should be just fine.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Comcast stock tanks after company strikes $40 billion deal to buy Sky

September 24, 2018 - 4:50pm

(credit: Comcast)

Comcast on Saturday won an auction to purchase Sky, the UK-based media and telecom company, with a $40 billion bid that topped an offer from 21st Century Fox. Sky on Monday recommended that its shareholders accept the offer from Comcast before a deadline of October 11.

"This is a great day for Comcast," Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said in an announcement. "This acquisition will allow us to quickly, efficiently and meaningfully increase our customer base and expand internationally."

Comcast stock was down about 7 percent this morning, as investors are reportedly worried that Comcast paid too much for Sky.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SiriusXM to pay $3.5 billion for Pandora

September 24, 2018 - 3:54pm

Enlarge (credit: Bill McChesney)

Pandora has agreed to be acquired by satellite company SiriusXM for $3.5 billion. The deal will expand SiriusXM's reach. The satellite company has 36 million subscribers, while Pandora has more than 70 million monthly active users.

The companies say users shouldn't expect any immediate changes, and Pandora will continue to operate as a separate service.

Pandora has amassed a massive audience, but the company has struggled financially due to long-running fights with music labels over music licensing rates. Recently it has lost ground to rivals Spotify and Apple Music, and last year it launched a Spotify-like premium on-demand service. The company has been looking for a buyer for a couple of years.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Neutrinos may decay invisibly, resolving problems in IceCube data

September 24, 2018 - 3:24pm

Enlarge / IceCube is actually under the ice, pointing downward. The Earth is a big filter to remove all the other stuff the Universe throws at us. (credit: Eli Duke)

I’ve largely given up writing stories about new dark-matter candidates. Theoretical physicists keep coming up with more elaborate scenarios to make dark matter more interesting and less inert. It all seems a bit forced. About the only thing that dark matter has to do is provide mass. A particle that doesn’t interact with electromagnetism at all fits the bill almost perfectly (and does practically nothing else).

Still, when there is experimental data to support it, I get interested in dark-matter candidates again. My cynicism aside, there are actually a few results hanging around that seem hard to explain. For instance, the hydrogen in the early Universe seems to have absorbed less light than expected. The center of the galaxy emits an unexpected amount of gamma rays (though they might be due to ordinary matter). And the neutrinos observed by the IceCube Neutrino Observatory in the Antarctic seem to be a bit weird, too.

Neutrinos on ice

Out of all of these, a recent explanation for the IceCube data has caught my attention because it is reasonably simple. This is in contrast to a recent proposal for a Bose-Einstein condensate of dark matter to explain the lack of hydrogen absorption, which seems hideously complex.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

When supplies of drugs run low, drug prices mysteriously rise, data shows

September 24, 2018 - 3:12pm

Enlarge / Not so honest drug pricing? (credit: Getty | YinYang)

When nearly 100 drugs became scarce between 2015 and 2016, their prices mysteriously increased more than twice as fast as their expected rate, an analysis recently published in the Annals of Internal Medicine reveals. The price hikes were highest if the pharmaceutical companies behind the drugs had little competition, the study also shows.

The authors—a group of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh and one at Harvard Medical School—can’t say for sure why the prices increased just based off the market data. But they can take a shot at possible explanations. The price hikes “may reflect manufacturers' opportunistic behavior during shortages, when the imbalance between supply and demand increases willingness to pay,” they conclude.

“There aren’t a lot of industries where if a manufacturer botches the production of a product and is responsible for a reduction in supply that they are able to profit from that... It is the federal government, underinsured, and uninsured patients that are picking up the tab," co-author William Shrank of the University of Pittsburgh noted in an interview with Bloomberg.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Captain Cook’s HMS Endeavour found off the coast of Rhode Island

September 24, 2018 - 3:04pm

Enlarge (credit: Archives New Zealand)

250 years ago, Captain Cook and naturalist Sir Joseph Banks set sail in HMS Endeavour to find the rumored southern continent (of course, indigenous Australians had known about it for tens of thousands of years at that point). In 1770, the voyage arrived at Botany Bay, on the Australian coast, as part of three of Cook's famed voyages. He was killed in Hawaii during the last of them.

Cook's famous ship had a somewhat less-dramatic ending after it returned to Britain in the early 1770s. The Royal Navy sold her in 1775 to a private owner, and the ship that had once been a vehicle of exploration spent the first half of the Revolutionary War as a contracted troop transport and prison ship under the name Lord Sandwich. Then, in 1778, besieged British forces deliberately sank (or “scuttled” in nautical parlance) her, along with a dozen other ships, to help block the entrance of Rhode Island Harbor from French ships.

Now archaeologists with the Rhode Island Marine Archaeology Project, or RIMAP, say they’ve found her again, although they have more work ahead to demonstrate it.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sex, violence, drugs get the axe in Apple’s upcoming original content

September 24, 2018 - 2:45pm

Enlarge / The Apple TV 4K and remote. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Apple's original shows are reportedly going through a lot of fine-tuning to fit the company's family-friendly standards. According to a report by The Wall Street Journal, Apple has edited or axed some of its original programming plans because it doesn't want shows to include "gratuitous sex, profanity, or violence."

Apple CEO Tim Cook reportedly killed a semi-autobiographical drama about Dr. Dre's life. Named Vital Signs, the drama had scenes that included drug use, sex, and guns. Those scenes were apparently too scandalous for Apple to feature.

The report details how picky Apple is being with regard to how shows are created and managed. The company replaced the showrunner on the series that stars Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon. While Apple reportedly cited the executive producer's inexperience, people familiar with the matter claim that the company also took issue with some of the humor written into the show, and Apple wanted a more upbeat show in general.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Financial document reveals Vulcan rocket engine competition is over

September 24, 2018 - 2:08pm

Enlarge / An artist's conception of the AR1 engine. (credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)

The latest financial release from aerospace manufacturer Aerojet Rocketdyne reveals that the company spent none of its own money on development of the AR1 rocket engine this spring. Moreover, the quarterly 10-Q filing that covers financial data through June 30, 2018 indicates that Aerojet may permanently stop funding the engine with its own money altogether—a sign the company has no immediate customers.

Although Aerojet will continue to receive some funding from the US military through next year to develop its large, new rocket engine, this money won't be enough to bring it to completion. Instead of having a flight-ready engine for use by the end of 2019, the filing indicates that Aerojet now intends to have just a single prototype completed within the time frame.

Aerojet has been developing the AR1 engine under a cost-share agreement with the US Air Force, which had agreed to pay two-thirds of the cost. Aerojet originally agreed to pay nearly all of the remainder, with a small contribution from rocket manufacturer United Launch Alliance. This agreement, valued at $804 million, was in line with Aerojet's estimate of $800 million to $1 billion to develop the new engine.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Windows Virtual Desktop gives you a Windows 7 or 10 desktop on Azure

September 24, 2018 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / A VT100 remote terminal, which is basically the same thing as Windows Remote Desktop. (credit: Wolfgang Stief)

A new Windows version for multiple users was spotted last month, and now we know what it's for: Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) is a new service providing multi-user remote desktop and VDI in the Azure cloud.

WVD combines three things. Using the new Windows 10 version, WVD can be used to provide remote desktop sessions with multiple users remotely logged in to the same Windows 10 virtual machine (or, alternatively, a Windows Server virtual machine). This can provide both remoting of a full desktop session and of individual applications, serving as a replacement for the RemoteApp service that Microsoft cancelled last year. The service also supports full VDI, with remote users each having their own single-user virtual machine while both persistent and non-persistent VMs are supported. This is supported both with Windows 10 and with Windows 7.

Licenses for WVD will be an integrated, no-additional-cost part of Windows Enterprise E3 licenses. This will enable, for example, a local Windows 10 installation that uses WVD for remote access to a couple of legacy applications running on Windows 7 on Azure with no additional Windows licensing requirements.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Surface Hub 2 splits into two: 2S in 2019, 2X in 2020

September 24, 2018 - 2:00pm

Surface Hub 2 Intro video.

Microsoft's unveiling of the Surface Hub 2 in May this year provoked a very positive reaction. So much so that the company says it's going to shake up its plans with a staggered launch.

The Surface Hub 2 as originally envisaged is a 50.5-inch 4K display with a 3:2 aspect ratio, a webcam, and a touchscreen. It builds on the existing Surface Hub in a couple of key areas: the whole screen can rotate to be used in either orientation; multiple devices can be tiled together to build a giant screen that operates as one; and its software will support multiple user accounts.

That's still ultimately the plan, but the way it's going to be delivered is a little more complicated. In the second quarter of 2019, Microsoft will release the Surface Hub 2S. That offers the new display and form factor but running the current Surface Hub software—meaning no rotation, no tiling, and no multiuser. It's essentially a sleeker, faster version of the current Surface Hub system.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft offers completely passwordless authentication for online apps

September 24, 2018 - 2:00pm

Applications using Azure Active Directory (AD) to authenticate—a category that includes Office 365, among other things—will soon be able to stop using passwords entirely.

Azure AD accounts can already use the Microsoft Authenticator app for two factor authentication, combining a password with a one-time code. With the new passwordless support, authentication is handled entirely by the app; the app itself represents "something you have," and this is combined with either biometric authentication or a PIN. Passwords have a long, problematic history; while they can be very strong, if suitably long and suitably random, human passwords are often short, non-random, and reused across multiple sites. App-based authentication avoids this long-standing weakness.

Enabling two-factor authentication is just one of the things that organizations can do to improve their security. To that end, Microsoft has extended "Microsoft Security Score," a tool used to assess organizational policy and provide guidance on measures that can be taken to harden an organization against attack. Secure Score already spans Office 365 and Windows security features; to these, Microsoft has added Azure AD, Azure Security Center, and Enterprise Mobility + Security, covering a wider range of settings and options.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New Roku Premiere devices make 4K HDR streaming as affordable as $39

September 24, 2018 - 2:00pm

Roku

Roku announced two new streaming devices today that sit in the middle of its device lineup. The Roku Premiere and Premiere+ set-top boxes are barely "boxes" at all; instead, they resemble the company's streaming sticks more than any of its other devices.

If you took the Roku Ultra, the company's top-tier device, and slashed it in half and shrank it a bit, you'd get the Roku Premiere and Premiere+. The streaming devices are about the length of your index finger and the width of two fingers, making them lightweight and nearly invisible when sitting on an entertainment console while connected to a TV. The front side is a glossy black while the flat back side holds an HDMI port and the power port.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Four maps show how electricity generation has changed in the US

September 23, 2018 - 9:30pm

A natural gas fracking well near Shreveport, Louisiana. (credit: Daniel Foster)

The US Energy Information Agency (EIA) recently published two interesting sets of maps to show how the US energy mix has changed state by state between 2007 and 2017.

That decade saw the rise of cheap natural gas that lead many utilities to switch away from coal, but the result is not as clear-cut as one might think: in some states, coal retirements resulted in nuclear power becoming the most-used energy source.

It's also important to note that the maps below reflect electricity generation, not necessarily consumption. In some cases, what's generated within state lines will be sold to neighboring states.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Low pay, poor prospects, and psychological toll: The perils of microtask work

September 23, 2018 - 6:30pm

Enlarge / The Amazon Mechanical Turk, or mturk.com, website is displayed on a computer screen for a photograph in Tiskilwa, Illinois, U.S., on Wednesday, April 23, 2014. Photographer: Daniel Acker/Bloomberg via Getty Images (credit: Getty Images)

Microtask platforms recruit humans to do the rating, tagging, review-writing, and poll-taking work that can't quite be automated with an algorithm yet. In the US, the most common such platform is Amazon's Mechanical Turk, but other platforms are prominent in other parts of the world.

Proponents of this kind of work say that these quick, simple tasks allow people flexible hours to make money, or help "fill in the gaps" for the un- and under-employed.

But a new study (PDF) from the United Nations' International Labor Organization (ILO) questions whether these platforms are as good for society as the Silicon Valley investors and digital evangelists claim. The ILO surveyed 3,500 people across 75 countries who worked for Mechanical Turk, as well as Crowdflower, Clickworker, Prolific, and Microworker.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Solar panels replaced tarmac on a motorway. Here are the results.

September 23, 2018 - 5:30pm

Enlarge / A road to nowhere? (credit: Robert B.D. Brice/Wattway)

Four years ago a viral campaign wooed the world with a promise of fighting climate change and jump-starting the economy by replacing tarmac on the world’s roads with solar panels. The bold idea has undergone some road testing since then. The first results from preliminary studies have recently come out, and they’re a bit underwhelming.

A solar panel lying under a road is at a number of disadvantages. As it’s not at the optimum tilt angle, it’s going to produce less power and it’s going to be more prone to shading, which is a problem as shade over just 5 percent of the surface of a panel can reduce power generation by 50 percent.

The panels are also likely to be covered by dirt and dust, and would need far thicker glass than conventional panels to withstand the weight of traffic, which will further limit the light they absorb.

Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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