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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 4 min ago

Weather and technical issues forced multiple launch scrubs Tuesday, but…

1 hour 34 min ago

Enlarge / SpaceX held its Falcon 9 launch with 7 minutes, 1 second left in the countdown. (credit: SpaceX webcast)

Tuesday had the potential to be a pretty amazing day of rocket launches, with SpaceX, Arianespace, and United Launch Alliance all on the pad for their final orbital missions of 2019. Blue Origin, too, said it intended to fly the tenth mission of its New Shepard Launch system from West Texas.

But by early Tuesday, Mother Nature and the intricacies of rocketry had other ideas.

By around 8am ET, Arianespace said it was scrubbing the launch of a Russian-made Soyuz launch vehicle from the Guiana Space Center in South America due to "high-altitude wind conditions." Launch has been pushed back a day in hopes of better weather.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How computers got shockingly good at recognizing images

3 hours 48 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

Right now, I can open up Google Photos, type "beach," and see my photos from various beaches I've visited over the last decade. I never went through my photos and labeled them; instead, Google identifies beaches based on the contents of the photos themselves. This seemingly mundane feature is based on a technology called deep convolutional neural networks, which allows software to understand images in a sophisticated way that wasn't possible with prior techniques.

In recent years, researchers have found that the accuracy of the software gets better and better as they build deeper networks and amass larger data sets to train them. That has created an almost insatiable appetite for computing power, boosting the fortunes of GPU makers like Nvidia and AMD. Google developed its own custom neural networking chip several years ago, and other companies have scrambled to follow Google's lead.

Over at Tesla, for instance, the company has put deep learning expert Andrej Karpathy in charge of its Autopilot project. The carmaker is now developing a custom chip to accelerate neural network operations for future versions of Autopilot. Or, take Apple: the A11 and A12 chips at the heart of recent iPhones include a "neural engine" to accelerate neural network operations and allow better image- and voice-recognition applications.

Read 104 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google isn’t the company that we should have handed the Web over to

December 17, 2018 - 11:19pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

With Microsoft's decision to end development of its own Web rendering engine and switch to Chromium, control over the Web has functionally been ceded to Google. That's a worrying turn of events, given the company's past behavior.

Chrome itself has about 72 percent of the desktop-browser market share. Edge has about 4 percent. Opera, based on Chromium, has another 2 percent. The abandoned, no-longer-updated Internet Explorer has 5 percent, and Safari—only available on macOS—about 5 percent. When Microsoft's transition is complete, we're looking at a world where Chrome and Chrome-derivatives take about 80 percent of the market, with only Firefox, at 9 percent, actively maintained and available cross-platform.

The mobile story has stronger representation from Safari, thanks to the iPhone, but overall tells a similar story. Chrome has 53 percent directly, plus another 6 percent from Samsung Internet, another 5 percent from Opera, and another 2 percent from Android browser. Safari has about 22 percent, with the Chinese UC Browser sitting at about 9 percent. That's two-thirds of the mobile market going to Chrome and Chrome derivatives.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Massive scale of Russian election trolling revealed in draft Senate report

December 17, 2018 - 10:02pm

Enlarge / A report commissioned by the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, based on data provided to the committee by social media platforms, provides a look at just how large and ambitious the Internet Research Agency's campaign to shape the US Presidential election was. (credit: Chesnot/Getty Images)

A report prepared for the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) due to be released later this week concludes that the activities of Russia's Internet Research Agency (IRA) leading up to and following the 2016 US presidential election were crafted to specifically help the Republican Party and Donald Trump. The activities encouraged those most likely to support Trump to get out to vote while actively trying to spread confusion and discourage voting among those most likely to oppose him. The report, based on research by Oxford University's Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika Inc., warns that social media platforms have become a "computational tool for social control, manipulated by canny political consultants, and available to politicians in democracies and dictatorships alike."

In an executive summary to the Oxford-Graphika report, the authors—Philip N. Howard, Bharath Ganesh, and Dimitra Liotsiou of the University of Oxford, Graphika CEO John Kelly, and Graphika Research and Analysis Director Camille François—noted that, from 2013 to 2018, "the IRA's Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter campaigns reached tens of millions of users in the United States... Over 30 million users, between 2015 and 2017, shared the IRA's Facebook and Instagram posts with their friends and family, liking, reacting to, and commenting on them along the way."

While the IRA's activity focusing on the US began on Twitter in 2013, as Ars previously reported, the company had used Twitter since 2009 to shape domestic Russian opinion. "Our analysis confirms that the early focus of the IRA's Twitter activity was the Russian public, targeted with messages in Russian from fake Russian users," the report's authors stated. "These misinformation activities began in 2009 and continued until Twitter began closing IRA accounts in 2017."

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC forces California to drop plan for government fees on text messages

December 17, 2018 - 9:38pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Tom Werner)

California telecom regulators have abandoned a plan to impose government fees on text-messaging services, saying that a recent Federal Communications Commission vote has limited its authority over text messaging.

The FCC last week voted to classify text-messaging as an information service, rather than a telecommunications service.

"Information service" is the same classification the FCC gave to broadband when it repealed net neutrality rules and claimed that states aren't allowed to impose their own net neutrality laws. California's legislature passed a net neutrality law anyway and is defending it in court. But the state's utility regulator chose not to challenge the FCC on regulation of text messaging.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Conservation of energy used to parallelize quantum key distribution

December 17, 2018 - 8:53pm

Enlarge (credit: Taki Steve / Flickr)

It has been a while since I wrote about quantum key distribution. Once a technology is commercially available, my interest starts to fade. But commercial availability in this case hasn't meant widespread use. Quantum key distribution has ended up a niche market because creating shared keys with it for more than one connection using a single device is so difficult.

That may all change now with a very inventive solution that makes use of all the best things: lasers, nonlinear optics, and conservation of energy.

Quantum key distribution in less than 500 words

The goal of quantum key distribution is to generate a random number that is securely shared between two people, always termed Alice and Bob. The shared random number is then used to seed classical encryption algorithms.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: Take 24% off the latest 9.7-inch Apple iPad

December 17, 2018 - 8:25pm

Enlarge (credit: TechBargains)

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today's list is headlined by a deal on the 32GB model of Apple's latest 9.7-inch iPad, which is down to $249 at Walmart and Amazon. That's $80 off its usual price.

This has been the iPad's sale price for much of the holiday season, but if you're in need of a new tablet and haven't taken advantage yet, it's still a strong deal. While the 9.7-inch model isn't the most capable device for professional work, it is far and away the best slate on the market for the things most people do with tablets—namely, watching videos, reading articles, and playing games.

It may not have the souped-up processor or ultra-vibrant display of Apple's iPad Pro devices, but it is still built well and plenty smooth for far less money. Android's sloppiness on large screens almost makes Apple king of this territory by default. There's no pressing need to upgrade if your tablet still serves you well, but if you need something new and don't want to settle for the flimsier designs of cheaper devices, the 9.7-inch model remains a good value. Note that the 128GB model is on sale, too, if you need more storage.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Genetic information as self-fulfilling prophecy

December 17, 2018 - 7:56pm

Enlarge (credit: 23AndMe on Flickr)

If the TV ads are at all effective, plenty of people will be getting the gift of their genetic tests this Christmas. These tests frequently allow people to explore their inherited tendencies toward health problems and, in some cases, may suggest lifestyle changes to ward off future problems—although studies have indicated that few people do.

However, DNA test results can also cause issues that wouldn't otherwise be there. Genetic information can exert a potent placebo effect—or the opposite, the nocebo effect, wherein if you think that something can harm you, it in fact does. And the potency of this effect has not been studied until now.

Experimental ethics

Some psychologists at Stanford wondered if the perception of genetic risk could actually increase people’s risk, independent of their actual genetic risk. In other words, could simply learning that you have a genetic propensity for something elicit physiological changes akin to really having that propensity, regardless of whether you have it? The team designed experiments to find out.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Archaeologists reconstruct pre-Columbian temple with 3D-printed blocks

December 17, 2018 - 6:51pm

Enlarge (credit: Brattarb via Wikimedia Commons)

The unfinished temple in a southern valley of the Lake Titicaca Basin in modern-day Bolivia has been a mystery for at least 500 years. Now known as the Pumapunku—"Door of the Jaguar" in the Quechua language—the complex stone structure is part of a sprawling complex of pyramids, plazas, and platforms built by a pre-Columbian culture we now call the Tiwanaku. Construction began around 500 CE and proceeded off and on, in phases, over the next few centuries until the Tiwanaku left the site around 900 or 1000 CE.

When the Inca Empire rose around 1200 CE, they claimed the sprawling ceremonial complex as the site of the world's creation, although they didn't finish the Tiwanaku's temple.

Old school and high tech

Spanish visitors in the 1500s and 1600s describe “a wondrous, though unfinished, building” with walls of H-shaped andesite pieces and massive gateways and windows carved from single blocks. These were set on remarkably smooth sandstone slabs, some of which weighed more than 80 tons. But after centuries of looting, the stones of the Pumapunku are so scattered that not one lies in its original place. The Tiwanaku left behind no written documents or plans to help modern researchers understand what their buildings looked like or what purpose they served.

Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sony inadvertently leaks player counts for PS4 titles

December 17, 2018 - 6:33pm

Enlarge

Here at Ars, we have a longstanding obsession with revealing the hidden numbers in the secretive world of video game sales and gameplay data. So we were intrigued this weekend when we heard that Sony seems to have inadvertently revealed the total number of players for a large majority of the PS4's library.

The leak centers on Sony's recent My PS4 Life promotion, which lets users generate a personalized statistics video for their PSN Gamertag. Amid some aggregate statistics and "total hours played" numbers for your favorite games, the video also lists your "rarest" trophy and, crucially, the precise number of PSN users who have earned that trophy.

Sony has long made public the percentage of a game's players that have earned any specific trophy on PSN (rounded to the nearest tenth of a percent). Combining that percentage with the "My PS4 Life" numbers, that makes it relatively simple to reverse-engineer an overall "players" estimate for that game.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

CenturyLink blocked its customers’ Internet access in order to show an ad

December 17, 2018 - 5:32pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | RiverNorthPhotography)

CenturyLink briefly disabled the Internet connections of customers in Utah last week and allowed them back online only after they acknowledged an offer to purchase filtering software.

CenturyLink falsely claimed that it was required to do so by a Utah state law that says ISPs must notify customers "of the ability to block material harmful to minors." In fact, the new law requires only that ISPs notify customers of their filtering software options "in a conspicuous manner"; it does not say that the ISPs must disable Internet access until consumers acknowledge the notification. The law even says that ISPs may make the notification "with a consumer's bill," which shouldn't disable anyone's Internet access.

Coincidentally, CenturyLink's blocking of customer Internet access occurred days before the one-year anniversary of the Federal Communications Commission repeal of net neutrality rules, which prohibited blocking and throttling of Internet access.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google announces major expansion in New York City

December 17, 2018 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / Google's current New York Headquarters is in the former Port Authority of New York building. It occupies an entire long city block between 8th and 9th Avenues and between 15th and 16th Streets. (credit: Jefferson Siegel/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Google's New York office is already its largest outside the San Francisco Bay Area, but on Monday the company announced plans to double the size of its New York workforce to more than 14,000. The company is building a new campus in the Hudson Square neighborhood, about a mile south of its current New York headquarters in the Chelsea neighborhood.

It's been a big couple of months for technology companies expanding beyond the West Coast. Last month, Amazon announced it would add a total of 50,000 jobs in two new campuses—one in New York's Long Island City neighborhood, and the other in Crystal City in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC. Last week, Apple announced it would expand its 6,000-person Austin campus by another 5,000 workers, with the potential to add an additional 10,000 people later on.

Now it's Google's turn. The search giant is planning to add at least 7,000 more New York City jobs over the next decade, and a Google spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that this was "a conservative estimate."

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Tuesday may deliver a triple-header of big launches to cap 2018

December 17, 2018 - 3:48pm

Enlarge / A Delta IV Heavy rocket last launched in August, 2018, with the Parker Solar Probe. (credit: United Launch Alliance)

So far this year there have been 106 orbital launches around the world, the most in a calendar year since 1990. That works out to roughly one launch every three days. Now, as we approach the end of this year, the launch industry has a treat for us—potentially three launches in a single day on Tuesday.

For rocket fanatics, this should make for a fun day, especially with some bigger rockets on the launch pad. Here's a rundown on what to expect and the significance of each launch.

Falcon 9: Cape Canaveral, Florida

SpaceX's final launch of the year, its 21st overall, will be an important one for the company. It is scheduled for 9:11am ET (14:11 UTC) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Apple to bring Charlie Brown and the Peanuts to its streaming service

December 17, 2018 - 3:36pm

Enlarge (credit: DHX Media, Peanuts)

Apple snagged a whole group of stars in its latest get for its upcoming streaming service. According to a report by Variety, Apple signed a deal with Canadian broadcaster DHX Media to produce new content featuring the Peanuts gang, Charles M. Schulz's band of friends including Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the lovable beagle Snoopy.

Under the deal, DHX and its subsidiary, Peanuts Worldwide, will produce "original series, specials, and shorts" based on the characters from Schultz's iconic comic strip. Some of that content will be STEM related and feature astronaut Snoopy, a product of a partnership between Peanuts Worldwide and NASA. The two companies recently came together through a Space Act Agreement to inspire a passion for space and STEM-related fields in kids.

In 2017, DHX Media acquired a majority stake in Peanuts Worldwide through a $345 million deal, which also included total control over Strawberry Shortcake. The Schultz family owns the remaining stake in Peanuts Worldwide.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Central Londoners to be subjected to facial recognition test this week

December 17, 2018 - 10:30am

Enlarge / A public notice of a previous Met Police facial recognition test. (credit: Metropolitan Police)

London’s Metropolitan Police Service will be testing facial recognition technology in a handful of locations across the central core of the British capital on both Monday and Tuesday for eight hours each day.

This trial marks the seventh such trial in London since 2016. In addition to the December 17-18 tests, authorities have said there will be three more tests that have yet to be scheduled.

According to the police, these trials, which "will be used overtly with a clear uniformed presence and information leaflets will be disseminated to the public," are set to take place specifically in the vicinity of Soho, Piccadilly Circus, and Leicester Square.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

HQ Trivia and Vine co-founder dead at 34

December 17, 2018 - 1:01am

Enlarge / Honorees Rus Yusupov (L) and Colin Kroll accept the Breakthrough Award for Emerging Technology onstage at the Variety Breakthrough of the Year Awards during the 2014 International CES at The Las Vegas Hotel & Casino on January 9, 2014 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (credit: Jeff Bottari/Getty Images for Variety)

Colin Kroll, co-founder of the popular smartphone-based trivia game HQ Trivia, was found dead at his New York apartment on Sunday, local media reported.

A New York Police Department spokesman told Ars that Kroll died of a drug overdose.

Citing anonymous police sources, the New York Post says Kroll was found with marijuana and heroin near his body. He was 34.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Trump will replace Interior Department Secretary next week

December 16, 2018 - 10:30pm

Enlarge / US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke arrives at the US Capitol prior to the service for former President George H. W. Bush on December 03, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Photo by Shawn Thew - Pool/Getty Images)

President Trump announced Friday via Twitter that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will step down from his post in the coming weeks. Zinke has headed the Department of the Interior (DOI) since 2017 and overseen some of the more significant rollbacks in environmental policy in the US.

Trump said a successor to Zinke would be named in the coming week. Reuters speculates current Interior Deputy Secretary and former oil, gas, and water industry lobbyist David Bernhardt is a likely candidate for the job. According to Politico, Bernhardt played an active role in weakening endangered species protections to make it easier for oil and gas drilling to occur on ecologically sensitive land.

Zinke's time in office was marked by a similar effort to stymie the environmental protections put in place by the Obama administration in the name of oil and gas interests. In one of his most controversial moves, Zinke reopened vast tracts of federal waters that had previously been off-limits to offshore oil and gas drilling. The secretary drew sharp criticism for opening up federal waters adjacent to states that didn't want offshore drilling, while exempting Florida from the same treatment after a meeting from the state's Republican governor.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

No more doubts: Two independent studies confirm LIGO’s Nobel discovery

December 16, 2018 - 7:13pm

Enlarge / LIGO's February 11, 2016, press conference in Washington, DC, where they announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves. (credit: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Just last month, we told you about a small group of Danish physicists who were casting doubt on the original gravitational wave signal detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), saying it was an "illusion." The researchers alleged that the collaboration mistook patterns in the noise for a signal. Now Quanta is reporting that two independent analyses have been completed that confirm that detection. This should lay any doubts about the momentous discovery to rest.

“We see no justification for lingering doubts about the discovery of gravitational waves,” the authors of one of the papers, Martin Green and John Moffat of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, told Quanta. That paper appeared in Physics Letters B in September. A second paper by Alex Nielsen of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hannover, Germany, and three coauthors, was posted to the physics preprint site arXiv.org last month and is under review by the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

But some drama still remains. Andrew Jackson, group spokesman for the skeptical physicists at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark, is refusing to accept the results of the two independent groups' analyses. Quanta's Natalie Wolchover writes:

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

California transit agencies have 21 years to build zero-emissions bus fleets

December 16, 2018 - 6:30pm

Enlarge / One of Antelope Valley Transit Authority's 79 electric buses. (credit: Megan Geuss)

California's Air Resources Board (CARB) unanimously approved a regulation last Friday that would compel the state's public transit agencies to build zero-emissions fleets by 2040. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the regulation would also prohibit transit agencies from investing in diesel- or gas-powered buses after 2029. Buses usually last about 12 years before they need to be replaced, the Chronicle noted.

In a press release on Friday, CARB noted that the transportation sector contributes 40 percent of the state's greenhouse gas emissions, and 80 to 90 percent of the state's smog-creating pollutants. "Full implementation of the regulation adopted today is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19 million metric tons from 2020 to 2050—the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road," CARB wrote.

Battery-electric and fuel cell buses are two potential avenues for investment, CARB noted. The air resources board added that roughly 12,000 gas- or diesel-burning buses are on California's roads today, but only 153 zero-emissions buses operate in California. Based on orders placed by transit agencies, about a thousand such buses are expected to be in service by 2020.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Huawei Watch GT review: When hardware and software don’t mesh

December 16, 2018 - 3:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Only a handful of wearable operating systems exist today. Dominating the market are watchOS and Wear OS, unsurprisingly so, as they accompany the two most popular smartphone operating systems. But there are a few challengers out there, like Samsung's Tizen and Fitbit OS, that give users other options.

Variety is good, so I'm always interested in testing out wearables that don't run the most popular OSes. Huawei's latest smartwatch, the Huawei Watch GT, falls into this category, as it runs the company's LiteOS rather than WearOS. While the Chinese company has primarily focused on its smartphone business this year, going the extra mile to put its own OS on this smartwatch shows that it's serious about wearables (at least, for the time being).

So what do the Huawei Watch GT and LiteOS have to offer? Essentially, the device is a simplified smartwatch that has all the hardware bells and whistles you'd expect from a high-end Wear OS device or an Apple Watch—things like an AMOLED display, a continuous heart-rate monitor, an embedded GPS, and more. But in practice, its feature set and its real-world abilities don't exactly match its relatively high $230 price tag.

Read 39 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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