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Reference Content

 
Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 21 min 12 sec ago

Elon Musk has been pitching cheap tunnels from The Boring Company to big names

1 hour 37 min ago

Enlarge / Plans for a potential tunnel connecting Sydney, Australia, to the West. (credit: Jeremy Buckingham)

Elon Musk—CEO of Tesla, SpaceX, and The Boring Company—has been pitching his new tunnel-boring capabilities to curious elected officials as well as the director of CERN (the organization that owns and operates the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland).

Just a month after Musk opened up his first, rather rugged test tunnel under the SpaceX campus in Hawthorne, California, the CEO has been on Twitter floating prices and talking projects.

Last week Jeremy Buckingham, a member of Parliament in New South Wales' Upper House, asked Musk on Twitter, "How much to build a 50km tunnel through the Blue Mountains and open up the west of our State?" Musk replied, "About $15M/km for a two-way high-speed transit, so probably around $750M plus maybe $50M/station."

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Russia tries to force Facebook and Twitter to relocate servers to Russia

2 hours 5 min ago

Enlarge / A smartphone folder labeled with the Russian word for "community." (credit: Getty Images | Kirill Kudryavtsev )

The Russian government agency responsible for censorship on the Internet has accused Facebook and Twitter of failing to comply with a law requiring all servers that store personal data to be located in Russia.

Roskomnadzor, the Russian censorship agency, "said the social-media networks hadn't submitted any formal and specific plans or submitted an acceptable explanation of when they would meet the country's requirements that all servers used to store Russians' personal data be located in Russia," The Wall Street Journal reported today.

Roskomnadzor said it sent letters to Facebook and Twitter on December 17, giving them 30 days to provide "a legally valid response."

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, video games, and the new online town square

2 hours 20 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

Over the weekend, tens of thousands of people—including one sitting US Congressperson—gathered online to watch a marathon stream of someone playing Donkey Kong 64. The most notable thing about this, perhaps, was just how little organic interest in Donkey Kong 64 actually had to do with much of the gathering.

Let me back up a little bit. The main, ostensible purpose for Harry "Hbomberguy" Brewis' "Donkey Kong Nightmare Stream" was that he simply wanted to beat Donkey Kong 64, as he put it on YouTube. DK64 was a game Brewis said he "never finished properly as a kid... I want to destroy Donkey Kong 64, so until that has been achieved, the stream doesn't stop. I don't care if I fall asleep. I don't care if I run out of food. The stream will continue."

But the stream was also set up as a fundraiser for Mermaids, a UK-based gender-dysphoria charity that has recently been criticized by TV writer and comedian Graham Linehan (The IT Crowd, Father Ted). And Brewis was clear that Linehan's words also served as a direct motivation for the charity marathon.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google must pay €50 million for GDPR violations, France says

3 hours 9 min ago

Enlarge / Google's main headquarters. (credit: Cyrus Farivar)

Google has been fined €50 million (~$57 million) by French regulators, the first major penalty under a sweeping new European Union privacy law known as GDPR, which took effect last year.

According to the French government agency, known by the acronym CNIL, Google is still in breach of the law.

CNIL explained that Google had violated two provisions of the law: first by not making its data-collection policies easily accessible enough and second by not obtaining sufficient and specific user consent for ad personalization across each of Google’s numerous services, including YouTube, Google Maps, and more.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Why Uber wants to build scooters and bikes that can drive themselves

3 hours 37 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Robert Alexander/Getty Images)

Uber is looking to hire people to help it develop autonomous scooter and bike technology, according to Wired-editor-turned-robotics-entrepreneur Chris Anderson. The goal would be to allow bikes and scooters to "drive themselves to charging or better locations." People interested in joining the project can fill out this form.

Uber acquired the bike- and scooter-sharing startup Jump last year and has continued offering electric bikes and scooters under the Jump brand. Efforts to develop autonomous bikes and scooters will be conducted under the Jump brand, according to Anderson. Uber also has a separate self-driving car project called the Uber Advanced Technology Group.

One of the biggest logistical challenges for companies renting out electric bikes and scooters is how to keep the batteries charged. Companies use a variety of strategies for recharging. Some companies have employees who drive around the city picking up bikes and taking them back to charging stations. A Jump competitor called Bird has experimented with paying people to collect scooters and charge them at home.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dealmaster: A bunch of Sonos speakers are discounted for the Super Bowl

3 hours 50 min ago

Enlarge / The Beam is more of an entry-level soundbar for smaller rooms and TVs than a true Playbar or Playbase replacement. (credit: Sonos)

Super Bowl season typically brings an uptick in deals for TV tech. True to form, Sonos has announced discounts for a handful of its home theater devices.

Here’s a rundown of the smart-speaker maker’s offerings:

  • The Sonos Beam soundbar is available for $349, a $50 discount.
  • The company’s larger soundbar, the Sonos Playbar, is available for $599, a $100 discount.
  • The Sonos Playbase, a speaker designed to sit under TVs that aren’t wall mounted, is available for $599, a $100 discount.
  • The Sonos Sub wireless subwoofer is also available for $599, another $100 discount.
  • Various bundles that include a mixture of the products above and/or the company’s Sonos One smart speakers are also discounted.

The deals are available on the Sonos website as well as third-party retailers like Amazon. Sonos says they will last until February 3, the date of Super Bowl LIII.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

This massive rocket creates a fireball as it launches, and that’s by design

5 hours 31 min ago

Anyone who watched the launch of United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy rocket on Saturday was treated to an up-close view of the liftoff. This vantage point, showing the three-core rocket taking off beneath blue skies, offered a distinct view of a fireball engulfing the rocket during launch.

This can be rather distracting if you've never seen it before—uhh, is that rocket about to blow up?—but in reality it's a byproduct of the RS-68 rocket engines that power each of the three cores of the Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle.

Developed during the 1990s by Rocketdyne, the expendable RS-68 engine was designed to be less expensive and more powerful than the Space Shuttle's reusable RS-25 main engines. Like the Shuttle's engines, the RS-68 engine runs on a cryogenic fuel mix of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Old Gods and New Gods prepare for war in new trailer for American Gods S2

January 20, 2019 - 8:00pm

Second trailer for American Gods season 2, which debuts on Starz March 10.

We're less than two months away from the second season debut of American Gods, the TV adaptation of Neil Gaiman's 2001 novel, and Starz has rewarded fans' patience with a shiny new trailer.

(Spoilers for first season below.)

In season one, recently released convict Shadow Moon (Ricky Whittle) falls in with the mysterious Mr. Wednesday (Ian McShane) as his bodyguard after losing his wife, Laura (Emily Browning). But Mr. Wednesday is not who he seems. He's actually the ancient Norse god Odin, seeking to rally all the remaining Old Gods, who are slowly dying off from people's lack of belief. Their mission: beat back the encroaching influence of all the New Gods so they can survive.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Intrepid scientist corrects physiology in Gulliver’s Travels after 300 years

January 20, 2019 - 5:00pm

Enlarge / Title page of the first edition of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, relating the fictional adventures of one Lemuel Gulliver. (credit: Meisei University Library, Tokyo, Japan)

Gulliver's Travels is justly regarded as one of the best satirical novels of all time, although its author, Jonathan Swift, claimed he wrote the book "to vex the world rather than divert it." Politicians of the time were indeed vexed at being mocked in its pages. It seems the author's physiological descriptions also proved a bit vexatious, according to a charming new paper in the Journal of Physiological Sciences.

First published in 1726, Gulliver's Travels relates the fictional adventures of one Lemuel Gulliver, "first a surgeon and then a captain of several ships," according to the book's lengthy subtitle. During his voyages, Gulliver encounters several unusual species: the tiny people of Lilliput; the giants of Brobdingnag; talking horses called Houyhnhnms who rule over the deformed, uncouth Yahoos; and the inhabitants of the flying island of Laputa, who devote themselves to the study of science and the arts but have never figured out how to apply that knowledge for practical applications. Apart from its literary qualities, Gulliver's Travels provided ample fodder for eagle-eyed experts, since Swift couldn't resist going into great detail about the physiology of his fictional species, practically inviting closer scrutiny.

Toshio Kuroki, special advisor to the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science and professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and Gifu University, read Gulliver's Travels for the first time with his book club. Having spent a long, prestigious career conducting cancer research, Kuroki immediately noticed an error on Swift's part when estimating Gulliver's energy requirements compared to those of the diminutive Lilliputians. It spurred him to look more closely at similar passages in the book and to make his own comparative physiological analysis of the fictional creatures encountered by Gulliver during his travels.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Why Silicon Valley’s “growth at any cost” is the new “unsafe at any speed”

January 20, 2019 - 4:30pm

(video link)

If there's one person outside of government who has stood against Facebook's crashing wave, it's Ashkan Soltani.

Late last year, the independent privacy researcher was suddenly called to speak before the UK Parliament about Facebook's privacy practices, simply because he happened to be in London and, in his own words, "was just a dick on Twitter."

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Western Digital’s Black SSD is now focused on gaming, can come with a heatsink

January 20, 2019 - 4:00pm

Western Digital has begun shipping the WD Black SN750, the latest in its popular Black line of performance-oriented, solid-state hard drives. The company is also pivoting the Black brand to be primarily focused on gamers; this is part of an ongoing trend that high-end PC hardware is getting categorized as gamer gear.

Western Digital claims the newest entry will offer an option to help PC gamers reduce risk of throttling-related performance dips. That's thanks to an optional heatsink add-on, but the company also credits improved performance to firmware refinements. Other than that, the WD Black SN750 is a modest update over its predecessor. Anandtech benchmarked it and saw some performance improvements over the previous drive, but nothing dramatic—and what improvements were there were largely thanks to the firmware.

The SN750 still uses the same 64-layer 3D NAND we've seen before, while some competitors are introducing 96-layer 3D NAND products. Nevertheless, the SN750 remains an attractive option for performance-minded gamers because of its power efficiency, because of its more-than-good-enough performance, and because the prices are more attractive than they once were.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Withings Pulse HR review: A longer-lasting competitor to Fitbit’s Alta HR

January 20, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

Withings has returned as its own company after a short stint under Nokia, and it's brought out some new fitness trackers to take on the top contenders. The $129 Withings Pulse HR looks and acts much like Fitbit's Alta HR: its svelte, rectangular module tracks heart rate all day and night as well as daily activity and workouts.

Plenty of fitness trackers have debuted in the past couple of years, but the Alta HR remains our top pick for most users. Withings is hoping to dethrone it in the minds of the public by offering a device that's even more subtle in design and promises weeks of battery life. But those things aren't achievable without sacrifices, and the options Withings left out of the Pulse HR may deter some from choosing it.

Design Withings Pulse HR Price: $129.95 at Amazon

Buy

The Pulse HR may be nondescript, but that doesn't mean it's not solid. Stainless steel makes up most of the module, along with a polycarbonate surface coating that makes the top part soft to the touch. The OLED display is only as big as it has to be—it doesn't take up the entire flat surface of the modular, rather only the middle third or so.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How Buke and Gase built a huge indie rock career—and its own guitars, software

January 19, 2019 - 7:50pm

NEW YORK CITY—The band brings to the stage: two stringed instruments, neither of which look exactly like a bass or a guitar; two grids of foot-triggered effects pedals and switches; two music stands, covered with a smattering of synthesizers, touchscreens, and touch-sensitive pads; two laptops, connected to this variety of inputs in a center console; and two foot-triggered pieces of percussion.

One of those is a compact kick-drum rig, connected to the laptops. The other is a bicycling shoe with tambourine parts welded onto its sides and sole.

This pre-show array of gear usually elicits curious looks from crowds who wonder what kind of noise is about to emerge. But the band Buke and Gase are here for a homecoming show of sorts. They're fresh off a nationwide tour with Shellac, among the esteemed post-punk bands to have ties to the genre's original DIY movement. They've just put the final touches on their new album, titled Scholars, set to launch two months later (as in, January 18). People are here to celebrate.

Read 51 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hermit crabs evolved longer penises to keep their shells from being stolen

January 19, 2019 - 7:06pm

Enlarge / An adult male hermit crab of the species Coenobita compressus ambling along on a leisurely stroll. (credit: Mark Laidre)

Hermit crabs protect their soft, curved abdomens from harm by scavenging seashells and turning them into portable homes. That poses a challenge when it comes time to mate, since a rival can steal the shell while its occupant is, shall we say, otherwise occupied. A new paper in the journal Royal Society Interface poses an intriguing new hypothesis: some species of male hermit crabs evolved substantially longer penises so they could mate without having to venture too far outside their shells.

Mark Laidre, a biologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, dubbed his hypothesis "private parts for private property." He's been studying the behavior of a particular species of hermit crab, Coenobita compressus, for the last decade.

Seashells are a valuable, limited resource—a kind of private property for hermit crabs and their most prized possession. This is particularly true for Coenobita compressus. This species engages in elaborate remodeling of scavenged shells to tailor them precisely to their liking, tearing out hard material inside the shell over several months to make more room for their bodies. Because the shells are so valuable, there is stiff competition to attain a really nice shell. Fights break out, crabs will kill another crab for their shells, and sometimes the beasts will just outright steal them. Since the remodeled shells prevent the creatures from drying out (which can happen within 24 hours), they are crucial to the crabs' survival.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Even with the Google/Fossil deal, Wear OS is doomed

January 19, 2019 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / Wear OS seems nice, but it lacks apps and decent hardware. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Google and Fossil Group were involved in some kind of acquisition deal yesterday. Despite being a fashion brand, Fossil is probably the biggest remaining seller of Android Wear OS hardware. Brands like Fossil, Michael Kors, Diesel, Emporio Armani, and Misfit are all part of Fossil Group, and all produce Wear OS devices. Fossil sold Google some IP and "a portion of Fossil Group's research and development team currently supporting the transferring IP" for $40 million.

Fossil's stock jumped 8 percent on the news, which was probably "mission accomplished" as far as this announcement was concerned. The press release sent the tech community into a tizzy, though.

"Google cares about Android Wear?" "This will fix everything!" "When is the Pixel Watch coming out?"

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Damning court docs show just how far Sacklers went to push OxyContin

January 19, 2019 - 2:00pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

With the opioid epidemic raging, you may at this point be familiar with Purdue Pharma. It makes the powerful painkiller OxyContin and has been widely blamed for igniting the current crisis.

After debuting OxyContin in 1996, Purdue raked in billions using aggressive and deceptive sales tactics, including ratcheting up dosages of the addictive opioid while lying about its addictiveness. As OxyContin prescriptions soared, opioid overdose deaths increased six-fold in the US, killing more than 400,000 people between 1999 and 2017. Of those deaths, around 200,000 involved prescription opioids specifically.

In 2007, Purdue and three of its executives pleaded guilty in federal court to misleading doctors, regulators, and patients about the addictiveness of OxyContin. The company has seen a flurry of lawsuits making similar allegations since then.

Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Toyota Sienna minivan mixes the solid with the subpar

January 19, 2019 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / The Sienna resplendent in an elementary school parking lot.

In the early 2000s, I was in the market for a big car. We needed something that could ferry our daughter and stuff around, carry drywall and other home-improvement stuff, and feel comfortable on cross-country trips to visit my family. Neither our Ford Taurus nor Saturn SL1 fit the bill, and we weren't feeling the SUV love. As we started looking into minivans, it became clear that there were three models to look at seriously: the Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Town & Country, and Toyota Sienna.

Nearly 20 years later, not much has changed. Honda, Chrysler, and Toyota still rule the minivan market in terms of sales. We drove the Town & Country's successor, the Pacifica, last year and came away very impressed. So when I found out there was a 2019 Toyota Sienna on the local press fleet, reviewing it was a no-brainer.

The Sienna got a new powertrain in 2017, and last year's model saw some safety and ride quality improvements. Toyota Safety Sense, its suite of driver-assist technology, became standard on the Sienna. Toyota also tackled ride quality by making the cabin quieter. For 2019, support for CarPlay and Amazon Alexa has been added, and the all-wheel-drive powertrain is now available on the SE trim.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

“Our worst fears have come true,” VW Group exec wrote to Audi exec

January 18, 2019 - 11:43pm

Enlarge / A sign for car service for Audi and VW is pictured on January 09, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. (credit: Photo by Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images)

On Thursday, a federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, indicted four Audi executives for playing a role in the diesel cheating scandals that rocked parent company Volkswagen Group in 2015 and 2016. The four executives—Richard Bauder, Axel Eiser, Stefan Knirsch, and Carsten Nagel—all worked for Audi in Germany, and they have not been arrested.

The four men have been charged (PDF) with conspiracy to defraud the United States, commit wire fraud, and violate the Clean Air Act.

The indictment offered some new details on how emissions cheating unfolded at Audi and VW Group, especially with respect to emissions control system cheats on Audi's 3.0L diesel vehicles.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Verizon offers free robocall blocking, two years after AT&T and T-Mobile

January 18, 2019 - 9:34pm

Enlarge / A Verizon logo at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Verizon yesterday said it will make spam and robocall blocking features free for all wireless customers starting in March, about two years after AT&T and T-Mobile began offering free robocall blocking.

"In March, we will be rolling out our free spam alerting and call blocking tools to all of our wireless customers whose smartphones support these features, including iPhone and Android devices," Verizon's announcement said. "There will be more information on how to sign up for the free service as we get closer to launch."

Verizon added call and spam screening features more than a year ago to its $2.99-per-month Call Filter product, which also lets customers see contact details for unknown callers. Verizon pointed to research showing that its system "correctly identified potential problem phone numbers approximately 93.6 percent of the time."

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook may be hit with “record-setting fine” by FTC, report says

January 18, 2019 - 9:13pm

Enlarge (credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

According to a Friday report by The Washington Post, federal regulators have discussed imposing a "record-setting fine against Facebook" for violating the company’s 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.

The Post, which cited "three people familiar with the deliberations," reported that the total amount is "expected to be much larger than the $22.5 million fine" that Google previously paid in 2012.

Facebook has come under significant scrutiny over the last year in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that erupted in March 2018. That now-defunct British data analytics company was revealed to have retained data on 50 million Facebook users despite claiming to have deleted it.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments


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