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Aujourd’hui — 28 février 2021Ars Technica

As important as the Beetle? Two days with Volkswagen’s electric ID.4

Par Jonathan M. Gitlin
  • Volkswagen says the ID.4 is as important to its future as the Beetle was to its past. [credit: Jonathan Gitlin ]

The Volkswagen ID.4 is a big deal for its manufacturer. After getting busted six years ago for fibbing about diesel emissions, VW underwent a corporate transformation, throwing all its chips into electrification. As a big believer in modular architectures that it can use to build a wide range of vehicles from a common set of parts, it got to work on a new architecture just for battery electric vehicles, called MEB (Modularer E-Antriebs-Baukasten or Modular Electrification Toolkit).

Since then, we've seen a dizzying array of MEB-based concepts, including that electric bus that everyone wants, and even a bright green buggy. But the ID.4 is no mere concept. It's the first production MEB vehicle to go on sale here in the US, designed with the crossover-crazy US market firmly in mind. Last September we got our first good look at the ID.4 in under studio lights in Brooklyn, and a month later, Ars got to spend 45 minutes on the road with a pre-production ID.4. But now we've had two full days in a model year 2021 ID.4 1st Edition, getting to know it on local turf.

Volumetrically, it's about the same size as a Toyota RAV4 or VW Tiguan: 181 inches (4,585mm) long, 73 inches wide (1,852mm), and 64 inches tall (1,637mm), with a 109-inch (2,766mm) wheelbase. Depending on the angle it can be quite a handsome shape. That's helped by the way the 1st Edition's aerodynamic 20-inch alloy wheels fill their arches helps convince the brain that the car is smaller than it actually is, as well as the designer's trick of making bits disappear by cladding them in glossy black panels.

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Hier — 27 février 2021Ars Technica

Creator or Creature? A Nightmare Wakes dramatizes the birth of Frankenstein

Par Jennifer Ouellette

Alix Wilton Regan stars as Mary Shelley in the throes of creating her timeless literary masterpiece in A Nightmare Wakes.

It's one of the most famous origin stories in literary history. One summer night in 1816 in Geneva, Lord Byron hosted a gathering of his fellow Romantics, including Percy Shelley and his lover (soon-to-be wife), Mary Godwin. The incessant rain confined the party indoors for days at a time, and one night, over dinner at the Villa Diodati, Byron propose that everyone write a ghost story to amuse themselves. The result was Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, the classic Gothic horror tale of a mad scientist who creates a monster—arguably the first science fiction novel.

That fateful summer is the subject of A Nightmare Wakes, the first feature film from writer/director Nora Unkel. It's been portrayed before, most recently in a 2020 episode of Doctor Who, but Unkel's film delves particularly into Mary Shelley's inner state of mind and the process of creation, as the world of her imagination begins to bleed into her reality. Per the official premise: "While composing her famous novel, Frankenstein, Mary Shelley (Alix Wilton Regan) descends into an opium-fueled fever dream while carrying on a torrid love affair with Percy Shelley (Giullian Yao Gioiello). As she writes, the characters of her novel come to life and begin to plague her relationship with Percy. Before long, she must choose between true love and her literary masterpiece."

(Mild spoilers below)

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Atlantic currents seem to have started fading last century

Par John Timmer
Image of a white, meandering band separating purple areas from grey ones.

Enlarge / The Gulf Stream, as imaged from space. (credit: NASA images courtesy Norman Kuring, MODIS Ocean Team.)

The major currents in the Atlantic Ocean help control the climate by moving warm surface waters north and south from the equator, with colder deep water pushing back toward the equator from the poles. The presence of that warm surface water plays a key role in moderating the climate in the North Atlantic, giving places like the UK a far more moderate climate than its location—the equivalent of northern Ontario—would otherwise dictate.

But the temperature differences that drive that flow are expected to fade as our climate continues to warm. A bit over a decade ago, measurements of the currents seemed to be indicating that temperatures were dropping, suggesting that we might be seeing these predictions come to pass. But a few years later, it became clear that there was just too much year-to-year variation for us to tell.

Over time, however, researchers have figured out ways of getting indirect measures of the currents, using material that is influenced by the strengths of the water's flow. These measures have now let us look back on the current's behavior over the past several centuries. And the results confirm that the strength of the currents has dropped dramatically over the last century.

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Nikola admits to making “inaccurate” statements under disgraced founder

Par Timothy B. Lee
A prototype of the Nikola Tre battery electric truck.

Enlarge / A prototype of the Nikola Tre battery electric truck. (credit: Nikola)

Aspiring electric truck maker Nikola has admitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission that nine statements made by founder Trevor Milton were "inaccurate." Milton was forced to resign from Nikola in September, shortly after the falsehoods first came to light.

Between 2016 and 2020, Milton told a series of whoppers about his fledgling truck maker. At a 2016 press event, Milton took to the stage to unveil a prototype of the company's first truck, dubbed the Nikola One. During the event, Milton claimed that the truck "fully functions." In reality, Nikola never got the truck to move under its own power.

Nikola's most infamous flimflam came in 2018, when the company released a video of the Nikola One "in motion." In reality, Nikola had towed the inoperative truck to the top of a long, shallow incline and rolled it down, angling the camera so that it looked like it was driving on level ground.

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Perseverance’s eyes see a different Mars

Par WIRED
A camera array forms the

Enlarge / Perseverance's two Mastcam-Z imagers (in the gray boxes) are part of the rover's remote sensing mast. (credit: NASA)

The seven minutes of terror are over. The parachute deployed; the skycrane rockets fired. Robot truck goes ping! Perseverance, a rover built by humans to do science 128 million miles away, is wheels-down on Mars. Phew.

Percy has now opened its many eyes and taken a look around.

The rover is studded with a couple dozen cameras—25, if you count the two on the drone helicopter. Most of them help the vehicle drive safely. A few peer closely and intensely at ancient Martian rocks and sands, hunting for signs that something once lived there. Some of the cameras see colors and textures almost exactly the way the people who built them do. But they also see more. And less. The rover’s cameras imagine colors beyond the ones that human eyes and brains can come up with. And yet human brains still have to make sense of the pictures the cameras send home.

Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Hackers tied to Russia’s GRU targeted the US grid for years

Par WIRED
A powerline tower in a grassy field.

Enlarge (credit: Yuri Smityuk | Getty Images)

For all the nation-state hacker groups that have targeted the United States power grid—and even successfully breached American electric utilities—only the Russian military intelligence group known as Sandworm has been brazen enough to trigger actual blackouts, shutting the lights off in Ukraine in 2015 and 2016. Now one grid-focused security firm is warning that a group with ties to Sandworm’s uniquely dangerous hackers has also been actively targeting the US energy system for years.

On Wednesday, industrial cybersecurity firm Dragos published its annual report on the state of industrial control systems security, which names four new foreign hacker groups focused on those critical infrastructure systems. Three of those newly named groups have targeted industrial control systems in the US, according to Dragos. But most noteworthy, perhaps, is a group that Dragos calls Kamacite, which the security firm describes as having worked in cooperation with the GRU's Sandworm. Kamacite has in the past served as Sandworm's "access" team, the Dragos researchers write, focused on gaining a foothold in a target network before handing off that access to a different group of Sandworm hackers, who have then sometimes carried out disruptive effects. Dragos says Kamacite has repeatedly targeted US electric utilities, oil and gas, and other industrial firms since as early as 2017.

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FDA panel votes unanimously in favor of authorizing J&J vaccine

Par Beth Mole
A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California.

Enlarge / A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California. (credit: Getty | Mario Tama)

After a day-long meeting Friday, an advisory panel for the US Food and Drug Administration voted 22 to 0 to recommend issuing an Emergency Use Authorization for Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot, refrigerator-stable COVID-19 vaccine.

If the FDA accepts the panel’s recommendation and grants the EUA—which it likely will—the country will have a third COVID-19 vaccine authorized for use. Earlier this week, FDA scientists released their review of the vaccine, endorsing authorization. Today’s panel, the FDA’s Vaccines and Related Biological Products Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) went through the data further.

“It’s a relatively easy call,” Eric Rubin, a Harvard researcher and voting member of the VRBPAC said after the vote. “[The vaccine] clearly gets way over the bar and it’s nice to have a single-dose vaccine… the demand is so large [for vaccines], it clearly has a place.”

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Hard-coded key vulnerability in Logix PLCs has severity score of 10 out of 10

Par Dan Goodin
Hard-coded key vulnerability in Logix PLCs has severity score of 10 out of 10

Enlarge (credit: Rockwell Automation)

Hardware that is widely used to control equipment in factories and other industrial settings can be remotely commandeered by exploiting a newly disclosed vulnerability that has a severity score of 10 out of 10.

The vulnerability is found in programmable logic controllers from Rockwell Automation that are marketed under the Logix brand. These devices, which range from the size of a small toaster to a large bread box or even bigger, help control equipment and processes on assembly lines and in other manufacturing environments. Engineers program the PLCs using Rockwell software called Studio 5000 Logix Designer.

On Thursday, the US Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Administration warned of a critical vulnerability that could allow hackers to remotely connect to Logix controllers and from there alter their configuration or application code. The vulnerability requires a low skill level to be exploited, CISA said.

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TikTok agrees to proposed $92 million settlement in privacy class action

Par Kate Cox
TikTok agrees to proposed $92 million settlement in privacy class action

Enlarge (credit: Mateusz Slodkowski | SOPA Images | LightRocket | Getty Images)

TikTok parent company ByteDance has agreed to a $92 million deal to settle class-action lawsuits alleging that the company illegally collected and used underage TikTok users' personal data.

The proposed settlement (PDF) would require TikTok to pay out up to $92 million to members of the class and to change some of its data-collection processes and disclosures going forward.

The suit, which rolled up more than 20 related lawsuits, mostly filed on behalf of minors, alleged that TikTok violated both state and federal privacy laws, including the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act and the Video Privacy and Protection Act, through its use of data.

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Report: Stadia undershot to the tune of “hundreds of thousands” of users

Par Sam Machkovech
As we learn more about Stadia's inner workings, we've begun adding some "flair" to this Stadia-branded PUBG parachute.

Enlarge / As we learn more about Stadia's inner workings, we've begun adding some "flair" to this Stadia-branded PUBG parachute. (credit: PUBG / Getty Images / Aurich Lawson)

In the wake of Google shutting down its Stadia Games & Entertainment (SG&E) group, leaks about the underwhelming game-streaming service have started to emerge. A Friday Bloomberg report, citing unnamed Stadia sources, attaches a new number to the failures: "hundreds of thousands" fewer controllers sold and "monthly active users" (MAU) logging in than Google had anticipated.

The controller sales figure is central to the story told Friday by Bloomberg's Jason Schreier: that internally, Google was of two minds about how Stadia should launch. One idea looked back at some of the company's biggest successes, particularly Gmail, which launched softly in a public, momentum-building beta while watching how it was received over time. The other, championed by Stadia lead Phil Harrison, was to treat Stadia like a console, complete with some form of hardware that could be hyped and pre-sold. In Stadia's case, the latter won out, with Harrison bullishly selling a Stadia Founder's Bundle—and this worked out to be a $129.99 gate to the service. Without it, you couldn't access Stadia for its first few months.

As Schreier reports, Harrison and the Stadia leadership team "had come from the world of traditional console development and wanted to follow the route they knew."

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Netflix drops extended Shadow and Bone teaser, announces release date

Par Jennifer Ouellette

Jessie Mei Li stars as Alina Starkov in Shadow and Bone, a new Netflix fantasy series adapted from Leigh Bardugo's worldwide bestselling "Grishaverse" novels, premiering April 23.

Netflix unexpectedly dropped an extended teaser trailer for its forthcoming fantasy series Shadow and Bone during a panel at IGN Fan Fest. The hotly anticipated series is adapted from Leigh Bardugo's bestselling "Grishaverse" novels and will premiere on April 23.

(Mild spoilers for the books below.)

Bardugo published Shadow and Bone, the first of a trilogy, in June 2012, followed by Siege and Storm in 2013 and Ruin and Rising in 2014. She told Entertainment Weekly in 2012 that she deliberately avoided the usual medieval fantasy motifs and drew inspiration instead from the Russian Empire in the early 1800s. "As much as I love broadswords and flagons of ale—and believe me, I do—I wanted to take readers someplace a little different," she said. "Tsarist Russia gave me a different point of departure."

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Pokémon Legends: Arceus’ stealth-infused open world hits Switch in 2022

Par Kyle Orland
  • A vast, ancient wilderness ready to be explored.

Today's online Pokémon Presents stream, which celebrated the series' 25th anniversary, included at least one major surprise: the announcement of a new, more action-oriented Pokémon game set in a period resembling feudal Japan. Pokémon Legends: Arceus is in full development by Game Freak and is targeting an early 2022 release, according to the announcement.

While the new game will be set in the now-familiar Sinnoh region, it will move things back to "a long, long time ago, when the Sinnoh region was still only a vast wilderness." Players will operate from a base in a feudal-style village, starting out with one of three familiar starter pokémon (Rowlett, Cyndaquil, or Oshawott) to explore that wilderness and fill in the region's first pokédex.

A short trailer for the game showed a few changes from the series' usual RPG format. Using a Sword and Shield-style over-the-shoulder camera, players can "study the pokémon’s behaviors, sneak up to them, then throw pokéballs" to catch them directly, as the game's official description puts it.

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A 3rd shot? A new booster? Vaccine makers race to trials to beat variants

Par Beth Mole
COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Madrid on Feb. 26, 2021.

Enlarge / COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination center in Madrid on Feb. 26, 2021. (credit: Getty | NurPhoto)

With worrisome coronavirus variants seemingly emerging and spreading everywhere, lead vaccine makers are wasting no time in trying to get ahead of the growing threat.

This week, Moderna and partners Pfizer and BioNTech announced they have kicked off new vaccine clinical trials aimed at boosting the effectiveness of their authorized vaccines against new, concerning SARS-CoV-2 variants—primarily B.1.351, a variant first identified in South Africa.

In a set of studies published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, both the Moderna mRNA vaccine and Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccine spurred antibodies in vaccinated people that could neutralize the B.1.351 variant. But the levels of those neutralizing antibodies were significantly lower than what was seen against past versions of the virus. (Both vaccines performed well against the B.1.1.7 variant, first identified in the UK, which is expected to become the dominant strain in the US next month.)

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Texas woman sues Griddy after being charged $9,546 for 19 days of power

Par Jon Brodkin
US and Texas flags seen next to power lines and transmission towers.

Enlarge / The US and Texas flags fly in front of high-voltage transmission towers on February 21, 2021 in Houston, Texas. (credit: Getty Images | Justin Sullivan )

A Texas woman who was charged $9,546 for power this month has filed a class-action lawsuit against Griddy, alleging that the variable-rate electricity provider violated a state law against price gouging during disasters.

Lisa Khoury, a retiree in Mont Belvieu, signed up with Griddy in June 2019 and typically received monthly bills of $200 to $250 until this month's power disaster sent rates soaring. Griddy charged Khoury and her husband $9,546 from February 1 to 19, 2021, the lawsuit said, noting that "some customers received bills as high as $17,000."

Khoury's lawsuit, filed Monday in Harris County District Court, seeks certification of a class of thousands of Texas residents who bought power from Griddy, claiming they're entitled to damages of over $1 billion.

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Best Buy lays off 5,000 workers as it shifts focus to online sales

Par Timothy B. Lee
Snow outside of a Best Buy store in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on Feb. 17, 2021.

Enlarge / Snow outside of a Best Buy store in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, on Feb. 17, 2021. (credit: Nick Oxford/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Best Buy says it has trimmed its headcount by 21,000 over the last year as the pandemic has accelerated the company's transition to selling online. Most of those losses were due to attrition—including workers who were furloughed during the pandemic last year and then chose not to return to work. But Best Buy says that in recent weeks it formally laid off 5,000 workers. The company now has about 102,000 workers—including employees in its retail stores and corporate headquarters.

A company will often lay off workers because it is struggling. The last year has certainly been a challenging period for some brick-and-mortar businesses. This week, for example, electronics giant Fry's shut down all of its stores.

But that doesn't seem to be the situation at Best Buy, which has weathered the pandemic fairly well. In the last quarter, same-store sales at Best Buy's brick and mortar stores were up 12 percent compared to a year earlier. Meanwhile, online sales were up an impressive 89 percent.

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Google’s Smart TV software will have a “dumb TV” mode

Par Ron Amadeo
  • Google TV setup will show you this menu in the future. Here, the Google TV option enables apps, the Google Assistant, and recommendations. [credit: 9to5Google ]

The new Google TV is a fine smart TV interface, but when it gets integrated into some TV sets later this year, its best feature might be that you can turn it off. A report from 9to5Google details an upcoming "Basic TV" mode that will be built into Google TV, which turns off just about all the smart TV features. Right now, Google TV is only available in the new Chromecast, but Google TV will be built into upcoming TVs from Sony and TCL. Basic mode means we'll get smart TVs with a "dumb TV" mode.

The rise of smart TVs has led to the extinction of dumb TVs—today, basically every TV has some kind of computer and operating system built into it. If you're actually expecting to live with a TV for several years, the problem with smart TVs is that the dirt-cheap computers inside these TVs don't last as long as the display does. When your smart TV is a few years old, you might still have a perfectly good display panel, but you'll be forced to interact with it through a slow, old, possibly abandoned integrated computer. Companies should sell dumb TVs without any of this crap permanently integrated into them, but if they refuse, letting consumers turn off the software is the next best thing.

When the new feature rolls out, you'll be asked to choose between "Basic TV" or "Google TV" at setup. 9to5Google says that with basic mode, "almost everything is stripped, leaving users with just HDMI inputs and Live TV if they have an antenna plugged directly into the TV. Casting support, too, is dropped." The UI notes that you'll be turning off all apps, the Google Assistant, and personalized recommendations.

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Report: PS5 storage expansion will be available by summer

Par Kyle Orland
This style of PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSD should soon work with the PS5, though that massive heatsink won't fit inside the system's expansion bay.

Enlarge / This style of PCIe 4.0 M.2 SSD should soon work with the PS5, though that massive heatsink won't fit inside the system's expansion bay.

Bloomberg cites unnamed "people briefed on the matter" in reporting that PS5 owners will finally be able to expand the system's built-in storage by this coming summer. The planned firmware update that will unlock this feature will also allow for higher cooling-fan speeds on the system to prevent overheating, Bloomberg reports.

For games designed for the PS5, owners are currently limited to 667GB of usable space on the system's 825GB high-speed NVMe drive. That's a pretty strict limit when individual PS5 games can be 50 to 100GB or more at the high end. PS5 owners can plug in a standard USB hard drive to store backward-compatible PlayStation 4 games running on the system, though.

Almost a year ago, Sony announced that the PS5's storage space would be expandable with certain standard M.2 solid state drives, which are shaped a bit like a stick of gum. Sony said it would be benchmarking a number of those drives to ensure compatibility with the PS5's stated 5.5GBps data transfer spec. But Sony's Mark Cerny said at the time that the announcement of these officially confirmed PS5-compatible drives would "likely be a bit past" the PS5's launch.

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Maryland school district places largest-ever order for electric buses

Par Jonathan M. Gitlin
This is a Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley school bus, built by Thomas Built Buses and equipped with an electric powertrain from Proterra.

Enlarge / This is a Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley school bus, built by Thomas Built Buses and equipped with an electric powertrain from Proterra. (credit: Daimler)

This week's news about the new US Postal Service truck contract, and the USPS' decision to order 90 percent of them with internal combustion engines, has been viewed by many as a missed opportunity. Thankfully, the news is better when it comes to electrifying another one of our public services—the school bus. On Thursday, Montgomery County—a wealthy Maryland suburb adjacent to Washington, DC—approved a contract to electrify its entire school bus fleet.

School buses are an ideal candidate for electrification, given the frequent stops and the fact that the buses usually only run a couple of times each day. With more than 1,400 buses, the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education, which has more than 200 schools and 160,000 students, has one of the largest fleets of school buses in the country. Over the next four years it will get 326 new ones, the largest single order of EV buses by a school district in the country.

The buses in question are Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouleys, built by Thomas Built Buses and equipped with electric powertrains made by Proterra. The Saf-T-Liner C2 Jouley uses a 226kWh battery to achieve a range of up to 135 miles (217km), with up to 81 passengers aboard. The switch to electric power should cut the district's carbon emissions by 25,000 tons and reduce diesel particulate pollution.

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Hands-on with Stellantis’ new Android-based Uconnect 5 infotainment

Par Ars Staff
  • The Uconnect 5 infotainment system, as seen in the latest Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat, is built on Android Automotive. [credit: Bradley Iger ]

Infotainment systems have been a common sight in new passenger vehicles for well over a decade, but many automakers are only now realizing just how important these devices really are. For drivers who have embraced the always-connected lifestyle, it's undoubtedly the vehicle technology they'll directly interact with the most. As such, the features, performance, and user experience provided by these systems can have far-reaching implications for customers' overall impression of their automobiles.

It's something Stellantis has been well aware of for some time now. Back in 2003, Chrysler Group was the first North American automaker to offer Bluetooth technology in its vehicles, laying the groundwork for what would eventually become Uconnect 1.0.

In the years since, Uconnect has gone on to become one of the standard-bearers for OEM infotainment. Often at the forefront of emerging connectivity options and software integration, Uconnect has regularly been praised for its responsive performance and robust feature set—both key struggling points for many manufacturers back in infotainment's early years. The Uconnect ecosystem would continue to mature with the launch of 3.0 in 2013 and 4.0 in 2016, the latter being one of the earliest to adopt Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in a wide breadth of vehicles across various market segments.

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Rocket Report: Cornwall says “LOL, no” to space tourism, Korean rocket on track

Par Eric Berger
We won't be seeing New Glenn take flight for nearly two years, at least.

Enlarge / We won't be seeing New Glenn take flight for nearly two years, at least. (credit: Blue Origin)

Welcome to Edition 3.34 of the Rocket Report! I apologize for the unplanned hiatus last week. The Rocket Report's Houston-based author lacked power until Wednesday night amidst a massive winter storm and had no reliable Internet until Friday afternoon. We still had no hot water at our house, but at least we're no longer freezing. We're back just in time to spew all manner of spicy launch news this week.

As always, Ars welcomes reader submissions, and if you don't want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

KSLV-2 rocket on track for 2022 launch. As part of its budget for 2021 space activities, South Korea will spend $553 million for satellites, rockets, and other equipment. SpaceNews reports this funding will keep the country's development of its natively build KSLV-2 rocket, nicknamed Nuri, on schedule for a launch next year.

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À partir d’avant-hierArs Technica

Review: Thought-provoking sci-fi drama Bliss works on multiple levels

Par Jennifer Ouellette
Screenshot from Bliss trailer

Enlarge / Greg (Owen Wilson) and Isabel (Salma Hayek) find themselves shifting between a beautiful and an "ugly" world—but which is real, and which is the simulation? (credit: YouTube/Amazon)

A depressed man finds himself questioning the reality of his existence when he meets a free-spirited woman who insists he's inhabiting a simulation in Bliss, a new film from director Mike Cahill that stars Owen Wilson and Salma Hayek. Sure, it sounds like an indie riff on The Matrix, and there are a few shared elements, but Bliss is markedly different in theme and tone, and it is very much Cahill's unique vision.

(Major spoilers below the gallery. We'll give you a heads up when we get there.)

As we've reported previously, Cahill also directed the 2011 indie sci-fi film Another Earth—his first feature—which received a standing ovation at its premiere and won the Alfred P. Sloan Prize at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Cahill's 2014 followup feature, I Origins, also snagged the Sloan Prize; in fact, he's the only director to have twice won the award, so he has some serious indie sci-fi film street cred.

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Final Fantasy VII Remake Intergrade leads latest PlayStation game-reveal event

Par Sam Machkovech
  • Yuffie—a beloved hero who is in the original Final Fantasy VII but not its existing remake—returns to the remake's... remake. [credit: Square Enix ]

Sony's latest PlayStation-focused video reveal event, as part of its State of Play series, was its shortest yet, lacking announcements on any first-party Sony games coming to either PlayStation 5 or the older PS4. Instead, the event was led by a third-party whopper: a remake of... last year's Final Fantasy VII Remake.

That definition is a stretch, since this new title may be better classified as a graphical remaster, but there's a lot going on, as visible in the above gallery. The new game, FFVII Remake Intergrade, will land exclusively on PlayStation 5 consoles on June 10, and in good news, existing owners on PS4 will get nearly all of its content as a free upgrade (so long as they either own the game digitally or have a disc-based PS5). That content includes a sweeping graphical overhaul with new lighting, texture, and particle systems and an optional 60 fps mode, plus a new "classic" option for the game's active battling system. Picking "classic" will let players focus entirely on selecting commands from menus, instead of giving direct joystick control to a "lead" character like Cloud or Tifa.

For existing owners who may have already beaten the game, the incentive to double-dip comes in the form of a new "episode" of content. This will put players in control of original series character Yuffie, and the revealed footage includes her and a companion named Sonon spending time in existing game regions like the Sector 7 slums—and Yuffie using Sonon as a springboard to pull off cinematic, sweeping attacks. To access this new chapter, existing owners will have to pay for the extra DLC, though publisher Square Enix hasn't yet clarified how much that will cost.

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CDC’s VaccineFinder aims to help you find COVID shots—but needs a lot of work

Par Beth Mole
A registered nurse practitioner holds up a sign and a flag asking for another patient to dose with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as well as a more vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2021.

Enlarge / A registered nurse practitioner holds up a sign and a flag asking for another patient to dose with the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine as well as a more vaccine doses at a vaccination site in Seattle, Washington on January 24, 2021. (credit: Getty | Grant Hendsley)

In its efforts to help Americans get vaccinated against COVID-19, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is quietly working on a new website that will let people see every location in their community offering COVID-19 vaccinations, how many shots each of those locations has for the current day, and provide links to set up vaccination appointments.

That's the ideal, at least; there's a lot of work to do to get there.

Right now, the site—vaccinefinder.org—only has the full lists of vaccine providers for four states—Alaska, Indiana, Iowa, and Tennessee. Those lists include providers at hospitals, clinics, public health centers, doctor's offices, drug stores, and grocery store pharmacies.

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The genetics of relatively healthy obesity

Par John Timmer
Image of an overweight individual

Enlarge (credit: Matthew Horwood / Getty Images)

In general, obesity is linked with a large range of health problems—for most people, at least. But for a substantial minority of those who are overweight, obesity is accompanied by indications of decent health, with no signs of impending diabetes or cardiovascular disease. These cases have probably received unwarranted attention; who doesn't want to convince themselves that they're an exception to an unfortunate rule, after all?

While there are many other negative health consequences of obesity that aren't altered in these individuals, the phenomenon is real, and it's worth understanding.

To that end, a large international team of researchers has looked into whether some of these cases might be the product of genetic influences. And simply by using existing data, the team found 61 instances where a location in our genomes is associated with both elevated obesity and signs of good health, cardiovascular or otherwise.

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AT&T announces deal to spin off DirecTV into new company owned by… AT&T

Par Jon Brodkin
AT&T's logo pictured on a wall at its headquarters.

Enlarge / AT&T's logo at its corporate headquarters on March 13, 2020 in Dallas, Texas. (credit: Getty Images | Ronald Martinez )

Nearly six years after buying DirecTV for $48.5 billion, AT&T today announced a deal to sell a minority stake in the business unit and spin it out into a new subsidiary.

AT&T said its deal with private equity firm TPG Capital values the TV business at $16.25 billion. A press release said that AT&T and TPG "will establish a new company named DirecTV that will own and operate AT&T's US video business unit consisting of the DirecTV, AT&T TV, and U-verse video services."

AT&T will own 70 percent of the spun-off DirecTV company's common equity while TPG will own 30 percent. DirecTV in its new form "will be jointly governed by a board with two representatives from each of AT&T and TPG, as well as a fifth seat for the CEO, which at closing will be Bill Morrow, CEO of AT&T's US video unit," the announcement said.

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Google reportedly promises change to research team after high-profile firings

Par Kate Cox
Google, by night.

Enlarge / Google, by night. (credit: 400tmax | Getty Images)

Google is reportedly promising that it will change its research review procedures this year in its AI division in an apparent bid to restore employee confidence in the wake of two high-profile firings of prominent women from the division.

Reuters obtained a recording from an internal meeting this month in which Google Research executives promised to better address "sensitive topics" and research critical of Google's own business operations.

By the end of the second quarter, the approvals process for research papers will be more smooth and consistent, division Chief Operating Officer Maggie Johnson reportedly told employees in the meeting. Research teams will have access to a questionnaire that allows them to assess their projects for risk and navigate review, and Johnson predicted that a majority of papers would not require additional vetting by Google.

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Code-execution flaw in VMware has a severity rating of 9.8 out of 10

Par Dan Goodin
Stock photo of a glowing red emergency light

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Hackers are mass-scanning the Internet in search of VMware servers with a newly disclosed code-execution vulnerability that has a severity rating of 9.8 out of a possible 10.

CVE-2021-21974, as the security flaw is tracked, is a remote code-execution vulnerability in VMware vCenter server, an application for Windows or Linux that administrators use to enable and manage virtualization of large networks. Within a day of VMware issuing a patch, proof-of-concept exploits appeared from at least six different sources. The severity of the vulnerability, combined with the availability of working exploits for both Windows and Linux machines, sent hackers scrambling to actively find vulnerable servers.

“We’ve detected mass scanning activity targeting vulnerable VMware vCenter servers (https://vmware.com/security/advisories/VMSA-2021-0002.html),” researcher Troy Mursch of Bad Packets wrote.

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Paramount+ will carry new Star Trek series Strange New Worlds and Prodigy

Par Samuel Axon
Key art for the new <em>Star Trek</em> series <em>Star Trek: Prodigy</em>.

Enlarge / Key art for the new Star Trek series Star Trek: Prodigy. (credit: ViacomCBS)

In an online event for investors, ViacomCBS revealed several new details about CBS All Access replacement Paramount+, including pricing as well as two new Star Trek series that will premiere on the network. Also, the company announced that a much-anticipated Showtime show will end up on Paramount+ instead.

Paramount+, which was announced several months ago, will launch on March 4 in the United States, Canada, and 18 Latin American countries. As with CBS All Access, both an ad-supported and ad-free plan will be offered. In the US, the ad-supported one will cost $4.99 per month, while the ad-free plan will cost $9.99.

That $4.99 per month is $1 cheaper than the ad-supported version of CBS All Access. However, this cheaper plan will not include local CBS stations. The service is also expected to launch in Nordic countries within a few weeks and in Australia sometime later this year.

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Get a recommended pair of wireless noise-canceling headphones for $68 today

Par Ars Staff
A collage of consumer goods (mostly electronics) against a white background.

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a nifty deal on Anker's Soundcore Life Q30, as the wireless noise-canceling headphones are currently available for $68 at various retailers. That's $12 off the device's typical going rate online and only $4 higher than the lowest price we've tracked.

While we recently sang the praises of the $200 Puro Pro headphones, the Soundcore Life Q30 is a great choice for those who can't spend that much. We haven't formally reviewed the headphones on the site, but we plan to make them a budget pick in an upcoming guide to wireless noise-canceling headphones. For well under $100, they offer a comfortable design that's well-padded and light on the head (if heavy on plastic), tremendous battery life that can supply more than 40 hours per charge (depending on volume), USB-C charging, physical volume and playback controls, and convenient multidevice pairing.

In terms of sound quality, the Soundcore Life Q30 has a "V-shaped" signature, which means they accentuate the bass and treble ranges at the expense of some midrange detail. The bass is particularly emphasized, so many hip-hop and pop tracks will have some serious punch. The headphones are definitely not a device for audio purists who like their cans to be as true to a song's recording quality as possible, but if you prefer a more excited sound (and many do), the Soundcore Life Q30 provide that without sounding sloppy. What's more, Anker's companion app has a graphic EQ with several presets that let you customize the sound into something brighter or more flat.

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Valve has to provide some Steam sales data to Apple, judge says

Par Kyle Orland
The Steam corporate logo repeats over a red background.

(credit: Aurich Lawson / Ars Technica)

A US magistrate judge has ordered Valve to provide sales data to Apple in response to a subpoena issued amid Apple's continuing legal fight with Epic Games.

In addition to some aggregate sales data for the entirety of Steam, Valve will only have to provide specific, per-title pricing and sales data for "436 specific apps that are available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store," according to the order. That's a significant decrease from the 30,000+ titles Apple for which Apple originally requested data.

In resisting the subpoena, Valve argued that its Steam sales data was irrelevant to questions about the purely mobile app marketplaces at issue in the case. Refocusing the request only on games available on both Steam and the Epic Games Store makes it more directly relevant to the questions of mobile competition in the case, Judge Thomas Hixson writes in his order.

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Report: BioWare wrests Dragon Age 4 away from EA’s online-multiplayer mandate

Par Sam Machkovech
A company logo has been photoshopped onto the face of a tough-looking video game character.

Enlarge / Some good Dragon Age news, at least from our perspective. (credit: EA / Sam Machkovech)

As it turns out, EA's recent bloodbath over online BioWare multiplayer games was larger than we thought. And in today's case, a behind-the-scenes report seems to offer good news on that front.

After yesterday's official confirmation from EA that "Anthem Next" was no more, Bloomberg reporter Jason Schreier has arrived with news about another dramatic change to a BioWare game: the unnamed Dragon Age sequel (which we'll call Dragon Age 4 for convenience' sake) will be a single-player game.

Uh, what?

The way Schreier tells it, EA as a publisher is now "allowing" the Dragon Age 4 team to "remove all planned multiplayer components from the game"—and that use of "allowing" implies that this was a butting of heads between those who wanted online components in this famously single-player RPG series (EA) and those who didn't (BioWare).

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Google’s Wear OS neglect has left voice activation broken for months

Par Ron Amadeo
A Wear OS watch.

Enlarge / A Wear OS watch. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Poor, dying Wear OS.

Apparently, the Google Assistant on Wear OS has been broken for months, and until now, no one at Google has noticed. About four months ago, diehard Wear OS users started a thread on the public Android issue tracker saying that the "OK Google" hotword no longer worked on Wear OS, and several claimed that the feature has been broken for months. Recently, news of the 900-user-strong thread spilled over to the Android subreddit, and after 9to5Google and other news sites picked it up, Google has finally commented on the issue.

The Verge quotes a Google spokesperson as saying the company is “aware of the issues some users have been encountering,” and it will “address these and improve the overall experience.” Google didn't give an ETA on how long a fix would take. Google offered a similar boiler-plate response back in that November thread, with a rep saying, "We’ve shared this with our engineering teams and will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available."

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Australia passes law to force Facebook and Google to pay for news

Par Timothy B. Lee
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Enlarge / Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. (credit: Sam Mooy/Getty Images)

The Parliament of Australia has passed a final version of legislation designed to force Google and Facebook to pay to link to news articles. The passage of the News Media Bargaining Code marks the end of a contentious months-long negotiation between the Australian government and the two technology giants—which are singled out in the code.

Google and Facebook have long argued that they shouldn't have to pay a dime to link to news articles, since the links send valuable traffic to news sites. Over the last decade, Google has successfully beaten back efforts to undermine the principle of free linking.

But over the last couple of years, governments in Australia and Europe have become more determined to force American technology giants to financially support their domestic news industries. In 2019, the European Parliament created a new "neighboring right" giving news sites the right to control the use of "snippets" in search results, and French regulators made it clear that Google wasn't allowed to simply stop showing snippets—Google needed to cough up some cash.

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Road-trippers 3x more likely to buy an EV than homebodies, survey says

Par Jonathan M. Gitlin
Berlin, Germany - October 21, 2020: Electric vehicles on a public parking space on a street.

Enlarge / Berlin, Germany - October 21, 2020: Electric vehicles on a public parking space on a street. (credit: Getty Images)

2020 actually wasn't a bad year in terms of global electric vehicle adoption. More than 3.2 million plug-in hybrid and battery EVs found new homes—a 43 percent increase year on year, despite the worst pandemic in several generations. Most of the credit belongs to Europe, where 1.4 million new EVs were sold, a tenth of all new light vehicle sales for the region and a 134 percent increase over 2019.

Unfortunately, things didn't look so great here in the US. Plug-in sales outperformed the overall car-buying slump last year, but depending on where you look, we're either up only four percent or down just over 10 percent.

The good news is that there's no mystery involved in boosting those numbers—we already know several ways to get people to switch to EVs. Europe's newfound fervor for EVs is being driven by the threat of massive fines for automakers whose fleets emit too much CO2. Policy levers don't have to be hitting sticks, though; there are efforts here in the US to extend the $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs to cover the first 600,000 vehicles sold by an OEM, although that, of course, depends on congressional action.

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Live chat: Ars Texas on living through last week’s arctic adventure

Par Lee Hutchinson
Live chat: Ars Texas on living through last week’s arctic adventure

Enlarge

Most of Texas endured record or near-record low temperatures last week as a late-season (for Texas, at least) arctic cold front sagged down across the state. In the week leading up to the event, forecasters warned residents to prepare for the kind of cold common in more northern climates but exceedingly rare for most of us down here—temperatures in the teens or even high single-digits (think lows around -12 to -10 degrees C for you folks who don't use Freedom Units)—and even (gasp!) snow. Along the Gulf Coast where Ars Space Editor Eric Berger and I live, the combination of low temperatures and wintry precipitation was a once-in-30-years kind of event. (Indeed, the last time it got this cold here was in December 1989.)

The cold was expected, and while it's unpleasant as hell to deal with in a city built for summer heat and not winter cold, it would have been manageable on its own. But what we weren't expecting—well, most of us, at least—was having to deal with this rare low-temperature excursion without power or heat. As the front plowed across the state on the evening of Valentine's Day, demand on the state's power grid spiked to a record 69GW as residents turned on heaters to combat temperatures sliding down into the teens. (That level of power demand beat even the predicted extreme weather peak of 67GW and was higher than the previous February 2011 cold-weather-demand peak of 59GW.) As demand spiked, the state's electrical grid operators had to take emergency measures to stave off total collapse.

And thus began a week of freezing misery for more than 4 million Texans who had to endure the coldest weather in decades without any power or heat, in homes designed to release summer heat rather than keep it in. The majority of the power-loss issues occurred in Houston.

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Working from home now? Your 2020 state tax situation could suck

Par Kate Cox
The arm of the law can be long indeed.

Enlarge / The arm of the law can be long indeed. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

Imagine for a moment that you work remotely—as so many now do in the COVID era—from a comfortable spare bedroom in your New Jersey home. Your employer is nominally based in New York City, but thanks to the pandemic, you didn't even cross the Hudson River last year. So how is it that New York claims you owe it a pile of cash for state taxes?

Maybe this doesn't sound terrible; after all, New York's tax rates don't differ so dramatically from New Jersey's. But imagine instead that you took the opportunity provided by telecommuting to move to a "no income tax" state like Texas. Come tax time, you are planning on a big fat nothingburger of a state tax bill. And yet, New York could still claim state tax on your earnings. Now we're talking a serious—and perhaps completely unplanned—financial hit.

Welcome, telecommuters, to the nightmare that can result when you and the state disagree about "where" you work.

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Verizon and AT&T dominate spectrum auction, spending combined $69 billion

Par Jon Brodkin
A US map with lines representing communications networks.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | metamorworks)

Verizon and AT&T dominated the US government's latest spectrum auction, spending a combined $68.9 billion on licenses in the upper 3GHz band.

Verizon's winning bids totaled $45.45 billion, while AT&T's came in at $23.41 billion. T-Mobile was third with $9.34 billion as the three biggest wireless carriers accounted for the vast majority of the $81.17 billion in winning bids, the Federal Communications Commission said in results released yesterday. US Cellular, a regional carrier, was a distant fourth in spending, at $1.28 billion, but came in third, ahead of T-Mobile, in the number of licenses won.

The auction distributed 280MHz worth of spectrum in the "C-Band" between 3.7GHz and 3.98GHz. This spectrum will help carriers boost network capacity with mid-band frequencies that cover large geographic areas and penetrate walls more effectively than the higher millimeter-wave frequencies that provide the fastest 5G speeds to very limited geographic areas.

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Framework startup designed a thin, modular, repairable 13-inch laptop

Par Jim Salter
laptop in use

Enlarge / The Framework laptop certainly seems slim enough in this studio shot. Note the seams around the USB-C ports on the side—those are user-replaceable modules. (credit: Framework)

Laptops these days are slimmer, sleeker, and lighter than ever—but their repairability and configurability are taking enormous hits in the process. Framework is seeking to roll back the clock in a good way with its first product, the upcoming Framework 13.5-inch laptop.

Following the lead of companies like Fairphone, the startup is focused on respecting users' right to repair by building systems focused on modular design, with components that are easily configured, replaced, and even upgraded.

Not some massive block

Although Framework's raison d'être revolves around modularity, the company clearly understands that it can't sacrifice sleek, lightweight design if it wants to maintain a wide appeal. It describes its first product, the upcoming Framework laptop, as "similar to a Dell XPS... thin, not some massive block." The early product shots and specifications seem to bear that out:

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Don’t look now, but GameStop’s stock price is surging again

Par Kyle Orland
HODL!

Enlarge / HODL! (credit: Getty Images)

GameStop's stock price saw yet another sudden surge in late trading hours on Wednesday. After opening at $44.70 that morning, the price shot up from $52.41 at 3pm to $91.71 just before the market closed at 4pm.

That 75 percent increase in a single hour was followed shortly after by a peak price of nearly $200 in post-market trading Wednesday evening. As of this writing, the stock is currently selling at about $132 in highly volatile early market trading.

The sudden surge obviously brings to mind GameStop's similarly quick stock price run-up in late January. Since peaking at over $400 during that extremely volatile week, though, GameStop's stock price had settled to something resembling calm, closing between $40 and $60 every day since February 8.

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Nvidia RTX 3060 review: A fine $329 GPU, but ho-hum among the 3000 series

Par Sam Machkovech
The EVGA RTX 3060, as posed in front of some sort of high-tech honeycomb array.

Enlarge / The EVGA RTX 3060, as posed in front of some sort of high-tech honeycomb array. (credit: EVGA / Nvidia)

The past year of graphics card reviews has been an exercise in dramatic asterisks, and for good reason. Nvidia and AMD have seen fit to ensure members of the press have access to new graphics cards ahead of their retail launches, which has placed us in a comfy position to praise each of their latest-gen offerings: good prices, tons of power.

Then we see our comment sections explode with unsatisfied customers wondering how the heck to actually buy them. I've since softened my tune on these pre-launch previews.

I say all of this up front about the Nvidia RTX 3060, going on sale today, February 25 (at 12pm ET, if you're interested in entering the day-one sales fray) because it's the first Nvidia GPU I've tested in a while to make my cautious stance easier. The company has been on a tear with its RTX 3000-series of cards in terms of sheer consumer value, particularly compared to equivalent prior-gen cards (the $1,499 RTX 3090 notwithstanding), but the $329 RTX 3060 (not to be confused with December's 3060 Ti) doesn't quite pull the same weight. It's a good 1080p card with 1440p room to flex, but it's not the next-gen jump in its Nvidia price category we've grown accustomed to.

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Loki and Star Wars: The Bad Batch get Disney+ premiere dates

Par Samuel Axon
  • Loki from Loki. [credit: Disney ]

Today is a red-letter day for Disney property announcements: release dates have been set for the Disney+ series Loki and Star Wars: The Bad Batch, and the new Spider-Man film has a new name.

We'll start with Spider-Man. Following a marketing stunt in which three different stars of the movie shared via Instagram three fake movie names alongside initial images from the film, the actual title for the new Spider-Man movie has been revealed in a cheeky Twitter video and blog postSpider Man: No Way Home.

The fake names that had circulated previously included Spider-Man: Phone HomeSpider-Man: Home-Wrecker, and Spider-Man: Home Slice.

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Fed glitch shuts down wire transfers, direct deposits, other services

Par Timothy B. Lee
A long Neoclassical building in white marble.

Enlarge / The Federal Reserve Building in Washington, DC. (credit: Rudy Sulgan / Getty Images)

Federal Reserve electronic systems that enable US banks to send each other electronic payments experienced a massive outage on Wednesday afternoon. A Fed statement attributed the outage to an "operational error" but didn't provide much more detail.

The Federal Reserve System acts as America's central bank, and it controls much of the plumbing of the US financial system.

The automated clearing house (ACH) system is used for paychecks, bill payments, and other small and medium-sized transactions across the economy. The Check 21 system is used for clearing paper checks. It takes one to two days for these transactions to clear.

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Biden admin plans executive order to address chip-shortage woes

Par Kate Cox
An older man in a suit speaks from the Resolute Desk.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden signing a different executive order on January 28, 2021. (credit: Mandel Ngan | AFP | Getty Images)

The White House is launching an effort today to ease the global semiconductor supply crunch affecting a wide array of other industries, but any boost the administration can provide is likely to be on the far side of many more months of shortages.

President Joe Biden plans to sign an executive order this afternoon aimed at "securing America's critical supply chains." The order will address several challenges in the US supply chain, according to a fact sheet from the White House, with a particular focus on pharmaceuticals, mineral resources, semiconductors, and large-capacity batteries.

The order is a sort of combination of every US politicians' favorite rallying cry—"more American jobs"—and an acknowledgement that shortages and production challenges in critical supply chains really have had a profound effect on the nation, especially in the past year. It calls for an immediate 100-day review that will "identify near-term steps the administration can take, including with Congress" to identify where the vulnerabilities in these supply chains are and what regulators or legislators can do to increase US manufacturing of these critical components.

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Cox’s bad customer service stymies users who don’t want upload speeds cut

Par Jon Brodkin
Network cables plugged into a router.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Jill Ferry Photography)

Cox has been making it extremely difficult or impossible for some customers to stick with their current Internet speeds despite promising that it won't force users onto plans with slower uploads.

As we wrote two weeks ago, Cox informed customers with 300Mbps download and 30Mbps upload speeds that they will be switched to a plan with 500Mbps downloads and 10Mbps uploads on March 3. A Cox spokesperson told Ars at the time that customers can stay on the plan with 30Mbps uploads as long as they upgrade to a DOCSIS 3.1 modem. But Cox's email to its customers did not mention this option, and customers who called Cox customer service have since been told in no uncertain terms that they cannot stay on their current plans.

Several Cox users from California emailed Ars about the problem after reading our article, all with similar experiences.

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Firefox 86 brings multiple Picture-in-Picture, “Total Cookie Protection”

Par Jim Salter
  • I installed Firefox 86 on my Ubuntu workstation using Snap to be certain I wouldn't accidentally mess with my working system configuration. [credit: Jim Salter ]

Mozilla released Firefox 86 yesterday, and the browser is now available for download and installation for all major operating systems, including Android. Along with the usual round of bug fixes and under-the-hood updates, the new build offers a couple of high-profile features—multiple Picture-in-Picture video-watching support, and (optional) stricter cookie separation, which Mozilla is branding Total Cookie Protection.

Taking Firefox 86 for a spin

Firefox 86 became the default download at mozilla.org on Tuesday—but as an Ubuntu 20.04 user, I didn't want to leave the Canonical-managed repositories just to test the new version. This is one scenario in which snaps truly excel—providing you with a containerized version of an application, easily installed but guaranteed not to mess with your "real" operating system.

As it turns out, Firefox's snap channel didn't get the message about build 86 being the new default—the latest/default snap is still on build 85. In order to get the new version, I needed to snap refresh firefox --channel=latest/candidate.

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Lone high-energy neutrino likely came from shredded star in distant galaxy

Par Jennifer Ouellette
The remains of a shredded star formed an accretion disk around the black hole whose powerful tidal forces ripped it apart. This created a cosmic particle accelerator spewing out fast subatomic particles.

Enlarge / The remains of a shredded star formed an accretion disk around the black hole whose powerful tidal forces ripped it apart. This created a cosmic particle accelerator spewing out fast subatomic particles. (credit: DESY, Science Communication Lab)

Roughly 700 million years ago, a tiny subatomic particle was born in a galaxy far, far away and began its journey across the vast expanses of our universe. That neutrino finally reached the Earth's South Pole last October, setting off detectors buried deep beneath the Antarctic ice. A few months earlier, a telescope in California had recorded a bright glow emanating from the friction of that same distant galaxy—evidence of a so-called "tidal disruption event" (TDE), most likely the result of a star being shredded by a supermassive black hole.

According to two new papers (here and here) published in the journal Nature Astronomy, that lone neutrino was likely born from the TDE, which serves as a cosmic-scale particle accelerator near the center of the distant galaxy, spewing out high-energy subatomic particles as the star's matter is consumed by the black hole. This finding also sheds light on the origin of ultrahigh-energy cosmic rays, a question that has puzzled astronomers for decades.

"The origin of cosmic high-energy neutrinos is unknown, primarily because they are notoriously hard to pin down," said co-author Sjoert van Velzen, a postdoc at New York University at the time of the discovery. "This result would be only the second time high-energy neutrinos have been traced back to their source."

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Ukraine says Russia hacked its document portal and planted malicious files

Par Dan Goodin
Ukraine says Russia hacked its document portal and planted malicious files

Enlarge (credit: Oleksii Leonov)

Ukraine has accused the Russian government of hacking into one of its government Web portals and planting malicious documents that would install malware on end users’ computers.

“The purpose of the attack was the mass contamination of information resources of public authorities, as this system is used for the circulation of documents in most public authorities,” officials from Ukraine’s National Coordination Center for Cybersecurity said in a statement published on Wednesday. “The malicious documents contained a macro that secretly downloaded a program to remotely control a computer when opening the files.”

Wednesday’s statement said that the methods used in the attack connected the hackers to the Russian Federation. Ukraine didn’t say if the attack succeeded in infecting any authorities’ computers.

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EA, BioWare cancel Anthem’s sweeping overhaul

Par Sam Machkovech
The face of a video game character has been photoshopped too look like a clown.

Enlarge / Tears of an Anthem clown. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Bioware / Getty Images)

The story of EA and BioWare's beleaguered action-RPG Anthem has apparently ended. According to an official BioWare blog post, the ambitious jetpack-combat game's "overhaul" project is dead. The staff that had been assigned to rebuild the game into better shape has been reassigned to work on other BioWare projects, particularly Dragon Age 4 and the next Mass Effect game.

From what we saw in the game's March 2019 launch version, EA and BioWare clearly intended for the game to receive regularly updated content, but negative reviews (including my own) made clear that BioWare needed to go back to the drawing board. Despite some good ideas and fun flight controls, Anthem's basic core needed serious touching-up before we'd return to the game.

No more singing of the Anthem

Then-general manager Casey Hudson made a February 2020 statement acknowledging those criticisms. After listing aspects of the game that needed work, he offered a pledge to fans: that BioWare would complete "fundamental work... to bring out the full potential of the experience... specifically working to reinvent the core gameplay loop with clear goals, motivating challenges, and progression with meaningful rewards—while preserving the fun of flying and fighting in a vast science-fantasy setting."

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LG enters fray with Google, Amazon, Roku for TV operating system dominance

Par Samuel Axon
  • LG's 2021 OLED lineup. [credit: LG ]

LG has announced that it will begin licensing its webOS TV software for use by other TV manufacturers. That will put webOS in direct competition with other platforms in use across TV brands, such as alternatives from Roku, Amazon, and Google.

LG says "over 20 TV manufacturers" have "committed to the webOS partnership" and names RCA, Ayonz, and Konka as examples. They'll ship the OS in their TVs and, in so doing, gain access to voice-control features, LG's AI algorithms, and a fairly robust library of already built streaming apps like Netflix, YouTube, or Disney+.

For smaller manufacturers, this is more cost-effective than developing these features on their own or lobbying companies like Netflix or Disney to support new platforms.

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Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine safe and effective, FDA review concludes

Par Beth Mole
A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California.

Enlarge / A sign at the Johnson & Johnson campus on August 26, 2019 in Irvine, California. (credit: Getty | Mario Tama)

Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot COVID-19 vaccine is effective and has a “favorable safety profile,” according to scientists at the Food and Drug Administration.

The endorsement comes out of a review released by the regulatory agency Wednesday. The FDA has been looking over data on Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine since February 4, when the company applied for Emergency Use Authorization. The agency’s green light is a positive sign ahead of this Friday, February 26, when the FDA will convene an advisory committee to make a recommendation on whether the FDA should grant the EUA. The FDA isn’t obligated to follow the committee’s recommendation, but it usually does.

If Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine is granted an EUA, it will become the third COVID-19 vaccine available for use in the US. The other two vaccines are both two-dose, mRNA-based vaccines, one made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech and the other from Moderna, which developed its vaccine in collaboration with researchers at the US National Institutes of Health.

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