Here's a gallery of April 2020 laptops with the latest Nvidia Max-Q GPUs. First up, the Razer Blade Advanced, with an RTX 2080 Super inside. [credit: Razer ]
What kind of GPU year can we expect from Nvidia, one of the two largest consumer-grade GPU producers in the world? The answer is somewhat up in the air, because Nvidia is in a solid-yet-fluid position. Market worries and announcement-filled event cancellations hover on one end, while the company's surprisingly bullish financial guidance stands out on the other.
Either way, we've reached April without the company's usual announcement of some new desktop hardware by March's end, and we still don't know when wholly new desktop GPUs might come (more on that later). Instead, we start this month with a different wave of products: a new slate of laptop-grade GPUs, albeit not that new.
Nvidia has announced a wave of "Max-Q" GPUs coming to laptops from 25 OEMs by the end of April, and most, but not all, come from the company's RTX line of GPUs. This month's wave of GPUs consists of three new laptop SKUs (RTX 2080 Super, RTX 2070 Super, GTX 1650 Ti) and slight updates to four existing SKUs (RTX 2070, RTX 2060, GTX 1660 Ti, GTX 1650). Each of these GPUs is built upon the manufacturer's Turing 12nm architecture.
The last five episodes of Rick and Morty S4 will air a bit earlier than fans expected.
Just a few days after dropping a special samurai-themed Rick and Morty episode, "Samurai and Shogun," Adult Swim has given us the trailer for the hotly anticipated second half of the popular animated series, along with a release date: May 3. That should delight hardcore fans, who had feared the release of the special episode meant a longer wait for the regular series' return.
(A few mild spoilers for prior seasons below.)
The first five episodes of S4 aired last November and December, and they featured Rick and Morty harvesting "death crystals" that predict various outcomes for one's demise; teaming up with Mr. Poopybutthole and "Elon Tusk" for a heist; freeing horny dragons from the Wizard who enslaved them; and battling time-traveling alien snakes, among other adventures. As always, pop-culture references abounded, riffing on the films Edge of Tomorrow, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Akira, Battlestar Galactica, and Terminator, for instance.
At this point, it's old news that Russia is intervening in US society in part by using troll farms organized by its Internet Research Agency. While the farms' most high-profile activity was supporting Donald Trump during the 2016 election, the trolls were active both before and since, largely in attempts to enhance existing divisions in US society.
One divisive area they've latched on to is vaccination, which has been the subject of numerous public controversies of late. But, while it was clear Russian trolls were talking about vaccines on social media, it wasn't clear what they hoped to accomplish. A new study suggests their goals are twofold and create the risk of politicizing an issue that has largely been free of partisan politics.
The results provide a preview of where we might be going with coronavirus misinformation and why things might get worse once a vaccine becomes available.
Sixty years ago on this date, April 1, a Thor-Able rocket launched a small satellite weighing 122.5kg into an orbit about 650km above the Earth's surface. Effectively, this launch from Florida's Cape Canaveral Air Force Station marked the beginning of the era of modern weather forecasting.
Designed by the Radio Corporation of America and put into space by NASA, the Television InfraRed Observation Satellite, or TIROS-1, was the nation's first weather satellite. During its 78 days of operation, TIROS-1 successfully monitored Earth's cloud cover and weather patterns from space.
This was a potent moment for the field of meteorology. For the first time, scientists were able to combine space-based observations with physical models of the atmosphere that were just beginning to be run on supercomputers.
Alphabet's huge legal battle with Uber over self-driving technology ended two years ago. But the engineer at the center of that fight, Anthony Levandowski, is still facing legal and financial headaches. On Monday, he told a federal bankruptcy court in California that Uber was contractually obligated to cover a $179 million legal judgment that Levandowski owes to Google. Levandowski asked the court to order Uber to enter arbitration on the matter.
Levandowski claims that Uber was fully aware of the circumstances of Levandowski's 2016 departure from Google when Uber acquired Levandowski's self-driving startup, Otto, later the same year. Prior to the acquisition, Uber hired a firm to look into the background of Otto and its founders. Levandwoski says he cooperated fully, giving investigators access to his email accounts and personal files.
According to Levandowski, the investigators found—and told Uber—that Levandowski had files belonging to Google on his devices and had tried to recruit a number of Google employees for his new company while he still worked for Google. Levandowski claims that he repeatedly warned Uber management, including CEO Travis Kalanick, that Google was likely to sue if Uber bought Otto. But according to Levandowski, Kalanick wasn't concerned. "Uber eats injunctions for breakfast," he allegedly told Levandowski.
As Frontier Communications moves closer to an expected bankruptcy filing, the ISP told investors that its troubles stem largely from its failure to invest properly in upgrading DSL to fiber broadband.
The presentation for investors, which is included in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing, said that "significant under-investment in fiber deployment and limited enterprise product offerings have created headwinds that the company is repositioning itself to reverse." Much of Frontier's fiber deployment was actually installed by Verizon before Verizon sold some of its operations to Frontier.
About 51 percent of Frontier revenue comes directly from residential consumers, with the rest mostly from wholesale and business customers. Frontier said the residential segment that provides most of its revenue "has the highest monthly churn," meaning that customers are leaving the company in large numbers. DSL-customer losses are expected to increase, Frontier said.
Pretty much everyone loves a VW T1 bus, and they should love this one even more because it's electric. [credit: Volkswagen ]
Everyone has different ways of coping with the coronavirus shut-in. People working from home are spicing up their teleconferences with animated backdrops. Senior Technology Editor Lee Hutchinson has grown a beard. And I've been getting even more lazy about reading all the news alert emails that OEMs send me each day, which is why I've only just found out about a new electric Volkswagen bus that's going on sale in Europe. No, it's not the crowd-pleasing ID Buzz—it's called the e-BULLI, and it's an official electric restomod of a classic 1966 VW T1 Samba Bus, the product of a collaboration between VW's commercial vehicles division and a company called eClassics.
(For the uninitiated, a restomod is a "vehicle that has been put back together with the addition of new modern or aftermarket parts that were not on the vehicle when it came from the factory.")
Out goes the 43hp (32kW), 75lb-ft (102Nm) air-cooled flat-four engine, along with the transmission, fuel tank, exhaust, and so on. Instead, the rear wheels are driven by an 81hp (61kW), 156lb-ft (210Nm) electric motor borrowed from the e-up!, an adorable little electric city car that went on sale in Europe in late 2019. As there's more space in a T1 bus than an e-up!, e-BULLI gets the benefit of a slightly bigger lithium-ion battery—in this case, one with 45kWh of useable energy, which is mounted amidships in the bus's floor.
The BBC's Panorama program spoofed the UK on April 1, 1957, with a segment on the so-called "spaghetti tree hoax."
We here at Ars do not typically indulge in the online prankery that comes with April Fool's Day and are even less inclined to do so in the current climate. But it does provide an opportunity to revisit one of the most famous media hoaxes of the 20th century: the so-called "spaghetti-tree hoax," the result of a two-and-a-half-minute prank segment broadcast on the BBC's Panorama current-affairs program on April Fool's Day in 1957. It's a fun, albeit cautionary, tale of not believing everything you see on television (or read online).
The man largely responsible for the hoax was Austrian-born Panorama cameraman Charles de Jaeger, who liked to play practical jokes. As a kid, one of his school teachers used to tell the class, "Boys, you're so stupid, you'd believe me if I told you that spaghetti grows on trees." De Jaeger had always wanted to turn this into an April Fool's prank, and in 1957, he saw his chance. April Fool's Day fell on a Monday, the same night Panorama aired. He argued that he could do the shoot cheaply while working on another assignment in Switzerland, and Panorama editor Michael Peacock approved a tiny budget of £100 for the project.
The sequence was shot at a hotel in Castiglione on the shore of Lake Lugano. De Jaeger bought 20 pounds of uncooked homemade spaghetti and hung the strands from the branches of the laurel trees around the lake to make it seem like they were "spaghetti trees." (Cooked spaghetti just slipped off the branches. De Jaeger had to keep the uncooked fresh spaghetti between damp cloths before shooting to ensure it didn't dry out.)
Users of Zoom for Windows beware: the widely used software has a vulnerability that allows attackers to steal your operating system credentials, researchers said.
Discovery of the currently unpatched vulnerability comes as Zoom usage has soared in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. With massive numbers of people working from home, they rely on Zoom to connect with co-workers, customers, and partners. Many of these home users are connecting to sensitive work networks through temporary or improvised means that don’t have the benefit of enterprise-grade firewalls found on-premises.
Attacks work by using the Zoom chat window to send targets a string of text that represents the network location on the Windows device they’re using. The Zoom app for Windows automatically converts these so-called universal naming convention strings—such as \\attacker.example.com/C$—into clickable links. In the event that targets click on those links on networks that aren’t fully locked down, Zoom will send the Windows usernames and the corresponding NTLM hashes to the address contained in the link.
Teams will offer features for families. [credit: Microsoft ]
Starting April 21, Microsoft’s Office 365 personal and family subscription suite will be renamed Microsoft 365 in a move that heralds an effort by the company to win over more consumer users.
Seeking to make a point with the rebranding, Microsoft calls it “a subscription service for your life,” which might conjure visions of Amazon Prime. Microsoft 365 will cost $6.99 per month, and a six-user, $9.99 family plan will also be offered. Its apps will be available on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.
It will include Office applications like Word and Excel as Office 365 has, but it comes with a promise of new apps and services both today and in the future. In a blog post describing the new service, Microsoft wrote that Microsoft 365 will offer “new artificial intelligence (AI), rich content and templates, and cloud-powered experiences.”
The Moto G Power. [credit: Motorola ]
The Motorola Moto G is no longer the fantastic phone it used to be, but Lenovorola is still pumping out yearly editions of the low-end smartphone. As was announced back in February, this year there are two Moto G phones, the Moto G Power and the Moto G Stylus, and they're up for pre-order today, with a ship date of April 16.
The two phones look basically identical, with 6.4-inch 2300×1080 LCDs, mostly all-screen designs (with a slightly taller bezel at the bottom), front cameras that live in a circular display cutout, and a vertical strip of cameras on the back. Both phones have the Snapdragon 665 SoC with 4GB of RAM, which is an 11nm, with eight Cortex A73-derivative CPUs running at 2.2Ghz.
The differences between the two phones are in the storage, battery, cameras, the stylus accessory, and, of course, the price. The cheaper Moto G Power is $250, with 64GB of storage, a 5000mAh battery, and three cameras: a 16MP main sensor, a 2MP macro lens, and a 8MP ultra-wide. The G Stylus loses a lot of battery in exchange for that stylus storage, and it's also 0.5mm thinner than the Power, so the $300 device has only a 4000mAh battery and 128GB of storage. The main camera is 48MP, then there's a 2MP macro lens, a 16MP "action cam," and the addition of laser autofocus.
T-Mobile completed its $31 billion acquisition of Sprint today and announced that CEO John Legere has resigned from the carrier's top job a month sooner than planned.
With today's close, T-Mobile said it has "successfully completed its long-planned Chief Executive Officer transition from John Legere to Mike Sievert ahead of schedule." T-Mobile had previously said Legere would leave at the end of April.
"I had originally planned to stay on through the end of my contract on April 30, 2020, but it makes much more sense to transition this responsibility to Mike today," Legere said. Legere "will continue as a member of the Board of Directors for the remainder of his current term, through the Annual Meeting of Shareholders scheduled in June 2020," the carrier said.
The Stratolaunch vehicle, the world's largest aircraft, took flight for the first and only time in April, 2019. [credit: Stratolaunch ]
Nearly a decade ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen founded Stratolaunch to build an aircraft capable of launching orbital rockets. At the time, the company's leadership included a host of luminous spaceflight officials, including former NASA chief Mike Griffin, who said the Stratolaunch aircraft “would make a very effective launcher."
Initially, the company planned to launch rockets built by SpaceX. But over time, the company's plans changed to fly Pegasus rockets built by Orbital ATK. Eventually, Stratolaunch dropped this idea and announced that it was developing its own line of rockets.
Alas, the aircraft never did prove to be an effective launcher. In fact, what became the world's largest airplane took flight just one time, in April, 2019. The Stratolaunch plane reached speeds above 300km/h and heights of 5km during its 150-minute test flight before landing safely at the Mojave Air and Space Port.
If you're reading this, you're probably interested in space. I sure am. It's why I took a job writing for Ars nearly five years ago—the editors promised me I could cover the space industry full time, however I wanted.
And so I have. Few of my peers possess this kind of limitless freedom. For example, when I worked for the Houston Chronicle, I always had to be at least slightly deferential to the local NASA facility, Johnson Space Center. No longer. Great people. I have a lot of friends there. But if NASA is taking 11 years to develop a parachute, y'all are doing it wrong.
I have two goals with my space coverage. One is to get as close to the truth as possible. The second is to kick this industry in the ass so humans actually get out there into the cosmos and begin exploring the worlds around us. I was born a few months after Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt climbed aboard the ascent stage of the Lunar Module, blasted off the Moon, and came home. And I'm rather disappointed that humans have yet to dip their toes into deep space in the nearly half-century since.
It's no secret that we've been enthusiastic about Microsoft's new, Chromium-based Edge browser for a while now. But that enthusiasm has mostly been limited to "a default Windows browser that doesn't suck," rather than being for any particularly compelling set of features the new Edge brings to the browser ecosystem.
In a folksy announcement this week, Microsoft politely declared its determination to step up our expectations from "doesn't suck" to somewhere on the level of "oh, wow." Microsoft Corporate VP Liat Ben-Zur spent plenty of time enthusing about the way the new features are, apparently, already changing her life.
Unfortunately, despite her use of the present tense, most of them aren't yet available—even on the Canary build on the Edge Insider channel.
As the lead coder of bsnes, I've been attempting to perfect Super Nintendo emulation for the past 15 years. We are now at a point where that goal is in sight, but there we face one last challenge: accurate cycle timing of the SNES video processors. Getting that final bit of emulation accuracy will require a community effort that I hope some of you can help with. But first, let me recap how far we've come.
Today, SNES emulation is in a very good place. Barring unusual peripherals that are resistant to emulation (such as a light-sensor based golf club, an exercise bike, or a dial-up modem used to place real-money bets on live horse races in Japan), every officially licensed SNES title is fully playable, and no game is known to have any glaring issues.
SNES emulation has gotten so precise that I've even taken to splitting my emulator into two versions: higan, which focuses on absolute accuracy and hardware documentation; and bsnes, which focuses on performance, features, and ease of use.
In December 2019, popular document database MongoDB added a fairly radical new feature to the platform: field-level database encryption. At first glance, one might wonder whether this is a meaningful feature in a world that already has at-rest storage encryption and in-flight transport encryption—but after a little closer analysis, the answer is a resounding yes.
One of MongoDB's first customers to use the new technology is Apervita, a vendor that handles confidential data for well over 2,000 hospitals and nearly 2 million individual patients. Apervita worked side by side with MongoDB during development and refinement of the technology.
Since reaching general availability in December, the technology has also been adopted by several government agencies and Fortune 50 companies, including some of the largest pharmacies and insurance providers.
A house-hunting excursion turns into a nightmarish scenario for a young couple in Vivarium, a science fiction horror film directed by Lorcan Finnegan. The film has its strengths, but at a time when half the world is hunkered down in quarantine in the midst of a global pandemic, the claustrophobically surreal premise of two people trapped inside a cookie-cutter house against their will might hit a bit too close to home for comfort.
(Mostly mild spoilers; one major spoiler below the gallery)
Finnegan and screenwriter Garret Shanley made a short film in 2011 called Foxes, about a young couple trapped in an empty housing development. It was inspired, according to Finnegan, by Ireland's "ghost estates:" the remnants of that country's construction boom, brought down by the collapse of the housing market and global financial meltdown of 2008. Buyers found themselves trapped in homes they couldn't unload because their mortgages were underwater. He also found inspiration in a scene from the 1990 Nicolas Roeg film, The Witches (based on the Roald Dahl novel)—namely, a scene where a little girl is trapped inside a painting by a witch, eventually growing old and dying within it.
Huawei is still using components made by US companies in its newest flagship smartphone, a Financial Times teardown has found, despite the US all but blacklisting the Chinese telecoms equipment manufacturer.
On Thursday, Huawei launched its P40 smartphone—one of the first flagship devices the company has launched since Washington’s introduction of sanctions last May that barred US companies from selling to the Chinese group unless specifically licensed to do so.
In the wake of the sanctions, Huawei, which the Trump administration accuses of spying for Beijing, has had to find ways of replacing its US components. Crucially, Google can no longer supply its Android mobile services platform to the Chinese company.
For almost a decade, the Internet Archive, an online library best known for its Internet Wayback Machine, has let users "borrow" scanned digital copies of books held in its warehouse. Until recently, users could only check out as many copies as the organization had physical copies. But last week, The Internet Archive announced it was eliminating that restriction, allowing an unlimited number of users to check out a book simultaneously. The Internet Archive calls this the National Emergency Library.
Initial media coverage of the service was strongly positive. The New Yorker declared it a "gift to readers everywhere." But as word of the new service spread, it triggered a backlash from authors and publishers.
"As a reminder, there is no author bailout, booksellers bailout, or publisher bailout," author Alexander Chee tweeted on Friday. "The Internet Archive's 'emergency' copyrights grab endangers many already in terrible danger."
Just last week, the LucasArts-era PC cult classic Star Wars Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy was ported to PlayStation 4 and Switch. Apart from some iffy menus, it's largely a decent port with a good control scheme, high-resolution graphics, decent framerates, and all the content present. It even has multiplayer!
But that last point has become something of a problem, as veteran PC players have found a way to enter console lobbies, and they're crushing the newer Switch and PS4 players.
It's made possible by the fact that the console ports' multiplayer servers appear to work the same way as their PC counterparts have for almost two decades, and the IP address for each server is exposed to the user. PC players can use that IP address in the Windows version of the game and join a Switch match. Forums like ResetEra have console players complaining that PC players are trolling them and that the invaders have an unfair advantage.
On Saturday, the Food and Drug Administration issued an Emergency Use Authorization that will allow patients suffering from COVID-19 to be treated using drugs without clear evidence of the drugs' efficacy. The move comes after President Donald Trump has touted the drugs' potential several times on the basis of tiny, anecdotal trials. There have also been reports of hoarding of the drugs, which are needed by people with some autoimmune disorders.
The drugs in question are relatives of chloroquine, specifically chloroquine phosphate and hydroxychloroquine sulfate. Originally developed as an antimalarial, chloroquine has a variety of effects, including the ability to reduce immune activity. That has made it useful for the treatment of autoimmune disorders such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Given its multiple effects, it's not surprising that the drug also has a variety of side effects, the most significant probably being a slowing of the heart's rhythm that can potentially lead to fatal complications. (Technically, the drug extends the QT interval.)
What does any of this have to do with a coronavirus? As we discussed when exploring potential treatments for SARS-CoV-2, chloroquine can also alter the pH of the compartment in which some viruses are brought into the cell. This can interfere with the process of depositing the virus' genome inside the cell and thus block the virus' ability to reproduce. Experiments in cultured cells infected by SARS-CoV-2 indicated that chloroquine treatments can keep the virus from spreading within the culture.
For almost three years, OpenWRT—the open source operating system that powers home routers and other types of embedded systems—has been vulnerable to remote code-execution attacks because updates were delivered over an unencrypted channel and digital signature verifications are easy to bypass, a researcher said.
OpenWRT has a loyal base of users who use the freely available package as an alternative to the firmware that comes installed on their devices. Besides routers, OpenWRT runs on smartphones, pocket computers and even laptops and desktop PCs. Users generally find OpenWRT to be a more secure choice because it offers advanced functions and its source code is easy to audit.
Security researcher Guido Vranken, however, recently found that updates and installation files were delivered over unencrypted HTTPs connections, which are open to attacks that allow adversaries to completely replace legitimate updates with malicious ones. The researcher also found that it was trivial for attackers with moderate experience to bypass digital-signature checks that verify a downloaded update as the legitimate one offered by OpenWTR maintainers. The combination of those two lapses makes it possible to send a malicious update that vulnerable devices will automatically install.
We have several more weeks, if not several more months, to go in this sudden era of Everything from Home. Work from home, school from home, funerals from home, church from home, happy hour from home—you name it, and we as a society are trying as best as we can to pull it off remotely. Tech use as a result is up all over, but arguably the biggest winner to date of the "Oh, crap, where's my webcam" age is videoconferencing platform Zoom.
Zoom's ease of use, feature base, and free service tier have made it a go-to resource not only for all those office meetings that used to happen in conference rooms but also for teachers, religious services, and even governments. The widespread use, in turn, is shining a bright spotlight on Zoom's privacy and data-collection practices, which apparently leave much to be desired.
The challenge is particularly pronounced in the health care and education sectors: Zoom does offer specific enterprise-level packages—Zoom for Education and Zoom for Healthcare—that have compliance with privacy law (FERPA and HIPAA, respectively) baked in. Many users in those fields, however, may be on the free tier or using individual or other types of enterprise licenses that don't take these particular needs into consideration.
Back in the before times, when a larger percentage of the human race roamed the Earth, i.e., several weeks ago, Comcast customers had to deal with something called a "data cap." Cable users who consumed more than a terabyte of Comcast-branded Internet data in a single month had to pay an extra $10 for each additional, precious block of 50GB, or $50 more each month for unlimited data. Now, with a pandemic sweeping the United States and more people spending each day at home than ever, consumer-broadband usage is way up. But instead of raking in as many overage fees as it can, Comcast decided to upgrade everyone to unlimited data for no extra charge, for two months beginning March 13—and its network has no problem handling it.
Comcast on Monday said it has measured a 32 percent increase in peak traffic since March 1 and an increase of 60 percent in some parts of the US. VoIP and video conferencing is up 212 percent, VPN traffic is up 40 percent, gaming downloads are up 50 percent, and streaming video is up 38 percent.
Comcast, the nation's largest cable and home-Internet provider, described the pandemic's impact as "an unprecedented shift in network usage" but not one that diminishes Comcast's ability to provide sufficient Internet bandwidth. "It's within the capability of our network; and we continue to deliver the speeds and support the capacity our customers need while they're working, learning, and connecting from home," Comcast said. The company continues to monitor network performance and "add capacity where it's needed."
An example of Dark Sky's maps from the desktop Web version. [credit: Dark Sky ]
Popular weather app and data-collection service Dark Sky has been acquired by Apple for an undisclosed sum, a blog post from the Dark Sky team announced. The post claims that Dark Sky will now “reach far more people, with far more impact, than we ever could alone.”
The iOS app will not see any changes “at this time,” and it will continue to be listed on the App Store. Android and Wear OS are a different story, though. The Android app will no longer be available for download, and “service to existing users and subscribers will continue until July 1, 2020, at which point the app will be shut down.” Active subscribers will get a refund.
As for the website, which is also popular:
Early last year, NASA announced an ambitious plan to return American astronauts to the Moon and establish a permanent base there, with an eye toward eventually placing astronauts on Mars. The Artemis Moon Program has its share of critics, including many in the US House of Representatives, who appear to prefer a stronger focus on a crewed mission to Mars. As Ars' Eric Berger reported last August, "NASA stands a very real risk of turning the Artemis Program into a repeat of the Apollo Program—a flags-and-footprints sprint back to the Moon with no follow-through in the form of a lunar base or a sustained presence in deep space."
But if the Artemis Program's ambitious objectives survive the appropriations process, materials science will be crucial to its success, particularly when it comes to the materials needed to construct a viable lunar base. Concrete, for instance, requires a substantial amount of added water in order to be usable in situ, and there is a pronounced short supply of water on the moon. In a new paper in the Journal of Cleaner Production, an international team of scientists suggests that astronauts setting up a base on the moon could use the urea in their urine as a plasticizer to create a concrete-like building material out of lunar soil.
There's certainly a strong argument to be made for using existing materials on the Moon itself to construct a lunar base. NASA estimates that it costs around $10,000 to transport one pound of material into orbit, according to the authors. Past proposals have called for 3D printing with Sorel cement, which requires significant amounts of chemicals and water (consumables), and a rocklike material that would require both water and phosphoric acid as a liquid binder. (The latter might be better suited to constructing a base on Mars.)
Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a couple of early deals on the entry-level models of Apple's latest MacBook Air and Mac Mini. The former is down to $950 at Amazon, a $50 discount, while the latter is down to $699 at B&H, a $100 discount. These offers are fairly modest, but they're still noteworthy considering Apple only launched the new computers a couple weeks ago.
We gave the new MacBook Air a favorable review earlier this month, calling it "a really good laptop, and easy to recommend." Have a look there for the full rundown, but the new Air is still very well-built, now comes with more base storage at 256GB, and most importantly, comes with a new "Magic Keyboard" that should be much more agreeable and durable than the ultra-low-travel "butterfly" keyboards of recent models.
The new Mac Mini, meanwhile, is essentially identical to the refreshed model Apple released in 2018, but with the base storage bumped from 128GB to 256GB. Otherwise, it remains the lowest-cost and most compact way to bring macOS into a desktop environment for more casual tasks. This offer is $200 cheaper than the previous-gen 256GB Mac Mini's current going rate.
Comic book fans received a huge blow last week when they learned that a ton of their favorite series wouldn't receive printed runs in the near future due to coronavirus concerns. That might be fine for those fans who have shifted to tablets and e-reader devices for their comics fix, but what about comics fans who not only want print versions, but also want to support their favorite local brick-and-mortar store?
This week, comics publishers responded by expressing solidarity with physical retail partners. For at least one week, Marvel, DC, and other major publishers will not launch new comics in print or on digital platforms.
On Tuesday, a bulletin sent by Marvel Entertainment President Dan Buckley to retail partners confirmed that its usual run of new Wednesday comic books would indeed not arrive in a physical format this Wednesday, April 1. No April Fool's joke there; this is due to Diamond, the biggest American distributor of print comic books, canceling shipment for any comics with a publish date of April 1 or later "until further notice," as per an announcement on March 23.
If proof were needed that the Trump administration never met an environmental regulation it didn't want to eviscerate, on Tuesday morning the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published final fuel efficiency rules for new passenger cars and light trucks for model years 2021 through 2026. As has been widely anticipated, the EPA and NHTSA have gutted plans established in 2012 to make the nation's fleet of vehicles more fuel-efficient.
Under the old rules, automakers had to get their fleets to an average of 46.7mpg (5l/100km) by MY2025. As of today, even that not-very-ambitious target is toast. Instead, the US government is only requiring the industry to achieve an average of 40.4mpg (5.8l/100km) by MY2026. Fleet-wide CO2 targets have been similarly watered down; by that same model year, the US passenger vehicle and light truck fleet must meet an average of 199g CO2/mile (124g/km). By contrast, new European Union rules that went into effect this year require EU fleet averages to drop below 153g/mile (95g/km), with massive fines in store for automakers that fail.
As continues to be the case, the rules are based on the footprint of a vehicle, with large trucks and SUVs being held to an even weaker standard. As long as a MY2026 pickup or SUV can meet 34.1mpg (6.9l/100km) and emit no more than 240g/mile (150g/km) of carbon dioxide, that's enough to satisfy the new regulations.
Amazon has fired an employee after he helped organize a walkout of Amazon workers at a fulfillment center in Staten Island, New York. The worker, Chris Smalls, says Amazon was retaliating against him for his workplace activism.
“Taking action cost me my job,” Smalls said in a Monday interview on Bloomberg TV. “Because I tried to stand up for something that’s right, the company decided to retaliate against me.”
Amazon disputes that charge.
The Fitbit Charge 4. [credit: Fitbit ]
Fitbit is still out there living its life and launching products despite a looming acquisition by Google that could upend the entire company any month now. Today Fitbit announced the Charge 4, the latest in its line of Charge devices that kind of sit at the halfway point between a smartwatch and a basic fitness tracker. The Charge 4 has the same body as the Charge 3, just with updated internals.
You won't be installing apps or playing music on it any time soon, but it can sync to your smartphone and show notifications on the grayscale OLED touchscreen. The device is mostly focused on fitness features, with exercise recognition, an activity dashboard, move reminders, and tracking of just about everything, including your general activity, your heart rate, and sleep.
Some big additions to the Charge 4 seemed designed to let you leave your smartphone at home. The first is an internal GPS for location tracking, which will let you log runs without a phone, but it will also severely cut down on the battery life. Fitbit claims the Charge 4 will last up to seven days if you don't turn on GPS, but turning on the GPS will cut that time down to five hours, a stunning 97-percent decrease in battery life. To go along with the new location tracking, there are now seven GPS-based exercise modes. Sync the device to the Fitbit app and you'll see a new "GPS-powered heat map" showing where your toughest workouts were.
Neil Armstrong was the first human to walk on the Moon. Buzz Aldrin soon followed him onto the lunar surface. And Michael Collins? Well, he remained behind, in lunar orbit. Alone.
For 50 years, he was portrayed by the media as the lonely astronaut. "The emphasis in the press was 'Wasn't I the loneliest person in the whole lonely world in the whole lonely orbit around some lonely thing?'" he recalled during an Explorer's Club event in New York City last year.
Collins insists he was not lonely. After being confined in the small Command Module with Armstrong and Aldrin for a few days, he enjoyed the respite while tracking their activities on the Moon's surface.
Coronavirus. Climate change. Worldwide unrest. Mass extinctions. Killer robots. There's a lot of stuff to worry about, and more things get added to the list daily. (Seriously, the robots—why do the scientists keep making them?!)
So let's get this out of the way right now: I'm not here to give you anything else to worry about. But I am going to ask you to subscribe, because Ars could use your help.
For folks who may not pay obsessive attention to every Ars writer's history, I came to Ars shortly after the site was founded in 1998. I made a forum account in 2000 so I could get help with a computer build issue. (It turned out that I needed to install my motherboard's VIA 4-in-1 drivers—and man, I do not miss that crap). Ars has been my online home for almost as long as I've been using the Internet; I was a subscriber for years before it even occurred to me that I might actually be able to work here.
As more and more states issue stay-at-home orders, Florida is taking a different—some say dangerous—approach to dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
Though the state’s confirmed case counts have rapidly risen in step with increased testing, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has rejected the idea of a state-wide order to keep people at home. Instead, the governor has opted to address coronavirus responses on a county-by-county basis, in hopes of sparing local economies.
On Monday, DeSantis signed an executive order urging residents in just four counties in Southeast Florida to stay in. The counties—Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, and Monroe—include some of the hardest hit in the state. Together, they have reported around 60 percent of the state’s 5,704 cases as of Tuesday, March 31. Many people in the four counties had already been limiting outings.
SpaceX has released the first edition of a Payload User's Guide for its Starship launch system, which consists of a Super Heavy first stage and the Starship upper stage. The six-page guide provides some basic information for potential customers to judge whether a launch vehicle meets their needs for getting payloads into space.
The new guide is notable because it details the lift capabilities of Starship in reusable mode, during which both the first and second stages reserve enough fuel to return to Earth. In this configuration, the rocket can deliver more than 100 metric tons to low-Earth orbit and 21 tons to geostationary transfer orbit.
The killer application, however, is the potential to refuel Starship in low-Earth orbit with other Starships, enabling transportation deeper into the Solar System for 100 tons or more. "The maximum mass-to-orbit assumes parking orbit propellant transfer, allowing for a substantial increase in payload mass," the document states. SpaceX has yet to demonstrate this technology—which has never been done on a large scale in orbit—but the company's engineers have been working on it for several years and partnered with NASA last summer.
Volvo HQ in Gothenburg, Sweden. [credit: Jonathan Gitlin ]
Electric cars are becoming much more important to automakers, and that means those companies are having to learn how to get good with batteries. That was baked into Tesla from day one, but for existing automakers, batteries have to become a new core competency. Recently, Volvo opened its doors in Gothenburg, Sweden, to show us how that's happening, ahead of the launch later this year of its new battery EV, the XC40 Recharge.
Volvo was an early advocate for going electric, announcing a plan for its model range shortly after it told us that it was ending development on diesel engines. That plan calls for 50 percent of its sales to be BEVs by 2025, but actually implementing that plan is more involved than just holding a press conference, and it's a transformation that affects the entire company. Engineers are being retrained to work with electric motors instead of internal combustion engines. Supply lines and purchasing have to get to grips with responsibly sourcing a new range of materials. The carmaker even has to think about what its new EVs should sound like.
Volvo has built its reputation on safety, and obviously the move to electric powertrains can't be allowed to compromise that.
For people with limited use of their limbs, speech recognition can be critical for their ability to operate a computer. But for many, the same problems that limit limb motion affect the muscles that allow speech. That had made any form of communication a challenge, as physicist Stephen Hawking famously demonstrated. Ideally, we'd like to find a way to get upstream of any physical activity and identify ways of translating nerve impulses to speech.
Brain-computer interfaces were making impressive advances even before Elon Musk decided to get involved, but the problem of brain-to-text wasn't one of their successes. We've been able to recognize speech in the brain for a decade, but the accuracy and speed of this process are quite low. Now, some researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are suggesting that the problem might be that we weren't thinking about the challenge in terms of the big-picture process of speaking. And they have a brain-to-speech system to back them up.
Speech is a complicated process, and it's not necessarily obvious where in the process it's best to start. At some point, your brain decides on the meaning it wants conveyed, although that often gets revised as the process continues. Then, word choices have to be made, although once mastered, speech doesn't require conscious thought—even some word choices, like when to use articles and which to use, can be automatic at times. Once chosen, the brain has to organize collections of muscles to actually make the appropriate sounds.
The full teardown of the 2020 iPad Pro. [credit: iFixit ]
As expected, iFixit has published a teardown of the 12.9-inch, 2020 iPad Pro, assessing both what's new in the device compared to 2018 and how straightforward the device is to open up and repair. It turns out not too much has changed (which we already knew), and the Pro remains quite difficult to service.
In the video (sorry, no blog post this time, it seems), we see the various steps required to replace interior components like the screen or USB-C port that might have failed. Just about every step involves "lots of adhesive" and "precarious prying." In fact, it's a conundrum from the very first step, as opening up the casing will leave you trying to figure out how to detach two cables that Apple clearly didn't intend users to be futzing with.
Unsurprisingly, iFixit gave the 2020 iPad Pro a 3 out of 10 for repairability—the same as it gave the 2018 model. That's because for these intents and purposes, this is the same tablet as was introduced in 2018.
The Guardian says it has evidence that Saudi Arabia is exploiting a decades-old weakness in the global telecoms network to track the kingdom’s citizens as they travel in the United States.
The publication cited data provided by a whistleblower that suggests Saudi Arabia is engaged in systematic spying by abusing Signalling System No. 7. Better known as SS7, it’s a routing protocol that allows cell phone users to connect seamlessly from carrier to carrier as they travel throughout the world. With little built-in security for carriers to verify one another, SS7 has always posed a potential hole that people with access could exploit to track the real-time location of individual users. SS7 abuse also makes it possible for spies to snoop on calls and text messages. More recently, the threat has grown, in part because the number of companies with access to SS7 has grown from a handful to thousands.
The data provided to The Guardian “suggests that millions of secret tracking requests emanated from Saudi Arabia over a four-month period beginning in November 2019,” an article published on Sunday reported. The requests, which appeared to originate from the kingdom’s three largest mobile phone carriers, sought the US location of Saudi-registered phones.
While most game makers are seeing booming usage statistics in the era of coronavirus-induced social distancing, Niantic is in the opposite position. The company's games—including Pokémon Go, Harry Potter: Wizards Unite, and Ingress—are all built around the idea of leaving the house and meeting up with people in real-world locations.
Now that those things are impossible or discouraged for large portions of the population, Niantic is adjusting its game design philosophy to "embrace real-world gaming from home," as it says in a blog update today.
"We have always believed that our games can include elements of indoor play that complement the outdoor, exercise and explore DNA of what we build," the company writes. "Now is the time for us to prioritize this work, with the key challenge of making playing indoors as exciting and innovative as our outdoor gameplay."
The presidential race has fallen off the top of every front page nationwide in favor of coronavirus coverage, but 2020 is still very much a high-stakes election year. Twitter, Facebook, and Google have all promised to beef up their efforts to let information spread freely while limiting falsehoods and disinformation, but it's a long uphill battle—and with a little more than seven months to go until the election, it's one they do not seem to be winning.
The problem, a report today by The New York Times points out, is that not only are foreign disinformation campaigns in full swing, but the metaphorical calls are also coming from inside the house. Some platforms seem to be handling the challenge better than others.
The Times spoke with several employees at both Facebook and Twitter about how they have to change their tactics endlessly, as their adversaries continually modify their own approaches.
We already know that, at various points in our species' past, several hominin species were wandering around Africa. But now it turns out they may have been living very different lives. A team of anthropologists took a closer look at the internal structure of leg bones from two South African hominins. It turns out that around the time our genus emerged, some hominins were living the bipedal life, while others were still spending a lot of time in the trees.
For most of the last few million years, our ancestors shared their world with several other hominin species. In some ways, most of those species looked and acted like their neighbors, but there were undoubtedly some striking differences, too. Every hominin species in the fossil record has its own unique mix of familiar human traits and more ape-like ones, shaped by their environments and lifestyles.
In some cases, we're not even entirely sure which of those species were our direct ancestors and which were more like cousins. That complexity makes it difficult to figure out exactly when (and why) hominins stopped hanging out in trees and started walking upright.
According to a flurry of Monday morning reports, Super Mario is coming back in 2020 in a huge way. And it's mostly about reliving the Nintendo mascot's 3D era on Nintendo Switch.
The first rumor domino to fall came from VGC, which pushed forward with a report suggesting "most of Super Mario's 35-year back catalog" would arrive on Nintendo Switch by the end of 2020, according to "multiple sources." Nintendo had originally planned to make a physical event out of the announcement during this summer's E3, VGC reported, but E3 2020 was canceled earlier this month in the wake of organizational woes and coronavirus concerns.
VGC was able to report on one specific game coming to Nintendo Switch, but it wasn't a remaster. Instead, VGC suggested that the Paper Mario action-RPG series would receive a new entry in 2020.
OneWeb has filed for bankruptcy and intends to sell its business, bringing an abrupt end to the company's plan to offer high-speed satellite Internet service around the world.
OneWeb announced Friday that it "voluntarily filed for relief under Chapter 11 of the [US] Bankruptcy Code," and "intends to use these proceedings to pursue a sale of its business in order to maximize the value of the company." OneWeb made the decision "after failing to secure new funding from investors including its biggest backer SoftBank," largely because of the coronavirus pandemic, the Financial Times wrote. OneWeb also "axed most of its staff on Friday," the FT article said.
OneWeb previously raised $3 billion over multiple rounds of financing and was seeking more money to fund its deployment and commercial launch. "Our current situation is a consequence of the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis," OneWeb CEO Adrián Steckel said in the bankruptcy announcement. "We remain convinced of the social and economic value of our mission to connect everyone everywhere."
I don't often get to write for the Ars Technica front page anymore—I'm usually off pulling levers behind the scenes—but I count it a privilege every day to work with the team we've assembled here at Ars for the express purposes of serving you, the reader! As such, I hope that you will consider supporting Ars Technica by buying a subscription.
Ars launched its first subscription program in post-bubble 2001 when ad money dried up. Even then, we did not institute a "paywall." Our deep desire was (and is) that our work remains accessible to as many people as possible. This has meant living in a world where we rely on both subscriptions and advertising. Without either, we wouldn't be here.
For the next week, we are going to mount a subscription drive with the goal of convincing 5,000 more of you to join one of our membership tiers. The reason is simple: we need your financial support to weather the next several months, as advertising dollars are all drying up thanks to the current state of the economy. Each and every subscription dollar goes against our direct editorial costs. So please consider joining us!
The concept of NASA's Lunar Gateway—a small outpost to be built in a halo orbit around the Moon—is about five years old.
Although a lunar space station might serve many useful purposes, the concept came about for one basic reason. Due to limitations in the upper stage of NASA's Space Launch System rocket and an under-powered propulsion system in the Orion spacecraft, these vehicles do not have enough performance to get astronauts into low-lunar orbit, and then back out of it again for a return to Earth. Thus, NASA came up with a waypoint farther from the Moon and not so deep within its gravity well.
For more than a year, as NASA has developed its Artemis plan to return humans to the Moon by 2024, the space agency has positioned Gateway as the "Command Module" where it would aggregate components of a Human Landing System and from where astronauts would descend down to the surface of the Moon.
A federal court in Washington, DC, has ruled that violating a website's terms of service isn't a crime under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, America's primary anti-hacking law. The lawsuit was initiated by a group of academics and journalists with the support of the American Civil Liberties Union.
The plaintiffs wanted to investigate possible racial discrimination in online job markets by creating accounts for fake employers and job seekers. Leading job sites have terms of service prohibiting users from supplying fake information, and the researchers worried that their research could expose them to criminal liability under the CFAA, which makes it a crime to "access a computer without authorization or exceed authorized access."
So in 2016 they sued the federal government, seeking a declaration that this part of the CFAA violated the First Amendment.
We've been anticipating WireGuard's inclusion into the mainline Linux kernel for quite some time—but as of Sunday afternoon, it's official. Linus Torvalds released the Linux 5.6 kernel, which includes (among other things) an in-tree WireGuard. Phoronix has a great short list of the most interesting new features in the 5.6 kernel, as well as a longer "everything list" for those who want to make sure they don't miss anything.
If this is the first time you're hearing about WireGuard, the TL;DR is that it's a relatively new VPN (Virtual Private Network) application that offers a leaner codebase, easier configuration, faster connect times, and the latest and most thoroughly peer-reviewed and approved encryption algorithms. You can find a more detailed introduction in our initial August 2018 coverage.
Although WireGuard is now version 1.0.0 in the Linux world, its Windows package is in beta at 0.1.0; it has added significant performance, stability, localization, and accessibility features since our walkthrough preview of an older version.
As citizens worldwide self-quarantine to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus, major retailers are selling out of the Nintendo Switch, leading to secondhand price markups similar to those seen just after the console's successful launch.
The Switch is currently unavailable at Amazon, GameStop, Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and other major online retailers, though some local stores may still have spotty availability. When new stock does come in to these online stores, it tends to be gone in less than an hour, according to listings from retail tracker NowInStock.
"Nintendo Switch hardware is selling out at various retail locations in the US, but more systems are on the way," Nintendo said in a statement late last week. "We apologize for any inconvenience."