Microsoft issues emergency patches for 4 exploited 0days in Exchange

The word ZERO-DAY is hidden amidst a screen filled with ones and zeroes.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Microsoft is urging customers to install emergency patches as soon as possible to protect against highly skilled hackers who are actively exploiting four zeroday vulnerabilities in Exchange Server.

The software maker said hackers working on behalf of the Chinese government have been using the previously unknown exploits to hack on-premises Exchange Server software that is fully patched. So far, Hafnium, as Microsoft is calling the hackers, is the only group it has seen exploiting the vulnerabilities, but the company said that could change.

“Even though we’ve worked quickly to deploy an update for the Hafnium exploits, we know that many nation-state actors and criminal groups will move quickly to take advantage of any unpatched systems,” Microsoft Corporate Vice President of Customer Security & Trust Tom Burt wrote in a post published Tuesday afternoon. “Promptly applying today’s patches is the best protection against this attack.”

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#advanced-persistent-threat, #apt, #biz-it, #exchange-server, #exploits, #microsoft, #policy, #tech, #vulnerabilties, #zerodays


AWS director sues Amazon, alleging systemic racism in corporate office

Amazon's orange-yellow logo wall.

Enlarge / Amazon’s orange-yellow logo wall. (credit: David Ryder/Getty Images)

A senior manager at Amazon Web Services has filed suit against the company alleging race and gender discrimination, saying that she was underpaid, denied promotions, and sexually assaulted at the firm.

Charlotte Newman, who is Black, began working at AWS in 2017 in a public policy role. Prior to joining Amazon, she served as a congressional advisor, including a senior role advising US Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ). From the start, she alleges, she was “de-leveled”—hired at a position below the one for which she applied and for which she was qualified—and undercompensated as a result.

Underpaying Black employees through de-leveling is routine at Amazon, the suit (PDF) alleges. “When a company’s top leaders traffic in stereotypes of Black employees and fail to condemn intimidation tactics, managers farther down the chain will take note of that modus operandi and behave accordingly,” the filing reads.

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#amazon, #discrimination, #gender-bias, #policy, #racial-bias, #racism, #sexism


Samsung will soon ship Micro LED TVs, but Mini LED still leads the lineup

It’s that time of year when many TV manufacturers begin announcing prices for and shipping their annual product refreshes. We took a look at Sony’s OLED lineup yesterday, and today we’re turning our attention to Samsung, which just announced imminent availability (most models will start shipping this month) for its high-end Micro LED and Mini LED TV lineup.

We’ll get to Micro LED in a minute, but let’s start with the mainstream high end, which comprises the Mini LED TVs. Samsung is giving these a proprietary “Neo QLED” label.

The top-end QN900A is the most tricked-out 8K option, with 65-inch ($5,000), 75-inch ($7,000), and 85-inch options ($9,000). One step down while keeping the 8K banner flying is the QN800A, offered in the same sizes but at $3,500, $4,700, and $6,500, respectively.

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#4k, #hdr, #lcd, #led, #qled, #samsung, #tech, #tv, #ultrahd


“Locked” for 300 years: Virtual unfolding has now revealed this letter’s secrets

In 1697, a man named Jacques Sennacque wrote a letter to his cousin, a French merchant named Pierre Le Pers, requesting a certified death certificate for another man named Daniel Le Pers (presumably also a relation). Sennacque sealed the letter with an intricate folding method known as “letterlocking,” a type of physical cryptography, to safeguard the contents from prying eyes. That letter was never delivered or opened. More than 300 years later, researchers have virtually “unlocked” the letter to reveal its contents for the first time, right down to the watermark in the shape of a bird. They described their results in a new paper published in the journal Nature Communications.

Co-author Jana Dambrogio, a conservator at MIT Libraries, coined the term “letterlocking” after discovering such letters while a fellow at the Vatican Secret Archives in 2000. The Vatican letters dated back to the 15th and 16th centuries, and they featured strange slits and corners that had been sliced off. Dambrogio realized that the letters had originally been folded in an ingenious manner, essentially “locked” by inserting a slice of the paper into a slit, then sealing it with wax. It would not have been possible to open the letter without ripping that slice of paper—evidence that the letter had been tampered with.

Dambrogio has been studying the practice of letterlocking ever since, often creating her own models to showcase different techniques. The practice dates back to the 13th century—at least in Western history—and there are many different folding and locking techniques that emerged over the centuries. Queen Elizabeth I, Machiavelli, Galileo Galilei, and Marie Antoinette are among the famous personages known to have employed letterlocking for their correspondence.

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#digital-humanities, #gaming-culture, #history, #physics, #science, #virtual-unfolding, #x-ray-microtomography


Today’s best tech deals: Bose headphones, Assassin’s Creed, and more

Today’s best tech deals: Bose headphones, Assassin’s Creed, and more

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Today’s Dealmaster includes a good discount on Bose’s Noise Cancelling Headphones 700, the white version of which is down to $299 at various retailers. That’s $80 off Bose’s MSRP, about $65 off the street price we typically see online, and tied for the best price we’ve tracked.

While we generally recommend Sony’s WH-1000XM4 as the top choice among wireless noise-canceling headphones, this Bose pair is a strong alternative. Its battery life isn’t as good, but its metal headband gives the design a more premium feel, and it offers a more neutral sound profile than the XM4’s more bass-heavy default signature.

And though its active noise cancellation isn’t quite as effective as the XM4’s at maximum, it’s not terribly far off. Perhaps more importantly, Bose’s companion app lets you customize the strength of the noise-canceling effect on a 10-point scale, so you can lessen the intensity if you’re somewhere that’s only mildly noisy. If you need that extra flexibility—or if ultrastrong active noise cancellation tends to bring you discomfort—the Noise Cancelling Headphones 700 are a worthwhile option in the premium bracket.

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#dealmaster, #staff


Rookie coding mistake prior to Gab hack came from site’s CTO

Rookie coding mistake prior to Gab hack came from site’s CTO

Enlarge (credit:

Over the weekend, word emerged that a hacker breached far-right social media website Gab and downloaded 70 gigabytes of data by exploiting a garden-variety security flaw known as an SQL injection. A quick review of Gab’s open source code shows that the critical vulnerability—or at least one very much like it—was introduced by the company’s chief technology officer.

The change, which in the parlance of software development is known as a “git commit,” was made sometime in February from the account of Fosco Marotto, a former Facebook software engineer who in November became Gab’s CTO. On Monday, Gab removed the git commit from its website. Below is an image showing the February software change, as shown from a site that provides saved commit snapshots.


The commit shows a software developer using the name Fosco Marotto introducing precisely the type of rookie mistake that could lead to the kind of breach reported this weekend. Specifically, line 23 strips the code of “reject” and “filter,” which are API functions that implement programming idioms that protect against SQL injection attacks.

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#biz-it, #exploits, #gab, #open-source, #sql-injection, #tech, #vulnerabilities, #website-security


Epic continues its studio-acquisition spree, buys Fall Guys devs

An adorable video game character wears a crown that reads Epic Games.

Enlarge / At this time, we’re unsure whether Mediatonic was paid by Epic in cash, stock options, or golden crowns. (credit: Mediatonic / Aurich Lawson)

On Tuesday, Epic Games, the maker of Unreal Engine and studio behind Fortnite, continued its push into owning a corner of the game- and software-development ecosystem by acquiring Mediatonic, the makers of popular video game series Fall Guys.

The studio, headquartered in London with satellite operations throughout Europe, was formed in 2005 and is mostly known for contract work on licensed games (along with a significant stint making “web” games for platforms like Facebook), only to explode last year with Fall Guys, a quirky, family-friendly twist on the burgeoning “battle royale” genre. The game’s 2020 success was propelled in part by a PlayStation Plus giveaway and high viewership on Twitch.

Steam wiggle room?

This studio acquisition means Devolver Digital has been relieved as Fall Guys’ publisher. In its stead, Epic Games’ ownership of Unreal Engine will be leveraged, as per Mediatonic’s announcement on Fall Guys‘ future:

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#epic-games, #fall-guys, #fortnite, #gaming-culture, #rad, #rocket-league


Google-free /e/ OS is now selling preloaded phones in the US, starting at $380

/e/ OS, the “open-source, pro-privacy, and fully degoogled” fork of Android, is coming to Canada and the USA. Of course, you’ve always been able to download the software in any region, but now (as first spotted by It’s Foss News) the e Foundation will start selling preloaded phones in North America. Previously, /e/ only did business in Europe.

Like normal, the e Foundation’s smartphone strategy is to sell refurbished Samsung devices with /e/ preloaded. In the US, there are only two phones right now: the Galaxy S9 for $379.99 or a Galaxy S9+ for $429.99. North Americans still have reason to be jealous of Europe, where you can get /e/ preloaded on a Fairphone, which is also Europe-exclusive.

These Samsung phones are used devices, but the site says the devices have “been checked and reconditioned to be fully working at our partner’s facilities.” The phones have a one-year warranty and are described as “Good-as-New” with “no surprises.” An /e/ device means you’ll be getting a fork of Android 10, and for ongoing support, the e Foundation says, “We aim to support with at least 3 years of software updates and security patches.”

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It Takes Two hands-on: Impeccable co-op platforming—on mute, at least

The team at Swedish game studio Hazelight has spent nearly a decade making cooperative adventure games—and doubling down on the “co-op” tag by requiring two players for their games to work. But where 2013’s Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons offered a refreshing morsel of co-op adventuring, 2018’s A Way Out buried its most clever moments in an overwrought story and slow mechanics.

Trailers for the company’s next game, March 26’s It Takes Two (published by EA), got my hopes up in both of those critical categories. The footage seemed to turn a new Hazelight storytelling page in terms of a “rom-com” plot, while its always-cooperative gameplay looked bouncier and more action-packed. I optimistically attended an online preview event last week to see what the fuss might be about, which allowed me to install and test the game’s first two hours on my PC (and link up with Ars Technica’s Kyle Orland as an online co-op partner).

In the game’s first two hours, we discovered a real surprise: EA’s best-controlling 3D platformer since 2007’s The Simpsons, and a remarkably fun co-op spin on the genre in terms of solving puzzles and battling enemies with asymmetrical, often-changing abilities. What wasn’t surprising, sadly, is Hazelight’s persisting shoddiness at telling a story worth investing in.

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#a-way-out, #ea, #gaming-culture, #hazelight, #it-takes-two


The Volvo C40 Recharge is a stylish new variant of the Swedish EV

Calling climate change “the greatest safety test” it needs to pass, Volvo is vowing that half the cars it sells in 2025 will be battery electric vehicles, with a model range that’s only BEVs by 2030. And by 2040, the company plans to be entirely carbon neutral, working with its partners to reduce emissions across the entire supply chain. (For a little more explanation, we talked to Volvo about sustainability and battery supply chains last year.) The statements were made at an online event on Tuesday morning to launch the company’s latest BEV, the C40 Recharge.

Previously, Volvo used the C-prefix for compact hatchbacks and bigger coupés. Now, the prefix denotes a fastback version of the XC40 Recharge crossover, probably because everyone wants crossovers and no one wants hatchbacks anymore. The family resemblance is immediately obvious, but Volvo says that everything from the A pillar backward is new. This becomes evident when you look at it in profile—there’s a more steeply canted windshield at the front, and at the rear a spoiler integrated into the roof helps maintain rear headroom.

The fastback crossover might be even more distinctive once the sun goes down. New “Thor’s Hammer” headlights have pixel technology for the first time and also have elements that move with the steering to better illuminate the road. And at the rear, there is a new twilight signature that looks particularly cool in the dark (and which was influenced by childhood memories of Battlestar Galactica, according to one of Volvo’s designers.

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#battery-electric-vehicle, #bev, #cars, #crossover, #electric-vehicle, #volvo, #volvo-c40-recharge


Biden administration puts a price on carbon

Image of exhaust from power plants.

Enlarge (credit: Picture Alliance / Getty Images)

On Friday, the Biden administration announced it had fulfilled the requirements of one of the executive orders issued on the very first day of his presidency: determining what’s called the “social cost of carbon.” This figure tries to capture the cumulative economic value achieved by investing in limiting carbon emissions now. As such, carbon’s social cost plays a key role in informing the cost/benefit analysis of any government policy or regulation that influences carbon emissions.

The government is required to attach a value to the social cost of carbon, which typically requires the consideration of extensive economic and climate research. But the Trump administration had ended the process of updating the value after having chosen an artificially low one. Given a 30-day deadline to come up with a new one, the Biden administration has chosen to adjust the last pre-Trump value for inflation and use that until it can do a more detailed analysis of how the research landscape has changed over the last four years.

The net result is a dramatically higher price on carbon that will enable far more aggressive regulatory action for at least the next four years.

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#biden, #climate-change, #energy-policy, #policy, #science, #social-cost-of-carbon


Donald Trump is one of 15,000 Gab users whose account just got hacked

Promotional image for social media site Gab says

Enlarge (credit:

The founder of the far-right social media platform Gab said that the private account of former President Donald Trump was among the data stolen and publicly released by hackers who recently breached the site.

In a statement on Sunday, founder Andrew Torba used a transphobic slur to refer to Emma Best, the co-founder of Distributed Denial of Secrets. The statement confirmed claims the WikiLeaks-style group made on Monday that it obtained 70GB of passwords, private posts, and more from Gab and was making them available to select researchers and journalists. The data, Best said, was provided by an unidentified hacker who breached Gab by exploiting a SQL-injection vulnerability in its code.

“My account and Trump’s account were compromised, of course as Trump is about to go on stage and speak,” Torba wrote on Sunday as Trump was about to speak at the CPAC conference in Florida. “The entire company is all hands investigating what happened and working to trace and patch the problem.”

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#biz-it, #ddosecrets, #gab, #hacking, #hate-speech, #leaks, #policy, #tech


Why N95 masks are still hard to get, even though production is up

Medical masks move along a conveyor belt.

Enlarge / A machine makes respiratory masks in a family-owned medical equipment factory in north Miami, Florida, on February 15, 2021. The firm now has 30 million unsold masks because it can’t find buyers in the United States. (credit: Chandan Khanna | AFP | Getty Images)

Even though we’ve had more good vaccine news lately, COVID-19 in the US is still very much a widespread concern. We’re still going to need masks for many months to come. So why, a year into the pandemic, are good ones still so hard to find?

The New York Times reports that there are dozens of small, US-based businesses that have pivoted to making medical-grade masks, but they can’t sell them to consumers because of policies put in place to protect supply chains at the beginning of the pandemic.

Facebook and Instagram will be happy to show you ads for cute, fashion-forward fabric masks (in adult and children’s sizes)—but not ads for actual medical-grade, government-approved N95 masks. The social network explained to the NYT that its policies are meant both to preserve supplies for workers in the health care field who need them the most and also to cut down on sales of counterfeits.

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#amazon, #coronavirus, #covid-19, #facebook, #kn95, #masks, #n95, #policy, #supply-chains


“We knew T-Mobile couldn’t be trusted,” union says after 5,000 job cuts

A T-Mobile logo on the window of a store.

Enlarge / A T-Mobile logo at a store in New York on April 30, 2018. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

T-Mobile has cut at least 5,000 jobs since completing its acquisition of Sprint despite promising that the merged company would start creating new jobs “from day one.”

As noted by Light Reading today, a T-Mobile filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last week said, “As of December 31, 2020, we employed approximately 75,000 full-time and part-time employees, including network, retail, administrative, and customer support functions.” That’s 5,000 fewer than the number T-Mobile gave on previous occasions, including a press release on December 8, 2020 that said there are “more than 80,000 employees at the post-merger T-Mobile.” The 80,000 figure was probably off by at least a few thousand employees by the time it was repeated in that press release, given that T-Mobile had 5,000 fewer employees just a few weeks later.

The US government didn’t impose any hiring requirements in the merger conditions that allowed T-Mobile to complete its acquisition of Sprint in April 2020. But T-Mobile and then-CEO John Legere made jobs a key part of their lobbying for the merger. In April 2019, Legere published a blog post titled “Just the Facts on Jobs: The New T‑Mobile Will Create Jobs From Day One.”

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#job-cuts, #layoffs, #merger, #policy, #sprint, #t-mobile


Minisforum U850—solid hardware and easy upgrades in a little box

Earlier this month, we teased the announcement of a new model of mini-PC from specialty vendor Minisforum. Today, we’re taking a look at the results of some hands-on testing of the Minisforum U850, configured with a Comet Lake i5 CPU, 16GiB RAM, and a 256GB Kingston NVMe SSD.

The U850 is an aggressively generalist mini-PC, and it can tackle most roles—its dual network interfaces make it a good candidate for a high-performance router, and its combination of tons of USB ports, HDMI and DisplayPort video out, and surprisingly fast storage make it an excellent little desktop PC.

Specs at a glance: U820 / U850
CPU Intel i5-8249U (U820)
Intel i5-10210U (U850)
OS Windows 10 Pro (pre-installed) / Linux supported
GPU Intel Iris+ 655 (U820)
Intel UHD 630 (U850)
Wi-Fi M.2 Intel AX200 Wi-Fi 6, dual-band + BlueTooth 5.1
SSD M.2 2280 512GB NVMe SSD
  • two SATA ports
  • one full-size HDMI 2.0
  • one full-size DisplayPort
  • one USB-C (full featured)
  • one USB-C (charge only)
  • four USB3.1 Type-A
  • one 1Gbps Ethernet (Realtek 8111H)
  • one 2.5Gbps Ethernet (Intel)
  • one 3.5 mm audio
  • one Digital Mic
Price as specified $639 (U820) / $699 (U850)

The only role the U850 might play that we’d advise some caution with is home theater PC (HTPC)—although it’s powerful enough to do the job, its fan noise when under load is enough that it might annoy the sorts of people who tend to want a small, unobtrusive HTPC in the first place.

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#homebrew-router, #linux-pc, #mini-pc, #minisforum, #small-form-factor-pc, #tech, #vesa-mount


Sony’s brighter A90J OLED TV makes its way to living rooms this month

LG’s OLED TV lineup often gets the most press among its peers, but Sony’s high-end OLED TVs get positive reviews as well. Today, Sony announced pricing and release timing for its flagship 2021 OLED, the A90J.

Preorders have already started in Europe and the UK, and the US is expected to follow any time now. But regardless of the staggered preorders, the TVs will ship this month in both regions.

The A90J will be available in 55-, 65-, and 83-inch sizes. The 55-inch model will cost $3,000 in the US, while its 65-inch counterpart will cost a whopping $4,000. US and EU pricing haven’t been announced for the 83-inch model, but it costs £7,000 in the UK, so let that be your guide.

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#4k, #dolby-vision, #hdmi-2-1, #hdr, #oled, #sony, #sony-a90j, #tech, #tv, #ultrahd


Blue Origin’s massive New Glenn rocket is delayed for years. What went wrong?

Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, speaks during the 32nd Space Symposium in 2016. A few months later, the company would formally announce development of the huge New Glenn rocket.

Enlarge / Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin, speaks during the 32nd Space Symposium in 2016. A few months later, the company would formally announce development of the huge New Glenn rocket. (credit: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

In the fall of 2017, shortly after he became chief executive officer of Blue Origin, Bob Smith received an extensive briefing on the state of the New Glenn rocket program. The projected launch date for the massive, reusable rocket was 2020, he was told.

As Smith assessed the progress on New Glenn to date and drew upon his long experience at Honeywell Aerospace, he soon came to the conclusion that this launch date was unreasonable. “This is not a 2020 launch program,” he said at this meeting. “This is a 2022 program, at best.”

Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos was not present for this, but his response afterward was that he would absolutely not accept any revision to the launch date for the large orbital rocket. Blue Origin should be optimistic with its projections, Bezos said. And then they should meet those projections.

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#blue-origin, #new-glenn, #science


YouTube’s TikTok clone, “YouTube Shorts,” is live in the US

YouTube’s clone of TikTok, “YouTube Shorts,” is rolling out to the US as we speak. The feature launched in India this September and was first spotted on US devices by XDA Developers. Just like TikTok, Shorts lets users make and share bite-sized, one-minute videos, and users can swipe between them on the mobile app.

The YouTube Shorts section shows up on the mobile apps section of the YouTube home screen and for now has a “beta” label. It works exactly like TikTok, launching a full-screen vertical video interface, and users can swipe vertically between videos. As you’d expect, you can like, dislike, comment on, and share a short. You can also tap on a user name from the Shorts interface to see all the shorts from that user. The YouTube twist is that shorts are also regular YouTube videos and show up on traditional channel pages and in subscription feeds, where they are indistinguishable from normal videos. They have the normal YouTube interface instead of the swipey TikTok interface. This appears to be the only way to view these videos on desktop.

A big part of TikTok is the video editor, which allows users to make videos with tons of effects, music, filters, and variable playback speeds that contribute to the signature TikTok video style. The YouTube Shorts editor seems nearly featureless in comparison, offering only speed options and some music.

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Archaeologists discover “Lamborghini” of chariots near ruins of Pompeii

A four-wheeled ceremonial chariot discovered by archaeologists near the ancient Roman city of Pompeii.

Enlarge / A four-wheeled ceremonial chariot discovered by archaeologists near the ancient Roman city of Pompeii. (credit: Archaeological Park of Pompeii)

Archaeologists in Italy have unearthed an elaborately decorated, intact four-wheeled ceremonial chariot near the ruins of the Roman city of Pompeii, famously destroyed when Mt. Vesuvius catastrophically erupted in 79 AD, BBC News reports. The archaeologists believe the chariot was likely used in festivities and parades—possibly even for wedding rituals like transporting the bride to her new home, given the erotic nature of some of the decorative motifs.

The find is extraordinary both for its remarkable preservation and because it is a relatively rare object. “I was astounded,” Eric Poehler, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who is an expert on traffic in Pompeii, told NPR. “Many of the vehicles [previously discovered] are your standard station wagon or vehicle for taking the kids to soccer. This is a Lamborghini. This is an outright fancy, fancy car. This is precisely the kind of find that one wants to find at Pompeii, the really well-articulated, very well-preserved moments in time.”

Other archaeologists weighed in on Twitter. “My jaw is on the floor just now!” tweeted Jane Draycott of the University of Glasgow. “Still wrapping my head around the latest incredible discovery,” Sophie Hay of the University of Cambridge tweeted in an extensive thread about the surprising find. “The details are extraordinary.”

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#archaeology, #history, #pompeii, #science


Hacker reduces GTA Online load times by roughly 70 percent

You could spend less time looking at loading screens like this with a new DLL fix.

Enlarge / You could spend less time looking at loading screens like this with a new DLL fix.

A hacker going by the handle T0st says he has figured out a core issue that caused longer-than-necessary load times in Grand Theft Auto Online for years. The hacker has released a proof of concept DLL fix that shortens those lengthy startup times by roughly 70 percent.

Grand Theft Auto Online‘s PC load times have been a persistent issue for seven years now, remaining slow despite general improvements to hardware and the game’s status as a continuing lucrative revenue stream for publisher Take Two. An anonymous Reddit poll last year found that roughly half of players were waiting three to six minutes for the game to load up, and about 35 percent of players waiting even longer to start every session.

That’s not a scientific survey or anything, but even accounting for self-selection and reporting issues, those load times are very long, especially for such an old game. The problem is even harder to understand when the single-player Grand Theft Auto V tends to load many times faster.

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#gaming-culture, #grand-theft-auto, #gta, #gta-online, #rockstar


Verizon tells users to disable 5G to preserve battery, then deletes tweet

A giant Verizon 5G logo in an expo hall.

Enlarge / A Verizon booth at Mobile World Congress Americas in Los Angeles in September 2018. (credit: Verizon)

Verizon has spent years hyping 5G despite it bringing just a minor speed upgrade outside the limited areas where millimeter-wave spectrum has been deployed, but the carrier’s support team advised users yesterday to shut 5G off if their phones are suffering from poor battery life.

The tweet from VZWSupport, now deleted, said, “Are you noticing that your battery life is draining faster than normal? One way to help conserve battery life is to turn on LTE. Just go to Cellular > Cellular Data Options > Voice & Data and tap LTE.”

While Verizon didn’t mention 5G in the tweet, people who responded to Verizon on Twitter and journalists writing stories noted that the effect of these instructions is to shut 5G off. “LTE is active by default as a backup for those times when 5G isn’t available. Following these instructions actually has the effect of turning off 5G,” Mashable noted. (Verizon’s instructions are for iOS, but it’s also possible to disable 5G on Android phones.)

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#5g, #biz-it, #verizon


B.1.1.7 variant now 10% of US cases—and cases are once again ticking up

President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff participate in a moment of silence and candle light ceremony at sundown with 500 candles for the 500,000 dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, at the South Portico at the White House on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / President Joe Biden, first lady Jill Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and second gentleman Doug Emhoff participate in a moment of silence and candle light ceremony at sundown with 500 candles for the 500,000 dead from the COVID-19 pandemic, at the South Portico at the White House on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | The Washington Post)

After weeks of dramatic decline, COVID-19 cases in the US have hit a plateau—and in some places are ticking up. Officials are sounding the alarm in hopes of averting a fourth surge in the devastating pandemic.

“We at CDC consider this a very concerning shift in the trajectory,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a press briefing last week. Though cases are down from their astronomical peak in early to mid January, the overall numbers are still quite high, matching averages seen in late October, at the base of the holiday surge.

“Things are tenuous,” she noted. “Now is not the time to relax restrictions.”

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#b-1-1-7, #cases, #cdc, #covid-19, #fauci, #infectious-disease, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #variants, #walensky


Humanitarian airship seeks world’s most powerful hydrogen fuel cell

Humanitarian airship seeks world’s most powerful hydrogen fuel cell

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

“Ironic” probably isn’t the right word to describe the lack of public information about Sergey Brin’s airship company. Who better to know the worth of staying private than one of the co-creators of a search engine that changed the world, after all. But to those who know where to look—like eagle-eyed journalist Mark Hughes—some details about LTA’s plans have made it out into the open. Hughes spotted a rather revealing job opening at the company for someone to manage a hydrogen fuel cell program.

The really interesting part of the job posting shows up in the list of primary responsibilities:

Engineering hydrogen fuel cell propulsion system through configuration of 1.5MW airship propulsion system including H2 storage, fuel cells, H2O capture, batteries, stern drive, and smaller electric motors and gear trains and retrofit of 750KW fuel cell system on existing airship

Yes, you did read that correctly, LTA is indeed working on configuring a 1.5 MW fuel cell system. For context, the hydrogen fuel cell that powers the Toyota Mirai was just bumped from 113 kW to 128 kW in November, making it ten times less powerful than the system sought by LTA. Even the 500 kW class-8 tractor-trailers that Toyota is testing as drayage trucks at the Ports of LA and Long Beach only use a pair of Mirai fuel cell systems to generate power, and the most powerful hydrogen fuel cell that has taken to the air so far is a 250 kW fuel cell in the ZeroAvia ZA-600, a 20-seat plane with a range of 500 miles (800 km).

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#airship, #cars, #dirigible, #hydrogen-fuel-cell, #lta-research-and-exploration, #sergey-brin


The 2008 moment when triumph turned to torment for SpaceX

The launch of Flight Three of the Falcon 1 rocket looked promising at the beginning.

Enlarge / The launch of Flight Three of the Falcon 1 rocket looked promising at the beginning. (credit: Chris Thompson/SpaceX)

This is an excerpt from chapter eight of the book LIFTOFF: Elon Musk and the Desperate Early Days That Launched SpaceX by our own Eric Berger. The book will be published on March 2, 2021. In this excerpt, it is the summer of 2008, and SpaceX has attempted to launch the Falcon 1 rocket twice already, failing both times. As the company’s engineers prepare for a third launch attempt from tiny Omelek Island in the Kwajalein Atoll, time and money are running out…

By the time of Flight Three, the SpaceXers had grown accustomed to their visits out to the central Pacific Kwajalein Atoll for launches. Over the course of three years, they learned how to survive in the tropical environment and even enjoy island life. Some of these lessons were hard won, however.

Fairly early on during the Kwaj experience, engineer Brian Bjelde missed the evening boat back to Kwajalein. It happened. He and a few others slept under the stars, passing a perfectly pleasant night. But the next morning, Bjelde lacked a change of clothes. So he grabbed a T-shirt from a package of Falcon 1 swag items that had shown up in Omelek. The vacuum-packed, white T-shirt may have been wrinkled, but at least it was clean, and it kept the sun off his back. Bjelde went through massive quantities of sunscreen every day—any piece of skin exposed to the tropical sun was covered. Throughout that day, as he slathered himself in it, Bjelde noticed the T-shirt’s wrinkles straightening beneath the island’s heat and humidity.

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#falcon-1, #features, #liftoff, #science, #spacex


Pure nonsense: Debunking the latest attack on renewable energy

Image of wind turbines.

Enlarge / Miraculously, the video at issue did not accuse wind turbines of causing cancer. (credit: Pictures Alliance / Getty Images)

Our editor-in-chief obviously hates me. That’s the only conclusion I could reach after he asked me to watch an abysmal attack video targeting renewable energy—a video produced by a notorious source of right-wing misinformation.

But despite its bizarre mishmash of irrelevancies and misdirection, the video has been widely shared on social media. Perhaps you’ve seen it, or maybe you just to want to be ready when a family member brings it up in an argument. What, if anything, is true in this farrago of bad faith?

Yes, it’s awful

The video is hosted by “Prager University.” My only previous exposure to the organization’s videos had been this excellent one on the Confederacy by Colonel Ty Seidule, a professor of History at West Point who has since been placed on the Pentagon commission that will examine bases named after Confederate generals. Seemed legit!

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#energy, #green, #renewable-energy, #science, #solar-power, #wind-power


Action-packed meta-fantasy, space opera herald a bright future for Asian film

Celebrate the Year of the Metal Ox with two new films: <em>A Writer's Odyssey</em> and <em>Space Sweepers</em>

Enlarge / Celebrate the Year of the Metal Ox with two new films: A Writer’s Odyssey and Space Sweepers (credit: Aurich Lawson/Netflix/CMC Films/)

February brings the annual celebration of the lunar new year—welcome to the Year of the (Metal) Ox—and with it two new action-packed films from China and South Korea, respectively.

Directed by Lu Yang, A Writer’s Odyssey—currently playing in select theaters—centers on a man searching for his lost daughter, hired to assassinate a novelist whose fantasy work-in-progress has begun to shape events in the real world. Over on Netflix, Space Sweepers is being touted as the first Korean bona fide blockbuster, focusing on the adventures of the plucky crew aboard a space junk salvage vessel who must save the Earth from total destruction. Together they make for an action packed, fantasy/sci-fi weekend double feature.

(Some spoilers below for both films, but no major reveals.)

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#a-writers-odyssey, #entertainment, #film-review, #gaming-culture


All the little things that add up to make iPadOS productivity a pain

Rumor has it a new iPad Pro is around the corner, which means Apple is about to make another big pitch for the iPad as a productivity and content-creation device.

But while we’ve found in our iPadOS reviews that Apple has done a marvelous job with the big-picture changes to the OS aimed at making it real-work-friendly, there are still a bunch of minor annoyances or “nope, you can’t do that” limitations that sabotage Apple’s intentions.

For that reason, it makes sense to preempt that upcoming marketing push with a few key caveats—especially since Apple likely won’t announce a major iPadOS software update alongside new hardware in March. Significant new OS changes probably won’t be discussed until the company’s developer conference in June, and said updates probably won’t reach the public until September or October.

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#apple, #ipad, #ipados, #tech


Inside the stunning Black mythos of Drexciya and its Afrofuturist ’90s techno


With those all-caps words, musician and writer James Stinson wrote the constitution for the mythic, rhythmic nation of Drexciya—a world that he and partner Gerald Donald created in the liner notes of their experimental music project. Their combined work, in the form of five EPs of cutting-edge techno music, did not necessarily sound so politically or culturally charged. Because Stinson and Donald did not participate in interviews or widely tour in support of their albums, Drexciya’s listeners were left to look at the stories and questions that covered the liner notes and artwork printed on the releases’ vinyl and CD versions.

Should you merely pull up Drexciya on your favorite streaming service, you won’t hear those messages in the beats. So to understand this innovative group, it’s crucial to ask the above questions about the fictional Drexciyan quest. And in asking them, Stinson blurred a line between fiction and Black reality—and spoke to a quest of his own.

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#afrofuturism, #drexciya, #gaming-culture


Clubhouse’s security and privacy lag behind its explosive growth

Clubhouse has a long way to go to assure its users that its privacy and security policies are fully baked.

Enlarge / Clubhouse has a long way to go to assure its users that its privacy and security policies are fully baked. (credit: Carsten Koall | Getty Images)

In recent months, the audio-based social media app Clubhouse has emerged as Silicon Valley’s latest disruptive darling. The format feels familiar: part Twitter, part Facebook Live, part talking on the phone. But as Clubhouse continues to expand, its security and privacy failings have come under increased scrutiny—and left the company scrambling to correct problems and manage expectations.

Clubhouse, still in beta and available only on iOS, offers its users “rooms” that are essentially group audio chats. They can also be set as public addresses or panel discussions where some users are “speakers” and the rest are audience members. The platform reportedly has over 10 million users and is valued at $1 billion. Since last year it has been an invite-only haven for Silicon Valley elite and celebrities, including an Elon Musk appearance earlier this month. But the company has struggled both with concrete security issues and more ephemeral questions around how much privacy its users should expect.

“With smaller, newer social media platforms we should be on our guard about our data, especially when they go through huge growth it tests a lot of the controls,” says security researcher Robert Potter. “Things you might have gotten away with with only 100,000 people on the platform—you increase those numbers tenfold and the level of exposure goes up, the threat goes up, the number of people probing your platform goes up.”

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#clubhouse, #gaming-culture


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

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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#battery-electric-vehicle, #bev, #car-review, #cars, #crossover, #electric-car, #electric-vehicle, #ev, #features, #volkswagen-id-4


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

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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#film, #frankenstein, #gaming-culture, #horror, #independent-films, #literary-history, #mary-shelley, #science-fiction


Atlantic currents seem to have started fading last century

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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#currents, #earth-science, #gulf-stream, #oceanography, #science


Nikola admits to making “inaccurate” statements under disgraced founder

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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#cars, #nikola, #trevor-milton


Perseverance’s eyes see a different Mars

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

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 they send home.

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#mars, #nasa, #perseverance, #science, #solar-system


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

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

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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#biz-it, #electric-gird, #gru, #hacking, #infrastructure, #utilities, #utlilties


We’ll likely have a 3rd COVID vaccine soon; J&J vaccine clears last hurdle

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.

Agency watchers expect the FDA to move quickly on the decision, possibly granting the EUA as early as tomorrow, February 27. The FDA moved that fast in granting EUAs for the two previously authorized vaccines, the Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech mRNA vaccines.

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#covid-19, #eua, #fda, #infectious-disease, #johnson-johnson, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine


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

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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#biz-it, #industrial-control-systems, #logix, #manufacturing, #programmable-logic-controllers, #rockwell, #tech, #vulnerabilities


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

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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#biometric-information-privacy-act, #bipa, #data-privacy, #lawsuits, #policy, #privacy, #settlements, #tiktok


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

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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#gaming-culture, #google-stadia, #phil-harrison, #stadia


Netflix drops extended Shadow and Bone teaser, announces release date

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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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #netflix, #shadow-and-bone, #streaming-television, #trailers


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

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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#gaming-culture, #nintendo, #pokemon, #switch


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

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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#biontech, #covid-19, #infectious-disease, #moderna, #mutation, #pandemic, #pfizer, #sars-cov-2, #science, #vaccine, #variant


Texas couple’s $9,546 power bill spurs class-action lawsuit against Griddy

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 that 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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#griddy, #policy, #power, #texas


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

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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#best-buy, #layoffs, #online-retail, #policy


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

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

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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#gaming-culture, #m-2, #nvme, #pcie4-0, #playstation-5, #ps5, #sony


Maryland school district places largest-ever order for electric buses

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’s 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. And now it’s getting 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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#cars, #electric-school-bus, #lausd, #montgomery-county, #proterra, #school-bus, #thomas-built


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

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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#android-os, #cars, #chrysler, #dodge, #infotainment, #stellantis, #uconnect-5


Rocket Report: Cornwall says ‘LOL, no’ to space tourism, Korean rocket on track

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 I 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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#rocket-report, #science


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

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’s got some serious indie sci-fi film street cred.

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#amazon-studios, #bliss, #film-review, #gaming-culture, #mike-cahill, #owen-wilson