Emissions from aluminum production are bad news for solar energy

Image of a solar field at sunset.

Enlarge / All those supports require a lot of aluminum. (credit: Longhua Liao)

Once solar panels are operative, they produce electricity without carbon emissions. But making and installing them does involve some emissions. Most of the worries there have focused on elements that go into the panels themselves, like gallium, cadmium, germanium, indium, selenium, and tellurium. But, according to new research, the massive amount of aluminum needed to house the solar rigs of the future could create its own problems.

“I hadn’t realized just how much aluminum was required for the frames, and the modules, mountings, and inverters,” Alison Lennon, a researcher at UNSW Sydney’s School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, told Ars. She added that aluminum is often used because it is lightweight and corrosion-resistant.

In 2020, the World Bank released an oft-cited analysis called “Minerals for Climate Action: The Mineral Intensity of the Clean Energy Transition.” In this report, the authors identified aluminum as one of the minerals that would need to have its production scale by a huge amount for the world to meet its climate goals. “PV was a large contributor,” Lennon said. “[This] made me think about the problem a bit more.”

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#aluminium, #aluminum, #photovoltaic-power, #science, #solar-power

Testing Intel’s 12th-gen Alder Lake laptop CPUs: Many cores make light work

Intel's 12th-generation Core chips are coming to laptops.

Enlarge / Intel’s 12th-generation Core chips are coming to laptops. (credit: Intel)

We came away impressed when we tested Intel’s top-tier 12th-generation desktop chips. Though still power-hungry compared to competing AMD Ryzen processors, their combination of big performance cores (P-cores) and clusters of small efficiency cores (E-cores) helped them shine under all kinds of workloads, including games that favor fewer, faster cores and video encoding and rendering tasks that benefit from every core you can throw at them.

The laptop versions of those chips, which Intel announced at CES earlier this month, don’t have the luxury of a desktop computer’s huge power supply or beefy cooling systems. They also don’t benefit from being compared to mediocre predecessors—11th-generation Core desktop processors backported a new CPU architecture to Intel’s decrepit 14nm manufacturing process with unimpressive results, while 11th-generation Core laptop chips benefitted from the newer 10nm process and correspondingly lower heat and power consumption. The 12th-generation chips use the same process, though it has been re-dubbed “Intel 7” to close the PR gap between Intel’s 10nm process and TSMC’s 7nm process.

The first Alder Lake laptop processor to find its way into our hands is the tippy-top-end Core i9-12900HK, the fastest of the bunch. In our testing, we tried to see whether the laptop version of Alder Lake strikes the same performance balance as the desktop version—fast cores when you need fast cores, and lots of cores when you need lots of cores.

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#alder-lake, #msi, #tech

To my surprise and elation, the Webb Space Telescope is really going to work

The James Webb Space Telescope as it will appear in orbit.

The James Webb Space Telescope as it will appear in orbit. (credit: NASA)

I met John Grunsfeld outside a coffee shop in Houston, across the street from Johnson Space Center, a little more than five years ago.

He had only recently retired from NASA after a long and storied career. Over the course of nearly two decades, Grunsfeld had flown into space five times, the latter three of which were missions to service the Hubble Space Telescope. A physicist by training, Grunsfeld had become affectionately known as a “Hubble Hugger” for his work on the venerable instrument in space.

He had then left the astronaut corps and gone on to lead NASA’s science missions as associate administrator of the agency’s science directorate. When we met late in the fall of 2016, Grunsfeld had just returned to private life. Now that he could speak more freely, I wanted to know what Grunsfeld really thought about the space agency’s science priorities. He was in Houston for his annual astronaut physical, and we enjoyed the pleasant late November sunshine as cars zipped by on NASA Road 1.

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#james-webb-space-telescope, #science, #space

Here’s what Apple might announce at a spring event this March

The 2020 iPhone SE

Enlarge / The 2020 iPhone SE. (credit: Samuel Axon)

It doesn’t seem like that long ago that Apple announced a plethora of new iPhone, Apple Watch, and MacBook Pro computers, but we’re likely now just a couple of months away from another product unveiling event from the company.

The Internet is spinning with wild speculation today, so now seems like a good time to check in and set expectations as much as is possible at this stage.

Why a spring event?

Apple spring events in the past several years have fallen on April 20, March 25, March 27, and March 21. And based on the company’s typical release/update cadence, several of Apple’s products are due now: high-end Mac mini models, the iPad Air, the iPhone SE, the Mac Pro, the larger-format iMac, and the iPad Pro.

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#27-inch-imac, #30-inch-imac, #apple, #apple-m1, #apple-m2, #apple-silicon, #imac, #ipad, #ipad-air, #iphone, #iphone-se, #mac-mini, #macbook-air, #tech

90% of US has a poor diet, and 25% don’t exercise

Mushrooms, corn, and tomatoes make this more than a green salad.

Enlarge / A bowl of salad stands on a table. (credit: Getty | Sina Schuldt)

As the pandemic enters its third year with cases and hospitalizations as high as ever, fresh data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reminds us that we already had a long track record of failing to manage our health.

The latest data from a decades-long health survey finds that—yet again—the vast majority of Americans have a poor diet and many of us are inactive. Specifically, just 10 percent of Americans eat enough vegetables, and only 12 percent eat enough fruit, according to recent responses to the CDC’s survey, the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance system. Recent responses also reveal that 25 percent of Americans don’t do any exercise outside of any work activity.

A poor diet and inactivity can both set people up for medical conditions, such as weak immune function, obesity, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and certain cancers, the CDC notes.

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Dark Souls servers taken down following discovery of critical vulnerability

Dark Souls servers taken down following discovery of critical vulnerability

Enlarge (credit: The_Grim_Sleeper)

Bandai Namco, publisher of the Dark Souls role-playing game series, has taken down its player-versus-player servers while it investigates reports of a serious vulnerability that allows players to execute malicious code on the PCs of fellow players.

Word of the critical remote-code-execution flaw emerged over the weekend in Reddit threads here and here. An exploit that hit a user named The_Grim_Sleeper was captured in a video stream posted over the weekend. Starting around 1:20:22, the user’s game crashed, and a robotic voice mocked his gameplay and maturity level.

“What the fuck,” The_Grim_Sleeper said in response. “My game just crashed, and immediately Powershell opened up and started narrating a fucking” screed. “I didn’t even know that shit was possible.”

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#biz-it, #dark-souls, #exploit, #games, #hack, #vulnerability

AT&T announces multi-gigabit fiber: $110 a month for 2Gbps, $180 for 5Gbps

Illustration of Internet data.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | zf L)

AT&T has started offering 2Gbps and 5Gbps symmetrical Internet speeds over its fiber-to-the-home network, the telecom company announced today. The multi-gigabit speeds are available to “nearly 5.2 million customer locations in parts of more than 70 metro areas, such as LA, Atlanta, and Dallas,” AT&T said.

AT&T is charging $110 per month plus taxes for its 2Gbps home-Internet plan and $180 per month plus taxes for the 5Gbps home-Internet plan. Business fiber prices are $225 per month for 2Gbps and $395 for 5Gbps. Base prices for other fiber home-Internet plans are $55 for 300Mbps, $65 for 500Mbps, and $80 for 1Gbps. The fine print notes that a “$99 installation fee may apply.”

AT&T imposes data caps on lower-end home-Internet plans but provides unlimited data on tiers with speeds of 100Mbps and above. AT&T’s announcement said its new fiber plans have “no equipment fees, no annual contract, no data caps, and no price increase at 12 months.” The 1Gbps and multi-gigabit plans also include HBO Max access.

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#att, #biz-it, #fiber

Steam Deck will get the trippiest cloud-save functionality we’ve ever seen

Steam Deck's head is in the clouds—and thanks to Dynamic Cloud Sync, that's a good thing.

Enlarge / Steam Deck’s head is in the clouds—and thanks to Dynamic Cloud Sync, that’s a good thing. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

As Valve’s first portable PC, the Steam Deck, approaches its estimated February launch, the back-end work to translate third-party PC games to a Switch-like form factor has ramped up considerably. While we expected to see the Steam ecosystem get updates for things like improved Linux support and Deck-compatible store flags, a surprise Monday announcement confirmed a cool feature that nobody necessarily saw coming: a major change to Steam’s support for save files in the cloud.

Dynamic Cloud Sync is now live on Steam, and it’s a first for any gaming platform currently in operation. It appears to be inspired by a specific use case: playing your favorite PC game on the go via the Steam Deck, then resuming that same game later on your home PC. That concept sounds well and good, but in practice, it requires the logistical step of making sure your game is saved and then uploading that save to the cloud. The idea of tapping through menus, saving, quitting, and watching your device upload a save to the cloud isn’t necessarily compatible with the pick-up-and-go nature of a portable console.

In a statement on its official Steam Community site, Valve all but called out the Nintendo Switch by name in addressing this issue:

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#cloud-save, #cloud-saves, #gaming-culture, #steam-deck, #valve

Kombucha cultures make excellent sustainable water filters, study finds

Close-up of fresh SCOBY

Enlarge / Close-up of fresh SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) used in kombucha. (credit: Whitepointer/Getty Images)

The refreshing kombucha tea that’s all the rage these days among certain global demographics might also hold the key to affordable, environmentally sustainable living membranes for water filtration, according to a recent paper published in the American Chemical Society journal ACS ES&T Water. Experiments by researchers at Montana Technological University (MTU) and Arizona State University (ASU) showed that membranes grown from kombucha cultures were better at preventing the formation of biofilms—a significant challenge in water filtration—than current commercial membranes.

As we’ve reported previously, you only need three basic ingredients to make kombucha. Just combine tea and sugar with a kombucha culture known as a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast). The culture is also known as the “mother,” tea mushroom, tea fungus, or Manchurian mushroom. (Kombucha tea is believed to have originated in Manchuria, China, or possibly Russia.)

Whatever you call it, it’s basically akin to a sourdough starter. A SCOBY is a firm, gel-like collection of cellulose fiber (biofilm), courtesy of the active bacteria in the culture creating the perfect breeding ground for yeast and bacteria. Dissolve the sugar in non-chlorinated boiling water, then steep some tea leaves of your choice in the hot sugar-water before discarding them.

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#chemistry, #filtration, #kombucha, #science

PC port of Ocarina of Time prepares for February release

Screenshots from video game The Ocarina of Time.

Enlarge / Hey! Listen! This is running on PC! (credit: Kenix/Harbour Masters)

Back in November, the Zelda Reverse Engineering Team announced that it had completed its months-long project of decompiling The Legend of Zelda: The Ocarina of Time‘s ROM into fully human-readable C code. Now, a group building on that work says it is nearing the release of a fully moddable PC port of the game.

The Harbour Masters coding team (which shares some members with but is separate from the Zelda RET project) said its porting effort is currently about 90 percent complete. The project will hopefully be ready for release as a public repository by late February, lead developer Kenix told Ars Technica. But while the massive undertaking of decompiling the game provides a good base, getting from C code to a fully functional PC version of Nintendo’s 1998 classic isn’t simply a matter of telling a compiler to “build for PC.”

Actors and assets

When the Harbour Masters began to work in earnest on the PC port in December, Kenix said they “started by removing all of the actors [e.g., interactive objects like enemies, signposts, and bombable walls] and a lot of the game’s systems to simplify the build process and what needs to be changed to get it to load.” Those actors and systems were slowly added back once other problems with asset loading had been handled.

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Spinning black holes may prefer to lean in sync

A simulation of a black hole merger.

Enlarge / A simulation of a black hole merger. (credit: LIGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State (Aurore Simonnet))

I was pretty excited when LIGO, the giant double-eared gravitational wave observatory in the US, detected the first gravitational waves. When Virgo came online, triangulating gravitational wave signals became possible, and gravitational wave astronomy became a reality.

Once the initial excitement of seeing individual events died away, it was only a matter of time and statistics before scientists started pulling new insights out of the data. A pair of new papers has looked at black hole merger statistics, and the papers’ results suggest that there might be something unusual in the distribution of black hole spins.

The revealing death spiral

Gravitational waves are the result of mass moving through space and time. The mass stretches space and time, causing a ripple effect, much like the bow wave from a boat moving through water. And, just like a bow wave, the heavier and faster the mass, the bigger the wave. Unlike water, space-time is very stiff, so it takes more than an ocean liner to create a noticeable gravitational wave.

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#black-hole-binaries, #black-hole-mergers, #general-relativity, #ligo-virgo, #physics, #science

Hactivists say they hacked Belarus rail system to stop Russian military buildup

Servicemen of Russia's Eastern Military District units attend a welcoming ceremony as they arrive in Belarus to take part in joint military exercises. Russia's military is combining its own means of transport with train travel.

Enlarge / Servicemen of Russia’s Eastern Military District units attend a welcoming ceremony as they arrive in Belarus to take part in joint military exercises. Russia’s military is combining its own means of transport with train travel. (credit: Getty Images)

Hacktivists in Belarus said on Monday they had infected the network of the country’s state-run railroad system with ransomware and would provide the decryption key only if Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko stopped aiding Russian troops ahead of a possible invasion of Ukraine.

Referring to the Belarus Railway, a group calling itself Cyber ​​Partisans wrote on Telegram:

BelZhD, at the command of the terrorist Lukashenko, these days allows the occupying troops to enter our land. As part of the “Peklo” cyber campaign, we encrypted the bulk of the servers, databases and workstations of the BelZhD in order to slow down and disrupt the operation of the road. The backups have been destroyed.

Dozens of databases have been cyberattacked, including AS-Sledd, AS-USOGDP, SAP, AC-Pred, pass.rw.by, uprava, IRC, etc.

⚠ Automation and security systems were deliberately NOT affected by a cyber attack in order to avoid emergency situations.

The group also announced the attack by Twitter.

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#belarus, #biz-it, #hacktivism, #policy, #ransomware, #russia

Latest Intel Arc GPU leaks: 3070 Ti-ish speeds, 5 different options for laptops

Promotional image for computer components.

Enlarge / Intel’s upcoming Arc GPUs. (credit: Intel)

Intel hasn’t said much about its upcoming Arc dedicated GPUs since announcing their branding and a handful of architectural details a few months ago, but recent leaks have given us some indications of what we can expect when it comes to performance and to the GPUs that Intel is planning for laptops later this year.

Of the leaks, the one about the laptop Arc models is more concrete. A slide originally leaked on Twitter outlines a total of five different GPU models for laptops, ranging from a couple of slow-but-better-than-integrated options at the bottom all the way to a potential high-end GeForce or Radeon competitor.

The best of the GPUs includes 512 of Intel’s GPU execution units (EUs) attached to 16 GB of 16 Gbps video memory using a 256-bit interface; that wide a memory interface and that much memory suggests a high-end GPU that’s trying to compete with GeForce 3070- and 3080-series and Radeon 6800- and 6900-series products. The middle two GPU options—one 384 EU model with 12 GB of RAM connected to a 192-bit interface and one 256 EU model with 8 GB of RAM and a 128-bit interface—are reminiscent of the specs for Nvidia’s mainstream RTX 3060 and 3050 laptop GPUs. The two low-end models, which connect to 4 GB of RAM with a 64-bit memory interface, seem poised to compete with GPUs like Nvidia’s GeForce MX series or the beefed-up RDNA2 integrated GPUs in AMD’s upcoming Ryzen 6000 laptop processors.

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#intel-arc, #tech

Cargo ships could switch to renewable fuels, but it ain’t cheap (yet)

Cargo ships could switch to renewable fuels, but it ain’t cheap (yet)

Enlarge (credit: Darren Hillman)

The transition to clean energy involves some markets where we have solutions that are no-brainers (more wind and solar, please) but also some head-scratchers. Maritime shipping falls in the latter category. Barring a return to sailing, these vessels will continue to require relatively high energy-density fuel to cheaply move goods over long distances. So how do we clean up an industry that runs on heavy fuel oil?

A new study led by Boris Stolz and Maximilian Held at ETH Zürich analyzes plausible options for the fleet of cargo ships that operate within Europe. Their idea was to take real shipping data from 2018 and calculate the impact of changing out each ship’s propulsion system. For ships carrying heavy loads, they set a benchmark of ditching no more than 3 percent of their cargo in order to install a potentially emissions-free propulsion system. From there, they found out how many voyages could still be completed—and at what cost.

Renewable options

The team evaluated hydrogen, ammonia, methane, methanol, and diesel—all made from renewable feedstock and using clean electricity. That includes sourcing the carbon for methane, methanol, or diesel from captured atmospheric CO2. They also considered internal combustion engines and two kinds of fuel cells (proton-exchange membrane or solid oxide) with electric motors for turning those fuels into motion. Lithium-ion batteries were included, as well.

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#carbon-neutral, #clean-energy, #greenhouse-gas-emissions, #science

Acer’s new Chromebooks have anchored keys that are hard to rip out

Acer-Chromebook 314 open and lid

Enlarge / Acer Chromebook 314. (credit: Acer)

Acer is taking an interesting approach to durability with four Chromebooks it announced today. Specifically, the kid-focused laptops’ keyboards are designed to be hard to damage.

The Chromebook 512 (C852), Chromebook 511 (C734/C734T), Chromebook 314 (C934/C934T), and Chromebook Spin 311 (R722T/R723T) join Acer’s education-focused machines with keyboards featuring “mechanically anchored keys.” According to the company, that makes it difficult for users—especially curious young students—to rip keys out of the laptops, while still offering keyboards that are easy to repair or replace.

Diagram of the ridge.

Diagram of the ridge. (credit: Acer)

An Acer spokesperson further explained the keyboard to Ars, saying that a ridge under each key makes it difficult for fingers to get under and pop it out.

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#acer, #chromebook, #tech

FCC chair plans to block exclusive deals that limit ISP choice in apartments

FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel sitting at a table and speaking during a Senate committee hearing.

Enlarge / FCC member Jessica Rosenworcel speaks during a Senate Commerce Committee oversight hearing on June 24, 2020, in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Jonathan Newton)

The Federal Communications Commission is on course to block some types of exclusive deals that ISPs and landlords use to prevent broadband competition in apartment buildings and other multiple-tenant environments.

A plan announced Friday by FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel would “prohibit providers from entering into graduated revenue sharing agreements or exclusive revenue sharing agreements with a building owner; require providers to disclose to tenants in plain language the existence of exclusive marketing arrangements that they have with building owners; [and] end a practice that circumvents the FCC’s cable inside wiring rules by clarifying that existing Commission rules prohibit sale-and-leaseback arrangements that effectively block access to alternative providers,” the FCC said.

Rosenworcel circulated the proposal to other commissioners, meaning they can vote on it at any time. The updated rules would apply to residential buildings that contain apartments or condo units and to office buildings.

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“Death Star” response from US would lock Russia out of 5G, advanced chips

Russian mobile phone networks could be severely hampered if mooted US tech sanctions go into effect.

Enlarge / Russian mobile phone networks could be severely hampered if mooted US tech sanctions go into effect. (credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

The US is considering restricting the flow of semiconductors into Russia to deter Russian President Vladimir Putin from invading Ukraine. The move would prevent the Russian military and much of the nation’s economy from advancing technologically.

The details of the sanctions are still being decided, but they would rely on similar restrictions that kneecapped Huawei, the Chinese tech company. Though most semiconductors are made overseas, US companies control huge swaths of the larger market, from chip design and manufacturing equipment to process and quality control. By restricting access to those companies’ products and services, the US can effectively limit Russian access to the latest chips, even if they’re made in other countries.

“It’s one of the tools that US has come to prefer because it’s painful but it doesn’t involve the use of force,” James Andrew Lewis, senior vice president and director of the Strategic Technologies Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Ars. “It sort of freezes Russia at a technological moment.”

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#foreign-direct-product-rule, #policy, #russia, #sanctions, #semiconductors

Google is reportedly planning a next-gen Chromecast with Google TV

Pictures of the new Chromecast.

Enlarge / The Chromecast with Google TV. It comes in colors. (credit: Google)

9to5Google reports that Google is prepping a sequel to the Google Chromecast with Google TV. Last year, Google changed the high end of the Chromecast line from a dead-simple, streaming-only video device to a full-blown Android streamer with installable apps, a navigable UI, and a physical remote. The move was effectively a merger of Google’s two TV products, the Chromecast and Android TV, with the revamped, Android TV-based software being rebranded “Google TV.”

9to5Google says the next-generation version of the device is codenamed “Boreal” and was spotted in some documentation next to “Sabrina,” the code name for the current Chromecast with Google TV (which 9to5Google was also the first to discover). The report doesn’t have any details about what we can expect from the new Chromecast, but the current device has some glaring shortcomings that will hopefully be fixed.

The biggest problem with the current Chromecast? You really have to wonder if it was actually designed from the ground up to run Android. The device has a measly 8GB of storage for the entire OS and all your apps and updates. Even $100 Android phones have 64GB of storage now, and 8GB isn’t enough for even light app usage. Some Android games are exceeding 10GB these days, so you can’t install them on the new Chromecast, even before half the storage is reserved for the base OS.

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#chromecast, #google-tv, #tech

After 7 years, a spent Falcon 9 rocket stage is on course to hit the Moon

On February 11, 2015, a Falcon 9 lifted off from SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, carrying the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite on SpaceX’s first deep space mission.

Enlarge / On February 11, 2015, a Falcon 9 lifted off from SpaceX’s Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, carrying the Deep Space Climate Observatory satellite on SpaceX’s first deep space mission. (credit: SpaceX)

SpaceX launched its first interplanetary mission nearly seven years ago. After the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage completed a long burn to reach a transfer orbit, NOAA’s Deep Space Climate Observatory began its journey to a Sun-Earth LaGrange point more than 1 million km from the Earth.

By that point, the Falcon 9 rocket’s second stage was high enough that it did not have enough fuel to return into Earth’s atmosphere. It also lacked the energy to escape the gravity of the Earth-Moon system, and so it has been following a somewhat chaotic orbit since February 2015.

Now, according to sky observers, the spent second stage’s orbit is on course to intersect with the Moon. According to Bill Gray, who writes the widely used Project Pluto software to track Near-Earth Objects, asteroids, minor planets, and comets, such an impact could come in March.

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Bitcoin drops to six-month low as investors dump speculative assets

Bitcoin drops to six-month low as investors dump speculative assets

Enlarge (credit: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Bitcoin dropped to a six-month low on Saturday, extending a steep fall recorded in the previous session as the cryptocurrency market was swept up in a powerful shift by investors out of speculative assets.

The price of the biggest digital token by market value fell 4.3 percent in the European morning on Saturday to $35,127, the lowest level since July 2021. Bitcoin has now lost almost a quarter of its value this year.

Other cryptocurrencies have also come under intense selling pressure, with an FT Wilshire index of the top five tokens excluding bitcoin down 30 percent in the first month of 2022.

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#bitcoin, #cryptocurrency, #policy

It’s a good time to learn the immune system—and this is the book for it

Image of a book cover.


If ever there was a moment to brush up on your knowledge of the immune system, this is that moment. (Okay, March-April 2020 may have been preferable, but you can still catch up.) And Immune is the perfect vehicle to help you do that. This book is phenomenal. It is engaging, it is informative, it is extremely clear and well-organized, it is helpful and illuminating and relevant and eye-opening and incredibly timely. And it is beautiful. Go get it and read it.

With enthusiasm

Philipp Dettmer is not an immunologist. He is a self-described “immune system enthusiast.” But his is no dilettantish, idle intellectual curiosity. He comes by his enthusiasm honestly, as he has had more intimate run-ins with his own immune system than anyone would like. He developed a food allergy as an adult that sent him to the hospital with shock, and he had cancer at age 32 and had to undergo chemotherapy.

What he is, is an information designer. He founded Kurzgesagt-In a Nutshell, one of the largest science channels on YouTube, which exists to explain complex ideas in an accessible, holistic manner. But the immune system is incredibly, ridiculously, notoriously complex. So much so that even Dettmer, who has dedicated his career to making obtuse scientific information accessible, decided that the best way to introduce immunity was in book form rather than through his online videos. For, an introduction is all the book is, as he tells you repeatedly; it’s just a cursory overview of the whole intensely complicated affair. There are sporadic disclaimers like this one:

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#biology, #book-review, #immunology, #science

Europe is in the middle of a messy nuclear showdown

Europe is in the middle of a messy nuclear showdown

(credit: Felix König)

On the last day of 2021, as final preparations were being made for the New Year’s Eve firework display in central Berlin, outside the German capital another era was drawing to a close. It was the beginning of the end of Germany’s decades-long dalliance with nuclear power.

On December 31, Germany shut down three of its six remaining nuclear plants. By the end of 2022, the other three will be shut as well. Two decades after an agreement to eliminate nuclear power became law, the country’s phaseout has been dramatic. In 2002, Germany relied on nuclear power for nearly 30 percent of its electricity. Within a year, that percentage will be zero.

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#climate-change, #eu, #europe, #fission, #france, #germany, #nuclear-power, #radtioactive-waste, #science

Retired FBI agent has new theory about who betrayed Anne Frank’s family to Nazis

Anne Frank in 1940. A new book, <em>The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation</em>, by Rosemary Sullivan, claims that a retired FBI special agent and a team of investigators have solved the mystery of who betrayed the Frank family to the Nazis.

Enlarge / Anne Frank in 1940. A new book, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation, by Rosemary Sullivan, claims that a retired FBI special agent and a team of investigators have solved the mystery of who betrayed the Frank family to the Nazis. (credit: Public domain)

Former FBI special agent Vincent Pankoke was looking forward to a relaxing retirement hanging out at the beach when he left the agency. Instead, he was drawn into solving a famous cold case: the question of who betrayed Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis, leading to their arrest and deportation to a concentration camp. Only the father, Otto Frank, survived. To find his own answer to that question, Pankoke assembled his own crack team of dogged investigators. They spent five years poring over every bit of pertinent material, setting up an extensive online database, and developing an AI program to help them sift through it all and find new connections.

While admitting that the case is circumstantial and some reasonable doubt remains, Pankoke et al. believe the most likely culprit is a man named Arnold van den Bergh, a local Jewish leader who may have handed over lists of addresses where fellow Jews were hiding to the Nazis in order to protect his own family. The Pankoke team’s story was featured in a segment on 60 Minutes earlier this week (see video at end of post), and is covered in detail in a new book by Rosemary Sullivan, The Betrayal of Anne Frank: A Cold Case Investigation.

Millions of people have read The Diary of Anne Frank since it was first published posthumously in 1947. It’s been translated into 70 languages and inspired a theatrical play and subsequent Oscar-winning 1959 film, featuring Millie Perkins in the title role. Anne Frank was born in Frankfurt, Germany, but the family fled the country and settled in Amsterdam after Adolf Hitler came to power. They didn’t flee quite far enough: the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands began in May1940 and eventually forced the Franks (and many other Jews) into hiding.

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#anne-frank, #books, #cold-cases, #gaming-culture, #history, #holocaust, #machine-learning, #science, #world-war-ii

A white supremacist website got hacked, airing all its dirty laundry

Patriot Front members spray painting in Springfield, IL.

Enlarge / Patriot Front members spray painting in Springfield, IL. (credit: Unicornriot.ninja)

Chat messages, images, and videos leaked from the server of a white supremicist group called the Patriot Front purport to show its leader and rank-and-file members conspiring in hate crimes, despite their claims that they were a legitimate political organization.

Patriot Front, or PF, formed in the aftermath of the 2017 Unite the Right rally, a demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia where one of the attendees rammed his car into a crowd of counter-protesters, resulting in one death and 35 injuries. PF founder Thomas Rousseau started the group after an image posted online showed the now-convicted killer, James Alex Fields, Jr., posing with members of white supremacist group Vanguard America shortly before the attack. Vanguard America soon dissolved, and Rousseau rebranded it as PF with the goal of hiding any involvement in violent acts.

Since then, PF has strived to present itself as a group of patriots who are aligned with the ideals and values of the founders who defeated the tyranny of the British in the 18th century and paved the way for the United States to be born. In announcing the the formation of PF in 2017, Rousseau wrote:

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#biz-it, #data-breach, #leaks, #patriot-front

2022 Wagoneer rocks a high-end, vast interior while guzzling hydrocarbons

The 2022 Wagoneer. Uncooperative weather forced us to rely on Stellantis media images for this review.

Enlarge / The 2022 Wagoneer. Uncooperative weather forced us to rely on Stellantis media images for this review. (credit: Stellantis)

Even as the automotive industry charts a course into a mostly electrified future, internal combustion engines still rule the roost in most segments. This includes the full-size SUV segment dominated in the US by the Chevy Tahoe and Ford Explorer. Although Jeep parent Stellantis forecasts having 40 percent of its sales come from BEVs by the end of the decade, it needs to challenge GM and Ford with its own three-row SUV: the all-new Wagoneer.

Starting at $71,845 for the base model, this is not your father’s Jeep Wagoneer. While the grille screams Jeep, that word doesn’t actually appear on this massive SUV. Instead “Wagoneer” appears in numerous spots inside and outside. And it is truly massive—the Grand Wagoneer measures a whopping 215 inches (5,461 mm) from head to tail, a couple of inches longer than the competition from GM and Ford.

To propel this beast of an SUV, Jeep has gone with a 5.7-liter V8 with eTorque (a 48 volt battery-powered motor generator designed to help with performance and fuel economy) and an eight-speed automatic transmission. Although it uses the same box-on-frame design as the Ram pickup truck, the rear-wheel drive Wagoneer’s independent suspension gives it a much smoother ride than the Ram 1500 with its solid rear axle. The upside is nearly 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) of towing capacity, surprisingly quick acceleration, and smooth rides on the highway. The downside of this combination of power, weight, and size? Disappointing mileage. The EPA estimates 15 mpg in the city, 20 mpg on the highway, and 17 mpg overall. Our week of late fall driving resulted in just 13.5 mpg. (This is a reminder that it’s not just EVs that lose range in cold weather.)

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#cars, #grand-wagoneer, #jeep, #luxury-suvs, #stellantis, #suv

What happens if a space elevator breaks

What happens if a space elevator breaks

Enlarge (credit: TCD | Prod.DB | Apple TV+/ | lamy)

In the first episode of the Foundation series on Apple TV, we see a terrorist try to destroy the space elevator used by the Galactic Empire. This seems like a great chance to talk about the physics of space elevators and to consider what would happen if one exploded. (Hint: It wouldn’t be good.)

People like to put stuff beyond the Earth’s atmosphere: It allows us to have weather satellites, a space station, GPS satellites, and even the James Webb Space Telescope. But right now, our only option for getting stuff into space is to strap it to a controlled chemical explosion that we usually call “a rocket.”

Don’t get me wrong, rockets are cool, but they are also expensive and inefficient. Let’s consider what it takes to get a 1-kilogram object into low Earth orbit (LEO). This is around 400 kilometers above the surface of the Earth, about where the International Space Station is. In order to get this object into orbit, you need to accomplish two things. First, you need to lift it up 400 kilometers. But if you only increased the object’s altitude, it wouldn’t be in space for long. It would just fall back to Earth. So, second, in order to keep this thing in LEO, it has to move—really fast.

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#foundation, #sci-fi, #science, #space-elevator

Judge’s order slaps Roblox player with permanent game ban

A court order has led to a longtime <em>Roblox</em> player being banned from the popular game.

Enlarge / A court order has led to a longtime Roblox player being banned from the popular game. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Roblox | Shark Fin Studios)

A lawsuit filed by the Roblox Corporation, the operator of one of the most popular online games in the West, concluded last week with a rare order from a US District Court—that a defendant must be permanently banned from an online video game and its associated services.

The dubious honor goes to Benjamin Robert Simon, better known to the Roblox community as Ruben Sim, who had previously received an IP-based Roblox ban after allegedly violating the game’s terms of service. Simon operates a Roblox gameplay and criticism YouTube channel, which currently has 849,000 subscribers.

$150,000, not $1.6 million

The judgment, which came as a stipulated order agreed upon by both the plaintiff and defendant, also requires Simon to pay $150,000 to Roblox. Exactly how that number breaks down based on the suit’s allegations is unclear, but the original suit says that Simon posted a threat in October 2021 that apparently targeted that year’s Roblox Developers Conference. The tweet included a threatening statement without a clear indication of either satire or comedy and said, “San Francisco Police are currently searching for notorious Islamic Extremist [name redacted]. If you see this individual at RDC please call 911 immediately.” The post included a hyperlink to a video titled “SOMEONE BLOW UP ROBLOX NOW,” which had been deleted from YouTube in 2015 but was temporarily re-uploaded, and that video (now once again offline) included direct threats to the Roblox Corporation.

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#ban-evasion, #gaming-culture, #roblox

This 22-year-old builds chips in his parents’ garage

Sam Zeloof completed this homemade computer chip with 1,200 transistors, seen under a magnifying glass, in August 2021.

Enlarge / Sam Zeloof completed this homemade computer chip with 1,200 transistors, seen under a magnifying glass, in August 2021. (credit: Sam Kang)

In August, chipmaker Intel revealed new details about its plan to build a “mega-fab” on US soil, a $100 billion factory where 10,000 workers will make a new generation of powerful processors studded with billions of transistors. The same month, 22-year-old Sam Zeloof announced his own semiconductor milestone. It was achieved alone in his family’s New Jersey garage, about 30 miles from where the first transistor was made at Bell Labs in 1947.

With a collection of salvaged and homemade equipment, Zeloof produced a chip with 1,200 transistors. He had sliced up wafers of silicon, patterned them with microscopic designs using ultraviolet light, and dunked them in acid by hand, documenting the process on YouTube and his blog. “Maybe it’s overconfidence, but I have a mentality that another human figured it out, so I can too, even if maybe it takes me longer,” he says.

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#biz-it, #chipmaking, #gaming-culture, #maker, #tech, #x86

Study: Leidenfrost effect occurs in all three water phases: Solid, liquid, and vapor

Slow-motion video of boiling ice, a research project of the Nature-Inspired Fluids and Interfaces Lab at Virginia Tech.

Dash a few drops of water onto a very hot, sizzling skillet and they’ll levitate, sliding around the pan with wild abandon. Physicists at Virginia Tech have discovered that this can also be achieved by placing a thin, flat disk of ice on a heated aluminum surface, according to a new paper published in the journal Physical Review Fluids. The catch: there’s a much higher critical temperature that must be achieved before the ice disk will levitate.

As we’ve reported previously, in 1756, a German scientist named Johann Gottlob Leidenfrost reported his observation of the unusual phenomenon. Normally, he noted, water splashed onto a very hot pan sizzles and evaporates very quickly. But if the pan’s temperature is well above water’s boiling point, “gleaming drops resembling quicksilver” will form and will skitter across the surface. It’s called the “Leidenfrost effect” in his honor.

In the ensuing 250 years, physicists came up with a viable explanation for why this occurs. If the surface is at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit (well above the boiling point of water), cushions of water vapor, or steam, form underneath them, keeping them levitated. The Leidenfrost effect also works with other liquids, including oils and alcohol, but the temperature at which it manifests will be different. 

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#fluid-dynamics, #ice, #leidenfrost-effect, #phase-transitions, #physics, #science

Picard and Guinan have a warm reunion in S2 trailer for Star Trek: Picard

The second season of Star Trek: Picard premieres March 3, 2022 on Paramount+.

It has been a long, pandemic-fueled wait, but the second season of Star Trek: Picard is almost here, and we now have an official trailer. In addition to seeing Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) encounter his mischievous former frenemy, Q (John de Lancie), fans’ hearts will warm to see the retired Starfleet captain reunite with Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg), the El-Aurian bar hostess from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

As I wrote in my review last year, the series is set 20 years after the events of Star Trek: Nemesis. The first season opened with Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) having retired to the family vineyard. His bucolic existence was interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious woman named Dahj (Isa Briones) who pleaded for his help. Alas, Picard failed to save her. She was killed in front of him by Romulan assassins belonging to a radical sect known as the Zhat Vash, who is dedicated to eradicating all artificial life forms. Picard discovered that Dahj was actually a synthetic—technically Data’s “daughter”—and she had a twin sister, Soji, who was also in danger.

Resolved to save Soji, Picard asked Starfleet for a ship, but he had been gone a long time, and his entreaties were rebuffed. Never one to admit defeat, Picard amassed his own scrappy crew over the next few episodes for his unauthorized rescue mission. The crew included Cristobal Rios (Santiago Cabrera), a skilled thief and pilot of the ship La Sirena; Raffi (Michelle Hurd), a former Starfleet intelligence officer and recovering addict; Dr. Agnes Jurati (Alison Pill); and a Romulan refugee, Elnor (Evan Evagora).

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#entertainment, #gaming-culture, #jean-luc-picard, #paramount-plus, #star-trek-picard, #streaming-television, #trailers

Unvaccinated 5X more likely to get omicron than those boosted, CDC reports

A tray of prepared syringes for booster vaccinations with Moderna's vaccine.

Enlarge / A tray of prepared syringes for booster vaccinations with Moderna’s vaccine. (credit: Getty | Picture alliance)

Amid the stratospheric rise of the omicron variant, real-world data on the effectiveness of COVID-19 booster doses is now rolling in—and it is only looking up for boosters.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported three studies Friday, two published in the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) and another, appearing in JAMA, by CDC scientists.

One of the MMWR studies looked at the vaccination status of nearly 10 million COVID-19 cases from 25 state and local health departments. CDC scientists and health officials compared weekly rates of COVID-19 infections between unvaccinated people, fully vaccinated people, and fully vaccinated people who were also boosted. In the month of December, as cases of the ultra-transmissible omicron variant skyrocketed, unvaccinated people were nearly three times more likely to report a case of COVID-19 than people fully vaccinated. Compared with fully vaccinated and boosted people, the unvaccinated were five times more likely to report a case.

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#booster, #cdc, #covid-19, #covid-19-vaccine, #science, #vaccine

Two cannabinoids have opposing effects on SARS-CoV-2 in culture

Don't try this at home. Seriously. We mean it.

Enlarge / Don’t try this at home. Seriously. We mean it. (credit: Anna Efetova)

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers have tested a wide range of drugs to see if they inhibit the virus. Most of these tests didn’t end up going anywhere; even the few drugs that did work typically required concentrations that would be impossible to achieve inside human cells. And a few (looking at you, ivermectin and chloroquine) took off with the public despite iffy evidence for effectiveness, seemingly causing nearly as many problems as they would have solved if they actually worked.

Nevertheless, two years on, word of yet another one of these drug experiments caused a bit of a stir, as the drug in question was a cannabinoid. Now, the full data has gone through peer review, and it looks better than you might expect. But the number of caveats is pretty staggering: the effect is small, it hasn’t been tested in patients, the quality assurance of commercial cannabidiol (CBD) products is nearly nonexistent, and—probably most importantly—another cannabinoid blocks the effect entirely.

With that out of the way, on to the data.

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#biology, #cannabis, #cbd, #covid-19, #pandemic, #sars-cov-2, #science

Here’s why some games aren’t “verified” for Steam Deck compatibility

Pictures of the Steam Deck.

Enlarge / The Steam Deck, from Valve. (credit: Valve)

Back in October, Valve laid out the specific review guidelines that a Steam game would have to follow to earn an optional “Deck Verified” badge on its Steam Store page. Now, the results of the first of those verification reviews are starting to leak out, and they’re showing some minor input and interface issues across a handful of games running on Steam Deck.

While the Deck Verified badges have yet to show up on the Steam Store itself, the metadata surrounding the program is already being added to the Steam backend for some titles ahead of the Steam Deck’s planned launch next month, as picked up by services like SteamDB. Of the 86 games with verification review results so far, 41 have at least one issue preventing them from receiving a full “Verified” badge.

First, the good news: Almost all of those un-verified games are still rated as “Playable” under Steam’s guidelines. Only five reviewed games so far have received the dreaded Steam Deck “Unsupported” badge from Valve. Four are virtual reality games, which fail for the simple listed reason that “Steam Deck Does Not Support VR Games.” The fifth, Persona 4 Golden, seems to fail because in-game videos use a problematic Windows Media Player codec that could be difficult to implement through Steam Deck’s Linux Proton compatibility layer. “Valve is still working on adding support for this game on Steam Deck,” the game’s metadata says.

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Airline CEOs make U-turn, now say 5G isn’t a big problem for altimeters

An airplane cockpit seen during flight.

Enlarge / Airbus 320 cockpit. (credit: Getty Images | Skyhobo)

The Federal Aviation Administration’s fight against AT&T’s and Verizon’s new 5G deployment appears to be coming to a temporary close, with the FAA having cleared about 78 percent of US planes for landing in low-visibility conditions. Airline CEOs are striking an upbeat tone, with one saying the process of ensuring that airplane altimeters work in 5G areas is “really not that complicated.”

Over the past week, the FAA announced clearances for 13 altimeters that can filter out 5G transmissions from the C-band spectrum that is licensed to wireless operators, accounting for those used by all Boeing 717, 737, 747, 757, 767, 777, 787, and MD-10/-11 models; all Airbus A300, A310, A319, A320, A330, A340, A350, and A380 models; and some Embraer 170 and 190 regional jets. More approvals will presumably be announced soon, bringing the US closer to 100 percent capacity.

Unfortunately, there could be another showdown in about six months, when AT&T and Verizon lift temporary 5G restrictions around airports—we’ll cover that later in this article. For now, airline CEOs appear to be satisfied, even though the FAA hasn’t said definitively that altimeters will continue working after the temporary 5G limits around airports are lifted.

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#5g, #altimeters, #c-band, #faa, #fcc, #features, #policy

Supply chain attack used legitimate WordPress add-ons to backdoor sites

Supply chain attack used legitimate WordPress add-ons to backdoor sites

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Dozens of legitimate WordPress add-ons downloaded from their original sources have been found backdoored through a supply chain attack, researchers said. The backdoor has been found on “quite a few” sites running the open source content management system.

The backdoor gave the attackers full administrative control of websites that used at least 93 WordPress plugins and themes downloaded from AccessPress Themes. The backdoor was discovered by security researchers from JetPack, the maker of security software owned by Automatic, provider of the WordPress.com hosting service and a major contributor to the development of WordPress. In all, Jetpack found that 40 AccessPress themes and 53 plugins were affected.

Unknowingly providing access to the attacker

In a post published Thursday, Jetpack researcher Harald Eilertsen said timestamps and other evidence suggested the backdoors were introduced intentionally in a coordinated action after the themes and plugins were released. The affected software was available by download directly from the AccessPress Themes site. The same themes and plugins mirrored on WordPress.org, the official developer site for the WordPress project, remained clean.

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#backdoors, #biz-it, #malware, #supply-chain-attack

Google Labs starts up a blockchain division

A large Google logo is displayed amidst foliage.

Enlarge (credit: Sean Gallup | Getty Images)

Here’s a fun new report from Bloomberg: Google is forming a blockchain division. The news comes hot on the heels of a Bloomberg report from yesterday that quoted Google’s president of commerce as saying, “Crypto is something we pay a lot of attention to.” Web3 is apparently becoming a thing at Google.

Shivakumar Venkataraman, a longtime Googler from the advertising division, is running the blockchain group, which lives under the nascent “Google Labs” division that was started about three months ago. Labs is home to “high-potential, long-term projects,” basically making it the new Google X division (X was turned into a less-Google-focused Alphabet division in 2016). Bavor used to be vice president of virtual reality, and Labs contains all of those VR and augmented reality projects, like the “Project Starline” 3D video booth and Google’s AR goggles.

Just like “algorithms,” “AI,” and “5G,” “blockchain” is often used as the go-to buzzword for rudderless tech executives hoping to hype up investors or consumers. A blockchain is really just a distributed, P2P database, sort of like if BitTorrent hosted a database instead of pirated movies and Linux ISOs. The database is chopped up into blocks, and each new block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, forming a chain of records that protect each other against alterations. On a traditional database, transactions are verified by the database owner, but on a blockchain, nobody owns the database, so each transaction needs to be verified by many computers. This is the big downside of blockchains: everyone’s constant transaction verifications use a massive amount of electricity and computing power.

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Machine to melt Moon rocks and derive metals may launch in 2024

If all goes well, this is how Lunar Resources' extractor could appear on the lunar surface in a few years.

Enlarge / If all goes well, this is how Lunar Resources’ extractor could appear on the lunar surface in a few years. (credit: Lunar Resources)

In recent years, much has been said about mining water ice in shadowed craters at the Moon’s South Pole for use as rocket propellant. Enthusiasm for this idea has led NASA to begin planning the first human missions of its Artemis Program to land near the South Pole instead of the mid-latitudes.

However, a Houston-based company says there is value in the gray, dusty regolith spread across the entire lunar surface. The firm, Lunar Resources, is developing technology to extract iron, aluminum, magnesium, and silicon from the Moon’s regolith. These materials, in turn, would be used to manufacture goods on the Moon.

“There are all of these valuable metals on the Moon, just there for the taking,” said Elliot Carol, chief executive officer of Lunar Resources.

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#isru, #moon, #science, #space

Members of Activision’s Raven Software QA team form a union

Warmly dressed and mostly masked workers hold protest signs.

Enlarge / Striking employees demand the reinstatement of Raven Software QA contractors who were let go in December. (credit: A Better ABK)

The members of Activision Blizzard subsidiary Raven Software’s quality assurance department are seeking voluntary recognition of their union, a first for workers at a major American video game publisher.

The newly formed Game Workers Alliance union is asking Activision to recognize its right to represent the 34 QA testers at the studio, which works primarily on the Call of Duty series. The union has formed with the help of the Communication Workers of America—which has for years been publicly working to organize the game industry through its Campaign to Organize Digital Employees (CODE)—and A Better ABK Workers Alliance, which is working to organize the much broader group of over 9,500 Activision employees.

(Ars Technica writers are members of the NewsGuild of New York, a subsidiary of the CWA.)

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Intel says Ohio “megafab” will begin making advanced chips in 2025

Intel's rendering of its two new leading-edge processor factories planned to be built outside Columbus, Ohio.

Enlarge / Intel’s rendering of its two new leading-edge processor factories planned to be built outside Columbus, Ohio. (credit: Intel)

Intel announced the location of its megafab today, a 1,000-acre parcel on the outskirts of the Columbus, Ohio, metro area. The semiconductor manufacturer plans to break ground on two leading-edge fabs by the end of the year and enter production in 2025.

“This is all part of the strategy that our CEO Pat Gelsinger announced back in March,” Intel Senior Vice President Keyvan Esfarjani told Ars.

“We are starting with two fabs, and that’s all in line with the growing demand for what the industry needs,” he said. “It’s also critically important for the balance of the supply chain around the world.”

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#chip-fab, #chips-for-america-act, #features, #intel, #lithography, #ohio, #policy, #semiconductors

The reviews are in: AMD’s mining-averse RX 6500 XT also isn’t great at gaming

The Sapphire AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT, yet another GPU that you probably won't be able to buy.

Enlarge / The Sapphire AMD Radeon RX 6500 XT, yet another GPU that you probably won’t be able to buy. (credit: Sapphire)

When AMD announced its budget-friendly RX 6500 XT graphics card at CES early this month, the company suggested that the product had been designed with limitations that would make it unappealing to the cryptocurrency miners who have been exacerbating the ongoing GPU shortage for over a year now. But now that reviews of the card have started to hit, it’s clear that its gaming performance is the collateral damage of those limitations.

Reviews from Tom’s Hardware, PCGamer, TechSpot, Gamers Nexus, and a litany of other PC gaming YouTube channels are unanimous: the RX 6500 XT is frequently outperformed by previous-generation graphics cards, and it comes with other caveats beyond performance that limit its appeal even further. (Ars hasn’t been provided with a review unit.)

The core of the problem is a 64-bit memory interface that limits the amount of memory bandwidth the card has to work with. Plus, the card has only 4GB of RAM, which is beginning to be a limiting factor in modern games, especially at resolutions above 1080p. Many tests saw the RX 6500 XT outperformed by the 8GB variant of the RX 5500 XT, which launched at the tail end of 2019 for the same $199 (and you could actually find and buy it for that price).

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#amd, #radeon, #tech

Meet 2022’s World Rally cars: Much more power, much more sustainable

A brightly colored rally car drives through a rock tunnel

Enlarge / Sébastien Loeb (FRA) and Isabelle Galmiche (FRA) of team M-Sport Ford World Rally Team are seen performing during the World Rally Championship Monte Carlo in Monte Carlo, Monaco, on January 20. (credit: Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool)

The 2022 World Rally Championship got underway on Thursday with the first night stages of the Monte Carlo Rally. It’s a year of big change in the WRC with the introduction of all-new Rally1 cars—the most powerful vehicles to compete in the sport since the demise of the flame-spitting Group B cars in 1986.

For some time, WRC cars have used turbocharged four-cylinder 1.6 L engines, and that standard continues for Rally1. The engines drive the front and rear wheels via prop shafts and differentials, as you might expect, but there’s no center differential between the front and rear axles, just a fixed 50:50 distribution of torque front to rear.

And the engine isn’t the only thing that sends power and torque to the rear differential; there’s now a hybrid unit behind the fuel tank that has its own shaft to that differential. This is a spec component, supplied to all the teams by Compact Dynamics, a subsidiary of Schaeffler, which worked closely with Audi’s Formula E program.

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#cars, #ford-puma, #hybrid-car, #hyundai-i20-n, #rally1, #rallying, #sebastian-loeb, #sebastian-ogier, #synthetic-fuel, #toyota-gr-yaris, #world-rally-championship

Researchers date the oldest known human skull at 233,000 years

Researchers date the oldest known human skull at 233,000 years

Enlarge (credit: Vidal et al 2022)

The oldest known Homo sapiens fossil is about 36,000 years older than previously thought, according to a recent study. Volcanologists matched a layer of ash above the fossil skull to an eruption of southern Ethiopia’s Shala volcano 233,000 years ago. Their findings seem to line up well with other recent research about when our species’ branch of the family tree split from that of our nearest hominin relatives, the ancestors of the now-extinct Neanderthals and Denisovans.

Geochemical fingerprints on a Pleistocene crime scene

Finding the oldest member of our species hasn’t been easy for paleoanthropologists. There’s only a handful of sites in Africa where early Homo sapiens fossils—anything older than about 100,000 years—have turned up, and some of the samples have been nearly impossible to pin a precise date on. At other sites, the fossils don’t quite have all the features that distinguish our skulls from those of our now-extinct hominin cousins: things like a high, round cranium (the round part of your skull that holds your brain) and a chin.

One fossil, a skull found near the Omo River in southern Ethiopia, does have all the hallmarks of anatomically modern humans; among other traits, Omo I has a chin and a tall cranium. The skull was buried (probably not on purpose) in a layer of sediment that was later covered by ash from at least one volcanic eruption. In theory, that ash should make it easy to measure the fossil’s minimum age.

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#archaeology, #argon-isotope-dating, #hominins, #human-evolution, #paleoanthropology, #radiometric-dating, #science, #volcanoes

Want a great PC mouse? Understand these terms

Three mice on a wooden table.

Enlarge (credit: Scharon Harding)

You may think of the mouse as one of the most basic PC peripherals. And some mice may be. Point, click, and you’re done. But modern mice, especially those in the high-end, gaming, and wireless realms, have come a long way. And if you’re looking for a more advanced mouse, you may be surprised by some of the parlance going around.

Below, we’ll provide quick breakdowns of some of the most common terms you’ll see when looking for an advanced mouse. Some of this may be a refresher for you, while other phrases may be irrelevant to your needs. Some terminology may deal with performance differences that only an astute enthusiast would notice. More importantly, some of the specs detailed below will hopefully provide you the kind of information needed to justify spending $50-plus (or even $150-plus) for a mouse.

Optical sensor

High-end mice these days aren’t relying on trackballs anymore. Instead, they’re largely using optical sensors, leveraging a camera, LED, complementary metal oxide semiconductor (CMOS) image sensor (like in a camera), and digital signal processor (DSP) to convert your arm movements into pointer movements. The DSP, as explained by How Stuff Works, “is able to detect patterns in the images and see how those patterns have moved since the previous image. Based on the change in patterns over a sequence of images, the DSP determines how far the mouse has moved and sends the corresponding coordinates to the computer.” A bit less common in terms of new releases of late (but still advanced) are laser sensors, like Logitech’s Darkfield sensor used in Logitech MX Master 3.

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#mice, #tech, #wireless-mice

Rocket Report: SpaceX lands rocket cargo funding, Virgin Galactic’s stock crash

A rocket traces a bright arc across a dark sky.

Enlarge / SpaceX launched its third mission of 2022 on January 18. The rocket carried 49 Starlink satellites. (credit: SpaceX)

Welcome to Edition 4.29 of the Rocket Report! There is plenty to discuss this week, including an accident in the Mojave (oh no!) and flights by two different rocket-carrying aircraft within days of each other (oh yes!).

As always, we welcome 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.

ABL loses second stage during test firing. Observers at Mojave Air and Space Port in California reported hearing a boom around 1:30 pm local time on Wednesday. A plume of black smoke followed. A few hours later, ABL Space Systems confirmed that the second stage of the RS1 rocket that it’s developing was destroyed in an accident, SpaceNews reports. ABL is well-capitalized and has dozens of launch contracts for RS1 with Lockheed Martin, Amazon, and other companies.

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#rocket-report, #science, #space

Physicists have created “everlasting bubbles”

The shell of a water/glycerol gas marble (bubble) remains liquid and spherical even after 101 days, and it reacts as a liquid film when punctured. These human-made bubbles could be used to create stable foams.

The shell of a water/glycerol gas marble (bubble) remains liquid and spherical even after 101 days, and it reacts as a liquid film when punctured. These human-made bubbles could be used to create stable foams. (credit: A. Roux et al., 2022)

Blowing soap bubbles never fails to delight one’s inner child, perhaps because they are intrinsically ephemeral, bursting after just a few minutes. Now, French physicists have succeeded in creating “everlasting bubbles” out of plastic particles, glycerol, and water, according to a new paper published in the journal Physical Review Fluids. The longest bubble they built survived for a whopping 465 days.

Bubbles have long fascinated physicists. For instance, French physicists in 2016 worked out a theoretical model for the exact mechanism for how soap bubbles form when jets of air hit a soapy film. The researchers found that bubbles only formed above a certain speed, which in turn depends on the width of the jet of air.

In 2018, we reported on how mathematicians at New York University’s Applied Math Lab had fine-tuned the method for blowing the perfect bubble based on a series of experiments with thin, soapy films. The mathematicians concluded that it’s best to use a circular wand with a 1.5-inch (3.8 cm) perimeter and gently blow at a consistent 2.7 inches per second (6.9 cm/s). Blow at higher speeds and the bubble will burst. If you use a smaller or larger wand, the same thing will happen.

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#bubbles, #fluid-dynamics, #physics, #science

Review: Fraggle Rock on Apple TV+ is the Muppet series Disney+ wishes it had

The Fraggles are back, clap, clap. And they're a blast to watch again, clap, clap.

Enlarge / The Fraggles are back, clap, clap. And they’re a blast to watch again, clap, clap. (credit: Jim Henson Company / Apple TV+)

The video-streaming world has long suffered from content fragmentation, and modern-day Muppet access is no exception. If you want to revel in all things Jim Henson, you’ll need subscriptions to no less than three streamers: Disney+ (which has the most Henson films and series), HBO Max (which has a lock on Sesame Street), and Apple TV+. In a fairer cosmos, a unified Henson+ service would let fans feast upon the entire Muppet-verse like giddy Cookie Monsters. Alas.

Those streaming services don’t just divvy up classic Muppet content, either. They each feature brand-new series from the Jim Henson Company, either with newly invented characters or old favorites reliving their glory days. Keeping up with all that content has been tricky, but we at Ars have done our best, always with the hope that one of the new properties will deliver a good-enough mix of nostalgia, production values, and freshness.

This week, Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock nails that exact combination and breathes new life into the formerly HBO-exclusive universe.

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#apple-tv, #apple-tv-plus, #fraggle-rock, #gaming-culture, #muppets

First details leak on Project Iris, Google’s next AR headset

Promotional image of AR glasses.

Enlarge / Product photography of the Google Glass wearable. Project Iris won’t look like this; it is said to more closely resemble ski goggles than casual glasses. (credit: Google)

Google engineers are developing a new augmented reality (AR) headset, according to a report by The Verge citing two people familiar with the project.

Google hopes to ship the product—codenamed “Project Iris”—sometime in 2024, but that date is likely not set in stone.

Like Apple’s rumored mixed reality glasses, Project Iris would be wireless and use external cameras to send an augmented image of the real world to you. And like one of the devices Apple has reportedly worked on, the glasses would leave the heavy-duty graphics processing to an external computer. In Google’s case, the device will rely on cloud computing instead of nearby hardware.

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#ar, #augmented-reality, #clay-bavor, #google, #google-glass, #mixed-reality, #project-iris, #project-starline, #tech, #the-verge, #virtual-reality, #vr, #xr

Antitrust bill that bars Big Tech self-preferencing advances in Senate

The dome of the United State Capitol Building against a deep blue sky in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / The dome of the United States Capitol Building in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Phil Roeder)

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 16-6 today to advance an antitrust bill that would prevent Big Tech firms from giving their own services preferential treatment.

The bill attempts to limit the ability of dominant firms to “unfairly preference” their own products or services in a way that would harm competition. For example, Apple and Google could not rank their own apps higher than competitors’ on app stores or in searches. With five Republican senators voting alongside Democrats, the bill has a reasonable chance of passing once it hits the Senate floor. A similar bill has been introduced in the House.

“We haven’t meaningfully updated our antitrust laws since the birth of the Internet,” said Senate co-sponsor Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) in a committee hearing today. “We have to look at this differently than just startup companies in a garage. That’s not what they are anymore.”

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#antitrust, #app-stores, #big-tech, #policy, #regulation, #search-rankings

The genetic engineering behind pig-to-human transplants

Image of young pigs in a plastic container.

Enlarge / Cloned piglets that are engineered to be useful for organ transplants to humans. (credit: Getty Images / Staff)

Last week, when we reported on the first pig-to-human heart transplant, we complained that the commercial company behind the operation wasn’t more forthcoming about the genetic engineering that converted the pig into a viable donor.

We now know much more about porcine genetic engineering thanks to a new paper covering a different, more cautious test procedure. The work described in the paper is a transplant of pig kidneys into a brain-dead recipient and is meant to pave the way for trials in viable humans. The publication that describes the work contains extensive details on the genetic engineering used to ensure that the pig tissue would survive in a human host.

A test case

According to The New York Times, the recipient was rendered brain-dead by a motorcycle accident. He had signed up as an organ donor and was kept alive while his organs were screened; his next of kin gave informed consent to his body’s use in the experimental procedure.

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#biology, #genetic-engineering, #medicine, #organ-transplants, #science, #xenotransplants

Google Pay resets strategy again with new leader, might get into crypto

The Google Play logo is flushed down a toilet alongside many dollar bills.

Enlarge / Google Pay continues to circle the drain. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Ars Technica)

Google is bringing on a new executive who it hopes will turn the beleaguered Google Pay division around. Bloomberg reports that Arnold Goldberg, PayPal’s chief product architect, will now run Google Pay after the former payments chief, Caesar Sengupta, left in April.

Of the Google services that survived 2021, Google Pay had one of the most brutal years of any product. In March, Google Pay rolled out a completely new app in the US, replacing the old Google Pay app that had existed for years.

This new app was originally developed for India and is dramatically different from the old Google Pay app used in the US. For starters, the new app switched to using a phone number for identification instead of a Google account, which meant that a ton of features US users were accustomed to were no longer supported. Indian consumers are used to phone number identity thanks to apps like WhatsApp, and the limitations are not a big deal for users in that country thanks to smartphones being many consumers’ only device.

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