Feed aggregator

  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.
  • warning: date(): It is not safe to rely on the system's timezone settings. You are *required* to use the date.timezone setting or the date_default_timezone_set() function. In case you used any of those methods and you are still getting this warning, you most likely misspelled the timezone identifier. We selected 'America/Los_Angeles' for 'PST/-8.0/no DST' instead in /nfs/cristina/home1/b/brian/public_html/drupal-6.28/modules/aggregator/aggregator.pages.inc on line 259.

The five best new podcasts to help nerds escape the news cycle

ArsTechnica - Mon, 12/23/2019 - 7:00am
Chill in bed this holiday by catching up with the best of 2019's new-this-year nerdy podcasts.

Enlarge / Chill in bed this holiday by catching up with the best of 2019's new-this-year nerdy podcasts. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

I've spent enough time immersed in the 2019 news cycle to start feeling a little like the world is ending. Maybe that's why I'm always plugged into podcasts—and not necessarily for mindless escapism. Instead of news broadcasts and current events, I prefer to fill my ears with nerdy knowledge and stories of scientific research. By year's end, I was surprised to find myself with five terrific series, all new this year, to recommend to anybody else in a similar situation.

Spacebridge

So if 2019 was spent searching for news-cycle relief and hope, let's begin with a docu-series about another time the world seemed to be on the brink of destruction.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Ars’ favorite movies of the 2010s (John Wick most definitely included)

ArsTechnica - Mon, 12/23/2019 - 5:45am

I'll say this much—it's been an unusual decade for movie fans in the Ars Orbital HQ. (video link)

(credit: Peter Opaskar)

Ars Technica turns 21 at the end of this year, but film coverage on site can't exactly purchase synthehol at the liquor store yet. Quietly, we've been reviewing movies on the Internet for 11 years now—a baker's dozen years if reviews of 3D experiences count—starting with this Max Payne piece that certainly qualifies as criticism. But beginning in 2014, we made film a regular topic on site. And these days we annually bounce from SXSW to Fantastic Fest with plenty of regional film events in between.

Now, this ain't Variety, and we do not write about everything (though we have covered Beauty and The Beast and The Jungle Book somehow). But Ars has quite a few highlights in the 2010s beyond just starting a dedicated culture section. We failed at Vulcan salutes with Jake Gyllenhall and Ryan Reynolds. We caught the premiere of a Academy Award-nominated movie at NASA's Johnson Space Center. Somehow, we even helped save a Star Wars-adjacent movie from obscurity (earning an IMDb credit and inspiring a full-length remake in the process).

Read 27 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Starliner makes a safe landing—now NASA faces some big decisions

ArsTechnica - Sun, 12/22/2019 - 10:14am

Boeing’s Starliner spacecraft safely returned from orbit on Sunday morning, landing at White Sands Space Harbor in New Mexico before sunrise. The capsule very nearly hit its bullseye, and initial reports from astronauts on the scene say the vehicle came through in "pristine" condition.

The company will now spend several days preparing Starliner for transit, before shipping it from New Mexico back to Boeing's processing facility at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Then, engineers will spend most of January reviewing data captured by on-board sensors. What happens after that is the big question.

Mission Elapsed Time anomaly

After the spacecraft launched on board its Atlas V rocket, but before it separated from the booster, the capsule needed to figure out what time it was. According to Jim Chilton, Boeing's senior vice president of the Space and Launch division, the way this is done is by "reaching down into" the rocket and pulling timing data out. However, during this process, the spacecraft grabbed the wrong coefficient. "We started the clock at the wrong time," Chilton said. "The spacecraft thought she was later in the mission and started to behave that way."

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How the scourge of cheating is changing speedrunning

ArsTechnica - Sun, 12/22/2019 - 8:15am
A familiar screen to many.

Enlarge / A familiar screen to many. (credit: Rockstar)

When an Australian gamer called “Anti” completed a full playthrough of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in a scant four hours, the feat almost seemed impossible. Yet any fans of speedrunning—an activity where die-hard players jockey to complete the game as quickly as possible, with different rulesets forming discrete “categories” of competition—could see this incredible “run” for themselves on the game’s leaderboards. Anti had posted the entire thing online.

An old saying may be coming to mind, and yes: it was too good to be true. A fellow competitor started analyzing Anti’s videos to optimize their own in-game routes, but they noticed that several vehicles in these runs left a faint smoke trail when they accelerated. Since no other runs on the GTA: San Andreas speedrun leaderboard evinced this telltale exhaust, this competitor began to wonder: was Anti somehow messing with the game in order to pull off this record-breaking time?

In the PC versions of the GTA games, after all, the files that control the way cars perform are easily accessible via a plain text editor like Windows Notepad. Game fans know this. And by slightly boosting certain variables to make cars accelerate ever-so-slightly faster, this fellow speedrunner was able to recreate the smoke effect in Anti’s runs. Soon, several runners started complaining to the greater community; someone even created a slick montage full of evidence that Anti had modified the game in order to shave vital seconds from their records.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Lessons from scorching hot weirdo-planets

ArsTechnica - Sun, 12/22/2019 - 8:00am
1800 degrees Fahrenheit? That <em>is</em> a hot Jupiter, eh?

Enlarge / 1800 degrees Fahrenheit? That is a hot Jupiter, eh? (credit: NASA)

In 1995, after years of effort, astronomers made an announcement: They’d found the first planet circling a sun-like star outside our solar system. But that planet, 51 Pegasi b, was in a quite unexpected place—it appeared to be just around 4.8 million miles away from its home star and able to dash around the star in just over four Earth-days. Our innermost planet, Mercury, by comparison, is 28.6 million miles away from the sun at its closest approach and orbits it every 88 days.

What’s more, 51 Pegasi b was big—half the mass of Jupiter, which, like its fellow gas giant Saturn, orbits far out in our solar system. For their efforts in discovering the planet, Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz were awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize for Physics alongside James Peebles, a cosmologist. The Nobel committee cited their “contributions to our understanding of the evolution of the universe and Earth’s place in the cosmos.”

The phrase “hot Jupiter” came into parlance to describe planets like 51 Pegasi b as more and more were discovered in the 1990s. Now, more than two decades later, we know a total of 4,000-plus exoplanets, with many more to come, from a trove of planet-seeking telescopes in space and on the ground: the now-defunct Kepler; and current ones such as TESS, Gaia, WASP, KELT and more. Only a few more than 400 meet the rough definition of a hot Jupiter—a planet with a 10-day-or-less orbit and a mass 25 percent or greater than that of our own Jupiter. While these close-in, hefty worlds represent about 10 percent of the exoplanets thus far detected, it’s thought they account for just 1 percent of all planets.

Read 39 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Nick Farmer knows dozens of languages, so he invented one for The Expanse

ArsTechnica - Sun, 12/22/2019 - 6:41am

Linguist Nick Farmer tells us more about some of his favorite Belter words. (Video edited by Jennifer Hahn) (video link)

OAKLAND, Calif.—It all started when Nick Farmer bought George R. R. Martin a drink, but the plot really thickened when the linguist met Martin's then-assistant Ty Franck. Franck was one half of the writing team behind the novels that fuel SyFy's incredible new series, The Expanse. And the author soon discovered that Farmer was a talented polyglot, a master of over two dozen languages who worked as a linguistic sellsword for financial research companies desperate to translate global business news for analysts. Farmer also happened to be just the kind of expert that Franck and his co-author Daniel Abraham needed to bring their novels to the screen.

The Expanse series takes place two centuries from now in the Belt, a ring of asteroids that orbit the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. People who have migrated to the Belt come from all over Earth speaking dozens of languages, and they're often isolated for years at a time on remote mining stations. To communicate, they evolve a creole called Belter, which becomes the lingua franca for what is essentially the solar system's new proletariat. The problem? In the book, Belter could be referenced. But now that The Expanse was coming to television, people would actually have to speak the damn thing. SyFy suddenly needed a linguist who could build a language out of dozens of parts. Luckily, Franck knew a guy. He soon recommended Farmer, who delivered a lot more than they bargained for.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Giant surveillance balloons are lurking at the edge of space

ArsTechnica - Sun, 12/22/2019 - 5:31am
World View just recently completed a balloon launch on December 16.

Enlarge / World View just recently completed a balloon launch on December 16. (credit: World View)

It’s a brisk December morning at Spaceport Tucson, America’s premiere (only?) dedicated launch pad for stratospheric balloons, and a small army of technicians in reflective vests is milling around on the concrete and thawing out after a long, cold night. Nearby, a white metal tripod the size of a smart car is tethered to two dozen solar panels and hundreds of feet of clear plastic that stretches across the pad.

This alien-looking contraption is referred to as a “stratollite,” a portmanteau of “stratospheric satellite,” operated by a company called World View Enterprises. It’s a finely honed surveillance device outfitted with a suite of sensors and a camera sensitive enough to detect people standing on the ground from the edge of space. The stratollite travels by virtue of two balloons, one filled with helium to provide lift, and the other with pressurized air, which functions as a steering system. By the time the contraption reaches peak altitude about 14 miles above sea level, the helium balloon will have grown large enough to comfortably encompass a football field. But in its deflated state, the expanse of plastic brings to mind the sloughed-off skin of the rattlesnakes that call the surrounding Arizona desert home.

Most of the crew has been on site at Spaceport Tucson since 2am preparing for World View’s twelfth and final launch of the year. Things are looking good: The sun and a waning gibbous moon compete for attention in a nearly cloudless sky, and an aerostat tethered close to the pad registers almost no wind. You could hardly ask for better conditions to launch the thousand-pound stratollite on a month-and-a-half sojourn at the edge of space. Mission control gives the green light to start inflation, a process that takes just a few minutes but uses enough helium to fill more than one million party balloons.

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Physicists measured forces behind why Cheerios clump together in your bowl

ArsTechnica - Sat, 12/21/2019 - 11:13am
Image of a bowl of milk with a handful of Cheerios floating in it.

Enlarge / There's some pretty cool physics at work when those last few Cheerios clump together in the bowl. (credit: It's Okay To Be Smart/YouTube)

Those who love their Cheerios for breakfast are well acquainted with how those last few tasty little "O"s tend to clump together in the bowl: either drifting to the center, or to the outer edges. It's been dubbed the "Cheerios effect," although I can state with confidence the phenomenon can also be observed in a bowl of Froot Loops. Now a team of physicists has made the first direct measurements of the various forces at work in the phenomenon, described in a new paper in Physical Review Letters.

"There have been a lot of models describing this Cheerios effect, but it's all been theoretical," said co-author Ian Ho, an undergraduate at Brown University. "Despite the fact that this is something we see every day and it's important for things like self-assembly [for micro robotics], no one had done any experimental measurements at this scale to validate these models. That's what we were able to do here."

The Cheerios effect is found elsewhere in nature, such as grains of pollen (or, alternatively, mosquito eggs) floating on top of a pond or small coins floating in a bowl of water. A 2005 paper in the American Journal of Physics outlined the underlying physics, identifying the culprit as a combination of buoyancy, surface tension, and the so-called "meniscus effect."

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Archaeologists unearth gold-lined Mycenaean royal tombs in Greece

ArsTechnica - Sat, 12/21/2019 - 9:35am
Color aerial photo of excavated Greek tomb.

Enlarge / Archaeologists used photogrammetry to make a detailed 3D map of the tomb and its contents. (credit: UC Classics)

Archaeologists recently discovered two magnificent 3,500-year-old royal tombs in the shadow of the palace of the legendary King Nestor of Pylos. It's not clear exactly who the tombs' owners were, but their contents—gold and bronze, amber from the Baltic, amethyst from Egypt, and carnelian from the Arabian Peninsula and India—suggest wealth, power, and far-flung trade connections in the Bronze Age world. And the images engraved on many of those artifacts may eventually help us better understand the Mycenaean culture that preceded classical Greece.

Tombs fit for royalty

The larger tomb is 12m (36 feet) wide and 4.5 meters (15 feet) deep, and stone walls would once have stood that height again above ground. Domes once covered the underground chambers, but the roofs and upper walls have long since collapsed, burying the tombs beneath thousands of melon-sized stones and a tangle of grape vines. University of Cincinnati archaeologists Jack Davis, Sharon Stocker, and their colleagues had to clear away vegetation and then remove the stones by hand.

"It was like going back to the Mycenaean period," Stocker said. "They had placed them by hand in the walls of the tomb, and we were taking them out by hand. It was a lot of work."

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TV changed a lot in the 2010s, and the decade’s best reflects that

ArsTechnica - Sat, 12/21/2019 - 7:00am
This is how everyone does it, right? Apple TV on a vintage TV cabinet?

Enlarge / This is how everyone does it, right? Apple TV on a vintage TV cabinet? (credit: Thomas Martin Lewins V)

It's hard to imagine, given what makes for TV news these days, but just 10 years ago no one had heard of Netflix originals, Amazon Prime series, YouTube TV, Apple TV+, Disney+, or even HBO Go. Most American households, for instance, still defaulted to cable, and we watched on dedicated sets (even if the push for multi-screen experiences and laptops/computers as primary consumption devices had already started). TiVo existed and felt cutting edge.

Perhaps more than any other entertainment medium, TV has really changed a lot in the last decade. And that makes trying to piece together a Best Of list for the 2010s extremely difficult. To start, there's simply more stuff than ever before. When even Facebook consistently debuts original "TV shows" at this point, keeping up with everything may literally be impossible. The breadth of what's available is also at an all-time high. How do you compare some 10-episode, 12-minute sketch comedy show on a streaming service to something on traditional cable drama with 10 seasons and many, many hours of thought put into it? Well, you probably can't in any authoritative or comprehensive way—but that won't stop us from trying.

For an Ars-y Best TV of 2010s list, know up front this isn't an all-encompassing "best" exercise. Many undeniably great things (Justified, Mad Men, The Crown, Parks & Rec, Insecure, Treme, Veep, Mindhunter, et al.) do not fall within our narrow wheelhouse of science, technology, and genre fare. And to make things slightly simpler, we only considered scripted TV (so no Tidying Up or The Grand Tour, but no Last Week Tonight, United Shades of America, or Parts Unknown, either). Instead, the following shows are some combination of stuff from the last decade that changed what we think of as "TV" and stuff we'll certainly be thinking about and returning to in our maybe-cable-less future.

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Netflix’s 6 Underground is Chocobo Racing without the Final Fantasy

ArsTechnica - Sat, 12/21/2019 - 6:00am

After a week of the preview blaring at me each time I opened the app, I finally watched Netflix's new film 6 Underground last night. With Ryan Reynolds starring and a couple of funny wisecracking moments in the trailer, it's easy to get your hopes up—but, for the most part, it's a mistake. I don't want to pan the movie too hard—I watched all two hours of it reasonably engrossed—but it's not going to be something I remember next year, and it probably won't be for anyone else, either.

Reynolds plays a disaffected tech billionaire who decides he's had enough of evil in the world. So he recruits a batch of misfits, each with a special talent, and takes on the bad guys—specifically, the fascist, dictatorial regime of semi-fictional country "Turgistan." The real Turgistan was a province of the Sasanian Empire, located in present-day Pakistan, and it quit being a thing in 651 AD. This bears little relation to 6 Underground's Turgistan, which is a thinly veiled pastiche of Syria and Abu Dhabi—complete with the chemical-weapon-deploying dictator of the former and the insane opulence of the latter. Reynolds and his motley gang are on a self-assigned mission to kill the amoral, evil dictator and replace him with his moral, good brother. Subtle.

6 Underground tries very hard to be at least four different movies and never quite lands any one of them. The first twenty minutes are one stupendous urban car chase—effectively, an homage to 1998's Ronin, but with lots more shiny stuff, CGI, and things that go boom. But where Ronin delivered jaw-droppingly satisfying technical driving, 6 Underground just fakes it with camera cuts, revving noises, and iffy jokes. Later, the film takes desultory, half-hearted stabs at being Ocean's ElevenDeadpool, and Jarhead—but it can't land any of those, either.

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Acidifying oceans could eat away at sharks’ skin and teeth

ArsTechnica - Sat, 12/21/2019 - 5:10am
Hopefully the moonshark (and its ocean-ly ilk) can be saved from this pollution scourge.

Hopefully the moonshark (and its ocean-ly ilk) can be saved from this pollution scourge.

For hundreds of millions of years, sharks have been roaming Earth’s oceans making meals out of a huge range of critters, from the whale shark gobbling up tiny krill to the 60-foot megalodon that could take down whales. Their ancestral line has survived mass extinctions with ease, most notably the catastrophe that took down the dinosaurs.

But nothing could have prepared them for the scourge that is humanity—we’re polluting their waters and snatching up their prey and hunting them to extinction. And now, thanks to climate change, humans may be transforming the very water sharks swim into an existential threat: In findings published today in the journal Scientific Reports, researchers show that prolonged exposure to acidified water corrodes the scales, known as denticles, that make up a shark’s skin. To be clear, this work was done in the lab and on only one species, but the implications are troubling. As we belch still more CO2 into the atmosphere, which reacts with seawater and makes the oceans more acidic, the seas themselves could become yet another threat that pushes sharks over the brink.

These days, the oceans on average have a pH of 8.1, making them 25 percent more acidic than in pre-industrial times. The lower the number, the more acidic the water, so 1 is a strong acid (think battery acid) and 14 is a strong base (milk of magnesia clocking in around 11).

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“OxySacklers” angry that Tufts removed family name from campus

ArsTechnica - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 2:58pm
 Tufts employee Gabe Ryan removes letters from signage featuring the Sackler family name at the Tufts building at 145 Harrison Ave. in Boston on Dec. 5, 2019.

Enlarge / BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 5: Tufts employee Gabe Ryan removes letters from signage featuring the Sackler family name at the Tufts building at 145 Harrison Ave. in Boston on Dec. 5, 2019. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

The Sackler family is pushing back after Tufts University removed the family name from its buildings and programs due to the family’s link to the ongoing opioid epidemic, according to a report in The New York Times.

In a letter to Tufts’ president, a lawyer for the family wrote that the removal was “contrary to basic notions of fairness" and “a breach of the many binding commitments made by the University dating back to 1980 in order to secure the family’s support, including millions of dollars in donations for facilities and critical medical research.”

Tufts made the decision to remove the family name after getting the results of an independent review of the university’s relationship with the Sacklers and OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma, which the Sacklers own. Both the family and the company have been accused of helping to spark the crisis by aggressively marketing the powerful painkiller and misleading doctors, patients, and regulators about its addictiveness.

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Report: Apple is developing satellites so the iPhone can skip wireless carriers

ArsTechnica - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 1:40pm
Closeup photo of a hand holding the iPhone 11

Enlarge / The iPhone 11. (credit: Samuel Axon)

Bloomberg has cited sources familiar with Apple plans saying that the iPhone-maker has a "top-secret" team dedicated to developing satellite technology that could, among other things, allow Apple's mobile devices to communicate with each other without relying on wireless carriers like Verizon, Deutsche Telekom, or China Mobile.

The report claims that Apple CEO Tim Cook has said it is a high priority and that the team is made up of "about a dozen" engineers from industries like aerospace and satellite design. While the long-term outcome of the work is not fully decided, it could allow iPhones to directly communicate with one another without using carrier networks, or it could improve location services and other key features of the devices.

Former Google satellite and aerospace engineers Michael Trela and John Fenwick lead the team, Bloomberg's sources say. They left Google in 2017 to join Apple. They report to Apple's iPhone engineering lead. The company has also hired prominent wireless engineer Matt Ettus and established executives Ashley Moore Williams (Aerospace Corp) and Daniel Ellis (Netflix).

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Motorola gets cold feet, delays $1,500 Razr foldable days before launch

ArsTechnica - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 12:36pm

The $1,500 foldable Moto Razr was announced in November and quickly became one of the most striking and talked-about smartphones in recent memory. Motorola combined the nostalgic design of one of the most iconic flip phones ever, with new-age foldable display technology and a wild new hinge design that didn't crease the display. Frankly, it seemed like a real winner.

But now, six days before pre-orders were going to start, Motorola has suddenly delayed the device. The Verge has a copy of Motorola's statement, which reads:

Since its announcement in November, the new Motorola razr has received unparalleled excitement and interest from consumers. Demand has been high, and as a result, has quickly outgrown supply predictions.

Motorola has decided to adjust razr’s presale and launch timing to better meet consumer demand. We are working to determine the appropriate quantity and schedule to ensure that more consumers have access to razr at launch.

We do not anticipate a significant shift from our original availability timeline.

Pre-orders for the new Razr were supposed to start December 26, with an official launch date of January 9, 2020. Motorola claims the delay won't be "significant," but now there is no official launch date at all. It's hard to imagine how an "insignificant" delay would help the company with stock issues. Normally companies are fine with popular products selling out.

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Chrome is getting a dedicated media control button

ArsTechnica - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 11:36am

Chrome is getting a new "Media Hub" feature that puts media controls for all your tabs right at your fingertips. The new feature takes the form of a button that lives next to your profile picture and menu button in the top right corner of Chrome. Click on it, and you'll see control cards for all of your tabs that are currently playing media. Google announced this feature on the Chromium blog recently, but the post has been taken down. We have a mirror here as a PDF.

The media controls previously launched on Chrome OS in August, but now they are coming to the Windows, Mac, and Linux versions of Chrome, too. In its most basic form, the media control will display the currently playing site's URL, title, and a single button for "pause." This form of the notification control works for everything I tested, and it's a great way to quickly find that noisy tab you just opened and silence it. Sites can implement more enhanced support for this feature, and then it works just like Android's media control notification. The control card can display previous, next, rewind, and fast forward buttons, plus album art. Just like on Android, the notification will color itself according to colors automatically chosen from the album art. So far, YouTube is the only site I've come across that supports the full feature set of these richer media controls.

Google's blog post said the new feature is rolling out to everyone now, although the blog post did get pulled, so it's possible the timeframe may change. The good news is that you can enable the feature right away by digging into the flags settings to enable the "Global Media Controls" (just paste chrome://flags/#global-media-controls into the address bar). After a relaunch, you should see the new button.

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New federal rule will hurt renewables, help gas and coal

ArsTechnica - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 11:30am
Pennsylvania wind turbines that probably spent the day trying to understand what a "MOPR" is.

Enlarge / Pennsylvania wind turbines that probably spent the day trying to understand what a "MOPR" is. (credit: Jeff Kubina)

On Thursday, the US Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued a long-awaited decision that had been log-jammed until Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur stepped down, breaking a 2-2 tie. The details are complex, and they relate to a part of the electrical system you likely didn’t know existed, but the decision could have the effect of significantly stifling renewables in the mid-Atlantic US.

The story starts with PJM Interconnection, a grid operator responsible for balancing power in a region spanning 13 states, from Illinois to Delaware. PJM runs a capacity market, with annual auctions to secure enough generation to cover peak demand several years into the future. Utilities bid on these contracts based on their cost to provide power.

However, some generators in recent years have complained that they were losing to lower bids from renewables and nuclear in some places, on the basis that those sources can benefit from state subsidies. Renewables only claimed a very small slice of the pie in the last auction, but generators were concerned this would grow.

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Woman had 524x the normal level of mercury in her blood from skin cream use

ArsTechnica - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 11:23am
A woman applying cream in a mirror (not the woman at the center of this health story, though).

Enlarge / A woman applying cream in a mirror (not the woman at the center of this health story, though). (credit: Flickr | Kylie Aquino)

A 47-year-old woman in Sacramento, California, has been left severely impaired—unable to talk or care for herself and requiring a feeding tube—after using tainted face cream that contained highly toxic methylmercury.

Her poisoning, first reported in local media in September, is now the subject of a detailed case report published today in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).

In it, health officials describe the progression of the woman’s symptoms, which began in July with weakness in her upper extremities and abnormal, painful sensations (dysesthesia). Over the next two weeks, she developed slurred speech, blurry vision, and unsteadiness while walking. She was then admitted to the hospital where her condition went downhill quickly, resulting in a state of agitated delirium.

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Suction fans, a V12, and manual gears for Gordon Murray’s new car

ArsTechnica - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 10:20am

It's true, I'm a Gordon Murray fan. And not even for his exploits as a designer of Formula 1 race cars—he had retired from the pressures of competition by the time I got interested in the sport in 1993. It has always been about his road cars for me, specifically the McLaren F1. At the time, there was a bit of a supercar craze happening; every month or so a new mid-engined machine would show up with claims of 200mph and a hefty six-digit price tag. Some of them even made it into production. But when the F1 appeared it instantly made them all old news.

But 1994 was a long time ago, and the first F1s are old enough to wear antique plates. The recipe is definitely dated: a naturally aspirated V12, a six-speed manual transmission with clutch, and no driver aids, not even ABS or traction control. That does indeed sound dated compared to the current crop of hypercars, which boast megawatts of hybrid or electric power and gigahertz of processing power to tame it all. But Murray believes there's still merit in doing things the old way, which explains his T.50 supercar, new images of which were sent out recently.

Unlike some of his other recent designs, this one will be built in-house and carry the Gordon Murray Automotive name. The design brief has always sounded to me like an evolution of the F1 design, particularly a three-seat layout with the driver in the middle, a naturally aspirated V12 and six-speed manual transmission, and a mere 2,161lb (980kg) curb weight. But a couple of the images we were sent make that link explicitly clear—compare the shape of the roofline, windows, and engine covers in the rear three-quarter view with an F1, for example. Or, compare the aerodynamic sketch of the T.50 with a similar sketch from the McLaren brochure.

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Starliner’s timer was off—capsule thought engines were firing when they weren’t

ArsTechnica - Fri, 12/20/2019 - 10:00am

Right on schedule Friday morning, an Atlas V rocket launched the Starliner spacecraft into a planned suborbital trajectory. This is a critical mission for NASA and Boeing, as the company seeks to use this test flight to prove its capsule's readiness to launch humans into space next year.

After being released by the rocket, Starliner was supposed to use its Orbital Maneuvering and Attitude Control engines to provide the thrust needed to reach a stable orbit and begin the process of catching up to the International Space Station. But that did not happen.

During a post-launch news conference, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine explained that the mission elapsed timing system had an error in it, with the net effect that the spacecraft thought it was performing an orbital insertion burn, when in fact it was not. The on-board computer then expended a significant amount of propellant to maintain a precise attitude, thinking it had reached orbit.

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