posted 4 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / TV painting instructor/artist Bob Ross using a large paint brush to touch up one of his large seascapes in his studio at home. (credit: Acey Harper / Getty Images) Blissful and soothing reruns of Bob Ross’ The Joy of Painting can make even hardened Internet users drift away to a sublime dream world, complete with happy little trees and happy little clouds. Now, for those that can’t get enough during the day—and have trouble drifting off at bedtime—there’s a happy little audio series. The maker of popular meditation app Calm is recasting audio from episodes of The Joy of Painting to create “Sleep Stories” narrated by Ross that help users relax and slip off to a peaceful slumber. The series marks the first time that Bob Ross Inc., which manages the late painting star’s estate and brand, has agreed to license audio from the show, according to a report by The New York Times. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 4 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images) Comcast has disabled a throttling system that it deployed in 2008 in order to slow down heavy Internet users. Comcast's network is now strong enough that a congestion management system isn't needed, the company says. The system has been "essentially inactive for more than a year," and is now disabled entirely. Yet the nation's largest cable operator still imposes data caps and overage fees in 27 states, claiming that it limits the amount of data customers use each month "based on a principle of fairness." Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 4 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / A few gadgets we think your old man might enjoy. (credit: Jeff Dunn) Last month, we compiled a few gift-worthy gadgets for Ars readers to grab for Mother's Day. Today, it's Dad's turn. With Father's Day on the horizon, we've once again revisited the many devices that have rolled through the Ars labs in recent months and picked out a list of favorites. The following Father's Day gift ideas should placate the kind of tech-savvy Dad (or any parent, really) we'd expect to raise an Arsian. Feel free to nudge a loved one toward getting something if you're a father yourself. And if nothing below works, try to at least give your old man a call this weekend. Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs. Read 56 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 4 days ago on ars technica
Artist's impression of scientists doing science. Today we’re presenting the second installment of my wide-ranging interview with George Church, whose Harvard lab is one of the most celebrated fonts of innovation in the world of life science. Part one ran yesterday—and if you missed it or would like to get the background on this experimental melding of Ars Technica’s written pages and a long-form podcast series, click here. We begin today’s installment with a discussion of the strengths and shortcomings of the CRISPR gene-editing technique, which Church co-invented. Though CRISPR is a great improvement on the nine techniques that preceded it, it isn’t the be-all, and it will surely be displaced by more powerful approaches in the future. George discusses this and provides a wishlist of improvements that he hopes its successors will bring. Next we discuss xenotransplantation—an incredibly cool word that denotes the transfer of animal organs into humans. A billion-dollar push to make pig organs safe for human patients failed in the 1990s. George’s team recently cracked the underlying problems using CRISPR. As a result, it seems that the organ shortage that has bedeviled humanity since the first transplants were made might soon be over. Yes, really! Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 4 days ago on ars technica
From teenage romance to carnage, and back again. Sony opened its E3 press conference this year with an unorthodox bang, packing assembled journalists and fans into an ersatz, standing-room-only church to show off the newest gameplay and cut scene footage of The Last of Us Part 2. The gripping trailer transitions abruptly from a heartwarming scene of awkward teenage romance at a dance to protagonist Ellie's brutal fight for survival against a gang of equally brutal adults. Last of Us Part 2 co-writer Halley Gross told Ars this contrast in the trailer reflects a very conscious tension in the game and in Ellie herself. In the four or five years since the end of the first Last of Us, Gross said the now-19-year-old Ellie has been able to finally find a sense of normalcy and family in a world broken by the Infected hordes. "We've been able to invest in her relationships," Gross says. "She's been able to be a teenager, she's been able to feel a real sense of stability that she hadn't felt before the end of the first game." That stability means the opportunity for Ellie to explore her sexuality, as reflected in the passionate lesbian kiss Naughty Dog put front and center in the trailer. "Ellie's a gay character and one of the things we're really excited about with this game, as [Last of Us writer] Neil [Druckmann] started with the first game, is to show how complicated and complex and beautiful she is as a character," Gross said. "Of course, she's a 19-year-old. She's gonna have... crushes, right? That's one of the things we're really jazzed to show. It's a part of her character." Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 4 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Web Word with its new simplified ribbon. (credit: Microsoft) Office today has a whole bunch of versions—the traditional, fully featured Win32 desktop applications and their near counterparts on the Mac, along with various simpler versions for the Web, mobile, and Universal Windows Platform (UWP). Presently, these various incarnations all have similarities in their interfaces, but they're far from consistent. That's set to change. Microsoft is overhauling the interfaces of all the Office versions to bring a much more consistent look and feel across the various platforms that the applications support. This new interface will have three central elements. First is a simplified version of the ribbon. The new simpler ribbon looks like an iteration of the simpler ribbon already used in applications such as OneNote: the tall three-row ribbon of the Office desktop apps is replaced with a single-row tabbed toolbar. Word on the Web will be the first to get the new interface—some users can opt into it today—and in July, subscription versions of Outlook for Windows will also get it. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 4 days ago on ars technica
As smartphone makers work to maximize screen space on the front of the phone, there is a continual question of what to do with the front-facing camera. Companies like Samsung reserve a large portion of bezel along the top of the device for components like the camera, while more and more smartphone makers have followed Apple's lead and carved a notch out of the top of the screen. Chinese smartphone maker Vivo is launching a device with another solution: a pop-up camera lens. The camera is hidden most of the time, but open the camera app and the front camera will mechanically rise out of the top edge of the device. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 4 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / A customer inspects the 2013 iPhone at the Wangfujing flagship store in Beijing. (credit: Lintao Zhang/Getty Images) Apple is trying to make it harder for developers to abuse users' information collected through apps. According to a report from Bloomberg, Apple updated its App Store Review Guidelines last week with more detailed rules on what developers can do with users' Contacts address book information. Now, developers cannot make databases using address book information collected from iPhone users, nor can they share or sell such databases to third parties. "Do not use information from Contacts, Photos, or other APIs that access user data to build a contact database for your own use or for sale/distribution to third parties, and don’t collect information about which other apps are installed on a user’s device for the purposes of analytics or advertising/marketing," states the updated guidelines. Those found in violation of the new rules could be banned from the App Store. Users must already opt in to sharing Contacts information with app developers, but now Apple has placed more restrictions on what developers can do with that information after they obtain it. Once permission is given, though, users can't pull back data funneled to a developer. However, there are controls in an iPhone's settings to revoke permission for a particular app to access Contacts information—that way the developers can't get any additional information from your address book. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 4 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Gal Vallerius) A Frenchman who was arrested in August 2017 after arriving in the United States to attend a beard competition in Austin, Texas has now admitted to being "OxyMonster," a well-known drug vendor on the Dream Market underground online marketplace. Gal Vallerius pleaded guilty on Tuesday to conspiracy to possess with the intent to distribute controlled substances and conspiracy to launder money. He admitted while at first he was a vendor of Oxycodone and Ritalin, he later was hired by Dream Market to serve as an Administrator and Senior Moderator. Investigators began honing in on Vallerius when they analyzed the "tip jar" that OxyMonster advertised on Dream Market. According to the criminal complaint, "15 of 17 outgoing transactions from the 'OxyMonster' tip jar went to multiple wallets controlled by French national Gal VALLERIUS on Localbitcoins.com." Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 4 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / A view of the Pilsworth Liquid Air Energy Storage system. (credit: Highview Power) A first-of-its-kind energy-storage system has been added to the grid in the UK. The 5MW/15MWh system stores energy in an unusual way: it uses excess electricity to cool ambient air down to -196°C (-320°F), where the gases in the air become liquid. That liquid is stored in an insulated, low-pressure container. When there's a need for more electricity on the grid, the liquid is pumped back to high pressure where it becomes gaseous again and warmed up via a heat exchanger. The hot gas can then be used to drive a turbine and produce electricity. The system is called Liquid Air Energy Storage (LAES, for short), and if you're thinking it sounds remarkably like Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES), you're right. LAES takes filtered ambient air and stores it so it can be used to create electricity later, just like CAES. But LAES liquifies the air rather than compressing it, which creates an advantage in storage. Compressed-air storage usually requires a massive underground cavern, but LAES just needs some low-pressure storage tanks, so it's more adaptable to areas that don't have the right geology. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Valentina Palladino Garmin's Vivoactive 3 held one of the top stops in my list of last year's best wearables. With its sleek design, comprehensive fitness capabilities, GPS navigation, and NFC payments, the 3 more than held its own against the Apple Watch Series 3 and the Fitbit Ionic. Today, Garmin announced a new version of the Vivoactive 3 with a feature that brings the device up-to-par with the newest versions of its competition: music storage. Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Laura Murray Cicco says that as a 10-year-old, she got a "glass vial with a rubber stopper full of light grey dust," along with a signed note from the famed Apollo 11 astronaut. (credit: US District Court for the Federal District of Kansas) A woman who claims to own a small vial of lunar dust that she says was given to her as a child by Neil Armstrong has now sued NASA. She is seemingly concerned that the government might attempt to come after her—NASA has previously taken the legal position that "private persons cannot own lunar material," and has criminally investigated people claiming to sell such lunar material or otherwise tried to seize such artifacts. The woman, Laura Murray Cicco, says that as a 10-year-old, his client received a "glass vial with a rubber stopper full of light grey dust," along with a signed note from the famed Apollo 11 astronaut. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / A dive into a Metro Exodus sewer leads to this creature, which 4A Games calls a "humanimal." This image was provided by the publisher, however, and looks touched up compared to the two hours of gameplay we tested before E3. (credit: 4A Games) SANTA MONICA, Calif.—The Ukrainian game developers at 4A Games don't hesitate to list Half-Life 2 as a defining inspiration for Metro, their long-running first-person shooter series. A 4A representative at a pre-E3 event in May cited Valve's linear storytelling and knack for cinematic presentation as defining tentpoles for the games Metro 2033 and Metro: Last Light, which the studio now calls "two halves of the same game." So what, then, has driven inspiration and development on next year's sequel Metro Exodus? 4A isn't specific. Instead, it vaguely refers to modern gaming as "the era of the best single-player games in years." That's its competition, the studio says. But after two hours playing through the massive, harrowing, open-world terror of Metro Exodus, it's hard to escape the feeling that 4A had a specific goal in making a new, epic game with the word "Metro" on the title: not to beat an existing game, but to make the open-world version of Half-Life that Valve never got around to slapping the number "3" onto. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / High angle photograph of a woman scientist holding an electrophoresis plate for DNA separation over the UVP imaging System. (credit: Getty | CDC) Sexual harassment is widespread within the scientific community, and policies and institutional safeguards to address the problem are more effective at reducing liability than protecting members and changing harmful work cultures, according to a long-awaited report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. The report, released Tuesday, June 12, is two years in the making. In an opening statement broadcast at the report’s public release today in Washington, DC, Marcia McNutt, president of the National Academy of Sciences, called it a “landmark” study arriving at the “right moment” amid the international Me Too movement against sexual harassment and assault. Yet the academies own policies regarding harassers within its ranks may highlight the challenges ahead for effecting change. The extensive report outlines the grim scope of sexual harassment in the academic sciences, engineering, and medical fields, as well as numerous recommendations for prevention. Reviews of scientific analyses and surveys revealed that more than 50 percent of women faculty and staff and 20-50 percent of women students in the three fields had encountered or experienced sexual harassment. These rates are higher than in other sectors, including industry and government jobs. Academic positions were second only to the military, which had a sexual harassment rate of 69 percent. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Look out, it's Insomniac Games' really, really impressive take on Spider-Man. (credit: Insomniac Games / Marvel) LOS ANGELES—A typical E3 video game demo offers one of two things: a snappy "vertical slice" of immediately accessible action, or an all-too-brief tease of a much larger and more complicated sales pitch. Our first hands-on with Sony's exclusive Spider-Man, launching on PlayStation 4 this September, offered the rare, seductive combination of both. As a result, I doubled back for a second demo replay (something I rarely have time to do at crazy events like E3). This confirmed my suspicions: Insomniac Games had unlocked a ton of Spider-Man content for its E3 gameplay-premiere demo, and that the game's learning curve— which seems staggering at first—is absolutely surmountable. And a freaking blast, to boot. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson) AT&T has won a court ruling that will allow it to buy Time Warner Inc., Bloomberg reported today. We're still waiting to get a copy of the full ruling, but Bloomberg TV reported that US District Judge Richard Leon ruled entirely in AT&T's favor. The Department of Justice had sued AT&T to block the merger. The judge's ruling will reportedly let AT&T complete the purchase without spinning off any subsidiaries. The government can appeal the ruling, but Leon reportedly said that he would reject any government motion for a stay that would further delay the deal. The case was held in US District Court for the District of Columbia. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Google) If ever there were a case for rejecting requested device permissions, it’s made by an Android app with more than 10 million downloads from Google Play. The official app for the Spanish soccer league La Liga was recently updated to seek access to users’ microphone and GPS settings. When granted, the app processes audio snippets in an attempt to identify public venues that broadcast soccer games without a license. According to a statement issued by La Liga officials, the functionality was added last Friday and is enabled only after users click “yes” to an Android dialog asking if the app can access the mic and geolocation of the device. The statement says the audio is used solely to identify establishments that broadcast games without a license and that the app takes special precautions to prevent it from spying on end users. According to the statement, which was translated by Google: Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. With E3 in full swing this week, today's list is led by a slew of deals on gaming hardware and services from Sony and Microsoft. On the PlayStation 4 side, the offers cover Sony's beefed-up PlayStation 4 Pro, the PlayStation VR headset, newer games like God of War, and a limited-edition version of the PlayStation 4 Slim. Xbox diehards, meanwhile, can save on Xbox Live Gold and Xbox Game Pass subscriptions as well as Microsoft's 4K- and HDR-capable Xbox One X. Beyond the gaming stuff, various retailers have also started up deals in preparation for Father's Day this weekend. Amazon has cut prices on almost all of its major devices, for one, while a variety of audio gear and other gadgets can be had for cheaper than usual as well. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Tesla CEO Elon Musk. (credit: Yuriko Nakao/Bloomberg via Getty Images) Tesla is cutting nine percent of its workforce, CEO Elon Musk announced today in a memo to staff. "We are a small company in one of the toughest and most competitive industries on Earth," Musk wrote. He argued that cost cutting was necessary to turn Tesla into a sustainably profitable company. The layoffs are "almost entirely" in salaried positions and won't impact Tesla's efforts to increase Model 3 production, Musk said. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / These two 3,800-year-old plague victims were interred together in a Bronze Age burial mound in Russia. (credit: Spyrou et al. 2018) Geneticists are a step closer to understanding how plague evolved into one of the great scourges of human history. Yersina pestis, the bacterium that causes bubonic plague, spreads through the bites of infected fleas. In the flea’s gut, plague bacteria multiply until a mass of bacteria blocks the passage to the flea’s stomach. The starving flea bites a host and feeds frantically, but since it can’t swallow its meal, it ends up regurgitating blood and bacteria back into its prey’s bloodstream, spreading the disease to a new host. Inside a mammalian host, Y. pestis travels through the lymph system until it reaches a lymph node, like the ones near the armpits or the groin. There, the bacteria multiply, causing the dark, swollen lump called buboes that give the plague its name. Plague patients also face dangerously high fevers, along with headaches, nausea, coughing, and (in modern times, at least) the horrifying realization that they got it from flea vomit. That ruthlessly efficient system helped bubonic plague kill nearly 25 million people and made the ancient world shudder in its tracks during the Justinian plague of 541–542. Its likely return, according to the most widely accepted data at least, killed somewhere between 75 million and 200 million more during the Black Death of 1347-1351. Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
The HoloLens headset. (credit: Microsoft) Internal documents outlining Microsoft's future hardware plans have leaked, giving a sneak peek at what the next couple of years of the company's hardware are likely to look like, writes Brad Sams of Thurrott.com. First up, there's a trio of Surface-branded devices with the code names Carmel, Libra, and Andromeda. Libra is the cheap Surface tablet that Bloomberg reported in May. This isn't Microsoft's first foray into the cheap(er) tablet market; while the focus of the last few years has been on the more expensive Surface Pro, it seems that Redmond continues to regard it as an important segment, with the education market a particular target. Should Libra make it to market, it's expected to become available this year. Carmel is the next iteration of the Surface Pro. Intel is going to refresh its mobile processors later this year, with processors codenamed Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake—the former with a power consumption of about 15W, the latter of about 4.5W. These will continue to use the "8th generation" branding, and either or both could make sense in some kind of Surface product. This processor timeline means it's unlikely we'll see Carmel before Whiskey and Amber Lakes hit the market; however, the documents apparently don't provide any hard dates for when it's due. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Comcast) The repeal of federal net neutrality rules became official yesterday, giving broadband providers the right to block or throttle Internet traffic or to prioritize traffic in exchange for payment. But at least for now, some major ISPs are saying they won't do any of those things. The Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T websites all say they aren't doing any blocking, throttling, or paid prioritization. By contrast, Charter's network management disclosure only promises that it won't block or throttle, while making no promises about paid prioritization. That doesn't mean Charter has immediate plans to charge websites and online services for priority access to consumers. ISPs are required to disclose paid prioritization publicly, so we'll find out if it happens as long as the companies follow the disclosure requirements. Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Nintendo) Super Smash Bros Ultimate headlined a content-packed Nintendo Direct presentation ahead of this year's E3. Doubts about the popular fighting game resembling a glorified Wii U port were put to rest with an announcement of every existing Smash Bros character returning—and tons of tweaks big and small coming to the whopping 64-character roster. Smash Ultimate will launch on Nintendo Switch December 7, 2018. Every third-party and DLC character from prior games, including Metal Gear Solid's Solid Snake, Street Fighter's Ryu, and Final Fantasy VII's Cloud, will join Smash Ultimate—as too will the fan-favorite weirdo pair of characters Ice Climbers. ("I kind of hope you aren't expecting too many new challengers," series creator Masahiro Sakurai added, before revealing one more new character on top of Splatoon's Inkling: Metroid's popular, tentacled boss Ridley.) Move sets, "final smash" attacks, and mechanical tweaks were described at length, with the most notable mechanical tweak being the ability to charge certain attacks in mid-air. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge (credit: Team 17) SANTA MONICA, Calif.—Nintendo kept the hits and surprises (er, no-longer-surprises) coming during today's E3-affiliated, Switch-crazy Nintendo Direct video special. In addition to major first- and third-party announcements, it also included a long-awaited look at a sequel to one of 2016's biggest indie surprises: Overcooked 2. Weeks before Nintendo's unveil, the game's handlers at Team 17 invited select members of the press to sit with a largely complete version of the co-op cooking sequel. It didn't take long for my opinion of the gameplay to transform from "why isn't this an expansion pack?" to "awesome bona fide upgrade." A “throw” button! Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 5 days ago on ars technica
3d render of DNA spirals. (credit: Image courtesy of NIST) Today we’re launching something of an experiment, connecting a podcast to the written pages here at Ars. For at least a few weeks, we’ll be running episodes of my tech- and science-heavy podcast in installments near the typical US lunch hour. To keep lunch from going long, we've got the episodes chopped up into 30-ish minute segments. Opening installments will go up on Tuesdays, then we’ll keep posting daily until the episode is complete (typically two to four days). If you prefer to read rather than listen, we've got transcripts available. Your host will be me, Rob Reid—a long-time entrepreneur who now podcasts and writes science fiction. The name of both my podcast and my most recent novel is After On. The podcast consists of deep-dive interviews with world-class thinkers, founders, and scientists. My guests have included Rodney Brooks, the father of the Roomba and countless other robots; UCSF neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley, whose clinical video games fight ADHD and dementia and have been featured on the cover of Nature; and the ever-controversial Sam Harris, going deep into his personal history and opining up about terrorism. I talk about my podcast’s approach in the introduction to today’s segment, and I won’t repeat myself here. Instead I’ll give you a quick preview of today’s installment: it features the legendary bioengineer and genomicist George Church, whose Harvard lab is one of the most celebrated fonts of innovation in the world of life science. As I say in the podcast, George was one of the earliest drivers behind the Human Genome Project. He’s also one of the most prominent co-inventors of the gene editing technology known as CRISPR, and he has co-founded 22 life-science companies (yes, really). Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...