posted 10 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Surface Pro with a Cobalt Blue Type Cover. Microsoft's first x86 PC, then known as the Surface with Windows 8 Pro, hit the market five years ago. The first version was a little strange—a bit too big for a tablet, a bit too small for a laptop—but with its third iteration, the Surface Pro 3, Microsoft's hardware hit its stride. From its first version, the device was an x86 tablet with an integrated kickstand and a detachable keyboard, but the third version changed the screen resolution to 12 inches with a 3:2 aspect ratio (up from 10.6 inches and 16:9) and used a kickstand that could be set to any position from about 20 degrees to 150 degrees. This third version of Surface Pro spawned a number of copycats from companies like Samsung, Dell, and HP, and arguably it made Microsoft's concept—the laptop-like tablet—a permanent fixture of the PC landscape. To celebrate this fifth anniversary, Microsoft is offering $200 off two configurations of the current model Surface Pro. The Core i5 with 128GB SSD and 4GB RAM is available for $799, and the Core i5 with 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM is $1,099. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / No, not those ghosts. (credit: Eli Christman) For the longest time, imaging was probably the most boring subject imaginable. Unless you were excited about comparing various mass-produced, brand-name lenses, there wasn't much to talk about. That changed briefly with the invention of the laser, but the actual imaging technology was still... yeah, boring. In the last decade or so, though, things really have changed, in part because of new ways of thinking about what an image actually is. Among the many fascinating variations on traditional imaging is something called ghost imaging. The idea of ghost imaging was to use the quantum nature of light to image an object by detecting photons that had never actually encountered the object. This is a mind-blowing idea that has now been developed to the point where it might actually be practical in some circumstances—especially when you can acquire about 1,000 ghost images per second. Am I seeing ghosts, or using ghosts to see? The original idea behind ghost imaging made use of something called quantum entanglement. Imagine that I have a single photon that I slice into two photons. Because the Universe doesn't create or destroy things like energy, momentum, or angular momentum, the energy contained in the two photons has to sum to the value of the energy contained by the first photon. Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The modern video game industry is overloaded with the equivalent of the epic novel—dense, intensely challenging games that can take dozens or hundreds of hours of dedication to truly absorb. That's not even counting competitive online games that functionally never end thanks to regular infusions of new content—the video game equivalent of an epic fantasy series or serialized comic book. But every so often, it's nice to take a break with a game that manages to tell a memorable story in a much more compact form. That's why I was enamored with Florence, a tidy interactive experience released by Annapurna Interactive and Australian development house Mountains earlier this week. The $3 iOS app is a slice-of-life tale that you can run through in about half an hour, but it has a gentle beauty that will stick with you for much longer. The basic plot of Florence doesn't seem especially exciting when written out directly. Florence, a lonely office drone in a city office building, meets street musician Krish by happenstance when she crashes her bike one day. The pair quickly move from awkward courtship to cohabitation, exploring the city together and generally being happy and cute as they go through everyday life. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / FCC Chairman Ajit Pai with his oversized coffee mug in November 2017. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg) Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is under investigation by the agency's independent watchdog over decisions that benefit Sinclair Broadcasting. FCC Inspector General (IG) David Hunt agreed to conduct the investigation after it was requested in November 2017 by two Democratic lawmakers. "For months I have been trying to get to the bottom of the allegations about Chairman Pai's relationship with Sinclair Broadcasting," Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-N.J.), said in a statement today. "I am grateful to the FCC's inspector general that he has decided to take up this important investigation." The investigation was reported today by The New York Times. Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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John F. Martin for Delphi The gasoline internal combustion engine has been in service for well over a century at this point. After all that time, you would think we would have perfected it by now. It's as simple as suck-squeeze-bang-blow, right? But recently we've seen a number of new technological advances that each offer significant gains to efficiency—probably a good thing considering how long it is going to take to move to an all-electric light vehicle fleet. The latest one I'm enthusiastic about was cooked up by Delphi and Tula. Called Dynamic Skip Fire, the new tech should work with most any gasoline engine, boosting fuel efficiency by up to 15 percent. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Evan Blass Evan Blass has shown off leaked renders of an upcoming HMD Nokia phone, the Nokia 7+. This is a midrange device that will probably launch at Mobile World Congress at the end of the month—and it looks way better than your typical mid-range device. While the Nokia 7+ is not HMD's flagship phone (that would be the Nokia 8), it is the most modern design from HMD. All the flagship design trends are here: slim bezels, an extra-tall 18:9 display, rounded screen corners, and on-screen buttons. There's a dual-camera setup on the back, along with a rear fingerprint reader. The one trend Nokia isn't sticking to is the removal of the headphone jack, which thankfully can be seen at the top of the device. Another design choice that you probably won't see on other phones any time soon: the color combinations, one of which is brown and orange. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / A general view of Embassy of the United State of America in Cuba, Havana on September 18, 2017. (credit: Getty | Anadolu Agency) A preliminary case report on the victims of mysterious “health attacks” in Havana, Cuba details the results of extensive clinical evaluations, concluding that the individuals appear to have sustained “injury to widespread brain networks without an associated history of head trauma.” The report offers the first medical glimpse of the victims—US government personnel and their families who were serving on diplomatic assignment in Havana. From late 2016 to August 2017, they reported experiencing bizarre and inexplicable sonic and sensory episodes. The episodes tended to include directional, irritating sounds, such as buzzing and piercing squeals, as well as pressure and vibrations. Afterward, the victims developed a constellation of neurological symptoms. In clinical evaluations of 21 of 24 individuals affected, an interdisciplinary team of doctors at University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine retrospectively pieced together symptoms—an average of 203 days after individuals were exposed. They found that the most common issues persisting more than three months after exposure were cognitive impairment (17/21); balance issues (15/21); visual (18/21) and hearing (15/21) problems; sleep impairment (18/21); and headaches (16/21). Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / T cells are central to the immune system's response to cancer. (credit: NIAID) The dominant idea about how cancer gets started is called the "two-hit hypothesis." First proposed by Alfred Knudson in 1971, it holds that a cancer starts when one cell gets a mutation in both of its copies of a gene that normally blocks cancer formation (two hits). These two mutations disable the tumor-suppressing function in that cell, which then becomes cancerous. Eventually, the idea was expanded to include two hits not necessarily in the same gene but, rather, in genes controlling the same tumor-suppressing pathway. But a new idea is challenging the two-hit hypothesis, shifting the focus to the role of the immune system in suppressing cancers. It's an idea that could have big implications for treatments. Taking a hit Getting two hits in one cell was considered to be a random and unlucky event. Since mutations occur each time a cell divides, the more times each cell divides, the greater the chances that it would happen. This was why, it was thought, cancer incidence increases with age; the longer a cell has been around, and the more times it has divided, the more opportunities it has had to accrue the two requisite mutations in the same tumor-suppressor pathway. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Venture capitalist Peter Thiel of the Founders Fund and other technology executives and leaders attend the inaugural meeting of the American Technology Council in the Indian Treaty Room at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door to the White House on June 19, 2017 in Washington, DC. (credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images) Peter Thiel, the well-known investor who cofounded data-analysis firm Palantir Technologies and who bankrolled the lawsuit that ultimately drove Gawker out of business, has decided that he has had enough of Silicon Valley. Thiel is moving his home address, investment firm, and foundation 400 miles south to Los Angeles, according to the Wall Street Journal. Thiel has also apparently raised the possibility that he will step down from Facebook’s board of directors. Thiel rose to political prominence in 2016 when he donated $1.25 million to the Trump campaign and spoke at the Republican National Convention. As a result, his politics have reportedly driven him away from the liberal bastion of the Bay Area, with sources telling the Journal they believe that Thiel now finds the region to be “intolerant” and having “greater risk of regulation.”The entrepreneur was born in Germany (he retains German citizenship) but spent most of his childhood in South Africa and Namibia before his parents settled in Foster City, California, south of San Francisco. He has since spent the bulk of his professional life in the Bay Area.The longstanding libertarian recently said at a debate at Stanford University that Silicon Valley is a “one-party state. That’s when you get in trouble politically in our society, when you’re all in one side.” Thiel, who founded a conservative publication known as The Stanford Review while in college, went on to found or invest in numerous major Silicon Valley companies. Thiel cofounded PayPal, which was sold to eBay for $1.5 billion in 2002. He founded Palantir in 2003, and invested the paltry sum of $500,000 for a 10.2 percent stake in Facebook in 2004. He has gone on to found a handful of investment firms, including Thiel Capital.In early 2017, it was revealed that Thiel convinced New Zealand officials to grant him citizenship—he took his citizenship oath at the New Zealand consulate in Santa Monica, California in 2011—despite the fact that he declared on his own application that he had no intention of living there. Thiel also apparently purchased an $11.5 million home in nearby Los Angeles the following year, above the famed Sunset Strip. In August 2017, BuzzFeed reported that Thiel may have soured on Trump, even after getting a number of his former associates placed into the new administration. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: PyeongChang 2018) Last week, we looked into the limited access and information for 4K Winter Olympics content in the United States—which was still confusing even one day before the opening ceremonies kicked off. This search included my own roadblocks to getting compatible service working in my home. Since then, I've had 4K Olympics service installed and streaming for a few days. As such, I wanted to do my best to describe and even review the 4K content on offer. I do this for a few reasons: because 4K Olympics access is very weird this year, and because, despite some limits, it's still one of the more interesting test cases of whether sports are the true Trojan horse for wider 4K TV adoption. Getting logistics out of the way Let's start with the providers. As stated last time, DirecTV and Dish offer nationwide options, so long as you have a compatible 4K set top box. You'll otherwise need to contact your local cable or satellite provider to see if its ecosystem of signals and set top boxes is compatible with the broadcast signal being distributed exclusively in the US by Comcast, the owner of primary Olympics broadcaster NBC. Read 29 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Wednesday night saw the reveal of a brand-new series of videos for Nintendo's big, weird Labo launch coming on April 20. We learned a lot about the build-your-own-cardboard toys of this new Switch "game" when it was first announced in January, but now, we're getting a better idea of the actual games in this thing—and there might actually be some decent ones in here. The biggest information dump comes in the form of the Labo Robot Kit, which will ship with a game that requires building and wearing a cardboard backpack rig. Wednesday's explainer video went further to break down how gameplay will work. A default mode will dump players into a cartoony city, which they will destroy by punching, stomping, flying, shooting lasers, and transforming into either a tank or a larger robot. The more stuff you smash, and the more combo attacks you trigger, the more points you'll get. Only one level of this mode was shown, and it's unclear whether this will play as a rudimentary arcade game or as a more complicated campaign. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Dara Khosrowshahi, seen here in 2013, has been Uber's CEO since September 2017. (credit: Matthew Lloyd/Bloomberg via Getty Images) According to recently-released financial numbers, Uber lost $1.1 billion during the fourth quarter of 2017, while taking in $2.26 billion in revenue, according to the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets that have reviewed a privately-held financial statement. By comparison, Uber reportedly lost $1.46 billion during the third quarter. The quarterly figures come less than a week after Uber settled what could have been a very expensive lawsuit brought by Waymo. The fact that Uber's revenue has continued to grow despite an expanding list of setbacks and scandals last year may suggest that the company hasn't been significantly impacted overall. For the entire year of 2017, Uber sustained a loss of $4.46 billion on sales of $7.36 billion. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Getty Images) The internal watchdog at the Department of Energy released an audit report (PDF) this month detailing profligate spending, approved by the Office of Fossil Energy, on a clean coal initiative that was supposed to result in a 400MW carbon capture-enable plant. The Office of Fossil Energy had partnered with a private company called Summit Texas Clean Energy LLC (owned by the Seattle-based Summit Power) to complete the project. Fossil Energy committed to funding $450 million of the $1.8 billion project, which would have been built outside of Odessa, Texas. Summit claimed that its plant would have captured 90 percent of the carbon it created. Instead, Fossil Energy broke off the partnership in June 2016 when the same DOE internal watchdog (known formally as the Office of the Inspector General, or OIG) issued a report pointing out significant project delays and the inability of Summit to secure enough additional private funding to complete the project. In October 2017, Summit Texas Clean Energy declared bankruptcy. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A Dasan Networks router similar to this one is under active exploit by the potent Satori botnet. (credit: Dasan Networks) A fast-moving botnet that turns routers, cameras, and other types of Internet-connected devices into potent tools for theft and destruction has resurfaced again, this time by exploiting a critical vulnerability that gives attackers control over as many as 40,000 routers. Despite the high stakes, there's no indication that the bug will be fixed anytime soon, if at all. Satori, as the botnet has been dubbed, quickly made a name for itself in December, when it infected more than 100,000 routers in just 12 hours by exploiting critical vulnerabilities in two models, one made by Huawei and the other by RealTek. Last month, Satori operators released a new version that infected devices used to mine digital coins, a feat that allowed the attackers to mine as much as $3,000 worth of Etherium, based on prices the digital coin was commanding at the time. In recent days, Satori has started infecting routers manufactured by Dasan Networks of South Korea. The number of daily infected routers is about 13,700, with about 82 percent of them located in Vietnam, a researcher from China-based Netlab 360 told Ars. Queries on the Shodan search index of Internet-connected devices show there are a total of more than 40,000 routers made by Dasan. The company has yet to respond to an advisory published in December that documented the code-execution vulnerability Satori is exploiting, making it possible that most or all of the devices will eventually become part of the botnet. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images) The Meltdown and Spectre attacks that use processor speculative execution to leak sensitive information have resulted in a wide range of software changes to try to limit the scope for harm. Many of these are operating system-level fixes, some of which depend on processor microcode updates. But Spectre isn't a simple attack to solve; operating system changes help a great deal, but application-level changes are also needed. Apple has talked about some of the updates it has made to the WebKit rendering engine, used in its Safari browser, but this is only a single application. Microsoft is offering a compiler-level change for Spectre. The "Spectre" label actually covers two different attacks. The one that Microsoft's compiler is addressing, known as "variant 1," concerns checking the size of an array: before accessing the Nth element of an array, code should check that the array has at least N elements in it. Programmers using languages like C and C++ often have to write these checks explicitly; other languages, like JavaScript and Java, perform them automatically. Either way, the test has to be done; attempts to access array members that don't exist are a whole class of bugs all on their own. Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Sen. Hassan urged the ESRB to review "the board’s ratings process and policies as they relate to loot boxes." (credit: US Senator Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire) Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) sent an open letter to the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) today urging the industry's self-regulatory body to "review the completeness of the board's ratings process and policies as they relate to loot boxes and to take into account the potential harm these types of micro-transactions may have on children." Loot boxes—which offer randomized in-game rewards, often in exchange for real money— concern Hassan for the "psychological principles and enticing mechanics that closely mirror those often found in casinos and games of chance," as the letter reads. While acknowledging "robust debate over whether loot boxes should be considered gambling," Hassan argues that "they are both expensive habits and use similar psychological principles" and thus deserve extra scrutiny. "The potential harm is real." Hassan urged the ESRB in the letter to examine whether loot boxes are being marketed "in an ethical and transparent way that adequately protects the developing minds of young children from predatory practices." She also asked the board to "collect and publish data" on how developers and players use loot boxes. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: DeVries et al.) It’s official: pooping the bed is not the worst thing you can do. Letting bedbugs do it is worse. As the creepy critters bite you while you slumber, they also squeeze out poops loaded with histamine, a chemical that our own bodies push out during an inflammatory response to allergens. Histamine can trigger itchiness, watery eyes, sneezing, trouble breathing, headaches, and asthma attacks, among other things. Homes with bedbug infestations can become histamine Dutch ovens, according to a new study led by entomologists and health experts at North Carolina State University. The researchers found that histamine levels in infested homes were at least 20-times higher than levels in bed-bug free homes. And that’s not all. Researchers writing in PLOS ONE also found that those histamine levels linger. In infested homes that were heat treated—which involves circulating hot air (~50 ̊C) into a home to wipe out the bugs—histamine levels remained high for months afterward. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Deutsche Bundesbank President Jens Weidmann during a keynote speech at the Bundesbank European money and finance forum in Frankfurt, Germany, on February 8, 2018. (credit: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg via Getty Images) On Wednesday, a top German central banker told a conference in Frankfurt that replacing cash with bitcoin and similar cryptocurrencies is too risky and inefficient to be an effective medium of exchange. "For a stable monetary and financial system, we need no crypto-tokens, but rather central banks obligated to price stability and effective banking regulation, and we have both in the eurozone," Jens Weidmann, the head of the Bundesbank, said. His remarks (German) come as other top European bankers are making aligned public statements expressing skepticism about bitcoin and related digital currencies. On Tuesday, the ECB put out a graphic dubbing bitcoin not a currency but a "speculative asset." Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Olena_T) SpaceX's satellite broadband plans are getting closer to reality. The company is about to launch two demonstration satellites, and it is on track to get the Federal Communications Commission's permission to offer satellite Internet service in the US. Neither development is surprising, but they're both necessary steps for SpaceX to enter the satellite broadband market. SpaceX is one of several companies planning low-Earth orbit satellite broadband networks that could offer much higher speeds and much lower latency than existing satellite Internet services. Today, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai proposed approving SpaceX's application "to provide broadband services using satellite technologies in the United States and on a global basis," a commission announcement said. SpaceX would be the fourth company to receive such an approval from the FCC, after OneWeb, Space Norway, and Telesat. "These approvals are the first of their kind for a new generation of large, non-geostationary satellite orbit, fixed-satellite service systems, and the Commission continues to process other, similar requests," the FCC said today. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Insel's Wild Buster is one of the games that has been removed from Steam after evidence of user review faking was found. Insel Games, a Maltese developer of online multiplayer titles, has been banned from Steam and had all its titles removed from Valve's storefront after evidence surfaced that it was encouraging employees to manipulate user review scores on the service. Yesterday, redditor nuttinbutruth posted a purported leaked email from Insel Games' CEO encouraging employees to buy reimbursed copies of the game in order to leave a Steam review. "Of course I cannot force you to write a review (let alone tell you what to write)—but I should not have to," the email reads. "Neglecting the importance of reviews will ultimately cost jobs. If [Wild Busters] fails, Insel fails... and then we will all have no jobs next year." In a message later in the day, Valve said it had investigated the claims in the Reddit post and "identified unacceptable behavior involving multiple Steam accounts controlled by the publisher of this game. The publisher appears to have used multiple Steam accounts to post positive reviews for their own games. This is a clear violation of our review policy and something we take very seriously." Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / This won't hurt a bit. (credit: Erik T. Frank) Deadly battles play out several times a day in the Ivory Coast’s Comoé National Park, leaving wounded behind. The fights break out when hundreds of African Matabele ants march off to raid a nearby termite mound to slaughter termite workers and haul them back to the nest to feed the colony. But termites, with their strong, sharp mandibles, aren’t easy prey, and raiders often get limbs bitten off in the fight. In the aftermath of a raid, researchers are finding evidence that the ants care for their wounded. The wounded ants secrete a pheromone that calls other returning raiders to carry their injured comrades home. Back at the nest, healthy nest-mates clean the injured ants’ wounds. And the behavior of injured ants even creates a triage system so that only the ants that might actually be saved get rescued. “It’s only a flesh wound!” Ants that are only missing a leg or two can generally make the 50-meter trek back to the nest, but their injuries make them more vulnerable to predators, so about a third of injured ants who try to walk home won’t make it. So when nest-mates are nearby, injured ants slow down and even develop a sudden tendency to fall over. Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Apple's HomePod is the most hyped-up home speaker to hit the market in a long time. (credit: Jeff Dunn) What is this thing? That, in essence, is the question most onlookers have asked about Apple’s HomePod speaker since its unveiling last summer. The natural inclination is to compare it to smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. It’s a speaker with a talking assistant in it, the thinking goes. Apple just wants a piece of that growing pie. But that doesn’t sit right. Sure, Siri, the assistant at the heart of the speaker, can answer questions, set alarms, and turn off connected light bulbs. But the HomePod costs $350, roughly three times as much as the base Echo and Home devices, it sounds miles better than both, and Apple isn’t nearly as concerned with assisting you through every part of your day and controlling everything in your home. The HomePod is decidedly more “speaker” than “smart.” Read 59 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Google's two demo smart replies, now directly in a notification. Google's "smart reply" feature in Android is a pretty neat application of machine learning. Google's servers scan your incoming text messages or emails and writes replies for you. Smart replies hang out at the bottom of an app like Gmail or Google Inbox, and you can pick from several replies based on the context of the message. Now Google is experimenting with making smart replies even faster by embedding reply options directly into Android notifications. The experiment comes from Google's new "Area 120" group, an idea incubator inside the company. Users who signed up for the group's early access program got an email yesterday announcing the new feature, which is an app the team is just calling "Reply." The app isn't out yet, but the email shows off two concept images and gives users a link to sign up. The images show a notification from Hangouts and Android Messages with the expected text and image, but below them, right in the notification panel, are a few machine-produced replies. Someone asks "Are you at a restaurant?" and you can fire back a quick reply with a single tap. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: macappsaddict via Flickr) Netflix's latest content grab ushers the mind behind Nip/Tuck, Glee, and American Horror Story into the company. The streaming giant announced that it has penned an exclusive five-year film and series deal with writer-director-producer Ryan Murphy. According to some reports, the deal is worth as much as $300 million. Murphy will officially start at Netflix on July 1, 2018. While most of the ideas Murphy will bring to Netflix users' screens are as yet unannounced, the company has already scored the rights to two of his forthcoming series: Ratched, a drama series about the notorious nurse from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, and The Politician, a comedy series that could star Barbra Streisand and Gwyneth Paltrow. Despite the move to Netflix, Murphy will continue to oversee his shows currently in production on Fox and FX, as well as an upcoming FX drama series called Pose, which focuses on the transgender community in 1980s New York. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Twenty seven engines on the Falcon Heavy rocket, all burning their happy little flames. (credit: SpaceX) One may criticize the Falcon Heavy rocket for having a short launch manifest, as it has only two confirmed flights in the next year or so. There just aren't that many commercial customers right now for the heavier-lift rocket when a cheaper Falcon 9 or another medium-lift class of booster will suffice. But when one considers the more extreme cases—such as big Department of Defense missions to geostationary orbit or potential human exploration plans—the Falcon Heavy shines. Now that SpaceX's new rocket is finally flying, we can directly compare costs between this new booster and an existing rocket in its class, the Delta IV Heavy, as well as NASA's upcoming heavy lift booster, the Space Launch System. And upon direct comparison, the cost disparities are sobering, proving that commercial development of large rockets likely represents the future of the industry. Delta IV Heavy The Falcon Heavy rocket, with reusable side boosters, costs $90 million. For a fully expendable variant of the rocket, which can lift a theoretical maximum of 64 tons to low-Earth orbit, the price is $150 million. While it is not certified yet, SpaceX says its rocket can hit all Department of Defense reference orbits; however big and gnarly the military wants to build its satellites, and whatever crazy orbit it wants to put them into, the Falcon Heavy can do it. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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