posted 9 days ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Shawn Doyle as Sadavir Errinwright. (credit: Rafy/Syfy) My my, wasn't that a lot of palace intrigue in this week's episode of The Expanse? With season two rapidly drawing to a close—just one episode left—Errinwright has finally made his play, as has Jules-Pierre Mao. I'll admit that I didn't think Errinwright had it in him. We got to see a much more human side to his character this week, followed by a lovely bait-and-switch by the writers. "Earth first" indeed. With Bobbie Draper and Coytar in tow, Avasarala went to meet Mao on his orbital gin palace—spaceships look pretty good if you're a gazillionaire. Again, the show has done an effective job of visualizing the kinds of small details that the books can only tell you about, part of the world-building that keeps me so engaged. Will Mao's ultimatum work? After Errinwright's actions this week, I wouldn't bet on it. But who couldn't love the needling between Draper and Coytar? The tone was quite different for the scenes with Naomi on the Weeping Somnambulist. With only enough air for 52 people and more than 100 refugees trying to get off Ganymede, it turned into quite a tear-jerker, particularly Champa's exhortation to his fellow belters to remember who they are and how they live (and die). Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Breath of the Wild is like an angelic light shining on the totem of the Switch's hardware launch. The term "system seller" gets thrown around a lot in video games to describe a game that's good enough to justify buying a new console practically on its own. We may have to figure out a new term to apply to a system seller as hot as The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, though. In the US, it seems the Switch version of the game is somehow selling better than the system it's played on. Those numbers come from the NPD group and Nintendo, which report that while the Switch sold 906,000 units in the US in March, the Switch version of Breath of the Wild sold "more than 925,000 units." That's the first instance we can recall where a piece of software has a reported attach rate that's actually higher than 100 percent. Breath of the Wild's reported sales success doesn't come completely out of the blue. GameStop said last month that the game had an "almost one-to-one attach result" with the Switch hardware, and the title sold to about 91 percent of initial Switch owners in France. Nintendo President Reggie Fils-Aime also called Breath of the Wild the best standalone launch title in Nintendo history just after the system's US launch. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / NASA's Journey to Mars has been long on hype, short on reality. (credit: NASA) NASA has been talking about its "Journey to Mars" for the better part of this decade now, along with its plans to send humans to the Martian system in the 2030s. One thing the space agency hasn't done, however, is talk too much about costs. From experience, the agency has learned the woes of giving Congress "sticker shock" when it comes to exploration programs. However, a new report by NASA's inspector general chastises the agency for not doing so earlier. "Such estimates would help inform other decision makers and stakeholders in the Administration, Congress, and research and business communities of the magnitude of the sustained investment required to make human exploration of Mars a reality by the late 2030s or early 2040s," the report states. The report also attempts to provide such a cost estimate based on an updated version of a study done by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This analysis budgeted for a crewed landing on the Martian moon Phobos in 2033, a one-month Mars surface stay in 2037, and one-year surface stays in 2041 and 2046. The updated cost: $450 billion over the next three decades. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: FDA) Hyland’s, one of the country’s leading makers of homeopathic products, is finally bowing to pressure from the Food and Drug Administration and recalling its infant teething tablets, which have been linked to severe illnesses and deaths of infants. The FDA has been investigating the issue for years and has received reports of more than 400 cases of infant illnesses, some involving seizures, fever, and vomiting, plus 10 infant deaths. In January, the agency confirmed that the tablets contained widely inconsistent levels of the toxic substance belladonna, aka deadly nightshade. Poisoning by belladonna produces symptoms in line with those reported in the sickened infants. Documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request revealed the heart-wrenching details of those cases. In one FDA report, a mother wrote: "My daughter had a seizure, lost consciousness, and stopped breathing about 30 minutes after I gave her three Hyland’s Teething Tablets... She had to receive mouth-to-mouth CPR to resume breathing and was brought to the hospital.” Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Harris brothers pose in uniform with prop tricorders from the Star Trek series. (credit: XPRIZE) The quest is over for the most promising automated diagnostic gadget, inspired by the fictional “tricorder” used by Dr. McCoy in Star Trek. A seven-member, self-funded team took first place at the international Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition—and a $2.6 million prize. The team’s prototype, called DxtER (pronounced Dexter) works with an iPad and is designed to walk a patient through self-diagnosing 34 medical conditions, The Washington Post reports. The team beat out 312 other teams, including some backed financially by governments and corporate sponsors. The team was led by Dr. Basil Harris, an emergency medicine doctor from Pennsylvania who founded Final Frontier Medical Devices with friends and three of his siblings to come up with the device. They will now move their beta version on to the next stages of development and, potentially, FDA testing. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Jonathan Gitlin NEW YORK—It seems like barely any time has passed since our last major auto show, but the world's auto makers are back in Manhattan this week for the 2017 New York International Auto Show. You'll be able to read (and watch) our take on many of the new vehicles on display in the coming days, but what follows are our picks for the best new models you'll be able to see at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, starting today when the auto show opens to the public. Outstanding in the Automotive Technology Field: Cadillac Supercruise Since this is a technology site, we'll kick things off with the best new automotive technology of this year's NYIAS. That honor belongs to Cadillac, which is joining the semi-autonomous driving fray with its new "level 2" system, called Supercruise. We have driven some pretty good semi-autonomous systems recently: Audi, Volvo, and Tesla all spring immediately to mind. These use a combination of adaptive cruise control and lane keeping assists to keep your car on track on the highway, backing up the human driver to counteract fatigue and provide a little digital helping hand on long drives. Supercruise combines those two driver assists with a few extra neat features that mark the next step on the road to fully self-driving vehicles. Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / LONG ISLAND SOLAR FARM (credit: Brookhaven National Lab) In the year 2000, the entire world had roughly four Gigawatts of solar power capacity installed, and it didn't seem to be going anywhere fast. In 2002, the International Energy Agency forecast suggested that, by 2020, global solar capacity would still be hovering at around 10GW, and still barely register on the global energy markets. How things change. Over the 15 years that followed, solar energy capacity expanded by 5,700 percent, reaching 227GW. The International Energy Agency revised its solar estimates upwards three times over that span, but its most recent estimate—over 400GW of installed capacity by 2020—is already falling behind the curve of solar's growth. In 2015, the most recent year that numbers are available, 57GW worth of solar panels were shipped. That's enough to add 400GW of new capacity in seven years, under the completely unrealistic assumption that our manufacturing capacity won't expand in the mean time. If most projections have been wrong, is there anything we can say about the future? An international team of energy experts makes an attempt to figure out where solar might be going out to the 2030s, when they expect we'll have Terawatts worth of photovoltaics on our grids. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Scientists are increasingly confident that an ocean below the icy surface of Enceladus could support life. (credit: Cassini Imaging Team, SSI, JPL, ESA, NASA) The prospects for life existing in our Solar System beyond Earth and finding it within a decade or two improved with two scientific findings announced Thursday by NASA. The space agency confirmed the presence of hydrogen in plumes emanating from Saturn's small moon Enceladus, and it also reported that plumes are very likely to exist on Jupiter's moon Europa. Both of these findings are significant. It means not only that most of the ingredients required for life must exist in the oceans of Enceladus but also that a pair of probes being planned to explore Europa will have a much better chance of finding any life there. In something of an understatement, NASA's Jim Green, who oversees the agency's planetary exploration plans, said, "This is a very exciting time to be exploring the Solar System." The findings buttress a recent focus by NASA on bulking up a program to explore these ocean worlds in the outer Solar System, including Enceladus, Europa, and Saturn's methane-covered moon Titan. This has been a principal aim in particular for Texas Republican John Culberson, who serves as chairman of the House subcommittee over NASA's budget. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Tesla wants to turn internal combustion trucks electric. (credit: Mark Goebel) Last year, Tesla CEO and founder Elon Musk wrote an updated version of his 2006 “Master Plan” that predicated the growth of the electric vehicle company. The “Master Plan Part Deux” detailed the company’s ambitions to build a Tesla Semi, which Musk said at the time “should be ready for unveiling next year.” Now, right on time, Musk tweeted out an update this afternoon: “Tesla Semi truck unveil set for September. Team has done an amazing job. Seriously next level.” Tesla Semi truck unveil set for September. Team has done an amazing job. Seriously next level. — Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 13, 2017 The CEO added in subsequent replies that the next-generation Roadster would be a convertible and that details on a Tesla pickup truck would be revealed in "18 to 24 months." Ars reached out to Tesla, which said there were no other details to share at this time besides what was in Musk’s tweets. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Keith) If you live in snowy climes, you probably have a generally positive attitude toward the trucks that salt the roads since driving conditions are typically safer afterward. The phrase “salting the Earth,” on the other hand, has a decidedly crueler connotation from antiquity—destroying cropland in a way that ensured food could no longer be grown. Although no ancient civilization probably ever pulled off the logistical feat of intentionally salting a conquered people’s lands, our modern ones may be doing it unintentionally. Those friendly snowplows (and your sidewalk-shoveling neighbors) are spreading an astounding volume of salt, and it has to go somewhere once it melts. Road salt became common in the 1940s, and the amount used has increased over time. The US puts down around 18 million tons of salt each year. Roadsides along highways obviously get dosed with more than their fair share of salt, but salt also runs off (sometimes via storm drains) into streams and lakes where it can accumulate. That makes road salt a common target in local efforts to protect bodies of water. Although this has sometimes been studied on the local scale, there hasn’t been much big-picture analysis. A new study led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Hilary Dugan works to fill in that gap by estimating how widespread salt contamination is in North America. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Sean Gallup ) No amount of objective discussion or scientific data may ever be enough to convince some people that vaccines are indeed safe and effective at wiping out a slew of hellish and deadly diseases. But what does seem to work at convincing people to vaccinate their children? Bureaucratic hassle. By adding an extra, in-person step to the process of obtaining a vaccination waiver (which allowed a child to forego the necessary vaccinations), Michigan quickly and significantly boosted its vaccination rate, as Kaiser Health News reports. In the 2013-2014 school year, the state had the fourth highest rate in the country of children entering kindergarten with a vaccine waiver. But just one year after the extended waiver application process went into effect in 2015, the number of waivers issued dropped by 35 percent statewide. Vaccination rates rose accordingly. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / T-Mobile purchased new spectrum across the entire US. (credit: T-Mobile USA) T-Mobile USA was the biggest winner in an auction that shifted licenses in the 600MHz spectrum band from TV broadcasters to the cellular industry. T-Mobile will pay $7.99 billion for 1,525 licenses spread throughout the country, according to the results announced today. T-Mobile boasted in a press release that it won 45 percent of the spectrum in the auction, amounting to "31MHz nationwide on average, quadrupling the Un-carrier’s low-band holdings." Low-band spectrum is particularly important for covering long distances and penetrating obstacles such as building walls, which have long been problems for T-Mobile's network. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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You won't see these new packages on store shelves after April, according to Nintendo. Nintendo has announced that it will cease production of the 30-game NES Classic Edition plug-and-play system by the end of the month, even though retailers have been unable to keep the system on store shelves for pretty much the entirety of its six-month run on the market so far. In a statement provided to IGN, a Nintendo representative said: Throughout April, NOA territories will receive the last shipments of Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition systems for this year. We encourage anyone interested in obtaining this system to check with retail outlets regarding availability. We understand that it has been difficult for many consumers to find a system, and for that we apologize. We have paid close attention to consumer feedback, and we greatly appreciate the incredible level of consumer interest and support for this product. The representative added that the NES Classic "wasn’t intended to be an ongoing, long-term product. However, due to high demand, we did add extra shipments to our original plans." The NES Classic controller will also be discontinued, according to the spokesperson. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Maria del Mar Portal/Getty Images) In January, a California lawmaker introduced legislation, backed by school administrators, that would give K-12 school administrators broad powers to search the phones and electronic devices of their students without a warrant. On Wednesday, AB165 met its death, at least for now, after intense lobbying by more than 60 groups (PDF), including everyone from the American Civil Liberties Union to the California Newspaper Publishers Association. The measure was crafted by the Association of California School Administrators and introduced by Assemblyman Jim Cooper, a Democrat representing Elk Grove (just south of Sacramento). Laura Preston, a lobbyist for the Association of California School Administrators, told Ars that opposition to the measure was "crazy" and akin to starting a "World War." Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / In June 2016, EFF posted this diagram to show GEMSA's patent on the left, and how it bears little resemblance to Airbnb's interface. (credit: Electronic Frontier Foundation) The Electronic Frontier Foundation has sued an Australian company that it previously dubbed as a "classic patent troll" in a June 2016 blog post entitled: "Stupid Patent of the Month: Storage Cabinets on a Computer." Last year, that company, Global Equity Management (SA) Pty. Ltd. (GEMSA), managed to get an Australian court to order EFF to remove its post—but EFF did not comply. In January 2017, Pasha Mehr, an attorney representing GEMSA, further demanded that the article be removed and that EFF pay $750,000. EFF still did not comply. The new lawsuit, filed in federal court in San Francisco on Wednesday, asks that the American court declare the Australian ruling unenforceable in the US. Why? According to the EFF argument, the Australian ruling runs afoul of free speech protections granted under the United States Constitution—namely, that opinions are protected. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Andrew Cunningham Among many other things, iOS 10.3 makes it clear that the end of the road is near for 32-bit iOS apps. This has been coming for a while—all apps and updates submitted for App Store approval since mid-2015 have needed to include 64-bit support, and Apple has been pledging to purge the App Store of abandonware since last fall. Pretty soon, Apple will simply go one step further and make it so that older 32-bit code simply can’t run on iDevices. Putting aside that this spells the end for all kinds of old, unmaintained games and other apps from the early days of the smartphone and App Store, Apple’s complete transition to 64-bit is a unique and interesting technical achievement. Here’s the complete timeline of the transition, to date: Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge We knew Microsoft was planning to block installation of Windows 7 and 8.1 updates on systems with Intel 7th Generation Core processors (more memorably known as Kaby Lake) and AMD Ryzen systems; we just weren't sure when. Now, the answer appears to be "this month." Users of new processors running old versions of Windows are reporting that their updates are being blocked. The block means that systems using these processors are no longer receiving security updates. The new policy was announced in January of last year and revised slightly a couple of months later: Kaby Lake and Ryzen processors, and all new processors on an ongoing basis, would only be supported in Windows 10. Windows 7 and 8.1 would continue to support older processors, but their chip compatibility was frozen. Awkwardly straddling the two policies are Intel's 6th Generation Core processors, aka Skylake. Some Skylake systems will continue to be supported in Windows 7 and 8.1. Others will not. Certain Skylake models shipped by 16 specific OEMs will continue to receive update support. But other Skylake systems will also need to upgrade to Windows 10 to receive ongoing updates. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: OPD) How does a city like Oakland deal with real crime issues while not repeating the past excesses of police surveillance? Our guest for Episode 12 of Ars Technica Live, happening next Wednesday, April 19, is Bruce Stoffmacher of the Oakland Police Department. Stoffmacher will be discussing how the city balances privacy interests with the needs of law enforcement. Prior to working for the Oakland PD, he was a policy analyst in the mayor's office. Stoffmacher currently works as the Legislation Manager for the Oakland PD, where he works with the Office of the City Attorney, Controller's Bureau, and City Administration to pass legislation in support of contracts, MOUs, budget priorities, and policies related to public safety strategies. He writes City Council reports, legislation, and grants, and he supports diverse communication and partnership efforts. He also works on several data and technology projects. Stoffmacher will be in conversation with Ars Senior Policy Editor David Kravets and Senior Business Editor Cyrus Farivar. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / On a laptop like this, Windows 10's new Game Mode could give your multitasking system a much-needed gaming performance boost. In selling the potential of Windows 10's dedicated Game Mode (included as part of this week's Creators Update), Microsoft has promised that prioritizing processes and grouping threads would lead to an FPS boost of 2 to 5 percent in games that max out the high end of the CPU/GPU power curve. When we tried Game Mode for ourselves on a fast system, we didn't feel any particular difference in either average or minimum frame rates. But further testing shows that Game Mode has the ability to deliver much more significant improvements: on slower machines, it can even boost games from being unplayable to (just about) acceptable. PC World recently ran the numbers on a handful of Windows 10 games that take advantage of Game Mode: Bioshock Infinite, Rise of the Tomb Raider, and Gears of War 4. On a top-of-the-line Surface Book laptop (sporting a low-end GTX 965M graphics card), the new mode only led to modest improvements in average frame rates, whether the game was running alone or with a lot of background tasks open. That matches the findings of other benchmarkers who found little effect from Game Mode. Things were different when the magazine looked at the minimum frames per second for games running in Game Mode. When those games were running by themselves, the improvements were still hard to notice. But with background tasks like a YouTube browser window, Spotify, and AVG antivirus running, Game Mode caused a significant bump in minimum frame rates for each game. In the case of Bioshock Infinite, the minimum frame rate jumped by nearly a factor of two, from 5.92fps to 10.65. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: BSIP ) Bacteria-busting toothpastes that help prevent cavities in your teeth could be making small dents in the community of microbes in your gut—possibly allowing antibiotic-resistant bacteria to fill in—preliminary data suggests. In a small study, women who switched to brushing with toothpaste that contained the antimicrobial triclosan saw a troubling shift in the microbes in their guts as well as a slight change in drug resistance, Stanford researchers report. The data is preliminary—it has not been peer-reviewed or published in a journal yet—and the study was small, including women and infants from only 39 households. But, the findings fall in line with several other studies that found that triclosan and other common antimicrobials can cause subtle disruptions in all-powerful gut microbiomes. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth during an interview in 2011. (credit: Getty Images | Gallo Images) Ubuntu creator Mark Shuttleworth will once again be the CEO of Canonical, as the company reduces its staff and narrows its focus to profitable projects. Canonical CEO Jane Silber announced her departure yesterday, seven years after then-CEO Shuttleworth asked her to take over the company's top spot. She previously served as Canonical's chief operating officer. "I originally agreed to be CEO for five years and we’ve extended my tenure as CEO by a couple of years already," Silber wrote. "We’ve been preparing for a transition for some time by strengthening the executive leadership team and maturing every aspect of the company, and earlier this year Mark and I decided that now is the time to effect this transition. Over the next three months I will remain CEO but begin to formally transfer knowledge and responsibility to others in the executive team. In July, Mark will retake the CEO role and I will move to the Canonical Board of Directors." Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / John Krafcik, CEO of Waymo, debuts a customized Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid in January 2017. (credit: Bill Pugliano / Getty Images News) SAN FRANCISCO—During a Wednesday court hearing, a federal judge said that if an Uber engineer accused of a massive data theft from his former employer is going to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to protect against self-incrimination and not hand over materials demanded as part of a recent subpoena and upcoming deposition, then he must at least explain himself privately to the judge. "What I’ve told you is that you can submit the privilege log to me, in camera, without giving it to anyone else and I can evaluate it, which aspects, if any would be incriminating," US District Judge William Alsup said, addressing a lawyer representing the engineer, Anthony Levandowski, during the hearing. "I’m not ruling against the ultimate assertion of the privilege, but you’ve got to do more than just say in court, Fifth Amendment—you have to do a privilege log and go through the process." The case pits Waymo against Uber, which in turn is in a tense situation with one of its own employees, Levandowski, the head of its self-driving division. Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: US Air Force) The last of the gunfighters will not be hanging up its holster anytime soon. While the Trump administration has been playing Let's Make a Deal with Lockheed Martin and Boeing over the future of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Department of Defense has decided to extend the life of yet another old warhorse to fill the gap. At least 300 F-16 Fighting Falcons will receive structural and avionics upgrades that will allow them to fly until at least 2048, thanks to a Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) with Lockheed Martin. Obama administration had already made plans for the A-10 Thunderbolt to stay in service until 2022 to fill the close air support role, and had plotted an upgrade to the F-16 as well since 2012. But the task of pulling the trigger on the F-16 upgrade was left to the Trump administration. "Following F-16 Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) structural modifications, the US Air Force could safely operate [F-16C and D] Block 40-52 aircraft to 2048 and beyond," Air Force officials said in a release. The F-16 was a product of a push by a group of analysts within the Air Force known as the "Fighter Mafia" for a lightweight fighter—a counterpart to the F-15 Eagle in what was referred to as a "high-low mix" (with the expensive, high-tech F-15 being the "high"). The F-16 was the  winner of a "fly-before-buy" bake-off—an approach to procurement that many critics of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter may be nostalgic for. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Gene Kranz, in Mission Control. (credit: NASA) Former NASA flight director Gene Kranz is best known for his prominent role in bringing the crew of Apollo 13 safely back to Earth—and the now famous saying, "Failure is not an option." But as NASA and the United States prepare to embark upon human missions back into deep space, Kranz warned this week that the country can't be too timid as it does so. It must embrace some risk if it wishes to go back to the Moon and beyond. During a panel discussion with other Apollo flight directors in Houston, Kranz was asked how NASA accomplished so much, so quickly, in the 1960s and early 1970s, but hasn't been back to deep space since then. By some accounts, in the decades following the Moon landings, NASA has succumbed to a "mind-numbing" bureaucracy and a "paralyzing" cultural requirement for perfection, especially after two space shuttle accidents. Kranz said NASA benefited from a different culture in the 1960s. "It was an environment in which we were more capable of accepting risk as a nation," Kranz replied. "Space involves risk, and I think that's the one thing about Elon Musk and all the various space entrepreneurs: they're willing to risk their future in order to accomplish the objective that they have decided on. I think we as a nation have to learn that, as an important part of this, to step forward and accept risk." Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge You'd be forgiven for thinking that PlayStation VR, now a healthy six months old, had been all but forgotten by platform stalwart Sony. Sure, it had the healthiest set of launch games of any VR headset, but they suffered from a lack of longevity. The hope was that Sony, with its plethora of first-party studios, would create the first killer app for VR, the game that would sell a million headsets. Instead, bar the surprisingly good Resident Evil 7, early adopters have been left wanting. Creating a VR game, let alone a VR game with the production values of an Uncharted or a Horizon: Zero Dawn, doesn't happen overnight of course. But there are signs that a second wave of games will soon launch on Sony's headset, which, if we're lucky, will be far deeper than the first. Indeed, at Sony's recent PSVR Showcase event in London—or, as I prefer, the "we totally haven't forgotten about PSVR please look at all the fun things we have" event—Sony had a handful of upcoming titles to demo. None of them were new, having made appearances at various trade shows over the the past few months, including PAX. But they provide an interesting insight into how developers are tackling the many idiosyncrasies of the medium on the most mainstream of VR platforms, including the holy trinity of control inputs, nausea, and storytelling. And while I've no doubt we're still some ways off seeing the elusive killer app, I came away impressed: some seriously good games are about to hit PSVR. Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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