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Nintendo Switch’s price, launch date will be announced on January 12

10/26/2016 11:45pm

(credit: Nintendo of America)

As expected, last week's official reveal of the Nintendo Switch game system both answered questions and created new ones. That was followed this week by an announcement of the next announcement: the Nintendo Switch Presentation 2017.

This will take place, as you might expect, next year—as in, on January 12. Both the company's Japanese and American arms made announcements via Twitter on Thursday, so we expect that the livestream will occur simultaneously in multiple languages, much like the company has done for its Nintendo Direct YouTube events in recent years. The Japanese notice mentions a formal Switch event taking place in Tokyo on January 14 and 15, as well.

Curiously, Nintendo described the Switch in this Wednesday night announcement as its "new home gaming system," in spite of its August 20 reveal video revolving very loudly around its portability. In that peppy, millennial-loaded advert, young people were seen satisfying their Switch gaming addiction while attending parties, walking dogs, and taking a halftime break at a pick-up basketball game.

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Hands on with the Surface Studio, Microsoft’s first desktop computer

10/26/2016 11:00pm

We use the Surface Studio. Video by Jennifer Hahn (video link)

NEW YORK—Microsoft has built a really strange computer.

As a piece of design, there's a lot to like about the Surface Studio. There's no avoiding the fact that its screen, a custom built 28 inch 4500×3000 unit that's barely more than a centimeter thick—is strikingly gorgeous. It's large, it's bright, its colors are glorious (it supports the DCI-P3 color space with 30 bits per pixel, which gives it much more punch and depth, especially for reds), and its thickness, or rather, lack thereof, is remarkable. There's no taper or anything like that; the display is a uniform 12.5mm/0.5" thick and it looks incredible. It makes the LCDs that sit on my desktop at home look as dated as my LCDs make a CRT screen look.

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There’s a new way to take down drones, and it doesn’t involve shotguns

10/26/2016 8:47pm

Enlarge / Using the attached device, an attacker's remote control on the right is able to hijack the original remote control on the left. (credit: Jonathan Andersson)

The advent of inexpensive consumer drones has generated a novel predicament for firefighters, law-enforcement officers, and ordinary citizens who encounter crafts they believe are interfering with their safety or privacy. In a series of increasingly common events—several of them chronicled by Ars—drones perceived as trespassing have been blown out of the sky with shotguns. Firefighters have also complained that hobbyist drones pose a significant threat that sometimes prompts them to ground helicopters.

Now, a researcher has demonstrated a significantly more subtle and proactive remedy that doesn't involve shotgun blasts or after-the-fact arrests by law enforcement. It's a radio transmitter that seizes complete control of nearby drones as they're in mid-flight. From then on, the drones are under the full control of the person with the hijacking device. The remote control in the possession of the original operator experiences a loss of all functions, including steering, acceleration, and altitude. The hack works against any drone that communicates over DSMx, a widely used remote control protocol for operating hobbyist drones, planes, helicopters, cars, and boats.

Besides hijacking a drone, the device provides a digital fingerprint that's unique to each craft. The fingerprint can be used to identify trusted drones from unfriendly ones and potentially to provide forensic evidence for use in criminal or civil court cases. Unlike most other counter-drone technologies publicly demonstrated to date, it isn't a frequency jammer that merely prevents a remote control from communicating with a drone. Instead, it gives the holder the ability to completely seize control of the unmanned craft. It was presented on Wednesday at the PacSec 2016 security conference in Tokyo by Jonathan Andersson, the advanced security research group manager at Trend Micro's TippingPoint DVLab division.

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A typo skewed the history of HIV in the US and vilified “Patient Zero”

10/26/2016 7:22pm

Enlarge / Scanning electron micrograph of HIV. Virions are the green spheres on the surface of blood cells. (credit: Getty | BSIP)

A damning myth about the origins of HIV in North America spun out of a single “ambiguous oval,” according to the authors of a new genetic study on the virus.

The study, published today in Nature, uses reconstructed genetic sequences to show that the virus landed on the continent around 1971, a full decade before it was discovered in 1981 and identified as a retrovirus in 1983. And the man vilified for having delivered it to the United States, a French Canadian airline steward named Gaëtan Dugas, aka Patient Zero, had nothing to do with its arrival, the study authors report. In fact, Dugas’ moniker “Patient Zero” was actually a misinterpretation of the identifier “Patient O” used in a dataset for an AIDS cluster study centered in California. Patient O was meant to signify that he was a patient from Outside California.

Gaëtan Dugas (credit: Gobonobo)

In that early 1980s cluster study, researchers tracked down Dugas after several HIV/AIDS patients reporting have sex with him. The detective work allowed the researchers to link sexual activity with the virus’ spread. However, the study was published with the now infamous number rather than the letter, locking the misnomer into the scientific literature and history books.

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National Geographic brings Mars to Manhattan

10/26/2016 5:32pm

The National Geographic Channel, fresh off its sale to Fox, is now focusing on creating premium original content. Its first effort: a fact-based dramatization of what it might be like to send the first human visitors to Mars in the 2030s. As part of that effort, the company has taken over an empty lot in downtown Manhattan and seeded it with a collection of interconnected domes meant to evoke what the first habitations on Mars might look like.

The place is set up as if it were a recruitment center for Mars-bound astronauts. And the hardware inside is set up to allow visitors to experience a bit of what it might be like to arrive on Mars through some pretty impressive virtual reality hardware.

The press got a chance to check things out today as part of the launch of the miniseries, entitled simply Mars. Everyone involved in it, including the large panel of the technical consultants on hand to talk about the program, said the emphasis was on making it as fact-based and realistic as possible. We'll have a discussion of their efforts a bit closer to the program's airing. For now, we'll focus on the Earth-bound Mars experience that National Geographic has put in place in Manhattan.

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Tesla roars to life, posts its second-ever profitable quarter

10/26/2016 5:20pm

(credit: Tesla Motors)

Tesla Motors posted its second-ever profitable quarter on Wednesday, announcing that it had made a profit of $22 million (£18 million) during the third quarter of 2016. By comparison, the company lost $293 million in the second quarter. During Q3, Tesla brought in a total of $2.3 billion, nearly double from Q2 2016.

In a statement, the company cited “new product launches, increased store efficiency and new store openings,” as being a primary driver of revenue.

Tesla continued:

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Apple AirPods indefinitely delayed beyond original “late October” window

10/26/2016 5:00pm

Enlarge / When will we finally get to test Apple's AirPods outside of demo events? We're not sure, but definitely not by the end of this month. (credit: Apple)

Apple's new wireless, $180 AirPods have less than a week to meet their original shipping target of "late October," and now the company has confirmed that such a launch is officially off the table.

A Wednesday statement, given to Ars Technica just one day ahead of the company's latest Mac-related press event, confirmed Apple's decision to delay the wireless headphones' launch. In the statement, Apple tells Ars that the company "needs a little more time before AirPods are ready for our customers."

"The early response to AirPods has been incredible," the Apple statement reads. "We don't believe in shipping a product before it's ready."

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AT&T/Time Warner seems headed for FCC review, whether AT&T likes it or not

10/26/2016 4:09pm

Enlarge / AT&T will own a bunch of new media properties if it is allowed to buy Time Warner. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

AT&T has suggested that it might not need Federal Communications Commission approval of its purchase of Time Warner Inc., but that may just be wishful thinking.

Some news organizations have reported that Time Warner has only one FCC license, for a TV station in Atlanta, and that the AT&T/Time Warner merger wouldn't be reviewed by the FCC if Time Warner sells that TV station to a third party. That is not correct, however. Time Warner programmers such as HBO, CNN, and Turner Broadcasting System also have dozens of FCC licenses that let them upload video to satellites used by pay-TV companies.

These licenses are crucial for distributing video to cable TV providers. It isn't only satellite TV companies like Dish or the AT&T-owned DirecTV that use satellites to send programmers' video to consumers' homes—even cable companies like Comcast use what's called a "headend in the sky" to receive and distribute video.

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“He’s not Edward Snowden,” lawyers for accused NSA contractor tell judge

10/26/2016 2:24pm

Enlarge (credit: Paul J. Richards / Getty Images News)

Defense attorneys representing Harold Martin, the former National Security Agency contractor accused of stealing a vast quantity of classified materials, have asked a more senior judge to review the decision that kept their client in federal custody.

On Tuesday, Martin’s federal public defenders filed a “motion to review detention order,” asking US District Judge Richard D. Bennett to overrule his more junior colleague’s decision last Friday to keep Martin behind bars.

In August, when Martin was arrested, investigators seized 50 terabytes' worth of data and many other printed and classified documents from Martin’s home in suburban Maryland. If all of this data was indeed classified, it would be the largest such heist from the NSA, far larger than what former contractor Edward Snowden took.

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Nintendo pins financial hopes on selling 2 million Switch consoles at launch

10/26/2016 1:50pm


Despite the company's recent return to profitability, Nintendo is still struggling to recapture the kind of robust financial health it showed just a few years ago. An unexpected windfall from the success of Pokemon Go and the one-time sale of the Seattle Mariners notwithstanding, Nintendo is now expected to bring in roughly one-third of the money it did at the peak of Wii-mania in 2009. That's thanks in part to absolutely dismal sales for the Wii U (the company plans to sell only 800,000 systems worldwide in the entire fiscal year), which led Nintendo to cut both its full-year revenue and operating income targets in an earnings release last night.

With the present looking pretty dismal financially, Nintendo is increasingly pinning its hopes of turning things around with its just-unveiled Switch console. That system is expected to ship 2 million units before the fiscal year ends in March, Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima said in remarks accompanying the earnings (as relayed by The Wall Street Journal's Takashi Mochizuki).

That 2 million system launch is smaller than the 3.06 million Wii U systems Nintendo shipped during its launch quarter in 2012. That comparison isn't too useful, though, since the Switch number will represent less than a month of sales, compared to about a month and a half for the Wii U's launch quarter. The Switch is also launching in March rather than the busy holiday season in which the Wii U launched.

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Dealmaster: Get a Dell XPS 8900 Skylake-powered desktop for $630

10/26/2016 1:40pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, we have a bunch of big deals to share. You can now get a Dell XPS 8900 desktop, complete with an Intel Skylake Core i7 processor, 2GB Nvidia GPU, 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive, for just $630. That's one of the best prices we've seen on a PC as powerful as this, especially considering this desktop comes preloaded with Windows 7 Pro and with a license to upgrade to Windows 10 Pro.

Check out the full list of other deals below, too.


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Liveblog: Apple’s first Mac event in ages starts October 27 at 1pm ET

10/26/2016 1:25pm

Enlarge (credit: Apple)

Apple's latest media event kicks off tomorrow, October 27, at 10am Pacific/1pm Eastern. After focusing primarily on the iPhone and Apple Watch at its event in September, Apple is expected to dedicate this one mostly to its aging Mac lineup.

This will be Apple's first onstage mention of Mac hardware since March of 2015, when the company unveiled its one-ported Retina MacBook. The only Mac updates to happen since then—the 2016 refresh of the MacBook and new 4K and 5K iMacs—were introduced more quietly via press releases and early reviews.

The MacBook Pro is expected to be the event's biggest announcement, and Apple itself has already leaked significant details about the laptop. It has a customizable OLED touchscreen in place of the row of function keys, and there's a Touch ID fingerprint sensor for authentication and Apple Pay. Aside from the 13- and 15-inch Pros, Apple is expected to announce another laptop in either the MacBook or MacBook Air families, and the company could potentially make announcements about the iMac and its other desktops.

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Wellness programs strong-arm employees into giving up health info, suit says

10/26/2016 1:12pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | BSIP)

Usually, it’s illegal for employers to ask you to fork over your private medical information, which protects you from discrimination based on a medical condition or disability. But new so-called wellness programs, aimed at curbing healthcare costs among employees, are making it harder and harder for employees not to give up that sensitive info. Some organizations, like AARP, an advocacy group for older Americans, say the practice has now crossed a line.

On Monday, AARP filed a lawsuit against the federal agency that sets the rules for those wellness programs, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). The suit argues that new rules set to take effect in 2017 will violate the anti-discrimination laws that protect the privacy of medical information because they set incentives to participate in the programs too high. That is, employees that don’t want to reveal their medical history could potentially miss out on thousands of dollars in health insurance deals—money some employees may not be able to refuse for personal financial reasons.

Thus, AARP members “face imminent harm flowing directly from the rules because the rules will cause them to either incur significant financial penalties or divulge… protected health and genetic information when they do not wish to do so,” the suit reads. “That information, once revealed, will never be confidential again.”

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More proof shows Hollywood insiders leaking movies on torrent sites

10/26/2016 1:04pm

Enlarge (credit: AFP via Getty Images)

A legal flap between Warner Bros. and a Hollywood talent agency once again shows that Hollywood insiders are leaking pre-release movies to BitTorrent file-sharing sites.

The latest evidence is spelled out in a copyright infringement lawsuit (PDF) brought this week by Warner Bros. against talent agency Innovative Artists.

The studio claims Innovative Artists effectively set up its own pirate site of DVD screeners and other movie rips on a shared Google drive folder. This, according to the lawsuit, led to watermarked screener copies of Creed and Heart of the Sea being uploaded to file-sharing sites.

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Six contractors have begun work on NASA’s gateway to deep space

10/26/2016 11:30am


NASA has a problem. It has a big rocket under development. It has a shiny new spacecraft to fly into deep space. And it has a cadre of brilliant astronauts waiting in a long line to fly beyond low-Earth orbit. But the SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft and crew members have nowhere to go—there is no Moon lander, and asteroids and Mars are too far away for now.

NASA plans to address its problem by parking a “deep space” habitat in a location near the Moon, which astronauts could visit and use to become acclimated to life beyond low-Earth orbit. President Obama mentioned deep space habitats earlier this month, when he reiterated his call for NASA to send humans to Mars. “I'm excited to announce that we are working with our commercial partners to build new habitats that can sustain and transport astronauts on long-duration missions in deep space,” Obama said.

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Ultra-thin, pixel-dense Surface Studio touchscreen PC will start at $2,999

10/26/2016 11:25am

Enlarge / Surface Studio.

Microsoft's first Surface-branded desktop PC now exists, and it is called the Surface Studio. Its cheapest model costs $2,999, with its highest-end model costing $4,199, and pre-orders kicked off today, October 26.

The PC, announced at Microsoft's Windows Creator Edition event, includes a 28" display with 13.5 million pixels at a 4500x3000 resolution; that's roughly 63 percent denser than a "4K" screen at 3840x2160 resolution. The 3:2 ratio screen is also an astonishing 12.5mm thick, and it can slide up and down on the device's hinge so that users can nearly flatten its orientation for the sake of drawing. Microsoft says the screen's counter-hinge will hold the screen in rigid orientation at any angle.

Surface Dial.

A new add-on device will ship alongside Surface Studio, dubbed Surface Dial. Placing the dial onto the screen lets artists immediately manipulate selections like color and other filters in graphic design apps. Microsoft describes the device as a companion to Surface Pen users, and if users don't place the Dial onto the screen, a UI circle can appear on the screen. However, it will also work as a more analog rewind-and-forward tool. At the event, this capability was shown off with pen strokes appearing gradually on a document for dramatic event.

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Surface Book i7: Microsoft’s laptop gets new 16-hour battery life

10/26/2016 11:16am


NEW YORK—Today, Microsoft announced the newest version of its Surface Book, the Surface Book i7. This new laptop takes some of the most crucial features of the original Surface Book and improves upon them. Most notable is the new battery life: Microsoft is promising up to 16 hours of battery life with the new Surface Book i7.

Panos Panay, Microsoft's head of Windows hardware, debuted the new laptop first by highlighting features the company knew its customers wanted: higher frame rates for gamers and better battery life for everyone. While he didn't announce specific spec information, Panay did say the i7 will have twice the graphics performance than the original hybrid laptop and 30 percent more battery life, which will allow it to last at least 16 hours on a single charge. Thanks to the name, we also know that its powered by Intel's Skylake i7 processor.

The exterior design of the Surface Book i7 looks nearly identical to the original Surface Book, but inside it has a new thermal system with a second fan. You won't be able to see those changes while you use the Surface Book i7, but Microsoft is hoping they make the experience of using the device even better. Otherwise, the laptop itself still sports the 2-in-1 design of the first Surface Book with a detachable PixelSense touchscreen, full keyboard, and compatible Surface Pen.

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Game streaming coming to Windows 10, and bitstream coming to Xbox One

10/26/2016 11:01am

Enlarge / Microsoft's Jen McCoy speaks about updates to gaming in Windows 10. (credit: Jennifer Hahn)

Microsoft's Windows Creator Update event included a brief segment about the company's game-specific updates. That Wednesday segment kicked off with an announcement that Windows will now come with live, online game-streaming capabilities built in.

These won't be powered by the popular game-streaming site Twitch, however, but by Beam, a very similar game-streaming service that Microsoft acquired in August. Instead of having to connect games to Beam's Web UI, PC gamers will be able to load the Windows "game bar" interface—which already exists in Windows 10 by pressing the Windows key and the G button—and pick a "Beam" streaming option.

Beam's Twitch-like functions are boosted by a stress on incredibly low latency, so viewers aren't buried behind a lengthy delay between when the action happens and when they see it. Beam also offers a gamification system that rewards viewers with "experience points," and these points can be spent on interface customizations and on placing votes for what a game streamer might do. Microsoft didn't unveil anything else about how its own games will more deeply link to the Beam interface and its voting system.

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Comcast sues Nashville to halt rules that help Google Fiber

10/26/2016 10:50am

(credit: Comcast)

Comcast yesterday sued the Nashville metro government and mayor to stop a new ordinance designed to give Google Fiber faster access to utility poles.

Comcast's complaint in US District Court in Nashville (full text) is similar to one already filed by AT&T last month. Both ISPs are trying to invalidate a One Touch Make Ready ordinance that lets new ISPs make all of the necessary wire adjustments on utility poles themselves instead of having to wait for incumbent providers like AT&T and Comcast to send work crews to move their own wires. The ordinance was passed largely to benefit Google Fiber, which is offering service in Nashville but says that it hasn't been able to deploy faster because it is waiting to get access to thousands of poles.

Nearly all the Nashville utility poles are owned either by the municipal Nashville Electric Service or AT&T. Because Comcast has wires on many of the poles, it has some control over how quickly Google Fiber can expand its network. When Google Fiber wants to attach wires to a new pole, it needs to wait for ISPs like Comcast to move their wires to make room for Google Fiber's.

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Windows 10 “Creator’s Update” will be coming for free this spring

10/26/2016 10:12am


NEW YORK—Although Microsoft has released a number of new Windows builds to members of its insider program since the August release of the Anniversary Update, so far these haven't contained much by way of substantial new features. The contents of the next major update to Windows 10 have remained largely unknown.

That changed today. At its NYC event, Microsoft revealed some—though the company stresses, not all—of what we should expect to see when the update is released next year. And as with the Anniversary Update, the "Creator's Update" will focus on various key areas such as productivity and gaming.

3D features

"3D" is a big deal in the Creator's Update, and Microsoft demonstrated the operating system's capability to quickly scan, modify, and print objects with 3D printers. The stated goal was to make "3D creation" as simple as the process is for taking a 2D picture or video. On stage, MS presenter Heather Alekson used HP's X3 Windows Phone to perform a quick walk-around scan of a sand castle, which then appeared on the phone as a textured 3D model.

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