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The Art of Technology
Updated: 12 min 19 sec ago

How Ars staffers landed (and lost) early jobs in tech

7/5/2015 1:00pm

One of the unique things about working at Ars is how many of the members of our editorial staff got their start working in technology—some in a very hands-on way. Ken Fisher, our fearless leader, worked in college IT while in graduate school; Peter Bright worked at the British Library in the digital preservation department, working to recover and safeguard digital data. And Lee Hutchinson was an enterprise architect at Boeing at one point (whatever that is).

But some Ars staffers got their starts in tech early—whether they were auspicious or not. When others were flipping burgers or working paper routes, we were pounding keyboards by the glow of CRTs (well, some of us are old enough to have used old tube-based monitors). And others stumbled into tech jobs in unexpected ways, setting us off on the courses that would lead to Ars.

Sean Gallagher, IT Editor So, do you know anything about computers?

Thanks to being at the right place at the right time on at least two occasions, I managed to stumble into a short but relatively successful career in IT. And it all starts in 1982.

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Hybrid hypercar happy hour

7/5/2015 11:00am

The car in the middle is a McLaren P1. The two cars either side are Porsche 918 Spyders.

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ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true}]);Earlier this week we published our review of BMW's i8 plug-in hybrid sports car. You should still read that piece, but the short take home is that it's an amazing car and you ought to buy one if you can. However, it's not the only game in town when it comes to plug-in hybrid sports cars, merely the cheapest. Ferrari, McLaren, and Porsche have all recently brought such cars to market. While they may beyond the reach of most of us, Alex Bellus (a good friend of Cars Technica) just conducted a photoshoot with a McLaren P1 and not one but two Porsche 918 Spyders. And because both Alex and Imola Motorsports (not to mention the cars' owners) are nice people, they've allowed us to share the results.

The two cars embody the two different corporate philosophies at work at McLaren and Porsche. The McLaren P1 brings to the road a lot of know-how and technology McLaren have learned from Formula 1, with a drag reduction system just like the F1 car (a button on the steering wheel changes the rear wing's angle of attack to let you go faster in a straight line). Porsche's 918 Hybrid also has racing roots—the naturally aspirated V8 engine is derived from the mid-2000s RS Spyder prototype racer—but by all accounts is a more thoroughly developed road car, no doubt a result of Porsche's much longer experience building road cars, as well as the fact that its larger production run (Porsche is building 918 918 Hybrids, compared to 375 McLaren P1s) gave the company a bigger budget to work with.

Sadly we've yet to log any time behind the wheel of either of these hybrid hypercars (or a Ferrari LaFerrari for that matter), so if you (or someone you know) happen to have one in your garage and want to see it featured on these pages, don't be a stranger.

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From the Wirecutter: The best consumer-grade Wi-Fi extender

7/4/2015 12:30pm

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

The winning EX6200 is much bigger than most of the other extenders we tested. The performance is worth it, but the EX6200’s size could affect where you place it in your home or apartment.

After spending a total of 110 hours researching 25 different Wi-Fi extenders (and testing 10 of them), plus analyzing reviews and owner feedback, we found that the $100 Netgear EX6200 is the best Wi-Fi extender for most people right now.  It costs as much as a great router and it shouldn't be the first thing you try to fix your Wi-Fi range, but it has the best combination of range, speed, flexibility, and physical connections of any extender we tested.

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Watch Ars try out E3’s virtual reality rigs—and see how dizzy we got

7/4/2015 11:00am
Ars gets a little VR barfy. Video by Jennifer Hahn (video link)

ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true}]);When virtual reality is done right, we at Ars Technica can't get enough. We loved walking around a room—albeit a small one with cords on our backs—with a HTC Vive headset on our heads and a SteamVR game loaded up. We are proud owners of a few Oculus Rift dev kits, and we are even more excited by the final retail model's redesign—not to mention the forthcoming, impressive "Touch" controllers.

But that's enough experience to also recognize VR at its worst. As a clunky, nascent form of gaming, VR-specific stuff already has enough hurdles, but new entrants to the space also must contend with the sheer barfiness enabled by its biggest failures—especially when real-life motion and joystick taps slam against each other and create vestibular disconnects.

Thus, we put together a video, filmed and edited by our own Jennifer Hahn, that reveals both the worst experiments at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo and the impressive attempts by other developers to grapple with VR's motion-sickness limits. There's not much footage of any of us on a stationary bicycle while wearing a VR headset, but rest assured, that one made us the barfiest of them all.

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Gallery: The Smithsonian traces technology from the cotton gin to the Game Boy

7/4/2015 10:15am

Ralph Baer's original "Brown Box" prototype, arguably the first ever TV video game, is a large part of the reason I wanted to check out this exhibit.

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When you think about the Smithsonian Institution museums in Washington DC, you probably think of a lot of dinosaur bones and musty old documents tracing the founding of the country. If you're really up on the organization, maybe you'll think of Dorothy's ruby slippers or the space shuttles and the Air and Space Museum.

What you probably don't think about is modern consumer technology. But a new wing at the Smithsonian's American History Museum hopes to change that. The "America Innovates!" section of the museum reopened on Wednesday with a number of exhibits explaining the history of American invention, from early farm tools to Silicon Valley (and a few major examples of technology that came across the ocean to America's shore, too). The wing features a number of rare and well-preserved items from the Smithsonian collection for perusal, including "Father of Video Games" Ralph Baer's workshop and his original "Brown Box" interactive video game prototype.

Just before the July 4 holiday, we took a trip to the museum to see what technological treasures are now on display for the American public. The above gallery of interesting gems barely scratches the surface; come on down to the National Mall in Washington DC to see more.

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Our favorite video games of 2015 (so far)

7/4/2015 9:00am

Thanks to a heatwave zapping parts of the United States, some of this weekend's Fourth of July celebrations may have fewer fireworks due to issues like burn bans. That's as good an opportunity as any to enjoy the kind of virtual pyrotechnics that video games can afford—all in air-conditioned rooms with no annoying mosquitos or in-laws buzzing around, at that.

As such, we're taking this mid-year opportunity to pick out our favorite video games of 2015's first half, but in Ars tradition, our list comes with an asterisk. We've asked our staffers, most of whom aren't dedicated games writers, to list any favorite game they played this year, and we've broken the answers down into two lists: games published in 2015 and games published at any point in time.

This isn't necessarily a "best of" list, but rather a list of the games we've made time to play while reporting on the wider world of tech. In many cases, the results include a serious helping of comfort food and old franchises, and they're all games that have survived repeat playthroughs as opposed to being propped up by nostalgia alone.

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Why don’t we drive more electric vehicles?

7/3/2015 6:03pm

One of the more challenging jobs the auto industry has right now is explaining to consumers that the future isn't going to be like the past. We desperately need to reduce vehicle carbon emissions in order to avoid turning the planet into a hellscape, and that means turning to cars with some kind of energy storage other than hydrocarbons we've dug up from the ground and then distilled. That's where people get confused and the message stalls, a problem laid out in a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences.

For many decades cars have been simple things with internal combustion engines. They burned gasoline or sometimes diesel and occasionally even liquified natural gas. Sometimes they had turbochargers or superchargers to ram more air into the combustion chamber, and very occasionally that combustion chamber was something odd like a Wankel rotary engine. Now, the need to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality means many more options when it comes to a vehicle's powertrain.

The array of options can be bewildering, says the National Academy of Sciences' report. Commissioned by Congress, it examines the hurdles to adopting plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). The Academy splits PEVs into four classes: Long-range battery EV (BEV)s like the Tesla Model S, short-range BEVs like Nissan Leaf, range-extended plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV)s like the Chevrolet Volt (which drive on electric power most of the time), and minimal PHEVs like the plug-in BMW i8 (which can perform short trips on battery power alone).

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Hear how Steve Ballmer bailed out Xbox after Red Ring of Death

7/3/2015 5:34pm

The Red Ring of Death threatened to destroy the Xbox 360 and the entire Xbox brand. Consoles were dying en masse. Microsoft didn't immediately know why, but it did know that it was a big problem. A plan was devised to fix gamers' hardware, but it wasn't going to be cheap: to provide the best possible experience for the unfortunate owners of expired hardware, units had to be overnighted to Microsoft, and then, once fixed, back to the waiting gamers. The total cost was estimated at $1.15 billion, $240 million of which was going to FedEx.

Peter Moore, now at EA but then head of Xbox, had to go to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in 2007 to ask for the money to salvage the console's reputation. Ballmer agreed, the Xbox 360 was saved, and it was a huge success.

The full story of the Red Ring of Death, and many other stories, can be heard in the latest edition of IGN's Podcast Unlocked. The show features three different Xbox heads: Xbox creator Seamus Blackley, the Xbox 360-era Peter Moore, and the current head of Xbox, Phil Spencer.

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Samsung sued for loading devices with unremovable crapware (in China)

7/3/2015 5:10pm

ShanghaiDaily reports that in China, Samsung will have some explaining to do about the amount of crapware it ships in its smartphones. The Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission has sued Samsung (and Chinese OEM Oppo) for loading up devices with crapware.

The commission studied 20 smartphones and said that many pre-installed apps were un-removable and eat into customers' data plans. The commission specifically calls out the Galaxy Note 3, which had 44 apps installed (stock KitKat with the full Google Play suite ships with 31 apps) and the Oppo Find 7a, which had a whopping 71 apps.

The lawsuit says that the companies didn't inform buyers of the included crapware, which infringed the consumer's right to know. The group wants a ruling that would make OEMs legally obligated to clearly label the included apps on the packaging and to provide consumers instructions for removing the apps. Samsung and Oppo have 15 days from the case's acceptance date to enter a defense.

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Pirate Bay founders: FBI has Prenda Law under investigation

7/3/2015 4:00pm

A federal judge referred the lawyers behind the Prenda Law "copyright trolling" scheme to investigators in 2013. Since then, there's been no indication of what stage an investigation is at, or if it's happening at all.

Now, two co-founders of The Pirate Bay have said they have reason to believe that an investigation is underway. Peter Sunde and Fredrik Neij each independently told the website TorrentFreak that Swedish authorities questioned them during their recent imprisonment.

The Prenda Law strategy was to sue large numbers of Internet users for downloading pornography and then settle fast for several thousand dollars. The scheme netted millions over the years, but it was shut down in 2013 after sanctions from US District Judge Otis Wright. Other judges have punished Prenda since then. The harsh results were appealed, but to no avail.

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A most unpatriotic YouTube hijacking: America the Beautiful

7/3/2015 2:33pm

Open-source hardware company Adafruit has received a copyright notice for a 4th of July-themed YouTube video.

The video is simple to the point of ridiculous: it features a rotating Arduino processor in front of an American flag. That's it. But music licensing company Rumblefish has claimed ownership of the song "America the Beautiful," which played in the video.

The claim is a reach, to say the least, since the lyrics of America the Beautiful date to a 19th-century poem and have long since passed into the public domain. As for the recorded music, Adafruit used a recording from the United States Navy Band, making the media a product of the federal government that can't be copyrighted.

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FDA moving to regulate e-cigarettes, “vaping” liquid nicotine

7/3/2015 1:40pm

Citing the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration is considering adding warning labels on liquid nicotine used in so-called electronic "vaping" devices and is also mulling a requirement for the liquid to be sold in child-resistant packaging.

"The continuing rise in popularity of electronic nicotine devices (ENDS), such as e-cigarettes, which often use liquid nicotine and nicotine-containing e-liquids, has coincided with an increase in calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms related to liquid nicotine poisoning and other nicotine exposure risks," the agency announced Tuesday.

The agency published its formal proposal in the Federal Register on Wednesday and provided the public 60 days to comment.

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BP engineer convicted of deleting Gulf spill text messages wins new trial

7/3/2015 1:28pm

A federal appeals court has ruled that a former BP engineer deserves a new trial on obstruction charges in connection to allegations that he deleted text messages detailing how much oil was spilling into the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Kurt Mix. YouTube

Kurt Mix, 52, was convicted in 2013 of deleting more than 300 text messages, some of which revealed the actual amount of oil being spilled. Investigators recovered most of the text messages and discovered that BP was telling the public a massively deflated figure regarding how much oil was being released.

The spill, which lasted three months, released some 134 million gallons of oil and soiled 1,000 miles of Gulf of Mexico coastline, according to a lawsuit against the company that was settled Thursday for $18.7 billion, the largest US legal settlement over an environmental disaster.

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The week in “iPhone 6S” rumors: Same body, faster LTE, still 16GB

7/3/2015 1:15pm

September is only two months away, and that means three things: summer will turn to fall, network TV shows will return from hiatus, and we'll probably get some new iPhones.

The iPhone rumor business is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year grind, but as we draw nearer to the actual release of new phones, the rumors tend to get more accurate. So accurate, in fact, that actual surprises at Apple's product events tend to be few and far between. Rather than re-post everything that comes across our desk, we'll periodically round up the best-sourced and most plausible rumors as they crop up. By the time September actually rolls around, we'll know most of what there is to know long before it's announced on stage.

It’s an “S” year

This shouldn't come as a surprise, but this year's iPhone likely focuses on internal changes, retaining the basic external design of the current iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. We'll settle on calling it the "iPhone 6S" since it follows in the footsteps of the iPhone 3GS, 4S, and 5S, though Apple has been known to shake up its products' naming schemes from time to time.

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Report: Better Android One devices to launch in India, cost $189

7/3/2015 12:59pm

According to a report from The Economic Times, the next wave of Android One devices is due out on July 14th in India—and they'll cost a lot more than the original versions.

The first wave of Android One devices launched in India in September 2014. The selection of low-end phones was supposed to help Android tackle "the next billion users"—people in developing countries who had never owned a smartphone before. The devices were spec'd about as low as possible—4.5-inch 480p screens, 1.3GHz MediaTek processors, and 4GB of storage—which gave them a really low price of about $105. According to the report, this new wave of devices sits a lot higher on the price spectrum: about $189 (Rs 12,000).

The first wave of Android One devices weren't popular with Indian users or handset vendors. Google designed the phones in collaboration with OEMs in China, then handed the plans to Indian OEMs and told them to build devices. Apparently the Indian OEMs didn't like being handed a Chinese design, so for this round, Google is working with Indian OEMs to design the phones. The report also says the program is shifting its focus from "first time users" to people who have had a smartphone before.

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Russian craft carrying ISS supplies successfully reaches orbit

7/3/2015 11:45am

After a number of failed attempts to get supplies up to the International Space Station, a Russian Soyuz rocket successfully carried a Progress supply vessel into orbit just after midnight US Eastern time. The Progress vessel was loaded with 2,750kg of food, fuel, and other supplies, which will eliminate any concerns about the ISS' habitability past October.

Shortly after launch, the Progress module reached orbit and successfully deployed its solar panels. For the next two days, it will orbit Earth until its speed relative to the ISS brings it into close proximity. NASA will show Sunday's docking live on NASA TV for anyone who happens to be awake at 3:30am Eastern time.

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Watch live: Solar Impulse set for noon Eastern time landing

7/3/2015 11:23am

After successfully making its way across the Pacific, Solar Impulse 2 is currently circling near Hawaii, set for an early-morning landing local time. The landing process is challenging due to the lightweight construction and low power of the aircraft. Solar Impulse 2 simply can't move forward fast enough to overcome significant winds, so conditions at the runway are critical to determining whether a landing can be made at all.

A livestream of the Solar Impulse landing.

The wing also needs support once it's no longer holding the aircraft aloft; on landing, this support is provided by team members on bicycles, who match the speed of the plane while helping hold the wing up. In other words—it's a landing worth watching. A livestream is embedded above.

UPDATE: Right on schedule, an incredibly smooth landing has finally given pilot André Borschberg the opportunity for a good night's (day's?) sleep.

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Fabled CD-playing, SNES-compatible “Play Station” prototype found in a box

7/3/2015 11:03am

At the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, Nintendo of America's then-chairman Howard Lincoln took the stage to reveal some unexpected news: the company was partnering with European electronics firm Philips to make a CD-ROM-based games console. While the announcement took everyone in the audience by surprise, Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi was the most shocked of all. Just the night before, he and several Sony executives had been demonstrating a product developed in partnership with Nintendo. It was to be the world's first hybrid console, featuring an SNES cartridge slot and a CD drive, with both formats available to game developers. That product, called "Play Station" (with a space), would never see the light of day.

Industry lore suggests that only 200 of the Play Station consoles were ever produced, and hardly anyone has actually seen one of the fabled consoles in the flesh. However, pictures of the legendary original Play Station surfaced on reddit yesterday (retrieved via Nintendo Life thanks to the current furore over on the site), showing the hybrid console in all its grey and yellowed-plastic glory.

The reddit user claims that the console was discovered in a box of items given to him from a friend of his father who used to work at Nintendo. The pictures show that the Play Station featured an SNES cartridge slot on top (technically a Super Famicom slot, because it's a Japanese model), complete with a small LCD display and buttons that appear to be used for controlling playback of audio CDs. The rear of the Play Station shows a variety of audio and video outputs, while the familiar SNES controller bears Sony branding.

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reddit revolts after site lays off “Ask Me Anything” employee [Updated]

7/3/2015 11:01am

Internet users who awoke Friday and tried to get their daily dose of reddit encountered some difficulty this morning, as an online protest that began Thursday afternoon continued at full boil. Many of the site’s "subreddits"—sections of the site dedicated to discussion of specific topics—have been set to "private" by their moderators, meaning that instead of links and pictures, visitors instead see something like this:

The site's "darkening" is being led primarily by its volunteer moderators. The first subreddit to go dark was the extremely popular /r/IAmA, the place where reddit’s famous "Ask Me Anything" question-and-answer chats are held with notable personalities. These chats, referred to as "AMAs," were typically facilitated by a full-time reddit employee named Victoria Taylor (/u/chooter on reddit). According to this post by /r/IAmA moderator /u/karmanaut, Taylor had been "unexpectedly let go from her position at reddit" some time on Thursday.

In his post, /u/karmanaut explained that Taylor was integral to the AMA process—assisting with scheduling, wrangling celebrity agents, and often going so far as to actually typing responses from celebrities who aren’t familiar with reddit’s interface—so her termination threw the operations of /r/IAmA into chaos. The site's moderators are unpaid volunteers with real-world jobs, and without the full-time staff support Taylor supplied, the moderators said they wouldn't be able to keep the daily scheduled AMAs flowing. While they attempted to figure out what to do, they took the entire /r/IAmA subreddit offline (interrupting an in-progress AMA with mathematician Edward Frenkel).

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Sports car with a social conscience: Ars reviews the BMW i8

7/3/2015 9:57am

Late last year, we reviewed BMW's i3, a range-extended plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) that impressed us despite its high price and limited range. That car is one half of BMW's i Project, a sub-brand created to showcase the company's vision of sustainable mobility. The i8 is the other half. It's a plug-in hybrid sports car made from carbon fiber and aluminum. As such, it looks like very little else on the road.

But if this is what sports cars are going to be like in the future, we're in for a real treat.

VIDEO: We explain just why the BMW i8 impressed us so much. Edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link) Design

Like its smaller city car sibling, the i8 combines a life module (the part you sit in) made out of carbon fiber joined to aluminum drive modules (the parts that make it go) clothed in thermoplastic body panels. Unlike the i3, it's a low-slung machine. The drive modules are mated to the front and back of the life module, and the car's 7.1kWh lithium-ion batteries run along the car's centerline (between the seats). Large butterfly doors open up-and-out, imbuing the car with even more visual drama—something it wasn't really lacking to begin with. This is a car that attracts attention. Introverts beware.

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