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For better recall, try a work out four hours after learning something

6/19/2016 5:50pm

(credit: Nottingham Trent University)

To make sure you’ll be able to jog your memory quickly, you might want to go for an actual jog a little after learning something.

Healthy volunteers that exercised four hours after learning patterns had better recall 48 hours later than those that didn’t exercise at all or exercised directly after learning. The delayed exercise may spur the release of molecules that boost the brain’s normal ability to consolidate and bank memories for long-term storage, researchers report in the journal Current Biology. If the finding holds up in further studies, it may suggest that working out a little after cramming could help bulk up your noggin.

For the study, researchers had 72 healthy volunteers spend 40 minutes learning the location of 90 objects on a screen—like a cartoon beach ball on the center right. The researchers immediately tested how well each participant did learning the objects' locations, then split up the participants into three groups. One group went directly into a 35-minute interval training on a stationary bike (with an intensity of up to 80 percent of their maximum heart rate). The second group went into a quiet room and watched nature documentaries until it was time for their four-hour delayed workout. And a third group acted as the control group, which just watched nature documentaries and hung out—but didn’t work out—in the gym.

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A shocking end to the 84th 24 Hours of Le Mans robs Toyota of victory

6/19/2016 5:20pm

Race leader Kazuki Nakajima of Toyota Gazoo Racing suffers engine problems with less than 3 minutes to run of the Le Mans 24 Hour race handing victory to the Porsche Team.

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The 24 Hours of Le Mans holds a special place in our hearts. More than any other race, it's a crucible in which new technology is forged, technology that's directly relevant to the cars you or I drive on the road. And for 23 hours and 57 minutes, this year's race belonged to Toyota Gazoo Racing, which put on a fine show with its pair of TS050 hybrid race cars. But racing can be a cruel, cruel sport—something I know all too well—and this year was crueler than most.

The race got underway on Saturday during torrential rain, with the first 50 minutes or so conducted under a safety car as the ACO (the race organizers) waited for the track to dry sufficiently for things to get going properly. At the front of the field the battle for the overall win was one fought between Porsche and Toyota with their hybrid LMP1 prototypes. Both of Audi Sport Team Joest's R18 hybrids faltered early on, as did the #1 Porsche 919 Hybrid, but the remaining three cars (the #5 and #6 Toyota TS050s and the #2 Porsche) stayed in close contention with multiple lead changes between them throughout the course of the race.

The #5 Toyota of Sebastien Buemi, Anthony Davidson, and Kazuki Nakajima looked set for victory after a strong performance in the final quarter of the race. The Toyotas were able to run for 14 laps between fuel stops—one more than either the Audis or Porsches, and the #5 stretched a lead over the #2 Porsche 919 Hybrid (Neel Jani, Romain Dumas, and Marc Lieb) and its sister TS050 (Mike Conway, Stéphane Sarrazin, and Kamui Kobayashi) until it all went tragically wrong halfway around the penultimate lap. A third of the way down the Mulsanne Straight, with Nakajima at the wheel, the #5 Toyota started losing power. In short order, its 50-second lead over the Porsche evaporated, and the car came to a halt just past the finish line—with three minutes still on the clock.

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Review: Airmail, an e-mail client that I don’t hate

6/19/2016 2:00pm

All your email. Threaded by conversation

E-mail clients are a personal thing. Something I love is not necessarily something you love, and I'm okay with that. Maybe I'm just picky, but I am an equal opportunity hater when it comes to email clients, and I've tried quite a few. A couple of years ago I stumbled upon Airmail and never looked back. Bloop just released Airmail version 3.0 last month.

Back in the day I used Eudora, but I've also used Thunderbird, Outlook, and Apple's own Mail client. In Mac OS 9 days, I even tried out a client called Nisus Email. There are many more that have briefly messed up my inbox and then gone. I don't mind paying for an e-mail client, but it has to do its job the way I want it to. So what do I want it to do?

The first thing is that it should not be integrated with its own calendar or to-do list. This sounds strange, but I often find myself reading an e-mail that has a list of dates and times for a possible event. In an integrated client, I have to flip back and forth between tabs to really check those dates. Sure, you can usually get a mini-calendar to one side, but then you have to click through day-by-day. If the applications are separate, I can put them side by side and get a much clearer view. This works especially well when I have more than a single screen available.

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Dogs rule, cats… may cause you to drool, and tiny turtles make kids sick

6/19/2016 1:03pm

(credit: M. Noth)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sounding the alarm over a recent uptick in outbreaks of turtle-related infections. Outbreaks in these infections largely involve kids.

Specifically, the wee, shelled reptiles sparked 15 multistate outbreaks of Salmonella infections between 2006 and 2014. According to the CDC's report in this week's edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases, turtles caused a total of 921 illnesses, 156 hospitalizations, and the death of an infant. The median age of a those sickened in the 15 outbreaks was 10.

The agency noted that the outbreaks seem to be increasing since 2006, with eight in 2012 alone. And according to another recent CDC report, there were four additional multistate outbreaks between January 2015 and April 2016, sickening 133 people in 26 states. Forty-one percent of cases in those four outbreaks were kids under the age of five.

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Two catalysts efficiently turn plastic trash into diesel

6/19/2016 12:00pm

(credit: Kevin Krejci)

Plastics are great. They can take any shape and serve an endless variety of roles. But... the beginning and end of a plastic’s life are problematic. While some plastics are made from renewable agricultural products, most are derived from petroleum. Plastics are not as easy to recycle as we'd like, and a huge percentage ends up in landfills (or the ocean), where they can be virtually immortal.

The easy way to recycle plastic is to just rip it up, melt it down, and pour a new mold. But that only works when the plastic is all the same chemical type, which is a level of purity you rarely find in a recycling bin. Without separating plastics precisely into different types, you get a mixture that is much less useful than pure plastics. We’re limited in what we can make out of it. Other methods for recycling plastics require serious energy input, like high pressure and temperatures over 400°C. That can produce a variety of hydrocarbon compounds, but they can be difficult to work with.

Recently, a team led by Xiangqing Jia of the Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry decided to try some chemical tricks to turn some of these plastics into something useful, even if it’s not more plastic. They worked with polyethylene, which makes up the majority of the plastic we use. Polyethylenes are essentially long chains made of repeating links of carbon, with hydrogen hanging off the side. The challenge is to break that resilient chain into shorter pieces so we can use the pieces to make other compounds.

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Do we really need humans to explore Mars?

6/19/2016 11:00am

NASA makes the case that humans offer decided advantages over robots. (credit: NASA/KSC)

The dazzling sunlight that flooded the lake-front restaurant where I sat down with Chris Kraft in 2014 was nothing compared to the brightness in his eyes. He'd just turned 90 and was frustrated that NASA hadn't flown any humans beyond low-Earth orbit since he was the agency's first flight director during Apollo. As much as anyone else, Kraft had built NASA and put men on the moon. You would think he'd want to see humans on Mars soon. Instead, he spent the next 90 minutes eating pasta and explaining that Mars, for now, is best left to robots.

NASA’s justification for sending humans to Mars has something to do with jump-starting the search for life while furthering research and exploration on the red planet. However, even under the space agency’s most wildly optimistic plans, humans will not reach the surface of Mars until the late 2030s. During his lifetime, Kraft has watched the increasing sophistication of robots and artificial intelligence. He imagines that this progress will continue apace or even accelerate. With these trends, the robots and rovers of the 2030s will certainly have some impressive capabilities. If so, why should NASA spend 20 to 40 times as much to send humans to Mars when robots could be almost as able, at a fraction of the cost?

The human rationale

It’s a question perhaps best answered by one of the space agency’s foremost modern explorers, John Grunsfeld. Not only was Grunsfeld a five-time flier on the space shuttle and chief repairman of the Hubble Space Telescope, he also served as the agency’s chief scientist. I had a chance to put the question to Grunsfeld before he left NASA this spring.

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Catching up with the guy who stole Half-Life 2’s source code, 10 years later

6/19/2016 10:00am

(credit: Valve)

At 6am on May 7, 2004, Axel Gembe awoke in the small German town of Schönau im Schwarzwald to find his bed surrounded by police officers bearing automatic weapons.

One officer barked: "Get out of bed. Do not touch the keyboard." Gembe knew why they were there. But, bleary-eyed, he asked anyway.

"You are being charged with hacking into Valve Corporation's network, stealing the video game Half-Life 2 , leaking it onto the Internet, and causing damages in excess of $250 million," came the reply. "Get dressed."

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When everything else fails, amateur radio will still be there—and thriving

6/19/2016 9:00am

(credit: Getty Images)

It’s a good time to be technical. Maker communities are thriving around the world, tools and materials to create and adapt are cheaper and more powerful now than ever, and open source hardware, software, and information mean that if you can think it, you can learn how to do it and then make it happen.

For one group of technological explorers, this is more than just a golden age of opportunity: it’s providing the means to save one of the oldest traditions in electronic invention and self-education, one that helped shape the modern world: amateur radio. That matters.

Radio amateurs get a sweet deal, with effectively free access to many gigahertz of the same radio spectrum that companies pay billions for. They’ve earned it. Throughout the history of electronics, they’ve been at the borders of the possible, trying out ideas that commerce or government deem impossible or pointless—and making them work. One example of hundreds: Allied military comms in World War II needed a way to reliably control the radios used by front-line forces, replacing tuning knobs with channel switches. Hams had the answer ready and waiting: quartz crystal oscillators. (That's part of computing history too—you’re probably using about ten of them right now.).

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Blue Origin attempts to land New Shepard with two parachutes [Updated]

6/18/2016 4:10pm

"Hey guys, do you think we can land with just two of those?" (credit: Blue Origin)

Update: Blue Origin completed what it characterized as an "impeccable" mission test. During the 10-minute flight the rocket and spacecraft performed as anticipated, and the New Shepard capsule made a reasonably soft landing given that one of its three parachutes intentionally failed. A replay of the mission can be seen in the webcast embedded below.

Original story: On Sunday morning, Blue Origin plans to continue pushing the capabilities of its New Shepard launch system, as well as the boundaries of the company's own transparency.

The company conducted the first two flights of New Shepard, which consists of a propulsion module and a capsule that can make a suborbital flight, in secret, only announcing the results afterward. During the third flight in April, founder Jeff Bezos announced the launch from west Texas in advance and live-tweeted its progress. Now for the vehicle's fourth flight, Blue Origin plans a webcast, set to begin at 9:35am ET, with liftoff planned for 10:45am ET (3:35pm UK time).

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Smile, you’re in the FBI face-recognition database

6/18/2016 3:50pm

(credit: National Institutes of Health)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation has access to as many as 411.9 million images as part of its face-recognition database. The bulk of those images are photographs of people who have committed no crime, according to a new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The report says the bureau's Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation Services Unit contains not only 30 million mug shots, but also has access to driver license photos from 16 states, the State Department's visa and passport database, and the biometric database maintained by the Defense Department.

The GAO report, titled "FACE RECOGNITION TECHNOLOGY: FBI Should Better Ensure Privacy and Accuracy," comes nearly two years after the bureau said its facial recognition project graduated from a pilot project to "full operational capability." The facial recognition project is combined with a fingerprint database. Here's how the GAO report summarized the program:

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E3 in photos: Blimps, porn, and LEGO towns at the USA’s largest games expo

6/18/2016 1:00pm

LOS ANGELES—Another E3 is officially in the books, and we at Ars are still forming opinions and parsing the real content from the hype and illusions. While we work on writing impressions and picking conference favorites, please enjoy our gallery of photos from the event's weirdest and largest stations. Click through to see selections from all three major publishers, along with a mix of indie fare, weird costumes, and, er, sex toys as game controllers.

Don't worry, the giant NES controller was back this year.

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These galleries are missing a few photos, including shots from EA's off-site event, as well as photos and videos we've already included in other E3 pieces, like our hands-on look at the new Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, coming in 2017 for Wii U and Nintendo NX.

We've included an additional gallery for any of you who want a better look at Microsoft's new Xbox Design Lab, which lets fans pick and choose colors and accents for every element of an Xbox One controller. It's one thing to see the product's website, but getting to handle the controllers and see how the colors pop is another. Full disclosure: Ars' Sam Machkovech placed an order after going hands-on with these suckers.

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Self-driving tractors and data science: we visit a modern farm

6/18/2016 12:00pm

This tractor is planting seeds according to a precise GPS-based map of the field.

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Despite misperceptions to the contrary, farming in the 21st century is a high-tech endeavor. We're not just talking about genetically modified crops or biotech-derived pesticides though; farm vehicles like tractors and combines are now networked to the cloud and in many cases are even capable of driving themselves. To find out more about what the modern technofarm is all about, I drove up to Clear Meadow Farm in Harford County, Maryland to meet farmer Greg Rose and his self-driving John Deeres.

Rose and his family have been farming in the area for decades, and Clear Meadow is an 8000-acre farm that grows corn, soy, wheat, barley, sunflowers and sorghum in addition to raising Black Angus cattle (which you might find in Whole Foods). "We first dipped our hand into precision agriculture with yield monitors in 2000," Rose told me as I checked out a gigantic combine, its tires taller than me. His description of the job is as much data science as it is field work. Complex field maps are informed by a multitude of sensors from different farm machines, all gathering data to feed it to Rose via the cloud. The setup allows for extremely precise seed and nutrient prescriptions that can vary multiple times across the same field.

"The combine has load sensors in it that sense the volume of crop coming in, recording that as you go across the field," Rose said. That tells him how many bushels per acre each field is producing, data that gets fed into multi-year maps of each field that are color-coded to indicate different yields. "We take several years of data and make composite maps of a given field, then divide it into zones. You can manage those zones individually—taking soil samples to measure nutrient levels, and from there you know how much nutrients you need to apply in different areas," he told Ars.

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Lawyers who yanked “Happy Birthday” into public domain now sue over “This Land”

6/18/2016 11:00am

Woody Guthrie published "This Land" in 1945.


The lawyers who successfully got "Happy Birthday" put into the public domain and then sued two months ago over "We Shall Overcome" have a new target: Woody Guthrie’s "This Land."

Randall Newman and his colleagues have filed a proposed class-action lawsuit against The Richmond Organization (TRO) and Ludlow Music, the two entities that also claim to own the copyright for "We Shall Overcome."

The new suit is filed on behalf of a Brooklyn, New York-based band, Satorii, which obtained a license (at $45.40 for the privilege) to record a version that they sell as a download. However, the band has recorded another version with a different melody, and the musicians are concerned that they'll be sued over it.

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Ross Ulbricht created Silk Road and deserved life sentence, DOJ argues

6/18/2016 10:15am

This is what Silk Road looked like during its heyday. (credit: US DOJ)

Nearly five months after convicted Silk Road druglord Ross Ulbricht filed his opening brief in the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, the government finally responded with its own brief late Friday evening. The government included over 200 pages of exhibits from the trial.

The 186-page reply rebuts, point-for-point, defense attorney Joshua Dratel’s claims that

  • his client wasn’t the primary operator of the notorious underground website,
  • that Ulbricht’s defense was hampered by two corrupt federal agents,
  • that Dratel was not adequately able to cross-examine government witnesses, and
  • that two witnesses were unable to testify on Ulbricht’s behalf, denying him constitutional rights, among other arguments.

After a lengthy recap of the entire case, United States Attorney Preet Bharara opened his arguments with a notable flaw in Ulbricht’s logic:

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Review: Greedy, Greedy Goblins delves deep for chaotic board game fun

6/18/2016 10:00am

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage right here—and let us know what you think.

Richard Garfield, the mad genius behind complex games like Magic: The Gathering and Netrunner, has seen renewed success in the last few years with family-oriented titles like the terrific monster-fest King of Tokyo and its sequel, King of New York. So it's perhaps not surprising that Garfield has gotten even lighter and more chaotic with his new board game, Greedy, Greedy Goblins, which ditches turns altogether.

You, as one of the titular goblins, are encouraged to delve deeply into the eight mines open at the start of every round. Gameplay is simple enough: pick a tile from the pool in the center of the table and place it facedown on any one of the mines. Then pick up another tile and repeat. Meanwhile, everyone else at the table does the same simultaneously (and as quickly or slowly as they like), so mines steadily fill with hidden monsters, treasures, and explosives. When you wish to claim a mine, simply play one of your three goblin tokens on it; no one can add any further tiles. Once all mines are claimed, the tiles get flipped over and their effects are applied to whoever owns that mine. Gain enough gold coins across multiple rounds and you win.

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Reasoning poetically to tackle The Big Picture

6/18/2016 9:00am

(credit: Penguin Random House)

The title of physicist Sean Carroll’s latest book, The Big Picture: On the Origins of Life, Meaning, and the Universe Itself, is proof of its ambition. This book wants to tie together, well, everything. That’s no surprise; many popular science books have wide scopes and aim to tie together disparate scientific information.

But The Big Picture is more philosophical than scientific, which is a bit of a departure for Dr. Carroll. Another of his books, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time, is equally ambitious but heavy on the science. That book was largely about examining and weighing various scientific possibilities. His new book takes a step back and asks how we should be thinking about these possibilities in the first place.

But don’t be discouraged if you prefer science over philosophy: Carroll seamlessly weaves the two together. The Big Picture lives up to its title. It starts at the Big Bang, explains how time works (drawing on ideas from Carroll's previous book), passes through chemistry, biology, computer science, evolution, abiogenesis (the study of how life on Earth started), quantum mechanics, and neuroscience, all before finally arriving at a discussion of how consciousness is possible.

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Scientific publishers are killing research papers

6/18/2016 8:00am

If I were to summarize the ideal scientific paper in four sentences, it would look like this:

  • Look at this cool thing we did.
  • This is how we did the cool thing.
  • This is the cool thing.
  • Wasn't that cool?

We like to think that the standard format (not to be confused with the Standard Model) was beautifully followed in days of yore. Nowadays, of course, it is not. Because things always get worse, right? In reality, scientific papers have always looked more like this:

  • Look at this cool thing we did, IT IS REALLY COOL, BE INTERESTED.
  • This is how we did the cool thing (apart from this bit that we "forgot" to mention, the other thing that we didn't think was important, and that bit that a company contributed and wants to keep a secret. Have fun replicating the results!).
  • This is the cool thing.
  • This thing we did is not only cool, but is totally going to cure cancer, even if we never mentioned cancer and, in fact, are studying the ecology of the lesser spotted physicist.

Call me cynical, but missing information in the methods section, as described in the parenthetical in item two, really, really bugs me. I think it bugs me more now than it did ten years ago, even though I'm no longer the student in the lab who's stuck with filling in the missing methods himself.

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Microsoft tests new tool to remove OEM crapware

6/17/2016 5:20pm

Windows 10 already includes ways to clear out applications and data to repair misbehaving systems or prepare them to be sold, courtesy of the Refresh and Reset features added in Windows 8. Microsoft is now adding a third option: a new refresh tool.

Currently available only for Windows Insiders, the new tool fetches a copy of Windows online and performs a clean installation. The only option is whether or not you want to preserve your personal data. Any other software that's installed will be blown away, including the various applications and utilities that OEMs continue to bundle with their systems.

The tool is currently in preview and has some quirks; it installs a preview build from the fast track, but Microsoft notes that the new tool can sometimes install a version older than the one currently installed. When this kind of version mismatch occurs, the option to preserve your files is removed.

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Bird brains are dense—with neurons

6/17/2016 4:50pm

What do you think they're using all those neurons for? (credit: Flickr user Teddy Llovet)

Birds are smart. They use tools, engage in social learning, plan for the future, and do a variety of other things that were once thought to be exclusively the stuff of primates. But hundreds of millions of years of evolution separate mammals and birds, and structurally, their brains look very distinct. Plus there's the whole size thing. If you look at a bird's head, it's clear that there's not a whole lot of space for mental hardware in it. So how do the birds manage with smaller brains?

While other studies have tackled a lot of the structural differences, a new one released this week in PNAS shows that, to some extent, size doesn't matter. Its authors show that birds pack neurons into their brains at densities well above densities in mammals' brains, putting some relatively compact bird brains into the same realm as those of primates when it comes to total cell counts.

And the funny thing is, we probably should have known this was the case.

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The PlayStation VR launch games: What’s good and what’s bad?

6/17/2016 4:30pm

Mark and Sam discussing the PlayStation VR launch games lineup at E3. (video link)

Sony has recruited the fledgling indie studio Impulse Gear to build a game for the company's new PS VR "Aim" controller. After spending some time with Farpoint, it's one of those rare, solid demos that made me seriously contemplate buying an unnecessary accessory. As someone who has grown weary of useless plastic tat cluttering up my living room, that’s no small praise.

You may recall the PS3's Sharp Shooter attachment, which was mostly a shell that players would stick a PlayStation Move wand into to resemble a gun, but this new VR Aim accessory is its own dedicated, wholly moulded piece of kit. As a result, the gun feels really sturdy—and has more comfortable button placement (plus, it now has two analogue sticks, as opposed to the Sharp Shooter's single joystick).

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