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SpaceX details its plans for landing three Falcon Heavy boosters at once

1/11/2017 3:49pm

Enlarge / A recent satellite view of SpaceX's Landing Zone 1 shows the single, large landing pad. (credit: Apple Maps)

As part of the process to gain federal approval for the simultaneous landing of its Falcon Heavy rocket boosters in Florida, SpaceX has prepared an environmental assessment of the construction of two additional landing pads alongside its existing site. The report considers noise and other effects from landing up to three first stages at the same time. After undergoing a preliminary review by the US Air Force, the document has been released for public comment.

First reported by NASASpaceFlight.com, the document offers some interesting details about the proposed launch and landing of SpaceX's heavy lift rocket, which the company hopes to fly for the first time in the spring or early summer of 2017. After previously demonstrating the ability to land a single Falcon 9 booster, SpaceX also hopes to land the three first-stage boosters that will power the Falcon Heavy for potential re-use.

The company states this reusability as its rationale for the new construction—reducing the cost of access to space. "This purpose continues to support SpaceX’s overall missions for NASA and the USAF," the document states. "The action continues to fulfill the U.S. expectation that space transportation costs are reduced in order to make continued exploration, development, and use of space more affordable."

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FAA ends Galaxy Note 7 notification, 96 percent of devices returned

1/11/2017 3:31pm

Enlarge / One of the early United Airlines warnings about the Note 7. (credit: Donald Sadoway)

If you've flown anywhere in the last few months, you've probably heard an announcement saying something like "Samsung Galaxy Note 7s are defective. You aren't allowed to turn them on or charge them on the plane, and they can't be in your carry-on luggage." After a defective Galaxy Note 7 exploded on a Southwest flight, the Federal Aviation Administration banned the device, and this warning has been made before every flight since.

Now It's looking like the end of the line for the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco. Samsung recently announced that 96 percent of Galaxy Note 7s have been returned, and in response, the FAA has decided to remove the requirement for airlines to make a Note 7 pre-boarding announcement.

The 96 percent return rate is thanks to the actions of Samsung and carriers, which, in addition to sending out plenty of notifications, have recently started remotely disabling Galaxy Note 7 units. If customers were stubborn about returning a defective device, they probably became a lot more interested in getting a replacement after their Note 7 became a useless brick.

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Thank you for donating over $38,000 in Ars’ annual charity drive

1/11/2017 3:21pm

Enlarge

Last week, I implored you all to give the last-minute donations that would make our tenth annual charity drive our most successful one ever. You did donate in record numbers, but we just barely missed setting a new record for total money donated.

All told, Ars Technica readers donated $38,738.11 to Child's Play and the EFF through our 2016 charity drive. That's just about $123 under the record-setting pace set in the 2015 drive, but well higher than every other year we've run the contest.

Over 660 of you donated this year, a new record that improves on the 615 that donated last year. That's includes more than 100 readers who were able to dig deep and give over $100, nearly matching last year's mark for "big" donors.

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DOJ indicts 6 Volkswagen executives, automaker will pay $4.3 billion in plea deal

1/11/2017 3:10pm

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The US Justice Department announced on Wednesday that Volkswagen would pay $4.3 billion in civil and criminal fines and plead guilty to three criminal charges pertaining to the automaker’s diesel emissions scandal. The DOJ also announced an indictment of six high-level VW Group executives, who are charged with lying to regulators and destroying documents.

Working with US Customs and Border Patrol, the DOJ brought against VW Group charges of defrauding the US government, committing wire fraud, and violating the Clean Air Act. As part of the settlement, VW Group has agreed to submit to three years of criminal probation, which will require the German automaker to "retain an independent monitor to oversee its ethics and compliance program." It has also agreed to cooperate with the DOJ's ongoing investigations into individual executives that may have been involved with the scandal.

For the past 17 months, the automaker has maintained that none of its executives were involved with the diesel scandal, in which illegal software was discovered on Volkswagens, Audis, and Porsches to alter the cars' emissions controls depending on whether the cars sensed they were under real-world driving conditions or lab conditions. Instead, VW Group claimed, "rogue engineers" were responsible for the placement of the emissions cheating software on the cars.

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See the iPhone’s early user interface in action, virtual click wheel and all

1/11/2017 2:45pm

The first iPhone was officially announced ten years ago this week, and the anniversary is generating a lot of nostalgia-fueled retrospectives and is unearthing interesting artifacts. Case in point, the video embedded above by sometimes-reliable Apple leaker Sonny Dickson shows off two competing early demos of the iPhone's user interface.

The two operating systems are referred to as "P1" and "P2." P1, on the left, uses an iPod-like user interface complete with virtual click wheel. Users would scroll through phone apps and settings much as they would on a mid-2000s iPod. P2, on the right, looks like barely more than a tech demo or a diagnostic mode, but it's entirely touch-controlled and uses the phone's entire screen to display content. Of the two prototypes, P1 boots much faster and looks more polished, but P2 is obviously the kernel that would eventually become the iPhone OS (and later, iOS).

Tony Fadell, one of the iPod's creators and the former CEO of Nest, tweeted some additional information that explains some of Apple's thinking and confirms the video's authenticity. Apple tried out a lot of different competing ideas when creating what would become the iPhone and iOS, and Steve Jobs requested that both iPod-style and all-touch versions of the operating system be designed. Fadell says that there was "no doubt in anyone's mind which was the right path," though. "Those on the iPod based UI knew it was doomed. [Jobs] pushed us, 'make it work!'"

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Fitbit continues to beef up smartwatch efforts with acquisition of Vector

1/11/2017 2:35pm

(credit: Vector)

Fitness wearables company Fitbit didn't announce any new products at CES 2017, and we didn't expect it to. However, just days after the show ended, news of a new acquisition has come out. Fitbit has purchased the European smartwatch startup Vector, which already has two devices in the luxury connected watches market. Both watches boast 30-day battery lives. A message on Vector's website confirms the acquisition but does not disclose how much Fitbit paid for the startup. Vector CEO Andrei Pitis also confirmed the news to TechCrunch and said Fitbit is acquiring the company for its "software platform and design team."

"We believe this is an important milestone as a moment when we will start building other new and amazing products, features, and experiences, incorporating our unique technology and knowhow with Fitbit’s experience and global community," the Vector team wrote on its website.

Vector came onto the scene in 2015 with its Luna and Meridian smartwatches that are compatible with Android, iOS, and Windows devices. Both watches have similar features: activity tracking, onboard apps, their own OS with discrete notifications and "streams" (or visuals of cherry-picked information from social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook), and an impressive 30-day battery life.

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Sole House Dem with computer science degree will “fight like hell” against Trump

1/11/2017 2:21pm

Enlarge / Rep. Ted Lieu, as seen in July 2016. (credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday, while much of Washington, DC’s political class was consumed by President-elect Donald Trump’s first press conference, the only Democrat with a computer science degree was named to the House Judiciary Committee. The House of Representatives has three other members who hold computer science degrees (all Republicans), but none of them sit on the Judiciary Committee.

Despite being a new face to Congress, over the last year, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Los Angeles County) has been very outspoken on issues pertaining to law enforcement and encryption. The Judiciary Committee, which helps guide law enforcement and judicial policy federally, has been one of the primary vehicles to attempt a revision of the balance between privacy and law enforcement needs. 

Rep. Lieu is also a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force Reserves, and he served for four years as a member of the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. The Congressman spoke out against efforts to weaken encryption during a subcommittee hearing in April 2015: "It is clear to me that creating a pathway for decryption only for good guys is technologically stupid—you just can't do that.”

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Aaron Swartz and me, over a loosely intertwined decade

1/11/2017 1:45pm

Aaron Swartz at the Creative Commons Salon, San Francisco, in 2006. (credit: Buzz Andersen)

January 11 is a somber day for many in the Ars community. On January 11, 2013, Aaron Swartz tragically took his own life as he continued to face hacking charges stemming from an attempt to liberate the JSTOR archives in 2011. Today, others continue to pursue his goals of open access for academic research and literature. So in remembrance of the man, we're resurfacing Cyrus Farivar's memories of Swartz that originally ran on January 12, 2013.

I don’t remember the first time I heard about Aaron Swartz. It probably was from reading Dave Winer’s blog more than 10 years ago when I was an undergraduate at UC Berkeley. The guy effused glowingly about Swartz as a young teenager.

“Aaron is the brightest 13 year old I've ever met on the Internet,” Winer wrote in February 2001. “It's not just bit smarts, he marshals power very well and is persistent. Eventually you come around to his way of thinking, or he comes around to yours. These are the essential ingredients in good technology. We're looking for the right answer, not to be proven right, or to prove the other guy wrong.”

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“Are we living in Nazi Germany?” Trump asks in response to “leak”

1/11/2017 12:04pm

Enlarge / President-elect Donald Trump at his news conference on January 11, 2017. (credit: PBS)

President-elect Donald Trump took to Twitter early Wednesday to blast the leak of unsubstantiated anti-Trump documents that touch on everything from Russia allegedly having leverage to extort him, to sexual escapades, and even to a potentially treasonous act.

The soon-to-be 45th president tweeted, "Intelligence agencies should never have allowed this fake news to 'leak' into the public. One last shot at me. Are we living in Nazi Germany." Later at a news conference Wednesday, he called the report "a disgrace," "fake news," "phony stuff," and "crap."

"It certainly never should have been released," he said.

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Mint 18.1 review: Forget about Wayland and get comfy with the command line

1/11/2017 11:45am

I knew it as soon as I crowned Fedora 25 the best distro of 2016—I was going to hear about it from Linux Mint fans.

How could I proclaim the best distro of the year before the latest version of Mint arrived? There's nothing like some guy on the Internet overlooking your favorite distro to make the hairs in your neckbeard start twitching angrily [/sarcasm]. I understand, it happens to me every time someone fails to recognize that Arch is the best distro of every year.

But I digress. There is a very simple reason I didn't pick Mint as the best distro of 2016, and I didn't even have to wait to test it: the reason is Wayland.

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$250 may be the magic number for Nintendo Switch

1/11/2017 11:40am

Enlarge / Early information suggests we should expect a starting price of around $250 for this little guy.

As we come ever closer to Nintendo's planned Switch announcement event on Thursday night and Friday morning, speculation is running rampant about how much Nintendo will charge for its unique hybrid portable/TV console. So far, a number of retail leaks are lending credence to industry expectations that the system's price will center around $250, perhaps with a deluxe version bundled with a game at $300.

To be sure, early prices posted in retailers' internal (or public) systems are often placeholders without any real information behind them. That said, the sheer number of retail-sourced leaks pointing to a price in the $250 range to $300 range is becoming significant. Those leaks now include:

These retail leaks are broadly in line with industry expectations for the Switch pricing. GamesIndustry.biz talked to analysts after the Switch's October unveiling, all of whom said $250 to $300 would be a "sweet spot" for the system, depending on bundled games, accessories, and hardware power levels. Dale at Let's Play Video Games says conversations she's had with industry watchers suggest we should expect a $250 to $300 price in the US as well. And a Nikkei "Reporter's Eye" analysis piece out of Japan also suggested this week that Nintendo should target a price of 25,000 yen (about $214) and that investors should be wary if it comes in above that price (despite some reports, Nikkei doesn't cite any insider sources in that report).

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Audi wows Detroit with the Q8, a hybrid flagship SUV coming in 2018

1/11/2017 9:04am

Video shot and edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

DETROIT, MICH.—Once upon a time, the flagship model in a car maker's line up—the car it packed with all the latest and greatest technology—was a large sedan. But change is afoot within the industry, and premium SUVs are selling like hot cakes. So it makes sense that Audi has decided to add a new model to its range, a super SUV arriving in 2018 called the Q8. To get the world ready for this new standard-bearer, it brought a thinly veiled concept to this year's North American International Auto Show.

The current Q7 SUV has been a huge sales success for Audi, so it's easy to see why the company made this decision. That doesn't mean it's going to do away with the A8 sedan; a new version of that car is due later this year. But the Q8 uses the same underlying platform and, we think, will find many more buyers thanks to the added practicality. It's a looker, too. The Q8 draws heavily on a pair of recent Audi concepts, the e-tron and h-tron, with plenty of styling cues pulled from the company's past. The flared wheel arches and the C-pillars intentionally call to mind the iconic Audi Quattro of the 1980s, for example.

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AMD Ryzen: The hype train is here, but should we get on?

1/11/2017 8:54am

Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton)

During AMD's "New Horizons" live stream, which served as a coming out party for the Ryzen CPU, the company showcased a brand new performance demo. It pitched a stock Intel Core i7 6900K processor—an eight-core Broadwell-E chip that retails for just shy of £1000/$1100—against an eight-core Ryzen CPU. Both chips were tasked with transcoding a short video clip into the "Apple TV 3" preset in Handbrake, a notoriously CPU-heavy workload that scales well across several cores. The result, according to AMD's demo, was a completion time of 54 seconds for Ryzen and 59 seconds for Broadwell-E; Ryzen was about 10 percent faster.

But the real kicker was that while the Broadwell-E chip ran with its standard boost enabled (up to 3.7GHz), the Ryzen chip was locked at its base clock of 3.4GHz. Not only did AMD claim to have caught up with Intel's multithreaded performance, it claimed to have surpassed it—and with TDP of just 95W compared to Intel's 140W.

Naturally, the Internet cried foul. Flick through the various subreddits dedicated to Zen, AMD, and Intel, and you'll find all manner of conspiracy theories about how AMD artificially capped performance on the 6900K by using a sub-par air cooler (it used the Intel-recommended part), or how there were differences in the video files used in the demo. Not all of these criticisms are without merit, of course. For example, it's not clear whether the Intel chip could have reached its full boost with all cores under heavy load. Or why not just lock the Intel chip at 3.4GHz for a straight IPC (instructions-per-clock) comparison?

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Aether Revolt review: New Magic set is powerful—if you can crack its puzzles

1/11/2017 8:44am

Enlarge (credit: Wizards of the Coast / Illustration by Svetlin Vellinov)

Magic: The Gathering continues its adventure in aetherpunk with the second half of the Kaladesh block, Aether Revolt (AER). As always, we’ve managed to spend some time with the set before its official release on January 20 and its prerelease on January 14-15. Read on for our full review.

The story thus far

Following on from Kaladesh last year, AER focuses on a classic conflict: corrupt authority versus a people’s rebellion. This is often a theme in traditional cyberpunk; Magic’s take on the formula is still a lot brighter and less cynical than the genre prescribes, but is a lot more blatant about making the government—the “Consulate”—the antagonists, compared to the first set's sparse hints. Cards like Thopter Arrest and Pacification Array hammer these themes home.

After a 2016 for Magic that was generally darker and edgier in tone, it’s good to see that this world hasn’t gone grimdark. AER manages to focus on conflict whilst still hitting the bright themes of Kaladesh: colour, ornateness, and most uniquely, the passion of invention and creation. This last point reflects on many Magic players; creating your own weird decks from unforeseen combinations is a big part of the fun.

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Nintendo Switch accessories hint at day-one launch of Zelda, fighting game

1/10/2017 7:03pm

DroidXAce

Normally, a giant printout of upcoming third-party game-console accessories isn't news. But when the system in question is the Nintendo Switch, which still hasn't received a full reveal, the newsworthiness of things like screen protectors and AC adapters increases.

On Tuesday, a French Twitter user posted over a dozen pages of an internal document from the game-peripheral company Hori, and it contained detailed "working concepts" for products relating to the upcoming Nintendo Switch console. (While the leaker said he was unsure about the documents' accuracy, at least one editor, from Let's Play Videogames, has vouched for the leak's accuracy.) Many of the details line up with what Nintendo already revealed in October, including a "March 2017" release window. Some of the tidbits tease launch possibilities.

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Longtime Apple programmer and Swift creator leaves Apple for Tesla

1/10/2017 5:56pm

Current Apple Director of Developer Tools Chris Lattner will be leaving the company for Tesla later this month. (credit: Chris Lattner)

Software developer Chris Lattner, creator of the Swift programming language and Apple's current director of the Developer Tools department, will be leaving the company later this month to become Tesla's new vice president of autopilot software. Lattner announced his departure to the Swift mailing list earlier today, just a few hours before Tesla made his hiring public.

Ted Kremenek, another longtime Apple developer who has been with the company since 2007, will be taking over Lattner's duties as Swift project lead.

Lattner has worked at Apple since 2005, and he's been involved in a lot of major tools and software initiatives over the years. His extensive resume lists many versions of Xcode going back to at least version 3.1, LLVM and the Clang frontend, OpenCL, LLDB, and Swift. He also did some work on macOS, helped tune software performance for the Apple A6 used in the iPhone 5, and helped with the transition to 64-bit ARM CPUs that began with the iPhone 5S. His resume shows a willingness to create, adopt, and evangelize new software and programming languages, which will no doubt be a component of his work at Tesla. He has also been a major proponent of Apple's open source work, driving the push to make Swift open source and communicating with the Swift community and steering its efforts.

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DOJ: Let’s make eyewitness identification more scientifically rigorous

1/10/2017 5:28pm

Enlarge / Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates (pictured here in 2015) announced the change in the photo array guidelines in January 2017. (credit: Washington Post / Getty Images News)

The Department of Justice has instituted new guidelines regarding identification in photo arrays of suspects, making the procedure more scientifically rigorous. Notably, these changes include a “blind” administration—where the person giving the exam doesn’t actually know who the actual suspect is—and recording the identification session.

The new guidelines, which were released last Friday, state:

There are times when such "blind" administration may be impracticable, for example, when all of the officers in an investigating office already know who the suspect is, or when a victim-witness refuses to participate in a photo array unless it is administered by the investigating officer. In such cases, the administrator should adopt "blinded" procedures, so that he or she cannot see the order or arrangement of the photographs viewed by the witness or which photograph( s) the witness is viewing at any particular moment.

These guidelines apply specifically to federal agencies including the FBI and the Drug Enforcement Agency, and not to local law enforcement.

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Don’t look now, but “Oculus Ready” PCs are getting relatively cheap

1/10/2017 4:33pm

The cost of an entry-level VR system like this has come down quite a bit.

Back when Oculus first launched the Rift VR headset almost a year ago, buying the headset and a minimum-specced computer that could actually power it would run you at least $1,500. Now, the "entry-level" price for PC-tethered virtual reality is already down to $1,100 as part of a new bundle deal.

As Radeon recently announced, CyberPowerPC's "Gamer Ultra VR" tower is now available in a Best Buy bundle with an Oculus Rift headset for just under $1,100 (or $500 for the PC and $600 for the Rift itself). Even without the bundle deal, the tower itself is selling for only $650, the cheapest price we've seen for a pre-built PC that's officially marked as "Oculus Ready."

Part of that price reduction since early 2016 is the normal march of technology making CPUs and GPUs cheaper as they get older. But a bigger part of the change is Oculus' "asynchronous spacewarp" technology, which the company announced in October as a way to calculate a spatial transformation that can fill in missing frames on lower-end hardware.

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Don’t have time to work out during the week? That’s actually OK

1/10/2017 4:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Guido De Bortoli )

Your workout schedule may have just gotten a lot more flexible: that is, whether you try to fit in a brisk exercise routine every day before dinner or just go big on the weekends after sitting at your 9-to-5 all week—it may not actually matter to your overall health.

Looking at the health data of about 64,000 adults over 18 years, British researchers found that any exercise—however little or infrequent—was still linked to reduced risks of death from cardiovascular disease and cancer. The findings, which appear this week in JAMA Internal Medicine, beef up the idea that there is no “right” way to dole out exercise in your weekly schedule and that there’s no threshold of activity at which health benefits kick in.

“Some leisure time physical activity is better than none,” the authors, led by exercise and health expert Gary O’Donovan of Loughborough University, concluded. More exercise is better, of course. But for those who hit overall weekly goals for activity, “frequency and duration [of workouts] did not matter,” in terms of achieving those health benefits.

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Shamoon disk-wiping attackers can now destroy virtual desktops, too

1/10/2017 3:49pm

Enlarge / A computer infected by Shamoon System is unable to find its operating system. (credit: Palo Alto Networks)

There's a new variant of the Shamoon disk-wiping malware that was originally unleashed on Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil company in 2012, and it has a newly added ability to destroy virtual desktops, researchers said.

The new strain is at least the second Shamoon variant to be discovered since late November, when researchers detected the return of disk-wiping malware after taking a more than four-year hiatus. The variant was almost identical to the original one except for the image that was left behind on sabotaged computers. Whereas the old one showed a burning American flag, the new one displayed the iconic photo of the body of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian refugee boy who drowned as his family tried to cross from Turkey to Greece. Like the original Shamoon, which permanently destroyed data on more than 30,000 work stations belonging to Saudi Aramco, the updates also hit one or more Saudi targets that researchers have yet to name.

According to a blog post published Monday night by researchers from Palo Alto Networks, the latest variant has been updated to include legitimate credentials to access virtual systems, which have emerged as a key protection against Shamoon and other types of disk-wiping malware. The actor involved in this attack could use these credentials to manually log into so-called virtual management infrastructure management systems to attack virtual desktop products from Huawei, which can protect against destructive malware through its ability to load snapshots of wiped systems.

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