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2018-07-19T09:50:51.461Z
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{"feed":"ars-technica","feedTitle":"Ars Technica","feedLink":"/feed/ars-technica","catTitle":"Technology","catLink":"/cat/technology"}
Simple robots have been part of chemistry for years. (credit: Greg Russ) Chemistry is a sort of applied physics, with the behavior of electrons and their orbitals dictating a set of rules for which reactions can take place and what products will remain stable. At a very rough level, the basics of these rules are simple enough that experienced chemists can keep them all in their brain and intuit how to fit together pieces in a way that ultimately produces the starting material they want. Unfortunately, there are some parts of the chemical landscape that we don't have much experience with, and strange things sometimes happen when intuition meets a reaction flask. This is why some critical drugs still have to be purified from biological sources. It's possible to get more precise than intuition, but that generally requires full quantum-level simulations run on a cluster, and even these don't always capture some of the quirks that come about because of things like choice of solvents and reaction temperatures or the presence of minor contaminants. But improvements in AI have led to a number of impressive demonstrations of its use in chemistry. And it's easy to see why this works; AIs can figure out their own rules, without the same constraints traditionally imparted by a chemistry education. Now, a team at Glasgow University has paired a machine-learning system with a robot that can run and analyze its own chemical reaction. The result is a...
Almond milk (credit: Amazing Almonds) The US Food and Drug Administration seems to have soured on nondairy milk-alternative products that use the term “milk” in their marketing and labeling—like popular soy and almond milk products. In a talk hosted by Politico, FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced Tuesday that the FDA will soon issue a new guidance on the use of the term. But he added that products aren’t abiding by FDA policies as they stand now. He referenced a so-called “standard of identity” policy that regulates how milk is defined and should be identified. “If you look at our standard of identity—there is a reference somewhere in the standard of identity to a lactating animal,” he said. “And, you know, an almond doesn’t lactate, I will confess.”

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Enlarge / Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., holds his phone after the morning session at the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, on Friday, July 13, 2018. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images) Last week, Facebook invited some media outlets to an event to hear what the company plans on doing about misinformation disseminated on its platform. But many journalists, including CNN's Oliver Darcy, were left dissatisfied with Facebook's response. Facebook invited me to an event today where the company aimed to tout its commitment to fighting fake news and misinformation. I asked them why InfoWars is still allowed on the platform. I didn't get a good answer.https://t.co/WwLgqa6vQ4 — Oliver Darcy (@oliverdarcy) July 12, 2018 So why won't Facebook ban sites that peddle obviously false information, like InfoWars?

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Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. We'll be honest: the Dealmaster is still a bit woozy from the flurry of deals Amazon Prime Day threw at him. But today is a new day, which means there are new deals to discover. Or, in this case, old deals—we're checking back in a bit sooner than usual this week to lay out a few Prime Day deals that are still live even after the official end of Amazon's event. To boot, many of them don't require a Prime subscription. To keep things tidy, we're also including deals from retailers beyond Amazon, since a few sales events that ran counter to Prime Day are still ongoing. While some higher-profile deals have died down, good discounts can still be found on Samsung SSDs and microSD cards, the Apple Watch, DJI drones, and more, plus you can find a few new offers on Xbox memberships. Have a look for yourself below. The Dealmaster will see you on his regular schedule next week.

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The Rotem "suicide drone" in action. In early July, Israel Aerospace Industries demonstrated the Rotem UAS—a proof-of-concept quadcopter drone capable of providing both airborne surveillance and an explosive punch. The lightweight drone, which can be carried in a backpack and flown by one person, comes with a "combat head" that turns it into a guided weapon. Rotem folds down into a package 38 inches long, 7 inches wide, and 5 inches high. According to a report from Israel Defense, the drone has a number of "automated modes." It has automatic take off and landing control, an emergency "return home" feature, and can navigate to a given set of coordinates or follow a pre-specified route without operator interaction. It can also be put into automated observation and attack modes once a target is designated, and the drone can "safe ditch" and disable its warhead if an attack is aborted. A number of fixed-wing "loitering munitions" have been produced in the past, such as Aeronautics Defense Systems' Orbiter 1K—a suicide drone that drew unwanted attention when Aeronautics' live-fire sales demonstration to Azerbaijan turned into an attack on an Armenian military position. In the US, Textron developed Battlehawk—essentially a fixed-wing loitering hand grenade—in 2013. And the US Army started purchasing the tube-launched fixed-wing Switchblade from AeroVironment back in 2011.

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(credit: Lawrence Berkeley Labs) When you install rooftop solar panels, the electricity you create cuts into the amount of electricity the utility must provide to meet your needs. Add up the reduced demand of all the homes with solar panels, and you've got a pretty sizable amount of electricity that's no longer needed. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) quantified that reduced demand and found that solar panels installed between 2013 and 2015 in California saved utilities from having to purchase between $650 million and $730 million worth of electricity. Those avoided purchases create slack in demand, pushing wholesale prices lower. Lower wholesale prices "should ultimately reduce consumers’ costs through lower retail rates," the researchers write (although whether and how those savings get passed on to retail customers is not discussed in the paper).

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Blue Origin live video With its ninth flight test, the New Shepard launch system put on quite a show on Wednesday morning. Flying from West Texas, the rocket and spacecraft ascended toward space before separating after about 2 minutes and 40 seconds. Then, three minutes into the flight, the spacecraft's escape motor fired to pull the spacecraft rapidly upward and away from the booster. This dramatic test pushed the spacecraft higher into space than it had ever been before, reaching an altitude of 119km. Engineers at Blue Origin wanted to see whether the capsule's reaction control system (RCS) thrusters could stabilize the spacecraft in the space environment, and from all appearances the RCS system did just this. After about 11 minutes of flight, the spacecraft returned to Earth. The rocket, too, made a safe return to Earth.

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USB Type-C, the most exciting boring connector in the industry right now. (credit: Andrew Cunningham) Future generations of virtual reality headsets for PCs could use a single USB Type-C cable for both power and data. That's thanks to a new standardized spec from the VirtualLink Consortium, a group made up of GPU vendors AMD and Nvidia, and virtual reality rivals Valve, Microsoft, and Facebook-owned Oculus. The spec uses the USB Type-C connector's "Alternate Mode" capability to implement different data protocols—such as Thunderbolt 3 data or DisplayPort and HDMI video—over the increasingly common cables, combined with Type-C's support for power delivery. The new headset spec combines four lanes of HBR3 ("high bitrate 3") DisplayPort video (for a total of 32.4 gigabits per second of video data), along with a USB 3.1 generation 2 (10 gigabit per second) data channel for sensors and on-headset cameras, along with 27W of electrical power. That much video data is sufficient for two 3840×2160 streams at 60 frames per second, or even higher frame rates if Display Stream Compression is also used. Drop the resolution to 2560×1440, and two uncompressed 120 frame per second streams would be possible.

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Enlarge / Don't you know that your DNA is toxic? (credit: Jive Records) Today we present the second installment of my interview with medical geneticist Robert Green, about the promise and pitfalls that could lie in reading out your full genome. Part one ran yesterday—so if you missed it, click right here. Otherwise, you can press play on the embedded player, or pull up the transcript—both of which are below. In this installment, we discuss why some medical researchers view personal genetic information as a literal toxin. This isn’t strictly out of paternalism (although there are elements of that). A tiny fraction of people might indeed make discoveries that are both horrible and unactionable. A larger fraction could suffer anguish from the sheer ambiguity of what’s divulged. After carefully studying both the psychology and consequences of these situations, Robert is fully convinced that personal genetic information should be made available to any adult who seeks it, after being soundly apprised of the ramifications. We next discuss rare genetic diseases, and how incongruously common they are. Robert’s groundbreaking research recently revealed that as many as a fifth of us are recessive carriers of some exotic genetic horror or another. Which brings us to the important notion of partial “penetrance,” or diseases that can be slightly (and often mysteriously) manifest in a recessive carrier. High school biology trains us to think of recessive/dominant and afflicted/unafflicted in...
Enlarge A Star Citizen backer who went to small claims court seeking a refund of $4,496 he had put toward the long-delayed crowdfunded space sim has seen his case dismissed. Ken Lord, a data scientist from Colorado, had been a massive Star Citizen backer since the game first launched on Kickstarter in 2012. But he's since grown disillusioned with the title's numerous delays, broken promises, and changes in scope, according to pieces on Motherboard and Kotaku Key among those changes was a new direction for spin-off shooter Squadron 42, which removed a planned multiplayer co-op mode and adding required first-person portions to the game. Lord, who has multiple sclerosis, said this now means "my money’s stuck in a game I can’t possibly play."

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Enlarge / The Google search app on an Android portable device on February 5, 2018. (credit: Getty Images | NurPhoto ) The European Commission today fined Google $5.05 billion (€4.34 billion) for violating EU antitrust rules, saying that "Google has imposed illegal restrictions on Android device manufacturers and mobile network operators to cement its dominant position in general Internet search." The commission said that Google is violating antitrust law by requiring phone manufacturers to pre-install the Google search app and Chrome browser "as a condition for licensing Google's app store (the Play Store)." Google also violated EU antitrust rules by "ma[king] payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices," the commission said.

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Enlarge (credit: Walmart) Walmart may be the next giant to enter the video streaming wars, according to a report from The Information. The retailer is reportedly considering launching its own video streaming service to battle Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. But Walmart wants to undercut its competition by pricing its service at $8 per month—or lower. According to the report, the $8-per-month price comes from the idea that Netflix and Amazon are more popular with customers on the East and West Coasts. Customers living in the middle of America may gravitate toward a lower-cost option. Currently, Netflix prices its service between $8 and $14 per month while Amazon Prime Video is roughly $8 per month. Both services have seen price increases recently as well—Netflix raised the price of its top-tier 4K streaming plan by $2 and its mid-tier plan by $1 at the end of last year, while an Amazon Prime annual subscription jumped to $119 in May (Prime Video is included in a Prime membership).

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Enlarge / New Shepard on the launch pad the morning of Mission 8, April 29, 2018. (credit: Blue Origin) As it continues to progress toward human flights, Blue Origin will perform another potentially dangerous, uncrewed test today of its New Shepard rocket and spacecraft. Although it has not yet provided details, the company says it will fly "a high altitude escape motor test—pushing the rocket to its limits." The test is scheduled to begin at 10 am EDT (14:00 UTC) at the company's West Texas launch site. This is the ninth test of the reusable New Shepard system, and the third in which it has included commercial payloads on it short suborbital flights. This time, the company is also flying a suite of materials from Blue Origin employees as a part of its internal “Fly My Stuff” program. (It's unclear at this point exactly how "abort test" and "payload" fit together in the same mission—presumably the high altitude abort will be followed by the New Shepard spacecraft pressing to orbit, but we're not exactly sure. Blue Origin will have more details about exactly what's going on when its webcast starts.) This is not the first high-energy test of New Shepard. In October, 2016, the company conducted a lower altitude in-flight escape test when engineers intentionally triggered the spacecraft's launch abort system at about 45 seconds after launch, and an altitude of 16,000 feet. Such systems are designed to fire...
Enlarge (credit: Zeng et al.) Billions of people—and a growing number of autonomous vehicles—rely on mobile navigation services from Google, Uber, and others to provide real-time driving directions. A new proof-of-concept attack demonstrates how hackers could inconspicuously steer a targeted automobile to the wrong destination or, worse, endanger passengers by sending them down the wrong way of a one-way road. The attack starts with a $225 piece of hardware that’s planted in or underneath the targeted vehicle that spoofs the radio signals used by civilian GPS services. It then uses algorithms to plot a fake “ghost route” that mimics the turn-by-turn navigation directions contained in the original route. Depending on the hackers’ ultimate motivations, the attack can be used to divert an emergency vehicle or a specific passenger to an unintended location or to follow an unsafe route. The attack works best in urban areas the driver doesn’t know well and assumes hackers have a general idea of the vehicle’s intended destination. “Our study demonstrated the initial feasibility of manipulating the road navigation system through targeted GPS spoofing,” the researchers, from Virginia Tech, China’s University of Electronic Sciences and Technology, and Microsoft Research, wrote in an 18-page paper. “The threat becomes more realistic as car makers are adding autopilot features so that human drivers can be less involved (or completely disengaged).”

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Enlarge / Phages on the surface of a bacterial cell. (credit: Dr. Graham Beards ) Due largely to overuse, we're at risk of seeing many of our antibiotics lose effectiveness, leaving us without a defense against a number of potentially fatal infections. People are taking a variety of approaches to dealing with this, like looking for combinations of drugs that remain effective, developing entirely new drugs, and trying to reform how we dispense these critical drugs. (Although the latter may be an impossible dream). There's another option that was under consideration even before antibiotic resistance had hit crisis levels: use something that makes killing bacteria part of its life cycle. Like other cells, bacteria often find themselves victims of viral infections, dying as new viruses burst out to infect their neighbors. If this happens out in regular ecosystems, people reasoned that maybe bacteria-killing viruses would also work in a pneumonic lung. But those maybes had always been accompanied by a long list of reasons why a virus wouldn't work. Now, a group of researchers has tested it on mice with pneumonia, and none of those reasons seems to be an issue. Meet the phages Viruses that specialize in infecting bacteria are often called bacteriophages, or simply phages. We've known of some of them from shortly after we started studying bacteria, since their spontaneous infections would leave open holes of what would otherwise be an even...
Enlarge (credit: Elle Cayabyab Gitlin) NEW YORK—Racing cars came to Red Hook this past weekend as Formula E held its season four finale, the NYC ePrix. Although the event is only in its second year, the Big Apple is fast feeling like home for these all-electric race cars, and once again we saw championship-deciding races play out against the Manhattan skyline. But this event also marked a different sort of finale—the end of Formula E's first chapter as the series prepares to retire the cars its been using for these last four seasons. When season five gets underway in Saudi Arabia this December, Formula E will have a new vehicle in the spotlight: one with more power, wild looks, and enough battery to make mid-race vehicle swaps a thing of the past. Formula E's current reality Unlike other racing series, Formula E exclusively races on temporary street tracks in city centers, because city centers are where electric vehicles make the most sense. (Yes, the Mexico round is the exception that proves the rule, but that permanent circuit is in a pretty urban part of Mexico City.) Not all of those city centers have proved welcoming; races in Miami and Montreal were one-offs, and the London ePrix lasted but two years. But the series signed a 10-year deal with New York City, and by building the course around the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, the impact on local residents...
Enlarge / The seal of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) hangs on a wall before a news conference at the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, June 14, 2018. (credit: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images) A federal judge in San Francisco recently excoriated the government over its improper methods in searching one suspect's cell phone and in the use of a stingray to find an alleged co-conspirator. Prosecutors say the two men, Donnell Artis and Chanta Hopkins, were engaged in credit card fraud and also illegally possessed firearms, among other pending charges that also involve four other people. The crux of the issue is that, in April 2016, an FBI agent sought and obtained two warrants from an Alameda County Superior Court judge: one to search Artis' phone and another to deploy a stingray to locate Hopkins.

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Enlarge / Lake Huila records centuries of environmental change in the Quijos Valley. (credit: Nicholas Laughlin) On the slopes of northern Ecuador's Quijo Valley, perpetual clouds shroud the canopy of a seemingly pristine tropical forest. But the beauty of the cloud forest hides a violent, tragic history. A new study of sediments from the valley's Lake Huila reveals centuries of indigenous agriculture that came to an abrupt end in warfare and fire around 1588. Population collapse From about 1400 to 1532, the Quijos Valley marked the eastern frontier of the Incan Empire. Although they were subjects of the empire, the people of the Quijos Valley maintained a distinct cultural identity from the Incas, and historical and archaeological records show that the valley was a conduit for trade between Incan territory and the peoples of the Amazon Basin. The first Europeans to set foot in the Quijos Valley were Spanish expeditions in 1538 and 1541, who arrived in search of gold and cinnamon. They estimated that about 35,000 indigenous people lived in the region. By 1577, about 11,400 people had clustered around the Spanish town of Baeza, which the colonizers built in 1559 alongside the indigenous community of Hatunquijos. But by 1600, three out of four of these people were dead.

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Enlarge / Here, have some antibiotics. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg) Popular urgent care centers may be the biggest—and most overlooked—culprits in the dangerous overuse of antibiotics in clinics, according to a new analysis in JAMA Internal Medicine. Based on insurance claims from patients with employee-sponsored coverage, researchers estimated that about 46 percent of patients who visited urgent care centers in 2014 for conditions that cannot be treated with antibiotics—such as a common cold that’s caused by a virus—left with useless antibiotic prescriptions that target bacterial infections. That rate of inappropriate antibiotic use is almost double the rate the researchers saw in emergency departments (25 percent) and almost triple the rate seen in traditional medical offices (17 percent). The authors of the analysis—a team of researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Utah, and the Pew Charitable Trusts—concluded that interventions for urgent care centers are “urgently needed.”

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Netflix CEO Reed Hastings. (credit: JD Lasica) Netflix missed its subscriber growth targets by about a million subscribers in the three months ending in June, sparking concern among investors that there might be a saturation limit for the streaming platform. The company's stock price fell 14 percent on the news, the BBC reports, although that came after an impressive run that saw the stock gaining much more value than that over the past year. Netflix has 130 million subscribers globally. It had projected the addition of 6.2 million subscribers in the quarter, but it managed to get 5.2 million instead. Some investors have seen Netflix as the future of television—a sure-to-be dominant hub for all our entertainment viewing. But the landscape is increasingly looking more like an unbundled version of the old cable model—dozens of channels from Netflix to CBS to Showtime, each with their own monthly fee. The economics of putting it all in one $8-15/month subscription service were never sustainable.

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