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Industry & Technology

Uber and Lyft drivers are employees, says US judge

BBC Technology News - August 11, 2020 - 2:12pm
The California court gives the two ride-hailing firms 10 days to challenge the ruling.

Android is now the world’s largest earthquake detection network

Ars Technica - August 11, 2020 - 2:00pm

Back in 2016, Ars reported on an interesting use for the bundle of sensors we carry around every day in our smartphones—earthquake detection. The accelerometers in your phone make a passable-enough seismometer, and together with location data and enough users, you could detect earthquakes and warn users as the shocks roll across the landscape. The University of California-Berkeley, along with funding from the state of California, built an app called "MyShake" and a cheap, effective earthquake detection network was born, at least, it was born for people who installed the app.

What if you didn't need to install the app? What if earthquake detection was just built in to the operating system? That's the question Google is going to answer, with today's announcement of the "Android Earthquake Alerts System." Google is going to build what it calls "the world’s largest earthquake detection network" by rolling earthquake detection out to nearly every Google Play Android phone. Here's the meat of the announcement:

All smartphones come with tiny accelerometers that can sense earthquakes. They’re even sensitive enough to detect the P-wave, which is the first wave that comes out of an earthquake and is typically much less damaging than the S-wave which comes afterward. If the phone detects something that it thinks may be an earthquake, it sends a signal to our earthquake detection server, along with a coarse location of where the shaking occurred. The server then combines information from many phones to figure out if an earthquake is happening. We’re essentially racing the speed of light (which is roughly the speed at which signals from a phone travel) against the speed of an earthquake. And lucky for us, the speed of light is much faster!

That "race" often works out to only a minute or so of warning, but that's usually enough to duck and cover if you catch the notification.

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TCL’s latest 6-Series Roku TVs move up to mini-LEDs, start at $650

Ars Technica - August 11, 2020 - 1:00pm

Enlarge / TCL's new 6-Series QLED Roku TVs come with mini-LED backlights. (credit: TCL)

TCL on Tuesday launched the latest iterations of its popular 6-Series and 5-Series 4K HDR TVs. Both lineups are available starting today, though TCL says the former will have "limited availability" on Tuesday.

Prices for the 5-Series start at $400 for a 50-inch model, then move up to $450 for a 55-inch model, $630 for a 65-inch model, or $1,100 for a 75-inch model. The 6-Series, meanwhile, costs $650 for a 55-inch model, $900 for a 65-inch model, or $1,400 for a 75-inch model.

The 6-Series and 5-Series tend to be TCL's most recommended models for mainstream TV buyers, having offered laudable performance and simple Roku TV software at reasonable prices in recent years. The 6-Series slots in just below the company's highest-end 8-Series models, while the 5-Series sits just ahead of the more budget-friendly 4-Series and 3-Series TVs. In general, TCL's TV business has seen increasing success in the United States; today, the Chinese electronics firm only trails Samsung in US market share.

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Missing Cryptoqueen: Why did the FCA drop its warning about the OneCoin scam?

BBC Technology News - August 11, 2020 - 12:56pm
A decision to delete an online alert was exploited by those promoting the multi-billion-pound crime.

Google says it’s working hard to address YouTube Music complaints

Ars Technica - August 11, 2020 - 11:45am


Google Play Music is shutting down soon, and the transition to YouTube Music currently leaves a lot to be desired. For users with uploaded music, the transfer tool will port your music over seamlessly, but once you're in the YouTube Music interface, you'll discover that plenty of features have gone missing, and things that used to work on the free tier suddenly don't. If my email inbox is any indication, hordes of people are searching for alternatives.

Google isn't turning a deaf ear to the concerns of the Google Music migrators, though. In response to articles we've written here, like "YouTube Music is holding my speakers for ransom," Google got in touch with us and sent over a statement:

We understand that uploaded content is an integral part of the listening experience for many of our users across YouTube Music. While several features for uploaded content aren't currently working in the free YouTube Music experience, we’re working hard to address these feature gaps and bring additional functionality to our free tier user. We look forward to sharing more updates soon.

While this is a bit vague, the shoutout for users of uploaded content is a change of tone from what the company was saying in June. Our YouTube Music article was mainly about the free-versus-premium feature changes in YouTube Music and Google Music, including the requirement of a monthly fee in order to play purchased and uploaded music on Google Home speakers. Before publishing that article, we double-checked with Google to ask if charging to use a Google Home from YouTube music was really what it was planning, and all the company would do is reaffirm the current restrictions.

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Why movie theaters are in trouble after DOJ nixes 70-year-old case

Ars Technica - August 11, 2020 - 11:30am

Enlarge / The House of Mouse is the shadow lurking in the future of movie theaters. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

If you went to the movies in 2019, you probably saw a Disney movie. Seven of the top 10 highest-grossing films released in the United States last year were distributed by the House of Mouse, and hundreds of millions of people went to see them on thousands of screens. Some weeks it felt like the entire film industry was Disney: Captain Marvel and the rest of the Avengers (Endgame) competed for your attention for a while, as Aladdin, The Lion King, and Toy Story 4 kept up a steady drumbeat of animation until Elsa dropped back onto hapless households in Frozen II. In amongst that morass, though, there were still other movies shown, many of them popular with audiences and critics alike.

But now, the rule that prevented a studio from buying up a major theater chain is gone—opening up the possibility that your local cinema could go whole hog and become a true Disneyplex before you know it.

On Friday, a federal judge agreed to the Department of Justice's petition to vacate the Paramount Consent Decrees, a landmark 1948 ruling that forbade vertical integration in the film sector and ended the Hollywood studio system. In isolation, the decision could raise some concerns. In a world where theaters are decimated thanks to a pandemic and consolidation among media firms is already rampant, the future for independent theaters looks grim.

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Will tech make it easier for us to grow veg?

BBC Technology News - August 11, 2020 - 9:53am
Already being used on a commercial basis, vertical farming tech is expanding into consumer markets.

Parallels Desktop 16 adds Big Sur support, 3D Metal support, and more

Ars Technica - August 11, 2020 - 8:01am

Parallels Desktop 16 launched on the Mac today. It's the latest major release of the software used by developers and others to run Windows, Linux, and macOS applications and virtual machines under macOS. Its most notable offering is full support for macOS Big Sur.

According to the Parallels representatives Ars spoke with, Big Sur support was no small task: Big Sur ended support for the third-party kernel extensions that Parallels built on. That meant an enormous amount of work was required to play nice with Big Sur—25 human-years of engineering work, they claimed.

In addition to supporting Big Sur for both host machines and virtual machines, Parallels Desktop 16 has a slightly different look to fit the different appearance Apple has gone with in Big Sur.

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Trump: Tech giants challenge US foreign worker crackdown

BBC Technology News - August 11, 2020 - 5:17am
Amazon, Apple and Facebook are among the firms backing the legal case against the temporary visa ban.

Apple boss Tim Cook joins the billionaires club

BBC Technology News - August 11, 2020 - 3:57am
The company's share price has soared, helping to boost the personal wealth of its chief executive.

Mission to Mars: Hilary Swank leads an elite team in trailer for Away

Ars Technica - August 11, 2020 - 1:35am

Hillary Swank stars as an elite astronaut preparing for a crewed mission to Mars in the new Netflix sci-fi drama series Away.

An elite international team of astronauts must leave family and friends behind for a three-year crewed mission to Mars in Away, a new science fiction drama from Netflix, starring Hilary Swank. Created by Andrew Hinderaker (Penny Dreadful), the 10-episode series was inspired by a 2014 Esquire article by Chris Jones about astronaut Scott Kelly's year-long sojourn aboard the International Space Station with a Russian cosmonaut—the longest space mission in American history.

Per the official synopsis:

Away is a thrilling, emotional drama on an epic scale that celebrates the incredible advancements humans can achieve and the personal sacrifices they must make along the way. As American astronaut Emma Green (Hilary Swank, I Am Mother, Boys Don't Cry) prepares to lead an international crew on the first mission to Mars, she must reconcile her decision to leave behind her husband (Josh Charles, The Good Wife) and teenage daughter (Talitha Bateman, Countdown) when they need her the most. As the crew's journey into space intensifies, their personal dynamics and the effects of being away from their loved ones back on Earth become increasingly complex. ​Away shows that sometimes to reach for the stars, we must leave home behind.

The trailer opens with Emma's NASA engineer husband Matt playing the opening bars of Claude Debussy's "Clair de Lune" on a piano, as she presents their daughter Alexis with a gift: a necklace with three stones, representing Earth, the Moon, and Mars. "And the string is me making my way back to you. So just remember, the farther away I get, I'm actually getting closer to being back to you."

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Downfall: BP worker sacked after Hitler meme wins payout

BBC Technology News - August 11, 2020 - 12:56am
Scott Tracey used the scene from Downfall to portray scenes from company wage negotiations.

The headphones that even a DJ can't break?

BBC Technology News - August 11, 2020 - 12:01am
A new way to produce tiny speakers promises more robust headphones with high quality sound.

Greed may be good when it comes to solar power

Ars Technica - August 10, 2020 - 11:56pm

Enlarge (credit: Jeff Martin/DOE)

Based purely on economics, there should be a lot more solar panels on roofs in the United States. With the dramatic plunge in the price of panels, solar systems have become competitive with the cost of electricity in a growing number of states, leaving the question of sun exposure to be the primary driver of whether adoption makes sense. Yet photovoltaic-equipped houses remain a rarity in the US, despite many states pushing for the adoption of renewable energy.

So why isn't that push working? To try to find out, a small team of researchers worked with a non-profit that promotes solar installs, helping test out two different messages. One message focused on self-interest and emphasized the economic benefits of installing panels. The other was what's termed "pro-social," meaning it emphasized that installation of solar would bring benefits to the community. As the researchers found, self-interest was king—even after the promotion was over. But self-interest did have a side benefit in that the systems that were installed tended to get the most energy out of their panels.

Scripting Solarize

The work relies on a program called Solarize. Solarize runs town-level programs that include a single installer that provides the entire town with a group rate. Program ambassadors also run pro-solar programs within the town, encouraging adoption. These programs were the ones targeted by the researchers, who arranged an experiment based on the message delivered by these ambassadors. Some towns received messages that focused on self-interest, like “save thousands by installing solar.” Others were more community-focused—“Our community is doing something together to have more clean energy,” for example. The researchers worked with the program in Connecticut (one of the researchers is at Yale), which has expensive electricity.

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Lest we forget: Mark 75 years of the atomic bomb with the Ars watch list

Ars Technica - August 10, 2020 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / Ars marks the 75th anniversary of the nuclear bomb with a look at how the complicated legacy of this world-altering event has been reflected in film and television. (credit: Film collage by Aurich Lawson)

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the first atomic bomb. Just before sunrise on July 16, 1945, in a secluded spot in a central New Mexican desert, a prototype bomb nicknamed "Gadget" was hoisted to the top of a 100-foot tower and detonated. The blast vaporized the steel tower and produced a mushroom cloud rising to more than 38,000 feet. The heat from the explosion melted the sandy soil around the tower into a mildly radioactive glassy crust now known as "trinitite." And the shock wave broke windows as far as 120 miles away.

After the Trinity test, Richard Feynman recalled finding his colleague, Robert Wilson, sitting despondently amid the celebration. "It's a terrible thing that we made," Feynman remembered him saying. Hans Bethe famously observed, "The physicists have known sin. And this is a knowledge which they cannot lose." It's often said that physicists became so intent on the intellectual challenge of building an atomic bomb that they lost sight of the profound implications of what they were creating.

Those implications became all too clear on August 6, 1945, when a gun-triggered fission bomb dubbed "Little Boy" fell on Hiroshima, killing an estimated 70,000 to 130,000 people. Three days later, the implosion-triggered "Fat Man" was dropped on Nagasaki, adding another 45,000 human casualties. The United States won the war but at a horrific cost. The world has been haunted by the prospect of a devastating nuclear apocalypse ever since—and so has TV and the movies. So to mark this somber occasion, we've compiled a watch list of films and shows that we feel best reflect the complicated legacy of the atomic bomb.

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How the MUGEN community built the ultimate fighting game crossover

Ars Technica - August 10, 2020 - 8:51pm

Enlarge / Admit it, you've always wondered if Goku could beat Ronald McDonald in a fight. (credit: Elecbyte)

The question, "Who would win in a fight?" is the root of many fierce debates throughout the history of pop culture. The notion of pitting characters from different properties and different media against one another is exciting to discuss. And when it comes to letting fans live out these arguments, there are few better outlets than fighting games.

Even within a genre known for character-merging crossovers, there's one two-decade-old game that reigns supreme when it comes to pitting a wide variety of characters against one another. That program is MUGEN, derived from the Japanese word for "infinite," which is an appropriate name for a program that provides near limitless potential for players to create new fighting games and characters.

MUGEN began life just before the turn of the century as a PC-based side-scrolling shoot-'em-up title, created by a small company called Elecbyte. The team was originally experimenting with creating an engine to handle the rigors of so-called shmup games but found that it just wasn't living up to what they had hoped to create. Taking inspiration from a PC Korean Street Fighter 2 hack known as SFIBM, Elecbyte decided to change course from a shooter to a 2D fighting game engine.

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After pulling it three years ago, Google reintroduces Maps for Apple Watch

Ars Technica - August 10, 2020 - 8:10pm

Today, Google made two announcements about Google Maps for Apple platforms. First, Google's app now works with the dashboard view on CarPlay screens, allowing drivers to see maps and media controls side-by-side. Second, Google is relaunching the Maps app on the Apple Watch, with turn-by-turn directions.

CarPlay's dashboard mode was introduced in iOS 13 late last year, but it only supported Apple Maps. Apple began offering other developers the ability to take advantage of it in March with the release of iOS 13.4, and today marks the finalization of Google's support for the feature. Google's blog post announcing the update says it should go into effect for all users of CarPlay-supported vehicles today.

The new Google Maps app for Apple Watch won't arrive today, though. Instead, Google promises the app is launching worldwide "in the coming weeks." The app will offer "step-by-step" directions for driving, walking, cycling, or taking public transit.

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The 2021 Polestar 2 has a great cabin—and deep Android integration

Ars Technica - August 10, 2020 - 8:03pm

Enlarge / On the road with the new Polestar 2. (credit: Polestar)

Any day I get to drive a new battery electric car is a good day. Which made last Friday a good day, because we got our first drive in the $59,900 Polestar 2. It's the first mass-production model from a new standalone brand that was spun out of Volvo and Geely a few years ago. And the tl;dr is that the Polestar 2 is a stylish sedan with a wonderful interior, some very fancy suspension bits, and oh—it's also the first car to use Google's Android Automotive OS.

A brief history of Polestar

Once upon a time, Polestar was to Volvo as AMG is to Mercedes-Benz—a tuning company that spiffed up more pedestrian models, imbuing them with a little Nürburgring magic. But in 2017, Volvo and Geely (which owns the Swedish automaker) spun Polestar out as an independent company, one focused on sustainability and performance. Its first product was the Polestar 1, a hand-built $150,000 plug-in hybrid GT that dazzled me when I drove it in late 2019.

But with a total production run of only 1,500 cars over three years, you can think of the Polestar 1 like a calling card or a statement of intent. The future of Polestar is purely electric (so no more PHEVs)—and shipping cars in much greater volumes. By the end of 2021, we'll see the Polestar 3, an SUV that promises to look a lot like the stunning Precept concept shown off in April. But first, there's the Polestar 2. (Interesting fact: because Polestar is recognized as a standalone OEM, it has its own allocation of 200,000 vehicles for the IRS plug-in tax credit, as opposed to being counted together with Volvo.)

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Massive Salmonella outbreak sweeps US, Canada. Nearly 900 sickened so far

Ars Technica - August 10, 2020 - 7:21pm

Enlarge / Red onions have been fingered as the likely culprit. (credit: Getty | Thomas Trutschel)

An outbreak of Salmonella infections linked to tainted onions has mushroomed in North America. So far, the outbreak has sickened 879 people, hospitalizing 114 across 43 US states and seven Canadian provinces.

The US Food and Drug Administration traced the outbreak back to red onions produced by Thomson International Inc. of Bakersfield, California. Thomson issued a recall of all of its onions August 1, covering red, yellow, white, and sweet bulbs that were shipped any time after May 1. But the outbreak numbers will likely continue to climb, given the potentially week-long period between eating a bad onion and developing symptoms, plus a typical two-to-four-week lag in case reporting.

The tainted onions were shipped to wholesalers, restaurants, and grocery stores across Canada as well as in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. Affected stores include Walmart, Kroger, Fred Meyer, Publix, Giant Eagle, Food Lion, and H-E-B. The onions were sold under brand names: Thomson Premium, TLC Thomson International, Tender Loving Care, El Competitor, Hartley’s Best, Onions 52, Majestic, Imperial Fresh, Kroger, Utah Onions, and Food Lion.

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TSB customers' anger at online banking issues

BBC Technology News - August 10, 2020 - 7:18pm
Some customers have reported problems with their online banking on computers and the app.

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