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Industry & Technology

Astronomers find an oddball asteroid entirely inside the orbit of Venus

Ars Technica - 1 hour 28 min ago

Enlarge / The Zwicky Transient Facility at Palomar Observatory in California. (credit: Caltech Optical Observatories)

Astronomers have found nearly 1 million asteroids in our Solar System, with the vast majority located in the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

It is far rarer to find asteroids with orbits closer to the Sun, and especially inside the orbit of Earth, due to Jupiter's gravitational influence. There are only about 20 known asteroids with orbits entirely inside that of Earth's. They are called Atira asteroids.

Many of these Atira asteroids have orbits that are substantially tilted away from the plane of the Solar System, suggesting past encounters with Mercury or Venus.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Frontier, an ISP in 29 states, plans to file for bankruptcy

Ars Technica - 1 hour 38 min ago

Enlarge / A Frontier Communications service van. (credit: Mike Mozart)

Frontier Communications is planning to file for bankruptcy within two months, Bloomberg reported last week.

The telco "is asking creditors to help craft a turnaround deal that includes filing for bankruptcy by the middle of March, according to people with knowledge of the matter," Bloomberg wrote.

Frontier CEO Bernie Han and other company executives "met with creditors and advisers Thursday and told them the company wants to negotiate a pre-packaged agreement before $356 million of debt payments come due March 15," the report said. The move would likely involve Chapter 11 bankruptcy to let Frontier "keep operating without interruption of telephone and broadband service to its customers."

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Vietnamese firm Viettel's 5G claim raises eyebrows outside

BBC Technology News - 2 hours 4 min ago
The military-controlled firm's claim to have joined the 5G network equipment-making elite is questioned.

Google boss Sundar Pichai calls for AI regulation

BBC Technology News - 2 hours 46 min ago
Mr Pichai argued for a "sensible approach" after Europe said it was considering a facial recognition ban.

Study finds that the popular rubber hand illusion could be used to treat OCD

Ars Technica - 3 hours 5 min ago

Enlarge / Fictional detective Adrian Monk (Tony Shalhoub) famously suffered from OCD, with a powerful germ phobia, among many others. Perhaps "multi sensory stimulation therapy" would have helped. (credit: USA Network)

Chances are good that you've seen entertaining footage of the so-called "rubber hand illusion," where someone becomes convinced that a fake rubber hand is actually their own. It's more than a clever party trick, however. Not only does the illusion shed light on how the brain "maps" our physical bodies, it could also prove to be an effective treatment for patients suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), according to a recent paper published in Frontiers in Neuroscience.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger introduced the notion of "ready-to-hand" in the 1930s to describe how the body can incorporate our most familiar functional tools into its concept of the self, much like a blind person who regularly uses a cane to navigate his or her surroundings. As far as the brain is concerned, the cane becomes an extension of the physical body.

Studies have shown a similar effect when we regularly use a computer mouse. It might even be true of our avatars in virtual space. Virtual reality guru Jaron Lanier introduced the concept of "homuncular flexibility" in the 1980s to describe how the brain could become unable to distinguish between our real and virtual bodies over time. If something bad happens to you in the virtual world, the same neural circuitry is activated that would be engaged if it happened to you in the "real" world.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Uber and Hyundai’s plan to develop air taxis hinges on mass production

Ars Technica - 3 hours 21 min ago

The joint announcement at this year's Consumer Electronics Show (CES) by Uber Elevate and Hyundai Motor Company that the companies will partner to develop Uber Air air-taxis for a future aerial ride-share network is news, but just as importantly, it's corporate messaging. At the crux of the announcement is Hyundai's reputation as an automotive OEM with a perceived ability to leverage economies of scale. For an urban air mobility (UAM) market to emerge at any sort of scale, Uber and industry observers believe that hundreds of thousands of four-passenger electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft will have to be built.

Their numbers, along with theoretically cheap eVTOL operating costs, are the key to getting the cost per seat at or near the level of ground transportation. But passenger air vehicles aren't built in taxi-cab-like numbers. So the prospect of a car maker churning out air taxis like sedans is an attractive one.

"We believe Hyundai has the potential to build Uber Air vehicles at rates unseen in the current aerospace industry, producing high quality, reliable aircraft at high volumes to drive down passenger costs per trip," Eric Allison, head of Uber Elevate, said at CES.

Read 18 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Regus sales staff data exposed after undercover job review

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 6 min ago
Job performance data about more than 900 IWG employees is accidentally published online.

Dad builds Nintendo games controller for disabled daughter

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 41 min ago
A video of Rory Steel's nine-year-old daughter Ava using the device has had more than 800,000 views.

Bioplastics continue to blossom—are they really better for the environment?

Ars Technica - 5 hours 25 min ago

Enlarge / Spilled garbage on the beach off the Black Sea in Bulgaria. (credit: iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The English metallurgist Alexander Parkes never saw the widespread realization of his spectacular 19th-century invention, celluloid, the first plastic. While a revolutionary breakthrough, Parkesine, as it was called, was expensive and brittle. It was used in objects like buttons and combs, but ultimately quality control issues led Parkes’ company to bankruptcy in 1868 just 12 years after the discovery.

Parkesine, however, was also the first bioplastic—a plastic made from renewable plant material instead of fossil fuels. And today with the environmental impact of plastics increasingly on the public mind, bioplastics are making a big comeback. They’re proposed by some as the solution to beaches deluged with plastic and fish bellies stuffed with bottle caps. And perhaps bioplastics can replace oil-based polymers that commonly trash oceans with materials that can break down more easily and would protect a planet already smothered in these resilient substances.

Bioplastic items already exist, of course, but whether they’re actually better for the environment or can truly compete with traditional plastics is complicated. Some bioplastics aren’t much better than fossil fuel-based polymers. And for the few that are less injurious to the planet, cost and social acceptance may stand in the way. Even if widespread adoption of bioplastics occurs down the line, it won’t be a quick or cheap fix. In the meantime, there is also some pollution caused by bioplastics themselves to consider. Even if bioplastics are often less damaging than the status quo, they aren’t a flawless solution.

Read 33 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The machines are whispering: We tested AI Dungeon 2 and cannot stop laughing

Ars Technica - 6 hours 40 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

In February 2019, we at Ars Technica learned about the Generative Pre-trained Transformer-2 (GPT-2) toolset, a freakish machine-learning algorithm that was trained on roughly 40GB of human-written text. Its ability to generate unique, seemingly human text scared its creators (the non-profit research group OpenAI) enough for them to temporarily lock the tools up for public consumption. (Despite those fears, we at Ars got to access and play with the results two weeks later.)

Since then, GPT-2's public availability has exploded with tons of experiments, and the one that has arguably made the rounds more than any other is AI Dungeon, a freely available "text adventure" that is designed to create a seemingly endless interactive narrative experience. That experience received a formal "sequel" in December, and we've finally tested the results as a staff.

According to its creators, the game combines GPT-2 with roughly 30MB of stories lifted from, a community-driven hub for interactive fiction. The resulting database is served to users in a funnel of one of four story prompts: fantasy, mystery, apocalyptic, or zombie. (A fifth option lets users write their own one- or two-sentence prompt to describe their own ideal setting.) From there, users are given some sort of verbose prompt, then left to type out whatever action, description, or rumination they imagine doing in that fictional universe.

Read 31 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Europe-wide traffic survey to recruit 'citizen scientists'

BBC Technology News - 8 hours 51 min ago
Unique vehicle-counting sensors will be placed in 1,500 homes across Europe.

More precious than gold: Why the metal palladium is soaring

BBC Technology News - 14 hours 20 min ago
The price of the precious metal palladium has hit a record high of $2,500 an ounce as demand rises.

Influencers 'being offered thousands for sex'

BBC Technology News - 17 hours 30 min ago
One influencer said social media had become "a catalogue" for men to select their next conquest.

Tremors turns 30, the most perfect B movie creature feature ever made

Ars Technica - January 19, 2020 - 7:08pm

It has been 30 years since the release of Tremors, an unabashed love letter to the B-movie creature features of the 1950s that remains as fresh today as it was three decades ago. The film is sheer perfection and ranks among my personal favorite films of all time. As Ars' own Nathan Matisse wrote last year, "If B-movie horror with flashes of comedic brilliance and a few edge-of-your-seat scares interests you, viewers likely can't do much better than Tremors."

(Major spoilers below, because it's been 30 years.)

Writers S.S. Wilson and Brent Maddock came up with the initial idea for Tremors in the early 1980s while making educational safety videos for the US Navy. They climbed a desert boulder for a shot and pondered what they would do if, for some reason, they were stuck there due to some outside force they eventually dubbed "Land Sharks." A friend of theirs, Ron Underwood, was a documentary director for National Geographic and helped them develop a believable creature for what would become the script for Tremors. Wilson and Maddock hit the big time with their 1986 film Short Circuit (directed by John Badham), which enabled them to finally bring Tremors to the silver screen.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

SpaceX successfully completes its Dragon abort test [Updated]

Ars Technica - January 19, 2020 - 5:07pm

Enlarge / The Falcon 9 during the launch of the abort test.

Today, SpaceX attempted a critical test of its ability to launch humans to orbit: the ability to get them away from the rocket if things go wrong. Shortly after liftoff, the company shut down the main engines of its Falcon 9 rocket, and fired off the system that's meant to return the crewed capsule safely to Earth.

Everything about the flight appeared to have worked just as planned. The Dragon capsule accelerated away from its Falcon 9 launch vehicle, oriented properly, deployed parachutes, and splashed down successfully.

Getting a capsule gently off a rocket in the midst of what might be a catastrophic failure is (as you might imagine) not a simple task. Engines on the capsule have to fire with sufficient power to cause the capsule to accelerate away from a rocket that may still be accelerating itself, all without subjecting the crew to excessive forces. Once free, the capsule has to jettison its service module, and then be oriented so its parachute systems can be deployed safely. Those parachutes then need to make sure the return to Earth's surface is equally gentle.

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Apple TV+: Can it be saved before everyone’s free trials run out?

Ars Technica - January 19, 2020 - 4:00pm

Enlarge / When Apple TV+ landed on November 1, it did not include all of these original series, thanks to its "soft launch." (credit: Apple)

When Apple TV+ launched in November 2019, it was the first of four major video-streaming services that would launch between then and May of the next year. It was also one of the riskiest of the set, coming from a company that had zero experience in creating entertainment. With the service’s 90-day mark fast approaching, it’s time to take Apple TV+’s temperature.

And, yes, it’s ice-cold. But is Apple TV+ really as dead in the water as it appears? And what do we expect for the rest of its first year?

So many devices, so little excitement

From the jump, Apple seemed an odd addition to a lineup of players, all of whom were already in the content-creation business. Apple has never been interested in producing its own fare so much as using others’ content to promote its closed hardware ecosystem. But that hardware component was Apple’s claim to enter the derby. The company boasts two billion devices in pockets around the world. If just 10 percent of those users signed up after getting a free year of Apple TV+ with the purchase of a device, it would give the company 200 million subscribers worldwide, dwarfing Netflix’s 158 million.

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Neanderthals may have been shallow free divers, suggests a new study

Ars Technica - January 19, 2020 - 3:00pm

Enlarge / Because Mediterranean smooth clams live up to their name, their shells produce a cleaner cutting edge than others. (credit: Villa et al. 2020)

There may be a little more evidence to suggest that Neanderthals waded, swam, and even dove to gather resources along the shores of the Mediterranean. A new study claims Neanderthals at a coastal cave in Italy waded or dove to get clamshells straight off the seafloor to make scraping tools.

Swiping seashells straight from the seafloor?

Neanderthals who lived at Grotta dei Moscerini around 100,000 years ago used the sturdy shells of Mediterranean smooth clams to make sharp-edged scraping tools. Clamshells wash up on beaches all the time, but University of Colorado archaeologist Paola Villa and her colleagues say that some of the worked shell tools at Moscerini look less like flotsam and more like someone scooped them off the seafloor while they were still fresh.

Shells that wash ashore after their former tenants die usually show signs of sanding and polishing, as they spend time being bounced along the sandy bottom by waves. Many also feature small holes where a marine predator drilled its way inside. But nearly a quarter of the 171 shells at Moscerini looked surprisingly pristine, aside from the changes made by Neanderthals.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Real or fake: New NBC Peacock shows

Ars Technica - January 19, 2020 - 12:41pm

Enlarge / NBCUniversal kicks off its new Peacock streaming service TODAY at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. (credit: Nathan Congleton | Getty Images)

This July, NBCUniversal and Comcast will launch a new streaming service, Peacock. (Xfinity cable customers will get an advanced version in April.) It will house NBC classics like Parks and Recreation, Frasier, and Law and Order: SVU, as well as a wide array of movies, reality shows, and current programming, including live events from the upcoming Tokyo Olympics. It will offer reboots of nostalgia-triggering shows like Saved by the Bell, Punky Brewster, and Battlestar Galactica. And of course, as there are now a ton of streaming television services competing for eyeballs in the US, NBC is also planning to roll out an ambitious lineup of originals to compete with rivals like Disney+, CBS All Access, and Quibi.

To that end, it has ordered dozens of pilots and several full seasons of new shows to lure viewers into adding yet another paid subscription into their monthly budget. (There will be a free version of Peacock, but it will have a limited roster.) Some of the shows sound great. Some of the shows sound questionable. A large number have summaries that sound like they came from a robot programmed to spit out Hollywood development Mad Libs. And thus, a challenge: Can you tell the difference between the 100-percent real upcoming Peacock offerings and the 100-percent fake shows WIRED made up? Let’s find out.
  1. Expecting: One woman. One gay best friend. One … baby? From Mindy Kaling, this comedy looks at what happens when your GBF becomes your GSD (gay sperm donor).
  2. Brave New World: An adaptation of Aldous Huxley’s famed 1932 dystopian novel, starring Alden Ehrenreich for some reason.
  3. The Adventure Zone: A comedy based on a wildly popular Dungeons & Dragons podcast run by a tight-knit but quirky family.
  4. Clean Slate: A comedy about an Alabama car wash owner who is thrilled when his long-lost child decides to return home, but is flummoxed when he finds out his child is a trans woman, played by Laverne Cox. (Executive producer: Norman Lear.)
  5. Moby-Dick: An animated dramedy based on the classic novel, with Chris Kattan as the titular whale. Three words: Female Captain Ahab.
  6. The Brothers Bongo: Two brothers find unexpected fame as a bongo drumming duo. Turns out success is easy, but keeping the rhythm of family life on the road? That’s tough. With Topher Grace as the boys’ manager.
  7. Making It Work: Christina Aguilera in her first lead television role—and her second, as she plays identical twins who inherit a bed and breakfast in Louisiana.
  8. Hatching Twitter: Literally a television show about Twitter.
  9. Girls5Eva: Former '90s girl group Girls5Eva decide to reunite and give teenybopper stardom one last shot … even though they’re closer to menopause than puberty!
  10. Pod Save This TV Show: Based on the podcast of the same name, the Pod Save America boys host a humorous but insightful talk show.
  11. Dr. Death: Based on the podcast of the same name, Jamie Dornan smolders as a doctor who is bad at his job—lethally bad.
  12. Intelligence: David Schwimmer stars as a brash maverick NSA agent who moves to England and clashes with his dweeby British colleagues.
  13. Becker 2: Back to Beckin’: Ted Danson reprises his role as Becker from Becker, who is up to his old tricks.
  14. Psych 2: Lassie Come Home: The gang from the show Psych are back, and this time they will explore the topic of marriage in a made-for-television movie.
  15. Law and Order: Oz The latest addition to the Dick Wolf library, Law and Order: Oz sees a familiar face, Finn (Ice-T), begin a new chapter of his career in Sydney, Australia. They do things a little differently Down Under!

Answers: 1: Real, 2: Real, 3: Real, 4: Real, 5: Fake, 6: Fake, 7: Fake, 8: Real, 9: Real, 10: Fake, 11: Real, 12: Real, 13: Fake, 14: Real, 15: Fake.

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Facebook blames 'technical issue' for offensive Xi Jinping translation

BBC Technology News - January 19, 2020 - 10:46am
President Xi Jinping's name is badly mistranslated into English during his state visit to Myanmar.

Amazon warehouse one of Europe's 'most high-tech buildings'

BBC Technology News - January 19, 2020 - 2:09am
Robots and people work alongside each other in the internet-giant's latest warehouse in Leicestershire.

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