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Industry & Technology

New Sony Xperia 1 II smartphone looks handsome, costs a ridiculous $1,300

Ars Technica - 27 min ago

It would have been Mobile World Congress this week if not for the panic over the coronavirus—so get ready for plenty of news from the world of international smartphones. First up, we have a reminder that Sony is still out there making cellular telephones, and last night it announced the "Sony Xperia 1 II." Wait, the what?! The "Sony Xperia One Two?" Actually, this is branded similarly to the Sony cameras, so just as the "Sony A7 III" is pronounced "Sony Alpha seven mark three," this thing is apparently the "Sony Xperia One Mark Two." Wild.

Like most of the phones that will be announced this week, this is a flagship 2020 smartphone with the Snapdragon 865 and 5G, though Sony opted to only include mid-band 5G and not mmWave. There is a 6.5-inch, 3840×1644 OLED display, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and a 4000mAh battery. The phone is IP68 rated, and it has a MicroSD slot and wireless charging. It may also be the only flagship smartphone in 2020 with a headphone jack.

Like every other Sony smartphone, the design is very square and rather handsome looking. While the rest of the industry is all about maximizing display space with camera notches and other display blemishes, Sony has a pair of symmetrical bezels on the top and bottom that house front-facing stereo speakers and the front camera. The combination of bezels and a 21:9 display makes this one of the tallest smartphones on the market, with measurements of 166mm × 72mm × 7.9mm.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

One of NASA’s greatest mathematicians, Katherine Johnson, has died

Ars Technica - 2 hours 34 min ago

Enlarge / Katherine Johnson sits at her desk with a globe, or "Celestial Training Device." (credit: NASA)

Katherine Johnson, a trailblazing mathematician best known for her contributions to NASA's human spaceflight program and who gained fame later in life due to the movie Hidden Figures, died Monday. She was 101 years old.

"At NASA, we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "We will continue building on her legacy and work tirelessly to increase opportunities for everyone who has something to contribute toward the ongoing work of raising the bar of human potential."

Born in rural West Virginia on August 26, 1918, Johnson showed an aptitude for mathematics early in life. “I counted everything," she said late in life of her formative years. "I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed… anything that could be counted, I did."

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

UK's 5G network well within safety limits, Ofcom tests find

BBC Technology News - 3 hours 54 min ago
Ofcom testing of the UK's 5G network finds radiation is at a "tiny fraction" of safe levels.

Huawei Mate XS: Hands-on with the folding phone

BBC Technology News - 4 hours 29 min ago
BBC Click's Chris Fox tries out the folding Huawei Mate XS for the first time.

Google warns Huawei owners against 'sideloading' its apps

BBC Technology News - 5 hours 33 min ago
The Android owner says circumventing the Huawei ban is a major security risk.

Open source licenses: What, which, and why

Ars Technica - 7 hours 1 min ago

Enlarge / Most open source projects are vastly more restrictive with their trademarks than their code. OpenBSD's Puffy, Linux's Tux, and the FSF's Meditating Gnu are among the few FOSS logos that can easily and legally be remixed and reused for simple illustrative purposes. (credit: OpenBSD, Free Software Foundation, Larry Ewing, Seattle Municipal Archives)

Most people have at least heard of open source software by now—and even have a fairly good idea of what it is. Its own luminaries argue incessantly about what to call it—with camps arguing for everything from Free to Libre to Open Source and every possible combination of the above—but the one thing every expert agrees on is that it's not open source (or whatever) if it doesn't have a clearly attributed license.

You can't just publicly dump a bunch of source code without a license and say "whatever—it's there, anybody can get it." Due to the way copyright law works in most of the world, freely available code without an explicitly declared license is copyright by the author, all rights reserved. This means it's just plain unsafe to use unlicensed code, published or not—there's nothing stopping the author from coming after you and suing for royalties if you start using it.

The only way to actually make your code open source and freely available is to attach a license to it. Preferably, you want a comment with the name and version of a well-known license in the header of every file and a full copy of the license available in the root folder of your project, named LICENSE or LICENSE.TXT. This, of course, raises the question of which license to use—and why?

Read 39 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Wales considers online GCSE exams

BBC Technology News - 10 hours 18 min ago
The new head of Wales' exam watchdog believes "significantly more" tests could be sat online.

YouTuber ‘became better human’ after race row

BBC Technology News - 11 hours 21 min ago
The 24-year-old was fired from a film inspired by Black Lives Matter in 2018 after a video resurfaced of him using racial language.

Georgia Tech physicists unlock the secret to perfect wok-tossed fried rice

Ars Technica - February 23, 2020 - 4:30pm

Enlarge / Wok tossing has long been suspected of causing the high shoulder injury rate among Chinese chefs. (credit: Hunting Ko and David Hu/Georgia Tech)

Fried rice is a classic dish in pretty much every Chinese restaurant, and the strenuous process of tossing the rice in a wok over high heat is key to producing the perfect final product. There's always chemistry involved in cooking, but there's also a fair amount of physics. Scientists at the Georgia Institute of Technology have devised a model for the kinematics of wok-tossing to explain how it produces fried rice that is nicely browned but not burnt. They described their work in a recent paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society: Interface.

This work hails from David Hu's lab at Georgia Tech, known for investigating such diverse phenomena as the collective behavior of fire ants, water striders, snakes, various climbing insects, mosquitos, the unique properties of cat tongues, and animal bodily functions like urination and defecation—including a 2019 Ig Nobel Prize-winning study on why wombats produce cubed poo. Hu and his graduate student, Hungtang Ko—also a co-author on a 2019 paper on the physics of how fire ants band together to build rafts—discovered they shared a common interest in the physics of cooking, particularly Chinese stir-fry.  

Hu and Ko chose to focus their investigation on fried rice (or "scattered golden rice"), a classic dish dating back some 1,500 years. According to the authors, tossing the ingredients in the wok while stir-frying ensures that the dish is browned but not burned. Something about this cooking process creates the so-called "Maillard reaction": the chemical interaction of amino acids and carbohydrates subjected to high heat that is responsible for the browning of meats, for instance.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Ars Technica semi-scientific guide to Wi-Fi Access Point placement

Ars Technica - February 23, 2020 - 3:30pm

Enlarge / The top floor of our test house is relatively straightforward—although like many houses, it suffers from terrible router placement nowhere near its center. (credit: Jim Salter)

Here at Ars, we've spent a lot of time covering how Wi-Fi works, which kits perform the best, and how upcoming standards will affect you. Today, we're going to go a little more basic: we're going to teach you how to figure out how many Wi-Fi access points (APs) you need, and where to put them.

These rules apply whether we're talking about a single Wi-Fi router, a mesh kit like Eero, Plume, or Orbi, or a set of wire-backhauled access points like Ubiquiti's UAP-AC line or TP-Link's EAPs. Unfortunately, these "rules" are necessarily closer to "guidelines" as there are a lot of variables it's impossible to fully account for from an armchair a few thousand miles away. But if you become familiar with these rules, you should at least walk away with a better practical understanding of what to expect—and not expect—from your Wi-Fi gear and how to get the most out of it.

Before we get started

Let's go over one bit of RF theory (radio-frequency) before we get started on our ten rules—some of them will make much better sense if you understand how RF signal strength is measured and how it attenuates over distance and through obstacles.

Read 53 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Climate change is drying up the Colorado River

Ars Technica - February 23, 2020 - 2:00pm

Enlarge / The shores of Lake Mead, faded from previously higher water levels. (credit: Chris Richards / Flickr)

In 2014, the Colorado River reached the ocean for the first time in 16 years. Most years, the river doesn't make it that far because it has been dammed and diverted along the way, supplying fresh water to approximately 40 million people and supporting agriculture and economic activity in the dry Southwestern United States.

As climate change disrupts historical patterns of rainfall and temperature, the Colorado River has not been faring well, and it's getting even increasingly unlikely that the river will reach the sea again. A paper published this week in Science reports that the river's flow has been declining by an alarming 9.3 percent for every 1°C of warming—and that declining snow levels are the main culprit for this dramatic decline.

Some history

For a resource as critical and carefully managed as the Colorado River, precision is key. Just knowing that it's declining in response to climate change is not enough; more crucial is knowing how much that decline is likely to be.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Cities fighting climate woes hasten “green gentrification”

Ars Technica - February 23, 2020 - 1:07pm

Enlarge (credit: Michael Lee | Getty Images)

Boston’s plans to harden its waterfront against the perils of climate change—storm surge, flooding, and sea-level rise—seem like an all-around win. The only way to keep a higher, more turbulent Atlantic out of South Boston and Charlestown is to build parks, bike paths, gardens, and landscaped berms with waterfront views. These are all things that make a greener, more walkable, more livable city. If this is adaptation to a warmer world, bring it on.

Except geographers and community activists are getting more and more worried about how cities choose which improvements to build and where. They’re noticing that when poorer neighborhoods get water-absorbing green space, storm-surge-proof seawalls, and elevated buildings, all of a sudden they aren’t so poor anymore. The people who lived there—who would’ve borne the brunt of whatever disasters a changing climate will bring—get pushed out in favor of new housing built to sell at or above market rates to people with enough money to buy not just safety but a beautiful new waterfront. In real estate lingo, “adaptations” are also “amenities,” and the pursuit of those amenities ends up displacing poor people and people of color. The phenomenon has a name: green gentrification.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How lake gases are powering homes in Rwanda

BBC Technology News - February 23, 2020 - 11:34am
Methane is being extracted from Lake Kivu in Rwanda to generate electricity.

'Mad' Mike Hughes dies after crash-landing homemade rocket

BBC Technology News - February 23, 2020 - 9:23am
"Mad" Mike Hughes, 64, wanted to launch himself into space to prove that the Earth was flat.

Physics undergrads crunched numbers for Star Trek’s tribble problem

Ars Technica - February 23, 2020 - 2:15am

Enlarge / Captain James T. Kirk (William Shatner) is buried in adorable fluff balls in the classic 1967 episode, "The Trouble with Tribbles," on Star Trek: TOS. (credit: Paramount/CBS Television)

Chalk this one up to fun scientific papers we inexplicably missed last year. A group of undergraduates at the University of Leicester in the UK calculated the growth rate of the fictional Star Trek critters known as tribbles. They published their results in a short paper in the university's undergraduate-centric Journal of Physics Special Topics, estimating just how long it would take for there to be enough tribbles to fill up the USS Enterprise.

First aired on December 29, 1967, "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode was written by David Gerrold, then a 23-year-old college student in California. He originally envisioned it as a cautionary tale of ecological disaster—inspired in part by how quickly rabbits multiplied when they were first introduced to Australia in 1859, a region where they had no natural predators. However, over several rewrites, the tone evolved to incorporate more humor—much to the dismay of ST:TOS creator Gene Roddenberry, who thought the episode lacked gravitas. Roddenberry was ultimately proven wrong. The episode frequently ranks among the top ten best episodes of ST:TOS, if not the entire franchise.

In the episode, the Enterprise is charged with guarding a shipment of "quadrotriticale" grain to Sherman's Planet. While on shore leave, Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) is given a purring ball of fluff called a Tribble by interstellar trader Cyrano Jones (Stanley Adams) and brings it aboard the ship. The tribble quickly reproduces, and its offspring reproduce in turn.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

A neural network picks promising antibiotics out of a library of chemicals

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 7:49pm

Enlarge / Here, have some antibiotics. (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

Biochemists have had some success at designing drugs to match specific targets. But much of drug development remains an arduous grind, screening hundreds to thousands of chemicals for a "hit" that has the effect you're looking for. There have been several attempts to perform this grind in silico, using computers to analyze chemicals, but they've had mixed results. Now, a US-Canadian team is reporting that it's modified a neural network to handle chemistry and used it to identify a potential new antibiotic.

Artificial neurons meet chemicals

Two factors have a major influence on the success of neural networks: the structure of the network itself, and the training it undergoes. In this case, the training was pretty minimalist. The research team did the training using a group of 1,760 drugs that were previously approved by the US FDA, along with another 800 or so natural products. Most of these aren't antibiotics; they target a variety of conditions and are made up of largely unrelated molecules. The researchers simply tested whether these slowed down the growth of E. coli. Even though many of them were partially effective, the researchers set a cutoff and used that to provide a yes or no answer.

This approach does have some advantages in that it shouldn't bias the resulting neural network for any particular chemical structure. But with a dataset that small, it's likely that some specific functional chemical groups were left out of the training set entirely. Success was also very rare, with only 120 molecules coming in above the cutoff. And, since the cutoff was a binary "works" or "doesn't work," the network had no way of identifying trends that could help it project what chemicals might be more active.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

January was warmest on record for the globe

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 2:45pm

Enlarge (credit: NOAA)

We’re off to a hot start in 2020, with January setting a new mark as the warmest instance of that month on record for the globe. And as NOAA pointed out in its monthly summary released Thursday, that occurred without the warming influence of an El Niño in the equatorial Pacific Ocean, where conditions remain neutral.

Few places around the world had a cool month, with much of India and Alaska/Western Canada providing exceptions. Europe through to northern Asia was particularly warm, and January ranked fifth warmest over the contiguous US. This was largely due to remarkably tight circulation of the “polar vortex,” which helped keep Arctic air bottled up north of the mid-latitudes.

For the US, the weather pattern was dominated by an area of low pressure around Alaska and high pressure off the coast of California. Alaska and western Canada stayed colder in this pattern, which also funneled moisture over the Pacific Northwest while keeping the US Southwest dry. In the middle of the month, the low pressure shifted east for a bit, bringing just enough cool air over the central US to produce a fair bit of precipitation.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The Mandalorian was shot on a holodeck-esque set with Unreal Engine, video shows

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 1:30pm

Industrial Light and Magic has published a behind-the-scenes video on the production of Disney+'s The Mandalorian that gives an illuminating look at two of the biggest, high-tech trends in film and TV production: LED sets, and using game engines to create scenes. The video explains a major shift in virtual filmmaking that is unknown to most viewers.

It has historically been impractical to achieve the production values seen in The Mandalorian in TV series, because the kind of visual effects work necessary simply takes more time than a TV production schedule allows. Generally, special effects-driven productions shoot scenes with actors and props in front of a green screen, and then teams add in the background environments and any computer-generated objects in a lengthy post-production period.

That's not how things worked on The Mandalorian. Executive Producer Jon Favreau, Industrial Light and Magic, and game engine-maker Epic Games collaborated to use the Unreal Engine to pre-render scenes then display them as parallax images on giant LED walls and an LED ceiling in a 21-by-75-feet digital set. It's part of a lineage of production techniques and tools developed by Favreau's teams called StageCraft. This approach offered numerous benefits.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Companies are stealing influencers’ faces

Ars Technica - February 22, 2020 - 12:50pm

Enlarge / 30 October 2019, North Rhine-Westphalia, Cologne: Svea Simonis (l-r), Antonia el Ghali, Chany Dakota and Ana Lisa pose in a pink Cadillac at the Supercandy Pop-Up Museum. On 1 November, the "Supercandy Pop-Up" Museum opens in Cologne and offers photographers, bloggers and influencers the perfect backdrop for self-presentation. (credit: Rolf Vennenbernd/picture alliance via Getty Images)

The first time Lucy Kyselica’s face was stolen, it turned up in the window of a beauty salon in small-town America. Kyselica is a Dutch beauty YouTuber who mostly makes videos about historical hairdos, but she had also made a video showing her subscribers how to thread their own eyebrows. The salon took a screengrab from that video, enlarged it to poster size, and used it to advertise their eyebrow threading services. Across the ocean in the Netherlands, Kyselica only found out because some fans recognized her, and asked her if she was working with the salon or if she even knew her image was in its window. She wasn’t; she didn’t. She sent an email, and never heard back. “It may still be there,” she says.

In the six years since, Kyselica has seen her image used to sell other people’s products over and over. She’s been the face of hairstyling tools, hair thickening products, and beauty pills. “The products are always kind of dodgy,” she says. Most recently, it was clip-in bangs sold by a Chinese merchant on Amazon. Kyselica decided to publicize her problem, and made a video about it: “I Ordered My Own Bangs Off Amazon

Study finds quarter of climate change tweets from bots

BBC Technology News - February 22, 2020 - 2:59am
Researchers at Brown University found bots were far more likely to post tweets denying climate change.

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