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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 59 min 3 sec ago

Report: Nintendo quietly owns up to “Joy-Con drift,” will repair for free

8 hours 35 min ago

Enlarge / One guess as to how Nintendo will repair Joy-Con controllers suffering from a widely reported drift issue. (credit: Nintendo / Sam Machkovech)

After months of mounting user complaints and media pressure, Nintendo appears to have finally caved in full to the issue of "Joy-Con drift" on its Nintendo Switch controllers.

Tuesday's news comes courtesy of Vice Games senior reporter Patrick Klepek, one day after a lengthy summary of the issue went live at Kotaku. Klepek's report claims that if Switch owners report incorrect joystick data being fed to their consoles, due to faulty joysticks, Nintendo's customer service reps are authorized to offer a completely free, outside-of-warranty repair of affected controllers (after walking users through a troubleshooting process).

What's more, according to Klepek, if users recently sought such a repair and were charged for the trouble, Nintendo's reps may be able to offer those users a refund. Klepek cites "a source familiar with Nintendo's updated customer support documentation."

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Leaks reveal a trio of iPhone 11 releases to come from Apple this fall

11 hours 14 min ago

Enlarge / A large, looming Apple logo. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Apple often introduces a new wave of hardware at its fall event, and this year the company seems to be preparing a fresh trio of iPhones. The new models will be powered by Apple’s A13 chip and will still be equipped with Lightning ports rather than USB-C.

The news comes from Guilherme Rambo at 9to5Mac, who has produced some reliable Apple scoops in recent months. He cites people who have seen the devices. Paired with the latest claims from Apple’s supply chain, this is looking like a plausible picture of what we can expect from Cook and crew later this fall.

The three models of what would likely be dubbed the iPhone 11 are reportedly intended to replace the three iterations of the iPhone XS that debuted last year. The replacement for the iPhone XS is internally known as the D42, while the D43 will sub in for the iPhone XS Max. The N104 will replace the less expensive iPhone XR.

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Judge allows suit against AT&T after $24 million cryptocurrency theft

July 23, 2019 - 8:28pm

Enlarge / An AT&T store in New Jersey. (credit: Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

When Michael Terpin's smartphone suddenly stopped working in June 2017, he knew it wasn't a good sign. He called his cellular provider, AT&T, and learned that a hacker had gained control of his phone number.

The stakes were high because Terpin is a wealthy and prominent cryptocurrency investor. Terpin says the hackers gained control of his Skype account and tricked a client into sending a cryptocurrency payment to the hackers instead of to Terpin.

After the attack, Terpin asked AT&T to escalate the security protections on his phone number. According to Terpin, AT&T agreed to set up a six-digit passcode that must be entered before anyone could transfer Terpin's phone number.

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When it comes to moral decisions, testosterone doesn’t seem to do much

July 23, 2019 - 8:15pm

Enlarge / The trolley problem brought to (after) life. (credit: NBC)

The Trolley Problem is a staple of ethics courses and has even made its way into prime-time television. It's a "problem" because it forces people to decide between two options that are both considered highly ethical: not choosing to kill someone and minimizing the total number of deaths. It even has real-world correlates, like whether it's better to shoot down a hijacked airliner filled with innocents or allow it to be used as a weapon that kills even more people.

Some of us would like to think that we'd be able to step back and evaluate the situation dispassionately, but the reality is that our emotions often drive important decisions (and besides, as the clip from The Good Place linked above shows, there isn't always time for careful evaluation). Since testosterone influences both emotions and decision-making, many people had ideas about how it might alter the decisions made by people weighing these moral issues. But when a team of researchers from the University of Texas, Austin, decided to test those ideas, it turned out none of them was right.

That doesn't mean testosterone does nothing, but it certainly indicates we don't understand what it might do.

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Tech firms “can and must” put backdoors in encryption, AG Barr says

July 23, 2019 - 7:55pm

Enlarge / Graffiti urging people to use Signal, a highly encrypted messaging app, is spray-painted on a wall during a protest on February 1, 2017 in Berkeley, California. (credit: Elijah Nouvelage | Getty Images)

US Attorney General William Barr today launched a new front in the feds' ongoing fight against consumer encryption, railing against the common security practice and lamenting the "victims" in its wake.

"The deployment of warrant-proof encryption is already imposing huge costs on society," Barr claimed in remarks at a cybersecurity conference held at Fordham University Tuesday morning. Barr added that encryption "seriously degrades" law enforcement's ability to "detect and prevent a crime before it occurs," as well as making eventual investigation and prosecution of crime more difficult.

The existence of encryption means "converting the Internet and communications into a law-free zone" that criminals will happily take advantage of to do more crimes, Barr added, likening it to a neighborhood that local cops have abandoned.

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Dropbox irks Mac users with annoying Dock icon, offers clueless support

July 23, 2019 - 7:18pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

This is a story I never had any intention of writing. Dropbox updated its file-sync application for Mac last month, and the new version contains an annoyance that I would like to eliminate.

I figured this wouldn't be difficult, let alone newsworthy: I'd contact Dropbox, explain the problem, and find out if there's any way for me to change the annoying behavior. If there wasn't, I'd recommend that they make a small change to their app, and hopefully my message would be passed along to their development team and they'd eventually make a change.

Instead, I learned something both frustrating and fascinating: there are numerous Dropbox support employees who apparently have never used their company's Mac application and do not understand how it works. As a result, Dropbox's users have to explain to Dropbox employees how Dropbox's application works on the Mac.

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We’ve got our first peek at S4 of The Expanse and an airdate: December 13

July 23, 2019 - 7:08pm

It's back! The long-awaited fourth season of The Expanse returns on its new network, Amazon Prime.

Amazon Prime has released the first teaser for the upcoming fourth season of the beloved science fiction series, The Expanse.

The Expanse is based on a series of novels by James S.A. Corey (the pen name for writing team Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), exploring interplanetary tensions that are breaking out all over a solar system long since colonized by humans—mostly between Earthers, Martians, and "Belters." Part mystery, part political thriller, part classic space opera, The Expanse has earned almost nothing but praise from critics and its devoted fans alike, not just for its gripping storytelling, but also its excellent use of accurate physics. (Wired's Rhett Allain has explored the physics of a spinning spacecraft and an accelerating spacecraft, among other topics.) The third season earned a rare 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes (seasons one and two earned 76% and 96%, respectively).

So it was something of a shock when SyFy cancelled the series after just three seasons, citing "restrictive distribution arrangements," specifically, just first-run linear rights in the US. Per Deadline Hollywood, "That puts an extraordinary amount of emphasis on live, linear viewing, which is inherently challenging for sci-fi/genre series that tend to draw the lion’s share of their audiences from digital/streaming."

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2019’s “Board Game of the Year” goes to Just One

July 23, 2019 - 6:05pm

Enlarge / The 2019 Spiel des Jahres nominees. (credit: Spiel des Jahres)

Of the many “board game of the year” awards handed out each year, the most prestigious is unquestionably the "Spiel des Jahres" prize. Judged by a panel of German critics, the long-running award earns the winner a boost in profile, increased sales, and the hushed awe of the entire board game community.

This year, the main award, which focuses on lighter, family-friendly fare, went to the party game Just One. Just One is a cooperative word-guessing party game designed by Ludovic Roudy and Bruno Sautter, the team that brought us the ambitious adventure game The 7th Continent. Each round, players write down one-word clues to present to the round’s guesser, who has to figure out a secret word. Players need to give a clue good enough to point the guesser in the right direction—but any identical clues are discarded before the guesser can see them, so being too obvious could backfire. The game is simple to teach and play, and a 13-round game is over in a brisk 20 minutes. Also nominated for the Spiel des Jahres were party word game (Werewords) and legendary designer Reiner Knizia’s L.A.M.A.

This year’s "Kennerspiel des Jahres," the prize awarded to more strategically complex games, went to Wingspan, a beautiful engine-building game about birds. Designed by Elizabeth Hargrave, Wingspan quickly became one of the hottest games of the year when it was released a few months ago, and it’s not hard to see why. The production is gorgeous (no surprise, as it comes from publisher Stonemaier Games), and the gameplay is simple and satisfying. You can read our full review here or check out a gallery of the game's lovely components below. Stefan Feld’s Carpe Diem and Portal Games’ Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game were also up for the Kennerspiel.

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Dealmaster: Get a TCL 55-inch 4K Roku TV for a new low of $380

July 23, 2019 - 5:55pm

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with another round of deals to share. Today's list is led by new lows on TCL's 5-Series Roku TVs—the 55-inch model is down to $380, while the 49-inch set is down to $300. These two sets have gone for about $20 more for the past couple of months, but this is as cheap as either of them have gone to date.

In any event, both TVs here are a good value at these prices. They launched last year, and while they technically support HDR10 and Dolby Vision HDR, they don't support local dimming, so it's hard to say they're truly capable of displaying HDR content. They also only support a 60Hz refresh rate. But their contrast and colors are impressive for the price nonetheless, and their built-in Roku OS remains much more intuitive and useful than most smart TV interfaces. If you can afford to step up to something like Vizio's P-Series, or if you can really splash the cash, LG's OLED sets are clear steps up in picture quality. But if you just can't spend more than $400, these should still please.

If you're all set on the TV front, though, we also have deals on wireless chargers, gaming laptops, Ars-approved board games, and more. Have a look for yourself below.

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Apple closes in on $1 billion deal to buy Intel’s modem business: report

July 23, 2019 - 5:03pm

Enlarge / Apple CEO Tim Cook. (credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Apple is in the final stages of negotiations to buy the bulk of Intel's modem chip business, The Wall Street Journal reports. The Journal says the deal, valued at $1 billion or more, could be finalized in the next week. The deal would involve the transfer of talent as well as modem-related patents.

Intel's wireless efforts date back to at least 2011, when the company bought Infineon's wireless division for $1.4 billion. Intel hoped to become a major rival to Qualcomm, which has long played a dominant role in the market for wireless chips.

But Intel has struggled to gain traction. That's partly because Qualcomm negotiated restrictive contracts with potential Intel customers that effectively blocked them from considering a second supplier. After Apple began shipping iPhones with Intel chips inside them in 2016, Qualcomm declared war on Apple, suing for patent infringement and eventually refusing to supply chips for new iPhone models—making Apple dependent on Intel for those chips.

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Satellites play chase to measure gravity, achieve picometer accuracy

July 23, 2019 - 4:22pm

Enlarge (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The spinoffs from gravitational wave detectors are not just new scientific discoveries. The technology also has other uses. A good example of this is the gravity-measuring mission, GRACE Follow On, which was launched last year. The first reports on its laser rangefinder's performance have been released, and it makes for impressive reading.

Gravitational wave detectors work by measuring tiny changes in the distance between two mirrors. Ripples in space-time cause a tiny oscillation in that distance, which is then detected by comparing the phase shift between light that has traveled between the two mirrors and light that has traveled along a path that was unaffected by the gravitational wave. To put it in perspective, a gravitational wave detector measures changes that are far smaller than the diameter of an atom and are more like the diameter of a single proton.

The gravity of GRACE

Similar technology found its way into space to increase the sensitivity of Earth-monitoring instruments. On Earth, we have stationary detectors that wait for gravitational waves to pass through them. In orbit, the detector is moving and can measure subtle changes in the Earth's gravitational field.

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Nvidia RTX 2080 Super hands-on: The result when AMD is out of striking distance

July 23, 2019 - 2:00pm

Earlier this month, Nvidia kicked a stool out from under AMD's feet, just as the graphics-card sector began heating up anew. AMD was set to land a serious blow with new RX 5700 cards in the "pricey but reasonable" range—a range that Nvidia had failed to capture with its "entry-level" RTX cards, the 2060 and 2070. Nvidia responded to AMD's news by unveiling and launching a surprise pair of solid "Super" cards. AMD responded with its own price cut (and a claim that this price-war dance was its plan all along).

As these similarly specced cards jostled for the "$400ish" crown, the winner was ultimately consumers. At every price point, new GPU buyers can expect a solid bang-for-buck quotient between the $349 AMD Radeon RX 5700 and the $499 Nvidia RTX 2070 Super.

Weeks later, we have Nvidia's third Super-branded launch, the RTX 2080 Super. And it's a good reminder of what happens when AMD is not in striking distance of a particular price sector.

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Formula E five years on: Cars Technica grades the electric racing series

July 23, 2019 - 12:30pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson)

This past weekend, against a backdrop of lower Manhattan, Formula E held its season-ending double-header. After 13 races across the globe, the DS Techeetah team was triumphant, scoring more points than any of its rivals to take the team championship. And Jean-Eric Vergne, one of DS Techeetah's two drivers, beat out his rivals—and the heat—to become the series' first two-time driver's champion.

And when the checkered flag waved on Sunday afternoon, it also marked an additional reason for celebration: Formula E officially completed its fifth season.

The series launched back in 2014, and it's fair to say it was greeted with heavy skepticism across the racing community. For an industry meant to be on the leading edge of automotive technology, motorsport can often succumb to conservatism. Formula E definitely represented something new and different. But different isn't a synonym for bad, and I'd like to think we're pretty open-minded here at Ars, especially when it comes to electric vehicles.

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Ford shows off electric F-150 truck by towing a million pounds of train

July 23, 2019 - 11:00am

Even if you're not a truck fan, the prospect of a battery electric Ford F-150 is appealing. The F-150 is the nation's best-selling light vehicle with more than 1.1 million sold in 2018, so it would be a good thing if some of those future sales were variants that didn't need to pump out buckets of CO2 every day. To do that, Ford not only needs a competent electric powertrain, it also has to convince some of its customers that dropping the internal combustion engine isn't a downgrade.

Which is probably why the company just released video of a prototype BEV F-150 towing more than a million pounds (453,592kg). Linda Zhang, chief engineer for the electric F-150, used one of the prototypes to pull 10 double-decker train cars carrying 42 2019 F-150s over a distance of more than 1,000 feet (300m). Until now, the heaviest thing pulled by a BEV for a publicity stunt was probably a Qantas Boeing 787 weighing 286,600lbs (130,000kg), which was pulled by a Tesla Model X in 2018.

In less welcome F-150 news, on Monday a class action lawsuit was filed against Ford for overstating the fuel efficiency of the 2018 and 2019 F-150 as well as the 2019 Ford Ranger trucks. The suit alleges that Ford "deliberately miscalculated and misrepresented factors used in vehicle certification testing in order to report that its vehicles used less fuel and emitted less pollution than they actually did. The certification test related cheating centers on the "Coast Down" testing and "Road Load" calculations."

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Apple releases iOS 12.4, watchOS 5.3, macOS 10.14.6, and more

July 23, 2019 - 12:28am

Enlarge / The Apple Watch series 4 running watchOS 5. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

As it often does, Apple has released updates for all of its device operating systems at once. iOS 12.4, watchOS 5.3, macOS 10.14.6, and tvOS 12.4 all arrive on supporting devices today.

iOS 12.4's tentpole feature is the ability to directly and wirelessly transfer all your data from one iPhone to another when setting the latter up. Onlookers are also speculating that it includes yet-to-be-activated support for the Apple Card credit card. This Goldman Sachs-driven consumer credit card will have a number of smart features and iPhone tie-ins, and, per Apple's announcement earlier this year, is due to launch by the end of the summer.

There are also some quality-of-life and UX improvements for Apple News+. These are Apple's iOS 12.4 release notes:

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Chances of destructive BlueKeep exploit rise with new explainer posted online

July 23, 2019 - 12:00am

Enlarge (credit: One of the slides posted to Github.)

A security researcher has published a detailed guide that shows how to execute malicious code on Windows computers still vulnerable to the critical BlueKeep vulnerability. The move significantly lowers the bar for writing exploits that wreak the kinds of destructive attacks not seen since the WannaCry and NotPetya attacks of 2017, researchers said.

As of three weeks ago, more than 800,000 computers exposed to the Internet were vulnerable to the exploit, researchers from security firm BitSight said last week. Microsoft and a chorus of security professionals have warned of the potential for exploits to sow worldwide disruptions. The risk of the bug, found in Microsoft's implementation of the remote desktop protocol, stems from the ability for attacks to spread from one vulnerable computer to another with no interaction required of end users.

“A pretty big deal”

One of the only things standing in the way of real-world attacks is the expertise required to write exploits that remotely execute code without crashing the computer first. Several highly skilled whitehat hackers have done so with varying levels of success, but they have kept the techniques that make this possible secret. Much of that changed overnight, when a security researcher published this slide deck to Github.

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Christopher Columbus Kraft, NASA’s legendary flight director, has died

July 22, 2019 - 11:05pm

Christopher Columbus Kraft Jr.—one of NASA's founding engineers, its first flight director, and a key architect of the Apollo and space shuttle programs—has died at the age of 95.

Back during the earliest days of NASA, the head of the agency's Space Task Group, Robert Gilruth, assigned Kraft the job of drawing up rules and procedures for safely managing the flight of a human into space, through the great blackness, and back to the ground. Kraft was to do all of this without the aid of a calculator or sophisticated computer and without any reference material. And he had to hurry, because the Soviet Union had already taken a big lead in the Space Race.

Over time, the work Kraft did in writing those rules, as well as hiring a talented team of flight directors and controllers, helped NASA fly the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs. Kraft became, in the words of astronaut Neil Armstrong, the "control" in Mission Control. Today, NASA's Mission Control in Houston bears his name—the Christopher C. Kraft Jr. Mission Control Center.

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Asus’ ROG Phone II features a 120Hz display, a new SoC, and a giant battery

July 22, 2019 - 8:07pm

Asus is still trying to make gaming phones a thing with the release of the Asus ROG (Republic of Gamers) Phone II. Just like last year's model, this is a high-end smartphone with a hyper-aggressive "gamer" design and a light-up back logo, but there are also genuinely impressive specs here that you won't find on any other smartphone right now.

The Asus Republic of Gamers Phone II is the first device to launch with Qualcomm's new Snapdragon 855 Plus SoC. This 855 "Plus" is a mid-cycle upgrade for the Snapdragon 855 with higher clock speeds for the CPU and GPU. The SoC's single "Prime" CPU core gets bumped from 2.84GHz to 2.96GHz, while the GPU gets a 15% boost from 585MHz to 672MHz.

You're going to need that extra horsepower, since the ROG Phone II has a 6.59-inch, 2340×1080 OLED display with a 120Hz refresh rate, which is up from 90Hz last year. This is one of the fastest displays you can get on a smartphone, alongside the 120Hz display on the Razer Phone 2, though that is an LCD. The 90Hz display on the OnePlus 7 Pro turned out to be one of the phone's best features even when you weren't gaming, thanks to the faster, smoother UI animations it enabled. I expect faster displays to show up in many more smartphones phones next year.

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With a launch and a hop coming up, SpaceX has a big week ahead

July 22, 2019 - 7:35pm

This is a big week for SpaceX, which has an important Falcon 9 launch for NASA taking place from Florida and probably a key test flight in Texas as well.

On Wednesday, SpaceX is scheduled to attempt its ninth launch of 2019: a cargo supply mission to the International Space Station. The Dragon spacecraft will ferry about 2.5 metric tons of supplies, science experiments, and equipment to the orbiting laboratory. This will be the 18th supply mission SpaceX has flown for NASA.

With a static fire of the Falcon 9 rocket already complete, liftoff is presently scheduled for 6:24pm ET (22:24 UTC) Wednesday from Space Launch Complex 40 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The weather forecast is not great, however, with a 70 percent chance of "no-go" conditions.This Falcon 9 first stage has flown once before, launching SpaceX's last supply mission to the station, in May. NASA may fly it for a third time later this year.

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AMD exec: Nvidia fell for our double bluff

July 22, 2019 - 7:20pm

Enlarge / AMD's Scott Herkelman explains to HotHardware how he "jebaited" Nvidia. (credit: 2.5 Geeks)

Earlier this month, AMD Radeon VP Scott Herkelman tweeted a single, cryptic word: jebaited. If you're not a big Twitch person, that probably doesn't mean much to you. Thankfully, Herkelman made it clear for the rest of us a week later, when he appeared on HotHardware's 2.5 Geeks podcast to talk about the Radeon 5700 launch.

The first half of the 45 minute interview goes by with Herkelman propping up his gamer cred, then he walks through AMD's usual talking points about contrast-adaptive sharpening and doing the usual "we love the reviewer community" routine. But about 26 minutes later, HotHardware's Dave Altavilla asked Herkelman about the tweet—which referenced AMD's Radeon pricing strategy—and things got more interesting.

Ever seen a T-shirted division vice president of a $35B company crow about "jebaiting" a corporate opponent by "double bluffing the Super strategy?" No? Well, today's your day.

AMD first unveiled its new Navi cards in June, with Nvidia's forthcoming "Super" line of upclocked refreshes waiting in the wings. While the RX5700 line promised a better performance-per-dollar ratio than competing Nvidia cards—a promise that has been borne out by third-party reviews—Nvidia still had the possibility of muting AMD's thunder with a well-timed Super release, which might bring that price:performance ratio back into line. Herkelman's cryptic tweet dropped when Nvidia acted—and the next day, AMD slashed prices on the new cards enough to bring the entire line under the new RTX 2070 Super's $499 asking price.

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