How Buke and Gase built a huge indie rock career—and its own guitars, software

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Source: Ars Technica – How Buke and Gase built a huge indie rock career—and its own guitars, software

Hermit crabs evolved longer penises to keep their shells from being stolen

An adult male hermit crab of the species <em>Coenobita compressus</em> ambling along on a leisurely stroll.

Enlarge / An adult male hermit crab of the species Coenobita compressus ambling along on a leisurely stroll. (credit: Mark Laidre)

Hermit crabs protect their soft, curved abdomens from harm by scavenging seashells and turning them into portable homes. That poses a challenge when it comes time to mate, since a rival can steal the shell while its occupant is, shall we say, otherwise occupied. A new paper in the journal Royal Society Interface poses an intriguing new hypothesis: some species of male hermit crabs evolved substantially longer penises so they could mate without having to venture too far outside their shells.

Mark Laidre, a biologist at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire, dubbed his hypothesis “private parts for private property.” He’s been studying the behavior of a particular species of hermit crab, Coenobita compressus, for the last decade.

Seashells are a valuable, limited resource—a kind of private property for hermit crabs, their most prized possession—and particularly so for Coenobita compressus. This species engages in elaborate remodeling of scavenged shells to tailor it precisely to their liking, tearing out hard material inside the shell over several months to make more room for their bodies. Because the shells are so valuable, there is stiff competition to attain a really nice shell. Fights break out, crabs will kill another crab for their shells, and sometimes they will just outright steal them. Since the remodeled shells prevent the creatures from drying out (which can happen within 24 hours), they are crucial to the crabs’ survival.

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Source: Ars Technica – Hermit crabs evolved longer penises to keep their shells from being stolen

Even with the Google/Fossil deal, Wear OS is doomed

Wear OS seems nice, but it lacks apps and decent hardware.

Enlarge / Wear OS seems nice, but it lacks apps and decent hardware. (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Google and Fossil Group were involved in some kind of acquisition deal yesterday. Despite being a fashion brand, Fossil is probably the biggest remaining seller of Android Wear OS hardware. Brands like Fossil, Michael Kors, Diesel, Emporio Armani, and Misfit are all part of Fossil Group, and all produce Wear OS devices. Fossil sold Google some IP and “a portion of Fossil Group’s research and development team currently supporting the transferring IP” for $40 million.

Fossil’s stock jumped 8 percent on the news, which was probably “mission accomplished” as far as this announcement was concerned. The press release sent the tech community into a tizzy, though.

“Google cares about Android Wear?” “This will fix everything!” “When is the Pixel Watch coming out?”

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Source: Ars Technica – Even with the Google/Fossil deal, Wear OS is doomed

Damning court docs show just how far Sacklers went to push OxyContin

Damning court docs show just how far Sacklers went to push OxyContin

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

With the opioid epidemic raging, you may at this point be familiar with Purdue Pharma. It makes the powerful painkiller OxyContin and has been widely blamed for igniting the current crisis.

After debuting OxyContin in 1996, Purdue raked in billions using aggressive and deceptive sales tactics, including ratcheting up dosages of the addictive opioid while lying about its addictiveness. As OxyContin prescriptions soared, opioid overdose deaths increased six-fold in the US, killing more than 400,000 people between 1999 and 2017. Of those deaths, around 200,000 involved prescription opioids specifically.

In 2007, Purdue and three of its executives pleaded guilty in federal court to misleading doctors, regulators, and patients about the addictiveness of OxyContin. The company has seen a flurry of lawsuits making similar allegations since then.

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Source: Ars Technica – Damning court docs show just how far Sacklers went to push OxyContin

Review: Toyota Sienna minivan mixes the solid with the subpar

The Sienna resplendent in an elementary school parking lot.

Enlarge / The Sienna resplendent in an elementary school parking lot.

In the early 2000s, I was in the market for a big car. We needed something that could ferry our daughter and stuff around, carry drywall and other home-improvement stuff, and feel comfortable on cross-country trips to visit my family. Neither our Ford Taurus nor Saturn SL1 fit the bill, and we weren’t feeling the SUV love. As we started looking into minivans, it became clear that there were three models to look at seriously: the Honda Odyssey, Chrysler Town & Country, and Toyota Sienna.

Nearly 20 years later, not much has changed. Honda, Chrysler, and Toyota still rule the minivan market in terms of sales. We drove the Town & Country’s successor, the Pacifica, last year and came away very impressed. So when I found out there was a 2019 Toyota Sienna on the local press fleet, reviewing it was a no-brainer.

The Sienna got a new powertrain in 2017, and last year’s model saw some safety and ride quality improvements. Toyota Safety Sense, its suite of driver-assist technology, became standard on the Sienna. Toyota also tackled ride quality by making the cabin quieter. For 2019, support for CarPlay and Amazon Alexa has been added, and the all-wheel-drive powertrain is now available on the SE trim.

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Source: Ars Technica – Review: Toyota Sienna minivan mixes the solid with the subpar

“Our worst fears have come true,” VW Group exec wrote to Audi exec

Audi and Volkswagen signs.

Enlarge / A sign for car service for Audi and VW is pictured on January 09, 2019 in Berlin, Germany. (credit: Photo by Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images)

On Thursday, a federal grand jury in Detroit, Michigan, indicted four Audi executives for playing a role in the diesel cheating scandals that rocked parent company Volkswagen Group in 2015 and 2016. The four executives—Richard Bauder, Axel Eiser, Stefan Knirsch, and Carsten Nagel—all worked for Audi in Germany, and they have not been arrested.

The four men have been charged (PDF) with conspiracy to defraud the United States, commit wire fraud, and violate the Clean Air Act.

The indictment offered some new details on how emissions cheating unfolded at Audi and VW Group, especially with respect to emissions control system cheats on Audi’s 3.0L diesel vehicles.

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Source: Ars Technica – “Our worst fears have come true,” VW Group exec wrote to Audi exec

Verizon offers free robocall blocking, two years after AT&T and T-Mobile

A Verizon logo at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

Enlarge / A Verizon logo at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. (credit: Getty Images | Bloomberg)

Verizon yesterday said it will make spam and robocall blocking features free for all wireless customers starting in March, about two years after AT&T and T-Mobile began offering free robocall blocking.

“In March, we will be rolling out our free spam alerting and call blocking tools to all of our wireless customers whose smartphones support these features, including iPhone and Android devices,” Verizon’s announcement said. “There will be more information on how to sign up for the free service as we get closer to launch.”

Verizon added call and spam screening features more than a year ago to its $2.99-per-month Call Filter product, which also lets customers see contact details for unknown callers. Verizon pointed to research showing that its system “correctly identified potential problem phone numbers approximately 93.6 percent of the time.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Verizon offers free robocall blocking, two years after AT&T and T-Mobile

Report: Facebook, under scrutiny by FTC, could soon owe millions in fines

Report: Facebook, under scrutiny by FTC, could soon owe millions in fines

Enlarge (credit: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

According to a Friday report by The Washington Post, federal regulators have discussed imposing a “record-setting fine against Facebook” for violating the company’s 2011 consent decree with the Federal Trade Commission.

The Post, which cited “three people familiar with the deliberations,” reported that the total amount is “expected to be much larger than the $22.5 million fine” that Google previously paid in 2012.

Facebook has come under significant scrutiny over the last year in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal that erupted in March 2018. That now-defunct British data analytics company was revealed to have retained data on 50 million Facebook users despite claiming to have deleted it.

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Source: Ars Technica – Report: Facebook, under scrutiny by FTC, could soon owe millions in fines

VR headsets, augmented windshields, and multiscreen infotainment at CES

Yes, I am wearing VR in the backseat of an electric car. Yes, this is Peak CES.

Enlarge / Yes, I am wearing VR in the backseat of an electric car. Yes, this is Peak CES. (credit: Aurich Lawson)

LAS VEGAS—I’d been on the ground for less than twelve hours before I strapped on the virtual reality headset. It was only 8pm but felt far later thanks to time zones and air travel. I had already been chauffeured about that afternoon by a self-driving car, and here I was sitting in the back seat of an Audi e-tron at a race track a little south of the city. I’d already reached Peak CES, yet the show wouldn’t even officially start for another 36 hours.

We were at Speedvegas for a rather exclusive look at Holoride, which Audi thinks is the next big breakthrough in in-car entertainment. According to the company—which has spun Holoride as an independent startup—it’s a “radically new way to entertain backseat passengers in a brand new way.” The idea is deceptively simple: you take telematics info from the car in real-time and use it to construct artificial environments in VR. Or, to put it another way, imagine you’re flying in a spaceship, and every time the car accelerates, brakes, or turns, your spaceship accelerates, brakes, or turns as well.

I know what you’re thinking: “wearing VR in the back of a car is going to make me carsick!” Holoride’s magic formula has been to better match the car’s motion to what happens in VR. That means less conflict between the messages from your eyes and your vestibular system, which means less motion sickness. (Now, only 27 percent of users will experience severe nausea, down from more than one in two before Holoride worked out its digital magic. And 53 percent experience no nausea at all.)

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Source: Ars Technica – VR headsets, augmented windshields, and multiscreen infotainment at CES

Sen. Marco Rubio wants to ban states from protecting consumer privacy

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaking to reporters.

Enlarge / Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) speaks to reporters following a closed briefing on intelligence matters on Capitol Hill on December 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty Images | Zach Gibson )

US Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) has proposed a federal privacy law that would preempt tougher privacy rules issued by states.

Rubio’s announcement Wednesday said that his American Data Dissemination (ADD) Act “provides overdue transparency and accountability from the tech industry while ensuring that small businesses and startups are still able to innovate and compete in the digital marketplace.”

But Rubio’s bill establishes a process for creating rules instead of issuing specific rules right away, and it allows up to 27 months for Congress or the Federal Trade Commission to write the actual rules.

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Source: Ars Technica – Sen. Marco Rubio wants to ban states from protecting consumer privacy

To fight climate misinformation, point to the man behind the curtain

Protest sign from a rally against the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain, BC.

Enlarge / Protest sign from a rally against the Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain, BC. (credit: flickr user: Mark Klotz)

In 2018, Gallup’s annual environment survey found that overall concern about climate change in the US was roughly stable. But within that stability was a growing divide. The 87 percent of Democrats who reported in 2017 that they believe global warming is a result of human activity bumped up slightly to 89 percent in 2018. Meanwhile, for Republicans, that number dipped from 40 percent in 2017 to 35 percent in 2018.

How can the misinformation campaign driving this divide be fought? Just reporting and reiterating the facts of anthropogenic climate change doesn’t seem to work. A paper in Nature Climate Change this week argues that attempts to counter misinformation need to draw on the research that is illuminating the bad actors behind climate denialism, the money funding them, and how their coordinated campaigns are disrupting the political process.

Facts alone won’t cut it

“It is not enough simply to communicate to the public over and again the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change,” write Justin Farrell, Kathryn McConnell and Robert Brulle in their paper, because “individuals’ preexisting ideologies and values systems can play a significant role in whether they accept or reject scientific consensus.”

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Source: Ars Technica – To fight climate misinformation, point to the man behind the curtain

Microsoft: Switch to iOS or Android because Windows 10 Mobile is ending

Lumia 950

Lumia 950 (credit: Peter Bright)

Windows 10 Mobile will receive its last patches and security updates on December 10 this year, as Microsoft winds down the last remaining bit of development on its smartphone platform.

The last major notable to the platform was October 2017, when it was bumped to version 1709. At that point, Microsoft ended feature development entirely, shipping only security updates and bug fixes. That’s going to come to an end on Patch Tuesday this coming December.

Certain online services will continue to operate beyond that date; device backups for settings and applications will work for three months, to March 10, 2020, and photo uploads and restoring devices from backups will work for 12 months beyond the end of support.

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Source: Ars Technica – Microsoft: Switch to iOS or Android because Windows 10 Mobile is ending

Elon Musk announces Tesla layoffs, warns about weak Q4 profits

Tesla CEO Elon Musk visiting China in January 2019.

Enlarge / Tesla CEO Elon Musk visiting China in January 2019. (credit: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Tesla is cutting its workforce by about 7 percent, CEO Elon Musk announced in a Friday morning email to employees. Musk said that the cuts are necessary to help Tesla cope with what Musk described as an “extremely difficult challenge: making our cars, batteries and solar products cost-competitive with fossil fuels.”

Tesla’s stock price fell more than 9 percent on the news.

Tesla grew its workforce by 30 percent in 2018, according to Musk, but that growth turned out to be unsustainable. And Tesla is facing a number of headwinds in the coming months.

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Source: Ars Technica – Elon Musk announces Tesla layoffs, warns about weak Q4 profits

The Earth has been experiencing more frequent asteroid strikes

The craters used for this analysis and their locations.

Enlarge / The craters used for this analysis and their locations. (credit: Dr. A. Parker, Southwest Research Institute)

How often does a big rock drop on our planet from space? As we’ve gotten a better understanding of the impact that did in the dinosaurs, that knowledge has compelled people to take a serious look at how we might detect and divert asteroids that pose a similar threat of planetary extinction. But something even a tenth of the size of the dinosaur-killer could cause catastrophic damage, as you could easily determine by placing a 15km circle over your favorite metropolitan center.

So, what’s the risk of having a collision of that nature? It’s actually hard to tell. The easiest way to tell is to look for past impact craters and try to figure out the frequency of these impacts, but the Earth has a habit of erasing evidence. So, instead, a group of scientists figured out a clever way of looking at the Moon, which should have a similar level or risk. And they found that the rate of impacts went up about 300 million years ago.

Erasing history

Some impact craters on Earth are pretty obvious, but erosion and infilling with sediments make others much harder to find. We wouldn’t have noticed Chicxulub or the Chesapeake Bay Crater were there if we hadn’t stumbled across them for other reasons. As we go back in time, plate tectonics can erase evidence of impacts from the sea floor, as the rock they reside in gets subducted back into the mantle. And then, about 550 million years ago, the Great Unconformity wipes off any evidence of impacts that might have been left on land.

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Source: Ars Technica – The Earth has been experiencing more frequent asteroid strikes

Now That’s What I Call Ars Technica, Volume 1: Favorite stories from Ars’ 20 years

Actually, I think that was a popular timepiece style when the site first started.

Enlarge / Actually, I think that was a popular timepiece style when the site first started. (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty Images)

It’s true—Ars Technica is in the process of turning 20 years old throughout 2019. If you’ve ever looked at the whois info, our official birthday hits on December 29. But Ars was really birthed all throughout that first year, as Editor-in-Chief Ken Fisher (err, Caesar) and his fellow computer prosumers figured out how to start the most comprehensive PC enthusiast outlet around. “Our love for the PC is gonna lead us into bad, bad things like NT, Linux, and BeOS content under the same roof,” as the original Ars Mission Statement noted. “Please don’t report us!”

Since then, well, Ars has definitely expanded. You can find anything from LARPing to archaeology industry trends alongside the latest Linux review on the site today. But throughout these past two decades and the site’s numerous evolutions, Ars still feels like it has stuck with the ethos of that initial public declaration—”having fun, being productive, and being as informative and as accurate as possible,” as Caesar put it.

So to cap off this week (itself likely a small start to what will inevitably be numerous trips down memory lane during our 20th anniversary year), we recently polled the Ars community—aka, staff and readers—to find out what folks consider some of the site’s greatest hits. The first batch of story suggestions is below, but don’t be shy about starting a second list in the comments.

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Source: Ars Technica – Now That’s What I Call Ars Technica, Volume 1: Favorite stories from Ars’ 20 years

The longstanding NASA-Russian partnership in space may be unraveling

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Source: Ars Technica – The longstanding NASA-Russian partnership in space may be unraveling

Star Trek: Discovery’s second season arrives with a flashy get-to-know you debut

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Source: Ars Technica – Star Trek: Discovery’s second season arrives with a flashy get-to-know you debut

Twenty legal battles that stand out across Ars’ 20 years of covering them

The US Supreme Court is shown on the day of the investiture ceremony for new Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh on November 8, 2018 in Washington, DC.

Enlarge / The US Supreme Court is shown on the day of the investiture ceremony for new Supreme Court Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh on November 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. (credit: Mark Wilson / Getty Images)

The legal system is often a confounding place, where disputes are adjudicated—it’s a world full of jargon that we journalists try to explain as best we can. And over the last two decades, legal cases have remained a fixture on Ars Technica.

We’ve brought you endless news of initial criminal or civil complaints in that time. And in the most important cases, Ars has followed them, blow by blow, through various motions. We sat in every session for the criminal trial of Silk Road mastermind Ross Ulbricht and took a similar approach to the API patents saga of Oracle v. Google, for instance.

Just this week, Ars sat in the courtroom as Defense Distributed and the State of New Jersey argued over legal jurisdiction and matters of free speech intersecting with future technology. It echoes back to our site’s legacy of watching the march of technology and innovation directly intersect with an evolving legal system—it has been nearly 20 years since we covered Microsoft’s infamous antitrust battles around the turn of the century. These literally became the subject of CNN decade documentaries since then.

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Source: Ars Technica – Twenty legal battles that stand out across Ars’ 20 years of covering them

Rocket Report: Iranian booster failure, SpaceX cuts, Vulcan near final design

A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Enlarge / A Falcon 9 rocket launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base. (credit: Aurich Lawson/SpaceX)

Welcome to Edition 1.32 of the Rocket Report! As we get deeper into the new year, the launch business is starting to heat up, especially among the smaller rockets. Companies are eyeing launch sites, securing launch contracts, and scrambling on development of their rockets. This is simply going to be a huge year for small-sat launchers, and we’re going to do our best to stay on top of everything.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets as well as a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Relativity Space to launch from historic Florida site. The company that aspires to 3D print almost the entirety of its rockets has reached an agreement with the US Air Force to launch from historic facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Relativity Space said Thursday it has a multiyear contract to build and operate its own rocket launch facilities at Launch Complex 16, Ars reported.

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Source: Ars Technica – Rocket Report: Iranian booster failure, SpaceX cuts, Vulcan near final design

For teens, digital technology is good. Or bad. Or maybe neutral?

For teens, digital technology is good. Or bad. Or maybe neutral?

Enlarge (credit: SimpleTexting.com)

In South Korea, people under the age of 16 can’t play online games between midnight and 6am. The UK Parliament has launched an official inquiry into “the impact of social media and screen use on young people’s health.” Meanwhile in the United States, the Wait Until 8th campaign asks parents to delay giving their children a smartphone until they’re in eighth grade. Worry about kids and technology is rampant—so have smartphones, in fact, destroyed a generation?

A paper published in Nature Human Behaviour this week answers that question, often differently, thousands and thousands of times. Researchers Amy Orben and Andrew Przybylski took three huge datasets and threw every possible meaningful question at them. In part, their analysis is an illustration of how different researchers can get wildly different answers from the same data. But cumulatively, the answers they came up with indicate that tech use correlates with a teeny-tiny dent in adolescent well-being—and that there’s a big problem with big data.

High numbers don’t necessarily mean high quality

Studying small numbers of people, or rats, or trees can be a problem for scientists. Comparisons between small groups of subjects might miss a real finding or luck out and find something that looks like a pattern but is actually just noise. And it’s always tricky to generalize from a small group to a whole population. Sometimes small is the only sort of data that’s available, but some research disciplines have had the recent(-ish) boon of gigantic, rich datasets to work with.

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Source: Ars Technica – For teens, digital technology is good. Or bad. Or maybe neutral?