PUBG’s first-ever free weekend has begun on Xbox One (for XBL Gold members)

Enlarge (credit: PUBG Corp./Microsoft)

PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG)’s stratospheric rise in popularity on PC and console has been curious, in particular because of its $30 cost of entry—a fact that sets it apart from its popular, free-to-play rival Fortnite Battle Royale. For at least a few days, however, that barrier is (for the most part) going away… if you are willing to play PUBG on Xbox One.

The console’s “early access” version of the 100-person, massive-arena shooter is currently free to download and play so long as you are an Xbox Live Gold subscriber. (If you do not pay for Xbox Live Gold and are interested, now might be a good time to dig out one of the many 48-hour and 7-day trials packed into Xbox game boxes.) The game’s “Free Gold Weekend” promotion runs from today, April 19, until 11:59pm ET on Sunday, April 22.

In some ways, this mostly-free version doesn’t offer an ideal way to get to know the popular shooter. We defer to the frame rate analysis gurus at Digital Foundry, who took a hard look in March at what had and hadn’t improved for the console version in its first three months. In short: the game is fun, but the performance issues don’t help.

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Source: Ars Technica – PUBG’s first-ever free weekend has begun on Xbox One (for XBL Gold members)

Southwest Airlines protested airworthiness directive designed to prevent engine failures

Enlarge / Southwest’s Boeing 737-700, tail number N772SW, was the aircraft for Southwest flight 1380. A failure in its left turbofan engine caused the death of one passenger and multiple other injuries. (credit: Aeroprints)

While a National Transportation Safety Board investigation is still underway, NTSB officials confirmed that the uncontained engine failure aboard Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 was the result of a fan blade breaking from a crack near the fan’s hub. The failure is similar to one that occurred on another Southwest flight in September 2016.

“The fan blade separated in two places,” said NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt. “At the hub… there’s a fatigue fracture where this #13 fan blade would come into that hub. It also fractured roughly halfway through it. But it appears the fatigue fracture was the initial event. We have the root part, but we don’t have the outboard part. The crack was interior, so certainly not detectable from looking at it from the outside.”

After that incident, the manufacturer of the engine—CFM International—issued a technical bulletin urging customers to conduct more frequent ultrasonic inspections of the fan in the type of turbofan engine used by Southwest’s 737 Next Generation aircraft. In 2017, CFM even asked the FAA to enact a new rule requiring those checks. But Southwest Airlines opposed the proposed change to inspection frequency, stating in a comment to the FAA that it would take longer for the airline to comply because of the number of engines in its fleet:

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Source: Ars Technica – Southwest Airlines protested airworthiness directive designed to prevent engine failures

As PUBG-like contenders emerge, Islands of Nyne might already have them beat

Call it a trend, if not an outright phenomenon. Battle royale games have officially catapulted into the industry’s pole position, largely fueled by the neck-and-neck popularity contest between PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite: Battle Royale. And this week, we learned that even more of these games will likely show up by year’s end, with rumors circling around major series like Call of Duty and Battlefield.

The news follows plenty of latecomers to the battle royale genre, which all have a few things in common. Roughly 100 players parachute onto an island with the goal of being the last shooter standing, and that contest is made all the more tense by random-item pickups and a constantly shrinking battlefield.

But what does it take to make a good battle royale game at this point? As more games pile onto the fray and triple-A entries poke their head in, I want to point to one out-of-nowhere game that has done more than bolt the niche’s basics onto existing properties. It’s called Islands of Nyne, and after playing a lot of battle royale games, I have to say, this indie entry is the one to watch from here on out.

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Source: Ars Technica – As PUBG-like contenders emerge, Islands of Nyne might already have them beat

Ryzen gains on Intel with second generation

(credit: AMD)

The second-generation Ryzen chips announced last week are now out, and reviews have hit the ‘Net. Unlike the situation last week, we’re now free to talk about what has changed in the second-generation chips and where their improvements lie.

Model Cores/Threads Clock base/boost/GHz TDP/W Cooler Price
Ryzen 7 2700X 8/16 3.7/4.3 105 Wraith Prism (LED) $329
Ryzen 7 2700 8/16 3.2/4.1 65 Wraith Spire (LED) $299
Ryzen 5 2600X 6/12 3.6/4.2 95 Wraith Spire $229
Ryzen 5 2600 6/12 3.4/3.9 65 Wraith Stealth $199

AMD is calling the new parts “Zen+.” This isn’t a new architecture; rather, it’s a tweaked version of the first-generation Zen architecture. The basic layout of the chips remains the same: each contains two core complexes (CCXes), which are blocks of four cores, eight threads, and 8MB level 3 cache, joined with AMD’s Infinity Fabric.

Architecturally, the biggest improvements seem to have been made to memory and cache latencies. AMD says that the cache latency for level 1, level 2, and level 3 caches and main memory have all improved, reduced by up to 13 percent, 34 percent, 16 percent, and 11 percent, respectively. Tech Report’s benchmarks show improved main-memory latency, and PC Perspective found improved communications latency between CCXes.

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Source: Ars Technica – Ryzen gains on Intel with second generation

Dealmaster: Get a Dell laptop with a Core i7 and 16GB of RAM for $700

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our friends at TechBargains, we have another round of deals to share. Today’s list includes a decent price on Dell’s Inspiron 15 5000 notebook, which can be had with a 7th-gen Core i7, 16GB of RAM, and a 4GB AMD Radeon R7 graphics card for $700.

It probably goes without saying this isn’t the most luxurious notebook in the world—you have to deal with a 1TB HDD instead of a faster SSD, there’s no USB-C, and, again, the processor is a generation old—but that’s still a good amount of horsepower for a laptop with a midrange price. Just note that it uses a TN panel, not an IPS one, so its contrast isn’t the best—though it does at least have a 1080p resolution and is touch-enabled. There’s also a DVD drive and HDMI port, if you’re still hanging onto those. Heads up, though: Dell says stock is limited for this one.

If you don’t need a new laptop on the cheap, we’ve also got deals on Google’s Daydream View headset, 4K TVs, Logitech mice, the Essential Phone, Bluetooth speakers, and more. Check them all out for yourself below.

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Source: Ars Technica – Dealmaster: Get a Dell laptop with a Core i7 and 16GB of RAM for 0

ISPs should charge for fast lanes—just like TSA Precheck, GOP lawmaker says

Enlarge / Airport security line. (credit: TSA)

Congressional Republicans want to impose “net neutrality” rules that allow Internet service providers to charge online services and websites for priority access to consumers. Making the case for paid prioritization Tuesday, US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) said that paying for priority access would be similar to enrolling in TSA Precheck.

“In real life, all sorts of interactions are prioritized every day,” Blackburn said in her opening statement at a subcommittee hearing on paid prioritization. Blackburn continued:

Many of you sitting in this room right now paid a line-sitter to get priority access to this hearing. In fact, it is commonplace for the government itself to offer priority access to services. If you have ever used Priority Mail, you know this to be the case. And what about TSA Precheck? It just might have saved you time as you traveled here today. If you define paid prioritization as simply the act of paying to get your own content in front of the consumer faster, prioritized ads or sponsored content are the basis of many business models online, as many of our members pointed out at the Facebook hearing last week.

Dividing up online services into those that have paid for TSA Precheck-like priority access and those that haven’t wouldn’t necessarily be appealing to consumers. While TSA Precheck lets travelers zoom through security, everyone else is stuck in a long, slow-moving line and met with frequent obstacles. Comparing paid prioritization to TSA Precheck lends credence to the pro-net neutrality argument that allowing paid fast lanes would necessarily push all other online services into “slow lanes.”

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Source: Ars Technica – ISPs should charge for fast lanes—just like TSA Precheck, GOP lawmaker says

Mammals are smaller than they used to be, and it’s our fault

Enlarge / They were big, but we showed up, and they’re now gone. (credit: Mauricio Anton)

When the first modern humans ventured beyond Africa during the late Pleistocene, roughly 120,000 years ago, they stepped into a world filled with giants: the 6-ton giant ground sloth in South America, the 2- to 3-ton wooly rhino in Europe and northern Asia, the 350- to 620-pound sabertooth cat in North America, and the 6-ton wooly mammoth in Eurasia and North America. It’s hard to imagine a world filled with animals that large: the giants of the Pleistocene quickly vanished, and the animals that survived were, in general, two or three times smaller than those that went extinct. A new study indicates that the late Pleistocene decrease in mammal size coincided with the geographical spread of humans around the world—and the authors say that’s not just happenstance.

Human involvement in the disappearance of the Pleistocene megafauna is still the subject of intense debate, but this is hardly the first time we’ve been implicated. To provide a different perspective on these extinctions, a team of biologists led by Felisa Smith of the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, decided to look for changes in the pattern of extinctions since the beginning of the Cenozoic period 65 million years ago—the end of the dinosaurs and the beginning of the rise of mammals. Species go extinct all the time at a steady background rate of about one to five species per year. If that rate or the kinds of animals dying off changed after humans started colonizing the world beyond Africa, that could imply that we had something to do with it.

The biologists examined two large datasets. One listed the global distribution and body size of animal species in the late Pleistocene and Holocene, starting 125,000 years ago. The other listed similar information for species spanning the whole Cenozoic. Starting at around 125,000 years ago, the datasets traced a decrease in both the mean and the maximum body size of mammals on every continent, coinciding with the spread of humans into each region. Wherever humans went, mammals got smaller, and big ones tended to die off.

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Source: Ars Technica – Mammals are smaller than they used to be, and it’s our fault

Google disables “domain fronting” capability used to evade censors

Enlarge / No, no you can’t. (credit: Nathan Mattise)

Google’s App Engine may not have been designed to provide a way for developers to evade censors, but for the past few years it has offered one, via a technique known as domain fronting. By wrapping communications to a service with a request to an otherwise innocuous domain or IP address range such as Google’s, application developers can conceal requests to domains otherwise blocked by state or corporate censors. It’s a method that has been used both for good and ill—adopted by Signal, the anti-Chinese censorship service GreatFire.org, plugins for the Tor anonymizing network, some virtual private network providers, and by an alleged Russian state-funded malware campaign to obfuscate Tor-based data theft.

But on April 13, members of the Tor Project noticed that domain fronting had become broken. The reason, according to a report by The Verge’s Russell Brandom, is that Google made changes to the company’s network architecture that had been in the works for some time. A Google representative told Brandom that domain fronting had never been officially supported by Google, and it only worked until last week “because of a quirk of our software stack… as part of a planned software update, domain fronting no longer works. We don’t have any plans to offer it as a feature.”

Ars attempted to contact Google, but we’ve received no response as of press time.

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Source: Ars Technica – Google disables “domain fronting” capability used to evade censors

Doctors tried to lower $148K cancer drug cost; makers triple price of pill

(credit: Wellness GM)

A drug that treats a variety of white blood cell cancers typically costs about $148,000 a year, and doctors can customize and quickly adjust doses by adjusting how many small-dose pills of it patients should take each day—generally up to four pills. At least, that was the case until now.

Last year, doctors presented results from a small pilot trial hinting that smaller doses could work just as well as the larger dose—dropping patients down from three pills a day to just one. Taking just one pill a day could dramatically reduce costs to around $50,000 a year. And it could lessen unpleasant side-effects, such as diarrhea, muscle and bone pain, and tiredness. But just as doctors were gearing up for more trials on the lower dosages, the makers of the drug revealed plans that torpedoed the doctors’ efforts: they were tripling the price of the drug and changing pill dosages.

The drug, ibrutinib (brand name Imbruvica), typically came in 140mg capsules, of which patients took doses from 140mg per day to 560mg per day depending on their cancer and individual medical situation. (There were also 70mg capsules for patients taking certain treatment combinations or having liver complications.) The pills treat a variety of cancers involving a type of white blood cell called B cells. The cancers include mantle cell lymphoma, which was approved for treatment with four 140mg pills per day, and chronic lymphocytic leukemia, approved to be treated with three 140mg pills per day. Each 140mg pill costs somewhere around $133—for now.

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Source: Ars Technica – Doctors tried to lower 8K cancer drug cost; makers triple price of pill

Better than reality: New emulation tech lags less than original consoles

This video comparison shows how RetroArch emulation can actually react to button inputs more quickly than original NES hardware.

Here at Ars, we’ve previously written about how difficult it is to perfectly emulate classic video game consoles even with powerful modern computer hardware. Now, the coders behind the popular RetroArch multi-emulator frontend are working to make their emulation better than perfect, in a way, by removing some of the input latency that was inherent in original retro gaming hardware.

While early game consoles like the Atari 2600 sample and process user inputs between frames, consoles since the NES usually run that game logic while a frame is rendering. That means the game doesn’t output its reaction to a new input until the next frame after the button is pressed at earliest. In some games, the actual delay can be two to four frames (or more), which can start to be a noticeable lag at the usual 60 frames per second (or about 17 ms per frame).

An experimental Input Lag Compensation mode being rolled out in new versions of RetroArch fixes this issue by basically fast-forwarding a few hidden frames behind the scenes before displaying that first “reaction” frame in the expected spot. So in a game like Sonic the Hedgehog, which has two frames of input lag, the game will quickly emulate two additional, hidden frames after every new input. Then, the emulator actually shows the third post-input frame (where Sonic first shows a visible reaction) timed for when the first post-input frame would naturally appear, cutting out the delay a player would usually see.

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Source: Ars Technica – Better than reality: New emulation tech lags less than original consoles

New Alexa Blueprints let users make custom skills without knowing any code

Enlarge (credit: Amazon)

Amazon just released a new way for Alexa users to customize their experience with the virtual assistant. New Alexa Skill Blueprints allow you to create your own personalized Alexa skills, even if you don’t know how to code. These “blueprints” act as templates for making questions, responses, trivia games, narrative stories, and other skills with customizable answers unique to each user. Amazon already has a number of resources for developers to make the new skills they want, but until now, users have had to work within the confines of pre-made Alexa skills.

Currently, more than 20 templates are available on the new Alexa Skill Blueprints website, all ready for Alexa users to personalize with their own content. Let’s say you want to make a personalized trivia game for your family and friends: choosing the Trivia blueprint brings up more information about how this particular blueprint works, including audio examples and instructions on how to fill out the template. Click “Make Your Own” to then write your own trivia questions, possible answers, and choose which answer is correct for each question. You can even add sound effects like applause to make the game feel more real. After naming your trivia game, it will be accessible within minutes on all of the Alexa devices associated with your Amazon account.

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Source: Ars Technica – New Alexa Blueprints let users make custom skills without knowing any code

Velodyne invented modern lidar—it’s about to face real competition

Enlarge / Velodyne’s lidars aren’t the only game in town any more. (credit: Velodyne)

David Hall invented modern three-dimensional lidar more than a decade ago for use in the DARPA Grand Challenge competitions. His company, Velodyne, has dominated the market for self-driving car lidar ever since. Last year, Velodyne opened a factory that it said had the capacity to produce a million lidar units in 2018—far more than any other maker of high-end lidars.

Now Velodyne is starting to see some serious competition. Last week, lidar startup Luminar announced that it was beginning volume production of its own lidar units. The company expects to produce 5,000 units per quarter by the end of 2018.

Meanwhile, Israeli startup Innoviz is also getting ready to manufacture its InnovizPro lidar in significant volume. The company declined to give Ars exact production numbers, only telling us it has orders for thousands of units. Innoviz believes it can scale up manufacturing quickly to satisfy that demand.

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Source: Ars Technica – Velodyne invented modern lidar—it’s about to face real competition

Waze slammed for “inadequate” responses to traffic woes by another councilman

Enlarge (credit: Prayitno)

Yet another Los Angeles city councilman has taken Waze to task for creating “dangerous conditions” in his district, and the politician is now “asking the City to review possible legal action.”

“Waze has upended our City’s traffic plans, residential neighborhoods, and public safety for far too long,” LA City Councilmen David Ryu said in a statement released Wednesday. “Their responses have been inadequate and their solutions, non-existent. They say the crises of congestion they cause is the price for innovation—I say that’s a false choice.”

In a new letter sent to the City Attorney’s Office, Ryu formally asked Los Angeles’ top attorney to examine Waze’s behavior.

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Source: Ars Technica – Waze slammed for “inadequate” responses to traffic woes by another councilman

Motorola announces the 2018 Moto G6 and E5

Enlarge / The Moto G6, Moto G6 Play, Moto E5 Plus, and Moto E5 Play. (Not exactly to scale.)

NEW YORK CITY—Motorola is taking the wraps off its mid- to low-end lineup today. The company is launching four phones at once—the Moto G6, Moto G6 Play, Moto E5 Plus, and the Moto E5 Play. And no matter what Motorola does with these devices, there’s almost no competition in the sub-$300 price range (especially here in the US), making all of these phones worthy of consideration just because of their price point.

Announcing four phones at once (some with multiple configurations!) can get really confusing, so let’s start with a giant spec sheet comparing them all. Right off the bat, there are some notable similarities: all four phones have headphone jacks, MicroSD slots, fingerprint readers, a “water repellent” coating, Android 8.0 Oreo, and all the usual connectivity options except for NFC.

MOTO G6 MOTO G6 PLAY MOTO E5 PLUS MOTO E5 PLAY
STARTING PRICE $249 $199 unknown unknown
SCREEN 5.7″ 2160×1080 LCD 5.7″ 1440×720 LCD 6″ 1440×720 LCD 5.2″ 1080×720 LCD
CPU Snapdragon 450

(Eight 1.8Ghz Cortex A53 Cores, 14nm)

Snapdragon 427

(Four 1.4GHz Cortex A53 Cores, 28nm)

Snapdragon 435

(Eight 1.4GHz Cortex A53 Cores, 28nm)

Snapdragon 425 or 427

(Four 1.4GHz Cortex A53 Cores, 28nm)

GPU Adreno 506 Adreno 308 Adreno 505 Adreno 308
RAM 3GB or 4GB 2GB or 3GB 3GB 2GB
STORAGE 32GB or 64GB 16GB or 32GB 32GB 16GB
PORTS USB-C, headphone jack Micro USB, headphone jack Micro USB, headphone jack Micro USB, headphone jack
BATTERY 3000Ah 4000Ah 5000Ah 2800Ah
BACK MATERIAL Gorilla Glass 3 Clear plastic Clear plastic Opaque plastic

The Moto G6

Motorola

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Source: Ars Technica – Motorola announces the 2018 Moto G6 and E5

Tesla slams Reveal News as “extremist” after exposé on alleged factory improprieties

Enlarge (credit: Scott Olson | Getty Images)

Reveal News, a non-profit organization based in Emeryville, California, published a story Monday concluding that Tesla “has failed to report some of its serious injuries on legally mandated reports, making the company’s injury numbers look better than they actually are.”

In turn, Tesla retorted Monday that Reveal is a “extremist organization working directly with union supporters,” adding that the story “paints a completely false picture of Tesla and what it is actually like to work here.”

Ars specifically asked Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Twitter whether he agreed with the use of the phrase “extremist organization” and under what criteria he makes such an assessment. He did not reply. We also put the same question to Tesla spokespeople, who similarly did not respond.

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Source: Ars Technica – Tesla slams Reveal News as “extremist” after exposé on alleged factory improprieties

Owl Car Cam review: A data-connected dash cam for car lovers

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Source: Ars Technica – Owl Car Cam review: A data-connected dash cam for car lovers

2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid: Put simply, it’s complicated

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Source: Ars Technica – 2018 Honda Clarity Plug-In Hybrid: Put simply, it’s complicated

Bitcoin heist suspect reportedly walked out of low-security prison, onto flight

Enlarge / The view taking off from Keflavik International Airport. (credit: Eric Salard)

One of the arrested suspects believed to be involved in Iceland’s “Big Bitcoin Heist” has reportedly fled the country for Sweden.

According to the Associated Press, Sindri Thor Stefansson likely left a “low-security prison” in the southern region of the country on Wednesday. He then apparently made his way to the Keflavik International Airport and boarded a flight bound for Stockholm. Coincidentally, Iceland’s prime minister, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, was also on the very same flight.

Stefansson, who was one of 11 arrested over the recent theft of 600 Bitcoin mining computers, likely did not have to show a passport in order to board his flight as Iceland is part of the European passport-free Schengen zone.

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Source: Ars Technica – Bitcoin heist suspect reportedly walked out of low-security prison, onto flight

OneNote desktop app end-of-lifed, replaced with Windows 10 UWP

Enlarge / OneNote UWP. (credit: Microsoft)

While the main Office apps remain traditional desktop Windows applications, Microsoft has been developing a modern version of OneNote using the Universal Windows Platform (UWP) APIs for some years; it’s arguably one of the more complex and capable UWP applications available today.

In Office 2019 shipping later this year, that new version of OneNote is moving to the foreground, and will become the primary version of OneNote. The existing desktop application, OneNote 2016, will continue to be supported in maintenance mode, receiving bug fixes through October 2020 and security fixes until October 2025, but new features are going to be reserved for UWP version.

Microsoft has already said that Office 2019 will require Windows 10—it’s the only version of Windows still in mainstream support—so the switch to using a UWP app should be fairly transparent. Clean installations of Office 2019 won’t include OneNote 2016 by default, but if it’s already there it won’t be harmed by upgrading.

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Source: Ars Technica – OneNote desktop app end-of-lifed, replaced with Windows 10 UWP

This isn’t the first time a tech boom has interfered with democracy

Ars Technica Live #21, featuring economist Bradford DeLong and Ars editor-at-large Annalee Newitz. Filmed by Chris Schodt, produced by Justin Wolfson. (video link)

Last week, we had lots of questions about the fate of democracy in a world where the Internet feeds us propaganda faster than we can fact check it. Luckily, Ars Technica Live featured guest Bradford DeLong, an economist who has spent his career studying tech and industrial revolutions, as well as the connections between economics and democracy. So we had a lot to discuss, and the result is the longest Ars Technica Live episode ever.

Brad worked in the US Treasury department during the Clinton administration, and he’s a professor at UC Berkeley. So he’s familiar with economic theory and history, as well as what happens when the rubber meets the road in trade agreements, regulations, and policy. First, we talked about what a “tech boom” is and how they happen. Brad took us on a trip back through history and explained how even the invention of horseback riding created social ruptures and job loss.

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Source: Ars Technica – This isn’t the first time a tech boom has interfered with democracy