EPA still moving to limit science used to support regulations

Image of a human.

Enlarge / Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler. (credit: Win McNamee / Getty)

Former Texas Congressman Lamar Smith may have retired in January, but his ideas still stalk the halls of the US Environmental Protection Agency. The New York Times reported Monday that the latest incarnation of Smith’s quest to change the science the EPA can use for its rule making is moving forward.

Smith had unsuccessfully pushed a bill called the “Secret Science Reform Act,” which would have required the EPA to consider only those studies with data that is “publicly available in a manner sufficient for independent analysis and substantial reproduction of research results.” He claimed that opponents of regulations were often unable to audit the science underlying the regulations—although those opponents could, of course, have done their own science.

Limiting science

The scientific community noted that this requirement would have the effect of excluding quite a lot of relevant science published in peer-reviewed journals. In particular, research on the public health impacts of pollutants is only possible through the use of confidential health data. There are systems in place to give researchers controlled access to that data, but releasing it to the public is simply not an option, and doing so very well might violate other federal rules.

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Source: Ars Technica – EPA still moving to limit science used to support regulations

The world finally has an approved vaccine against Ebola

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Source: Ars Technica – The world finally has an approved vaccine against Ebola

US violated Constitution by searching phones for no good reason, judge rules

US Customs and Border Protection agents participate in a training exercise at the border with Mexico.

Enlarge / US Customs and Border Protection agents participate in a training exercise at a vehicle entry point along the border with Mexico on November 5, 2018, in Hidalgo, Texas. (credit: Getty Images | Andrew Cullen)

The United States government violated the Fourth Amendment with its suspicionless searches of international travelers’ phones and laptops, a federal court ruled today.

The ruling came in a case filed “on behalf of 11 travelers whose smartphones and laptops were searched without individualized suspicion at US ports of entry,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said today. The ACLU teamed up with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) to fight the government on behalf of plaintiffs including 10 US citizens and one lawful permanent resident.

The order from a US District Court in Massachusetts limits what searches can be made by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

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Source: Ars Technica – US violated Constitution by searching phones for no good reason, judge rules

How does Plume get all these ISP partnerships? Open source software

Yesterday, Charter Communications*—the second-largest ISP in the United States—announced its adoption of the OpenSync software platform for Spectrum’s advanced in-home Wi-Fi. This raises a few questions, first of which is “what’s OpenSync?”

The short answer is “Plume,” which in turn means that Plume now has partnerships with the first- and second-largest ISPs in the United States, as well as the first- and second-largest in Canada—and also with the National Cable Television Collective (NCTC), a membership organization comprising several hundred independent US cable companies.

Earlier this month, we covered the announcement of a Plume partnership with J:COM, Japan’s largest ISP. In that coverage, we referenced tighter integration into ISPs’ existing infrastructure than better-known mesh alternatives such as Eero, Google (now Nest) Wi-Fi, or Orbi can provide. OpenSync is where that tighter integration comes from.

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Source: Ars Technica – How does Plume get all these ISP partnerships? Open source software

Tesla announces its next car factory will be near Berlin

Elon Musk.

Enlarge / Elon Musk. (credit: DAVID MCNEW/AFP/Getty Images)

Tesla’s next “Gigafactory” will be in the Berlin area, Elon Musk announced at an event in Germany on Tuesday evening. Techcrunch’s Kirsten Korosec reports that Musk made the comments during an on-stage conversation with Volkswagen CEO Herbert Diess at the Golden Steering Wheel awards show.

The original Gigafactory was Tesla’s massive battery factory in Nevada. Musk dubbed it a “Gigafactory” because it was designed to produce batteries with gigawatt-hours of storage capacity. Batteries are made in Nevada and then shipped to Tesla’s car factory in Fremont, California, for final assembly.

When Tesla built a car manufacturing facility in Shanghai, China, the company dubbed that “Gigafactory 3.” (Tesla’s beleaguered solar panel factory in Buffalo, NY, is Gigafactory 2.) Tesla took a more integrated approach in China, building batteries and cars in the same facility.

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Source: Ars Technica – Tesla announces its next car factory will be near Berlin

Amazon gains unfair edge by making sellers use its shipping, complaint says

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Source: Ars Technica – Amazon gains unfair edge by making sellers use its shipping, complaint says

Google: You can trust us with the medical data you didn’t know we already had

Photo illustration showing the Google logo reflected on the eye of a young man.

Enlarge / Photo illustration showing the Google logo reflected on the eye of a young man. (credit: Getty Images | Leon Neal)

Google now has access to detailed medical records on tens of millions of Americans, but the company promises it won’t mix that medical data with any of the other data Google collects on consumers who use its services.

Google provided this statement yesterday shortly after The Wall Street Journal reported that Google is partnering with Ascension, the country’s second-largest health care system, “on a project to collect and crunch the detailed personal-health information of millions of people across 21 states.”

“To be clear: under this arrangement, Ascension’s data cannot be used for any other purpose than for providing these services we’re offering under the agreement, and patient data cannot and will not be combined with any Google consumer data,” Google said in a blog post. That would mean Google won’t use the medical data to target advertisements at users of Google services.

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Source: Ars Technica – Google: You can trust us with the medical data you didn’t know we already had

Dealmaster: Get a year of Disney+ for free if you’re a Verizon Wireless user

Dealmaster: Get a year of Disney+ for free if you’re a Verizon Wireless user

Enlarge (credit: Ars Technica)

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back once again with a new round of deals and price drops. Today’s list is headlined by a quick PSA for those who subscribe to a Verizon unlimited data plan or plan to subscribe to a FiOS home Internet plan: if you’re at all interested the new Disney+ streaming service, you can get a 12-month subscription at no extra cost. As a refresher, Disney’s Netflix competitor launched on Tuesday and normally costs $7 a month or $70 a year.

Now, as is often the case with mobile carrier promos, there’s some fine print to sort through. To get the free year of service, you need to subscribe to one of the carrier’s Verizon Unlimited, Go Unlimited, Beyond Unlimited, Above Unlimited, Get More Unlimited, Do More Unlimited, Pay More Unlimited, or Start Unlimited plans. (If you’re marveling at the fact that Verizon has had this many unlimited plans, many of which aren’t actually unlimited, you’re not alone.) Both new and existing subscribers are eligible; Verizon has options on its promo page for existing subscribers who wish to switch to an unlimited plan and those who wish to move over from another carrier.

The offer is also available to Verizon Fios home Internet users and the handful of people who can access its 5G Home plan, but only if you’re a new subscriber, not if you have currently pay for one of those services. For Fios users, you’ll need a standalone Internet plan of at least 50/50 Mbps service, a two-year “Triple Play” bundle, or a 2-year Internet + TV “Double Play” bundle. Either way, all of this has you sign up for Disney+ through Verizon, not Disney.

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Source: Ars Technica – Dealmaster: Get a year of Disney+ for free if you’re a Verizon Wireless user

High demand causes login problems on Disney+ launch day

High demand causes login problems on Disney+ launch day

Enlarge

Disney’s new streaming service is straining under the load as users rush to log in to the highly anticipated service on its US launch day. Frustrated users took to social media to complain about seeing “unable to connect” error screens instead of the Star Wars, Marvel, and Pixar movies they were hoping for.

“The consumer demand for Disney+ has exceeded our high expectations,” Disney tweeted on Tuesday morning. “We are working to quickly resolve the current user issue.”

Disney is aiming to reshape the paid video streaming landscape with its Disney+ offering. Until now, a lot of online streaming has been done on independent services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video.

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Source: Ars Technica – High demand causes login problems on Disney+ launch day

Two years later, Apple’s AR/VR headset plans reportedly delayed two years

An image <a href='http://patft.uspto.gov/netacgi/nph-Parser?Sect1=PTO1&Sect2=HITOFF&d=PALL&p=1&u=%2Fnetahtml%2FPTO%2Fsrchnum.htm&r=1&f=G&l=50&s1=8,605,008.PN.&OS=PN/8,605,008&RS=PN/8,605,008'>from a patent Apple filed back in 2008</a> shows exactly what Apple's VR/AR headset will look like, 100%, with no changes if/when it launches over 15 years later.

Enlarge / An image from a patent Apple filed back in 2008 shows exactly what Apple’s VR/AR headset will look like, 100%, with no changes if/when it launches over 15 years later.

Right around this date in 2017, Bloomberg reported that Apple was working on a pair of augmented reality glasses for a planned 2020 launch. Now that it’s late 2019, The Information is reporting (and Bloomberg is largely confirming) that Apple is now planning to launch a combined VR/AR headset in 2022, following up with a lightweight pair of AR glasses in 2023.

Apple’s perpetually three-or-more-years-away headset plans have “a focus on gaming, watching video and virtual meetings,” Bloomberg reports, and now include a new 3D sensor that builds off of Apple’s existing FaceID sensor. A 1,000-person team inside the company—reportedly led by former Dolby Labs engineer Mike Rockwell and involving former Virginia Tech professor Doug Bowman—is still reportedly working on a completely new operating system for the headset dubbed rOS (reality operating system).

The market for VR and AR headsets looks very different today than it did back in 2016, when reports first started leaking out regarding Apple’s plans in the space. Back then, expensive PC-tethered VR headsets like the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive were launching to a lot of fanfare but generally disappointing sales. Today, improvements in technology have moved the focus to cheaper “all-in-one” untethered headsets like the $400 Oculus Quest, which has reportedly sold a decent-but-uninspiring 400,000 units since its launch in May (a relatively poor showing when compared to other recent portable gaming-focused hardware).

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Source: Ars Technica – Two years later, Apple’s AR/VR headset plans reportedly delayed two years

Sonic the Hedgehog’s movie look is fixed following fan outcry

In early May, the first trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie was released to almost universal criticism. The problem was, Sonic just looked… terrifying. Instead of the adorable16-bit hero most of us remember, this CGI Sonic was all wrong. His legs were weirdly tapered, and the body proportions were wrong, with perhaps the worst bit being that nightmare of mouth, full of teeth.

The backlash was immediate (and well-founded) and heard remarkably quickly. Within two days the film’s director Jeff Fowler announced that changes would be made before the film’s release, a date that soon slipped to February 2020—presumably once the scope of the work set in. On Tuesday, the extent of that became clear with the release of a new trailer for the movie, featuring a much-improved render of the main character.

The human body proportions are a thing of the past; now Sonic’s feet are big and his ankles are implausibly wider than his thighs. His torso has shrunk, particularly at the waist, and his hands are now massive and once again clad in the proper white gloves. Our hedgehog’s head has swelled, as have his eyes, and when he opens his mouth I no longer want to shriek in horror until professionals come and sedate me.

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Source: Ars Technica – Sonic the Hedgehog’s movie look is fixed following fan outcry

Amazon fails to unseat pro-tax city council members in Seattle

The Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle.

Enlarge / The Amazon Spheres in downtown Seattle. (credit: 400tmax / Getty)

Amazon has suffered a setback in its own backyard as several candidates for Seattle’s City Council won election despite a $1.5 million campaign by business groups to defeat them. That included Kshama Sawant, an incumbent and socialist who has been a thorn in Amazon’s side in recent years. The vote was held last Tuesday, but the results only became clear in recent days.

The result is significant for Amazon because last year Seattle’s city council passed a $275 per employee tax on large employers. Amazon, Starbucks, and other large Seattle businesses blasted the law and funded a ballot measure to overturn it. Facing the threat of having their law overturned by voters, the city council itself repealed the measure a month after it passed.

If business groups had defeated pro-tax candidates in last week’s election, it would have made the city council very reluctant to consider taxing employers again. Instead, the election results have emboldened supporters of an “Amazon tax.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Amazon fails to unseat pro-tax city council members in Seattle

A new paper concludes that hurricane damage is increasing

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Source: Ars Technica – A new paper concludes that hurricane damage is increasing

Partisan differences show up in reasons why Americans support NASA

 L-R: NASA Deputy Administrator Robert Seamans, Marshall Space Flight Center Director Wernher von Braun, and President John F. Kennedy.

Enlarge / L-R: NASA Deputy Administrator Robert Seamans, Marshall Space Flight Center Director Wernher von Braun, and President John F. Kennedy. (credit: NASA)

Almost two-thirds of Americans agree that the space program’s costs are justified. And fewer think that NASA’s budget should be reduced or abolished than at any time since 1986. Those were two of the results from polling conducted by Gallup for the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing. The poll found a clear upward trend for support for space exploration, starting at 41% in 1979 and rising to 64% by 2019.

But much less is known about why different Americans are in favor of space exploration. That would be useful information for policymakers—of all stripes—who hope to convince the public to open their wallets. It’s a question that David Burbach, a political scientist at the US Naval War College in Rhode Island, has sought to answer in a new study published in the journal Space Policy.

Crossed priorities

Previous work has identified demographic or social differences in public support for the space program. Being young, white, male, or more highly educated all correlate with greater support for NASA than being older, non white, female, or having a lower educational attainment. Evangelical Christians are more lukewarm on the idea than the rest of the nation, but as it turns out there’s not much of a split between Republican and Democratic voters on the topic.

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Source: Ars Technica – Partisan differences show up in reasons why Americans support NASA

The Mandalorian’s first episode is a no-brainer reason to pay for Disney+

While Disney+ debuts today with a healthy slew of classic films and new series, its biggest day-one draw has to be Star Wars’ first live-action TV series, The Mandalorian. Ahead of its launch, we wondered how well the show, about a bounty hunter living in the era between Episodes VI and VIII, might lean into the archetype of space westerns. Today, we now know that this is a full yee-haw and yippy-ki-yay of a gunslinging time with a new, faceless, grizzled anti-hero.

Even better, by the first episode’s end, the reveal of his surprising journey had me shouting a hearty “whaaaaat?!” It’s been a while since a TV series pilot has had me this excited.

This review of the series’ pilot episode contains mild plot spoilers—and errs on the side of vague descriptions.

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Source: Ars Technica – The Mandalorian’s first episode is a no-brainer reason to pay for Disney+

Google has access to detailed health records on tens of millions of Americans

Mountain View, Calif. - May 21, 2018: Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters complex of Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc.

Enlarge / Mountain View, Calif. – May 21, 2018: Exterior view of a Googleplex building, the corporate headquarters complex of Google and its parent company Alphabet Inc. (credit: Getty Images / zphotos)

Google quietly partnered last year with Ascension—the country’s second-largest health system—and has since gained access to detailed medical records on tens of millions of Americans, according to a November 11 report by The Wall Street Journal.

The endeavor, code-named “Project Nightingale,” has enabled at least 150 Google employees to see patient health information, which includes diagnoses, laboratory test results, hospitalization records, and other data, according to internal documents and the newspaper’s sources. In all, the data amounts to complete medical records, WSJ notes, and contains patient names and birth dates.

The move is the latest by Google to get a grip on the sprawling health industry. At the start of the month, Google announced a deal to buy Fitbit, prompting concerns over what it will do with all the sensitive health data amassed from the popular wearables. Today’s news will likely spur more concern over health privacy issues.

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Source: Ars Technica – Google has access to detailed health records on tens of millions of Americans

NY regulators investigating Apple Card after viral complaint of sexism

Apple Card dashboard

Enlarge / A dashboard built into iOS on iPhones lets you manage your card. (credit: Apple)

Apple launched its own branded MasterCard nationwide in August. In the months since, the digital-first payment system has won some fans for its easy integration into the iPhone and Apple ecosystem, and it more or less seemed to work about as well as any other credit card. Now, however, financial-services regulators want to know what’s going on under the hood amid accusations that the software determining the card’s terms has a sexist slant.

What happened?

Software developer and entrepreneur David Heinemeier Hansson took to Twitter late last week to complain about his wife Jamie Heinemeier Hansson’s experience with AppleCard.

“The @AppleCard is such a fucking sexist program,” his lengthy thread began. “My wife and I filed joint tax returns, live in a community-property state, and have been married for a long time. Yet Apple’s black box algorithm thinks I deserve 20x the credit limit she does. No appeals work.”

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Source: Ars Technica – NY regulators investigating Apple Card after viral complaint of sexism

Only 12 games will be available on Google Stadia in time for Nov. 19 launch

Today, Google announced 12 games that will be available for individual purchase and streaming when Founders Edition pre-orderers get their hands on Google Stadia starting November 19. The games are:

Fourteen additional titles are promised to launch on Stadia before the end of 2019:

A number of legacy titles that were previously promised as part of the Stadia “launch window” are currently not included in Google’s list of 2019 Stadia releases. Those include:

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Source: Ars Technica – Only 12 games will be available on Google Stadia in time for Nov. 19 launch

Guests get more than they bargained for in trailer for Fantasy Island reboot

Michael Peña and Lucy Hale star in Sony Picture Entertainment’s Fantasy Island.

Ze plane! Ze plane! OK, there’s no Tattoo, but the mysterious Mr. Roarke is still offering select guests a rare opportunity to make their dreams come true in Sony Pictures’ big-screen reboot of Fantasy Island, based on the popular TV series of the same name that ran from 1977-1984. This 21st-century update plays up the horror aspects and is being touted as a cross between Westworld and The Cabin in the Woods—perhaps with a little bit of Lost thrown in for good measure.

Fantasy Island was always kind of a terrific storytelling concept, despite its cheesier elements. Apparently, creator Aaron Spelling pitched the series to ABC executives as a joke after they’d rejected all his other ideas—and the network loved the idea. The ultra-urbane Ricardo Montalban played the dashing Mr. Roarke, proprietor of the titular island, providing guests the chance to live out their fantasies, for a suitable price. He was aided by his trusty sidekick Tattoo (Hervé Villechaize). Every episode opened with Tattoo shouting the catchphrase, “Ze plane! Ze plane!” and ringing a bell in the island’s main tower as guests arrived.

There were usually two to three subplots per episode, focusing on the different fantasies of specific guests, who inevitably found things did not play out quite the way they’d imagined. And while the rules of engagement held that guests must see their fantasies through to the end, no matter what, Mr. Roarke invariably intervened if things got too dangerous. The series always had certain supernatural elements (time travel was common, and ghosts, genies, and the devil himself made appearances), particularly in later seasons, with hints that Mr. Roarke was quite possibly immortal. Spelling has never revealed anything about the character, but Montalban later admitted that he viewed Mr. Roarke as a fallen angel presiding over an island purgatory. That would explain his fondness for moralizing and teaching guests a valuable lesson by fulfilling their fantasies in unexpected ways.

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Source: Ars Technica – Guests get more than they bargained for in trailer for Fantasy Island reboot

Comcast is trying to “dismantle” Civil Rights Act of 1866, MLK’s daughter says

Bernice King, daughter of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speaks at a podium.

Enlarge / Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and CEO of the King Center, speaks during the Martin Luther King Jr. Annual Commemorative Service at Ebenezer Baptist Church on January 21, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (credit: Getty Images | Paras Griffin )

As a case involving Comcast and an African American-owned TV network operator heads to the US Supreme Court, a daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. has accused Comcast of trying to “dismantle” the Civil Rights Act of 1866.

Bernice King, MLK’s daughter and CEO of the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change, wrote an open letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts on Friday. She wrote that Comcast’s argument at the Supreme Court would change the law to let businesses discriminate based on race.

“To alter the Act to accommodate discrimination against people based on race would reverse precarious progress in the freedom struggle, which my father was assassinated for leading and which my mother continued to join others in leading until her death,” King wrote. She also told Roberts that “Comcast’s ongoing pursuit to effectively dismantle a fundamental America[n] anti-discrimination law may be the legacy history forever associates [with] the company and your legacy of leadership.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Comcast is trying to “dismantle” Civil Rights Act of 1866, MLK’s daughter says