Review: elegiac Star Trek: Picard brings all the feels in bittersweet finale

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Source: Ars Technica – Review: elegiac Star Trek: Picard brings all the feels in bittersweet finale

>4,000 Android apps silently access your installed software

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Source: Ars Technica – >4,000 Android apps silently access your installed software

MacBook Air 2020 review: The most boring Mac is among the best

Apple wants people to fall back in love with its latest MacBook Air.

For many users, the pre-Retina, 13-inch MacBook Air one of the best laptops ever made. For too long, though, it fell behind the curve as Apple introduced better performance and higher-resolution screens to the rest of its lineup. Finally, Apple brought the high-res Retina display and some other improvements to the Air in 2018. Maybe the world’s best laptop was back?

2018’s Air was a pretty good machine, but it wasn’t a candidate for world’s best laptop anymore, thanks to the prone-to-fail butterfly keyboard design and a painful lack of ports. A refresh in 2019 brought some refinements, but it didn’t address either of those issues. Now, finally, Apple has pulled out the butterfly keyboard and put in something we hope will be much more dependable.

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Source: Ars Technica – MacBook Air 2020 review: The most boring Mac is among the best

Internet Archive offers 1.4 million copyrighted books for free online

Internet Archive offers 1.4 million copyrighted books for free online

Enlarge

One of the casualties of coronavirus-related social distancing measures has been public libraries, which are shut down in many communities around the world. This week, the Internet Archive, an online library best known for running the Internet’s Wayback Machine, announced a new initiative to expand access to digital books during the pandemic.

For almost a decade, an Internet Archive program called the Open Library has offered people the ability to “check out” digital scans of physical books held in storage by the Internet Archive. Readers can view a scanned book in a browser or download it to an e-reader. Users can only check out a limited number of books at once and are required to “return” them after a limited period of time.

Until this week, the Open Library only allowed people to “check out” as many copies as the library owned. If you wanted to read a book but all copies were already checked out by other patrons, you had to join a waiting list for that book—just like you would at a physical library.

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Source: Ars Technica – Internet Archive offers 1.4 million copyrighted books for free online

A Twitch streamer is exposing coronavirus scams live

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Source: Ars Technica – A Twitch streamer is exposing coronavirus scams live

Real learning in a virtual classroom is difficult

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Source: Ars Technica – Real learning in a virtual classroom is difficult

Killing Eve S3 trailer drops; new season will debut two weeks early

Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer are back for a third season of Killing Eve.

Good news for those looking for fresh TV fare while sheltering in place: the third season of Killing Eve, the Emmy Award-winning spy thriller series starring Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer, is coming to TV two weeks early.

“We know how adored this series is and we know how keen people are for great content right now,” Sarah Barnett, president of AMC Networks Entertainment Group and AMC Studios, said in a statement. “This season of Killing Eve digs deep psychologically, and with actors like Sandra Oh, Jodie Comer and Fiona Shaw the results are nothing short of astonishing. We literally couldn’t wait for fans to see it.”

(Some spoilers for first two seasons below.)

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Source: Ars Technica – Killing Eve S3 trailer drops; new season will debut two weeks early

Control Panel isn’t dead yet—but the System applet is looking nervous

We find Windows 10's Settings dialog difficult to love.

Enlarge / We find Windows 10’s Settings dialog difficult to love. (credit: Jim Salter)

You may have seen dark rumors around the Web that Microsoft is about to kill off the classic Control Panel. Rest assured, friend, we were as horrified as you are—but on more careful inspection, this seems not to be the case.

A new set of Feature IDs popped up in the latest build of Windows 10—HideSystemControlPanelSystemControlPanelFileExplorerRedirect, and SystemControlPanelHotkeyRedirect. This looks grim—but fortunately, developer Rafael Rivera discovered they really only apply to the System applet.

Settings vs Control

For about eight years now, Microsoft has been trying to pry everyone loose from the Control Panel and guide them gently to the newer Settings applet instead. They’ve encountered strong resistance in doing so, particularly from systems administrators and support technicians. For one thing, the newer Settings applet is a single-instance interface—you can’t have Settings open for, say, printers and the network at once. Pick one.

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Source: Ars Technica – Control Panel isn’t dead yet—but the System applet is looking nervous

Trump orders GM to make ventilators, claims company is “wasting time”

President Trump speaking in front of a podium at a daily briefing.

Enlarge / President Donald Trump speaks as Vice President Mike Pence looks on during a briefing on the coronavirus pandemic at the White House on March 26, 2020. (credit: Getty Images | Drew Angerer )

President Donald Trump today ordered General Motors to make ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients and accused the company of “wasting time.” Trump announced that he “signed a Presidential Memorandum directing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to use any and all authority available under the Defense Production Act to require General Motors to accept, perform, and prioritize Federal contracts for ventilators.”

Hours before Trump took this step, GM said it is working with ventilator-maker Ventec Life Systems “to deliver the first ventilators next month and ramp up to a manufacturing capacity of more than 10,000 critical care ventilators per month with the infrastructure and capability to scale further.”

Trump’s statement did not specify how many ventilators GM should build, but he said that GM is moving too slowly:

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Source: Ars Technica – Trump orders GM to make ventilators, claims company is “wasting time”

New York hospitals will trial using antibodies to treat coronavirus cases

Image of a woman donating blood.

Enlarge / The machine at right can separate out blood plasma and simultaneously return red blood cells to the donor. (credit: Mikhail Tereshchenko/Getty Images)

Back in our exhaustive review of potential treatments for SARS-CoV-2 infections, we mentioned one option that was relatively quick, easy, and required no further approval for use: transfer of blood plasma from those who had previously had an infection. The reasoning being that this plasma will contain antibodies that could neutralize coronaviruses in the blood stream, severely limiting the progression of an active infection. Now, trials of this method are starting in New York City, the hardest hit location in the US.

We’ll quote our earlier coverage of this potential therapy, which explains why it might be a quick route to a treatment, albeit with limitations:

Spike is a complicated protein that provides a wealth of targets for potential therapies. As the most prominent feature of the virus’ exterior, spike is the main target of antibodies against the virus produced by the immune system. This has already led to one option for therapies: purifying plasma from people who have fought off a coronavirus infection, on the assumption that the plasma contains antibodies that can neutralize the virus. This plasma can then be infused into sick people, where the antibodies should help the immune system clear the virus. While it’s only a temporary fix—antibodies don’t survive indefinitely in the blood stream—it may give a patient’s immune system sufficient time to develop its own antibodies.

There are unknowns about whether infected individuals produce effective antibodies. But the big issue here is scaling, as plasma treatment relies on having enough healthy, formerly infected individuals who are willing to donate blood plasma. If used strategically—on the most at-risk patients, or to help infected health care professionals—it could be a helpful tool but isn’t likely an effective general therapy.

There have been some anecdotal reports of the approach being used by countries like China, which were hit hard early in the pandemic; one published today indicated that plasma treatment improved the condition of five critically ill patients. But no detailed studies of its effectiveness have been reported so far (at least to our ability to determine). That may now be about to change, according to the New York Times.

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Source: Ars Technica – New York hospitals will trial using antibodies to treat coronavirus cases

US now top site of corona infections as a control plan emerges

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Source: Ars Technica – US now top site of corona infections as a control plan emerges

SpaceX has won a big NASA contract to fly cargo to the Moon

Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy's second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit.

Enlarge / Illustration of the SpaceX Dragon XL as it is deployed from the Falcon Heavy’s second stage in high Earth orbit on its way to the Gateway in lunar orbit. (credit: SpaceX)

Last summer, NASA put out a call for companies who would be willing to deliver cargo to a proposed station in orbit around the Moon, called the Lunar Gateway. On Friday, NASA announced that the first award under this “Gateway Logistics” contract would go to SpaceX.

The company has proposed using its Falcon Heavy rocket to deliver a modified version of its Dragon spacecraft, called Dragon XL, to the Lunar Gateway. After delivering cargo, experiments and other supplies, the spacecraft would be required to remain docked at the Gateway for a year before “autonomous” disposal.

“This contract award is another critical piece of our plan to return to the Moon sustainably,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a news release. “The Gateway is the cornerstone of the long-term Artemis architecture, and this deep space commercial cargo capability integrates yet another American industry partner into our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for a future mission to Mars.”

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Source: Ars Technica – SpaceX has won a big NASA contract to fly cargo to the Moon

Broadband speeds fall in dozens of big US cities during pandemic

A US map with lines and dots representing broadband access.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | imaginima)

Home-Internet download speeds have fallen during the COVID-19 pandemic in dozens of the biggest US cities as millions of Americans stay home due to school and business closures. However, typical download speeds remain high enough to support normal broadband-usage patterns, with the vast majority of cities still above the Federal Communications Commission’s 25Mbps standard.

In 88 of the 200 most populous US cities, Internet users “experienced some degree of network degradation over the past week compared to the 10 weeks prior,” BroadbandNow said in a report released Wednesday. Of those, 27 cities suffered speed reductions of at least 20 percent.

New York City speeds fell by 24 percent, with median download speeds down to 51.93Mbps—still enough for bandwidth-intensive services like streaming video. While New York City has been hit hard by the spread of the novel coronavirus, the city’s broadband experience isn’t replicated everywhere. Seattle, where the virus is also rampant, hasn’t suffered a drop in download speeds, though Seattle’s speeds were already below New York City’s. Seattle’s most recent median-download speed was 27.1Mbps, while Seattle’s median results ranged from 20.8Mbps to 29.1Mbps in the previous 10 weeks.

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Source: Ars Technica – Broadband speeds fall in dozens of big US cities during pandemic

White House suspends environmental protection, citing coronavirus

A man and a woman, properly socially distanced from the rest of Los Angeles, take in a view of the city on a low air quality day in November, 2019.

Enlarge / A man and a woman, properly socially distanced from the rest of Los Angeles, take in a view of the city on a low air quality day in November, 2019. (credit: Mario Tama | Getty Images)

2020 has a new motto: “Cancelled due to the coronavirus.” Businesses, schools, sports, travel, film, and TV production, conferences, meetings, and basically any and all business as usual has been suspended in the US as individuals and institutions try to slow the spread of COVID-19. We have, at least, had outdoor space to go to—staying at least six feet away from others as we do—when we need a break from the four walls of our homes. But those spaces, along with the air we breathe and the water we drink, may get a whole lot less pleasant going forward, as the Trump administration is adding environmental protection regulations to the temporary cancellation list.

The Environmental Protection Agency is launching a “temporary enforcement discretion policy” due to the pandemic, it said late yesterday. The move comes as trade groups representing the oil and gas industry have been asking the White House and the EPA for compliance waivers.

Under the new policy, the agency will mostly not be investigating civil non-compliance with environmental regulations, although it “does not provide leniency for intentional criminal violations” of the law. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a written statement that the policy is designed to provide discretion “under the current, extraordinary conditions, while ensuring facility operations continue to protect human health and the environment.”

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Source: Ars Technica – White House suspends environmental protection, citing coronavirus

Amid pandemic closures, GameStop says it’s seeing increased business

Ah, for the carefree days when you could wander into a GameStop and not worry about keeping six feet from other shoppers...

Enlarge / Ah, for the carefree days when you could wander into a GameStop and not worry about keeping six feet from other shoppers…

You might think that GameStop being forced to close a majority of its global retail storefronts due to concerns about the novel coronavirus would be bad for business. But CEO George Sherman said in an earnings call last night that the retailer has “seen an increase in store and online traffic over the past few weeks” that might actually help its bottom line.

“Despite having most of our European stores closed for the last few weeks, the increased demand for our products across the world has led to a positive 2% comparable sales results for the March month-to-date period through Saturday,” GameStop CFO Jim Bell said during the call. “As millions of consumers adapt to remote work, play, and learning, we’re pleased to be able to serve their needs,” Sherman added.

Though that’s an impressive statistic at first blush, it looks a bit weaker when you put it in context. “Through Saturday,” for instance, doesn’t cover the time since GameStop finally decided to close all of its US stores (which make up the vast majority of its worldwide retail space) to regular foot traffic. “I think when this all began, there was a pretty good level of demand that we saw while our stores were fully opened and that is the sales period that Jim talks about when you talk about through Saturday of last week,” Sherman noted.

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Source: Ars Technica – Amid pandemic closures, GameStop says it’s seeing increased business

MacBook Air teardown finds positive progress for repairability

iFixit, a company that sells gadget-repair parts and publishes regular teardowns of popular devices, dug into the new MacBook Air this week and found it to be a slight step-up for MacBooks in terms of repairability.

The site found that the move from the butterfly keyboard to the new scissor-switch one only added “half a millimeter to the thick end of the new Air.” And the site speculates that these keys should be much more reliable, noting that no silicone barrier is needed as it was on the butterfly keyboard to mitigate that design’s problems.

Keyboard aside, the teardown uncovered a larger heartsink for the CPU, plus a couple of things that might make this laptop a bit easier to service than its predecessor.

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Source: Ars Technica – MacBook Air teardown finds positive progress for repairability

OnePlus 8 Pro will finally add wireless charging, IP68 water-resistance

The camera assembly of the OnePlus 8 Pro.

Enlarge / The camera assembly of the OnePlus 8 Pro. (credit: OnLeaks)

OnePlus has been regularly pumping out the best Android phones for several years now, so soon all eyes will be on the OnePlus 8 Pro, the company’s upcoming flagship smartphone for 2020. A pair of recent leaks gives us a look at the official press render and the specs.

First up, OnLeaks has a pair of official press renders of the device. Just like the CAD-based renders that OnLeaks posted back in October, these pictures show a design that isn’t far off from previous OnePlus devices, with the big changes being a move to a hole-punch front camera and a new rear camera assembly. The back has four cameras now, an upgrade from the three cameras that were on the back of the OnePlus 7T. The display still looks like it’s curved along the sides, too.

The second batch of details comes from leaker Ishan Agarwal, who posted a spec sheet for the OnePlus 8 Pro and OnePlus 8. The regular OnePlus 8 sticks close to last year, with a 6.55-inch 90Hz display and an upgrade to the Snapdragon 865. The 8 Pro has about what you would expect from a flagship phone in 2020: a 6.78-inch, 120Hz OLED display, a Snapdragon 865, 8 or 12GB of RAM, 128 or 256GB of storage, and a 4510mAh battery. The front camera is 16MP, while the rear camera has two 48MP cameras, an 8MP camera, and a 5MP camera. We don’t know what each camera is for yet.

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Source: Ars Technica – OnePlus 8 Pro will finally add wireless charging, IP68 water-resistance

Charter gives techs $25 gift cards instead of hazard pay during pandemic

A Charter Spectrum service vehicle.

Enlarge / A Charter Spectrum vehicle. (credit: Charter)

Charter Communications is giving its cable technicians $25 restaurant gift cards instead of hazard pay for going into customer homes during the coronavirus pandemic, BuzzFeed reported yesterday. The gift cards are a “token of our appreciation,” an internal email from management on Monday said, BuzzFeed reported. Of course, many restaurants are closed during the pandemic, so restaurant gift cards aren’t the most useful perk Charter management could have chosen.

“These gift cards never expire, so if you choose a restaurant that is currently not open, the card will remain valid for future use… Please take some time out of your busy day to enjoy a meal and recharge,” the email read.

Several Charter employees did not appreciate the minimal gesture. “It’s really insensitive, it shows they don’t care,” one New York City-based technician told BuzzFeed. “You think a gift card is supposed to make us feel better?”

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Source: Ars Technica – Charter gives techs gift cards instead of hazard pay during pandemic

2019 saw over 60 gigawatts of wind power installed

Image of a boat near the base of an offshore wind farm.

Enlarge (credit: Gary Norton/DOE)

On Wednesday, the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry trade organization, released its review of the market in 2019. During the past year, wind power saw its second-largest amount of new installed capacity ever, with over 60GW going in. But the news going forward is a bit more uncertain, with the report predicting that after years of double-digit growth, the industry would see things tail off into steady-but-unspectacular territory. And that prediction was made before many key markets started dealing with the coronavirus.

A very good year

Wind power is now one of the cheapest options for generating electricity. In many areas of the globe, building and maintaining wind power is cheaper per unit of power than it is to fuel a previously constructed fossil fuel plant. While offshore wind remains more expensive, its prices have dropped dramatically over the last several years, and it is rapidly approaching price parity with fossil fuels.

But cost isn’t the only thing at issue. Renewables may require new transmission lines to feed their power to where people actually live, and managing wind’s intermittent nature may require grid upgrades once its percentage gets high enough. And due to the past successes of wind, a significant number of the best sites are now already in use in some regions. Given those issues, it can be difficult to justify shutting down power plants that may have decades of service left in their expected lifespan. This is especially true in fully industrialized countries, where total electricity use has been trending downward, largely due to gains in energy efficiency.

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Source: Ars Technica – 2019 saw over 60 gigawatts of wind power installed

Rocket Report: NASA suspends SLS work, Astra suffers a setback

The Electron launch vehicle is ready to soar.

Enlarge / The Electron launch vehicle is ready to soar. (credit: Rocket Lab)

Welcome to Edition 2.37 of the Rocket Report! As COVID-19 sweeps the globe and spreads across the United States, the world of launch continues to move along, too. However, we should not that—after Thursday’s launch of an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station—there are just two additional launches in the coming year with confirmed dates: a Soyuz crew and Progress cargo mission in April.

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.

Virgin Orbit assessing plans amid pandemic. The Long Beach, California-based company is reassessing the schedule for the first orbital-flight demonstration of its LauncherOne vehicle, which had been scheduled for April. “We’re mindful that COVID-19 is putting added burdens and stresses on our teams and leaders, so we are assessing things daily and keeping momentum up as best we can while doing everything we can to protect the health of our people,” Virgin Orbit spokesman Kendall Russell told SpaceNews.

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Source: Ars Technica – Rocket Report: NASA suspends SLS work, Astra suffers a setback