Not just MagSafe: Apple reminds users not to hold iPhones near pacemakers

This week, Apple published clarifications to its support documents to address consumer concern that, because of the presence of the MagSafe magnet system in new iPhones, the iPhone 12 and its 2020 peers are particularly unsafe to hold in close proximity to an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator (ICD) or pacemaker.

The updated warning from Apple to customers repeats previous statements that keeping any iPhone within six inches of an ICD or pacemaker (or within 15 inches, while charging wirelessly) is unsafe. The warning also claims the iPhone 12 is not specifically more dangerous than other models.

Several weeks back, Heart Rhythm Journal published results of a test wherein it repeatedly found that moving an iPhone 12 with MagSafe close to a patient’s ICD interfered with the functioning of that lifesaving device. After that report, tech enthusiasts visited forums, Twitter, and Reddit to spread speculation that the iPhone 12 was particularly dangerous to people with pacemakers because of the introduction of MagSafe.

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Source: Ars Technica – Not just MagSafe: Apple reminds users not to hold iPhones near pacemakers

Deactivation of Flash cripples Chinese railroad for a day

Passengers pulling luggage ring a squat concrete terminal.

Enlarge / Dalian Railway Station. (credit: akiradhin / Wikipedia)

In 2017, Adobe announced it would deactivate Flash at the end of 2020. Earlier this month, on January 12, Adobe carried through on its plans, activating Flash installations around the world. One result, according to Apple Daily, was chaos in a Chinese railroad in Liaoning province.

Officials at China Railway Shenyang use Flash-based software to plan each day’s railroad operations. As a result of the outage, Apple Daily says, “staffers were reportedly unable to view train operation diagrams, formulate train sequencing schedules, and arrange shunting plans.”

As a result, the railroad was unable to dispatch its trains, “leading to a complete shutdown of its railroads in Dalian, Liaoning province,” according to Apple Daily.

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Source: Ars Technica – Deactivation of Flash cripples Chinese railroad for a day

AT&T may keep majority ownership of DirecTV as it closes in on final deal

A DirecTV satellite dish mounted to the outside of a building.

Enlarge / A DirecTV satellite dish seen outside a bar in Portland, Oregon, in October 2019. (credit: Getty Images | hapabapa)

AT&T is reportedly closing in on a deal to sell a stake in DirecTV to TPG, a private-equity firm.

Unfortunately for customers hoping that AT&T will relinquish control of DirecTV, a Reuters report on Friday said the pending deal would give TPG a “minority stake” in AT&T’s satellite-TV subsidiary. On the other hand, a private-equity firm looking to wring value out of a declining business wouldn’t necessarily be better for DirecTV customers than AT&T is.

It’s also possible that AT&T could cede operational control of DirecTV even if it remains the majority owner. CNBC in November reported on one proposed deal in which “AT&T would retain majority economic ownership of the [DirecTV and U-verse TV] businesses, and would maintain ownership of U-verse infrastructure, including plants and fiber,” while the buyer of a DirecTV stake “would control the pay-TV distribution operations and consolidate the business on its books.”

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Source: Ars Technica – AT&T may keep majority ownership of DirecTV as it closes in on final deal

Bad news for land-speed record fans as Bloodhound goes up for sale

A rocket-propelled car screams across the desert.

Enlarge / Bloodhound LSR made it to South Africa in 2019 to begin high-speed testing, but only with its single jet engine. (credit: Charlie Sperring/Bloodhound LSR)

Bad news, land-speed record fans: the project to set a new 1,000mph (1,609km/h) speed record is yet again in serious doubt. On Monday morning, the Bloodhound Land Speed Record Project revealed that it’s looking for a new owner in order to try and break the existing record. Whoever steps in will need pretty deep pockets, too—almost $11 million (£8 million), in fact.

Trying to set a new land-speed record is probably one of the harder activities one can engage in. You need to design and build a vehicle capable of going faster than 763mph (1,228km/h), twice within an hour. You need to find somewhere flat enough to run the car, presumably away from neighbors who might get annoyed by the window-shattering sonic booms. And while all that sounds like a serious challenge, perhaps the biggest problem is finding the money to make it all happen.

Bloodhound LSR—formerly Bloodhound SSC—certainly has the pedigree to break the record. It was the brainchild of Richard Noble, who also masterminded the last two successful land-speed-record attempts. (Noble was even behind the wheel for the 1982 record.) Chief aerodynamicist Ron Ayers is another veteran, having designed Thrust SSC before Bloodhound. And the project identified and prepared an 8.5-square mile (22km²) stretch of South Africa’s Hakskeen Pan to conduct the attempt.

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Source: Ars Technica – Bad news for land-speed record fans as Bloodhound goes up for sale

How Final Fantasy VII Remake legitimizes sexuality and gender identity

In Final Fantasy VII, spiky-haired protagonist Cloud Strife fights countless battles. But when he arrives in the red-light district called Wall Market, he faces what might be his greatest challenge: cross-dressing. To rescue his childhood friend and ally Tifa Lockhart from a seedy old slumlord, Cloud infiltrates an adults-only establishment called the Honey Bee Inn. The catch: to get to her, he must go undercover as a woman.

In the original 1997 version of FFVII, Cloud’s drag transformation is played for laughs. Undertones of queer panic and derision punctuate nearly every character interaction while he’s dressed in a frilly, lavender frock. The audience is supposed to guffaw at this warrior clad in women’s clothing, tamping down any inherent issues of sexual identity and expression that could be attached to the scene. Final Fantasy VII, while heartfelt, dramatic, and in many ways beautiful, was never what could be interpreted as “in tune” with its sexual side.

Nearly 25 years later, Final Fantasy VII Remake flipped the script. A narrative that was once eager to mock Cloud’s dalliances in drag, and which turned a blind eye to the sexual implications of the situation, has morphed. In Remake, this scene blossoms into a brilliant and daring piece of media that encourages the exploration and freedom of one’s sexual identity. It also legitimizes both the cisgender and queer desires that certain characters harbor.

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Source: Ars Technica – How Final Fantasy VII Remake legitimizes sexuality and gender identity

Apple doubles down on Fitness+ with new “Time to Walk” Apple Watch content

Today, Apple launched a new component of its Fitness+ personal health subscription service: “Time to Walk.” With it, users who own an Apple Watch can take a tracked walk exercise while listening to stories or inspiring talks from “influential and interesting people.”

These talks will be automatically downloaded to users’ Apple Watch, provided those users subscribe to Fitness+. When users start listening to one of the 25-40 minute episodes, the Watch will begin tracking a Walk workout. For users in weelchairs, Time to Walk is instead called “Time to Push” and offers up an Outdoor Weelchair Walk Pace workout instead.

The announcement states that “each Time to Walk episode is shaped by the guest’s personal, life-shaping moments and includes lessons learned, meaningful memories, thoughts on purpose and gratitude, moments of levity, and other thought-provoking topics, recorded while walking outside or in locations that are meaningful to them.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Apple doubles down on Fitness+ with new “Time to Walk” Apple Watch content

SpaceX set to launch its next Starship prototype on Monday

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Source: Ars Technica – SpaceX set to launch its next Starship prototype on Monday

“I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have,” new CDC head says

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Source: Ars Technica – “I can’t tell you how much vaccine we have,” new CDC head says

The secret to this $5,000 electric motorcycle is a cast aluminum frame

It’s unavoidably clear that staving off the worst extremes of climate change will require a wide-scale electrification of our vehicle fleet. There’s a hitch, though—it’s not cheap. We have the technology to make electric vehicles, and it’s getting better all the time. But as of right now, the bill of materials for an electric car is still higher than for an equivalent vehicle with an internal combustion engine, even with impressive reductions in the cost of lithium-ion batteries.

The problem doesn’t just affect passenger cars. It’s more expensive to buy an electric garbage truck or school bus than one with a diesel engine, although after four to five years of operation, it balances out thanks to the cost of fuel. It’s even true for motorcycles; Harley Davidson’s new electric LiveWire costs an eye-watering $30,000—only slightly less than a Nissan Leaf. All of which makes the price of the Sondors Metacycle so notable. When it goes into production later this year, you should be able to pick one up for just $5,000.

Until now, Sondors was a brand people associated with electric bicycles. It’s the brainchild of company founder Storm Sondors, who decided the time was right to expand the company’s range with a highly affordable electric motorbike that’s meant not for enthusiasts but for everyday transport. And the key wasn’t perfecting a new type of motor or battery. “Oh, the hard part was done by people who are 1000 times smarter than any one of us,” Sondors told me by phone.

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Source: Ars Technica – The secret to this ,000 electric motorcycle is a cast aluminum frame

Google Maps will soon show COVID vaccine locations

Vaccine info in Google search.

Enlarge / Vaccine info in Google search. (credit: Google)

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine means a ton of people are soon going to be looking for vaccination sites. As usual, Google wants to be at the center of getting people where they’re going, and in a new blog post Google says it will start loading Search and Maps with information on vaccination sites. “In the coming weeks,” the company writes, “COVID-19 vaccination locations will be available in Google Search and Maps, starting with Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, with more states and countries to come.”

Soon you’ll be able to search “COVID vaccine” and get location results showing access requirements, appointment information, and if a site has a drive-through. Google says it is partnering with the Boston Children’s Hospital’s VaccineFinder.org, government agencies, and retail pharmacies for the data.

Elsewhere in the Google Empire, the company says it will open up various Google facilities as vaccine sites.

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Source: Ars Technica – Google Maps will soon show COVID vaccine locations

Egyptian archaeologists unearth dozens of tombs at Saqqara necropolis

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Source: Ars Technica – Egyptian archaeologists unearth dozens of tombs at Saqqara necropolis

Valve’s Gabe Newell imagines “editing” personalities with future headsets

An artist's interpretation of how future <em>Dota 2</em> tournament trophies might look if Valve chief Gabe Newell pushes any further into brain-computer interface (BCI) research.

Enlarge / An artist’s interpretation of how future Dota 2 tournament trophies might look if Valve chief Gabe Newell pushes any further into brain-computer interface (BCI) research. (credit: Getty Images / David Jackmanson / Sam Machkovech)

For years, the open secret at Valve (makers of game series like Half-Life and Portal) has been its interest in a new threshold of game experiences. We’ve seen this most loudly with SteamVR as a virtual reality platform, but the game studio has also openly teased its work on “brain-computer interfaces“—meaning, ways to read brainwave activity to either control video games or modify those experiences.

Most of what we’ve seen from Valve’s skunkworks divisions thus far, particularly at a lengthy GDC 2019 presentation, has revolved around reading your brain’s state (i.e., capturing nervous-system energy in your wrists before it reaches your fingers, to reduce button-tap latency in twitchy shooters like Valve’s Counter-Strike). In a Monday interview with New Zealand’s 1 News, Valve co-founder Gabe Newell finally began teasing a more intriguing level of BCI interaction: one that changes the state of your brain.

“Our ability to create experiences in people’s brains, that aren’t mediated through their meat peripherals [e.g., fingers, eyes], will be better than is [currently] possible,” Newell asserts as part of his latest 12-minute video interview. Later, he claims that “the real world will seem flat, colorless, and blurry compared to the experiences that you’ll be able to create in people’s brains.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Valve’s Gabe Newell imagines “editing” personalities with future headsets

The history of the connected battlespace, part one: command, control, and conquer

Believe it or not, this fictional version of NORAD shows off the idea of the "connected battlespace" even better than the reali thing.

Enlarge / Believe it or not, this fictional version of NORAD shows off the idea of the “connected battlespace” even better than the reali thing. (credit: MGM/UA)

Since the earliest days of warfare, commanders of forces in the field have sought greater awareness and control of what is now commonly referred to as the “battlespace”—a fancy word for all of the elements and conditions that shape and contribute to a conflict with an adversary, and all of the types of military power that can be brought to bear to achieve their objectives.

The clearer a picture military decision-makers have of the entire battlspace, the more well-informed their tactical and strategic decisions should be. Bringing computers into the mix in the 20th century meant a whole new set of challenges and opportunities, too. The ability of computers to sort through enormous piles of data to identify trends that aren’t obvious to people (something often referred to as “big data“) didn’t just open up new ways for commanders to get a view of the “big picture”—it let commanders see that picture closer and closer to real-time, too.

And time, as it turns out, is key. The problem that digital battlespace integration is intended to solve is reducing the time it takes commanders to close the “OODA loop,” a concept developed by US Air Force strategist Colonel John Boyd. OODA stands for “observe, orient, decide, act”—the decision loop made repeatedly in responding to unfolding events in a tactical environment (or just about anywhere else). OODA is largely an Air Force thing, but all the different branches of the military have similar concepts; the Army has long referred to the similar Lawson Command and Control Loop in its own literature.

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Source: Ars Technica – The history of the connected battlespace, part one: command, control, and conquer

Godzilla vs. Kong trailer is a rock ‘em, sock ’em monster mashup

Two powerful forces of nature collide in a battle for the ages in Godzilla vs. Kong, premiering simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max on March 26, 2021.

It’s powerful Titan pitted against Titan in the first trailer for Godzilla vs. Kong, the fourth film released as part of Legendary Picture’s “MonsterVerse” franchise, co-produced and distributed by Warner Bros. Directed by Adam Wingard, the film is not meant to be a remake of the 1962 Japanese classic, King Kong vs. Godzilla; rather, per Wingard, it will directly tie into the events of its 2019 predecessor, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and feature a “more rugged” and aging Kong.

(Some spoilers for some prior films in the MonsterVerse franchise below.)

The MonsterVerse franchise started in 2014 with Godzilla, in which a soldier tries to return to his family while caught in the crossfire of the battle between Godzilla and a pair of parasitic monsters known as MUTOs. The studio followed up three years later with Kong: Skull Island, set in 1973, in which a team of scientists and soldiers travel to the titular Skull Island and encounter Kong, the last survivor of his species. And in 2019, the studio released Godzilla: King of the Monsters, a sequel to the 2014 film, in which Godzilla and Mothra team up to defeat a prehistoric alien named King Ghidorah, who has awakened other ancient creatures (Titans) to destroy the world.

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Source: Ars Technica – Godzilla vs. Kong trailer is a rock ‘em, sock ’em monster mashup

A curious observer’s guide to quantum mechanics, pt. 3: Rose colored glasses 

A curious observer’s guide to quantum mechanics, pt. 3: Rose colored glasses 

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images / Aurich Lawson)

One of the quietest revolutions of our current century has been the entry of quantum mechanics into our everyday technology. It used to be that quantum effects were confined to physics laboratories and delicate experiments. But modern technology increasingly relies on quantum mechanics for its basic operation, and the importance of quantum effects will only grow in the decades to come. As such, physicist Miguel F. Morales has taken on the herculean task of explaining quantum mechanics to the rest of us laymen in this seven-part series (no math, we promise). Below is the third story in the series, but you can always find the starting story here.

So far, we’ve seen particles move as waves and learned that a single particle can take multiple, widely separated paths. There are a number of questions that naturally arises from this behavior—one of them being, “How big is a particle?” The answer is remarkably subtle, and over the next two weeks (and articles) we’ll explore different aspects of this question.

Today, we’ll start with a seemingly simple question: “How long is a particle?”

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Source: Ars Technica – A curious observer’s guide to quantum mechanics, pt. 3: Rose colored glasses 

Review: Lupin updates classic French gentleman thief for the 21st century

Omar Sy stars as Assane Diop, looking every bit the contemporary version of Arsène Lupin, famed French fictional gentleman thief.

Enlarge / Omar Sy stars as Assane Diop, looking every bit the contemporary version of Arsène Lupin, famed French fictional gentleman thief. (credit: Netflix)

Netflix has kicked off 2021 with a bang, thanks to its new series, Lupin, starring French actor and comedian Omar Sy. This delightful contemporary reimagining of a classic character in French detective fiction, Arsène Lupin—a gentleman thief and master of disguise who was essentially the French equivalent of Sherlock Holmes—is a massive hit. According to Deadline Hollywood, Lupin is on track to top 70 million households in its first 28 days of release, beating out two other recent Netflix smash hits, Bridgerton (63 million households) and The Queen’s Gambit (62 million households).

(Some spoilers below, but no major reveals.)

As I’ve written previously, Arsène Lupin is the creation of Maurice Leblanc, who based the character partly on a French burglar/anarchist. Leblanc was also familiar with the gentleman thief featured in the work of Octave Mirbeau as well as E.W. Hornung’s famed gentleman thief, A.J. Raffles, and he also knew about Rocambole, a character whose adventures were recounted in a series of stories published between 1857 and 1870 by Pierre Alexis Ponson du Terrail.

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Source: Ars Technica – Review: Lupin updates classic French gentleman thief for the 21st century

Is this a fossilized lair of the dreaded bobbit worm?

The head of a gruesome yet colorful worm projects from the seafloor.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images)

Not to toot my own horn, but I know a thing or two about bizarre animals. And I can tell you without a hint of doubt that the bobbit worm is by far the most bizarre. Growing to 10 feet long, the worm digs a burrow in the seafloor, leaving only its bear trap of a mouth sticking out. When a fish approaches, the bobbit worm shoots out of its burrow with astonishing speed, snapping its jaws around its prey. With violent tugs, the worm then drags the victim down into its lair, where it eats the fish alive. (Oh, there’s video.)

Now scientists say they’ve found evidence that an ancestor of the bobbit worm may have been menacing fish 20 million years ago. Writing today in the journal Scientific Reports, the researchers argue that hundreds of fossilized worm burrows, found in what is now Taiwan, show telltale signs of struggle. They haven’t found the worms themselves, mind you, as boneless critters like worms (known as invertebrates, because they lack spinal columns) very rarely fossilize. Instead, they discovered trace fossils, geological features that hint at the behavior of ancient animals, in sandstone that was once a seafloor.

“This is, we believe, the first time that we’ve actually found a trace fossil that shows how invertebrates like worms were feeding on vertebrates,” says National Taiwan University sedimentologist Ludvig Löwemark, co-author of the new paper. “Because, typically, what we find in the sedimentary record is animals that are moving through the sediment.” Invertebrates, for instance, might dig tunnels through the sea bottom and pump water through their burrows, filtering out particles. “But this is a record of a much more active behavior,” he continues. “The worms were actually hiding in the sediment, jumping out, catching their prey, and then dragging this prey down into the sediment.”

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Source: Ars Technica – Is this a fossilized lair of the dreaded bobbit worm?

DDoSers are abusing Microsoft RDP to make attacks more powerful

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Source: Ars Technica – DDoSers are abusing Microsoft RDP to make attacks more powerful

What’s the technology behind a five-minute charge battery?

Image of a set of battery racks.

Enlarge (credit: StoreDot)

Building a better battery requires dealing with problems in materials science, chemistry, and manufacturing. We do regular coverage of work going on in the former two categories, but we get a fair number of complaints about our inability to handle the third: figuring out how companies manage to take solutions to the science and convert them into usable products. So, it was exciting to see that a company called StoreDot that was claiming the development of a battery that would allow five-minute charging of electric vehicles was apparently willing to talk to the press.

Unfortunately, the response to our inquiries fell a bit short of our hopes. “Thank you for your interest,” was the reply, “we are still in pure R&D mode and cannot share any information or answer any questions at the moment.” Apparently, the company gave The Guardian an exclusive and wasn’t talking to anyone else.

Undeterred, we’ve since pulled every bit of information we could find from StoreDot’s site to figure out roughly what they were doing, and we went backwards from there to look for research we’ve covered previously that could be related. What follows is an attempt to piece together a picture of the technology and the challenges a company has to tackle to take research concepts and make products out of them.

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Source: Ars Technica – What’s the technology behind a five-minute charge battery?

The art and science of boarding an airplane in a pandemic

During the pandemic, several airlines have switched boarding procedures to create more distance between passengers.

Enlarge / During the pandemic, several airlines have switched boarding procedures to create more distance between passengers. (credit: Nicholas Economou | NurPhoto | Getty Images)

Jason Steffen studies planets in other solar systems. His most famous work—OK, second-most famous work—was with NASA’s Kepler Mission, a survey of planetary systems. But you’re more likely to have heard of Steffen, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, in a very different context: as a student of the airplane boarding process. Years ago, after waiting in yet another line on a jam-packed jetway, the physicist thought to himself, “There has to be a better way than this.”

Airlines are invested in boarding times—and to a lesser extent, offboarding—because time equals money. Flying people around the world is a low-margin business, and the faster you can get a flight loaded, into the air, and then emptied on the ground, the faster you can get the next round of paying customers into the air.

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Source: Ars Technica – The art and science of boarding an airplane in a pandemic