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AT&T brings cable TV prices to online streaming with $135 monthly plan

Tue, 2019-08-20 13:55

Enlarge / An AT&T store in Chicago. (credit: Getty Images | jetcityimage)

AT&T is now charging up to $135 a month for the online video service formerly known as DirecTV Now.

DirecTV Now launched in 2016 with plans ranging from $35 to $70 a month for 60 to 120 channels. There have been several price increases and a reduction in the number of channels since, resulting in AT&T offering just two packages of $50 a month for 45 channels and $70 a month for 60 channels.

This week, AT&T completed the name change from DirecTV Now to "AT&T TV Now." The $50 and $70 plans still exist, but AT&T TV Now customers can also get 65 channels for $93 a month, 85 channels for $110, 105 channels for $124, or 125 channels for $135. There's also a Spanish-language plan called Óptimo Más with 90 channels for $86 a month.

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The death of “Works with Nest” begins now with Google account migrations

Tue, 2019-08-20 13:42

Enlarge / Coming soon to a Nest near you: Your Google account. (credit: Google Nest)

The smart home company Nest is currently in the middle of a rocky transition from standalone Alphabet company to a full-on merger with Google's hardware team, where it will exist as a Google sub-brand. The details were announced during Google I/O 2019 and include the debut of the first "Google Nest" product, the shutdown of the "Works with Nest" (WWN) ecosystem, and the death of standalone Nest accounts and the Nest/Google data separation. Until now, the transition has mostly involved news and new products, but now a recent update to the Nest app will let existing Nest users "migrate their account to Google." Be warned that doing this will break a lot of things and is irreversible.

So far, it looks like the Nest-to-Google transition more or less involves shutting down everything that was unique to Nest and switching to the Google Home/Google Assistant ecosystem. Migrating your Nest account to a Google account basically means jumping ecosystems, leaving behind any "Works with Nest" integrations with other apps or devices. Basic things like the Nest app, website, and Google voice commands will still work, but that's about it. Amazon Alexa users will probably see the current "Works with Nest" skill stop working, but apparently there is a new "Google Nest" skill that will replace some of the functionality.

Google's support page on the transition warns that the process "is not reversible" and that "During the migration process, you will need to remove and disconnect all your WWN third-party product connections (also not reversible)." This means you'll have to take careful stock of your Nest integrations before you switch and make sure you know what will and won't break. If you mess up, there's no going back.

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Super-Earth at a nearby star is a Mercury-like hunk of rock

Tue, 2019-08-20 13:02

Enlarge / An artist's view of what's undoubtedly the cooler side of the planet. (credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt)

The most common star in our galaxy is a red dwarf, smaller and dimmer than the Sun. Because these small stars put out much less radiation, the region where planets could have liquid water on their surfaces is much closer to the star. In these exosolar systems, the habitable zone is typically closer to the star than Mercury is to our Sun.

That's a good match to our current technology, which is best at identifying planets close to their host stars. But it has raised questions about whether these close-in planets could actually be habitable, given that red dwarf stars are prone to violent outbursts. Now, researchers have taken a close look at a planet orbiting close to a red dwarf and have found that it looks like a bare rock, suggesting that its star may have stripped off any atmosphere that once existed.

Redistribution

Studying the atmosphere of an exoplanet typically involves observations of it creating a partial eclipse of its host star. In these cases, some of the starlight passes through the planet's atmosphere, allowing us to get a sense of its composition. If there's no sign of this sort of change, then we typically infer that the planet doesn't have an atmosphere.

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Apple Card is now available to all US iPhone owners, adds new cash-back rewards

Tue, 2019-08-20 12:20

Applications to Apple's new digital credit card, dubbed simply Apple Card, are now available to all iPhone users in the United States. This follows a short period when Apple offered early access to a select number of customers who signed up and an employees-only test before that.

Apple Card is a MasterCard backed by Goldman Sachs, and it is primarily managed and used inside the Wallet app on iPhones running iOS 12.4 or later. Users can track their spending categories, pay off the card, order a physical card, and more from within the app.

Apple aimed to address a few common complaints about credit cards with this product—for example, credit card transaction histories are often cryptic, and it's sometimes difficult to determine which vendor a charge was made at if the abbreviated name behind the charge doesn't match the vendor's public-facing name; Apple Card's transaction history shows full names of vendors, along with splash images matching the spending category when possible.

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New Nvidia driver update cuts latency down to the bone (Updated)

Tue, 2019-08-20 12:08

Enlarge / You don't need an Nvidia RTX 2070 Super for this update, thankfully.

In the world of high-end gaming graphics cards, improvements in benchmarks like frame rate, resolution, and sharpness dominate much of the discussion. But a new driver update for Nvidia cards today also includes an important improvement that could help reduce the latency between when a player enters their input and when they see the results of that input on-screen. That's enabled by a new Ultra-Low Latency Mode that Nvidia is adding as an option in its software Control Panel through a Game Ready driver update today.

For a decade now, Nvidia's graphics drivers tried to queue an additional one-to-three frames of video ahead of time (depending on user settings). This meant that, after the next frame was ready, the GPU could use otherwise "idle" time to start processing what future frames might look like.

This frame queueing helped smooth out frame rates in cases where the system was temporarily overloaded for one reason or another, letting the GPU squeeze out a frame while the system played catch up. But this frame-rate smoothing also added additional latency, because the system was essentially working from slightly outdated inputs for a few frames.

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Man sued for using bogus YouTube takedowns to get address for swatting

Tue, 2019-08-20 11:58

Enlarge / YouTube headquarters in San Bruno, California. (credit: JasonDoiy | Getty)

YouTube is suing a Nebraska man the company says has blatantly abused its copyright takedown process. The Digital Millennium Copyright Act offers online platforms like YouTube legal protections if they promptly take down content flagged by copyright holders. However, this process can be abused—and boy did defendant Christopher L. Brady abuse it, according to YouTube's legal complaint (pdf).

Brady allegedly made fraudulent takedown notices against YouTube videos from at least three well-known Minecraft streamers. In one case, Brady made two false claims against a YouTuber and then sent the user an anonymous message demanding a payment of $150 by PayPal—or $75 in bitcoin.

"If you decide not to pay us, we will file a 3rd strike," the message said. When a YouTube user receives a third copyright strike, the YouTuber's account gets terminated.

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States reportedly plan monopoly investigation of Google, Facebook, Amazon

Tue, 2019-08-20 11:48

Enlarge (credit: txking | Getty)

Big Tech will soon be facing too many antitrust probes to count on one hand, as several states reportedly plan to launch their own joint investigation to accompany all of the federal inquiries already in progress.

Attorneys general for as many as 20 states may be joining forces to dig into whether the dominant tech players use their outsized market power unfairly to quash competition, sources tell the Wall Street Journal.

A bipartisan group of about a dozen attorneys general met with Department of Justice officials last month to discuss issues of competition in the tech sector, the WSJ reports, a meeting at which the AGs of Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, and Texas were present. The office of New York Attorney General Letitia James told the WSJ that the officials involved "have concerns over the control of personal data by large tech companies and will hold them accountable for anticompetitive practices that endanger privacy and consumer data."

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Dicey Dungeons review: Well, there goes another 100 hours of my life

Tue, 2019-08-20 10:40

Enlarge

The central premise of Dicey Dungeons, the new dice-chucking roguelike from acclaimed developer Terry Cavanagh (VVVVVV, Super Hexagon) is that you are a walking, talking die starring in a twisted game show in which you must endlessly fight your way through an ever-changing dungeon in a desperate attempt to earn your freedom. That freedom, of course, will never come.

Apart from the whole “sentient die in a game show” thing, it’s a pretty apt metaphor for my experience with the highly addictive modern roguelike genre (or “roguelite,” depending on how uppity you want to get). I’ve poured a frankly troubling amount of hours into games like The Binding of Isaac, Dead Cells, and Slay the Spire, the latter of which you may hear used in descriptions of Dicey Dungeons. It’s not an altogether indefensible comparison—they feel similar in some ways—but the games are ultimately quite different.

Slay the Spire combined the board-game-famous mechanic of deckbuilding with the “just one more run” addictiveness of a roguelike dungeon crawler to make, in this author’s estimation, a damn-near perfect game. Dicey Dungeons yoinks Slay the Spire’s general setup—traipsing around a branching map to take part in turn-based, permadeath battles against monsters—but instead of constructing a deck of cards through play, you’re piecing together a set of “equipment” that you activate with standard six-sided dice.

Roll them bones

The game rolls your dice for you at the start of each turn—you begin each run with two, but you get more as you level up—and you can then assign your dice to your equipment as you see fit. The starting character, the warrior, starts each game with a sword, which lets you deal damage equal to the numerical value of the die placed on it. The warrior also gets a “combat roll” ability that allows you to do three re-rolls (it is, after all, the starting character).

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Guidemaster: 2019’s best VR is a battle between Oculus Quest, everyone else

Tue, 2019-08-20 09:43

Enlarge / Front row: PlayStation VR, Oculus Quest, Valve Index, Oculus Rift S. Back row: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, HTC Vive Pro. (Only headsets from the front row made our recommended-in-2019 list.) (credit: Sam Machkovech)

Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we'll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23. As part of Gaming Week, we wanted to resurface our definitive guide to the state of VR in 2019, which was published earlier this year in June 2019.

Virtual reality as a consumer-grade tech isn't going anywhere if the PC gaming titans at Valve Corporation have anything to say about it.

Today marks the company's launch of its own VR system, the Valve Index, and it's easily the company's biggest hardware launch ever. Valve has previously sold $50 controllers and set-top boxes, and they've partnered with other hardware makers to launch things like computers. But the Valve Index is another level entirely—it's priced at $999 for a full kit, built top to bottom at Valve's Seattle-area headquarters.

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The ambitious Europa Clipper has cleared an important step toward flight

Tue, 2019-08-20 08:29

Enlarge / This is an earlier design of the Europa Clipper spacecraft. (credit: NASA)

NASA has given its ambitious Europa Clipper mission a green light to proceed into final design and then into construction of the spacecraft. The multibillion-dollar mission remains on target for a launch in 2023 or 2025, the agency said.

Each of NASA's major programs must follow a complicated "lifecycle," in which different phases of development—from formulation of the project idea through launch—are gated by required approvals. This is part of NASA's effort to ensure that programs are developed to certain standards. In this case, the Europa mission has passed what is known as "Key Decision Point-C," the stage at which programs undergo a rigorous review and move from preliminary into final design. Then the construction of spacecraft components begins.

NASA has never sent a dedicated mission to a moon in the Solar System other than Earth's own Moon. But Jupiter's Europa satellite is special, with what scientists believe to be a vast ocean beneath its icy shell capable of harboring life. The large, capable Europa Clipper spacecraft is due to make more than 40 flybys of the moon to better characterize the ice, its thickness, and the ocean below.

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Ars Technica’s favorite video games from our first 10 years, 1998-2008

Tue, 2019-08-20 06:30

Enlarge / "Hell. It's about Ars." (credit: Aurich Lawson)

Welcome to Ars Gaming Week 2019! As a staff full of gamers and game-lovers, we'll be serving up extra reviews, guides, interviews, and other stories all about gaming from August 19 to August 23.

A long time ago on an Ars far, far away, video game coverage operated quite differently. In our first ten years of existence, games coverage often blended into a format that revolved around our emphasis on busy, passionate forum posts. Ars authors' biggest posts could drive commentary, but more often than not, the most bustling threads were the ones started by readers themselves.

It's interesting, then, to examine the concept of history's "best Ars games" through the unique prism of forum-driven hindsight. I went into this project of sorting our game-review history with a list of personal favorites that I thought might be borne out by at least some of our readers. I soon found that it was more important to look at the games that enjoyed both instant and lasting acclaim from our picky and obsessive regulars.

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Anonymous “Anonymous Cowards” are, for now, not welcome on Slashdot

Tue, 2019-08-20 05:00

Enlarge / What's to come of Slashdot's Anonymous Coward feature? It was down, then it came back with a change; will it get changed once more? (credit: Aurich Lawson)

On August 9, tech news aggregator Slashdot quietly removed one of its earliest features, which had been available to all visitors since its founding in 1997: the ability to post comments as an "Anonymous Coward." And while the feature returned within five days, it returned in a largely nerfed format.

Users can now only access the "Anonymous Coward" feature if they are logged in with a valid account, thus attaching some form of tracked use for anybody on the site. Slashdot administrators say this change is currently "temporary."

“Absolutely, only” meant to combat spam

The decision comes after a surge of public pressure against anonymous imageboard services—particularly 8chan, where a deadly shooter's manifesto was apparently posted. That pressure prompted cloud provider Cloudflare (and other replacement services) to stop offering services to the sites.

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The Porsche Taycan electric car gets Apple Music, 3 years free data

Mon, 2019-08-19 20:05

Enlarge / The new Porsche Taycan electric car is the first to feature Apple Music integration into the infotainment system. (credit: Porsche)

Porsche's new battery-electric Taycan sedan is probably the most hotly anticipated car of the year. The car's official launch—and our deep dive into its technology—happens early in September. Later that month, we'll be able to tell you how it drives, ahead of the first customer deliveries in December. But we do have some news we can share about the car now. On Monday evening, Porsche revealed that it has worked together with Apple to integrate the Apple Music streaming service into the Taycan's infotainment system. All Taycan customers will receive a six-month free trial to the service, and Porsche says that Taycans will also come with three years' free data service.

The Apple Music is in addition to (and separate from) CarPlay, which is still a standard feature of the Taycan's infotainment system. But as CarPlay users will know, it's a highly sandboxed way of interacting with content from your phone. That's not the case with the new Apple Music feature. It has been added as a separate input in the Taycan's media player app, alongside broadcast radio, bluetooth devices, and so on.

Playlists can be shown on the main instrument panel in front of the driver and controlled using the multifunction steering wheel as well as through the infotainment screen in the center stack. The tight integration into the infotainment system means that if you hear a song you like on the radio—and it has been correctly tagged—you can easily add it to your Apple Music library or even create a new Apple Music playlist based on that track. In addition to the stuff you expect to find in Apple Music, Porsche is also providing some curated playlists for Taycan owners.

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Google Stadia exclusives push potential players to data centers [Updated]

Mon, 2019-08-19 18:47

Enlarge / Artist's rendering of players that aren't interested in game streaming reacting to news that Orcs Must Die 3 is a Stadia exclusive. (credit: Robot Entertainment)

[Update (7:45pm ET): In a "clarification" post on Reddit this evening, Robot Entertainment CEO Patrick Hudson said that Orcs Must Die 3 would be a timed exclusive for Stadia, but the company wouldn't say how long that timing would last. This is a relatively standard setup for third-party exclusive games these days.

"OMD3 would not be possible today without Google's support," Hudson wrote. "They are behind the game in a big way. We've hired more developers to bring it to life. It;s the OMD game that fans of the first two games have been wanting, and we’re thrilled that we have the opportunity to make it."]

Original Story

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Kerbal Space Program 2 will take flight in 2020—here’s the first trailer

Mon, 2019-08-19 17:21

During the Gamescom opening night livestream, game publisher Private Division released a new trailer revealing and announcing Kerbal Space Program 2, a sequel to the popular 2015 physics-based spaceship construction and spaceflight sim. Kerbal Space Program 2 will be released in the first quarter of 2020.

We've included the trailer below. Set to music by M83, it's a pre-rendered cinematic that humorously juxtaposes dramatic spaceflight documentary tropes with the characters and frequent accidents of the game.

Newly announced features include "new planets to explore, new technologies to traverse the stars, and the ability to establish colonies, all rooted in real-world science," according to Private Division's press release. Additionally, the sequel will bring multiplayer to the franchise, and players will be able to build "without the constraints of planetary gravitation for the first time," which should allow for more elaborate constructions than were possible in the previous game.

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Review: Fight scenes are the only bright spot in grim, joyless Wu Assassins

Mon, 2019-08-19 16:33

Iko Uwais stars as Kai Jin, a Chinese-Indonesian chef in San Francisco's Chinatown who is granted a mystical power in the new Netflix series Wu Assassins.

A humble chef is granted mystical powers to hunt down five powerful warlords in Wu Assassins, a new supernatural action drama from Netflix. Unfortunately, a talented cast and terrific fight choreography can't keep the show from sinking under the weight of its leaden, uninspired script. No martial arts series should be this much of a slog.

(Some spoilers below.)

Indonesian martial-arts star Iko Uwais (The Raid, Stuber) stars as Kai Jin, a Chinese-Indonesian chef in San Francisco's Chinatown who finds himself chosen as the last of the Wu Assassins, a long line of fighters tasked with killing the five Wu Warlords. The warlords all possess elemental supernatural powers tied to fire, wood, earth, metal, and water. These powers were conferred upon them by the Wu Xing: five shards that are absorbed into the body when touched. Kai's task is to kill the current crop of Wu Warlords, reassemble the shards, and send them back to heaven where they belong, thus ridding the world of their influence. Not that the Wu Xing are necessarily evil: we learn they reflect the character of whoever possesses them. It just so happens that bad people tend to crave the immense power they confer.

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Neanderthals suffered from a veritable epidemic of swimmer’s ear

Mon, 2019-08-19 15:58

Enlarge / The arrows point to bony growths called external auditory exostoses, or swimmer's ear, in the skull of a Neanderthal from La Chapelle-aux-Saints, in France. (credit: Erik Trinkaus)

Swimmer's ear happens when constant exposure to cold water irritates tissues in the ear canal, causing bony growths to form. As its name implies, it commonly shows up in people who spend a lot of time in the water. But it also shows up in almost half of Neanderthal skulls from Eurasia, according to a recent study.

Washington University paleoanthropologist Erik Trinkaus and his colleagues studied fossils, digital scans, photographs, and other archaeologists' reports from 77 Neanderthals and Homo sapiens who lived in Europe and Asia during the Pleistocene. Based on this sampling of remains with preserved inner ear bones, a surprising number of Neanderthals were running around Pleistocene Eurasia with swimmer's ear.

Lifestyles of the cold, damp, and windy

You won't get swimmer's ear from a single cold-water surfing trip. It takes long-term exposure to cold water or cold, damp air for the irritation to actually reshape the bone. If you're looking at a skeleton, swimmer's ear is the kind of trait that can tell you something about a person's habits in life. Anthropologists still aren't exactly sure what swimmer's ear tells us about Neanderthals' lifestyle, but it may have something to do with genetics, hygiene, and a taste for shellfish.

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How malformed packets caused CenturyLink’s 37-hour, nationwide outage

Mon, 2019-08-19 15:15

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | RiverNorthPhotography)

CenturyLink's nationwide, 37-hour outage in December 2018 disrupted 911 service for millions of Americans and prevented completion of at least 886 calls to 911, a new Federal Communications Commission report said.

Back in December, FCC Chairman Ajit Pai called the outage on CenturyLink's fiber network "completely unacceptable" and vowed to investigate. The FCC released the findings from its investigation today, describing how CenturyLink failed to follow best practices that could have prevented the outage. But Pai still hasn't announced any punishment of CenturyLink.

The outage was so extensive that it affected numerous other network operators that connect with CenturyLink, including Comcast and Verizon, the FCC report said. An FCC summary said:

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85 Google Play apps with 8 million downloads forced fullscreen ads on users

Mon, 2019-08-19 15:05

Enlarge (credit: Trend Micro)

Researchers found 85 Google Play apps with more than 8 million downloads that forced users to view fullscreen ads.

The apps, which posed as photography and gaming programs, contained a family of adware that was highly disruptive to end users. Once installed, the apps displayed ads in full screen—a setting that forced users to view the entire duration of an ad before being able to close the window or get back to the app. The apps showed an ad every five minutes, but the people operating the platform had the ability to remotely change the frequency.

AndroidOS_Hidenad.HRXH, as the adware is called, used several tricks to evade detection and removal. A half-hour after being installed, for instance, an app would hide its icon and create a shortcut on the device home screen. (That's according to a write-up from Trend Micro, the security firm that found the apps.) Hiding the icon prevented the apps from being uninstalled by dragging and dropping the icon uninstall section of the device screen. Android 8 and later versions require user confirmation before an app can create a shortcut, but even if users of these versions didn't agree, the icon would nonetheless remain hidden.

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Insomniac Games acquired by Sony, calls out “a special relationship”

Mon, 2019-08-19 14:38

Enlarge / One of these PlayStation controller icons is not like the other. Insomniac Games' logo, third from the left, is now an official part of the Sony Interactive Entertainment family. (credit: Sony / Sam Machkovech)

Insomniac Games, one of PlayStation's most consistent game developers, has been officially acquired by Sony Interactive Entertainment. Monday's announcement did not include any terms.

"We've enjoyed a special relationship with PlayStation practically since our inception," Insomniac founder and CEO Ted Price said in the acquisition's announcement. "Our partnership amplifies our potential, and Marvel's Spider-Man was a testament to this."

It's easy to assume that Insomniac already operated as a "first-party" Sony game studio. The developer has been responsible for some of the biggest PlayStation-exclusive franchises throughout that console's lifespan, including Ratchet & Clank, Resistance, and last year's phenomenal Marvel's Spider-Man.

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