Digitally preserving important Arkansas dinosaur tracks

16 Jan 2018, 8:16 pm
Researchers used LiDAR imaging to digitally preserve and study important dinosaur tracks.

The Montmaurin-La Niche mandible reveals the complexity of the Neanderthals’ origin

16 Jan 2018, 8:14 pm
A team of scientists has examined the Middle Pleistocene Montmaurin-La Niche mandible, which reveals the complexity of the origin of the Neanderthals.

Drones confirm importance of Costa Rican waters for sea turtles

16 Jan 2018, 8:12 pm
A new drone-enabled population survey -- the first ever on sea turtles -- shows that larger-than-anticipated numbers of turtles aggregate in waters off Costa Rica's Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. Scientists estimate turtle densities may reach up to 2,086 animals per square kilometer. The study underscores the importance of the Ostional habitat; it also confirms that drones are a reliable tool for surveying sea turtle abundance.

New process could slash energy demands of fertilizer, nitrogen-based chemicals

16 Jan 2018, 7:43 pm
Nitrogen-based synthetic fertilizer forms the backbone of the world food supply, but its manufacture requires a tremendous amount of energy. Now, computer modeling points to a method that could drastically cut the energy needed by using sunlight in the manufacturing process.

Hubble weighs in on mass of 3 million billion suns

16 Jan 2018, 7:42 pm
In 2014, astronomers found an enormous galaxy cluster contains the mass of a staggering three million billion suns -- so it's little wonder that it has earned the nickname of "El Gordo" ("the Fat One" in Spanish)! Known officially as ACT-CLJ0102-4915, it is the largest, hottest, and brightest X-ray galaxy cluster ever discovered in the distant Universe.

Can training improve memory, thinking abilities in older adults with cognitive impairment?

16 Jan 2018, 7:42 pm
A new, first-of-its-kind study was designed to assess whether cognitive training, a medication-free treatment, could improve MCI. Studies show that activities that stimulate your brain, such as cognitive training, can protect against a decline in your mental abilities. Even older adults who have MCI can still learn and use new mental skills.

T-cells engineered to outsmart tumors induce clinical responses in relapsed Hodgkin lymphoma

16 Jan 2018, 7:42 pm
A research team has validated a way to outfox tumors. They engineered T-cells, essential players in the body's own immune system, to strip tumors of their self-preservation skill and were able to hold Hodgkin lymphoma at bay in patients with relapsed disease for more than four years.

Are amoebae safe harbors for plague?

16 Jan 2018, 7:42 pm
Amoebae, single-celled organisms common in soil, water and grade-school science classrooms, may play a key role in the survival and spread of deadly plague bacteria. New research shows that plague bacteria, Yersinia pestis, not only survive, but thrive and replicate once ingested by an amoeba. The discovery could help scientists understand why plague outbreaks can smolder, stay dormant for years, and re-emerge with a vengeance.

In sweet corn, workhorses win

16 Jan 2018, 7:42 pm
When deciding which sweet corn hybrids to plant, vegetable processors need to consider whether they want their contract growers using a workhorse or a racehorse. Is it better to choose a hybrid with exceptional yields under ideal growing conditions (i.e., the racehorse) or one that performs consistently well across ideal and less-than-ideal conditions (i.e., the workhorse)? New research suggests the workhorse is the winner in processing sweet corn.

Memory loss from West Nile virus may be preventable

16 Jan 2018, 7:40 pm
More than 10,000 people in the United States are living with memory loss and other persistent neurological problems that occur after West Nile virus infects the brain. Now, a new study in mice suggests that such ongoing neurological deficits may be due to unresolved inflammation that hinders the brain's ability to repair damaged neurons and grow new ones. When the inflammation was reduced by treatment with an arthritis drug, the animals' ability to learn and remember remained sharp after West Nile disease.

A 'touching sight': How babies' brains process touch builds foundations for learning

16 Jan 2018, 7:40 pm
A new study provides one of the first looks inside the infant's brain to show where the sense of touch is processed -- not just when a baby feels a touch to the hand or foot, but when the baby sees an adult's hand or foot being touched, as well. Researchers say these connections help lay the groundwork for the developmental and cognitive skills of imitation and empathy.

Decoy molecule created to block pain where it starts

16 Jan 2018, 7:40 pm
Pain researchers have developed a new method of reducing pain-associated behaviors with RNA-based medicine, creating a new class of decoy molecules that prevent the onset of pain.

Scientists home in on a potential Anthropocene 'Golden Spike'

16 Jan 2018, 6:13 pm
Scientists are reviewing the potential settings where a global reference section for the Anthropocene might be searched.

Rates of great earthquakes not affected by moon phases, day of year

16 Jan 2018, 6:13 pm
There is an enduring myth that large earthquakes tend to happen during certain phases of the Moon or at certain times during the year. But a new analysis confirms that this bit of earthquake lore is incorrect.

No evidence to support link between violent video games and behavior

16 Jan 2018, 6:13 pm
Researchers have found no evidence to support the theory that video games make players more violent.

New catalyst for hydrogen production is a step toward clean fuel

16 Jan 2018, 6:13 pm
A nanostructured composite material has shown impressive performance as a catalyst for the electrochemical splitting of water to produce hydrogen. An efficient, low-cost catalyst is essential for realizing the promise of hydrogen as a clean, environmentally friendly fuel.

New way to unmask melanoma cells to the immune system

16 Jan 2018, 6:13 pm
A research team has found a new way to keep the immune system engaged, and is planning to test the approach in a phase 1 clinical trial.

A high-salt diet produces dementia in mice

16 Jan 2018, 6:13 pm
A high-salt diet reduces resting blood flow to the brain and causes dementia in mice.

New study shows producers where and how to grow cellulosic biofuel crops

16 Jan 2018, 6:13 pm
A new report provides practical agronomic data for five cellulosic feedstocks, which could improve adoption and increase production across the country.

Want people to work together? Familiarity, ability to pick partners could be key

16 Jan 2018, 6:13 pm
The key to getting people to work together effectively could be giving them the flexibility to choose their collaborators and the comfort of working with established contacts, new research suggests.

Ripple Tokens Could Be Worthless

16 Jan 2018, 2:57 pm

Retirement Strategy: Well, I Believe This REIT Happens To Be On Sale

16 Jan 2018, 2:00 pm

An appreciation of games that click back and change the gamers who love them

16 Jan 2018, 12:30 pm

Don't worry, no Ouya games snuck into this discussion. (It just happens to have a timeless, sleek controller because famous designer Yves Béhar came up with the concept.)

Warning: This piece contains mild spoilers by referencing plot points for The Dig, Mass Effect, and Pillars of Eternity.

Anybody with a passing familiarity with video games or those who play them knows that games are more than technology. But classifying games as simply some pop culture ephemera that typifies trends and norms also doesn’t perfectly describe them. To really get to the essence of games and the narratives they create, you need to find folks like me—or, more precisely, me sitting at a computer at age eight. That kid, to poach unnecessarily from Deep Space Nine, is both “the dreamer and the dream.”

To be less abstract, academic Walter Ong once wrote an essay titled “Writing is a Technology That Restructures Thought,” in which he argued that literacy was not a measure of intelligence, savvy, or know-how. Rather, Ong saw technology as something that restructures the brains of those who think with it, feel with it, and use it.

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You Will Feel Like Sleeping Beauty After You Buy This REIT

16 Jan 2018, 11:45 am

Apple's iPhone Battery Replacement Could Consume Enough Cobalt To Make 26% Of EVs Sold In 2017

16 Jan 2018, 11:34 am

Wall Street Is Just Acting Stupid, So It's Time To Buy These 2 High-Yield REITs

16 Jan 2018, 5:14 am

Lesson Learned: Don't Short A Blue Chip REIT

15 Jan 2018, 11:45 am

2 Energy Stocks Set To Rally This Week

15 Jan 2018, 9:32 am

Facebook: Buy The Dip, But Keep This In Mind

15 Jan 2018, 8:48 am

Don't Get Too Comfortable: This Market Signal Says A Stock Sell-Off Is Coming Soon

15 Jan 2018, 8:01 am

Tesla: Cash Is King

15 Jan 2018, 6:31 am

Bitcoin And Altcoins - You Are Missing The Wave

14 Jan 2018, 4:46 pm

A 13% Yield, With Steady Payouts

14 Jan 2018, 2:46 pm

Why General Electric Is Still A Work In Progress

14 Jan 2018, 8:03 am

I'd Buy General Electric At The Right Price Too

14 Jan 2018, 6:50 am

'It's Facebook, Stupid'

14 Jan 2018, 5:46 am

Low Risk/High Return Dividend Growth REIT, Yields 5.4%

13 Jan 2018, 8:30 pm

The Top 3 Dividend Growth Stocks For A Weak Dollar

13 Jan 2018, 5:34 pm

Stocks To Watch: Guidance Updates All Around

13 Jan 2018, 3:15 pm

High-Dividend Stock Yields 8%, On Qualified Dividends, Goes Ex-Dividend Soon

13 Jan 2018, 2:59 pm

Retirement Strategy: I Reach For Higher Yield When It Reaches For Me

13 Jan 2018, 2:00 pm

The best PCs, gadgets, and wearables of CES 2018

12 Jan 2018, 2:00 pm

Enlarge / LG 32UK950. (credit: Samuel Axon)

LAS VEGAS—Each year, electronics companies big and small use the CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas to introduce their upcoming slate of products. The majority of products are niche products for a specific audience or tweaks to previous models. But a select few are exciting.

The following are the gadgets, computing devices, and wearables announced or shown at CES that most impressed the Ars team. Some were selected because they promise to bring fresh ideas to users, while others were selected because they appear at first glance to be impressively engineered and designed for quality.

Unfortunately, some of the world's most innovative tech companies don't make a big showing at CES. Instead, they choose to announce or show their products elsewhere—or they don't make an appearance at all. For that reason, Ars can't claim that this is a comprehensive list of the most promising devices of the year.

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Here’s how, and why, the Spectre and Meltdown patches will hurt performance

11 Jan 2018, 9:30 pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

As the industry continues to grapple with the Meltdown and Spectre attacks, operating system and browser developers in particular are continuing to develop and test schemes to protect against the problems. Simultaneously, microcode updates to alter processor behavior are also starting to ship.

Since news of these attacks first broke, it has been clear that resolving them is going to have some performance impact. Meltdown was presumed to have a substantial impact, at least for some workloads, but Spectre was more of an unknown due to its greater complexity. With patches and microcode now available (at least for some systems), that impact is now starting to become clearer. The situation is, as we should expect with these twin attacks, complex.

To recap: modern high-performance processors perform what is called speculative execution. They will make assumptions about which way branches in the code are taken and speculatively compute results accordingly. If they guess correctly, they win some extra performance; if they guess wrong, they throw away their speculatively calculated results. This is meant to be transparent to programs, but it turns out that this speculation slightly changes the state of the processor. These small changes can be measured, disclosing information about the data and instructions that were used speculatively.

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Fundamental physics is frustrating physicists

11 Jan 2018, 3:50 pm

DEEP in a disused zinc mine in Japan, 50,000 tonnes of purified water held in a vast cylindrical stainless-steel tank are quietly killing theories long cherished by physicists. Since 1996, the photomultiplier-tube detectors (pictured above) at Super-Kamiokande, an experiment under way a kilometre beneath Mount Ikeno, near Hida, have been looking for signs that one of the decillion (1033) or so protons and neutrons within it (of which a water molecule contains ten and eight respectively) has decayed into lighter subatomic particles.

That those tubes have, in the more than 20 years the experiment has been running, failed to do so is a conundrum for physics, and one that is becoming more urgent with every passing month. Grand unified theories (GUTs), thought since their genesis in the 1970s to be the most promising route to understanding the fundamental forces that bind matter together, predict that protons and neutrons should occasionally disintegrate in a way...Continue reading

The Richard Casement internship

11 Jan 2018, 3:50 pm

We invite applications for the 2018 Richard Casement internship. We are looking for a would-be journalist to spend three months of the summer working on the newspaper in London, writing about science and technology. Applicants should write a letter introducing themselves and an article of about 600 words that they think would be suitable for publication in the Science and Technology section. They should be prepared to come for an interview in London or New York. A stipend of £2,000 a month will be paid to the successful candidate. Applications must reach us by January 26th. These should be sent to:

The rise, fall, and rise of MDickie—or, how to be the best worst game developer

10 Jan 2018, 1:15 pm

Stay with us; this will make sense I swear. (credit: /

Recently, Mat Dickie boarded a train out of London and came across a kid, face-down in a smartphone game, sitting in Dickie's ticketed seat. As the furious tapping played out in front of him, Dickie contemplated whether he should hassle this transit gamer or just find an empty spot elsewhere. The solution ultimately revealed itself when the developer got close enough to catch a glimpse of the boy's screen: Wrestling Revolution 3D.

By now, the sports simulator gaming genre is as tried and true as sports itself. The Football Manager franchise has been delighting international audiences for 25 years-plus, nudging even stateside developers to take notice within the last decade (how else do you explain Madden spin-off, NFL Head Coach, sneaking into a release cycle full of familiar 2K titles?). But Wrestling Revolution 3D holds an unusual position within this landscape—it's the genre's most unexpected yet successful mobile title.

In 2017, Wrestling Revolution 3D became the first sports sim to surpass 50 million downloads. Today, the Google Play Store lists it in the "50,000,000 to 100,000,000" download category. Officially licensed games from the UFC and WWE, for comparison, stall at around 10 million downloads. Dickie knows all this because he's not only a fan—he's a long-time independent developer better known as MDickie. Wrestling Revolution 3D is his most successful game to date.

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“The least-worst idea we had”—The creation of the Age of Empires empire

8 Jan 2018, 12:30 pm

Enlarge / We've enjoyed Age of Empires so much, we'd probably play this version, too.

Not much about Age of Empires isn't epic.

Over the last 20 years, these epoch-spanning games have starred more than 50 historical civilizations, sales have surpassed more than 20 million units, and a core fanbase of hundreds of thousands has put hours upon hours into playing one series entry or another on a weekly basis. Age of Empires is one of the most influential strategy games of all time. And far from fading into obscurity, as history is wont to do, Empires is now squarely back in the (games-playing) public consciousness.

With a new Age game in development and a "definitive edition" reboot of the original just around the corner—and given our recent foray into the evolution of the entire real-time strategy genre—we thought it'd be interesting to dig into the history of this RTS series. After all, RTS games like Age have introduced millions of impressionable youths to the delights of... well, history.

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Here’s the spaceflight stuff we’re most anticipating in 2018

5 Jan 2018, 12:00 pm

Enlarge / For now, US astronauts must still travel to Kazakhstan and ride aboard a Russian Soyuz rocket to reach space. (credit: NASA)

Last year offered a mixed bag for spaceflight aficionados. The highs were very high, with SpaceX flying, landing, and reflying rockets at an unprecedented rate while finally beginning to deliver on its considerable promise. But the lows were pronounced, too, with the loss of the Cassini spacecraft in the outer Solar System and NASA's continued lack (for nearly a full year) of an administrator.

There were also delays upon delays. The ultra-expensive James Webb Space Telescope saw its launch date slip from 2018 into some time in 2019. NASA's Space Launch System rocket saw its maiden launch slip from late 2018 into 2019 and then again into 2020. The Falcon Heavy also moved to the right on the calendar, from November, then December, and finally into early 2018.

But all of those delays mean that the last couple of years of the 2010s should feature a lot of spaceflight action, and a good chunk of that will occur in the next 12 months. Looking ahead at what is to come, here are the key spaceflight milestones we're most eager to see in 2018, grouped by the approximate quarter of the year in which they might happen.

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Two security flaws in modern chips cause big headaches for the tech business

4 Jan 2018, 4:34 pm

IT WAS a one-two punch for the computer industry. January 3rd saw the disclosure of two serious flaws in the design of the processors that power most of the world’s computers. The first, appropriately called Meltdown, affects only chips made by Intel, and makes it possible to dissolve the virtual walls between the digital memory used by different programs, allowing hackers to steal sensitive data, such as passwords or a computer’s encryption keys. The second, dubbed Spectre, affects almost all mid-range and high-end processors in the world today. It also lets attackers open up an illicit backchannel, but in a different way: it enables a rogue program to trick a legitimate one running on the same computer to divulge information.

The double blow is unlikely to be a knock-out: big tech companies, including Apple and Microsoft, have already developed software patches to stop Meltdown, albeit at a steep cost. But neutralising Spectre will take longer, since it may well require...Continue reading

A new satellite will test ways to capture space debris

4 Jan 2018, 3:55 pm

THERE is an awful lot of junk in space. The latest data from the European Space Agency suggest some 7,500 tonnes of it now orbits Earth. It ranges from defunct satellites and rocket parts to nuts, bolts, shards of metal and even flecks of paint. But something as small as a paint fleck can still do serious damage if it hits a working satellite at a speed of several thousand kilometres an hour. There have already been more than 290 collisions, break-ups and explosions in space. Given the likelihood that thousands of small satellites, some only a few centimetres across, will be launched over the next decade, many worry that large volumes of space near Earth will soon be rendered risky places for satellites (especially big, expensive ones) to be.

What is needed, then, is a clean-up. Various ideas about how to do this have been proposed, and some are about to be put to the test. In February a resupply mission to the International Space Station will also carry a satellite, about the size of a domestic...Continue reading

The Richard Casement internship

4 Jan 2018, 3:55 pm

We invite applications for the 2018 Richard Casement internship. We are looking for a would-be journalist to spend three months of the summer working on the newspaper in London, writing about science and technology. Applicants should write a letter introducing themselves and an article of about 600 words that they think would be suitable for publication in the Science and Technology section. They should be prepared to come for an interview in London or New York. A stipend of £2,000 a month will be paid to the successful candidate. Applications must reach us by January 26th. These should be sent to:

Sometimes, computer programs seem too human for their own good

4 Jan 2018, 3:55 pm

DIGITAL assistants such as Siri and Cortana are increasingly common on phones and computers. Most are designed to give their users the impression that a humanlike intelligence lies behind the program’s friendly voice. It does not, of course. But dozens of experiments over the years have shown that people readily build strong bonds with computerised helpers which are endowed with anthropomorphic features, whether visual or vocal.

Developing an emotional relationship with a piece of software can, however, cut both ways. As a study published in Psychological Science by Park Daeun, of Chungbuk National University in South Korea, and her colleagues, shows, one emotion sometimes involved in machine-human interaction is embarrassment. This, Dr Park has discovered, makes some users reluctant to ask for help from their artificially intelligent pals. Apparently, they are sheepish about doing so.

Dr Park and her team recruited 187 participants into their...Continue reading

A practical guide to microchip implants

3 Jan 2018, 12:30 pm

Enlarge / Behold, a microchip implant with its delivery device. (credit:

When Wisconsin-based tech company Three Square Market offered to pay for its employees to be voluntarily microchipped last summer, the Internet was aghast. But just days before the so-called “chip party” at the 3SM company headquarters, people at the DEFCON hacking conference were eagerly lining up and paying to get microchip implants injected into the subdermal fascia between their thumbs and forefingers.

This juxtaposition begs the question: are these chip implants a step toward an invasive dystopian future where employers track their subjects’ every movement? Or are they simply an easy way to log in to accounts and open doors with the flick of a wrist? With a small but growing number of chipped individuals (between 50,000 and 100,000 according to estimates from biohacking company Dangerous Things) taking the plunge, society may soon find out.

What we’re talking about when we talk about microchips

Microchip implants are generally shaped like cylinders. They contain a small microchip, a bio-safe epoxy resin, and a copper antenna wire coil encased in lead-free borosilicate glass or soda-lime Schott 8625 biocompatible glass. Microchips used for both animals and humans are field powered and have no battery or power source. Therefore, they are inert until they come within the field produced by a reader device, which implants communicate with over a magnetic field.

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A fantastical ship has set out to seek Malaysian Airlines flight 370

2 Jan 2018, 5:42 pm

ON JANUARY 2nd, at 8pm local time, a strange vessel cast off and sailed out of the Port of Durban, in South Africa, heading east. Her hull was orange. Her superstructure bristled with antennae—some long and pointy, some sleek, white and domed. Her stern sported a crane and also a strange gantry, known to her crew as the “stinger”. Her bow looked so huge and ungainly as to be on the point of tipping her, nose first, into the depths. And below deck, invisible to those on shore, she carried eight autonomous submarines called HUGINs, each six metres long, weighing 1,800kg, and containing a titanium sphere to protect the sensitive electronics therein from the pressure of the ocean’s depths.

The strange ship’s name is Seabed Constructor. She is a Norwegian research vessel, built in 2014 and owned by Swire Seabed, a dredging and surveying firm in Bergen. At the moment, though, she is leased to Ocean Infinity, a company based in Houston, Texas. And the task...Continue reading

Why experts believe cheaper, better lidar is right around the corner

1 Jan 2018, 1:30 pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

On November 3, 2007, six vehicles made history by successfully navigating a simulated urban environment—and complying with California traffic laws—without a driver behind the wheel. Five of the six were sporting a revolutionary new type of lidar sensor that had recently been introduced by an audio equipment maker called Velodyne.

A decade later, Velodyne's lidar continues to be a crucial technology for self-driving cars. Lidar costs are coming down but are still fairly expensive. Velodyne and a swarm of startups are trying to change that.

In this article, we'll take a deep dive into lidar technology. We'll explain how the technology works and the challenges technologists face as they try to build lidar sensors that meet the demanding requirements for commercial self-driving cars.

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How a Star Trek card game quietly continues, 10 years after its official end

30 Dec 2017, 1:30 pm

(video link)

Earlier this year, I was back at my childhood home in Southern California, digging through some old boxes. Amidst assorted baseball cards, long-forgotten school projects, sports trophies, and more, I located a small, slender white cardboard box.

The box is unmarked, except for a small sticker in the top left-hand corner with my name on it. But I knew what it was the instant I saw it: my entire collection of Star Trek Customizable Card Game (STCCG), probably a couple hundred cards in total.

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People who know how the news is made resist conspiratorial thinking

28 Dec 2017, 2:00 pm

Enlarge (credit: Flickr user Jon S.)

Conspiracy theories, like the world being flat or the Moon landings faked, have proven notoriously difficult to stomp out. Add a partisan twist to the issue, and the challenge becomes even harder. Even near the end of his second term, barely a quarter of Republicans were willing to state that President Obama was born in the US.

If we're seeking to have an informed electorate, then this poses a bit of a problem. But a recent study suggests a very simple solution helps limit the appeal of conspiracy theories: news media literacy. This isn't knowledge of the news, per se, but knowledge of the companies and processes that help create the news. While the study doesn't identify how the two are connected, its authors suggest that an understanding of the media landscape helps foster a healthy skepticism.


News media literacy is the catch-all term for understanding how bias, unconscious or otherwise, influences the creation and consumption of news. This includes an awareness of the priorities of news organizations as businesses and the influence that ownership can have on the slant of news articles. But it also comes down to issues like recognizing that we bring our own biases in to the news we consume, allowing two people to come away from the same article with very different information.

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License expired: The Ars Technica 2018 Deathwatch

28 Dec 2017, 1:25 pm

Enlarge (credit: Fursov Aleksey?Getty Images)

Wow, that 2017, though. Quite a year. Let's grab a Juicero and take a moment to reflect on the utter dumpster fires that we've witnessed over the past 12 months. No, we're not talking about the political scene, though that certainly factors in here somewhere. But even in times with a somewhat upward economic trajectory, there are those in the tech industry that seemed to have existed solely to be a cautionary tale to others.

Some of the companies previously on our Deathwatch radar didn't survive long enough to even make our final 2018 list. Pour out one for Radio Shack, which died even faster the second time around after what looked like a brave reboot. Others have been circling the drain for some time and are by this time old friends of the 'Watch, comforting in their continual plummet despite all other forces of nature. And some… well, some just halted and caught fire this year in a way that promises to provide years of Schadenfreude to come.

Now, before we introduce our candidates, it's time for the patented Deathwatch disclaimer.

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Ars Technica’s best video games of 2017

24 Dec 2017, 12:45 pm

Enlarge (credit: Collage by Aurich Lawson)

Before we get on to the list, don't miss this year's Ars Technica Charity Drive sweepstakes. You can win one of nearly 100 prizes, including limited-edition gaming collectibles, all while helping out a good cause. Entries are due by January 4. Thanks in advance for your donation!

In recent years, it has become a cliché for us to say just how hard it is to narrow down an entire year of video games into a list of the 20 best titles everyone should play. That said, I'd still argue that 2017 was more ridiculously packed with quality releases than pretty much any year in the past decade. While single-player adventures dominated our rankings this year, the full list encompasses everything from traditional shooters and throwback platformers to indie puzzles and narratives, plus a few VR experiences for good measure.

Without further ado, our favorite games of 2017 are...

20. Cuphead

Studio MDHR, Xbox One/Windows

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The best board games of 2017

22 Dec 2017, 1:00 pm

2017 was a great year for tabletop games, and we spent a lot of time playing them. As usual, the board game release schedule is slanted heavily toward the latter months of the year, so we couldn't get absolutely everything we wanted to play to the table. This is doubly true for Eurogames, as the Spiel show in Essen, Germany, came even later in October than usual this year.

That said, we love the list we came up with. Here, in no particular order, are our favorite games of the year. Be sure to let us know your favorites in the comments, and here's to another great year of cardboard, cubes, cards, and miniatures in 2018.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Siri can’t talk to me: The challenge of teaching language to voice assistants

21 Dec 2017, 3:14 pm

Enlarge / Depending on your language preferences, the answer to this prompt remains "no."

Apple’s most recent fall event centered on excitement about the iPhone X, face recognition replacing Touch ID, OLED displays, and a cellular-enabled Apple Watch. But instead of “one more thing,” people living in Poland, Lithuania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, and many other places all over the world certainly noticed one missing thing.

Siri learned no new languages, and it’s kind of a big deal.

Touch screen works splendidly as an interface for a smartphone, but with the tiny display of a smartwatch it becomes a nuisance. And smart speakers that Apple wants to ship by the end of the year will have no screens at all. Siri—and other virtual assistants like Google Assistant, Cortana, or Bixby—are increasingly becoming a primary way we interact with our gadgets. And talking to an object in a foreign language at your own home in your own country just to make it play a song makes you feel odd.

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The Greatest Leap, Part 3: The triumph and near-tragedy of the first Moon landing

19 Dec 2017, 1:00 pm

Video shot by Joshua Ballinger, edited and produced by Jing Niu and David Minick. Click here for transcript. (video link)

A vast, gray expanse loomed just a few hundred meters below as Neil Armstrong peered out his tiny window. From inside the spidery lunar lander, a fragile cocoon with walls only about as thick as construction paper, the Apollo 11 commander finally had a clear view of where the on-board computer had directed him to land.

He did not like what he saw there. A big crater. Boulders strewn all around. A death trap.

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Ars Technica System Guide: December 2017

17 Dec 2017, 4:00 pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich / Getty)

In classic Ars system guides, we assumed that everybody wants the same thing out of a computer—the only question is how much you spend. And in that case, the beloved "Budget Box / Hot Rod / God Box" classifications made a lot of sense.

In this latest era of the guide, though, I'd like to branch out a little. System builds are getting more and more task-focused and specific—and that's not a bad thing. The modern geek doesn't just have one computer per household, or even one computer per geek.

So in our first guide for 2017, we're going to look at three separate systems anybody might want: the Thriftstation, the Workstation, and the Battlestation. They still range from least to most expensive, but they also have distinctly different foci. The Thriftstation makes a great silent HTPC (home theater) or unobtrusive, low-cost general-purpose machine. The Workstation steps things up and aims at serious office work, medium design work, and/or light gaming. And the Battlestation gets serious about FPS (c'mon) and pwning noobs.

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Stealth turns 40: Looking back at the first flight of Have Blue

16 Dec 2017, 12:30 pm

Enlarge / One of the two Have Blue prototypes sits in a hangar at Lockheed's Skunk Works in Burbank, California in this 1978 photo. The aircraft was the first real "stealth" aircraft, designed to have a radar cross section the size of "an eagle's eyeball". (credit: Lockheed Martin)

On December 1, 1977, a truly strange bird took flight for the first time in the skies over a desolate corner of Nevada. Looking more like a giant faceted gemstone than something designed to lift-off, the aircraft (nicknamed the "Hopeless Diamond") had been flown out to Groom Lake in parts aboard a Lockheed C-5 Galaxy cargo plane.

While much of the Hopeless Diamond was a conglomeration of spare parts from other existing aircraft, it was the first of a new breed—the progenitor of Stealth. Hopeless Diamond was the first of two technology demonstrators built for a program called "Have Blue," an initiative program spawned from a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency effort to create an aircraft that could evade the Soviet Union's increasingly sophisticated integrated air defense systems.

Forty years have passed since the Have Blue project's two demonstrator aircraft—built on a relative shoestring budget by Lockheed's Skunk Works—flew over the Nevada desert and ushered in a new era. Over time, the engineering, physics, and mathematics that created the Have Blue prototypes would be refined to create the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter and serve as the basis for the designs of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II.

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Want to really understand how bitcoin works? Here’s a gentle primer

15 Dec 2017, 12:35 pm

Enlarge (credit: The Matrix / Aurich)

The soaring price of bitcoin—the virtual currency is now worth more than $250 billion—has gotten a lot of attention in recent weeks. But the real significance of bitcoin isn't just its rising value. It's the technological breakthrough that allowed the network to exist in the first place.

Bitcoin's still anonymous inventor, who went by the pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, figured out a completely new way for a decentralized network to reach a consensus about a shared transaction ledger. This innovation made possible the kind of fully decentralized electronic payment systems that cypherpunks had dreamed about for decades.

As part of our recent efforts to shed light on the mechanics of the popular cryptocurrency, today we'll provide in-depth explanation of how bitcoin works, starting with the basics: how do digital signatures make digital cash possible? How did Nakamoto's invention of the blockchain solve the double-spending problem that had limited earlier digital cash efforts?

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The 2017 Ars Technica gadget gift guide: Power-user edition

15 Dec 2017, 5:01 am

Enlarge / What many Arsians have on their wishlists this holiday season... (credit: Mark Walton)

It’s the holidays, which means it’s once again time to rack your brain in search of the right gifts for the right people. If someone on your list is into tech, though, we’ve got your back.

For this year’s edition of the Ars Technica holiday gift guide, we’re breaking down our recommendations into themes. Our fourth and final crop of recommendations are for power users, or people who immerse themselves in tech and demand high utility or high performance.

Many of the items below may skew on the pricey side as a result, but they should still serve as a reminder that you get what you pay for.

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Any lawful device: Revisiting Carterfone on the eve of the Net Neutrality vote

13 Dec 2017, 7:49 pm

Enlarge / Ever hear of this classic tech?

As tomorrow's FCC net neutrality vote looms, Ars has been sharing as much of our reporting on the topic as possible. And this week, a longtime reader nudged us about this classic on the FCC's Carterfone decision from nearly 50 years ago. "This story is extremely relevant to the current Net Neutrality debate in that it provides a historical precedent to debunk arguments about regulation stifling innovation," the reader writes. "It shows that this battle is not a recent development, but goes back decades. Might you consider republishing it so that this story can get new exposure?"

Ask nicely (and offer a great suggestion), and you shall receive. This story originally ran in June 2008. Below, it appears unchanged except for updates to the time frame (the piece originally ran on the decision's 40th anniversary).

Nearly 50 years ago, the Federal Communications Commission issued one of the most important Orders in its history, a ruling that went unnoticed by most news sources at the time. It involved an application manufactured and distributed by one Mr. Thomas Carter of Texas. The "Carterfone" allowed users to attach a two-way radio transmitter/receiver to their telephone, extending its reach across sprawling Texas oil fields where managers and supervisors needed to stay in touch. Between 1955 and 1966, Carter's company sold about 3,500 of these apps around the United States and well beyond.

In the end, however, Carterfone's significance extends far beyond the convenience that Thomas Carter's machine provided its users over a decade. It is no exaggeration to say that the world that Ars Technica writes about was created, in good part, by the legal battle between Carter, AT&T, and the FCC's resolution of that fight—its Carterfone decision. The Carterfone saga starts as the appealing tale of one developer's willingness to stick to his guns. But it is really about the victory of two indispensable values: creativity and sharing.

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