Is beaming down in Star Trek a death sentence?

23 Sep 2017, 1:00 pm

Enlarge

In the 2009 movie Star Trek, Captain Kirk and Sulu plummeted down toward the planet Vulcan without a parachute. “Beam us up, beam us up!” Kirk shouted in desperation. Then at the last second, after a tense scene of Chekov running top speed to the transporter room, their lives were saved moments before they hit the doomed planet’s rocky surface.


But can beaming out save someone’s life? Some would argue that having one’s “molecules scrambled," as Dr. McCoy would put it, is actually the surest way to die. Sure, after you’ve been taken apart by the transporter, you’re put back together somewhere else, good as new. But is it still you on the other side, or is it a copy? If the latter, does that mean the transporter is a suicide box?

These issues have received a lot of attention lately given Trek’s 50th Anniversary last year and the series' impending return to TV. Not to mention, in the real world scientists have found recent success in quantum teleporting a particle’s information farther than before (which isn’t the same thing, but still). So while it seems like Trek's transporter conundrum has never had a satisfying resolution, we thought we’d take a renewed crack at it.

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Fitbit Ionic review: Meet the $300 fitness-focused smartwatch

22 Sep 2017, 2:45 pm

Video shot by Justin Wolfson (video link)

Fitbit has a lot riding on its new $300 Ionic smartwatch. Analyst reports suggest the smartwatch category will continue to grow over the next few years, and Apple and Google already have well-established devices and operating systems. Being one of the top players in the wearables game, Fitbit is unlikely to build a device that runs Android Wear (much less watchOS), so it designs its own devices from the ground up. The Ionic is Fitbit's serious attempt at a smartwatch, far more so than the $200 Blaze that came out last year. Running Fitbit OS, the Ionic combines the most crucial fitness features with what Fitbit believes to be the most crucial smartwatch features.

While testing the Ionic, I asked myself two main questions: does it provide the best fitness experience for the price? And does Fitbit thoughtfully incorporate smartwatch features into a primarily fitness-focused device? It does—but there may be better solutions out there.

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Science-in-progress: Did the Bullet Cluster withstand scrutiny?

21 Sep 2017, 11:30 am

Enlarge / Behold, the Bullet Cluster. (credit: NASA)

Dark matter was first proposed to explain the speed at which stars orbit the center of their galaxies. Ever since, the search for other lines of evidence for dark matter has been an interesting one.

One of the biggest successes appeared to be a collision of galaxy clusters called the Bullet Cluster. It provided one of the most spectacular and intuitive indications that seemed to show that dark matter was real. Our own report on the first evidence of the Bullet Cluster, written more than a decade ago, was pretty excited. And in the stories that followed about the existence of dark matter, we've tended to treat the Bullet Cluster as a gold standard. If you can't explain the Bullet Cluster, then your theory is probably a bit useless really.

The image above shows the remnant of two galaxy clusters that have collided, with a smaller "bullet" that has passed through the larger cluster. The energy of the collision is such that regular matter has been heated to very high temperatures, causing it to glow like crazy in the X-ray regime (which is shown in red). So, an X-ray telescope can produce a clear image of the matter distribution of both the bullet and the larger cluster. Even better, this collision appears to be almost side-on to us, so we have the best seat in the house to observe it.

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How to RGB: A system builder’s guide to RGB PC lighting

19 Sep 2017, 1:01 pm

Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton)

Corsair has a lot to answer for.

In 2014, the PC parts specialist debuted the world's first mechanical keyboard with Cherry MX RGB switches. The idea, according to Corsair, was to provide the ultimate in keyboard customisation by individually lighting each key with an LED capable of displaying one of 16.8 million colours. Coupled with some bundled software, users could light up the WASD keys in a different colour for use with shooters, turn the number key row into a real-time cool down timer, or turn the entire keyboard into a garish music visualiser. Unfortunately for Corsair, so bad was the bundled software that most people simply took to setting the keyboard up with the most eye-searing rainbow effect possible and called it a day.

Which brings us neatly onto the current state of the enthusiast PC. What started with a single keyboard has grown into a industry of RGB-capable components, peripherals, and cases designed for maximum levels of rainbow-coloured nonsense. Indeed, alongside the inclusion of tempered glass side panels, RBG lighting has been the de facto trend for 2017—so much so that it's harder to find components without the tech rather than with it.

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iOS 11, thoroughly reviewed

19 Sep 2017, 11:00 am

Enlarge / The iOS 11 era begins. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

The iPad is having a great year.

It started with the $329 iPad back in April, a compelling tablet that’s both good and cheap enough to entice upgraders and people who have never bought a tablet before. And it continued in June, with new 10.5- and 12.9-inch iPad Pros with high-end screens and powerful specs that make them look and feel a lot more “pro” than they did before.

This is all really good, compelling, well-differentiated hardware, and it has paid off for Apple so far—the new tablet drove year-over-year iPad sales up for the first time in more than three years. While it’s not clear where the trendlines are ultimately heading, Apple has to be happy that the tablet it has described as “the future of computing” doesn’t appear to be in terminal decline.

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Audi Sport’s RS3 and TT-RS: The same engine but very different cars

17 Sep 2017, 1:00 pm

(video link)

We usually pay for our own travel expenses, but in this case Audi provided flights to New York City and two nights' accommodation. While we have paused all sponsored travel opportunities at this time, this event took place in July before that moratorium began.

SALISBURY, Conn.—Success on the racetrack doesn't sell cars like it used to. That said, plenty of car companies still go racing. And it's not just a marketing exercise; it remains an engineering one, too. Competition breeds ingenuity, and a motorsports department is like a skunk works that can add a halo to a mundane car or turn an already good one all the way to 11. BMW has M. Mercedes-Benz has AMG. Volvo (yes, that Volvo) has Polestar. And Audi has Audi Sport.

We were quite smitten with Audi Sport's handiwork when we tested the R8 this summer, but, given that car's bones, it was bound to impress. Finding out what Audi Sport's engineers can do with more modest beginnings was the reason we headed up to Lime Rock Park, a scenic race track a couple of hours north of New York City. Well, that, plus we were promised a hot lap with racing legend Hans Stuck in the driver's seat.

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Build, gather, brawl, repeat: The history of real-time strategy games

15 Sep 2017, 10:03 am

Enlarge / Not every DOS-era RTS game inspires a film adaptation.

The rise and fall of real-time strategy games is a strange one. They emerged gradually out of experiments to combine the excitement and speed of action games with the deliberateness and depth of strategy. Then, suddenly, the genre exploded in popularity in the latter half of the 1990s—only to fall from favor (StarCraft aside) just as quickly during the 2000s amid cries of stagnation and a changing games market. And yet, one of the most popular competitive games in the world today is an RTS, and three or four others are in a genre that branched off from real-time strategy.

At 25 years old, the real-time strategy genre remains relevant for its ideas and legacies. And with it deep in a lull, now is the perfect time to give it the same in-depth historical treatment that we've already given to graphic adventures, sims, first-person shooters, kart racers, open-world games, and city builders.

Before I start recounting the history of the genre, some quick ground rules: as in all of these genre histories, I'm looking to emphasize innovation and new ideas, which means that some popular games may be glossed over and [insert-your-favorite-game] might not be mentioned at all. For the purposes of this article, a real-time strategy game is one that involves base building and/or management, resource gathering, unit production, and semi-autonomous combat, all conducted in real time (rather than being turn-based), for the purpose of gaining/maintaining control over strategic points on a map (such as the resources and command centers).

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Destiny 2 review: Guardians rise up—and so does Bungie—to fix the first game

13 Sep 2017, 10:45 am

Enlarge / I go into greater detail about Dominus Ghaul in the pre-review. Here, I explain more about why you should care about his world. (credit: Bungie)

My feature-length look at Destiny 2's first 15 hours can be summed up as follows: the Destiny series has returned with a better story, superior zones to shoot bad guys in, and a more pronounced sense of purpose. It has also returned looking a helluva lot like the series' first always-online, first-person shooting game.

Those initial sessions left me optimistic about the state of the sequel, which is why I chose to cover it in "pre-review" form at all (let alone in a positive manner). Still, I wanted to tell a more complete story of how much content ships in this game—and whether Destiny 2's network requirements might get in the way.

One week of questing, shooting, and engram-collecting later, I have a verdict. I do this knowing fully well that Destiny 2 has content-related surprises up its robo-armored sleeves, thanks to weekly events and the like. But I have mostly reached the edges of the game's on-disc content and can see the full picture of what Bungie expects its fans to play for weeks and months on end.

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The Ars 10: We pick our favorite indie games from PAX West 2017

11 Sep 2017, 11:30 am

Ars Technica staffers began attending PAX West in 2007, when it was the only Penny Arcade Expo around. A lot has changed in 10 years, but the biggest difference has been the exponential growth of playable independent games on the massive show floor. Even if we didn't have to wait in a single line, four days is simply not enough time to try out the hundreds of indie titles on offer at PAX today.

Still, we did our best, playing dozens of the most interesting games we could get our hands on during this year's show. We've narrowed that list down to 10 you should definitely watch out for, along with a number of honorable mentions that piqued our interest. Consider this far-from-comprehensive effort our attempt to help you filter through the utterly ridiculous number of independent games floating around these days and seek out the best and most innovative for your playing time.

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I’ve fallen in love with a laptop—the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga

9 Sep 2017, 12:00 pm

(video link)

When writing a review, whether of a computer game, a film, a book, or a piece of hardware, there is always a certain amount of pressure to be "objective," to write from some kind of non-personal, neutral viewpoint divorced from any kind of emotional response.

I've never subscribed to this view myself. Here at Ars, we don't try to review every piece of hardware that hits the market; our selection of review products is implicitly skewed toward those that we think are likely to be good, or if not good, then in some sense significant due to their profile, their positioning within the market, or whatever other factors we deem to be relevant. As such, someone reading the laptop reviews at Ars will always see a somewhat skewed representation of the market without being exposed to its full breadth. The same goes for laptop reviews virtually anywhere. 

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How to hurricane-proof a Web server

7 Sep 2017, 11:30 am

Enlarge / We could all use a little levity in the IT world (especially if you lived in the path of Hurricane Harvey). (credit: Aurich / Getty)

HOUSTON—I had enough to worry about as Hurricane Harvey plowed into the Texas Gulf Coast on the night of August 25 and delivered a category 4 punch to the nearby city of Rockport. But I simultaneously faced a different kind of storm: an unexpected surge of traffic hitting the Space City Weather Web server. This was the first of what would turn into several very long and restless nights.

Space City Weather is a Houston-area weather blog and forecasting site run by my coworker Eric Berger and his buddy Matt Lanza (along with contributing author Braniff Davis). A few months before Hurricane Harvey decided to crap all over us in Texas, after watching Eric and Matt struggle with Web hosting companies during previous high-traffic weather events, I offered to host SCW on my own private dedicated server (and not the one in my closet—a real server in a real data center). After all, I thought, the box was heavily underutilized with just my own silly stuff. I'd previously had some experience in self-hosting WordPress sites, and my usual hosting strategy ought to do just fine against SCW’s projected traffic. It’d be fun!

But that Friday evening, with Harvey battering Rockport and forecasters predicting doom and gloom for hundreds of miles of Texas coastline, SCW’s 24-hour page view counter zipped past the 800,000 mark and kept on going. The unique visitor number was north of 400,000 and climbing. The server was dishing out between 10 and 20 pages per second. The traffic storm had arrived.

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Already, Destiny 2 understands its fate, its purpose, its desti… you know

5 Sep 2017, 2:00 pm

Enlarge / Our first flight to the planet of Nessus—and the first of many we plan to undertake, now that Destiny 2's retail edition has left us with such strong pre-review impressions. (credit: Bungie)

The first time I reviewed a brand-new Destiny game, I gathered less than a week of impressions. Some online-shooter fans may have needed more time with a game of that caliber and scope to determine whether it was up to snuff. I did not.

After beating Destiny's too-short campaign back in 2014, I found myself dissatisfied with the lack of post-campaign content. The worlds felt tiny. The AI wasn't up to par. The game didn't deliver any long-term "economic" systems like crafting or trading, and its mix of confusing currencies never paid off. Destiny's time-tested, Halo-styled shooting mechanics made a good first impression, but nothing about its characters, missions, or worlds made me want to hang around and keep shooting its guns.

Paid expansions did their best to patch together enough content and gravitas to compel people to keep playing. They never hooked me, however. I never got over the fact that Destiny's most "epic" experience was a "loot cave," which let players essentially press a big, shiny button and make insanely powerful weapons pop out. When that's your game's hottest ticket, you're in trouble. (And no, the ridiculous bullet-sponge bosses, which did nothing more than stand around and absorb insane damage without requiring intelligent strategies, didn't count.)

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Android 8.0 Oreo, thoroughly reviewed

4 Sep 2017, 10:00 am

Google

Android 8.0 Oreo is the 26th version of the world's most popular operating system. This year, Google's mobile-and-everything-else OS hit two billion monthly active users—and that's just counting phones and tablets. What can all those users expect from the new version? In an interview with Ars earlier this year, Android's VP of engineering Dave Burke said that the 8.0 release would be about "foundation and fundamentals." His team was guided by a single question: "What are we doing to Android to make sure Android is in a great place in the next 5 to 10 years?"

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The psychology of Soylent and the prison of first-world food choices

3 Sep 2017, 4:30 pm

(credit: Aurich Lawson / Lee Hutchinson / Thinkstock)

Back around Labor Day 2013, Senior Editor Lee Hutchinson passed on the various grilled and barbecue delights of a holiday weekend. Instead, he spent seven days testing a peculiar new nutritional meal substitute—Soylent. The product has only grown in notoriety and evolved in its composition since. This long weekend, we're resurfacing Hutchinson's reflection from several months after that initial experience (originally published in May 2014). If interested in some of our Soylent coverage since then, here are a few highlights:

I’ve spilled a lot of virtual ink on Soylent over the past year—I count thirteen pieces, including the five-day experiment from last summer when I ate nothing but the stuff for a full week. This, though, is probably the last Soylent-specific piece that I’ll write for a while. It’s the piece that I’ve wanted to do all along.

Here we're going to talk about how the final mass-produced Soylent product fits into my life, without any stunts or multi-day binges. More importantly, we're going to take a look at exactly what might drive someone in the most food-saturated culture in the world to bypass thousands of healthy, normal, human-food meal choices in favor of nutritive goop. It's something a lot of folks simply can't seem to wrap their heads around. Today it's relatively easy to make a healthy meal, so why in the hell would anyone pour Soylent down their throat?

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Tech companies declare war on hate speech—and conservatives are worried

1 Sep 2017, 2:05 am

"One of the greatest strengths of the United States is a belief that speech, particularly political speech, is sacred," wrote Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince in a 2013 blog post. Both then and now, the CDN and Web security company has protected websites from denial-of-service attacks that aim to drown out targets with fake traffic. Prince vowed that this service would be available to anyone who wanted it.

"There will be things on our network that make us uncomfortable," Prince wrote. But "we will continue to abide by the law, serve all customers, and hold consistently to a belief that our proper role is not that of Internet censor."

Recently, this stance put Prince in a really uncomfortable position. Cloudflare was providing service to the Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website that published an article trashing Heather Heyer, a victim of lethal violence during the Charlottesville protests. So under pressure from anti-racism activists, Cloudflare dropped the hate site as a customer. The move caused Daily Stormer to go down for more than 24 hours.

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This is probably the worst US flood storm ever, and I’ll never be the same

30 Aug 2017, 12:00 pm

Enlarge / Houston, on Monday, basically all across the city. (credit: Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

HOUSTON—Lightning crashed all around as I dashed into the dark night. The parking lot outside my apartment building had become swollen with rains, a torrent about a foot deep rushing toward lower ground God knows where. Amazingly, the garage door rose when I punched the button on the opener. Inside I found what I expected to find—mayhem.

In dismay, I scooped up a box of books that had been on the floor. As I did, one of the sodden bottom flaps gave way, and a heavy book splashed into the water: From Dawn to Decadence, a timeless account of the Western world's great works by Jacques Barzun. Almost immediately, a current from the rushing water beyond the garage door pulled the tome away, forever. Damn, I loved that book. An indescribably bad night had just gotten that little bit worse.

This little scene played out on Sunday morning, around 4am, after sheets of rain from Hurricane Harvey had drenched southern Houston for the previous 12 hours. A few miles away, amidst the tempest, my wife sat on the front porch of her sister's new home. It had been built on pilings to keep it safe from flooding. But when 24 inches falls in less than 24 hours, as it did over Clear Creek south of Houston, bad things happen.

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The hottest new board games from Gen Con 2017

26 Aug 2017, 12:00 pm

Last weekend, we strapped on our most comfortable walking shoes, checked our gaming wishlist twice, and jumped headlong into the self-proclaimed “best four days of gaming”—the annual Gen Con tabletop gaming convention in Indianapolis, Indiana. This year’s 50th-anniversary show was extra special: turnstile attendance for an estimated 60,000 con-goers reached a record-breaking 209,000, and for the first year ever, the con sold out well before the doors opened on Thursday.

With approximately 500 exhibitors, over 19,000 ticketed events, and entire convention halls and stadiums filled to capacity with board games, roleplaying games, miniatures games, and everything in between, Gen Con is a lot to take in. We couldn’t get to all of it, but we skipped sleep, meals, and general mental well-being to bring you what we see as the best of the show.

Below are the 20 board games we think you should be paying attention to going into the last few months of the year (cube-pushing Eurogame fans will want to tune in again in late October when we hit the giant Spieltage fair in Essen, Germany). Most of the games below will be coming out over the next several weeks and months, but because of the vagaries inherent in board game releases, exact dates are hard to pin down. Your best bet is to head to your local retailer, boardgameprices.com, or Amazon and put in a preorder for anything that catches your eye. And if you missed it, be sure to check out our massive photo gallery of the show.

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With the USS McCain collision, even Navy tech can’t overcome human shortcomings

25 Aug 2017, 12:15 pm

Enlarge / Tugboats from Singapore assist the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) as it steers toward Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore, following a collision with the merchant vessel Alnic MC while underway east of the Straits of Malacca and Singapore on August 21. Ten sailors were missing after the collision.

In the darkness of early morning on August 21, the guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain collided with a tanker in the Strait of Malacca off Singapore. Ten sailors are believed to have lost their lives in the McCain collision. When added to the seven who died in the June 17 collision of the USS Fitzgerald with the container ship ACX Crystal, this has been the deadliest year at sea for the US Navy's surface fleet since the 1989 turret explosion aboard USS Iowa (in which 47 sailors perished).

The McCain's collision was the fourth this year between a naval vessel and a merchant ship—the third involving a ship of the US Navy's Seventh Fleet. (The other collision involved a Russian intelligence collection ship near the Bosporus Strait in Turkey.) There hasn't been a string of collisions like this since the 1950s.

Collisions are one of the biggest nightmares of those who go to sea. Cmdr. W.B. Hayer famously posted a brass plaque on the bridge of the destroyer USS Buck misquoting Thucydides: "A collision at sea can ruin your entire day" (this quote later found its way to Navy training posters). But few can look at the photos of Berthing 2 or the captain's stateroom aboard the USS Fitzgerald in the Navy's recent supplemental report on its collision and laugh.

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Monterey Car Week is like Comic Con and the Oscars but with wheels

24 Aug 2017, 12:45 pm

Enlarge / When you have so much eye-candy in one place, this becomes a familiar sight. (credit: Jonathan Gitlin)

Although we usually pay for our own travel expenses, for this trip Genesis provided flights to San Francisco and five nights' accommodation in Monterey, California.

MONTEREY, Calif.—There are a few big tentpole events on the automotive world's calendar. First come the auto shows of New York and Geneva, when manufacturers whip the dust sheets off their latest wares. Next up are Indianapolis, Monte Carlo, and Le Mans, where races have been held for decades (for more than a century in the case of the former). That trio annually puts machines and the teams that run them through the wringer. But none of these iconic happenings is quite like Monterey Car Week.

Each year toward the end of August, this normally sleepy peninsula a hundred miles or so south of San Francisco plays host to a four-wheeled festival that might best be described as a cross between Comic Con and the Oscars, just for cars. The Comic Con comparison feels apt because, for the fan, there's just about everything you could hope to see. And the Oscars? Well, Monterey is where the megastars of the car world show up. I don't mean famous people—though there are plenty of those—but the A-list automobiles themselves. Cars that mere mortals like me just read about, vehicles distinguished by otherworldly valuations or legendary histories, are suddenly sharing the same sunlight as the rest of us.

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Tales of an IT professional sailing around the Antarctic loop

22 Aug 2017, 12:45 pm

Jen Thomas

Carles Pina i Estany is not what comes to mind when you picture your typical Polar explorer. A native of sunny Barcelona, he works as a Software Engineer at Mendeley—a London-based technology company owned by science publishers Elsevier. Before this year, he had never even slept aboard a ship. But when the invitation came for him to embark on a three-month expedition around the Antarctic, he jumped at the chance.

It all happened rather quickly. Pina i Estany’s partner, Jen Thomas, who had previously worked with the British Antarctic Survey, was working as Data Manager for a research trip led by the newly created Swiss Polar Institute. The SPI connects researchers active in polar or extreme environments, promotes public awareness of these environments, and facilitates access to research facilities in those extreme environments. Billionaire adventurer Frederik Paulsen sponsored the excursion—he even went along for the rideThis was most definitely not your typical office tech support gig.

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