Supplements are a $30 billion racket—here’s what experts actually recommend

20 Feb 2018, 3:50 pm

Enlarge / Choose wisely. (credit: Getty | Mario Tama)

There are more than 90,000 vitamin and dietary supplement products sold in the US. They come in pills, powders, drinks, and bars. And they all anticipate some better versions of ourselves—selves with sturdier bones, slimmer waist lines, heftier muscles, happier intestines, better sex lives, and more potent noggins. They foretell of diseases dodged and aging outrun.

On the whole, we believe them. Supplements are a $30 billion industry in the US. Recent surveys suggest that 52 percent of Americans take at least one supplement—and 10 percent take four or more. But should we? Are we healthier, smarter, stronger, or in any way better off because of these daily doses?

The answer is likely no. Most supplements have little to no data to suggest that they’re effective, let alone safe. They’re often backed by tenuous studies in rodents and petri dishes or tiny batches of people. And the industry is rife with hype and wishful thinking—even the evidence for multivitamins isn’t solid. There are also outright deadly scams. What’s more, the industry operates with virtually no oversight.

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Guidemaster: Smartwatches worthy of replacing your favorite timepiece

19 Feb 2018, 12:15 pm

Enlarge / Apple Watch Series 2. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

If you hate looking at your smartphone all day, you should consider getting a smartwatch. While it may seem counter-intuitive to get a new gadget to lessen your dependency on another, it's more effective than you think. Smartwatches take the most crucial parts of a smartphone—call and text alerts, app notifications, and quick controls—and put them on your wrist.

That means no more fumbling with your smartphone during a meeting to silence a call, no more checking Twitter or Facebook every two minutes for the newest post. Instead of absentmindedly staring at your smartphone's display, the most important information hits your wrist as it happens. As wearables, smartwatches can also track daily activity, and some even double as high-end fitness watches equipped with heart rate monitors, GPS trackers, music storage, and more.

Today, your smartphone remains the biggest factor to consider when you buy a smartwatch. Most smartwatches must pair to your phone to receive information, so the smartwatch you choose must be compatible with your handset either through its operating system or a companion mobile app. So to make the selection process easier for would-be watch wearers, we've revisited all of the smartwatches we've reviewed recently and picked out the best ones for all types of users with all types of phones.

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iMac Pro review: Hard to upgrade, but holy Jony Ive it’s fast

16 Feb 2018, 4:10 pm

Samuel Axon

Some high-end professional Mac users are frustrated, and they have been for years.

The current Mac Pro received a lukewarm reception when it began shipping in 2013, and it has been preserved in amber ever since. The MacBook Pro went with few substantial updates for a long period of time after 2012. And when Apple overhauled its video editing software and released Final Cut Pro X in 2011, many editors were turned off by its compromises.

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Apple’s HomePod: Paying $350 for a speaker that says “no” this much is tough

14 Feb 2018, 5:30 pm

Jeff Dunn

What is this thing?

That, in essence, is the question most onlookers have asked about Apple’s HomePod speaker since its unveiling last summer. The natural inclination is to compare it to smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home. It’s a speaker with a talking assistant in it, the thinking goes. Apple just wants a piece of that growing pie.

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The Greatest Leap, part 6: After Apollo, NASA still searching for an encore

13 Feb 2018, 12:45 pm

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

And then it was all over.

After the drama of Apollo 13, the final four human missions to the Moon in 1971 and 1972 flew smoothly. With each successive, increasingly routine landing, astronauts made longer forays out onto the dusty lunar terrain and delved deeper into the scientific secrets hidden there.

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The car of the future is taking shape—and it will know how we feel about it

11 Feb 2018, 2:00 pm

(credit: Aptiv)

Few people want to go to Las Vegas immediately after the New Year. Never a fan of the place at the best of times, I dutifully boarded the plane anyway. Like it or not, if one wants to see everyone's ideas for the car of the near future, there's no better time and place to do that than CES.

There's an irony to hearing about smart mobility at CES, considering all the dumb reality outside. The show has grown so much that getting from the convention center to anything offsite now takes an hour if you're unlucky. Figure in a lot of needed—but unwanted—rain that caused havoc with self-driving demos and electrical transformers, and the whole thing became an ordeal.

Chips ahoy!

That ordeal kicked off days before the main exhibit hall even opened. It's fitting that Nvidia started the proceedings on Sunday; its graphics chips bear more responsibility than most for the blossoming of autonomy. The latest of these is called Xavier, and if things go Nvidia's way, they'll be found under every robo-taxi's access panel. Nvidia is forming big partnerships: Baidu, Uber, and Volkswagen Group are three of the latest names to be announced.

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The 2018 Ars Technica Valentine’s Day gift guide

9 Feb 2018, 12:45 pm

(credit: Valentina Palladino)

We, the unfeeling and tech-obsessed robots of Ars Technica, are not ones for romance. We’re usually more concerned with the inner workings of operating systems, gaming consoles, and Internet regulation than those of the human heart. But we realize that love is a powerful drug and that Valentine’s Day is a time for many Ars readers to show appreciation for their partners. It’s also, for better or worse, a time to buy things.

So to help you nerdy romantics, we’ve compiled a few Ars-y recommendations that should do right by your significant other. To be clear: Gadgets and love aren’t always a natural fit. Don’t just buy one of these things and call it a day; take your partner out to dinner, buy them chocolate, do something you both enjoy. Or mutually decide that Valentine’s Day is a commerce-manufactured, stereotype-reinforcing holiday and do nothing.

Whatever the case, here are a few suggestions for treating your dorky lover.

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Civilization VI: Rise and Fall review: A few turns closer to a Golden Age

8 Feb 2018, 3:10 pm

Samuel Axon

Every Civilization game since Civilization IV has followed the same trajectory: the initial release remixes and reinterprets some base systems from the previous game, but franchise veterans deem it anemic because it has fewer systems and features than its fully expanded predecessor. From there, new expansions gradually reintroduce the complexity that was lost in the move to a new game until many of those players conclude that it is the best game in the series yet.

In many ways, though, 2016's Civilization VI was a bigger departure than previous entries were, and it has been divisive accordingly. The game completely overhauled how cities were expanded and how religious warfare was waged, among other things. If you're a Civ traditionalist who felt Civilization VI strayed too far, you won't like this latest expansion. It takes the changes even further. But if you've been itching for even more ambitious fresh ideas in a franchise that has historically been very conservative, you'll find what you're looking for here.

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Under Armour HOVR review: Smarter running shoes, light on gimmicks

8 Feb 2018, 12:45 pm

Enlarge / Vaguely reminiscent of the brand's infamous Steph Curry design. (credit: Valentina Palladino)

In recent years, I've tracked my running in many ways—wristbands, smartwatches, pant sensors, socks, and the like. But smart running shoes have always promised the most convenient solution for those who want to track running without extra devices. Unless you prefer running barefoot (which some do), everyone needs a pair of shoes before they go running. And why not make those shoes work a little harder?

Under Armour initially embraced this idea with the debut of its Speedform Gemini 2 smart sneakers a couple of years ago. Now, the company has new designs with improved internal tech in the form of the $130-$140 HOVR Phantom and $100-$110 HOVR Sonic connected shoes. The new kicks track every step of your run, capturing enough data to educate both novice and expert runners about their form and progress. And when combined with the improved MapMyRun app, the new HOVR shoes make a good case for ditching that smart wristband and lacing up a pair of these instead.

Design

Out of the two new shoe models Under Armour debuted, I tested the HOVR Phantom. It has an improved design that is made with a wax-based foam for better energy return, softness, and adaptivity. The HOVR name (pronounced "hover") comes from the new foam cushion with a durometer contained by Under Armour's "energy web," which is supposed to be responsive and better at directing energy than other designs.

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The Greatest Leap, part 5: Saving the crew of Apollo 13

6 Feb 2018, 1:00 pm

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

As Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise floated in the tunnel snaking between the Lunar Module and Command Module, he heard—and felt—a loud bang. Around him, the two vehicles began to contort. Then, the metal walls of the tunnel crinkled as the spacecraft shuddered.

Wide-eyed, Haise scrambled from the tunnel into the Command Module alongside Jack Swigert and their commander, Jim Lovell. From his customary position at Lovell's right, Haise quickly assessed something was drastically wrong with the spacecraft's cryogenic tanks—the oxygen was just gone. Fortunately, there didn't seem to have been a chemical explosion, because only a thin wall separated the oxygen tank from the propellant tanks used to power the spacecraft’s main engine.

“It really didn’t explode like something you think of with shrapnel,” Haise told Ars, in an interview. “It just over-pressurized, and then it let go some steam. If it had been a shrapnel-type explosion, I wouldn’t be here today.”

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Bitcoin has a huge scaling problem—Lightning could be the solution

4 Feb 2018, 1:15 pm

Enlarge (credit: Aurich Lawson / Getty)

Three startups are getting ready to launch one of the most ambitious and important cryptocurrency experiments since the creation of bitcoin itself. Called Lightning, the project aims to build a fast, scalable, and cryptographically secure payment network layered on top of the existing bitcoin network.

Essentially, Lightning aims to solve the big problem that has loomed over bitcoin in recent years: Satoshi Nakamoto's design for bitcoin is comically unscalable. It requires every full node in bitcoin's peer-to-peer network to receive and store a copy of every transaction ever made on the network.

Initially, that design was vital to achieving Nakamoto's vision of a fully decentralized payment network. But as Purdue computer scientist Pedro Moreno-Sanchez told Ars, it creates a big challenge as the network becomes more popular. "We have reached a point where it's not suitable any more to keep growing," he said.

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Forget the Falcon Heavy’s payload and focus on where the rocket will go

2 Feb 2018, 12:45 pm

Enlarge / Elon Musk speaks at a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, DC, US, on Tuesday, April 5, 2011. (credit: Brendan Hoffman/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Elon Musk appeared almost boyish back in April 2011 as he unveiled the Falcon Heavy rocket to a handful of reporters at the National Press Club. Still in his 30s, Musk had yet to become an international celebrity, and his efforts to transform the aerospace and automotive industries had not fully flowered. As such, this reveal lacked the splashy theatrics of Musk’s more recent rocket unveiling events.

Despite the pedestrian backdrop, this was quintessential Elon—sharing a vision, making bold promises, and sniping irreverently at his competition. “This is a rocket of truly huge scale,” Musk said during an unveiling of the rocket at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. “This is something America can be really proud of, a vehicle with twice the capability of the shuttle and Delta IV Heavy.”

The announcement came at a bleak moment for the US space industry. The space shuttle would make its final flight just three months later, leaving the United States without a way to get its astronauts in orbit. Launch costs for other US rockets were steadily rising. NASA’s exploration plans were muddled. America was going nowhere fast.

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Is space the next frontier for archaeology?

1 Feb 2018, 12:30 pm

The beloved Cassini, which fired its thrusters one last time last September, is just one of many things we've left out in space. (video link)

In the past 60 years, humans have left a lot of stuff on other worlds or floating in space. We’ve landed (or crashed) spacecraft on Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko, and Titan. Along with the hundreds of objects in orbit around Earth, the Moon, and Mars, those spacecraft provide a physical record of human activity that could outlast some of the most ancient ruins here on Earth.

“There's stuff in orbit, particularly in middle to high orbits, that's up there for thousands or even millions of years,” said Flinders University space archaeologist Alice Gorman.

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The Greatest Leap, part 4: Catching Apollo fever as a new NASA employee

30 Jan 2018, 12:30 pm

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

As inevitably happens in August, a sweltering heat with the tactility of dog's breath had come over Houston when Raja Chari reported to the Johnson Space Center. Just shy of his 40th birthday, the decorated combat veteran and test pilot had been born too late to see humans walking on the Moon. No matter, he was in awe of the new office.

The son of an immigrant from India, Chari grew up in the heartland of America and grasped onto the American dream. He worked hard in school, and then in the Air Force, to become an astronaut. So when Chari finally got to Johnson Space Center in 2017 as a member of its newest astronaut class, his sense of achievement mingled with reverence. He found himself in the cradle of human spaceflight, where the Mercury 7 and Apollo astronauts had trained. Chari felt a wide-eyed wonderment for the people around him, too. The engineers. The flight controllers. His fellow astronauts.

“Honestly, it’s all about the people,” he told Ars just a few weeks after moving to Houston. “We’re all caught up in this sense of mission. The people here, my colleagues, are what really stand out. I can’t wait to go to work with them every day.”

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The (still) uncertain state of video game streaming online

28 Jan 2018, 2:00 pm

Even olds know what this is these days (credit: Microsoft)

In September of last year, the developer of Firewatch issued a DMCA takedown against now infamous YouTuber PewDiePie after he used a racial slur during a live stream of another title. The incident didn’t make headlines only because of PewDiePie’s profile or the fact that the game Firewatch wasn’t directly involved—this also represented a rare instance of legal rights being asserted between game maker and game streamer.

As much as video games are an interactive medium, in recent years an entire scene has grown out of people such as PewDiePie streaming video games online. Be it live streaming on Twitch, or Let's Plays or other types of video content on YouTube, gaming has gone from just something players do at home, to something that they also watch other people do online.

As these streamers and personalities have grown in popularity, so too has the discussion over the rights of streamers and developers in regards to said content. Are streams covered under fair use with content creators allowed to make money off of them? Or should the original creators of the games have a say in how their products are used in the public eye, not to mention a chance to generate profit? Developers like Ubisoft and Microsoft have shown a willingness to work with creators and encourage game streaming (and earning). Nintendo, on the other hand, is known for enforcing its copyright in this area. Atlus, too, received pushback surrounding the company's initial policy for streaming Persona 5.

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“Life, uh, finds a way”—Applying lessons from evolution to go to Mars

26 Jan 2018, 1:00 pm

Enlarge / Mars, the fourth rock from the Sun. (credit: NASA)

As philosopher-mathematician Jeff Goldblum once said, “life, uh, finds a way.”

To phrase that more scientifically, evolution has had billions of years of trial and error to produce species that are well adapted chemically and physically. Many human researchers want to imitate that adaptation, turning lessons from the natural world into practice in engineering, technology, and architecture. The entire venture goes under the name “biomimicry.”

“I think biomimicry is really beautiful,” says Ariel Ekblaw, a student at MIT’s Media Lab, who founded and leads the Media Lab’s Space Exploration Initiative. “It’s both a framework and... a set of tools or learnings from nature that can inform modern engineering and science research projects.”

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Guidemaster: Fitness trackers to consider before buying a smartwatch

24 Jan 2018, 12:30 pm

Enlarge (credit: Valentina Palladino)

The smartwatch hasn't swallowed up the fitness tracker yet. While many consumers are intrigued by the Apple Watch, Android Wear devices, and the like, old-school fitness trackers can still be useful and available for the right price. The main goal of these devices remains simply tracking activity: from daily movement to intense exercise to steps, heart rate, and sleep. Most of today's fitness trackers haven't changed much aesthetically, either. They're still, by and large, wristbands.

Most modern fitness trackers are meant to be worn all day long. And many now have basic "smartwatch" features, so you don't have to fully sacrifice if you're primarily looking for a wearable to help you get in shape.

With so many devices sharing the same basic goals and set of features, it can be hard to decipher which tracker is right for you. But from our testing, there are some fitness trackers that stand out among the rest—some for their thoughtful applications, others for their versatility, and some for their focused approach to fitness training. So with spring on the horizon and 2018 resolutions still holding strong, we've looked back at the fitness trackers we've reviewed recently and selected the best ones for all kinds of users.

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Amazon Go debuts, and its prying cameras foil our shoplifting attempts

22 Jan 2018, 6:00 pm

Enlarge / Amazon Go: The bottle. (credit: Sam Machkovech)

SEATTLE—A little more than one year ago, I tried, and failed, to sneak into Amazon Go. The pilot version of Amazon's first grocery store experiment advertised a first in the world of brick-and-mortar shopping: if you want to buy something, just pick it up, toss it in your bag, and walk out. A camera system watches you and uniquely tags every item you pick up, then the store automatically charges a pre-registered credit card for the purchases. No clerks, no check-out aisles.

Amazon's late-2016 announcement of this store was more about building buzz than letting the public in, however. Initially, it was limited only to Amazon employees. Worse, promises that the shop would open for average consumers in "early 2017" didn't come close to fruition, with insiders indicating to Ars that the store's camera-tracking system didn't hold up to larger testing scrutiny as anticipated. But with only 24 hours' notice, that changed on Monday. That same Seattle pilot shop—the one Amazon staffers refused to let us into in December 2016—finally opened its doors to anybody with a smartphone and the Amazon Go app.

Meaning, customers didn't even need an Amazon Prime membership. If you want to stroll into the world's first Amazon Go store, all you need is an Amazon account with valid credit card information and a working smartphone. Turns out, I had both of those, so I walked, bleary-eyed, into the shop shortly after it opened at 7am Pacific time on Monday.

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Tesla’s Model X: A lovely roadtripper with stiff daily driving competition

21 Jan 2018, 3:00 pm

Jordan Golson

It has been quite an unexpected decade at Tesla. In 2007, if you said that the EV company would release an all-electric sedan that became one of the fastest accelerating vehicles of all time and sold tens of thousands of units with numerous hardware and software improvements along the way, you’d have been sent to the loony bin. And if you then predicted the company would release an all-electric SUV that would do the same and develop and release (sort of) an affordable, stylish, and long-range EV... well, maybe you’d have been mistaken for a member of the Musk family.

And yet, Elon Musk and Tesla have done all those things with the Model S, Model X, and Model 3. The company has gone further with things like the Gigafactory; home, commercial, and utility battery products; and previews of the new Tesla Roadster and Tesla Semi, too. To be sure, Musk has made a lot of ambitious promises and really missed a lot of deadlines over the years—but people who have bet against Tesla have lost a lot of money. (Tesla's stock price is up almost 1,700 percent since its June 2010 IPO, fyi.)

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The impromptu Slack war room where ‘Net companies unite to fight Spectre-Meltdown

17 Jan 2018, 2:30 pm

Enlarge / The early disclosure of Meltdown and Spectre by Google and the fumbled responses by hardware vendors left cloud companies scrambling to react. So they united to fight the dumpster fire of poor communication and bad patches. (credit: US Air Force)

Meltdown and Spectre created something of a meltdown in the cloud computing world. And by translation, the flaws found in the processors at the heart of much of the world's computing infrastructure have had a direct or indirect effect on the interconnected services driving today's Internet. That is especially true for one variant of the Spectre vulnerability revealed abruptly by Google on January 3, since this particular vulnerability could allow malware running in one user's virtual machine or other "sandboxed" environment to read data from another—or, from the host server itself.

In June 2017, Intel learned of these threats from researchers who kept the information under wraps so hardware and operating system vendors could furiously work on fixes. But while places like Amazon, Google, and Microsoft were clued in early because of their "Tier 1" nature, most smaller infrastructure companies and data center operators were left in the dark until the news broke on January 3. This sent many organizations immediately scrambling: no warning of the exploits came before proof-of-concept code for exploiting them was already public.

Tory Kulick, director of operations and security at the hosting company Linode, described this as chaos. "How could something this big be disclosed like this without any proper warning? We were feeling out of the loop, like 'What did we miss? Which of the POCs [proofs of concept of the vulnerabilities] are out there now?' All that was going through my mind."

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