Tech News courtesy of Ars Technica
- The Lone Star Le Mans Part 1: Hybrid hypercars
- The Beginner’s Guide review: Failure is as failure does
- Utility-scale solar costs down by half in last five years alone
- Valve employee uses virtual reality to propose real-life marriage
- Battle for Zendikar review: Lovecraftian horror comes to Magic: The Gathering
- The 2015 Chromecast and Chromecast Audio: Small blips in the stream [Updated]
- Pokémon copyright lawyers demand $4,000 from party planner
- Yelp settles suit with bankruptcy lawyer over allegations of fake reviews
- Metal performance in OS X El Capitan: Sometimes great, often mixed [Updated]
- Scottrade breach exposes sensitive data for 4.6 million customers
Photo Copyright 2015 Nick Dungan / AdrenalMedia.com
The two Porsche 919 Hybrids lead the WEC field into the first corner as the green flag drops.
7 more images in gallery
Texas' Lone Star Le Mans might be one of the best-kept secrets in motorsport. Now in its third year, it takes place at the Circuit of the Americas—COTA to its friends—just to the east of Austin's airport. The track is state of the art, built to host Formula 1 on its return to the US in 2012. But that event takes place later in the year. COTA in September is all about sports cars, a headlining double bill of the Tudor United Sportscar Championship (TUSC) during the day and the World Endurance Championship (WEC) racing into the night. It's Ars' favorite race to visit, in part because it's the only time the US gets to see the 1100-horsepower hybrids from Audi, Porsche, and Toyota.
Those three companies have been battling for supremacy for the last several years with three very different approaches to the complicated questions asked in the WEC's technical rulebook. Those rules stretch for many pages, but essentially they equalize performance for different fuels and energy storage systems using a lap of the Le Mans circuit as a reference (Le Mans is the centerpiece of the WEC season, for the other races the formula is adjusted based on the length of the track).
Hybrid systems are allowed to deploy between 2MJ and 8MJ of energy during a single lap of Le Mans, augmenting the power from an internal combustion engine. Energy can be recovered from up to two motor/generator units (MGUs); usually this means recapturing kinetic energy from the front and rear wheels under braking. To balance things out, cars that recover and deploy 8MJ carry less fuel, and the flow rate at which they can feed it to the engine decreases.
The Stanley Parable ranked highly in our "best games of 2013" list because it made yet another case for video games as an intriguing medium for unique storytelling. It offered—and effectively toyed with—the concept of choice. The narrative-first game gave players a sense of agency as they explored a weird world packed full of statements about interactivity and sense of self. For all of the quality in its writing and art design, the biggest reason The Stanley Parable earned our accolades wasn't just because it was interesting—but because it was an interesting application of interactivity.
Stanley co-writer Davey Wreden has now returned with a new game, one that is interesting for entirely different reasons. Frankly, you won't find many video games who posit their creators as a lead character in the way that The Beginner's Guide does—which, in this game's case, is really, really bad news. The Beginner's Guide is so gobsmackingly personal—so heart-on-the-sleeve earnest—that its every failing is that much harder to parse or swallow.
Show, don't tell
The major thing Stanley and TBG have in common is a narrative-first approach, meaning this is a story game with nothing in the way of challenge, puzzles, or action sequences. Folks who still like a little "game" in their narrative-first experiences will feel even more let down by TBG's approach, however.
Earlier this week, Lawrence Berkeley National Labs released a report on the state of utility-scale solar installations in the US. Just about everything in the report is remarkable for anyone who's followed the solar market closely. Over the past five years, prices have dropped by half, while the capacity factors are approaching that of wind. As a result, the most recent installations are offering power at prices that are competitive with natural gas—not the cost of the plant and fuel, but the fuel alone.
In 2014, utility-scale solar projects added about 4GW of capacity to the US grid. Slightly more than 6GW of solar capacity was added in total, with the remainder split between commercial and residential installs. Due to the rapid drop in prices, the majority of this capacity is in the form of photovoltaic panels.
One of the issues with utility-scale solar has been that some of the earlier plants were built outside the Southwest. This has meant less overall generation and a lower capacity factor, meaning that the panels are only producing power at a fraction of their maximal rate. Both of these raise the cost of the electricity generated. But installations in the Southwest have boomed to over 90 percent of the total installed hardware. This has capacity factors up and costs down. More recently, large projects have been getting more popular in the Southeast, which may change this dynamic in the future.
Don't worry, there was an actual ring, too. (credit: Kelly Tortorice)
The HTC Vive virtual reality headset hasn't yet reached store shelves, meaning only a select few developers have gotten their hands on pre-release kits and explored the possibilities of "room-scale" VR. For one staffer at Valve Software, the Vive's official SteamVR partner, that meant an opportunity to claim first dibs on doing something nobody else has ever done with a Vive headset: propose marriage.
The news came from the bride-to-be's public Facebook feed, and the proposal took place in a Vive testing room at Valve's headquarters in Bellevue, WA. Kelly Tortorice had gone to the Valve offices—where her then-boyfriend, now-fiancé Chandler Murch works—under the pretenses of trying out a range of SteamVR demos (including the very-impressive Tilt Brush art app) that the company has shown off at various gaming expos in the past year.
"So there I was, typical day... on a sunken ship deck; fixing robots; painting three-dimensional fire; walking through the Alps," Tortorice wrote. "Suddenly, a virtual engagement ring started floating my way."
This weekend sees the release of Battle for Zendikar (BFZ), the new Magic: The Gathering expansion—and this time the collectible card game tries its hand at fantasy-meets-Lovecraftian horror. It’s the follow-up to the Zendikar and Rise of the Eldrazi expansions, both released five years ago, continuing their themes with a brand new set of 250+ cards that return us to the plane of Zendikar, a place of hidden treasures that turns out to have a dark secret bubbling below the surface.
To begin with, a quick note: this review is aimed primarily at new and returning Magic players. Intermediate-to-expert players might like to skip ahead, to where we’ll discuss how BFZ might impact the competitive scene or figure into higher-level deckbuilding strategy. With that out of the way... bring on the tentacles!
Ulamog, chief of the tentacular, cthulian race known as the Eldrazi. (credit: Wizards of the Coast / Michael Komarck)
With the advent of Hearthstone and other digital TCGs, Magic’s core concepts might already be familiar to you: customisable decks of cards that battle against each other with both minions and spells, with the aim of killing the other player whilst defending your own life points. Unlike Hearthstone, Magic also includes land cards, which produce mana—the fuel that powers your spells—and also allows players to act during their opponent’s turn, sometimes ending up with both players flinging spells back-and-forth to try and make—or counter—a key play.
Streaming devices made by the likes of Roku, Apple, and Amazon have a lot to gain from hardware updates, since they process their audio and video internally, and sometimes come with distinctly new remotes or game controllers. Something like the Google Chromecast, on the other hand, is a little harder to go update-crazy about.
The major selling point of Google's $35 HDMI dongle is to repeat the audio and video signal from the mobile device you already own, to make content from your smartphone, tablet, or laptop pop up conveniently and wirelessly on your bigger TV screen. Thus, it isn't paired with stuff like new controllers, and while Chromecast does also process some content internally, the device has never been advertised with major hardware features such as graphic acceleration. Thus, until the dongle's core mission statement changes, a new version of Chromecast exists mostly to do the same thing as the last one, right?
That's not to say the two-year-old dongle didn't need a little sprucing, and as such this year's model feels like a stealth, catch-up upgrade, as opposed to a streaming-dongle sea-changer. The 2015 Chromecast has received a hardware redesign and some antenna tweakage; it now shares shelf space with an all-new Chromecast Audio dongle; and its new app, at least on Android, aspires to be a one-stop shop for all of your streaming-video content. Let's find out what difference two years makes.
(credit: Ramar Larkin Jones)
As soon as Ramar Larkin Jones he got wind that lawyers from The Pokémon Company objected to the Pokemon-themed party he had planned in August, he shut it down.
But that's far from the end of it. Pokémon's lawyers aren't letting go—they refused to dismiss the case against Jones unless he coughs up $4,000 by mid-November. Jones, who described his plight to Geekwire, says he just hasn't got the money.
"I work in a cafe and I literally don’t have $4000," Jones wrote on a fundraising page he set up to try to satisfy Pokémon's demands for cash. "I wish they would have just sent a cease and desist because I had no problem dropping the party but I just don’t have $4000 to pay in the next 45 days."
A strange lawsuit that saw Yelp suing a small-time bankruptcy lawyer in San Diego, California over accusations of fraudulent online reviews has resulted in a settlement—but neither party is talking details.
On Friday, a superior court judge in San Diego approved the case’s dismissal with prejudice—meaning that it cannot be filed again—which had been first brought in May 2015.
“This case has been completely resolved to the mutual satisfaction of the parties,” Christopher Beal, a Yelp spokesman, told Ars. He declined to elaborate.
Enlarge / Craig Federighi announces Metal for Mac at WWDC. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)
Note: This testing expands upon the Metal section of our OS X review. We'll be adding these results to the review but thought it would be best to publish them separately to make them easier to find.
Update: Kishonti Ltd, creators of GFXBench, have contacted us to say that a new build of GFXBench Metal for OS X will be available soon and that it may change performance. We'll run the new version of the test and update this article as soon as it's available.
Original story: OS X El Capitan includes a new graphics API called Metal, the same API the company included in iOS 8 last year. Metal is roughly analogous to technologies like DirectX 12 and the not-quite-finalized Vulkan, designed to improve performance by reducing driver overhead.
On the heels of hacks hitting artist funding site Patreon and a database of 15 million people who applied for T-Mobile accounts comes word that online stock brokerage Scottrade has suffered a breach that exposed the personal information of 4.6 million customers.
Scottrade officials said in an online advisory that the breach happened in late 2013 or early 2014 and exposed social security numbers, e-mail addresses and "other sensitive information," whatever that may be. While all that data was available for the taking, the advisory said the attackers appeared to target client names and street addresses. The notice never made it clear if password data was also accessed, but unhelpfully, the officials said, "Client passwords remained fully encrypted at all times and we have not seen any indication of fraudulent activity as a result of this incident."
Remarkably, the officials leave it up to customers to decide whether they should change passwords. Out of an abundance of caution, Ars recommends that all Scottrade users change their passcodes ASAP, both on the brokerage site and any other sites that may have used the same credentials. The officials said they learned of the breach after receiving information from federal law enforcement investigators. Scottrade is offering a year of free identity protection services to all 4.6 million people whose details were included in the compromised database.