News & Updates

If you’re in the Bay Area next week, join us for the filming of our third episode of Ars Technica Live, a monthly interview series with fascinating people who work at the intersection of tech, science, and culture. We’re meeting on Wednesday, June 15 in Oakland, California from 7 to 9pm for a discussion with journalist Sarah Jeong about online harassment and what technologists can do about it.

Filmed before a live audience in Oakland tiki bar Longitude (located on 347 14th Street), each episode of Ars Technica Live is a speculative, informal conversation between your fine hosts Annalee Newitz and Cyrus Farivar and an invited guest. The audience—that would be you—is also invited to join the conversation and ask questions. These aren’t soundbyte setups; they are deep cuts from the frontiers of research and creativity.

This month’s event is about online harassment, trolling, and cleaning up Internet garbage. Guest Sarah Jeong is a Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale and the author of the book The Internet of Garbage. She writes for magazines and newspapers about the overlap between policy, tech, and the law.

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(credit: LaurMG. )

After a hard day at the office, where you were focused intently on a challenging project, you may consider a choice on the way home: impulsively splurge on a fancy dinner as a reward for that cerebral slog or save that bit of cash as planned—perhaps putting it toward a relaxing vacation next month. Despite any frugal inclinations, your weary noggin may not be able to rally your normal level of willpower, according to a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

In the study involving 52 healthy adults, researchers found that six hours of challenging cognitive tasks fatigued a part of participants’ brains involved in higher thinking and willpower—the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC)—and increased their impulsiveness. The finding suggests that real-life scenarios, such as having a mentally taxing day at work, may have critical but unappreciated impacts on people’s economic decisions. It also may point to the need for more brain-resting periods throughout a workday.

“The number and duration of work breaks could be adapted to avoid any dramatic LPFC dysfunction,” the authors of the paper conclude. And, they note, if employees have control over their own work breaks, they might instinctively avoid this brain drain, as researchers saw in a control group.

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Enlarge / WWDC time. (credit: Apple)

Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference kicks off on Monday, and it all begins at 10am Pacific at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco. While the bulk of the actual developer sessions will be happening at the nearby Moscone Center, Apple has moved the opening-day keynote to a larger venue to make room for more attendees.

Even given the iPhone announcements in the fall, WWDC is usually Apple’s biggest event of the year, the one where we see the direction in which Apple’s increasingly unified platform is moving for the next 12 months. We already know that we’ll be getting our first looks at new versions of iOS, OS X, watchOS, and tvOS, and the show is often good for a handful of product and service announcements as well as some more developer-focused stuff.

Let’s run down what we know (and what we think) is coming this year, taking all the most recent grist from the rumor mill into account. Reliable rumors are less plentiful this year than they have been in the past, which means that whatever else happens, this may well be the most surprising Apple keynote we’ve had in quite a while.

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Enlarge / Apple is bringing search ads and other major changes to the App Store over the next few months. (credit: Apple)

We’re a few days out from the WWDC keynote, but Apple is already making some announcements. Apple SVP of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller was put in charge of the App Store back in December, and today he sat down with The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple to detail his first major changes to the App Store.

The single biggest difference is a change to Apple’s traditional 70-30 revenue split for in-app subscriptions. Under the new system, 70 percent of revenue will still go to the developer and 30 percent will still go to Apple, but after users have been subscribed for more than a year, the split changes to 85-15 in the developer’s favor. This change will apply to all current subscription-based apps as well, so if you’ve already subscribed to Netflix or Spotify, those companies will start getting a larger share of the money soon.

The 70-30 split remains unchanged for other kinds of apps. For holdouts like Amazon that still don’t offer subscriptions through their apps (or any apps at all for the Apple TV), the revenue tweaks may convince them to reconsider their positions.

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(credit: Google)

Project Fi, Google’s MVNO cellular service, launched last year with the unique ability to switch between multiple networks—T-Mobile and Sprint. Today Google announced that it is adding a third network into the mix—US Cellular. US Cellular is the fifth-largest carrier in the US, and Google says the company’s LTE service in “23 states, both urban and rural” will be merged into the Project Fi network.

Project Fi uses special SIM cards and radios to work as a “network of networks.” Fi-compatible phones measure the available connections from participating cellular networks and switch to the fastest one on the fly. With the new addition, Fi phones will now pick the fastest network from T-Mobile, Sprint, and US Cellular. The downside is that you actually need a Fi-compatible phone, which right now is the Nexus 6, 5X, and 6P.

The service also provides a ton of Internet-centric features, full functionality over Wi-Fi, online voicemail, texting from other devices via Google Hangouts, call forwarding, and a sweet mobile app. Voice and text on Fi is unlimited, and data charges work on a flexible system where users are only charged month-to-month for what they use, at a rate of $10 per 1GB.

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The Liang Bua cave, with excavations in progress. (credit: Liang Bua Team)

The diminutive “hobbit” species, Homo floresiensis, was recently in the news because of a new analysis that suggested the species predated the arrival of modern humans to the region. But the discovery left a big unanswered question: how did the hobbit fit into the human family tree? A discovery of more fossils described in today’s issue of Nature helps piece together more about the species’ history, shedding light on its ancestry and suggesting that it was present in Indonesia as early as 700,000 years ago.

When first found, the tiny bones discovered on the Indonesian island of Flores were dated to around 20 kya (20 thousand years ago). That date was revised earlier this year, placing them between 100 kya and 60 kya. Since modern humans probably moved through the region around 50 kya—and since other species of humans have tended not to last long once our own species moves into the neighborhood—the older dates helped to resolve the mystery of how the hobbits had lived alongside us for so long. Basically, they hadn’t.

Still, this left a lot of other questions open. How long did hobbits live on the island? If hobbits and modern humans coexisted for even a short period of time, is it possible that they shared some of their genes with us like Neanderthals did? The latter question depends partly on their ancestry—if hobbits descended from Homo erectus, its evolutionary distance from humans would make interbreeding unlikely. The new finding suggests that’s the case.

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Made in Space is developing a concept to turn an asteroid into a self-propelling spacecraft. (credit: Made in Space)

In his iconic science fiction novel Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke describes how humanity first mistakes a large inbound spacecraft for an asteroid and then interacts with the mysterious alien ship. The founders of Made in Space, a small company with big dreams of manufacturing materials in space, are clearly fans of the book, because they have named their latest venture Project RAMA.

Made in Space’s plan seems like science fiction as well: the company wants to turn asteroids into spacecraft. No, really, this isn’t the latest book from Neal Stephenson. The company is serious—and so, apparently, is NASA. The agency has agreed to pay as much as $100,000 to Made in Space to conduct a feasibility study on the concept. “This definitely is in the category of sci-fi inspired stuff,” agreed Spencer Pitman, head of product strategy, in an interview with Ars. “But it’s guided by a long-term vision of the future, of living and working in space.”

Made in Space is the company that has put two 3D printers on the International Space Station to serve both the needs of NASA and paying customers who want products printed in microgravity. But that’s just the beginning. The company’s goal is to pioneer the manufacturing of materials in space, using resources in space. So if you want to use the lunar regolith to build solar cells on the Moon or create concrete from Martian soil, they want to help.

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