News & Updates

Dale Kronkright (left), head of conservation at the Georgia O'Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, uses a handy new imaging tool to study "acne" on Georgia O'Keefe's "Ritz Tower." Northwestern University's Oliver Cossairt (right) developed the tool.

Enlarge / Dale Kronkright (left), head of conservation at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, uses a handy new imaging tool to study “acne” on Georgia O’Keefe’s “Ritz Tower.” Northwestern University’s Oliver Cossairt (right) developed the tool. (credit: YouTube/Northwestern University)

The Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, houses some 140 oil paintings by the iconic American artist, along with thousands of additional works from O’Keefe’s prolific career. But the oil paintings have been developing tiny pin-sized blisters, almost like acne, for decades. Conservationists and scholars initially assumed they were grains of sand trapped in the paint. But then the protrusions grew, spread, and started flaking off, leading to mounting concern.

Now an interdisciplinary team of scientists from Northwestern University is studying this mysterious “paint disease,” using a low-cost, portable tool that allows the user to image the surface of the paintings quickly and easily with a smartphone or a tablet. They demonstrated the new technique last week at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington, DC.

This “paint disease” isn’t limited to O’Keefe’s oeuvre. Conservators have found similar deterioration in oil-based masterpieces across all time periods, including works by Rembrandt. Chemists concluded that the blisters are actually metal carboxylate soaps, the result of a chemical reaction between metal ions in the lead and zinc pigments, and fatty acids in the binding medium used in the paint. The soaps start to clump together to form the blisters and migrate through the paint film. “They can form exudates on the surface, which obscure the painting itself, creating an insoluble film, or an effect of transparency, so you can look through those layers, which was not the intention of the artist,” said Marc Walton of Northwestern University, who co-led the study.

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Mutants defending their camp.

Enlarge / Mutants defending their camp.

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at cardboard.arstechnica.com.

After going decades without a proper Fallout tabletop title, we’ve now been graced with two quality releases in the span of a little more than a year. While Fantasy Flight’s offering is a narrative adventure game about roaming the wasteland, Modiphius’ new Wasteland Warfare is a miniatures skirmish design that features grizzled war bands clashing in harrowing environments. (Think Warhammer, but we swap Space Marines for the Brotherhood of Steel and Orks for Super Mutants.) At the risk of making you cringe, I’ll say it: the game is pretty rad.

Because this is a true miniatures game, it requires some work. The two-player starter set comes with pre-assembled plastic miniatures, but expansion figures are multi-part and will require assembly. You will fight with 6-12 of these figures over the stretch of an hour or two, and you will need to supply your own terrain for the brutes to battle over. It’s a commitment, as these games tend to be, but one that promises a deep and immersive experience in return.

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Ba-ding!

Enlarge / Ba-ding! (credit: Aurich)

Last week, a copy of the first printing of Super Mario Bros. in pristine condition sold for just over $100,000. This week, the collector who sold that gem told Ars that he’s been preparing for this moment for years.

The seller—who asked to remain anonymous to protect his privacy but goes by the handle Bronty online—told Ars he didn’t even have an NES growing up. He just played games like Super Mario Bros. at a friend’s house. But around 2002, at age 27, Bronty was gripped by a desire to once again play the NES games he hadn’t thought about for well over a decade.

A quick trip to eBay got him his nostalgic gaming fix and sparked an interest in a new hobby that fewer people were paying attention to at the time. “Having already been a comic collector for many years, I had an interest in collecting in general,” Bronty told Ars. “I started thinking, ‘Would this be an interesting thing to collect?'”

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Wallace's Giant Bee next to a honeybee for scale.

Enlarge / Wallace’s Giant Bee next to a honeybee for scale. (credit: Clay Bolt)

For security reasons, I can’t tell you exactly where Clay Bolt rediscovered Wallace’s giant bee. But I can tell you this. With a wingspan of two and a half inches, the Goliath is four times bigger than a European honeybee. Very much unlike its honey-manufacturing cousin, it’s got enormous jaws, more like those of the famous stag beetle. And it lives not in nests with thousands of family members but largely alone in burrows in termite mounds, a tubular home it coats with waterproof resin.

Last month, Bolt and his colleagues were on a miserable slog through the rain on an Indonesian Island That Shall Not Be Named, searching for termite mounds in trees, the last place a scientist spotted the superlative species of bee nearly 40 years ago. Sometimes they’d sit under a tree with a pair of binoculars for 20 minutes, watching for the distinctive movements that would reveal a bee in a mound way up high. For mounds closer to the ground, they’d scramble up for a closer look.

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It is nearly time for crewed flights on SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft.

Enlarge / It is nearly time for crewed flights on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft. (credit: SpaceX)

On Friday, key NASA officials gathered in a large meeting room at Kennedy Space Center. Here, for decades, NASA managers reviewed analyses about the next space shuttle mission and, more often than not, cleared the vehicle for launch. But after 2011, there were no more crew vehicles to review.

That changed this week when NASA convened a “flight readiness review” for SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft for its initial test flight, without people on board. By Friday evening, the meeting was over and, among the NASA and SpaceX officials, the verdict was in—Dragon was ready for its demonstration mission as part of the commercial crew program on March 2. Launch time for the Falcon 9 rocket is 2:48am ET (07:48 UTC), from Kennedy Space Center. “I’m ready to fly,” NASA’s commercial crew program manager, Kathy Lueders, said succinctly.

The mood was ebullient among NASA leadership as well as SpaceX’s top official on the scene, Hans Koenigsmann, the company’s vice president of build and flight reliability. He, too, had participated in the flight readiness review in the storied room where so many shuttle meetings had been held.  “It was a really big deal for SpaceX, and me personally,” he said.

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Go ahead. Make my day.

Enlarge / Go ahead. Make my day.

Russian President Vladimir Putin told members of the Russian media on Wednesday that if the US exits the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty and deploys nuclear weapons to Europe, Russia will follow suit—by placing nuclear weapons off the coast of the US. The comments came on the heels of an announcement by Putin that a nuclear powered, nuclear-armed unmanned submersible vehicle (essentially a giant nuclear torpedo) was nearly ready for deployment. The Russian president said the first submarine equipped to carry it would be ready as soon as this spring.

“If they create threats to us, they should be aware of the potential consequences, so that they will not accuse us of unnecessary aggressiveness or whatever later,” Putin said in comments following his February 20 address to Russia’s Federal Assembly. “They have announced their decision,” he said, referencing President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the INF treaty. “We know what can follow it. We tell them, ‘Do the maths. Can you count? So, do it before making any decisions that would create additional threats to you.'”

To make that point clearer, Putin gave some of the numbers for “the maths.” First, he would put nuclear-armed missiles on submarines or surface ships. “At a speed of Mach 9, these missiles can strike a target more than 1,000 km away,” he explained. “Under the Law of the Sea, the exclusive economic zone is defined at some 400 km or 200 miles. Do the maths. The distance of 1,000 kilometers at Mach 9. How soon, in how many minutes, can these weapons reach their targets? Just compare, the flight time to Moscow is between 10 and 12 minutes. How long would it take to reach the decision-making centers that are creating threats to us? The calculation is not in their favor, at least, not today.”

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The most detailed images of Ultima Thule, obtained just minutes before the spacecraft's closest approach at 12:33am EST on Jan. 1.

Enlarge / The most detailed images of Ultima Thule, obtained just minutes before the spacecraft’s closest approach at 12:33am EST on Jan. 1. (credit: NASA/Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/SWRI)

Twenty-six minutes after the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve in Times Square, the long-range camera aboard the New Horizons spacecraft was hard at work. The probe was just six minutes from its closest approach to Ultima Thule, an object formally named 2014 MU69, which resides in the Kuiper Belt around the outer Solar System.

One, two, three—the images ticked through, each with an exposure time of just 0.025 seconds. Four, five, six—and now the spacecraft was less than 7,000km away from its target. Seven, eight, nine—these pictures had to be perfect, because New Horizons was passing Ultima Thule at a speed of more than 50,000km/hour.

Only recently were investigators able to download all of these images and cobble together a composite image of the contact binary. With a resolution of 33 meters per pixel, this is probably as good of a view as we’re going to get of Ultima Thule. And it still looks something like a snowman, peanut, pancake, or combination thereof.

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Money being washed down a garbage disposal.

Enlarge (credit: Getty Images | Bill Oxford)

Frontier Communications reportedly charged a cancellation fee of $4,302.17 to the operator of a one-person business in Wisconsin, even though she switched to a different Internet provider because Frontier’s service was frequently unusable.

Candace Lestina runs the Pardeeville Area Shopper, a weekly newspaper and family business that she took over when her mother retired. Before retiring, her mother had entered a three-year contract with Frontier to provide Internet service to the one-room office on North Main Street in Pardeeville. Six months into the contract, Candace Lestina decided to switch to the newly available Charter offering “for better service and a cheaper bill,” according to a story yesterday by News 3 Now in Wisconsin.

The Frontier Internet service “was dropping all the time,” Lestina told the news station. This was a big problem for Lestina, who runs the paper on her own in Pardeeville, a town of about 2,000 people. “I actually am everything. I make the paper, I distribute the paper,” she said. Because of Frontier’s bad service, “I would have times where I need to send my paper—I have very strict deadlines with my printer—and my Internet’s out.”

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Unlike this ceramic replica, video game loot boxes are not filled with real candy.

Unlike this ceramic replica, video game loot boxes are not filled with real candy. (credit: ThinkGeek)

In response to a request from Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), the Federal Trade Commission now says it will be convening a “public workshop on loot boxes” later this year.

The FTC said it hopes to attract “consumer advocacy organizations, parent groups, and industry members” to take part in the workshop, according to a letter from FTC Chairman Joseph Simons provided to Hassan. The short note suggests such a gathering could “help elicit information to guide subsequent consumer outreach, which could include a consumer alert.”

Elsewhere in the letter, Simons notes the FTC’s previous efforts to gauge the marketing and accessibility of violent video games (and other media) to children. And though the FTC in November revealed publicly that it is investigating the loot box issue, Simons also notes that he can’t publicly comment on any potential law enforcement efforts in the space that might be ongoing.

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BOSTON, MA - JANUARY 25: Families who have lost loved ones to the opioid crisis protest in front of Suffolk Superior Court in Boston as lawyers for Purdue Pharma enter the courthouse for a status update in the Attorney General's suit against Purdue Pharma.

Enlarge / BOSTON, MA – JANUARY 25: Families who have lost loved ones to the opioid crisis protest in front of Suffolk Superior Court in Boston as lawyers for Purdue Pharma enter the courthouse for a status update in the Attorney General’s suit against Purdue Pharma. (credit: Getty | Boston Globe)

Richard Sackler turned to verbal acrobatics and leaps in logic to try to dodge blame in the fraudulent marketing of Purdue’s potent opioid, OxyContin. The contorted explanations—which at points involved creating new definitions of words and claiming an enigmatic level of politeness—were first unveiled Thursday, February 21 from a sealed, 337-page deposition obtained by ProPublica.

The deposition was taken in August of 2015 as part of lawsuit brought by the state of Kentucky, which alleged Purdue illegally promoted its potent opioid painkiller. Back in 2007, federal prosecutors made similar allegations against Purdue, resulting in the company and three executives pleading guilty to misleading doctors, regulators, and patients over OxyContin’s addictiveness. Numerous legal complaints have piled up against Purdue in the aftermath. Purdue settled many of them, including Kentucky’s, which it settled for $24 million.

Yet in all the court battles, the mega-rich, secretive family behind Purdue, the Sacklers, have largely gone unscathed. In fact, the newly disclosed 2015 deposition is believed to be the only time a member of the Sackler family has been questioned over the fraudulent marketing.

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