LA police ask people they stop for their Facebook and Twitter account info

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Two Los Angeles Police Department officers walking through Union Station.
Enlarge / Los Angeles Police Department officers patrol Union Station on Wednesday, August 11, 2021.

The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) instructs officers to collect social media account information and email addresses when they interview people they have detained, according to documents obtained by the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law.

The Brennan Center filed public records requests with LAPD and police departments from other major cities, finding among other things that “the LAPD instructs its officers to broadly collect social media account information from those they encounter in person using field interview (FI) card.” The LAPD initially resisted making documents available but supplied over 6,000 pages after the Brennan Center sued the department.

One such document, a memo from then-LAPD Chief Charlie Beck in May 2015, said that “When completing a FI report, officers should ask for a person’s social media and e-mail account information and include it in the ‘Additional Info’ box.” That includes Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook profiles, the memo said.

This may be an unusual policy even though the LAPD has been doing it for years. “Apparently, nothing bars officers from filling out FI cards for each interaction they engage in on patrol,” wrote Mary Pat Dwyer, a lawyer and fellow in the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Notably, our review of information about FI cards in 40 other cities did not reveal any other police departments that use the cards to collect social media data, though details are sparse.” The center reviewed “publicly available documents to try to determine if other police departments routinely collect social media during field interviews” but found that “most are not very transparent about their practices,” Dwyer told Ars today.

LAPD field-interview cards.

LAPD field-interview cards.

LAPD

While people can refuse to give officers their social media account details, many people may not know their rights and could feel pressured into providing the information, Dwyer told Ars. “Courts have found that stopping individuals and asking for voluntary information doesn’t violate the Fourth Amendment and people are free not to respond,” she told us. “However, depending on the circumstances of a stop, people may not feel that freedom to walk away without responding. They may not know their rights, or they may be hoping to quickly end the encounter by providing information in order to ensure it doesn’t escalate.”

The Brennan Center has also been seeking police department records since January 2020 from Boston, New York City, Baltimore, and Washington, DC, but is still fighting to get all the requested information.

Data enables “large-scale monitoring”

A field interview is defined as “the brief detainment of an individual, whether on foot or in a vehicle, based on reasonable suspicion, for the purpose of determining the individual’s identity and resolving the officer’s suspicions concerning criminal activity,” according to an International Association of Chiefs of Police model policy for field interviews and pat-down searches. Field-interview cards can play a significant role in investigations.

“These cards facilitate large-scale monitoring of both the individuals on whom they are collected and their friends, family, and associates—even people suspected of no crime at all,” Dwyer wrote. “Information from the cards is fed into Palantir, a system through which the LAPD aggregates data from a wide array of sources to increase its surveillance and analytical capabilities.”

Officers apparently have wide discretion in choosing which people they record information on and, in some cases, have falsified the inputted information. Last year, the Los Angeles Times found that an LAPD “division under scrutiny for officers who allegedly falsified field interview cards that portrayed people as gang members has played an outsized role in the production of those cards.” The LAPD’s “Metropolitan Division made up about 4 percent of the force but accounted for more than 20 percent of the department’s field interview cards issued during a recent 18-month period,” the Times wrote. Police officers can fill out these cards “to document encounters they have with anyone they question on their beat,” the report also said.

It isn’t clear how much social media account information LAPD officers have collected or what officers do when people decline to provide the details. We contacted an LAPD spokesperson today and will update this article if we get a response. According to an article published by The Guardian, an LAPD spokesperson said that “the field interview card policy was ‘being updated,’ but declined to provide further details.”

LAPD expands social media monitoring

Collecting social media details during field interviews is one of a growing number of components in the LAPD’s use of social media for investigations. The Brennan Center said its public-records request found that LAPD “authorizes its officers to engage in extensive surveillance of social media without internal monitoring of the nature or effectiveness of the searches” and that, “beginning this year, the department is adding a new social media surveillance tool: Media Sonar, which can build detailed profiles on individuals and identify links between them. This acquisition increases opportunities for abuse by expanding officers’ ability to conduct wide-ranging social media surveillance.”

Media Sonar advertises that its products give investigators access to a “full digital snapshot of an individual’s online presence including all related personas and connections.”

The LAPD’s social media user guide encourages officers to monitor social media but imposes few restrictions on the practice, Dwyer wrote. The guide encourages officers to use “fictitious online personas” to conduct investigations and says that using these fake personas “does not constitute online undercover activity.”

“Few limitations offset this broad authority: officers need not document the searches they conduct, their purpose, or the justification,” she wrote. “They are not required to seek supervisory approval, and the guide offers no standards for the types of cases that warrant social media surveillance. While officers are instructed not to conduct social media surveillance for personal, illicit, or illegal purposes, they seem otherwise to have complete discretion over whom to surveil, how broadly to track their online activity, and how long to monitor them.”

The LAPD told the Brennan Center that it does not track what its employees monitor on social media sites and “has not conducted any audits regarding the use of social media.”

Broad authority, few restrictions

Dwyer argued that the expanding use of social media monitoring is particularly troubling at the LAPD because it has “identif[ied] people as gang members based on false or tenuous evidence” and “has a history of monitoring minority and activist communities.” Another detail revealed by the Brennan Center’s public-records request is that the LAPD used Geofeedia, a third-party vendor, “to search social media for information about Black Lives Matter activists and protests against police violence, using numerous hashtags to identify their posts,” Dwyer wrote. That was before Facebook and Twitter cut off Geofeedia’s access to social media data in 2016.

“Law enforcement should not have a free pass to broadly trawl the Internet without accountability or oversight,” Dwyer wrote. “Communities in Los Angeles and elsewhere must demand transparency in and limits around social media monitoring practices.”

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New Roomba promises “poopocalypse” horror stories are a thing of the past

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Robot vacuums are a great investment for a pet owner, since they give you a helper that can stay on top of all that dirt and pet hair. With a noisy motor and lots of scheduling options, people are often tempted to run the robot while they’re away, but if you do that, you’d better be very confident in your pet’s potty training. If you’ve never seen what happens when a robovac encounters Fido’s little accident, consider yourself lucky.

iRobot is out to fix this robovac edge case with the new Roomba j7+ Robot Vacuum. It has a new “Genius 3.0” obstacle detection system, a new front camera, and some AI-powered software. And one of the obstacles it looks out for is poop.

If you’ve never heard of this “poop+Roomba” phenomenon, you definitely shouldn’t ever Google it and click on the results that pop up, like this one or this or this. To save you some trauma, robo vacs have a lot of moving parts, like wheels and spinning brushes. This is great if you’re driving over and picking up dry dirt, but if the robot encounters a soft mass of something that it can grind up, those spinning brushes quickly become paint rollers. Then the robot drives all over the house. It’s bad.

After a story of one man’s “poopocalypse” went viral in 2016, iRobot commented that it actually sees this situation “a lot” from Roomba owners. At that time, a spokesperson recommended that owners not run the robot unsupervised if they’re worried about something like this, but today the company actually guarantees the new Roomba won’t run over pet waste. “This robot is even backed by the Pet Owner Official Promise (P.O.O.P.),” the press release reads, “where iRobot will replace any Roomba j7+ that doesn’t avoid solid pet waste.” If your Roomba actually doesn’t avoid the dog poop, though, needing a new robot vacuum will be the least of your problems.

Besides the really gross obstacles, the new Roomba can also be on the lookout for charging cords, toys, socks, and other stuff that can end up on the floor. The robot remembers each scan of your house, so it can flag new obstacles in the app and ask you how it should handle them in the future. Areas that are expected to be tricky forever, like the underside of a computer desk, can be marked as no-go zones so the little robot doesn’t get stuck. The rooms get labels, so you can tell it something like “clean the kitchen” via the app or a voice assistant (Google and Amazon), and it will know where you want it to go. The new “Genius 3.0” options can also have you schedule the robot to clean while you’re away, using the phone’s location services, and show cleaning estimate times.

Other than that, it’s a pretty old-school iRobot package. Unlike the more expensive “S9” series, this robot doesn’t have a “D” shape for better corner cleaning and a wider cleaning path. It’s still a circle with a spinning brush for the corners and stubby little brushes that have to be packed in between the wheels. Dual counter-rotating brushes on the bottom handle dirt pickup, and when it’s all done, it docks at a bigger vacuum and charging station, which cleans out the robot. Supposedly you don’t have to empty the bag for up to 60 days. The Roomba j7+ is out now for $849.99, which includes the dock.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

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Recycling symbol can’t appear on non-recyclable items, California bill says

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Discarded plastic bottles made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are bundled at a recycling center.
Enlarge / Discarded plastic bottles made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) are bundled at a recycling center.

The recycling symbol—those three arrows stamped on myriad plastic items—doesn’t mean what most people think it does, and a California bill wants to change that.

The California Legislature passed a bill yesterday that would ban companies from putting the recycling symbol on items that aren’t regularly recycled throughout the state. The bill is now awaiting Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signature, and if signed into law, it would end a labeling practice that has confused consumers for decades and created major headaches for the solid waste industry.

The ubiquitous “chasing arrows” symbol wasn’t originally meant to appear on all plastics. Rather, it was designed by a college student for a contest in the early 1970s to symbolize paper recycling. The company that sponsored the contest released the symbol to the public domain. Confusion over the chasing arrows began in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when oil and plastic companies lobbied states to make resin identification codes—which included the arrows—mandatory on all plastic, even if it couldn’t be recycled easily.

While all plastics can technically be recycled, only a small percentage actually are. Only about 9 percent of all plastics are recycled in the US annually, and around 9 percent of all plastics ever produced have been recycled. The rest are incinerated or, more likely, landfilled or scattered as litter.

Morning inspiration

Though many plastics cause problems for recycling companies, plastic bags are particularly pernicious. Though most curbside programs don’t accept plastic bags, people still throw them into the bin, thinking they’re recyclable because they are labeled with the chasing arrows symbol.

It’s that confusion that led California State Sen. Ben Allen to propose the bill that is now on the governor’s desk. After fetching his newspaper every morning, Allen would throw the plastic bag it came in into his recycling bin. “I thought, oh, this is recyclable—but actually I was making the situation worse while trying to do the right thing,” Allen told CalMatters.

Allen’s proposal, known as Senate Bill 343, would require CalRecycle, the state’s recycling agency, to collect data on which types of plastic are most commonly recycled around the state. Only those that are recycled at a rate of 75 percent and don’t contain certain compounds like PFAS would be allowed to retain the chasing arrows symbol. All others would be stamped with a solid triangle around the resin identification code.

In practice, this means that plastics classified as 1 or 2—PETE and HDPE—would most likely be marked with the chasing arrows symbol. All others would get the solid triangle. If recycling of those other plastics takes off, they could earn their arrows back. Currently, though, only a handful of California municipalities accept anything beyond numbers 1 and 2 for curbside recycling.

The plastic and packaging industries have voiced opposition to the bill, saying that it would create a patchwork of regulations across the country and lead to more waste ending up in landfills.

California’s bill is the latest attempt to overhaul recycling systems that have been struggling since China stopped importing recycled plastics. Maine and Oregon both passed laws recently that levy a fee on packaging producers based largely on the amount of plastic they produce.

Industry origins

Plastic recycling was initially pushed by oil and gas companies as a solution to mounting concerns about plastic waste in the 1970s and 1980s. An investigation by NPR and PBS’s Frontline uncovered a decades-long campaign to convince the public that recycling would solve plastic’s sustainability problems. “The feeling was the plastics industry was under fire—we got to do what it takes to take the heat off because we want to continue to make plastic products,” Larry Thomas, former president of the Society of the Plastics Industry, told NPR.

For years, the plan seemed to work. Recycling programs spread around the country, and plastic production soared, with over 300 million tons made every year.

Yet in the last few years, the tide has begun to turn once more. Plastic pollution is filling the oceans, and consumers have grown increasingly concerned about the ubiquity of microplastics in the environment. As scientists have developed ever more sophisticated ways to detect microplastics, they’ve been discovering them in an alarmingly wide range of places, from the top of mountains to fish nurseries—and even people’s poop.

This new bill isn’t likely to slow plastic’s exponential growth, but it could clear up some of the confusion and lead to a more streamlined recycling process. “Americans find recycling… more confusing than building IKEA furniture, doing their taxes, playing the stock market, or understanding their spouse,” Allen told CalMatters.

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2,064-piece Lego set recreates Super Mario 64 in miniature for $170

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Nintendo and the Lego group have been on a collaborative tear for the last couple of years, with releases including the interactive “Adventures with Mario” series for kids and a $230 replica NES set aimed directly at nostalgic adults with disposable income. The team’s latest creation is another one for that latter group—today, the companies announced a $170 replica “? block” that opens up to reveal four miniature recreations of worlds from Super Mario 64.

The tiny size of each replica level means that some detail is lost, and the “microfigures” of characters like Mario, Peach, and Lakitu are all made out of just a handful of pieces. But despite that, everything in the set is instantly recognizable, from the chain chomp lying in wait on the Bob-omb Battlefield to the ski slopes of Cool, Cool Mountain to the Bowser sliding puzzle in Lethal Lava Land. Yoshi is even hiding on the top of Peach’s Castle, waiting for you to find all 120 stars. The “? block” uses a clever hinge mechanism that makes it simple to pop the worlds out and tuck them back inside.

The 2,064-piece Mario 64 set is recommended for ages 18 and up and will be exclusive to Lego stores and Lego.com when it launches on October 1, 2021. Other retailers will get it sometime in 2022.

Listing image by Lego Group

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New Amazon Fire TVs & Fire TV Stick 4K Max: price, features, release date

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Amazon on Thursday announced its first self-branded smart TVs and a new 4K streaming media player called the Fire TV Stick 4K Max.

The tech giant has previously partnered with Best Buy to sell various Toshiba and Insignia TVs that run Amazon’s Fire TV operating system. It has also launched TVs in India under its AmazonBasics brand.

Today, though, the company is unveiling two new TV lines of its own: a flagship Omni Series and a slightly more budget-friendly 4-Series. The announcement confirms a report from Insider last week.

Here’s a list of size and pricing details for each of the new Amazon TVs:

Amazon Fire TV Omni Series

Amazon Fire TV 4-Series

Amazon says each model will be available in the US starting in October at Amazon and Best Buy, just ahead of the holiday shopping season. The 50-inch 4-Series and Omni Series TVs will be $110 off as part of a limited-time preorder promo starting today.

Each of the new TVs uses an LED panel with a 4K resolution and support for the HDR10 and HLG high dynamic range standards. Only the 65- and 75-inch Omni Series models support Dolby Vision HDR, however. Those two also have a design with slimmer bezels. All models support Dolby Digital Plus audio as well.

The rest of the specs appear to be somewhat basic. Each set includes four HDMI ports, including one HDMI 2.1 port that supports eARC for easier connectivity to soundbars and other AV equipment, though there are no advanced gaming features like variable refresh rate (VRR) or the ability to play in 4K at a smoother 120 Hz refresh rate. Instead, each panel maxes out at a more common 60 Hz. Amazon confirmed that the TVs do not support full-array local dimming, either, which suggests their HDR performance and overall contrast will be a few steps below that of the best midrange TV panels.

Last week’s Insider report said that the new Amazon TVs would be manufactured by third parties, one of which was popular Chinese TV maker TCL (which also makes a TV called the 4-Series), though Amazon would not divulge specifics when asked about its supply chain for the new models.

TVs built around Alexa

Instead, Amazon primarily wants to push the new sets’ software features, particularly their tight integration with the company’s Alexa voice assistant. The Omni Series sets have a far-field microphone array built in, making it possible to summon Alexa just by saying, “Hey, Alexa,” without using a remote, regardless of whether the TV is on or off. (The usual Alexa voice remote still comes included, though.) We’ve seen similar functionality built into other smart TVs before, and the rival Google Assistant can be accessed hands-free on smart TVs from TCL and the like.

Fom there, you can direct Alexa to search for content, pause shows, adjust the volume or TV brightness, change to a different HDMI input, control Alexa-compatible smart home gadgets and view security camera feeds in a picture-in-picture overlay, activate customizable “routines,” and so on. A new “Alexa Conversations” feature arriving in beta form later this year will let the assistant offer you customized movie and TV show recommendations when you ask, “Alexa, what should I watch?” Integration with Netflix’s “Play Something” shuffle feature—which quickly pulls up a new movie or TV show the service thinks you’ll like based on your past viewing habits—will arrive later this fall, and non-olds will be able to use Alexa to launch and navigate the TikTok app. You can hook up a USB webcam to the TV for video calls, too, and Amazon says official Zoom support will come to the Omni Series later this year.

Also of note, those with Echo speakers can hook them up to the TVs through the Alexa app and use them as wireless TV speakers. Amazon says this feature will work on the Omni Series, 4-Series, and other Fire TV models and support everything from the higher-end Echo Studio to older-generation Echo Dots (though the larger and newer speakers will generally sound better).

There is a physical mute switch on the bottom bezel of the Omni Series that cuts off its built-in mics, but after a number of data collection mishaps from the Echo device family over the years, an Amazon TV anchored by the experience of using always-on microphones doesn’t seem like the most sensible choice for the privacy-conscious.

As with most of its Alexa equipment, Amazon is selling these TVs on the idea of a simplified user experience, seemingly more than pure image quality. And since these are the first widely available Amazon-branded sets, we won’t be able to fully judge the image quality until the TVs are out in the wild. The company says the main difference between the Omni Series and 4-Series is how you interact with Alexa—via the far-field mics on the former and a traditional voice remote on the latter—more than how they actually look (though the Omni Series should be a step up from the 4-Series). And while some features like Zoom calling will hit the Omni Series first, most of the Alexa- and smart-TV-related features will also be available on the 4-Series and other non-Amazon-made Fire TV sets.

All that said, Fire TV as a platform is still a mostly known quantity. We’ve found it lacking in notable ways compared to Google’s TV OS, particularly when it comes to search result accuracy, as it prioritizes Amazon’s own Prime Video service over other streaming apps and stuffs ads into the UI. Many will still prefer the comfort of a remote over frequent voice commands. But like similarly streaming-focused TVs running Roku OS, past Fire TV models have proven popular, and like most Alexa devices, these new sets are priced aggressively. If you’ve already thrown in your lot with Amazon, the new models could be a good value, depending on how their picture quality shapes up. If nothing else, it seems safe to assume the new sets will be highly visible to prospective TV buyers when they browse through Amazon’s storefront.

A new Fire TV Stick, plus more Fire TVs

The new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max brings Wi-Fi 6 support and promises faster speeds than the base Fire TV Stick 4K.
Enlarge / The new Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K Max brings Wi-Fi 6 support and promises faster speeds than the base Fire TV Stick 4K.

Amazon

If you’re sitting on an old Fire TV streamer, the new Fire TV Stick 4K Max might be of interest. As its name suggests, this is an upgraded variant of the popular Fire TV Stick 4K, now running on a beefier 1.8 GHz quad-core processor, 750 MHz GPU, and 2GB of RAM (compared to a 1.7 GHz chip, 650 MHz GPU, and 1.5GB of RAM before). Amazon claims it has “40 percent more power” than the Fire TV Stick 4K and will slot in as the most performant Fire TV Stick in the company’s lineup as a result. The device supports newer Wi-Fi 6 networking for those with that equipment, too, and it’s said to use 15 percent less power while in low-power mode. Otherwise, the general functionality of the device is largely unchanged.

Amazon is particularly pushing the device as an optimal way to use the company’s fledgling Luna game-streaming service, which also received a number of feature updates on Thursday. The same caveats noted above regarding the Fire TV OS still apply, but the Fire TV Stick 4K Max will ship in October and be priced at $54.99. That’s $5 more than the MSRP of the three-year-old Fire TV Stick 4K, which will remain available.

Finally, both Amazon and Best Buy announced that new Pioneer- and Toshiba-branded 4K Fire TVs are in the works, though details are fairly light on both. The former will come in 43- and 50-inch sizes and be priced at $369 and $469, respectively. They’ll support HDR10 and Dolby Vision, with the smaller model hitting in late September and the larger one coming in early November. The Toshiba announcement is more of a teaser than anything; the companies say these sets will have built-in mics like the Omni Series, support local dimming, and come in 55, 65, and 75 inches. But they’re only “expected by spring 2022,” with no pricing details available.

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Listing image by Amazon

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Amazon’s Luna game-streaming service adds $3-for-family, free-with-Prime tiers

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It has been a while since we’ve heard anything major from Luna, Amazon’s game-streaming service that largely resembles Google Stadia, Xbox Game Streaming, and other cloud-based ways to stream video games from a server farm to your screen of choice. Today, Amazon breaks its recent streaming silence with a few new ways to get more players into Luna for less money.

The first move involves Amazon’s massive Prime service, which is finally becoming an instant, free-with-your-subscription way to stream Luna games. Starting right now, paying Prime members can either load Luna’s website or install the Luna app on any compatible device, sync a compatible gamepad, and play the entirety of four very solid video games: Resident Evil 7, Metro Exodus, Katamari Damacy Reroll, and Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom.

This access doesn’t require signing up for a Luna free trial, and it doesn’t pause any of these games after an arbitrary limit of hours or in-game progress. But there is a catch: the Prime access to these four games runs out in seven days, on September 15—at which point anyone who wants to keep playing those four games can formally sign up for the “Luna+” tier for $5.99/month (with a free seven-day trial, if you haven’t claimed one of those yet). Before September 15, at least, no formal Luna sign-up is required.

Should you stick around, your progress in those games will be saved and carried over, and you’ll get access to an even larger library of streamable games: up to 95 in Luna+ as of press time, which range from relatively new to pretty darned old. That cost compares favorably to the $14.99/month cost of Xbox Game Streaming: 60 percent less, with roughly 60 percent fewer games. But why doesn’t Amazon add longer-lasting Luna access to the $129.99/year Amazon Prime pile and skip this series of hoops, already?

As we’ve seen in the past, Amazon likes to arbitrarily give, then take away, various Prime perks. Gamers in particular have felt that sting in the form of sweeping changes to what was once Twitch Prime and is now called Prime Gaming. Perhaps this seven-day trial is a tease of more ways for Luna and Prime to connect in the future, or maybe it’s a temporary test to see if Amazon’s bean counters think that Prime-related Luna giveaways are worth maintaining.

Luna Family: Quite a bit for $2.99 a month

The company’s second major software-and-pricing move comes in the form of Luna Family, a new tier of game access that costs $2.99/month and focuses on curated E-for-everyone fare. And its game selection (printed in full at the article’s end) isn’t too shabby.

A primer for the uninitiated: Luna offers subscriptions to various tiers that interested gamers can pick up and put down as they see fit, with some tiers being publisher-specific. Luna Family can be your only Luna subscription, or you can toss it as a cheap add-on atop other game collection subscriptions.

The 35 games that make up Luna Family’s opening roster include the critically acclaimed likes of Death Squared, Super Mega Baseball, and Overcooked, the perfectly serviceable 3D platforming of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom, and the mediocre racing of Garfield Kart. You’ll also get additional kid-approved games that land somewhere between those on a quality scale. Considering that parents might not flinch at a $30 sticker price for a recognizable child-friendly video game, the $36/year estimate for 35 Amazon-approved Luna Family games is respectable.

Amazon goes one step further by emphasizing shared-screen and co-op friendliness for many of its Luna Family games, and its sales pitch has a rare cloud-specific component: load a Luna Family game on two devices, each streaming from the cloud, and they’ll be able to load the same cooperative or versus game. Each player will still see the exact same feed, as opposed to giving each player, say, their own unique first-person view on their own screen. But if you’ve ever seen two-of-the-same-screen arcade kits for series like Street Fighter and want to give your kids the same experience with two tablets and the same Garfield Kart feed, there you go.

Luna Couch as a free path to sharing, plus: Ubisoft+, “retro” tier

Speaking of shared-screen functionality: if you’re a paying Luna subscriber on any of its tiers and you want to host a facsimile of couch co-op, even with nonpaying friends, the new Luna Couch feature is for you. Load a compatible game, then create a “Luna Couch” link and share it with anyone else online, whether they live nearby or far, far away. Anyone can join for free, no payment or Luna account required—though exactly how international sharing might work remains to be seen.

Should your friend load your link in either their web browser or their compatible app, they’ll instantly take over one of the game’s controllers. That’s because, again, you’re all connecting to a single cloud server, so it can beam the server farm’s game session to everyone in equal measure. Amazon has yet to clarify exactly how many Luna Couch slots a single game instance can support or whether each of its players can arbitrarily take over controller slots (e.g., myself in one slot, a friend and their spouse in the second slot, and another friend by themself in the third).

This functionality in particular resembles DIY cloud-multiplayer services like Fightcade, which let people spin up cloud instances and play “online” multiplayer in games that never formally supported such a feature. Luna Couch does not appear to work in such a “universal” manner, however, so either a Luna game formally supports Luna Couch, or it does not—and we can’t yet say whether its offering exceeds other DIY services’ GGPO adoption. Either way, no other formal, paid cloud-gaming service currently has a comparable “I subscribe, you join my session for free” option, which means Amazon has soundly won this round of cloud-gaming combat on a service.

Today’s news also includes an expansion in the number of games made available as part of Luna’s Ubisoft+ channel, which will now include brand-new games the instant they’re out on other consoles. That means this fall’s Far Cry 6 and Riders Republic. As a result, Amazon is raising that tier’s price to $17.99/mo, up from the current $14.99/mo; if you want to keep the old price, start a subscription before September 30 and maintain it. And Amazon has hinted at a “retro” Luna tier to come in the future, made up of games from SNK, Atari, and other classic publishers. The company, however, has yet to confirm a price, launch date, or full library.

But the perennial issue with a games-from-the-cloud service is your connectivity environment. Do you live close to a particular service’s cluster of servers? Can you play on a hardwired streaming box? Can you tolerate whatever lag emerges? And how big are your bandwidth caps? But gaming companies continue plowing ahead with increasingly competitive streaming options, and in a chip-shortage universe—where new consoles sell out and regular game patches take forever to download—these aren’t the worst backup options for quick, affordable gaming.

Luna Family’s selection of games

(Any game listed in bold is compatible with Luna Couch.)

  • Beach Buggy Racing 2: Hot Wheels Edition
  • Bee Simulator
  • Bridge Constructor Portal
  • Buildings Have Feelings Too!
  • Death Squared
  • DreamWorks Dragons: Dawn of New Riders
  • El Hijo – A Wild West Tale
  • Garfield Kart – Furious Racing
  • Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams
  • Melbits World
  • Momonga Pinball Adventures
  • Monster Truck Championship: Rebel Hunter Edition
  • Overcooked!
  • PictoQuest
  • Pile Up! Box by Box
  • Race the Sun
  • Skelittle: A Giant Party!!
  • Smoots Summer Games
  • Smoots World Cup Tennis
  • Snake Pass
  • Space Otter Charlie
  • Sparklite
  • Spirit of the North
  • Spitlings
  • SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated
  • Summer Paws
  • Super Kickers League Ultimate
  • Super Mega Baseball: Extra Innings
  • The Adventure Pals
  • Tracks – Toybox Edition
  • Transformers: Battlegrounds
  • Trollhunters: Defenders of Arcadia
  • Tumblestone
  • Urban Trial Playground
  • Wandersong
  • Yono and the Celestial Elephants

Note: Ars Technica may earn compensation for sales from links on this post through affiliate programs.

Listing image by Amazon

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WarioWare: Get It Together review: This game should heed its own advice

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I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve looked at a formulaic Nintendo sequel and wished for something fresher. Remember, behind a pile of Mario and Zelda remakes, Nintendo has a considerable stash of irreverence and whimsy, as proven by franchises like Rhythm Heaven, Elite Beat Agents, and WarioWare.

That last series in the list is now up to its ninth entry: this week’s WarioWare: Get It Together. I can’t knock the 18-year-old franchise for sequelitis, and this latest title doesn’t rest on its Wario-styled yellow-and-purple laurels. In fact, it may very well be Nintendo’s most ambitious collection of “microgames” yet.

But ambition is nothing without execution. WW:GIT is hard to fault on a piece-by-piece basis, and when laid on a table like an unsolved jigsaw puzzle, its parts are up to the series’ standard of humor, creativity, and polish. Yet the collection has not been put together quite right, and the result is a rare case of Nintendo putting a game out before it feels finished.

A brief primer: Wario class is in session

A refresher: WarioWare games revolve around the premise of rapid-fire microgames, each roughly eight seconds long (with “bosses” lasting a whopping 60 seconds or so). The plot gimmick is that villain Wario has designed these ridiculous games in order to sell them a la carte, become rich, and pose with piles of money while laughing in his waa-aa-aa way. Since Wario “made” these games, they can be as uncouth as he is, thus allowing longtime Nintendo partner studio Intelligent Systems to get cartoonishly stupid and giddy with its ideas. (“We didn’t make this game! Selfish, brutish, farting Wario did!”)

If you like Nintendo at its most wackadoodle, you will like this WarioWare entry as much as the others. Since each microgame is so short, they all strive to leave a mark, and it’s usually a comical one. Examine WW:GIT on an art, sound, and presentation basis, and the result is a LOL-lercoaster—which you can probably ascertain from the above gallery of microgames. Aim a peeing baby statue to put out a fire. Pick hairs off a statue’s armpits. Turn a windmill enough times to beckon a giant monster to stomp toward you.

That’s only half of the WarioWare promise. The other half is typically the to-the-bone simplicity of its controls. Each microgame starts with brief instructions: “Block! Escape! Count!” Between that and whatever you see on-screen, you have a very small window of time to parse what’s happening—Do what? Go where? The last thing you want is further complication.

In the earliest entries in the franchise, a tap of the d-pad or a single action button is all you needed to get a pretty clear sign of whether or not you understood a particular microgame. Eight seconds later, you’d try all over again. Newer titles tried wacky control twists, including a tilt sensor on WarioWare: Twisted and motion control goofiness on WarioWare: Smooth Moves. These exceptions aside, the games generally hewed to simplicity.

Perhaps this should have been named Super MarioWare

Intelligent Systems, in search of ways to spice up the series this many years in, has expanded WW:GIT‘s control portfolio. Those controls are arguably best described as “Super MarioWare.” The cast must now run, jump, fly, and blast as platforming characters inside of each microgame. In days gone by, if you saw a button in a microgame, you tapped your real-life “A” button and the button would get slapped. This time, if you need to hit a button, smack a lever, or turn a dial to beat a microgame’s prompt, your platforming character has to figure out how to touch or affect it. In older WW games, only occasional microgames would ask the player to, say, use a d-pad and fake like Mario for a second. That’s now the rub of every microgame this time around.

What’s more, WW:GIT‘s default modes want you to swap from one platforming character to another between each microgame. By the time you beat Get It Together, you’ll have unlocked 20 characters. Some float around like spaceships in a shoot-’em-up. Others obey the laws of gravity as run-and-jump Mario-likes. Still others are locked to the ground as turrets, and these characters can only move using a counterintuitive grappling-hook system (more on that in a bit).

Each character may or may not have a weapon of some kind, like an upward-shooting yo-yo, a sideways-only gun, or an any-direction laser. Other characters must use their bodies to activate or attack something in a microgame.

WW:GIT‘s campaign, meant for one or two players, frequently slams the brakes to introduce a new character. Each introduction comes with a 60-second tutorial that makes you platform your way through a short level. Then you’re off to a slew of microgames that you must complete while juggling a cast of three or four characters. When each microgame starts, the characters in your crew are randomly shuffled, and one is dealt to you. You get exactly one second to test-ride your next character before a microgame begins.

More characters, more frustration

Every microgame has to support every character’s control style, and Intelligent Systems has somehow pulled this off. If you go into WW:GIT‘s “collection” menu to research microgames you’ve previously played, it will show you a ranking of which characters are “best” and “worst” for each microgame. No kidding.

As one example, the characters who operate as fixed turrets have serious mobility issues, because, again, they have to do this weird thing of aiming their weapons at golden rings that hover within certain microgames. Aim your weapon and hit one of these golden rings and your weapon will temporarily become a grappling hook. To move from that point, aim for another golden ring. It’s weird, and not in a good WarioWare way, especially since these microgames favor rapidly blasting to achieve an objective within eight seconds. So it’s easy to inadvertently warp when you intended to shoot something, or vice versa. Other characters are locked to the “floor” or have their movement restricted every time they tap the “A” button or can only shoot their lasers in one direction or don’t have laser-like weapons at all.

This gets awkward when each microgame’s language of interaction is wholly different from the others. Do you need to ram your body against something to beat the microgame? In one level: yep, you have to touch something with your own body, mobility be damned. In the next: nope, that’s a bad touch, so you either have to shoot a laser or platform toward the object perfectly. Yet another level: the thing you need to touch is next to a hitbox that will “kill” your character and end your microgame, whoopsie. You should’ve lasered it. And another level: why did you shoot the object with a laser? You needed to touch the object with your character’s body, duh!

I’ve run into more comprehension frustration with Get It Together than any WarioWare game. I can’t help but wonder: does every microgame need to be compatible with all 20 characters? Does WW:GIT need 20 characters’ worth of variance? Having beaten the game, I’m of the mind that some of these characters could have been consolidated, or WW:GIT could have blacklisted certain character-and-microgame combos, outside of a toggle like “Super Wild Wario Difficulty.”

Should you plan to play WW:GIT by yourself or with one friend joining from start to finish, the resulting confusion and learning curve aren’t necessarily deal breakers. The campaign forces players to use each newly unlocked character enough times to understand their basics, and subsequent playthroughs include a “use every character” toggle that ramps up the challenge and variability. Each microgame can now play out in 20 different ways, as randomly shuffled in an endless microgame session. While some of those are outright frustrating or annoying due to character-and-game mismatches, this is, all in all, the most replayable variety I’ve seen in a WarioWare game’s single-player mode.

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The James Webb telescope has a bona fide launch date

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NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was placed in Johnson Space Center’s historic Chamber A for vacuum testing on June 20, 2017.
Enlarge / NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope was placed in Johnson Space Center’s historic Chamber A for vacuum testing on June 20, 2017.

NASA announced in August that the James Webb Space Telescope had passed its final ground-based tests and was being prepared for shipment to its launch site in Kourou, French Guiana. Now, the oft-delayed $10 billion telescope has an official launch date: December 18, 2021.

The date was announced on Wednesday by NASA, the European Space Agency, and the launch provider, Arianespace. The space telescope will launch on an Ariane 5 rocket.

Why is NASA’s most expensive scientific instrument ever launching on a European rocket? Because the European Space Agency is conducting the launch for NASA in return for a share of observation time using the infrared telescope. Webb will observe wavelengths of light longer than those of the Hubble Space telescope, and this should allow the new instrument to see the earliest galaxies of the Universe.

To the frustration of scientists and policymakers, myriad technical problems have delayed Webb’s development over the last decade, leading to enormous cost overruns. Some of this is understandable, as unfurling the 20-meter-long telescope in deep space requires 50 major deployments and 178 major release mechanisms. All of these systems must work or the instrument will fail. There is no easy means of servicing the telescope at its location near a Sun-Earth LaGrange point 1.5 million km from Earth, or four times the distance to the Moon.

This summer, as NASA has worked to address the final issues with Webb, the European Space Agency and Arianespace have had problems of their own with the Ariane 5 rocket. A venerable rocket in service for more than 25 years, the Ariane 5 was grounded from August 2020 to July 2021 due to a payload fairing issue. However, officials with Arianespace say the fairing issue has been diagnosed and addressed with a redesign, and the rocket launched successfully on July 30, 2021.

Webb’s sunshield, a five-layer, diamond-shaped structure the size of a tennis court, was specially engineered to fold up and fit within the confines of Ariane 5.
Enlarge / Webb’s sunshield, a five-layer, diamond-shaped structure the size of a tennis court, was specially engineered to fold up and fit within the confines of Ariane 5.

European Space Agency

The Ariane 5 rocket has one more mission to launch two commercial satellites, scheduled for October 15, before the Webb launch. If the Ariane rocket’s next flight proceeds nominally, Arianespace will be ready for the Webb telescope.

“ESA is proud that Webb will launch from Europe’s Spaceport on an Ariane 5 rocket specially adapted for this mission,” said ESA Director of Space Transportation Daniel Neuenschwander in a news release. “We are on track, the spaceport is busy preparing for the arrival of this extraordinary payload, and the Ariane 5 elements for this launch are coming together. We are fully committed, with all Webb partners, to the success of this once-in-a-generation mission.”

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Windows Movie Maker Redux? Microsoft acquires web-based video editor Clipchamp

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Windows Movie Maker Redux? Microsoft acquires web-based video editor Clipchamp

Microsoft hasn’t updated its old Windows Movie Maker software since 2012, and it hasn’t even offered the old version for download since 2017, leaving Windows users to fend for themselves when it comes to beginner-friendly editing and sharing of video clips. That situation will hopefully change thanks to Microsoft’s acquisition of Clipchamp, a web-based video-editing tool. Clipchamp includes a variety of built-in templates for family-video editors, Twitch and YouTube streamers, and businesses putting together ads or other branded videos.

Microsoft hasn’t made specific announcements about where and how Clipchamp will be integrated into its products, but it hinted that the app “is a natural fit to extend the cloud-powered productivity experiences in Microsoft 365,” implying that the web version will be a part of Microsoft’s subscription service in the future. Clipchamp is “also a great fit for Microsoft Windows,” which currently only offers very basic video editing via the built-in Photos app. Microsoft’s current tools definitely aren’t up to the level of iMovie, which Apple offers for free to macOS, iOS, and iPadOS users.

Whatever comes of the Clipchamp acquisition, it won’t be included in the initial version of Windows 11 when it’s released on October 5. But Microsoft’s Panos Panay shared a brief teaser video of a revamped Windows 11 Photos app, which may at least improve upon the barebones version in Windows 10.



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To limit warming to 1.5°C, huge amounts of fossil fuels need to go unused

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Image of an oil well and its associated hardware.
Enlarge / To reach our climate goals, we’ll need to stop building these.

A massive amount of fossil fuels will need to stay in the ground if the world is to reach its goal of limiting temperature increase to 1.5ºC, a new study shows. A paper from faculty members at the University College London uses modeling to decipher what would need to happen for a 50 percent chance of reaching this climate goal, concluding that a lot of our fossil energy reserves will have to stay in the ground. The paper further explores the consequences for the countries, businesses, and people involved.

In 2015, 196 parties signed the Paris Climate Agreement, which is aimed at keeping global average temperatures under 2ºC, with 1.5ºC as the preferred target. Since then, documents like the International Panel on Climate Change’s report on reaching 1.5ºC have indicated that the world needs to start cutting fossil fuels now to reach this target.

The new paper reaffirms the notion that we need immediate, sharp declines in emissions. The study builds on a piece of research from 2015 that looked at the possibility of hitting the 2ºC goal. The earlier work used modeling to suggest that, globally, one-third of all oil reserves, half of gas reserves, and more than 80 percent of coal reserves need to remain unused to reach the goal. The new UCL paper’s recommendations are even stricter.

“We believe our new paper adds further weight to recent research indicating that global oil and fossil methane gas production needs to peak now,” Dan Welsby, a UCL researcher and co-author of the new report, said at a press conference.

A 50/50 chance

According to the new research, nearly 60 percent of existing oil and fossil methane gas and 90 percent of global coal reserves need to go unused through at least 2050—and this action would only yield a 50 percent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5ºC. These reductions mean that many fossil fuel projects around the world, both planned and existing, would need to be halted. Further, oil and gas production needs to decline by 3 percent every year until 2050. This also means that most regions in the world need to reach their peak production now or within the next decade.

The paper further notes that the production changes it presents are likely underestimated. Some of this is because the model accounts for negative emission technologies such as carbon capture and storage, even though there are doubts about how quickly these systems will be deployed. And, of course, to reach better-than-even odds of limiting the world’s warming to 1.5ºC, more carbon must go unused.

The necessary emission cuts have yet to materialize. For example, a 2019 UN report stated that the world’s governments expect to produce 120 percent more fossil fuels by 2030. “[T]he current and indicated fossil fuel trajectories globally are moving us in the wrong direction,” Welsby said.

Around the world

The research breaks the world down by region. Within these different areas, the necessary cuts to emissions and production vary. For example, by 2050, 83 percent of Canada’s existing fossil fuel reserves will need to remain untapped, in part because its production costs are high. “Additionally, we found that all undeveloped Arctic resources need to stay in the ground,” Welsby said.

These changes would be a hard pill to swallow for countries that produce or rely on oil and coal and the companies that extract and sell them, as limiting warming to 1.5ºC could involve moratoriums on production and carbon pricing. Steve Pye, an associate professor at UCL and another author of the paper, told a press conference that producers and investors need to recognize that future investments are not compatible with reaching the world’s emissions goals. However, the research notes that industry players should be supported as they transition.

There are also developing countries that are still highly dependent on these greenhouse-gas emitting revenues. The paper argues that developed countries should help developing countries support transitioning to greener industries. “This needs to be seen very much as a just transition that aids those most dependent and least able to shift away,” Pye said.

There is some hope, however. The price of renewables—particularly wind and solar—is decreasing, and electric vehicles are becoming more viable. James Pryce, a UCL research associate and co-author of the paper, said that achieving the goal of limiting warming to 1.5ºC is possible from a technical perspective. “It really is a case of having the political will to resist the temptation of extracting every last bit of fossil fuel,” he told the press conference.

Nature, 2021. DOI:10.1038/s41586-021-03821-8 (About DOIs)

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