Maybe The Americans is quietly a technophile love letter to the 1980s

The Emmy-nominated showrunners of The Americans, Joel Fields (L) and Joe Weisberg (R), sat down with Ars at ATX Television Fest 2017. One of ’em is a regular reader who enjoys our iOS and macOS reviews (but will revert to a flip phone when the show isn’t in production). (video link)

Warning: This post contains mild spoilers from the first five seasons of The Americans.

AUSTIN, Texas—On its surface, FX’s The Americans is a sleeper-cell spy drama set in DC during the Cold War. But fans will quickly tell you the show’s more about relationships and the difficulties of family and marriage; the show’s creators echo this sentiment, too.

“If you really look at the show honestly, the picture it paints of marriage is that there’s a lot of ups, a lot of downs, and it’s not an easy road,” showrunner Joe Weisberg says to fellow showrunner Joel Fields. The duo met up with Ars during this summer’s ATX Television Festival, and this author’s recent wedding comes up pre-interview. “He’s right at the beginning; he just got married. I don’t know if I want to lay out for him what’s really ahead.”

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Google denies claims of a desktop Google.com revamp

Google’s homepage has been a stark white page for basically ever, with little more than a search box and a few buttons to get users to a search results page as fast as possible. Yesterday, a report from The Guardian claimed this would be changing, and Google would be adding a “news feed” to “Google.com.” The Google app on mobile devices has long had a news feed—originally introduced as “Google Now”—and the report claims a similar interface is coming to the desktop.

The crux of The Guardian‘s report says, “The feed of personalised information, which has been a mainstay of Google’s mobile apps for Android and iOS since 2012… will become part of the main desktop experience in the near future, the Guardian understands.” But there are a few aspects of the report that make me question its authenticity.

First, the report pulls quotes and images from Google’s July 19 blog post about news feed upgrades, but Google’s post was only speaking about the mobile site and apps, and The Guardian‘s report doesn’t make that clear. Second, the report contains an error in the title and lede: “Google to radically change homepage for first time since 1996,” the report reads. “Google’s famously simple homepage with its logo and single search box on a white background is set to undergo a radical change for the first time since its launch in 1996, with the addition of Google’s interest and news-based feed.”

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Microsoft’s most baffling release yet, Surface Laptop is just a laptop

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After several years of building systems that compete with, but aren’t quite, laptops, Microsoft has built a plain old laptop: the Surface Laptop.

I think there’s a good chance that the Surface Laptop will become Microsoft’s best-selling piece of PC hardware. This is such a straightforward proposition: it’s a regular PC laptop. It has no trickery; no tear-off keyboard, no special hinge, no detachable GPU, none of the other things that have made the Surface Pro, Surface Book, and Surface Studio notable or unusual. It can’t be said any plainer: Surface Laptop is just a PC laptop.

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Clover Trail systems won’t get Windows 10 Creators Update, ever

Systems using Intel’s Clover Trail Atom processors and running Windows 10 won’t ever receive the Creators Update, or any major Windows 10 updates in future. But in an exception to its normal Windows 10 support policy, Microsoft has said that it will provide security updates to those systems until January 2023.

We wrote earlier this week about the tricky situation of the Clover Trail systems. Those machines shipped with Windows 8 and 8.1 were due to receive software support until 2023. However, the systems were also eligible for the free upgrade to Windows 10. But to receive security fixes on Windows 10, you have to keep pace with the periodic regular major upgrades that Microsoft makes to that operating system. Each of these named releases is only supported for 18 months, after which you have to upgrade, or else you’re cut off from security fixes.

This is a problem for the Clover Trail machines, because those systems are prevented from installing and using the Windows 10 Creators Update, leaving them stuck on last year’s Anniversary Update. Support, including security fixes, for the Anniversary Update is due to end in early 2018. As such, it appeared that upgrading from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10 has taken Clover Trail systems from being supported until 2023, to supported until 2018, a five-year regression.

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Intel shuts down group working on wearables and fitness trackers

Intel was once moving full-steam ahead into wearables, but that effort has apparently come to an end. Reports at the end of last year claimed the company was looking to step back from wearables, but Intel denied those rumors. Now a report from CNBC cites a source that claims Intel completely shut down its wearables division about two weeks ago.

The report refers to the Basis group, which was made up of employees from the wearables company that Intel bought for about $100 million. The source also claims 80 percent of those in the Basis group were let go in November 2016, but many were given the option to assume other roles within Intel. The company’s New Technologies Group is reportedly focusing on AI now more than ever.

We don’t know what this will mean for Intel’s Curie chip in the long-term, but it’s still being promoted on Intel’s website. It’s possible that Intel isn’t putting any more effort into creating its own wearable devices, but will continue to provide technology like Curie to partners. Currently Intel lists Tag Heuer, New Balance, and Oakley as some of its partners on the Curie webpage.

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Blue Ella review: Planar magnetic tech sounds great, but costs too much

Specs at a glance: Blue Ella
Driver Type Planar magnetic
Impedance 50 ohms Passive, 10 ohms Active
Frequency response 20Hz-20kHz
Amplifier Output power: 250mW
THD+N: < 1% (94 dB SPL, from 20 Hz to 20 kHz)
Frequency response: 20Hz-20kHz
SNR: >101 dB
Noise: < 20 uV
Battery 1000mAh
Weight 481g (16.97 oz)
Size Outer dimensions (closed): 21cm x 14cm x 12cm
Outer dimensions (open): 18cm x 29cm x 12cm
Other perks Soft carry case
1.2-meter audio cable with Apple iPhone/iPad controls and microphone
3 metre audio cable
3.5mm to 1/4” adaptor
Price £675 / $700

Planar magnetic headphones, which use a thin film suspended between neodymium magnets to deliver sound quite unlike that of typical dynamic and balanced armature headphones, are traditionally the reserve of the well-heeled audiophile. The sound quality is, according to fans, clearer, sharper, and more detailed and only surpassed by electrostatic headphones, which use electricity instead of magnets to vibrate a thin film to push sound to the ears.

Both technologies are more complex to manufacture than traditional dynamic drivers, and both require more volume to function. The result is that planar magnetic headphones like those from US-based MrSpeakers cost well over £1,000/$1,000, while the headphone amps required to drive them cost hundreds if not thousands of pounds more on top.

Blue, famous for its line of podcast microphones, hopes to make planar magnetic technology less intimidating with its Ella headphones (buy here). At £675/$699, Ella is hardly cheap (and there are sets like the Oppo PM-3 that are cheaper at £350). But they combine the coveted headphone technology with an internal amplifier (250mW) that allows them to be used with everyday devices like smartphones and laptops, as well as with a high-end audio setup.

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Bug fixes abound in macOS Sierra 10.12.6, iOS 10.3.3, and watchOS 3.2.3 updates

Apple released a slew of software updates today for nearly all of its systems; you can now download macOS Sierra 10.12.6, iOS 10.3.3, watchOS 3.2.3, and tvOS 10.2.2 to any of your compatible devices. The updates appear to be minor, as most of them focus on bug fixes.

MacOS Sierra 10.12.6 is the sixth update to this version of Apple’s operating system, and it may very well be the last before the introduction of macOS High Sierra. As per Apple’s usual refresher schedule, macOS High Sierra should be pushed out to users this fall. According to Apple’s information page, macOS Sierra 10.12.6 improves the “security, stability, and compatibility” of Mac systems and tackles three main issues:

  • “Resolves an issue that prevents making certain SMB connections from the Finder.”
  • “Fixes an issue that causes Xsan clients to unexpectedly restart when moving a file within a relation point on a Quantum StorNext File System.”
  • “Improves the stability of Terminal app.”

That’s the extent of the details provided for any of these updates. Neither iOS 10.3.3 nor watchOS 3.2.3 lists any new features, but they do mention general “improvements” and “bug fixes.” Similarly to macOS, the operating systems for iPhones, iPads, and Apple Watches will be totally revamped when iOS 11 and watchOS 4 launch. Both of those updates are expected to come out alongside macOS High Sierra in the fall.

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“Autumn Creators Update” was “mistranslation“; “Fall Creators Update” for all

We wrote on Monday that Microsoft was branding the Windows 10 Fall Creators Update as the “Autumn Creators Update” in countries such as the UK and India, where the season between summer and winter isn’t called “fall.” Microsoft was using this British English branding on its English-language sites where British English prevails over American English.

The company has informed us today that this was a “mistranslation”—yes, between English and English—and that the update will, in fact, be called the “Fall Creators Update” everywhere. The use of British English branding for British English speakers was a mistake.

Similarly, the update will retain this branding for those living in the southern hemisphere, where it isn’t fall or autumn, because it’s spring.

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