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With Ataribox, the legend returns — powered by Linux




Have you played Atari today? Once a jingle’s catchphrase as well as a legitimate query, a resurrected version of the brand is hoping you’ll soon be asking that question again with the forthcoming Ataribox.

Available to pre-order on Thursday for a special price via an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign, the Ataribox is shaping up to be an amalgam of retro gaming console and living room PC. Details are mostly sketchy at this point, but we do know that it will be powered by some variant of Linux OS and will include over 100 Atari classic games pre-installed.

Unfortunately for retro gaming fans, the full list of games isn’t known yet, nor do we know other key information like the Ataribox’s shipping date or its pricing (though VentureBeat reports it will sell somewhere between $250 and $300). Atari Interactive has been leaking dribs and drabs through social media, such as the inclusion of titles like Asteroids, Missile Command, and Breakout.

The company has updated the design for its console while retaining touches from the vintage 2600 — in addition to an option with black trim and red glowing Atari logo, you can get the Ataribox with the faux wood trim of the original. The joystick also resembles the 2600’s, but with a revamped look that’s more 2017 than 1980.

But by choosing to build the Ataribox as a Linux-running mini PC, Atari is giving itself the opportunity to stay current with new games, unlike many of the plug-and-play retro consoles. Though we don’t know the precise configuration, we’ve been promised a system with an AMD processor customized for the console and the ability to play mid-range games.

Will the Ataribox be a hit like Nintendo’s SNES Classic mini was? Or will it fizzle out like many other living room PCs that came before it, despite the retro trappings? The price will clearly be an issue — even if it’s technically a PC, it could winding up costing as much as some versions of the Xbox One or PlayStation 4, not to mention that many potential buyers would only want it to play the old Atari games. We’ll get a better idea starting on December 14, as the Indiegogo campaign kicks off and Atari will see how just many people will rush to open their wallets to grab an Ataribox.


Why Nintendo killed the Classic that consumers loved

Popular yet nearly unattainable since its launch, the NES Classic was too successful in sating the hunger of those nostalgic for a vintage Nintendo experience. Its sequel will better ensure Nintendo gets a piece of higher hardware prices and more software opportunities.

As SNES Classic mini sells out, rivals step in

Nintendo may have learned lessons from the NES Classic mini, but it still can’t fulfill demand for its latest throwback. That’s provided opportunities for other serving the classic videogames market.

A retro computer brings touch typing to a smartphone

A scion of UK’s Psion, the Gemini folds a modern smartphone’s internals and display onto the best keyboard ever designed for a pocket device. But it won’t replace a smartphone for many.

Can you name this vintage tech?

From early calculators to WWII cryptography machines, if you can name this old hardware, software and storage media, you really know your stuff.

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Deadly fungal outbreak in Wisconsin linked to neighborhood construction



Enlarge / This micrograph shows the presence of the fungal agent Blastomyces dermatitidis, 1978.

Toxic fungal spores wafting around a Wisconsin neighborhood—possibly spread by recent construction in the area—sparked an outbreak of rare infections that left one person dead, state health officials reported Friday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

In all, the outbreak cluster included five pet dogs and four people, with the onset of symptoms spanning from October 2021 to February 2022. While two of the cases in people were mild, the other two required hospitalization, including the fatal case. The five dogs were reported to have mild to moderate cases.

The outbreak was caused by the poorly understood fungus Blastomyces (B. dermatitidis and B. gilchristii), which lurks in moist soil and decomposing organic matter, such as wood and leaves, often near water. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the fungus could exist throughout the eastern US, but its distribution is uneven. It’s often found around the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys and the Great Lakes. Parts of Wisconsin and Minnesota are considered hotspots.

Blastomyces often makes it presence known when it’s disturbed or unearthed—often by literal digging—causing spores to get stirred up into the air. If the spores are inhaled by people or animals, they can cause an infection called blastomycosis, which is a non-contagious infection that can develop three weeks to three months after an exposure. About half of people infected will have no symptoms or ill effects, but the other half may develop signs of a respiratory infection, such as cough, fever, and shortness of breath. For many, the symptoms will clear up on their own, but for some—particularly the immunocompromised, people who smoke, and those with lung disease—the infection can continue spreading throughout the body and become life-threatening if not aggressively treated with antifungal medications. Treatment courses can range from six months to a year, depending on the severity.

In general, blastomycosis is rare in the US. In states where the infection is reportable, there are around one or two cases per 100,000 people per year. But, in some hotspots in Wisconsin, the incidence can be as high as 40 to 50 cases per 100,000 per year. Oddly, though, the area where the newly reported outbreak occurred is not considered one of those hot spots.

The outbreak occurred in the northwestern county of St. Croix, in the unincorporated community of Boardman, in a small area next to Willow River, which flows into the St. Croix River. The whole area is near the Minnesota border, across from Minneapolis.

Fungal find

Usually, St. Croix reports one to five cases of blastomycosis a year. But, this particular area of the county hadn’t seen a human blastomycosis case in at least 10 years, though there was an unofficial report of a dog dying of the infection in 2021.

In February 2022, an “astute” veterinarian alerted health officials after noticing four dogs were diagnosed with blastomycosis in recent weeks, all living within a one-mile radius area near Willow River in Boardman, according to the report in the MWWR. Once alerted, local health officials looked at surveillance data and identified two human cases in the same small area. The officials responded by sending letters to residents of a potential cluster of cases. Two other people were diagnosed with the infection after the notification.

It’s unclear what exactly caused the flare-up of Blastomyces in this one residential area, but an environmental assessment pointed to unpaved walking paths along the river—as well as recent development in the area. “Construction in this neighborhood during the past decade might have dispersed Blastomyces spores,” the authors noted.

For those living in the affected area, there’s little they can do but be mindful of the ever-present fungal risk around their properties. There are no commercially available tests to detect Blastomyces in the environment. And if even there were, environmental testing is basically useless. As the CDC notes: “When a soil sample tests positive for Blastomyces, it isn’t necessarily a source of infection, and when a sample tests negative, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the fungus isn’t in the soil.”

In St. Croix, officials advise residents to, essentially, tread lightly: “You can reduce your risk of exposure by limiting activities that may disrupt the soil and vegetative matter” in the outbreak area, the country notes. “Higher risk” activities include “gardening, camping, hunting, hiking, riding all-terrain vehicles, clearing brush, or excavation and construction projects.” For pets, the county advised “avoiding activities such as sniffing or digging in the soil at the water’s edge, landscaped area, or wooded terrain.”

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A remotely operated lab is taking shape 2.5 km under the sea



Enlarge / Deployment of LSPM junction box 1.


In 1962, one of the world’s first underwater research laboratories and human habitats was established off the coast of Marseilles, France, at a depth of 10 meters. The Conshelf 1 project consisted of a steel structure that hosted two men for a week.

Now, more than 60 years later, another underwater laboratory is being set up not far from Marseilles, this time to study both the sea and sky. Unlike the Conshelf habitat, the Laboratoire Sous-marin Provence Méditerranée (LSPM) won’t be manned by humans. Located 40 km off the coast of Toulon at a depth of 2,450 meters, it is Europe’s first remotely operated underwater laboratory.

Physics under the sea

Currently, three junction boxes capable of powering several instruments and retrieving data are at the heart of LSPM. The boxes, each measuring 6 meters long and 2 meters high, are connected to a power system on land via a 42-kilometer-long electro-optical cable. The optical portion of this cable is used to collect data from the junction boxes.

Two of the junction boxes are dedicated to the ORCA section of the Kilometer Cube Neutrino Telescope (KM3NeT). ORCA comprises a three-dimensional array of 2,070 spheres, each containing 31 detectors called photomultiplier tubes. These spheres will be arranged on 115 lines anchored to the ocean floor and held taut by submerged floats. Currently, 15 lines have been installed.

Optical detection module of the KM3NeT neutrino detector.

Optical detection module of the KM3NeT neutrino detector.

Patrick Dumas/CNRS

ORCA’s twin site, ARCA, is located off the coast of Sicily at a depth of 3,400 meters. Collectively, the ORCA and ARCA sites occupy more than one cubic kilometer of water.

“These gigantic arrays of detectors can detect neutrinos emanating from the Southern Hemisphere sky. On the rare occasions [the neutrinos] interact with water molecules, they produce a bluish flash of light in the darkness of the ocean abyss,” Paschal Coyle, director of research at the Centre de Physique des Particules de Marseille and director of LSPM told Ars Technica. “Detecting this light allows us to measure the directions and energies of the neutrinos.”

Sensing sound

The third junction box is dedicated to marine science studies, including the so-called Albatross line, which consists of two 1-km-long inductive cables anchored to the ocean floor. These cables carry sensors to measure water temperature and sea currents, as well as oxygen and pH levels.

The Geoazur Laboratory, an earth science institute based near Cannes, has developed a broadband seismograph that has been placed in the sediment on the ocean floor, allowing real-time acquisition of seismological data. Besides the seismograph, the Geoazur researchers have transformed one of the optical fibers of the 42-km-long main electro-optical cable into a giant array of seismo-acoustic sensors.

Artist's view of the LSPM underwater platform, installed at a depth of 2,450 meters.

Artist’s view of the LSPM underwater platform, installed at a depth of 2,450 meters.

Camille Combes, Agence Ouvreboite

These aren’t conventional sensors but rather defects in the glass that arise during the manufacturing of the optical fiber. “These defects exist in the lattice of all optical fibers. This is due to the processes of heating and pulling of the glass. As a result of these defects, some part of the light gets sent back toward the transmitter,” Anthony Sladen of Geoazur laboratory said. He added that a seismic or acoustic wave either stretches or shrinks the optical fiber, thereby altering the path of the light inside it. “By measuring this change, we can measure both seismic and acoustic waves,” Sladen said.

Sladen and his team have turned the defects in the glass lattice into 6,000 virtual sensors that can provide data on earthquakes and underwater noise generated by ships and waves in real time.

Another instrumentation consists of an array of hydrophones that can detect and record the sounds of whales and dolphins at different frequencies. The data will help scientists understand how often these cetaceans frequent the site, as well as their vocal behavior.

More to come

While the above instruments are operational, the laboratory’s other devices, which have already been installed on the ocean floor, are expected to be up and running by this summer.

Prominent among them is a robot called BathyBot, developed by the Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography, which can move on the ocean floor thanks to caterpillar tracks. BathyBot is equipped with sensors to measure temperature, oxygen, carbon dioxide concentrations, current speed, and direction, as well as salinity and particle concentration.

BathyBot on BathyReef during tank tests.

BathyBot on BathyReef during tank tests.

Dorian Guillemain, OSU Pythéas

Controlled from the shore and guided by an integrated camera, the robot will also be able to climb a 2-meter-high artificial reef and measure the properties of the water away from the ocean floor sediment.

Other instruments expected to start operating around the same timeframe include a gamma-ray spectrometer for monitoring radioactivity levels and a single-photon stereo camera to measure bioluminescence of deep-sea organisms.

According to Coyle, since the deep sea is poorly understood, “installations such as LSPM can enhance our understanding of many different phenomena.”

“A key thing to study is the long-term effect of global warming. The LSPM observations already indicate a rise in sea temperature and decrease of oxygen levels even at these depths,” he said.

Dhananjay Khadilkar is a journalist based in Paris.

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Rocket Report: ULA Centaur stage has an ‘anomaly,’ Virgin Orbit funding is dire



Enlarge / This otherworldly photo was taken of the debut launch of the Terran 1 rocket on March 23, 2023.

Relativity Space/John Kraus

Welcome to Edition 5.31 of the Rocket Report! We’re about to tip over into April, and all signs continue to point to the likelihood of a Starship orbital launch attempt this month. I’ve heard all sorts of dates, but most recently, SpaceX appears to be working internally toward April 10. That lines up with about when a launch license is expected from the Federal Aviation Administration.

It probably won’t happen that soon, but we are pretty darn close, y’all.

As always, we welcome reader submissions, and if you don’t want to miss an issue, please subscribe using the box below (the form will not appear on AMP-enabled versions of the site). Each report will include information on small-, medium-, and heavy-lift rockets and a quick look ahead at the next three launches on the calendar.

Isar Aerospace scores a big funding round. Before this week, the Munich-based company had raised about $165 million, a reasonable amount of cash for a launch startup building a small rocket. On Tuesday, Isar announced that it had doubled this total with a new $165 million Series C round, Ars reports. “The strong interest and commitment from our international investors signals their confidence in our vision and technological capabilities,” said Isar’s chief executive, Daniel Metzler.

Serious funding for a startup … Isar says that its Spectrum rocket—which is capable of lifting about 1 metric ton to low-Earth orbit—is planned for a debut launch from Andøya, Norway, during the second half of 2023. That timeline is probably aspirational, but given the capital raise announced this week, Isar appears to have the funding needed to get its Spectrum vehicle into orbit. This funding, in my view, puts Isar clearly out in front of a dozen or so other small launch companies in Europe working to reach orbit. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)

Virgin Orbit faces a dire situation. A potential deal to raise $200 million from an investor based in Texas, Matthew Brown, fell through last weekend, CNBC reports. This forced the company to extend an unpaid furlough for the majority of its employees this week as Virgin Orbit continues to seek other funding sources to stave off bankruptcy. On Thursday afternoon, during an all-hands meeting, the company told employees it was laying off 85 percent of its staff.

Savings for me, but not for thee … Also this week, the company’s board of directors approved a “golden parachute” severance plan for top executives, including chief executive Dan Hart, in case they are terminated following a change in control of the company. None of this looks good, and the golden parachute clause smells bad. At this point, perhaps the only potential lifeline is if Great Britain decides it needs a sovereign launch capability and executes a similar financial maneuver as it did with OneWeb a few years ago. Even this seems unlikely. (submitted by Ken the Bin)

The easiest way to keep up with Eric Berger’s space reporting is to sign up for his newsletter, we’ll collect his stories in your inbox.

Blue Origin details launch failure. A little more than six months after the failure of its New Shepard rocket, Blue Origin has published a summary of the findings made by its accident investigation team. Essentially, Ars reports, the rocket’s main engine nozzle sustained temperatures that were higher than anticipated, leading to an explosion of the rocket. Blue Origin led the investigation with assistance from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board.

Back to flight “soon” … The mishap team noted “hot streaks” on the nozzle and determined that it was operating at higher temperatures than it was designed for. Although the summary does not explicitly say so, it appears that at some point in the flight campaign of this booster, design changes were made that allowed for these hotter temperatures to be present. The company says it intends to return to flight “soon” with an uncrewed flight to give the three dozen payloads that were flying on the NS-23 mission another shot at weightlessness. Previously, Blue Origin said that it plans to resume human flights on the suborbital space tourism spacecraft later in 2023. (submitted by buddy and Ken the Bin)

Rocket Lab recovers another booster. After launching two BlackSky satellites last Friday, an Electron first stage was recovered from the Pacific Ocean as Rocket Lab continues to study reuse options, Spaceflight Now reports. After attempting two mid-air recoveries, the company is considering ditching the use of a helicopter and simply refurbishing boosters that land in the ocean. Michael Daly, a Rocket Lab special projects engineer working on Electron reusability, said his team on the recovery boat will clean sensitive parts of the rocket to prevent corrosion.

Helicopters are hard … Engineers and technicians on the recovery team will perform “operations like de-salting the engines, trying to remove all that bad salt water, and basically just trying to make the rocket survive that experience with the water. Once the booster is back at Rocket Lab’s Auckland factory, the company will disassemble and inspect the nine main engines and remove avionics for examination and re-testing. Rocket Lab has already hot-fired a Rutherford engine recovered from an Electron flight. (submitted by Ken the Bin and EllPeaTea)

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