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Entropy (aka the second law of thermodynamics) is a harsh mistress. If you think of the universe as a cosmic casino, the laws of thermodynamics amount to the house edge: you can't win, you can't break even, and—barring opening a portal to an alternate universe with different physical laws—you can't get out of the game. You just have to keep playing, and hopefully come up with successful strategies to minimize your losses as much as possible—and maybe even come out ahead occasionally, at least in the short term.
That's the essence of a new paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, updating a classic 19th century thought experiment known as Maxwell's demon, which provides a potential loophole to subvert the second law—at least temporarily. Now physicists have proposed a gambling version of the demon playing a slot machine, unable to control when the machine pays out (in terms of free energy available for work), but able to choose when to stop playing to maximize its "winnings." The research might one day lead to improved efficiency of microscopic heat engines and motors.
As we've reported previously, around 1870, James Clerk Maxwell envisioned a tiny imp capable of creating order out of disorder in a closed container filled with gas. The imp accomplished this by making heat flow from a cold compartment to a hot one in apparent violation of the second law. The two compartments would be separated by a wall with a shutter covering a pinhole just large enough for a gas molecule to pass through.
Thanks to the pandemic, Americans drove 13 percent fewer miles in 2020 than they did the year before. But the move to telework and lockdowns has not made our roads any safer. In fact, they got a lot more dangerous last year, according to preliminary data collected by the National Safety Council. It estimates that 40,060 people were killed in crashes an 8 percent increase from 2019. The rise looks even more shocking when normalized—it rose from 1.2 to 1.49 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles travelled, a 24 percent increase.
The National Safety Council also estimates that just under 4.8 million people were injured seriously enough in road crashes to seek medical help for non-fatal injuries. The cost of all this carnage? $474.4 billion in deaths, injuries, and property damage.
Some states fared better than others. Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, and Wyoming all saw a drop in road deaths, although for some this was less than 5 percent.
The weird, woeful, and nearly redemptive development of Valve's digital card game Artifact has ended. Effective today, Valve has launched the 2018 game's total-overhaul "2.0" version as a completely free—and "unfinished"—card-battling game dubbed Artifact Foundry, and while it's playable, it's effectively dead on arrival.
That means the game (formerly known as Artifact 2.0) no longer requires signing up for a closed beta—and is immediately available for anyone to download and play with zero microtransactions or restrictions on ownership. The apparent catch is that this near-total overhaul of the original game's ruleset and card abilities will not receive a single substantial update going forward. While Valve admits that Artifact Foundry could still use more "polish and art," its devs insist that "the core gameplay is all there."
Additionally, the game's original version has been left as a playable option, in case you preferred its specific spin on Magic: The Gathering-like card combat. The biggest change is that it's been updated to remove all microtransactions, while anyone who paid for the original game or its cards has been given a curious perk: a series of "Collector's Edition" cards, which can now only be traded and sold for real-world money within the Steam Marketplace ecosystem. Within the game itself, "marketplace integration" has been removed, since the original concept of buying blind card decks has been nuked from orbit. Every card in Artifact 1.0 is now free and instantly doled out to players.
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Bloomberg reports that Cruise, a self-driving company jointly owned by GM and Honda, is in talks to acquire the startup Voyage. Founded four years ago, Voyage is working to launch a self-driving taxi service at the Villages, a massive retirement community in Florida.
Bloomberg says that "no deal is imminent," and I don't have any inside information. But such a deal would be consistent with an ongoing trend: it's becoming harder and harder for self-driving startups to remain independent.
Voyage was part of a wave of self-driving startups that were founded between 2013 and 2018. Cruise itself was one of the earliest of these companies; it was co-founded in 2013 by its current CEO Kyle Vogt. Others included nuTonomy in 2013, Zoox in 2014, Drive.ai, Optimus Ride, and TuSimple in 2015, Starsky Robotics, Nuro and Udelv in 2016, Voyage, Aurora, and May Mobility in 2017, and Ike and Kodiak Robotics in 2018.
Over the past few weeks, there have been several reports (including one of our own) on a feature found in recent beta releases of iOS 14.5 that appeared to allow users to change the default music app on their iPhones. However, Apple just clarified to TechCrunch that the feature is not as it first seemed.
In the initial reports, users claimed that they were prompted to select a preferred music app, such as Spotify or Apple Music, when they asked Siri to play a song. They then found that Siri seemed to honor that choice on future requests.
Further, they noticed that using the usual command of "Hey Siri, play [song name] on Spotify" would cause Siri to use Spotify again in the future when they spoke the same request sans the "on Spotify" part. (In the current public version of iOS, users must say "on Spotify" every single time to play songs in that app instead of Apple Music.)
The Arizona state House of Representatives this week passed a landmark bill that, if adopted, would require Google and Apple to allow Arizona-based app developers to choose their own alternate payment systems.
The House voted 31-29 in favor of the bill (PDF), which does not directly mention either major mobile platform but nonetheless squarely targets both, as the text specifically applies to any "digital application distribution platform" that has more than 1 million cumulative downloads in a calendar year from Arizona users.
The text prohibits those platforms from locking either Arizona-based developers or Arizona-based users into using proprietary first-party in-app payment systems. It also prohibits platforms from retaliating against Arizona consumers or developers for opting into using a payment system "that is not owned by, operated by, or affiliated with the provider."
Today's Dealmaster is headlined by a nifty $10 discount on Nintendo's Switch Pro Controller, as the gamepad is currently available for $59 at various retailers. Though we've seen the controller drop as low as $50 in the past, deals on the Switch Pro pad are generally rare, and this deal matches the lowest price we've tracked in the past year. Nintendo normally sells the device for $70.
We've previously recommended the Switch Pro Controller in our guide to the best Nintendo Switch accessories. It's only worth buying if you regularly dock your Switch up to a TV, but if that's the case, it will provide a significant comfort upgrade over Nintendo's default Joy-Con controllers. The shape is roomier and easier to grip, the buttons are larger and provide a more satisfying sense of feedback, there's a genuine d-pad, and the whole thing gets an excellent 35-40 hours of battery life per charge. It keeps the same motion control and Amiibo scanning features, too, and it can be used with Steam on the PC if needed. (Though its lack of pressure-sensitive analog triggers could present issues there.) If you've ever used an Xbox controller, it should feel immediately familiar.
If you're all set on the Switch front, we also have discounts on good USB-C chargers, Bose noise-canceling headphones, our 2020 game of the year Hades, and much more. You can check out our full deals roundup below.