The best Ars longreads of 2018


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It's hard to believe another year is almost in the books, but we're roughly two weeks out from 2019. As everybody and every publication looks back on 12 months of accomplishments, well, we've cheated a bit. Back in July, we already shared our favorite pieces of feature journalism (#longform or #longreads, of course) from January through June.

Ars' unique blend of technical know-how and thorough reporting didn't end mid-summer, of course. To start, the backhalf of any given year always brings with it a few of our signature, Siracusan-reviews (want to know everything about your favorite operating systems: Android, iOS, and/or macOS?). There were crimes involving cheese danishes, a guide to all these companies starting to build their own AI-focused silicon, and a professional cave diver explaining why that Thai cave rescue took so long.

On top of all of it, of course we had a few stories you simply can't find elsewhere, like an explainer about how turbulence continues to frustrate physics gurus in 2018 and a guide as to why you should wait on that 5G phone marketers really want you to buy in 2019. So with only two Orbital Transmission newsletters left for in the calendar (launch date for the last looks like December 27 or 28), we're sharing a few more of our favorite in-depth pieces of Ars journalism from the year. Feel free to print 'em out if you need a little plane or train reading, of course. 

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Orbital Transmission 12.19.2018
DefDist President Paloma Heindorff introduces herself to the press

A shuffle at DefDist one week, a deep dive on the director the week after

When it comes to feature journalism at Ars, one of the biggest challenges is executing it at the pace we do (typically a new story every other day) on top of the already thorough daily reporting and writing on site. But sometimes those two streams truly have a Ghostbusters stream-crossing moment: a news story that dominates the headlines while simultaneously demanding further investigation. When a warrant went out for the arrest of 3D printed firearms advocate Cody Wilson (related to accusations of sexual assault against a minor), suddenly a legal story emerged as one of the most notorious tech companies in recent years faced an unexpectedly murky future. Ars covered it all, including looking into Defense Distributed's newly announced (and seemingly unknown) director. (For those wondering about Wilson, his rescheduled initial court appearance for Dec. 21 seems likely be reset again for early 2019.)

Trio of former Romanian hackers

The great technical tall tales of ED011

Good writing can transport a reader to a time and place, and Andrada Fiscutean did just that when she took Ars readers to a modest computer lab on the campus of Romania’s University Politehnica of Bucharest. Inside the unassuming spot in the early days of computers within the post-Communist country, a new era of technologically-engaged young Romanians wanted to test the limits of the infant Web—building their own applications, researching infamous bits of malware, and sometimes even utilizing their own creations to (allegedly) break in anywhere from neighboring universities to the US military.

GRU hacking logo against an American flag

Russia's 2016 election pwnage in excruciating detail

Back in July, Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officials for their role in hacking the DNC and the presidential campaign of Hillary Clinton. What precisely did those hackers do? From spearphishing to bot-account influence campaigns to keystroke captures to Bitcoin-backed illicit purchases, the GRU (Russia's intelligence org.) combined every trick in the modern hacker playbook for an epic initiative. Ars' Sean Gallagher is one of the few journalists able to synthesize the big picture and provide the excruciating blow-by-blow account of all the tech and techniques utilized, making his "How They Did It" feature a standout piece of journalism for 2018.

A shot of the Falcon 1's third launch

SpaceX seems to rule new space, but a decade ago it almost failed

Ars Space Editor Eric Berger has had one heckuva news year—traveling everywhere from French Guiana to Japan in order to detail the global powers and corporations trying to lead the modern space industry. But the private company that arguably does (SpaceX) had a bit of a moment of its own in 2018—launching the Falcon Heavy shortly before its own 10 year anniversary. Berger didn't miss the moment, and his inside view of the chaos that almost doomed SpaceX at the start stands out among a stellar year for space scribes.

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