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The 20 most-read stories of 2021 on Ars Technica

The 20 most-read stories of 2021 on Ars Technica

Aurich Lawson | Getty Images

2021 dawned in optimism, with the arrival of a pair of highly effective mRNA vaccines for COVID-19 alongside an incoming presidential administration that promised to take the pandemic seriously. We all know how the year went—in short, 2021 was the kind of year that had some people not only looking out for the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse but actually wondering what was taking them so long to get here.

As we look back on the top stories of 2021, let’s just hope that 2022 isn’t about to say “hold my beer.”

Error Correcting Checksum RAM works by adding a bit of extra memory for detecting and correcting errors. It also can act as an extra layer of protection against bit-flipping attacks like Rowhammer. It’s all good stuff, but you won’t find ECC outside of server-grade systems, and that really irks Linus Torvalds.

“The arguments against ECC were always complete and utter garbage,” Torvalds said in a rant at the beginning of the year. “Now even the memory manufacturers are starting to do ECC internally because they finally owned up to the fact that they absolutely have to.”

It’s all Intel’s fault, according to Torvalds. “How many times has a row-hammer-like bit-flip happened just by pure bad luck on real non-attack loads? We will never know,” Torvalds said. “Because Intel was pushing shit to consumers.”

ECC is more expensive, which makes it a tough sell for commodity hardware, but motherboard and CPU support is lacking in no small part due to Intel’s market segmentation strategies. And Torvalds doesn’t like it one bit.

If there’s one thing we know for certain about the mRNA COVID-19 vaccines, it’s that they are both safe and effective. Despite this, people who have been inoculated against many other diseases are turning up their noses at the COVID-19 vaccines. Some of them “do their own research,” others insist no one can force them to get jabbed, and still others claim they are avoiding the vaccine over deeply held personal religious convictions.

One hospital in Arkansas had a unique response to staffers seeking religious exemptions to the hospital’s vaccine mandate due to the use of fetal cell lines in vaccine development. Employees who wanted to forego the COVID shots because of their religious convictions also needed to promise not to use any other medication that was developed using fetal cell lines. That list includes Tylenol, Ibuprofen, Preparation H, Tums, and a host of other over-the-counter medications.

Exemption-seeking employees must affirm that they “truthfully acknowledge and affirm that my sincerely held religious belief is consistent and true” and will not use any medications on the hospital’s list.

One good thing about 2021—and I think there was more than one—was the number of battery electric vehicles hitting the market. As you’ll see in our upcoming Best Cars of 2021 story, a number of them were very good. The standout in terms of reader interest, however, comes from the same company that also brought us Dieselgate.

The Volkswagen ID.4 is the first BEV built on VW’s modular EV platform to cross the Atlantic. Automotive Editor Jonathan Gitlin spent a weekend with one earlier this year and found much to admire—and a few things in need of improvement. Driver-assist tech is very good, it offers 250 miles of range, and it’s reasonably priced at $40,000 to $45,000 before tax credits. As Jonathan put it, VW is trying to “tempt the electrocurious out of a Tiguan without scaring them” with the ID.4.

I took the ID.4 for a spin at a rally this summer, and I can attest that it’s a solid entry from VW. If I were in the market for a new BEV, I’d probably go with the Mustang Mach-E over the ID.4 at this point in time, but it’s great to have some real choices in the BEV space. And next year should be even better.

What do you get when you combine the No. 1 state in energy production with a days-long cold snap? Unfortunately for Texas residents last February, the answer to that is blackouts. A series of winter storms led to a number of power plants going offline, leaving over 4.5 million homes and businesses without power. That, in turn, resulted in water supplies shutting down and burst pipes throughout the Lone Star State.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott initially pinned the blame on wind turbines, but wind turbines were actually producing significantly more power than was forecast when the grid shut down. The real culprit is a lack of planning and oversight by state regulators combined with a decision made decades ago to reduce interconnections with the electrical grids of surrounding states.

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