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Ars Technica
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Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 26 min ago

Mississippi AG Jim Hood sues Google—again

1 hour 40 min ago

Enlarge / Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood (R) at a news conference in 2015. (credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood is sparring with Google once more.

Last year, Hood and Google wound down a court dispute over Hood's investigation into how Google handles certain kinds of online content, from illegal drug ads to pirated movies. E-mails from the 2014 Sony hack showed that Hood's investigation was spurred on, in part, by lobbyists from the Motion Picture Association of America.

Now Hood has a new bone to pick with the search giant. Yesterday, Hood filed a lawsuit (PDF) against Google in Lowndes County Chancery Court, saying that the company is gathering personal data on students who use Google's G Suite for Education, (previously called Google Apps for Education).

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Backblaze brings its dirt cheap cloud backups to the enterprise

2 hours 33 min ago

(credit: Photograph by Beer Coaster)

Cloud backup provider Backblaze has launched a new business-oriented backup service called Business Groups that gives its low-cost cloud backup service enterprise manageability and administration. Backblaze does betray its non-enterprise origins, however, by offering clear pricing without hiding behind "ask us for a quote" forms; $5 per month per PC, or $50 per year.

Backblaze's cloud backup service is something of a novelty. That $50 per year gets you unlimited cloud storage, and while other cloud backup providers have offered unlimited storage, many of them have scaled back those offerings because they don't make anything from them. Backblaze, by contrast, maintains that it actually makes money from its service, on account of the dirt-cheap storage it designs and uses, which costs just a fraction of what services like Amazon S3 and Azure Storage do.

The company added a programmatic cloud storage service, named B2, to its backup plan in 2015. B2 offers developers substantially lower costs, albeit without geographical replication or other features of the more-expensive cloud providers. The company positions this as ideal for cheap backups or replicas of data that is primarily stored in another cloud provider.

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Guilty SPARC: Oracle euthanizes Solaris 12, expunging it from roadmap

2 hours 53 min ago

Enlarge / The Sun is apparently setting on Solaris, based on Oracle's latest roadmap.

Rumors have been circulating since late last year that Oracle was planning to kill development of the Solaris operating system, with major layoffs coming to the operating system's development team. Others speculated that future versions of the Unix platform Oracle acquired with Sun Microsystems would be designed for the cloud and built for the Intel platform only and that the SPARC processor line would meet its demise. The good news, based on a recently released Oracle roadmap for the SPARC platform, is that both Solaris and SPARC appear to have a future.

The bad news is that the next major version of Solaris—Solaris 12— has apparently been canceled, as it has disappeared from the roadmap. Instead, it's been replaced with "Solaris"—and that version is apparently the only update planned for the operating system through 2021.

The new SPARC roadmap has some missing destinations.

With its on-premises software and hardware sales in decline, Oracle has been undergoing a major reorganization over the past two years as it attempts to pivot toward the cloud. Those changes led to a major speed bump in the development cycle for Java Enterprise Edition, a slowdown significant enough that it spurred something of a Java community revolt. Oracle later announced a new roadmap for Java EE that recalibrated expectations, focusing on cloud services features for the next version of the software platform.

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Verizon to redirect calls made from dangerous Galaxy Note 7 phones

3 hours 3 min ago

Enlarge (credit: University of Liverpool)

There are reportedly still thousands of Verizon Wireless customers using the Samsung Galaxy Note 7, which was discontinued shortly after its unveiling last year when at least 140 of the devices overheated or caught fire. Verizon is now stepping its efforts up a notch by redirecting non-emergency phone calls made by the potentially explosive Note 7 to Verizon customer service.

"In spite of our best efforts, there are still customers using the recalled phones who have not returned or exchanged their Note 7 to the point of purchase," a Verizon spokesperson told Fortune yesterday. "The recalled Note 7s pose a safety risk to our customers and those around them."

From now on, "all outgoing calls not directed toward the 911 emergency service will only connect to customer service," the report said. "Because Note 7 users have also already been reimbursed for the cost of the long-since recalled Note 7, Verizon is also saying it might bill the holdouts for the full retail cost of the phone."

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Reports: PS4 is selling twice as well as Xbox One, overall

3 hours 13 min ago

The wall on the left side of this picture should really be about half as big as the one on the right to reflect sales reality.

Microsoft stopped providing concrete sales data for its Xbox line years ago, making it hard to get a read on just how well the Xbox One is doing in the market compared to Sony's PlayStation 4. Recent numbers released by analysts this week, though, suggest that Sony continues to dominate this generation of the console wars, with the PS4 now selling twice as many units worldwide as the Xbox One since both systems launched in late 2013.

The first set of numbers comes from a new SuperData report on the Nintendo Switch, which offhandedly mentions an installed base of 26 million Xbox One units and 55 million PS4 units. That report is backed up by Niko Partners analyst Daniel Ahmad, who recently tweeted a chart putting estimated Xbox One sales somewhere near the middle of the 25 million to 30 million range.

Ahmad's chart suggests that Microsoft may have sold slightly more than half of the 53.4 million PS4 units that Sony recently announced it had sold through January 1. Specific numbers aside, though, it's clear Microsoft has done little to close its console sales gap with Sony over the past year—and may have actually lost ground in that time.

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Google will reportedly launch Android One in the US

3 hours 30 min ago

A report from The Information (paywall) claims that Google is going to bring its cheap smartphone initiative, Android One, to the US. Android One was originally cooked up for developing markets like India, which saw Google lay out guidelines for OEMs to make cheap smartphones that were actually good. Android One took "good enough" hardware and paired it with stock Android and fast updates.

The line started out with $100 devices, with a second generation moving up to the $200 range. According to the report, in the US the devices will be a little more expensive, with releases in the $200 to $300 range. The Information wasn't sure which OEM might make the phone, but it floated LG as a possible partner. LG and Google are reportedly already collaborating on an upcoming smartwatch.

A big question will be who is in charge of the updates on this device, since Google has flip-flopped on Android One software updates in the past. Google handed things for the first generation, which resulted in fast updates—the $100 phones were the first to get Android 5.1. After a rough reception in India, Google watered down the program, and updates changed from "direct from Google" to "from Google's hardware partners." To further complicate matters, there is still one Android One phone that gets updates direct from Google, the General Mobile 4G. It was even in the Android N beta program.

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Yet another new hottest year on record: 2016

3 hours 42 min ago

As climate scientists predicted as early as late 2015, the final tally shows that last year has once again claimed the unfortunate distinction of being the warmest year on record, based on data going back to 1880. This follows on records set in 2014 and 2015—they're the combined products of long-term human-driven warming and natural variability that has pushed individual years up or down slightly.

The biggest source of year-to-year variability is the oscillation between El Niño and La Niña in the tropical Pacific Ocean. In El Niño years, warm surface water flows eastward to cover up cooler, deep water; La Niñas see rising deep water pushing west against that warmer water. Depending on which conditions predominate, the average global surface temperature sits above or below the long-term trend. It’s a bit like walking up or down a step on a moving escalator.

The record-strength El Niño that developed in the latter half of 2015 carried into 2016 before fading into a weak La Niña by the end of the year. The El Niño was enough to help lift 2016 to its record position. Current forecasts call for the ongoing La Niña to be a short one, with neutral conditions early next year, and possibly another El Niño on the other side.

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New ideas on gravity would vanquish dark matter

5 hours 36 min ago

Enlarge / The Bullet Cluster, which has been viewed as a demonstration of dark matter. (credit: APOD)

Throughout the Universe, there are lots of signs that there's more gravity out there than there is visible matter to produce it. Over the last few decades, physicists have slowly come to the conclusion that it is not the laws of gravity that need to be changed, but rather that a massive particle is responsible for the extra gravity.

Now, it should be pointed out that this is not a whim. The distribution of dark matter describes all manner of gravitational phenomena at all scales, including some really weird things, like the Bullet Cluster. So, understandably, particle physicists and cosmologists get a bit touchy when people say that we should just modify gravity instead.

Erik Verlinde, a Dutch theoretical physicist, doesn't seem to care. The alternative title to Verlinde's talk, presented at a conference I'm attending, could be "How to piss off a room full of physicists in under 20 minutes."

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High-tech toilets in Japan getting standardized icons

5 hours 46 min ago

It's long been a conundrum for visitors to Japan: how do you actually use the toilet? For more than 35 years, the "washlet"—also known in some parts as the "super toilet"—has baffled the unwary traveller with its incredibly confusing array of additional functions.

Each of these space-age super toilets comes with a panel of buttons festooned with inscrutable icons. Press the wrong one and you can easily end up with a sharp jet of cold water at an uncomfortable angle, or even an unexpected blow-dry for your junk. What makes the whole affair exponentially more confusing is the fact that, until now, the makers of these Swiss army-knife commodes couldn't agree on a way to standardise the images they put on the buttons.

Ahead of the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics in 2020, however, with a massive influx of tourists and their bowel movements expected in the country, the manufacturers have reached a consensus. At a press conference on Tuesday, representatives from the nine companies that make up Japan's Sanitary Equipment Industry Association unveiled eight new symbols to accompany the various key functions for each new loo. Models released from April this year will all be standardised, and the manufacturers hope it might even become an international standard.

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Ancient Egyptian “pot burials” are not what they seem

6 hours 10 min ago

Enlarge / A selection of child and infant pot burials from an ancient cemetery in Adaïma, Egypt. They are between 7,500-4,700 years old. Note that some of the pots are distinctly egg-shaped. (credit: Béatrix Midant-Reynes, Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale)

Around 3,500 BCE, the ancient Egyptians began to practice a ritual that has long perplexed archaeologists. They buried their dead in recycled ceramic food jars similar to Greek amphorae.

For decades, scholars believed that only the poor used these large storage containers, and they did so out of necessity. But in a recent article for the journal Antiquity, Ronika Power and Yann Tristant debunk that idea. They offer a new perspective on pot burial.

Burial in pots took many forms. Egyptians buried their dead in all types of ceramic vessels, and, sometimes, the body was simply placed underneath a pot in a grave. Though pot burials were popular, especially for children, people also used coffins and even stone-lined pits to inter their loved ones. The practice of pot burial probably came to Egypt from the Levant region, where pot burials date back to at least 2,000 years before the first known examples in Egypt.

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The $50,000 racing simulator: Cheaper than crashing the real thing

6 hours 22 min ago

Jonathan Gitlin

For a while now, racing games have been pretty good. Good enough to be of value as practice tools for those of us going to the track for real, and even as a tool to find fresh talent like the long-running Nissan Playstation GT Academy. But as plenty of readers have mentioned in the comments, if you want real accuracy, you need to ditch the console and move to the PC. You need something like iRacing. Even then, sitting at your desk with a wheel and pedals will only take you so far.

Enter CXC Simulations.

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Assange “stands by” US extradition “deal,” Swedes still want to quiz him

6 hours 33 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

Julian Assange's lawyer has insisted that the WikiLeaks founder, who is wanted for questioning in Sweden over an allegation of rape, is "standing by" his promise to—as he characterises it—"agree to US extradition" in light of president Obama's decision to free whistleblower Chelsea Manning.

However, no such US extradition ruling against Assange currently exists. For Assange to be extradited to the US, it would have to be signed off by authorities in Sweden and the UK, but no such request has been made.

Assange has been holed up in cramped conditions at the Ecuadorian embassy in London since June 2012. He skipped bail after a European Arrest Warrant was issued in late 2010 by Scotland Yard cops on behalf of Swedish officials who sought the extradition of the 45-year-old Australian.

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A more advanced guide to total Android customization

6 hours 40 min ago

When Android was brought to market, it was pitched as an open, customizable OS that was the antithesis of Apple's lock-down smartphone platform. While both OSes have moved closer together over the years, the high customizability of Android is still around. Last year's beginner's guide to Android customization slightly grazed the surface of what's possible with a truly adaptable OS. And now it's time for part two, diving into more advanced customization methods.


One of the earliest Android customizations was a user-replaceable keyboard. Most devices from third-party OEMs are going to come with some kind of non-Google keyboard—either an AOSP derivative branded by the OEM or a pack-in app that was sold to the highest bidder.

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The 2018 Mustang will have driver assist tech, 10-speed transmission option

18 hours 24 min ago


On Tuesday, Ford announced its 2018 Mustang, a refresh from the previous generation that debuted in 2015. Although Ford couldn’t share important details like fuel economy and price, the Mustang refresh seems like a thoughtful one. It has driver assist technology, a more aerodynamic design, and performance upgrades for both the 2.3L EcoBoost four-cylinder engine, as well as its 5.0L V8 engine on the GT.

Ars spoke to Corey Holter, Ford’s Marketing Manager for Car and Cross Vehicle Marketing, about the updates to the car. He emphasized that the EcoBoost has been successful in bringing new customers into Ford’s mix, especially millennials, people of color, and women.

Before we saw the car, a spokesperson for Ford told us that the redesign of the interior and exterior of the 2018 Mustang would attract new female buyers, which admittedly put us on our guard. As a tech publication, we're all too familiar with the old “pink washing” gambit used so often by phone companies—that market a product to women by slashing its specs and pandering to a perceived “female” aesthetic.

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Gabe Newell describes older Half-Life games as “things I regret“

19 hours 10 min ago

Gabe Newell and J.J. Abrams onstage at the DICE Summit in 2013. (credit: Kyle Orland)

Valve Software chief Gabe Newell logged into Reddit on Tuesday to answer questions in an "ask me anything" thread. As expected, waves of fans shouted "HALF-LIFE 3?!" as if that blurt were a question.

Unsurprisingly, Newell didn't offer hard answers about any closure to Valve's beloved FPS series. He and his coworkers have dodged such questions for years now—but he did offer a mix of pessimism and optimism regarding the Half-Life universe in general.

Early in the AMA, when he was asked what his favorite single-player Valve game was, Newell answered that it was Portal 2. A joke response from an apparent Half-Life fan prompted this Newell follow-up:

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Feds sue Qualcomm for anti-competitive patent licensing

20 hours 15 min ago

The US Federal Trade Commission has charged Qualcomm with violating the FTC Act. The feds say that Qualcomm's patent-licensing policies amount to unfair competition.

The FTC's redacted complaint (PDF), filed today, says that Qualcomm maintains a "no license, no chips" policy that forces cell phone to pay high royalties to Qualcomm.

Qualcomm is a major supplier of baseband processors, and it also licenses patents that it says are essential to widely adopted cellular standards. According to the FTC complaint, Qualcomm won't sell baseband processors unless a customer takes a license to Qualcomm's standard-essential patents, on Qualcomm's terms. And Qualcomm has refused to license its standard-essential patents to competitors, which the FTC says violates Qualcomm's commitment to license on a "fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory" or FRAND basis. Agreeing to FRAND licensing terms is required by the standard-setting organizations to which Qualcomm belongs.

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Windows is getting its own built-in book store in the Creators Update

20 hours 20 min ago

Enlarge (credit: MSPoweruser)

The Windows Store—which already includes apps, games, movies, and TV shows—is going to include books in the Creators Update. This is according to pictures obtained by MSPoweruser.

Based on images from an internal Windows 10 Mobile build, books will have their own dedicated section within the Store. The whole process will work much the same way as it does for any other purchase. Microsoft, it appears, is not building a dedicated reading application for these purchases. Instead, the Edge browser in the Creators Update has been updated to include support for EPUB books, affording some customization of their appearance in the browser's reading mode.

This update isn't Microsoft's first foray into the electronic book world. Long, long ago, MS had an app called Reader, which supported a proprietary HTML-based format. Reader was developed for Pocket PC and Windows Mobile, and, notably, it was in Reader that Microsoft first used ClearType sub-pixel anti-aliasing. A Reader app was also available for desktop Windows, though not Windows Phone. The company even had its own online catalog of e-books using its proprietary format, which linked to third-party sites that actually sold books.

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Republican-controlled government sees chance to weaken Endangered Species Act

21 hours 1 min ago

Enlarge / The North American Wolverine could potentially be added to the Endangered Species List due to habitat loss as a result of climate change. (credit: Daniel J. Cox)

Republicans and some Democratic Congress members seem poised to weaken the Endangered Species Act under the new Administration, the Washington Post reports. Republican lawmakers especially have complained that the law has been used to improperly stymie drilling, mining, and land development. Although President-elect Trump has not commented extensively on matters concerning the Endangered Species Act, many Republicans are hoping that their efforts to amend the Act will be successful after eight years of trying without luck.

The Post reports that Republicans are suggesting alterations to the Endangered Species Act that would limit lawsuits launched to maintain protections for certain species. Others want to introduce a rule to only allow a species on the endangered list after another species comes off it. Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT), who is the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, told the Post that he would “would love to invalidate” the Endangered Species Act if he can find the support from his colleagues to do so. Ars contacted Rep. Bishop's office for further comment but we have not received a response.

Although Congress unanimously approved the Act in 1973 to save the bald eagle population, the Act has grown more controversial, especially since it’s been used to protect wolf populations. Wolves are disliked by ranchers, who say the wolves attack livestock and cannot be hunted due to protections conferred by the Act. Despite wolves' bad reputation, many environmental advocates and researchers say that the presence of wolves is essential to maintaining wild habitats, creating a “trophic cascade” of hunting and feeding that keep elk in check and consequently help preserve the land those elk feed on.

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Under Tom Price’s ACA-killing plan, 18M lose insurance and premiums rise

January 17, 2017 - 11:52pm

Enlarge / Tom Price, R-Ga., speaks at a signing ceremony for the "Restoring Americans Healthcare Freedom Reconciliation Act of 2015" (HR 3762) at the US Capitol. (credit: Getty | Congressional Quarterly )

Republican legislation that guts the Affordable Care Act would cause 18 million people to lose their insurance and would increase premiums of individual plans by about 20 to 25 percent, all within a year of being enacted, a report released today by the Congressional Budget Office estimates.

The legislation would destabilize the individual health insurance market, the report cautions, so the effects will “worsen over time.” After roughly two years, the number of uninsured would jump by 27 million and premiums would increase by about 50 percent. If nothing else changes, in ten years, the uninsured would increase by 32 million and premiums would be about double.

The CBO made the projections based on the most current insurance data and legislation introduced in 2015 by Tom Price (R-Ga.), President-elect Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. The legislation, H.R.3762, is designed to dismantle the ACA through budgetary reconciliation. The legislation passed both the House and Senate at the time but was vetoed by President Obama. The GOP has already begun legislative proceedings to once again pass a budgetary reconciliation that would demolish Obama’s signature healthcare law.

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It’s shockingly easy to hijack a Samsung SmartCam camera

January 17, 2017 - 11:31pm


Smart cameras marketed under the Samsung brand name are vulnerable to attacks that allow hackers to gain full control, a status that allows the viewing of what are supposed to be private video feeds, researchers said.

The remote code-execution vulnerability has been confirmed in the Samsung SmartCam SNH-1011, but the researchers said they suspect other models in the same product line are also susceptible. The flaw allows attackers to inject commands into a Web interface built into the devices. The bug resides in PHP code responsible for updating a video monitoring system known as iWatch. It stems from the failure to properly filter malicious input included in the name of uploaded files. As a result, attackers who know the IP address of a vulnerable camera can exploit the vulnerability to inject commands that are executed with unfettered root privileges.

"The iWatch Install.php vulnerability can be exploited by crafting a special filename which is then stored within a tar command passed to a php system() call," the researchers wrote in a blog post published to the website. "Because the webserver runs as root, the filename is user supplied, and the input is used without sanitization, we are able to inject our own commands within the achieve root remote command execution."

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