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Ars Technica
Syndicate content Ars Technica
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 27 min ago

The passing of Gene Cernan reminds us how far we haven’t come

9 hours 42 min ago


I was sitting with Apollo 7 veteran Walt Cunningham in his west Houston living room on Monday afternoon when his wife, Dot, stepped tentatively in. "I'm sorry for interrupting," she said. "But Gene's dead."

She meant Eugene Cernan, the US Navy Captain who commanded Apollo 17, and the last person to walk on the Moon. He was 82 and had been ill for about six months.

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Coinbase says fighting IRS subpoena could cost up to $1 million

11 hours 37 min ago

Enlarge / Brian Armstrong, as seen here in 2014, is the CEO of Coinbase. (credit: TechCrunch)

Coinbase’s CEO, Brian Armstrong, has estimated that it will cost the company between $100,000 and $1 million to defend its customers from what he described as an “overly broad subpoena.”

Last month, a federal judge in San Francisco ruled that Coinbase could be ordered, at the request of the Internal Revenue Service, to provide years of data that would reveal the identities of all its active United States-based users.

The IRS is concerned that some of Coinbase’s customers may have used its service to circumvent or mitigate tax liability. Federal investigators say they need Coinbase’s records to be able to identify some Bitcoin wallets and to check against tax records to make sure Coinbase’s users are paying any and all proper taxes on their Bitcoin-related income.

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Nintendo should unswitch the Switch to avoid a Kinect-astrophe

January 16, 2017 - 11:55pm

Enlarge / Ars' Kyle Orland tries out the Nintendo Switch in its portable mode. (credit: Jennifer Hahn)

After multiple hands-on events around the world on Friday, press and fans alike now have an idea of how the Nintendo Switch plays and feels. It has games (though not many new ones). It has a nice screen and a slim portable form factor. It has an interesting controller proposition.

Underlying all of those, however, is a problem. The Nintendo Switch has an identity crisis. Worse, Nintendo is actively pumping fuel and fire into this problem. The company's confusing—and apparently stubborn—system launch strategy revolves around a packed-in peripheral that adds cost, bulk, and use-case confusion, and it goes so far as to point out the system's technical limitations.

This is the kind of problem that should seem incredibly familiar to fans of the gaming industry. That's right: Nintendo is on the verge of its own Kinect-like moment.

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Microsoft tells corps to remember XP, migrate away from Windows 7 sooner than later

January 16, 2017 - 11:30pm

Windows 7's extended support ends on January 14, 2020. The operating system left mainstream support in 2014, meaning that for the last two years—and next three—it only receives security fixes. But Microsoft is telling corporate customers that even with those security updates, the 2009 operating system isn't really cut out for the world of today. According to Redmond, enterprises should plan to move to Windows 10 sooner, rather than later.

The reason, according to Markus Nitschke, head of Windows at Microsoft Germany, is that Windows 7 "does not meet the requirements of modern systems, nor the security requirements of IT departments."

There are two elements to this. Companies buying new hardware using Intel's Skylake or Kaby Lake processors have little choice but to use Windows 10. Installation and driver support for Windows 7 and 8.1 is limited to certain systems since changes in the Skylake platform, such as the integrated USB 3 controllers and processor-controlled power management, aren't supported in Windows 7. PC OEMs can still make the older operating system work, but it requires extra effort on their part. AMD's new Ryzen processors and Windows machines built using the Qualcomm 835 processor will similarly need Windows 10.

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Bay Area: Join us Wednesday 1/18 to talk about very intimate hardware design

January 16, 2017 - 10:40pm

Enlarge / At the Crave factory in San Francisco, Q/A tests the products' components. (credit: Jordan Kushins)

The first 2017 episode of Ars Technica Live is this week on Wednesday, January 18 at Longitude, Oakland’s very own tiki bar! Join Ars Technica editors Cyrus Farivar and Annalee Newitz as they sit down with industrial designer Ti Chang for a conversation about hardware design, crowdfunding, and how to build the perfect vibrator.

Chang is the co-founder and VP of design for Crave, a San Francisco-based company specializing in discreet and luxury sex toys. She leads the concept and design for the company’s full line of products, which has won numerous awards including Red Dot, IDEA, and Good Design.

Filmed before a live audience, each episode of Ars Technica Live is a speculative, informal conversation between Ars hosts and an invited guest. The audience, drawn from Ars Technica’s readers, is invited to join the conversation and ask questions. These aren’t soundbite setups; they are deep cuts from the frontiers of research and creativity.

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Who’s winning the cyber war? The squirrels, of course

January 16, 2017 - 10:25pm

Beware its furry cyber-wrath. (credit: Washington State)

WASHINGTON, DC—For years, the government and security experts have warned of the looming threat of "cyberwar" against critical infrastructure in the US and elsewhere. Predictions of cyber attacks wreaking havoc on power grids, financial systems, and other fundamental parts of nations' fabric have been foretold repeatedly over the past two decades, and each round has become more dire. The US Department of Energy declared in its Quadrennial Energy Review, just released this month, that the electrical grid in the US "faces imminent danger from a cyber attack."

So far, however, the damage done by cyber attacks, both real (Stuxnet's destruction of Iranian uranium enrichment centrifuges and a few brief power outages alleged to have been caused by Russian hackers using BlackEnergy malware) and imagined or exaggerated (the Iranian "attack" on a broken flood control dam in Rye, New York), cannot begin to measure up to an even more significant cyber-threat—squirrels.

That was the message delivered at the Shmoocon security conference on Friday by Cris "SpaceRogue" Thomas, former member of the L0pht Heavy Industries hacking collective and now a security researcher at Tenable. In his presentation—entitled, "35 Years of Cyberwar: The Squirrels Are Winning"—SpaceRogue revealed the scale of the squirrelly threat to worldwide critical infrastructure by presenting data gathered by CyberSquirrel 1, a project that gathers information on animal-induced infrastructure outages collected from sources on the Internet.

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Trump team reportedly wants to strip FCC of consumer protection powers

January 16, 2017 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / President-elect Donald Trump at Trump Tower in New York City. (credit: Getty Images | Drew Angerer)

President-elect Donald Trump's transition team is reportedly pushing a proposal to strip the Federal Communications Commission of its role in overseeing competition and consumer protection.

Multichannel News has what it calls an exclusive report that says the incoming Trump administration has "signed off on an approach to remaking the Federal Communications Commission." The plan, offered by transition team members appointed by Trump, "squares with the deregulatory philosophies of FCC Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O'Rielly," who will take a 2-1 majority after Trump's inauguration on Friday, the report said.

Besides restructuring FCC bureaus, the majority of the transition team wants to "eventually move functions deemed 'duplicative,' like, say, competition and consumer protection, to other agencies, particularly the Federal Trade Commission," Multichannel news reported. The story cites "sources familiar" with a recent meeting involving Trump officials and FCC transition team members. The Trump team has not made any on-the-record statements about specific plans for the FCC.

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Deaf people use their auditory cortex to process visual rhythms

January 16, 2017 - 9:50pm

The image shows a 180-area multimodal human cortical parcellation on the left and right hemisphere surfaces. Colors indicate the extent to which the areas are associated in the resting state with auditory (red), sensation (green), visual (blue). (The brain, continuing to amaze us.) (credit:

The brain can reorganize itself in the face of a traumatic injury or a sensory disability. For example, in deaf mammals, the auditory processing neurons of the brain may be rewired to handle other stimuli. But we haven’t been able to figure out if this reorganization is task-specific—will the circuits be recruited to do the same tasks?—or more general.

A recent study published in PNAS suggests that, in at least one case, these brain circuits are repurposed for a similar task. When deaf people were asked to interpret visual rhythms (represented by a flashing light), the same auditory processing regions used to listen to rhythms were activated.

This study used fMRI to look at the brain activation of both congenitally deaf subjects and those with normal hearing. While in the fMRI machine, all subjects were asked to discriminate between different rhythms of flashing lights. As a control, all subjects were also asked to look at a light that flashed with a regular, predictable pattern. Hearing subjects were then asked to discriminate between different auditory rhythms as well. As a control, these subjects were asked to listen to a similar noise occurring in a regular, consistent pattern.

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Oculus accused of destroying evidence, Zuckerberg to testify in VR theft trial

January 16, 2017 - 9:40pm

John Carmack, seen here wearing an early prototype Oculus Rift headset.

ZeniMax Media, the parent company of both Bethesda Softworks and Id Software, says it will prove at trial that John Carmack and others at Oculus stole trade secrets to "misappropriate" virtual reality technology that was first developed while Carmack was working at Id Software. What's more, ZeniMax is now accusing Oculus of "intentional destruction of evidence to cover up their wrongdoing." Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Oculus parent company Facebook, is scheduled to respond to those accusations in testimony starting tomorrow, according to a report by Business insider.

"With the start of the trial of our case in Federal District Court in Dallas against Defendants Facebook, Oculus and its management, ZeniMax and id Software welcome the opportunity to present substantial evidence of the Defendants' misappropriation of our Virtual Reality (VR) intellectual property," ZeniMax wrote in a statement given to Ars.

"That evidence includes the theft of trade secrets and highly confidential information, including computer code. ZeniMax will also present evidence of the Defendants' intentional destruction of evidence to cover up their wrongdoing. ZeniMax and id Software are the visionary developers of breakthrough VR technology and look forward to the vindication of our claims."

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US Department of Energy strengthens protections for its researchers

January 16, 2017 - 9:35pm

Enlarge / The policy was announced last week by nuclear physicist and DOE Secretary Ernest Moniz, who will be replaced by former Texas Governor Rick Perry if he is confirmed by the Senate. (credit: Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

When President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team sent a questionnaire to the Department of Energy asking, among other things, for the names of employees who had worked on anything that touched climate policy, it raised concerns about whether those employees would be targeted. (The transition team later said the questionnaire was “not authorized.") Thanks to a new Department of Energy policy announced last week, that sort of political interference should be (at least a little) harder to do going forward.

The new policy has its roots in a 2009 President Barack Obama memo directing agencies to craft “scientific integrity” policies that protect research staff from having their work censored or altered or prevent researchers being muzzled themselves. Twenty-four departments and agencies have followed through with such policies, but the Department of Energy’s version was a little vague and weak. The newly finalized policy is stronger, earning praise from the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The policy now clearly covers all staff at the Department of Energy's 17 national laboratories around the country, including employees of contractors and university researchers funded by DOE grants. They are free to share research findings with the public and other scientists and “are free to discuss their personal opinions on scientific and technical related policies, provided these views are not represented as those of the US Government or DOE.” There are explicit exceptions for classified information given the department’s nuclear work.

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“We aren’t born woke, something wakes us up“—maybe it’s Twitter, says activist

January 16, 2017 - 9:25pm

The Texas Tribune kicked off its weekend symposium by interviewing activist DeRay Mckesson. (credit: Texas Tribune)

AUSTIN, Texas—“We aren't born woke, something wakes us up."

By now, everyone's experienced a newsfeed full of #NoDAPL or long Twitter threads explaining some proposed legislation that threatens a certain cause. With years of social media experience behind us, it's easy for this stuff to feel like white noise. But the next time someone shrugs off any of these posts in the name of social justice as useless, tell them DeRay Mckesson begs to differ. All of it has the ability to help others get "woke," to newly realize there's a problem and a need to combat it. So during his keynote Q&A at the Texas Tribune's weekend symposium on race and policy, the Black Lives Matter activist encouraged everyone to fight toward “equity, justice, and fairness” in the way that works best for them... even if starts as small as a tweet.

For Mckesson, in fact, social media initially proved to be the way of getting involved. Back in August 2014 after the tragic police shooting of unarmed, black teenager Michael Brown, he wanted to go to Ferguson, Missouri, and merely participate in the peaceful response for a weekend. He had no grand plans of country-wide organizing at the time; then the protests spanned 300 days: “I drove nine hours for a weekend, but I guess it's been a long weekend,” Mckesson said of his work since.

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Globally, fossil fuels subsidies are sticking around

January 16, 2017 - 9:00pm

Enlarge (credit:

With the Paris climate agreement, participating nations have made a commitment to curb greenhouse gas emissions caused by burning of coal, oil, and gas. Removing subsidies for fossil fuels is thought to be one of the most-cost-effective methods of progressing towards that goal. Implementing taxes on these energy sources would go further, but for now, it would be progress if we could just stop making it artificially inexpensive to use fossil fuels.

Unfortunately, it is unclear if these recommendations are being followed, since government self-reporting has been incomplete and unreliable. Without a consistent way to measure these taxes and subsidies, it is difficult to determine whether any progress has been made towards fossil fuel price reform.

Get gas

In a new investigation, a team of researchers used monthly data on retail gasoline prices in countries across the world to determine the net tax or subsidy placed on a liter of gasoline by their governments. Since gasoline is sold directly to consumers in all countries, retail prices provide an indication of underlying costs. And the cost of gasoline is relatively constant; country-to-country differences in gasoline quality are minimal and the price of oil acts as what's effectively a single world reference price. So it's possible to use the data to understand the influence of policy changes on gasoline consumption.

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Biometrics leads to arrest of accused child molester on the lam 17 years

January 16, 2017 - 8:45pm

Enlarge / Nearly two-decade-old photos of a suspected child molester matched a 2007 passport photo via a biometrics analysis by the FBI, leading to Charles Hollin's arrest in Oregon. (credit: FBI / Aurich Lawson)

A fugitive suspected of molesting a 10-year-old Indiana girl 17 years ago has been arrested after the Federal Bureau of Investigation employed facial recognition technology, according to court documents. The bureau said the suspect's US passport photo in December was run though a Facial Analysis, Comparison, and Evaluation (FACE) test, and it matched photos taken before he disappeared nearly two decades ago.

Charles Hollin, 61, was arrested in Salem, Oregon last week at a Walmart where he works. He had both Minnesota and Oregon driver's licenses with his picture on them. The agency said it did not perform a biometrics analysis with those databases because they have not opened up their DMV roles for the bureau to search. The bureau noted in a court filing that the government maintains "top secret" databases containing biometric profiles.

"The Department of Motor Vehicles for Minnesota and Oregon were not searched due to the fact that it was prohibited by law. Additional searches were conducted in various federal secret and top secret databases. All of these searches were negative," Todd Prewitt, an FBI agent, wrote in court documents (PDF).

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Raspberry Pi upgrades Compute Module with 10 times the CPU performance

January 16, 2017 - 6:46pm

Enlarge / Raspberry Pi's upgraded Compute Module. (credit: Raspberry Pi Foundation)

The Raspberry Pi Compute Module is getting a big upgrade, with the same processor used in the recently released Raspberry Pi 3.

The Compute Module, which is intended for industrial applications, was first released in April 2014 with the same CPU as the first-generation Raspberry Pi. The upgrade announced today has 1GB of RAM and a Broadcom BCM2837 processor that can run at up to 1.2GHz. "This means it provides twice the RAM and roughly ten times the CPU performance of the original Compute Module," the Raspberry Pi Foundation announcement said.

This is the second major version of the Compute Module, but it's being called the "Compute Module 3" to match the last flagship Pi's version number.

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Head of Samsung faces arrest in presidential corruption scandal

January 16, 2017 - 6:31pm

(credit: Neilson Barnard / Getty Images)

Lee Jae-yong, the vice chairman of Samsung Group and acting head of the company, could soon be facing formal corruption charges. South Korean prosecutors are currently seeking the arrest of the Samsung heir, accusing him of bribery, embezzlement, and perjury. The warrant must first be approved by a court, which will convene Wednesday.

The accusation sucks Samsung into the ongoing corruption scandal that has rocked South Korea, where impeachment hearings for President Park Geun-hye have already started. Lee is accused of paying bribes to a nonprofit connected to the South Korean president in exchange for approval of a merger of two Samsung Group affiliates—Cheil Industries and Samsung C&T—in 2015. Once merged, the two companies became one of the largest investors in Samsung Electronics, solidifying the Lee family's control over the crown jewel of the Samsung empire. The prosecutor's office estimated that the total size of the alleged bribes was ₩43 billion ($36 million).

The possible arrest of Lee comes at a time when Samsung is still sorting through the Note 7 recall debacle, and it could interrupt Lee Jae-yong's massive ongoing reorganization of Samsung Group.

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Nintendo says Switch won’t replace the 3DS

January 16, 2017 - 6:21pm

Enlarge / A Switch Joy-Con sits alongside a 3DS XL, just as Nintendo says the Switch will sit alongside the 3DS in the marketplace. (credit: Kotaku)

With the Nintendo Switch acting as both a fully portable system and a TV-based console, you might think that the hardware is intended to serve as a replacement for both the Wii U and the 3DS. But while the Wii U has already been discontinued, Nintendo insists that the 3DS will continue to be supported well into the Switch's lifespan.

"In our view, the Nintendo 3DS and the Nintendo Switch are going to live side-by-side," Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime told Wired in a recent interview. "They’re going to coexist just fine. We’ve done this before, managing two different systems."

While it's definitely true that Nintendo has managed two (or more) systems at the same time in the past, the company does not usually maintain two portable systems concurrently for very long. Back in 2004, for instance, Nintendo revealed the Nintendo DS as a "third pillar" in its hardware line up, alongside the existing Game Boy Advance and GameCube platforms.

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The best of the rest from the 2017 North American International Auto Show

January 16, 2017 - 6:00pm

Jonathan Gitlin

DETROIT—The North American International Auto Show in Detroit has a bit of a problem. You see, CES takes place in the days directly before it, and in recent years automakers have started making big announcements in Las Vegas. This also affects the annual Los Angeles Auto Show (which takes place in November), but the effect is more pronounced at Detroit. The result—in my view at least—is three underwhelming events in a row. That's not to say there weren't big announcements in Detroit. It doesn't get much bigger than Toyota's eighth-generation Camry or BMW's seventh-generation 5 Series, for example.

We've covered the headliners already, so the gallery here represents all the little wonders we stumbled across in Cobo Hall. There was a face-lifted Ford F-150, the cabin of which was more Range Rover-like than ever. The venerable F-150 is Ford's top seller, and the refreshed 2018 model gets a full complement of advanced driver assists.

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Vivaldi is building “Opera as it should’ve been”

January 16, 2017 - 4:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Vivaldi)

Working in tight niches occupied by the behemoths of the Internet world is hard; doing it as a startup without external funding is even harder. The 35-strong team of Vivaldi, the spiritual successor to Opera, is doing exactly that: two years after the first public beta and eight months after the release of version 1.0, the Web browser has about 1 million users—but it still isn't turning a profit.

Vivaldi, which was envisioned by the Opera Software co-founder and former CEO Jon Stephenson von Tetzchner, is catering first of all to power users and the tech-savvy lot. The team, however, has high expectations for their product and hopes it will have a broader appeal over time in order to start actually making money.

More is more

In case you haven't heard about Vivaldi before, it's a Chromium-based “non-conformist” desktop Web browser that goes in the opposite direction to the mainstream. While the major players like Chrome or Firefox are stripping the browser to its bare essentials, Vivaldi offers more and more integrated features and customisation options.

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Japan just tried to launch the world’s smallest orbital rocket

January 16, 2017 - 3:52pm


This weekend Japan tried to launch a 3kg cubesat into orbit aboard its multi-stage, SS-520 rocket. Were it to have succeeded, the SS-520 would have become the smallest rocket to ever deliver a payload into orbit. Alas, the rocket did not make it.

According to the Japanese Exploration Agency, or JAXA, the sounding rocket launched on Sunday morning from the Uchinoura Space Center on the country's southernmost main island, Kyushu. Although the first stage fired normally, a preplanned check between first-stage separation and the second ignition did not show consistent telemetry data. This prevented the firing of the second stage, and the rocket fell into the Pacific Ocean, southeast of the spaceport.

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Nissan hopes to test driverless cars on London roads next month

January 16, 2017 - 3:10pm

Enlarge (credit: Nissan)

Driverless cars could imminently be operating on London's streets, after Nissan announced it had been cleared by the UK government to commence limited trials.

While Google has been testing its own autonomous vehicles on public roads near its Californian headquarters, Nissan claimed that its driverless cars will be the first to hit public roads in Europe—if, that is, the Japanese manufacturer receives final approval from an undisclosed local authority in the UK's capital.

Nissan's round of secretive tests will apparently see passengers escorted across a route in a single borough, a spokesperson told Ars, once clearance is confirmed. However, the trials won't be open to all-comers—instead, politicians, regulators, and safety experts will have access to "real-world demonstrations," with backup drivers present in the cars at all times.

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