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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 8 min ago

The solar eclipse produced some fantastic photos—here are our favorites

1 hour 23 min ago

NASA/Bill Ingalls

On Monday, Ars writers shared some thoughts about the total solar eclipse that spanned the United States with readers and took some backyard photographs of the event. But let's be honest, none of us are professional photographers, and didn't possess the right equipment to do the celestial event justice.

Fortunately, there's a space agency for that. Two, even. And on Monday NASA and the European Space Agency deployed their resources on the ground and in space to capture the eclipse, doing so in stunning fashion. This gallery highlights everything from the International Space Station transiting the Sun during the eclipse, to astronauts on board the station itself taking pictures of the event back on Earth.

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Spyware backdoor prompts Google to pull 500 apps with >100m downloads

1 hour 33 min ago

Enlarge (credit: portal gda)

At least 500 apps collectively downloaded more than 100 million times from Google's official Play Market contained a secret backdoor that allowed developers to install a range of spyware at any time, researchers said Monday.

The apps contained a software development kit called Igexin, which makes it easier for apps to connect to ad networks and deliver ads that are targeted to the specific interests of end users. Once an app using a malicious version of Igexin was installed on a phone, the developer kit could update the app to include spyware at any time, with no warning. The most serious spyware installed on phones were packages that stole call histories, including the time a call was made, the number that placed the call, and whether the call went through. Other stolen data included GPS locations, lists of nearby Wi-Fi networks, and lists of installed apps.

In a blog post published Monday, researchers from mobile security company Lookout wrote:

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Lawsuit against Daily Stormer is stuck; founder can’t be served papers

1 hour 42 min ago

Andrew Anglin (credit: Azzmador / YouTube)

A Jewish real estate agent's anti-harassment lawsuit against the owner of the racist Daily Stormer website hasn't progressed at all, despite being filed nearly four months ago.

The reason for the stall, the plaintiff's lawyers say, is that Daily Stormer publisher Andrew Anglin simply can't be found. They've tried, but failed, to serve him papers at four different Ohio addresses.

Montana real estate agent Tanya Gersh sued Anglin in April, claiming he unleashed a "coordinated, repulsive, threatening campaign of anti-Semitic harassment" against Gersh, her husband, and her 12-year-old son. The "old fashioned Troll Storm" that Anglin asked his followers to unleash resulted in more than 700 threatening phone calls, voicemails, and e-mails.

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Mac virtualization: Parallels and VMware want you to buy new versions

1 hour 53 min ago

Windows 10, Windows 7, and Ubuntu running in Parallels. (credit: Parallels)

Parallels and VMware both announced new versions of their virtualization products for Macs today, with performance improvements and optimizations for the upcoming releases of MacOS and Windows. VMware is also releasing a new version of Workstation, its desktop virtualization software for Windows and Linux PCs.

Parallels Desktop 13 for Mac will be available today. Although VMware Fusion 10 for Mac and Workstation 14 for Windows and Linux are being announced today, the VMware upgrades will be available for sale sometime in October.

Parallels stuck to its yearly paid upgrade schedule a year ago, while VMware released free updates to Fusion and Workstation. This year, both companies are asking customers to pay for upgrades.

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Tales of an IT professional sailing around the Antarctic loop

2 hours 8 min ago

Jen Thomas

Carles Pina i Estany is not what comes to mind when you picture your typical Polar explorer. A native of sunny Barcelona, he works as a Software Engineer at Mendeley—a London-based technology company owned by science publishers Elsevier. Before this year, he had never even slept aboard a ship. But when the invitation came for him to embark on a three-month expedition around the Antarctic, he jumped at the chance.

It all happened rather quickly. Pina i Estany’s partner, Jen Thomas, who had previously worked with the British Antarctic Survey, was working as Data Manager for a research trip led by the newly created Swiss Polar Institute. The SPI connects researchers active in polar or extreme environments, promotes public awareness of these environments, and facilitates access to research facilities in those extreme environments. Billionaire adventurer Frederik Paulsen sponsored the excursion—he even  went along for the ride. This was most definitely not your typical office tech support gig.

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After years of investigation, feds bust one of AlphaBay’s largest drug rings

4 hours 37 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Thomas Trutschel / Getty Images News)

Six Southern Californians have been arrested for being involved in one of the largest drug rings on the now-shuttered Silk Road and AlphaBay. Prosecutors accuse them of selling more than $7 million dollars' worth of narcotics on the two notorious underground websites.

According to a newly issued criminal complaint, which was filed in federal court in Fresno, California, last Thursday, five men and one woman were connected to the AlphaBay account operating under the name "HumboldtFarms." Previously, one of the alleged male conspirators had apparently operated under the "PureFireMeds" account on Silk Road before that site was seized and closed down by law enforcement in October 2013.

On AlphaBay, which was taken down by federal investigators in July 2017, HumboldtFarms became "one of the largest vendors," authorities said in a statement.

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Verizon to start throttling all smartphone videos to 480p or 720p

4 hours 53 min ago

Enlarge (credit: Verizon)

Verizon Wireless will start throttling video streams to resolutions as low as 480p on smartphones this week. Most data plans will get 720p video on smartphones, but customers won't have any option to completely un-throttle video.

1080p will be the highest resolution provided on tablets, effectively ruling out 4K video on Verizon's mobile network. Anything identified as a video will not be given more than 10Mbps worth of bandwidth. This limit will affect mobile hotspot usage as well.

Verizon started selling unlimited smartphone data plans in February of this year, and the carrier said at the time that it would deliver video to customers at the same resolution used by streaming video companies. "We deliver whatever the content provider gives us. We don't manipulate the data," Verizon told Ars in February.

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HP stuffed the best gaming desktop perks into the 10-pound Omen X laptop

7 hours 52 min ago

Enlarge (credit: HP)

HP gave its Omen gaming line a big boost before this year's E3 with the launch of new gaming PCs, peripherals, a GPU accelerator, and a VR backpack. While the company wants to provide devices for all kinds of gamers, its newest launch targets enthusiasts who don't want to compromise power when choosing a portable device. The new Omen X laptop is a behemoth gaming notebook, measuring 16.73 x 12.88 x 1.43 inches and weighing 10.69 pounds. All that space is for good reason: the Omen X trades svelte for substance as it features a bunch of perks typically only seen in stationary gaming PCs.

One of the biggest things HP emphasized about the Omen X laptop is its overclocking abilities. The Omen X laptop can be configured how you'd like and you can choose to get it with Intel's 7th gen Core i7-7820HK CPU, which is factory unlocked for overclocking. Gaming enthusiasts (and general PC enthusiast as well) are more likely to experiment with overclocking their devices to get the most performance out of the CPU as possible. However, that would normally be taxing on the entire system and the processor in particular since it produces extra heat.

As such, HP designed the internals of the Omen X laptop differently from those in its previous Omen laptops to better handle the heat produced by overclocking. HP also claims the design reduces thermal throttling that can limit the overclocking affects. The company removed the optical drive and included higher-performance fans that allow for more airflow through the machine than in the existing Omen laptops. With the help of an integrated vapor chamber and bottom vent holes, the internals better move heat away from the important stuff (CPU, GPU) and expel air through the back and sides of the laptop (which also keeps the heat away from you, the user).

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Microsoft to remove full ReFS support from Windows 10 Pro, push Workstation SKU

August 21, 2017 - 10:47pm

Enlarge (credit: Anna)

In the Fall Creators Update, Microsoft is removing the ability to create volumes using its new ReFS file system from Windows 10 Pro. Existing volumes will continue to work, but Pro will no longer be able to create new ones.

After rumors in June, Microsoft confirmed last week that it was producing yet another variant of Windows 10: Pro for Workstations. The main features of this build are that it lifts certain limits found in regular Pro: up to four processors (compared to two in Pro) and 6TB of RAM (compared to 2TB). It also has support for certain exotic server-grade hardware, including non-volatile main memory and high-speed network adaptors.

Microsoft is promoting one final feature in Pro for Workstations: its new, modern file system, ReFS ("resilient file system"). ReFS—like modern file systems on other platforms such as Oracle's ZFS and Linux's btrfs—includes integrated checksums to detect data corruption. Combined with Storage Spaces, it can automatically reconstruct damaged data from software-defined arrays.

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Miss the totality? Google Maps will make you feel better

August 21, 2017 - 9:26pm

Enlarge (credit: Google)

Earlier today, millions of Americans flocked to a strip of land about 70 miles wide stretching from Portland, Oregon to Columbia, South Carolina to view a once-a-decade total solar eclipse.

Now the totality is over, and everyone is trying to go home. And as these screenshots from Google maps demonstrate, it's causing traffic jams on North-South interstates throughout the path of the totality:

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I was one of the first humans to see a solar eclipse in virtual reality

August 21, 2017 - 9:11pm

Enlarge / Look all you want... in VR, this kind of view of the Sun is completely safe to stare at.

I've been told that being present for a total eclipse of the Sun is a life-changing experience. But I wasn't able to get my act together to travel to the path of totality for today's event. Luckily, I am part of the first generation to be able to experience an eclipse vicariously through the magic of virtual reality. While seeing a total eclipse in VR wasn't exactly a life-changing experience, it was one of the best examples I've seen of the power and promise of live, 360-degree video.

I first tried to view CNN's 360-degree Facebook Live video coverage of the eclipse on my Oculus Rift. Despite numerous tries, though, the livestream never showed up as a choice on the list of "New" or "Top Pick" videos available on the Oculus Video app. Without a built-in search function or any way to navigate to a specific URL or some such, viewing the eclipse on the Rift was a bust.

As a backup, I dug out the latest Samsung Gear VR headset and a Galaxy S7 Edge. While I waited for some necessary updates to download, I was able to watch CNN's "VR" coverage in a simple Web browser window. I used the mouse to tilt the virtual camera between the people on the ground and the Sun in the sky. Having control of the viewpoint was nice, but watching through a small window on a laptop screen didn't really feel all that different from watching similar coverage on TV.

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Atari sues Nestle, says Kit Kat video game ad violates Breakout copyright

August 21, 2017 - 9:00pm

Enlarge (credit: 2AM films / Nestle)

Atari claims that a commercial for Nestle's Kit Kat candy bars violates the copyright and trademark rights of Breakout, Atari's iconic 1975 video game.

Nestle's 30-second spot "leverage[s] Breakout and the special place it holds among nostalgic Baby Boomers, Generation X, and even today's Millennial and post-Millennial 'gamers' in order to maximize the advertisement's reach," say Atari's lawyers in the complaint (PDF), filed Thursday in a California federal court.

"Nestle simply took the classic Breakout screen, replaced its bricks with KIT KAT bars, and invited customers to "Breakout" and buy more candy bars," the complaint states.

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Total eclipse of the Ars

August 21, 2017 - 8:36pm

Enlarge / The partial eclipse from New York City. (credit: John Timmer)

Our staff is sharing its eclipse stories and photos from today. The post will be updated as more come in.

OAKLAND, Calif.—Oakland and the surrounding Bay Area are well-known for morning fog, particularly in the summertime. So despite having two telescopes and the helpful staff at the Chabot Space & Science Center, the clouds unfortunately didn’t cooperate. Nevertheless, that didn’t stop hundreds of people from gathering along the observation deck, near the historic telescopes named Leah and Rachel. Most people had brought protective eyewear or had made pinhole boxes, but with the cloud cover blocking the Sun anyway, they quickly figured out that they wouldn’t be able to see the Sun with them on. Attendees squealed and yelped with joy as they attempted to view what was left of the Sun peeking out from behind the Moon and the thick white cloud cover. Your correspondent caught a few glimpses of the partially eclipsed and cloud-covered Sun for just a few moments.

Meanwhile, my sister-in-law, Kelly Guyon, 28, who traveled north from Oakland, California, to Madras, Oregon, to observe totality, has declared herself an “eclipse chaser” now.

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Android 8.0 Oreo is official, starts rollout to devices

August 21, 2017 - 8:21pm

Enlarge (credit: Google)

NEW YORK CITY—Happy Eclipse Day! As the Moon slowly crept its way across the Sun, Google took the opportunity to host an Eclipse-themed Android 8.0 launch event in New York City. Along with eclipse glasses and a simulcast of NASA's eclipse livestream, Android "O" finally got its full name: "Android 8.0, Oreo."

Like KitKat before it, Android's alphabetical snack-themed codenames have gone commercial and partnered with an actual snack producer, adopting Nabisco's trademarked "Oreo" as the name for this release. The event also came with the traditional statue unveiling: a superhero Android Oreo.

With today's event, Android 8.0 Oreo is shipping out across all the usual distribution methods. The Android Open Source Project (AOSP) is getting the 8.0 code drop. OTAs will begin to roll out "soon" to the Pixel, Pixel XL, Nexus 5X, Nexus 6P, Nexus Player, and Pixel C, and system images should be up on soon. Any device enrolled in the Android Beta Program will also be upgraded to these final builds.

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America’s biggest board game convention: Gen Con in pictures

August 21, 2017 - 6:44pm

Every year, 60,000+ tabletop enthusiasts converge on Indianapolis to take part in Gen Con, the biggest board game party in America. The Indiana Convention center is the epicenter, but the entire city turns into a Bizzaro World where everywhere you go, random people are talking CCG strategy or discussing the proper way to build an economic engine in that hot new Eurogame. Just about every table in the city has a board game spread across it. Exhausting as it is to game for four days straight, there's no place in the world we'd rather be.

This year's sold-out 50th-anniversary con was bigger and better than ever, and we were there to take it all in (well, not all of it). If you weren't able to make it, our gallery above will give you a taste of the madness.

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Killer robots are coming, and Elon Musk is worried

August 21, 2017 - 5:18pm

Enlarge (credit: Carolco Pictures)

Dozens of AI-focused technology executives, including Tesla CEO Elon Musk, are urging a United Nations working group to push forward with a plan to ban killer robots.

"Lethal autonomous weapons threaten to become the third revolution in warfare," the group of CEOs and CTOs wrote in an open letter organized by the Future of Life Institute and released Sunday. "Once developed, they will permit armed conflict to be fought at a scale greater than ever, and at timescales faster than humans can comprehend. These can be weapons of terror, weapons that despots and terrorists use against innocent populations, and weapons hacked to behave in undesirable ways."

It's easy to imagine the potential nightmare scenarios here. You only have to think about the Terminator's Skynet, or that Star Trek: The Next Generation episode where Enterprise crew members are hunted down by an automated weapons system that turns out to be a sales demo by a long-defunct arms merchant.

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The very dirty history of on-demand video technology

August 21, 2017 - 4:58pm

Enlarge / It's the Sony U-Matic in all its analog glory. This device was used in the early 1970s to stream X-rated video to hotel rooms, often using a closed-circuit broadcasting device on the hotel roof. (credit: Wikimedia)

In 1973, a young Roger Ebert reviewed the movie Deep Throat. He was not yet a household name or a Pulitzer Prize winner, but he was a respected film critic. The fact that he and his peers regularly reviewed pornographic films suggested that we’d entered a new era in film—an era in which pornography might be viewed as art.

Turns out that wasn’t the case. More than 40 years later, people are still arguing about whether porn can be art. But that doesn’t mean the early '70s weren’t a turning point for porn. The year before Roger Ebert saw Deep Throat, the Hotel Commodore in New York City shocked the nation by announcing that it had installed a system which would let viewers watch X-rated titles in their hotel rooms. It might not be art, but porn had become a testing bed for new kinds of on-demand video technologies.

The United States was not the nation to lead the world into this new era. Japan got there first. Technology-friendly Osaka had hotels built specifically for many different combinations of sex and video. Some hotel rooms came equipped with video cameras, as well as, presumably, both an overworked technical staff and an overworked cleaning staff. Other rooms simply had a television that picked up the signal of a closed-circuit broadcasting device on the roof, creating an early form of streaming video. In 1971, one hotel's device made contact with a steel safety railing. This considerably increased the broadcast range and gave surrounding houses a glimpse of movies that not everyone appreciated.

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Microsoft outlines the upgrade procedures for Xbox One X

August 21, 2017 - 3:58pm

Enlarge / Prepare yourself...

Last night's pre-Gamescom Microsoft press presentation was light on major announcements. But the event did include some details about how current Xbox One owners will be able to move their games and settings over to the new, 4K-capable Xbox One X when it launches on November 7.

The easiest way to get all your games to the new system, as outlined by Microsoft Vice President Mike Ybarra, will be to just put them on an external USB hard drive and then plug that drive into the new console. "All your games are ready to play" immediately after this external hard drive move, he said, and user-specific settings can also be copied via external hard drive in the same way.

If you don't have an external drive handy, "we're going to let you copy games and apps off your home network instead of having to manually move them or redownload them off the Internet," Ybarra said. It's unclear right now if Microsoft will mirror the PS4 Pro and allow this kind of system-to-system transfer using an Ethernet cable plugged directly into both consoles.

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Final Fantasy 15: Windows Edition coming to PC in 2018

August 21, 2017 - 2:11pm

Final Fantasy XV is coming to PC in the form of Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition in "early 2018," Square Enix announced today.

To make up for the delay following the release of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One versions of the game in November of 2016, Final Fantasy XV: Windows Edition includes all the DLC and updates previously released on console, as well as some PC-exclusive graphical enhancements.

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So, you’re not seeing the eclipse today …

August 21, 2017 - 2:00pm

Enlarge (credit: NASA)

Despite all the hype surrounding Monday's solar eclipse—and it has become nearly inescapable—most Americans will not see the totality. This is unfortunate, because the Sun disappearing during the middle of the day is truly a moving experience. But if you're not seeing it today, don't feel too bad—you're not alone.

Only about 12 million people live within the 110km-wide path of totality that runs across the United States, from Oregon through South Carolina. By various estimates, an additional 1.8 to 7.4 million people will travel into the path of totality to view the eclipse. This means only about 6 percent of the United States population will see a total eclipse on Monday.

So if you're missing out, rest assured that most other Americans are, too. Also, you should start planning ahead. Because while it has been nearly a century since a total eclipse spanned the continental United States, we won't wait that long again. Here's a look at what lies ahead.

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