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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 14 min ago

Rick Perry talks nuclear energy research investment, Paris Agreement

11 hours 38 min ago

Enlarge / US Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry addresses employees for the first time at the Department of Energy’s headquarters in Washington, DC, March 3, 2017. Image courtesy Ken Shipp/US Department of Energy. (credit: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

Energy Secretary Rick Perry spoke briefly this afternoon to a group of reporters to address topics in energy. The Trump administration has deemed this week “Energy Week” and tasked its appointees, including Perry, to pitch what an “energy-dominant America” looks like to the American people.

Perry painted a vision of America’s energy future in broad strokes this afternoon and said that the US would become a net exporter of energy through natural gas and oil exports. The Energy Information Administration has said that the US could become a net energy exporter by 2026. Perry, who has been dismissive of climate change in the past and has close ties to the fossil fuel industry, also called on the US to “reaffirm our commitment to clean energy,” while at the same time embracing fossil fuels.

"That binary choice between pro-economy and pro-environment that has perpetuated—or, I should say, been perpetuated by the Obama administration—has set up a false argument," Perry said. "The fact is, we can do good for both—and we will." Under the Obama administration, solar, wind, and natural gas jobs grew, although coal jobs did fall.

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New Star Trek series will abandon Gene Roddenberry’s cardinal rule

12 hours 24 min ago

Enlarge / Sonequa Martin-Green plays protagonist Michael Burnham, first officer of the U.S.S. Shenzhou, on new CBS All Access series Star Trek: Discovery. (credit: CBS)

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry had a lot of strict rules for writers on his shows. Some, like the requirement that both female and male officers be called "sir," were thrown out a while ago (Kate Mulgrew, who played Captain Kathryn Janeway, wanted to be called "ma'am"). Now, with forthcoming series Star Trek: Discovery, we're about to see one of Roddenberry’s most cherished rules bite the dust.

When Roddenberry first framed his ideas for the Star Trek universe, he wanted to be sure that writers would emphasize the Utopian aspects of future life in the Federation. Some of that Utopianism was hardwired into the show's basic premise, in which money, war, and racial discrimination are things of the distant past. But Roddenberry wasn't satisfied with that—he wanted characters whose behavior was exemplary, too.

So he made a rule, which endured long after his death, that main characters were not allowed to mistreat each other or have conflicts that weren’t quickly resolved. Writers for the various series also weren't allowed to show characters being malevolent or cruel. Of course, there were exceptions. Aliens or non-crew members could be as awful as the writers wanted, as could protagonists whose minds were being controlled by outside forces. (This helps explain why our heroes are always being possessed or hopping over to the Mirror Universe.)

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Valkyria Revolution trades in cult-classic status for wasted promise

June 27, 2017 - 10:00pm

Enlarge / Every so often, you get a flash of what the game was going for—and it could have been interesting!

Valkyria Revolution, despite its name and approximately similar art style, isn’t really a sequel to 2008’s incredible Valkyria Chronicles (or its slightly less incredible PSP sequels). In tone and gameplay, the differences between the two series are night and day, and Revolution looks considerably poorer for the comparison.

The new game, like its predecessors, takes place on the continent of "Europa"—shaped just like real-world Europe, but divided into fictional fantasy countries like Jutland and the Ruzi Empire. If you don’t recognize those two nations from Chronicles, that’s because Revolution takes place in an entirely new continuity.

That the sister series just happens to have nearly identical settings—as well as reuse terms like Valkyria and “ragnite”—is confusing and poorly justified. Taking control for the first time and meeting the game’s gang of barely introduced misfits didn’t do much to clear up why Valkyria Revolution needs to share so much DNA with its “predecessor.” My best, most cynical guess is that Valkyria Revolution was made to siphon off some of Chronicles’ cult status—not to mention the attention of fans still fiending for a true follow-up.

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Black-hole mergers may reveal dark past of cannibalism

June 27, 2017 - 9:40pm

Enlarge (credit: A. Bohn et al.)

Now that we can detect gravitational waves, a new generation of stargazers is turning its attention to the Universe and using observatories that can be disrupted by a passing rabbit. Gravitational-wave detectors are going to give us an entirely new view of our place in the cosmos.

As with all new techniques, we are still in the age of crude and not-very-sensitive. That means we can only search for the biggest and baddest of events: black-hole mergers. So far, LIGO has detected three and a half mergers—the third merger is right on the edge of the detection limit, so it is provisional. But those black holes have been larger than expected, which raises an intriguing question: is that their first merger, or have they grown through previous mergers?

Now (arXiv version) scientists have determined how to figure out if black holes are first-time cannibals or recidivist cannibals.

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Microsoft bringing EMET back as a built-in part of Windows 10

June 27, 2017 - 8:47pm

Enlarge / The new security analytics dashboard. (credit: Microsoft)

The Windows 10 Fall Creators Update will include EMET-like capabilities managed through a new feature called Windows Defender Exploit Guard.

Microsoft's EMET, the Enhanced Mitigation Experience Toolkit, was a useful tool for hardening Windows systems. It used a range of techniques—some built in to Windows, some part of EMET itself—to make exploitable security flaws harder to reliably exploit. The idea being that, even if coding bugs should occur, turning those bugs into actual security issues should be made as difficult as possible.

With Windows 10, however, EMET's development was essentially cancelled. Although Microsoft made sure the program ran on Windows 10, the company said that EMET was superfluous on its latest operating system. Some protections formerly provided by EMET had been built into the core operating system itself, and Windows 10 offered additional protections far beyond the scope of what EMET could do.

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Scientists come up with neural mechanism—and possible fix—for chronic pain

June 27, 2017 - 8:35pm

Enlarge / Ow. (credit: Getty | Paul Bradbury)

Chronic, aching pain after an injury or operation may be all in your head. Researchers now think they’ve figured out exactly how brain wiring goes haywire to cause persistent pain—and how to fix it.

In mice with peripheral nerve damage and chronic pain from a leg surgery, a broken circuit in a pain-processing region of mammalian brains caused hyperactive pain signals that persisted for more than a month. Specifically, the peripheral nerve damage seemed to deactivate a type of interconnected brain cells, called somatostatin (SOM) interneurons, which normally dampen pain signals. Without the restraints, neurons that fire off pain signals—cortical pyramidal neurons—went wild, researchers report in Nature Neuroscience.

But the circuitry could be repaired, the researchers found. Just by manually activating those pain-stifling SOM interneurons, the researchers could shut down the rodents’ chronic pain and keep the system working properly—preventing centralized, chronic pain from ever developing.

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Ohio Gov. Kasich’s website, dozens of others defaced using year-old exploit

June 27, 2017 - 8:05pm


The official website of Ohio Governor John Kasich and the site of Ohio First Lady Karen Kasich were defaced on June 25 by a group calling itself Team System DZ. The group is a known pro-Islamic State "hacktivist" group that has repeatedly had its social media accounts suspended for posting IS propaganda videos and other activity. Kasich's site was but one of a number of state and local government websites that were hijacked by Team System DZ early this week, all of which had one thing in common: they were running on an outdated version of the DotNetNuke (DNN) content management platform.

DNN Platform is a popular content management system (particularly with state and local governments) based on Windows Server and the ASP.NET framework for Microsoft Internet Information Server. DNN Platform is open source and available for free—making it attractive to government agencies looking for something low cost that fits into their existing Windows Server-heavy organizations. A review of the HTML source of each of the sites attacked by Team System DZ showed that they were running a vulnerable version of the content management system DNN Platform—version 7.0, which was released in 2015.

A critical security update issued by DNN in May of 2016 warned that an attacker could exploit vulnerabilities to create new "superuser" accounts through the content management system, giving them unfettered remote access to modify websites. DNN urged customers to upgrade to the latest version of the software at the time. A May 2015 alert also warned that an attacker could use the software's Installation Wizard page for some server configurations to create new user accounts on the Windows Server host.

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Walmart sued after teen steals machete and kills her Uber driver

June 27, 2017 - 7:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Mike Mozart / Flickr)

There has been a lot of media coverage about Uber driver misdeeds—drunk driving, drivers stealing from their passengers, and even cases of drivers murdering and raping customers. But Uber drivers can also be victims of their passengers.

The family of an Uber driver murdered on the job in Illinois is taking Walmart to court. In a Cook County lawsuit, (PDF) the family of driver Grant T. Nelson alleges that the retail giant was negligent when it allowed the murder suspect to steal a machete and a knife before walking past security personnel without being stopped. That was right before she hailed an Uber outside the Skokie store at 3am on May 30.

Moments after picking up the alleged thief—a 16-year-old girl named Eliza Wasni—police say the 37-year-old Nelson was stabbed to death by Wasni after exiting the Walmart parking lot.

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Matthew Keys’ guilty verdict and sentence to stand, 9th Circuit rules

June 27, 2017 - 6:43pm

Matthew Keys, seen here in 2016, before he was ordered to prison. (credit: Cyrus Farivar)

A federal appeals court has upheld the conviction and two-year sentence of the California journalist who was found guilty under a federal anti-hacking law last year.

On Monday, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it was not persuaded by arguments made by Matthew Keys’ defense attorneys. In a hearing earlier this month, his lawyers said that while their client may have handed over a username and password that resulted in a brief defacement of one Los Angeles Times article, this did not constitute actual "damage" as described in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

As Ars reported earlier, Keys was accused of giving out a username and password for his former employer KTXL Fox 40's content management system (CMS) to members of Anonymous and instructing people there to "fuck some shit up." Ultimately, that December 2010 incident resulted in someone else using those credentials to alter a headline and sub-headline on a Los Angeles Times article. (Both Fox 40 and the Times are owned by the Tribune Media Company.) The changes lasted for 40 minutes before editors reversed them.

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Meet the RapidE, Aston Martin’s first EV due in 2019

June 27, 2017 - 6:32pm

Aston Martin

Picture the scene: it's a few years in the future. James Bond is on a mission in Amsterdam, or Paris, or some other forward-thinking European city that has just banned internal combustion vehicles from the city center. But Spectre is up to something, and our intrepid hero—who doesn't like taxis or public transport—needs to find out what's happening while arriving in style. Commander Bond is in luck, for he is behind the wheel of an electric Aston Martin, the RapidE.

The venerable British carmaker announced on Tuesday that its first electric vehicle will go on sale in 2019. "RapidE represents a sustainable future in which Aston Martin’s values of seductive style and supreme performance don’t merely co-exist alongside a new zero-emission powertrain, but are enhanced by it," said Dr. Andy Palmer, Aston Martin's president and CEO, in a statement.

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Amazon’s latest Prime Exclusive Phones range from $79 to $199

June 27, 2017 - 5:55pm

Amazon's "Prime Exclusive Phones" program takes mid- to low-end Android phones, loads them with ads and Amazon apps, and cuts around $50 off the price for Prime subscribers. If you can deal with the ads, it's usually a good deal for a budget phone. Today, Amazon is adding five new phones to the Prime Exclusive Phone program, from Nokia, Motorola, and Alcatel.

First up is the freshly announced-for-the-US Nokia 6, which is HMD's first swing at Android-powered Nokia phones. The Prime program gives you $50 off in exchange for ads, bringing the $229.99 price down to $179.99. Besides the fantastic metal body and build quality, the Nokia 6 gives you a 5.5-inch 1080p screen, Android 7.1, a Snapdragon 430, 3GB of RAM, 32GB of storage, a 16MP rear camera, an 8MP front camera, and a 3000mAh battery. There's also an SD card slot and dual speakers.

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A new ransomware outbreak similar to WCry is shutting down computers worldwide

June 27, 2017 - 5:53pm

Enlarge / The note left on computers infected by quick-spreading malware dubbed PetyaWrap. (credit: Symantec)

A new ransomware attack similar to last month's self-replicating WCry outbreak is sweeping the world with at least 80 large companies infected, including drug maker Merck, international shipping company Maersk, law firm DLA Piper, UK advertising firm WPP, and snack food maker Mondelez International. It has attacked at least 12,000 computers, according to one security company.

PetyaWrap, as some researchers are calling the ransomware, uses a cocktail of potent techniques to break into a network and from there spread from computer to computer. Like the WCry worm that paralyzed hospitals, shipping companies, and train stations around the globe in May, Tuesday's attack made use of EternalBlue, the code name for an advanced exploit that was developed and used by, and later stolen from, the National Security Agency.

According to a blog post published by antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab, Tuesday's attack also repurposed a separate NSA exploit dubbed EternalRomance. Microsoft patched the underlying vulnerabilities for both of those exploits in March, precisely four weeks before a still-unknown group calling itself the Shadow Brokers published the advanced NSA hacking tools. The leak gave people with only moderate technical skills a powerful vehicle for delivering virtually any kind of digital warhead to systems that had yet to install the updates.

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Fears of limited SNES Classic supply lead to 150% online resale markup

June 27, 2017 - 4:50pm

The SNES Classic Edition may officially sell for $80, but that's much less than some are willing to pay to secure a pre-order. (credit: eBay)

It has been less than 24 hours since the Super NES Classic Edition was announced, and we're still more than three months away from the plug-and-play system shipping to retailers. But that hasn't stopped resellers from profiting off "guaranteed" pre-orders for the system at significant markups over retail price.

A quick search on eBay already shows 23 "sold" listings for the Super NES Classic Edition (including its international counterparts) at a median price of $199, or a 150-percent markup from the $80 MSRP Nintendo is asking for. On Ebay UK, you can find 22 more units than have sold for a median of £180 (about $230), up significantly above the £70 to £80 retail price. One seller managed to get $389.99 for his pre-order, earning more than $300 in profit for being able to click quickly on the "buy" button.

Major US retailers seemingly haven't opened up official pre-orders for the Super NES Classic Edition yet, though some have set up landing pages to sign up for future stock alerts. Online pre-orders at British retailers including Amazon, Game, Smyths, and ShopTo sold out incredibly quickly after going up yesterday. Nintendo's official UK store also sold out within minutes after offering the system online today.

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The original iPhone games: Favorites from the 2008 Ars staff

June 27, 2017 - 4:36pm

Enlarge / Anyone else spend an inordinate amount of time on this? (credit: Aurora Feint)

This week, we're looking back at the original iPhone and examining its impact on the 10-year anniversary of the device's release. Earlier today, we explored how the iPhone impacting gaming during its first decade, and as such we thought this round-up of our favorite titles from the first batch of iPhone games deserved another look. This resurfaced piece first ran on August 5, 2008.

The App Store has introduced a bevy of third-party apps in every category imaginable. Admittedly, some are of questionable quality, but others, we have discovered, are made of pure win with a sprinkle of crack cocaine. At the Ars Orbiting HQ, we find ourselves frequently chatting about which apps we can't live without, and games are naturally at the top of everyone's lists. Because we love our readers, we thought we might share with you a list of our favorite iPhone games that you should check out. Here we go, in no particular order.

Dizzy Bee

Price: $2.99, free version available (Free in 2017)
Developer: Igloo Games

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Comcast and Charter could invest in Sprint’s network, resell Sprint data

June 27, 2017 - 4:20pm

Enlarge (credit: Mike Mozart)

Comcast and Charter have reportedly started negotiating with Sprint, as the two biggest cable companies in the US explore the possibility of buying the wireless carrier or investing in its network.

Comcast and Charter last month announced an agreement to cooperate in their plans to sell mobile phone service, an agreement that also forbids each company from making wireless acquisitions and investments without the other's consent for one year. Yesterday, The Wall Street Journal reported that "Sprint has entered into exclusive talks with Charter Communications Inc. and Comcast Corp. as the cable companies explore a deal that could bolster their plans to offer wireless service, according to people familiar with the matter."

There are a couple different arrangements being considered. In one, the cable companies would invest in "improving Sprint’s network in exchange for favorable terms to offer wireless service using the carrier’s network," possibly by taking an equity stake.

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Nintendo New 2DS XL mini-review: The best version of the 3DS hardware yet

June 27, 2017 - 1:48pm

Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton)

While the Nintendo Switch is quickly becoming the handheld of choice—thanks in part to the likes of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey—the 3DS still has some life left in it yet. Kirby's Blowout Blast, Hey! PIKMIN, Metroid: Samus Returns, Fire Emblem Warriors, Layton's Mystery Journey, and Dragon Quest XI are all due for release in 2017 alongside updated (and cheaper) hardware in the form of the £130 New 2DS XL, which goes on sale July 28 (pre-order here).

For those keeping track, the New 2DS XL (the "New" is important) is the sixth revision of the 3DS hardware, which started with the original (and smallest) 3DS. That was followed by the 3DS XL, which sported a 90 percent larger screen along with improved battery life. Following developer demand for a second analogue stick—a problem Nintendo initially solved with the bulky Circle Pad Pro add-on—Nintendo released the New 3DS and New 3DS XL, which not only integrated a second analogue stick, but also incorporated more powerful hardware.

This lead to the a confusing state of affairs where games like Xenoblade Chronicles requires the New 3DS XL hardware, and won't play on an original 3DS or 3DS XL. Then came the 2DS, a stripped back version of the console aimed at a younger audience. It ditched the clamshell design, second analogue stick, and more powerful hardware, instead only playing games compatible with the original 3DS. The 2DS doesn't feature the glasses-free 3D screen of the 3DS either, although given the feature ended up being more of a novelty than a necessity, it was hardly missed.

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iPhone at 10: How Apple changed gaming for the better and the worse

June 27, 2017 - 1:37pm

Enlarge (credit: Mark Walton)

Ten years ago this week—on June 29, 2007—many waited (in line or online) for the first iPhone's formal release. Steve Jobs revealed what he promised would be a game-changing device months earlier, providing plenty of time for the lofty dreams, predictions, and excitement to build. The decade since has largely justified the hype. Apple's now-signature product has made a lasting mark not only on our communications, but on many unexpected walks of life. So this week as the iPhone celebrates its 10th anniversary, we'll be examining its impact and revisiting the device that changed it all.

In the heart of Stockholm, Sweden, mobile games developer King has built its own forest. Alongside Earth-toned carpeting and plywood trees are walls coated in Norwegian lichen. Instead of the harsh glow of a fluorescent strip, there are ambient lights that change hue with the seasons. Instead of chairs there are ceiling-hung wicker baskets and long maple desks with multicoloured stools. Along the floor is an artificial stream that scans the footsteps of employees, allowing them to interact with virtual fish and insects. In the winter, the stream freezes over, lending an audible crunch to each footstep.

Such extravagance is hardly extraordinary for the startups and venture capitalists that have spread across California's so-called Silicon Valley (Airbnb has its own makeshift forest, complete with taxidermied raccoon). But for the companies that build their fortunes on the fickle market of mobile games, success is far from guaranteed. King is one of the lucky ones. It has, in its finer moments, raked in profits of half a billion dollars in a single year. So compelling were its profits that publishing giant Activision Blizzard swallowed it up for $5.9 billion in 2015.

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Google fined $2.7B by European Commission for abusing search monopoly

June 27, 2017 - 11:49am

Enlarge (credit: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images)

Google has been gut-punched by the European Commission for abusing its search monopoly to squeeze out other players on the Web. Europe's competition commissioner, Margrethe Vestager, had been expected to hit Google with a fine of around €1 billion, but the actual number is far larger: €2.42 billion, the largest anti-monopoly fine ever issued.

In addition to the fine, Google will be required to change its search algorithm so that every competing service is fairly crawled, indexed, ranked, and displayed. If Google fails to remedy its anti-competitive conduct within 90 days it will face daily penalty payments of up to 5 percent of the daily worldwide turnover of Google's parent company Alphabet. The commission's full statement on the decision makes for quite damning reading.

Google, as reported by the AFP news agency, "respectfully disagrees" with the EU's fine and is considering an appeal. We have asked Google for comment and will update this story when it responds.

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Report: Valve’s former augmented reality system is no more

June 27, 2017 - 3:00am

CastAR's first prototype. Subsequent revisions brought the glasses' size down and fidelity up so that its mounted projectors would better convey the feeling that virtual objects appeared on a mat (also known as "augmented reality" or "mixed reality"). However, the project's future is now in doubt. (credit: CastAR)

The future of CastAR, an ambitious augmented reality system that began life in Valve's hardware labs five years ago, is now in serious doubt. A bleak Monday Tweet from a former CastAR staffer was followed by Polygon's Brian Crecente reporting a full company shutdown.

Citing unnamed "former employees," Polygon reported that the hardware maker's primary finance group pulled all funding last week. This was allegedly followed by a full staff layoff and an announcement that the company's remaining assets would be liquidated.

As of press time, neither CastAR nor its affiliated developer, Eat Sleep Play, has posted any confirmation of shut downs or liquidation. Ars Technica has reached out to CastAR co-founders Jeri Ellsworth and Rick Johnson. We will update this report with any response.

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“McMansion Hell” used Zillow photos to mock bad design—Zillow may sue

June 27, 2017 - 1:35am

(credit: McMansionHell)

An architecture blogger has temporarily disabled her website,, after receiving a demand letter from Zillow and posting it on Twitter.

On Monday, Zillow threatened to sue Kate Wagner, saying that she was violating its terms of use, copyright law, and possibly the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act because she took images from the company's website without permission. However, on each of her posts, she acknowledged that the images came from Zillow and were posted under the fair use doctrine, as she was providing (often humorous) commentary on various architectural styles. Her website was featured on the design podcast 99% Invisible in October 2016.

Confusingly, Zillow does not even own the images in question. Instead, Zillow licenses them from the rights holders. As such, it remains unclear why the company would have standing to bring a lawsuit against Wagner.

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