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The Art of Technology
Updated: 1 hour 20 min ago

Antennas for us all: How Aereo wound up at the Supreme Court

2 hours 4 min ago
K C / flickr

In the year before Aereo launched, chief executive Chet Kanojia held meetings with executives from the broadcasters who would later sue his company. He explained the idea behind the company: renting a tiny antenna to each customer would keep it within the bounds of copyright law while allowing users to have a host of features usually only available to cable subscribers.

The idea was to use the Internet and cheap cloud storage to give new life to a way of watching TV that was fading: free, over-the-air broadcasts. Put the antenna in the cloud, add the kind of recording and storage abilities that consumers came to expect with television, and offer it at a fraction of the price of a typical cable subscription.

“Their reaction was no reaction,” Kanojia recalled in an interview with Ars. “It was, hmm, interesting.”

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Aereo analysis: Cloud computing at a crossroads

2 hours 5 min ago
Dime-sized antennas, by the thousands, housed in an Aereo datacenter in New York. Aereo

The question of whether online broadcast television is to remain in the hands of a stodgy industry that once declared the VCR the enemy is being put directly before the Supreme Court.

Broadcasters' latest legal target is 2-year-old upstart Aereo—which retransmits over-the-air broadcast television using dime-sized antennas to paying consumers, who can watch TV online or record it for later viewing. Broadcasters like ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, and others haven't given Aereo permission to do that, and they say it violates US copyright law.

The industry will ask the Supreme Court during a Tuesday hearing to kill the New York-based Aereo service. The high-stakes oral arguments come 30 years after Hollywood told the justices that the VCR—and its time-shifting elements—would doom television and its producers forever.

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The most Earth-like planet is only 500 light years away

3 hours 4 min ago
NASA Ames/SETI Institute/JPL-CalTech

Less than two months ago, NASA’s Kepler mission announced the confirmation of 700 new exoplanets, but its latest news of a single exosolar system may be a bit more exciting. Kepler has now found an Earth-like planet that may have liquid water on its surface, and the new discovery is located less than 500 light years away.

Since its launch in 2009, Kepler has been finding exoplanets with a deceptively simple technique. At any given time, it stares at thousands of stars, looking for a dip in the amount of light received from them. That dip can be caused by a planet passing in front of whatever star it is orbiting (from the perspective of Earth). By observing the time interval between these dips and the size of the dip, Kepler can calculate the planet’s orbit and radius. When this data is combined with other data from the star, astronomers can build a rough picture of what the planetary system looks like.

The new planet has been named Kepler 186f, and it is part of a five-planet system that is orbiting a red dwarf star (smaller and cooler than the Sun). What makes 186f so interesting is that its radius is only 1.1 times that of the Earth and it is orbiting its star in the habitable zone. This is the distance where, if the planet has water, then it is likely to remain in the liquid form. Liquid water is essential to life as we know it, and planets in this zone remain the top candidates to harbor some form of life.

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Major media publisher admits it is “afraid of Google”

4 hours 4 min ago
Google Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt. JD Lasica

The chief executive of Axel Springer, one of Europe's largest media publishers, has said that his company is afraid of the power that Google has accumulated and worries that the search giant is becoming a "superstate," immune from regulation.

Mathias Döpfner published an open letter to Google's executive chairman, Eric Schmidt, in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in which he points out that Google is not only the largest search engine in the world, but the largest video platform, the largest browser, and the most used e-mail service and mobile operating system. The open letter was published as a response to a guest column written by Schmidt in the same newspaper.

Döpfner goes on to talk about the "schizophrenic" relationship between Axel Springer and Google. On one hand the publisher is part of a European antitrust lawsuit against the search giant, while it also relies on Google's traffic and ad revenue. "We know of no alternative that even begins to offer similar technological requirements for automated advertising sales, and we cannot do without this source of income," he says.

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Draining reservoir after urination incident shows tenuous grasp of science

5 hours 4 min ago
Dallas Swonger, right, caught in the act by a security tape. pdxwater

The city of Portland, OR will empty a 38-million gallon reservoir after a teenager allegedly urinated in it, according to the Associated Press. It's the second time in three years that Portland is flushing its Mount Tabor reservoir after a urine-related incident.

The reservoir is open-air and sits exposed to all of nature, leading many parties to question how necessary a draining would be, or how polluted 38 million gallons of water can really be by a single man's urine.

David Shaff, Portland's water bureau administrator, reserves a special disgust specifically for human urine. In 2011, when Shaff drained the reservoir following a urination, he reasoned to the Portland Mercury, "Do you want to be drinking someone's pee?… There's probably no regulation that says I have to be doing it but, again, who wants to be drinking pee?" This time around, Shaff wrote in a statement, "Our customers have an expectation that their water is not deliberately contaminated."

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Bouncing neutrons fail to find dark matter or energy

6 hours 4 min ago
An array of neutron detectors. Oak Ridge National Labs

Earlier this year, researchers found the signal of inflation hidden in the cosmic microwave background—the radiative remnants of the Big Bang took a long time to reveal their secrets. It was a big day. Cosmologists everywhere broke out the Radler, got horrendously drunk, and rioted in front of campus administration buildings. Okay, maybe not—getting drunk while drinking Radler is difficult under the best of circumstances.

No, in reality, they went back to work. Even if those results hold up and inflation is as predicted, that still leaves cosmologists missing two pieces of their puzzle: dark matter and dark energy. While everyone else is searching the skies, a group of physicists has shown that bouncing neutrons are actually very sensitive to variations in gravity. Their research is now putting stringent limits on certain dark energy and dark matter theories.

Three forces walk into a bar

Before we crack open the door to the lab and reveal results, it is important to see how inflation, dark energy, and dark matter all fit together. When we look out into the Universe, its appearance is rather odd. It is surprisingly smooth over very large scales, containing lots of, well, bugger all. And where there is matter, it is clumped up much more than expected. So, the Universe is both smooth and lumpy. It's also still inflating. Our observations show that the expansion of the Universe not only continues, but is getting faster.

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Weibo IPO reveals a company struggling with censorship

7 hours 4 min ago
Jon Russell

Starting yesterday, investors have been able to purchase shares of Weibo, sometimes called “China’s Twitter,” on NASDAQ. The company’s regulatory filing with the SEC reveals details not previously known about Weibo’s censorship apparatus, which we wrote about last year.

Weibo, like all Internet publishers and providers in China, is prohibited from letting its users display content that is obscene, fraudulent, defamatory or otherwise illegal under Chinese laws. The content prohibitions also forbid material that “impairs the national dignity of China,” “is reactionary,” “superstitious,” or “socially destabilizing.”

As required under SEC regulations, the company must list for investors potential risks that might affect its share price. Weibo is up front about the risk that the Chinese government’s regulation of content poses to its ability so succeed. “Failure to [censor] may subject us to liabilities and penalties and may even result in the temporary blockage or complete shutdown of our online operations.”

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Everybody loves a clone: Orphan Black and its sci-fi inspirations

4/19/2014 3:35pm
Tatiana Maslany, Tatiana Maslany, and Tatiana Maslany, portraying three of Orphan Black's 11+ clones. BBC America

Spoiler alert: Minor spoilers for the TV show Orphan Black, as well as spoilers for other pieces of (less-contemporary) content, discussed throughout. 

Nearly 18 years ago, the world said hello to its first clone of an adult mammal. Frogs and other mammal trials had come before Dolly, but she was a special sheep, sourced straight from another sheep’s mammary glands, no sperm necessary. Instead, Dolly’s creators replaced an egg’s DNA with that of the source cell, then tricked the egg into thinking it had been fertilized.

A year later, she was formally announced to the world, and its largest governing bodies jumped to conclusions with a loud reply. Humans can’t be next, they cried! President Bill Clinton and the FDA quickly and formally expressed their disapproval of human cloning trials. Over two dozen countries still either ban human trials outright or limit the practice to research, only forbidding full-term births. (Such human research is alive and well, as we recently reported.)

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Gravitational lensing lets researchers size up a white dwarf

4/19/2014 2:30pm
Variation in output of the light from a binary system consisting of a Sun-like star and a white dwarf. When the white dwarf eclipses its companion, its gravity magnifies the light, making the star appear very slightly brighter. Eric Agol

White dwarfs are the remnants of stars like the Sun. They also provide some of the best means to measure large distances in the Universe if they explode as "type Ia" supernovae. All of those explosions occur in binary systems consisting either of two white dwarfs or a white dwarf paired with an ordinary star. To understand the whole process, astronomers need to identify progenitor systems before they explode: binaries with one or more white dwarf.

A particularly interesting example was recently identified and described in a Science paper by Ethan Kruse and Eric Agol. In this system, a white dwarf is locked in mutual orbit with a Sun-like star. The orientation of the binary relative to Earth means the two bodies periodically eclipse each other. When the white dwarf passes in front of its companion, gravitational lensing—the focusing of light by a massive body—magnifies the star's light very slightly. This is the first such "self-lensing" system containing a white dwarf, and should allow researchers to better understand understand the behavior of white dwarfs in binaries.

When one star passes in front of another (from our point of view), the gravity of the foreground star magnifies the light of the background object very slightly. This effect is very small, and so it is known as gravitational microlensing (or just microlensing) to distinguish it from the more dramatic form described in the sidebar. Microlensing can be used in some cases to detect exoplanets orbiting around the star in the foreground: the planet provides a tiny extra boost, beyond that provided by its host star, to the light of the star in the background.

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How has an increase in system complexity affected new programmers?

4/19/2014 1:45pm
Stack Exchange

This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 100+ Q&A sites.

Adam asked:

As a "new" programmer (I first wrote a line of code in 2009), I've noticed it's relatively easy to create a program that exhibits quite complex elements today with things like .NET framework, for example. Creating a visual interface or sorting a list can be done with very few commands now.

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Ask Ars: The best way to use a lithium-ion battery, redux

4/19/2014 1:00pm

A little over three years ago, you, the readers, asked us, the Ars staff, about the best way to prolong the life of a lithium-ion battery. Now that time has passed, the gadget landscape has changed, and it's time for an update. There are a few new things to look out for, but mostly the principles we stated then, stand today: "Use your battery. Not too much. Mostly for small apps."

Our initial guide clarified a great many things about lithium ion batteries and the ways they can differ from other types of batteries. These differences once used to strike fear into the hearts of consumers. For instance, Li-ion batteries, unlike nickel-based batteries, and don't get their capacity "confused" by shallow discharges. In fact, frequent and shallow discharges are the best advice for keeping a young Li-ion battery fit and trim.

One of the worst things you can do to a Li-ion battery is to run it out completely all the time. Full discharges put a lot of strain on the battery, and it's much better practice to do shallow discharges to no lower than 20 percent. In a way, this is like people running for exercise—running a few miles a day is fine, but running a marathon every day is generally not sustainable. If your Li-ion-powered device is running out of juice on a daily basis, you're decreasing its overall useful lifespan, and should probably work some charging stations into your day or change your devices' settings so that it's not churning through its battery so quickly.

There used to be certain types of batteries whose "memory" of their total charge capacity seemed to get confused by shallow discharges. This is not, and never was, the case with Li-ion batteries. However, if you are using something like a notebook computer that gives you time estimates of how much longer the battery will last, this clock can be confused by shallow charging intervals. Most manufacturers recommend that you do a full discharge of the battery about once a month to help your device calibrate the time gauge.

…On the other end of the spectrum, keeping a Li-ion battery fully charged is not good for it either. This isn't because Li-ion batteries can get "overcharged" (something that people used to worry about in The Olden Days of portable computers), but a Li-ion battery that doesn't get used will suffer from capacity loss, meaning that it won't be able to hold as much charge and power your gadgets for as long. Extremely shallow discharges of only a couple percent are also not enough to keep a Li-ion battery in practice, so if you're going to pull the plug, let the battery run down for a little bit.

The other tip that remains true is that you should keep Li-ion batteries in fair weather. They don't like extreme cold or heat, especially heat caused by running Crysis 2 clock-speed drag races or whatever the kids are up to these days.

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Report: Amidst layoffs, Nike to kill production of FuelBand

4/19/2014 12:11pm

According to a Friday report by CNET, Nike is preparing to pull the plug on its FuelBand product, firing the majority of its hardware team (as many as 55 people) this past week.

The company appears to be refocusing its efforts on apps, rather than physical hardware—it seems only a matter of time before such sensors are fully incorporated into future models of smartphones. The move may mark a turning point in the fitness band sector, as it appears to mark the first of the major companies to exit hardware manufacture.

"As a fast-paced, global business we continually align resources with business priorities," Nike spokesman Brian Strong told CNET. "As our Digital Sport priorities evolve, we expect to make changes within the team, and there will be a small number of layoffs. We do not comment on individual employment matters."

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Longaccess is your Swiss bank for personal data

4/19/2014 11:30am

Ever wondered if your children will inherit your digital data?

Longaccess promises to be a cold storage of sorts for your digital life. It's a cloud-based service that operates off Amazon's S3 data centers, but unlike other file lockers, such as Dropbox or Google Drive, Longaccess aims to be less accessible, but more dependable.

Once you sign up, it is simply a matter of choosing what files you want to keep and hitting upload. Once the process is complete, instead of storing the files in an account on a website or emailing you a link, Longaccess then provides you a code string that can be printed out as a certificate—or tattooed onto your arm.

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Record industry rolls on with lawsuits: first Kim Dotcom, now Pandora

4/19/2014 11:22am
Thomas Hawk

Five major record labels have sued Pandora over failing to pay royalties for music recorded before 1972. The same record labels also sued SiriusXM satellite radio in September 2013 over similar issues.

Due to a quirk in federal law, music recorded before 1972 is not protected under US copyright. Those recordings, however, are governed by what the US Copyright Office describes as: “a patchwork of state statutory and common law. States are permitted to continue protection for pre-1972 sound recordings until 2067, at which time all state protection will be preempted by federal law and pre-1972 sound recordings will enter the public domain.”

SoundExchange, a music rights organization, estimates that non-payment for pre-1972 recordings cost artists and labels $60 million in royalties non-payment in 2013 alone.

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Gallery: The cost of coal

4/19/2014 10:45am

Globally, the generation of the electricity that powers modern society is still heavily reliant on a fuel that's been used for thousands of years: coal. Coal has two virtues: it's plentiful and extracting it is cheap. But almost every step involved in its production and use brings problems.

Extracting it is hazardous to miners, while alternatives like open-pit mines or mountain top removal permanently alter the landscape and often release hazardous chemicals into the environment. Burning it requires careful pollution controls to avoid the release of hazardous chemicals like mercury or acid-forming sulfur compounds. It also releases the most carbon dioxide per unit of electricity generated. Combustion also leaves behind a toxic sludge that creates a long-term contamination hazard.

The April issue of National Geographic includes an article that asks "Can coal ever be clean?" (The answer is no, but at the right cost, it could be cleaner.) The article is accompanied by the photographs of Robb Kendrick, who has captured some of the costs of coal at sites around the world. National Geographic got in touch and offered to share some of these images with our readers; you can find these and more at the magazine's website.

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Taking e-mail back, part 4: The finale, with webmail & everything after

4/19/2014 9:00am
Aurich Lawson

You all have persevered through quite a bit to get to this point: we have a functional and secure e-mail server that does a good job at ignoring or dumping off spam before it hits your inbox. We've got all the right pieces in place to ensure that the mail we send gets delivered; we've got OpenDKIM operational, and we've got DNS properly configured (including reverse lookups!).

We could stop here and declare success. After all, you can plug your mail account name and password into your mail app or your smartphone and send and receive e-mail. You can easily add new accounts. Even better, you can easily add aliases, so creating "" and using it at a skeevy website that requires e-mail registration and then deleting the alias takes only a few seconds.

But are there any extra steps we can take to increase security? What about one-time passwords or two-factor authentication? What about bolting on a webmail front end so we can access our e-mail from a browser? What about push notifications or calendaring? What about letting users set and change their own e-mail passwords? What else can we bolt onto our server, and what other configuration paths might we take to do things differently?

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PSA: Dozens of games available for 99 cents each on PSN this weekend

4/18/2014 4:50pm
All of this animal savagery can be yours for only 99 cents this weekend, thanks to Sony's crazy flash sale on PSN.

Need an excuse to hide from improving weather conditions around the country? Sony has you covered. Just a day after announcing its trouncing of Microsoft in the next-gen sales wars, Sony has unveiled a giant, weekend-long sale that includes some of its biggest hits for the stupidly cheap price of 99 cents.

This sale mostly targets PS3 fare, including critical darlings Braid, Retro/Grade, Echochrome 2, and Tokyo Jungle, along with solid downloadables like Plants Vs. Zombies and Gotham City Impostors, and cross-buy sleepers When Vikings Attack and Retro City Rampage. PS1 classics also land in the sale, including Gex and every Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon platform game on the classic system.

A full list of the 34 discounted titles is available on the PlayStation Blog and also directly on this Sony Entertainment Network store page (which is getting slammed at the moment). Sale prices are valid until 7am Pacific time Monday, April 21, so bust out the credit card before then.

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Preview: Confronting Nazi horror in Wolfenstein: The New Order

4/18/2014 3:45pm

This may be a technical distinction most people don’t recognize, but it’s also a historical truth: Most German soldiers during World War II weren’t actually Nazis. In games like the Medal of Honor series, the early Call of Duty games, Day of Defeat, or the new Heroes & Generals, players are fighting as or against the German Wehrmacht, their regular army forces.

The Waffen-SS, on the other hand, is the armed wing of the Nazi party that has always been the primary antagonist throughout the Castle Wolfenstein franchise. But these virtual enemies never felt properly evil to me until I got to engage with a three-hour demo of Wolfenstein: The New Order recently.

Sure, I've always known from history just how evil the SS troops in previous Wolfenstein games were, but that was knowledge I had from outside the game. Inside the games themselves, I was fighting an “SS Paranormal Division” that felt more like the cartoonish villains from the Indiana Jones movies—raising dead spirits, seeking religious totems, or engaging in other such hocus-pocus with a little Nazi superweapon vibe thrown in.

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LADEE meets Moon: High-speed impact ends probe’s mission

4/18/2014 2:48pm
With the last support being pulled away, LADEE departs for the Moon.

LADEE, NASA's mission to study the thin lunar atmosphere, came to a close on the far side of the Moon last night (US time), as its controllers had it smash into the lunar surface. NASA's policy is to treat the locations of the Moon landings as historical sites, and it takes pains to preserve them from possible damage. LADEE didn't have the fuel to control its orbit indefinitely. As a result, the controllers had been preparing to terminate the probe for several weeks.

The preparations included having it complete several orbits at an altitude below one mile, (1.6km), giving its scientific instruments a rare, close-up view of the Moon. In addition to its scientific missions, LADEE was used to test a new, laser-based communication system that set space bandwidth records: 622 megabits-per-second down from lunar orbit, with a 20mbps upload rate.

The exact moment of impact isn't clear, since the precise terrain it hit couldn't be determined in advance. (If it hit a ridge, it would have happened earlier than if LADEE plowed across a plain. What is clear is that the impact destroyed the probe.

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FCC chairman regrets that AT&T and Verizon control the best spectrum

4/18/2014 2:36pm
AT&T's coverage map. AT&T

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler today provided an update on next year’s auction of broadcast TV spectrum to wireless carriers and said that having two national carriers control the best spectrum is harmful to competition.

“Spectrum below 1 GHz—such as the Incentive Auction spectrum—has physical properties that increase the reach of mobile networks over long distances,” Wheeler wrote in a blog post. “The effect of such properties is that fewer base stations and other infrastructure are required to build out a mobile network. This makes low-band particularly important in rural areas. A legacy of earlier spectrum assignments, however, is that two national carriers control the vast majority of low-band spectrum. As a result, rural consumers are denied the competition and choice that would be available if more wireless competitors also had access to low-band spectrum.”

Wheeler didn’t mention the two national carriers by name, but it's pretty clear he was referring to AT&T and Verizon Wireless. Those two companies want to be able to buy as much spectrum in the auction as they can afford, but FCC officials have proposed rules that would prevent them from doing so. AT&T threatened to boycott the auction, saying that bidding restrictions would primarily affect itself and Verizon.

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