In a blog post on Friday, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said that he would postpone a January 2014 spectrum auction to mid-2015. In his post, Wheeler called for more extensive testing of “the operating systems and the software necessary to conduct the world’s first-of-a kind incentive auction.”
”Only when our software and systems are technically ready, user friendly, and thoroughly tested, will we start the auction,” wrote Wheeler. The chairman also said that he wanted to develop procedures for how the auction will be conducted, specifically after seeking public comment on those details in the second half of next year.
In 2012, Congress passed the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which required the FCC to auction off 65 MHz of spectrum by 2015. Revenue from the auction will go toward developing FirstNet, an LTE network for first responders. Two months ago, acting FCC chair Mignon Clyburn announced that the commission would start that sell-off by placing 10MHz on the auction block in January 2014. The other 25 MHz would be auctioned off at a later date, before the end of 2015.
In the run-up to the Xbox One's launch this year, one of the more amusing stories was a Microsoft blog post suggesting that users could mark the system as a tax write-off if they used things like Skype chatting and Microsoft Office online for business purposes. It seemed silly, but it got me wondering: Could the Xbox One and some Web-based apps fill in for the desktop or laptop I usually use for my day-to-day work?
After using it in just that way for the better part of a day, I was surprised to find that the Xbox One's version of Internet Explorer lets the system serve as a halfway decent work machine—though not without a good deal of headaches and missing features. It wouldn't take many tweaks for Microsoft to really unlock the Xbox One's potential for productivity, letting the company market the box in earnest as a living room computer in addition to a high-end game machine.Getting to work
This week, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler seemed to negate the commission's 2010 Open Internet Order, saying that it would be OK if Internet Service Providers charged high-bandwidth sites like Netflix for a faster lane to consumers. Jon Brodkin brought us the facts and the analysis in FCC chair: ISPs should be able to charge Netflix for Internet fast lane.
A lot of our readers were disappointed, if not surprised. Wheeler previously worked as a lobbyist for the cable and wireless industries, and while some of his initial statements boded well for consumers, his latest comment was decidedly industry-friendly. As Brainling wrote: "The guy is a former lobbyist for the cable industry. What did people expect? He almost certainly got his job because the cable companies put him there (through other lobbying efforts), specifically to ram rod through anti-consumer/pro-cable rules. This is how America works in 2013 folks. We all better pray Google Fiber works out, because until someone breaks the Big Cable hegemony, you can expect them to go as anti-consumer as the law allows them to."
bburdge agreed: "Yup. Exactly as expected. He will make all these statements about being consumer friendly and for net neutrality, but then add small bits that slowly wear down what those things mean. So here we have 'Yes, net neutrality is great, I fully support it, really important. But you know, paying extra for premium service is not a big deal right, we do it all the time, first class on the airplane, or overnight shipping. That's not against net neutrality, it's just the market...' Sucks for us." ender2003 tried an analogy: "Let's paint a picture. Your house is connected to the city's water supply, for which you already pay a monthly fee (water bill). You "rent" a water hose to use to water your lawn, but then are told that you will have to pay more to use the hose depending on where the water is coming from. You can get water for no charge from the owner of the hose, or you can pay an extra fee to access the city's water. Does that make sense?"
Microsoft researchers have developed a bra-mounted sensor system that measures boob sweat and heart activity in order to detect emotional triggers for overeating.
The research is based on the idea that people eat not just when they are hungry but also for a host of emotional and habitual reasons. The goal was to provide a system that could intervene before the person turns to food for emotional support.
Microsoft researchers teamed up with colleagues from the University of Rochester and the University of Southampton to develop a range of interventions that go a step further than activity trackers such as FitBit and Nike's Fuelband. In their paper, the researchers mention other systems that have been developed that include heart rate monitors, earpieces to track chewing and swallowing, and augmented reality glasses to capture the food consumed.
The Moto G isn't much like the high-end handsets we spend most of our time with, but in many ways it's more interesting than Another 5-inch 1080p Android Flagship. It looks and feels a lot like a Moto X. It performs a lot like a high-end phone from a couple of years ago. But it costs only $179 off-contract, where most similar phones go for at least $400 unlocked.
This handset obviously isn't meant to compete with $600-and-up flagships, but it's trying to redefine a part of the market that's now served by years-old phones and barely-usable garbage. Look at the phones that an MVNO like Straight Talk Wireless offers for less than $400, and you'll see just how under-served this market is. With the Moto G, Google and Motorola have attempted to put together a basic smartphone that doesn't throw quality under the bus in the name of cheapness.
In giving this phone the review treatment, we'll hit all of the same stuff we usually test—benchmarks, battery life, and so on. However, we'll also spend quite a bit of time answering the biggest questions about the Moto G: where does this phone feel like it costs $179, and who is it for?
The FBI has an elite hacker team that creates customized malware to identify or monitor high-value suspects who are adept at covering their tracks online, according to a published report.
The growing sophistication of the spyware—which can report users' geographic locations and remotely activate a computer’s camera without triggering the light that lets users know it's recording—is pushing the boundaries of constitutional limits on searches and seizures, The Washington Post reported in an article published Friday. Critics compare it to a physical search that indiscriminately seizes the entire contents of a home, rather than just those items linked to a suspected crime. Former US officials said the FBI uses the technique sparingly, in part to prevent it from being widely known.
The 2,000-word article recounts an FBI hunt for "Mo," a man who made a series of threats by e-mail, video chat, and an Internet voice service to detonate bombs at universities, airports, and hotels across a wide swath of the US last year. After tracing phone numbers and checking IP addresses used to access accounts, investigators were no closer to knowing who the man was or even where in the world he was located. Then, officials tried something new.
Earlier this week, details about the contracts that participants in Riot's League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) had signed were leaked, revealing that players in the competition were prohibited from streaming a range of competing (and not-so-competing) game titles. With streaming being an important means of income for professional gamers, this restriction was met by shock and disbelief from much of the community.
In response to the backlash, Riot Games has backed down. e-sports publication onGamers, which broke the news of the original contract, now reports that while gamers and teams contracted to play in LCS cannot be sponsored by other game companies to advertise competing games, they are free to stream them as they see fit.
Explaining the original policy, the company said that competing studios had been trying to capitalize on LCS's success and use it to their own advantage, by trying to pay LCS teams and players to play competing games on stream. Riot sought to end this, but now acknowledges that banning all streaming of these games was "overreach."
An online crime kingpin arrested in October and charged with creating and distributing the Blackhole exploit kit may have had his hand in as much as 40 percent of the world's malware infections, according to information released by the security firm that helped track him down.
The 27-year-old Russian, identified only as Paunch, allegedly earned about $50,000 per month selling BlackHole subscriptions for as much as $500 per month, according to a report published Friday by security firm Group-IB. He is also alleged to be behind the much more expensive Cool Exploit Kit and a "Crypt" service used to obfuscate malware to go undetected by antivirus programs. With more than 1,000 customers, he was able to lead a lavish lifestyle that included driving a white Porsche Cayenne, Group-IB said.A man Group-IB identifies as "Paunch" standing in front of a Porsche Cayenne. Group-IB
Exploit kits are the do-it-yourself tools used to embed crimeware into hacked or malicious websites so they target a host of vulnerabilities found on end-user computers. People who visit the websites are exposed to "drive-by" attacks that are often able to install highly malicious software on the computers with no sign that anything is amiss. Group-IB estimated that Paunch may have supplied the code used in as much as 40 percent of the PC crimeware infections worldwide. Researchers arrived at that guess by gauging sales of BlackHole and Cool, which they said accounted for about 40 percent of world revenue for exploit kits. Even assuming that some crimeware is installed independent of exploit kits, it's hard to overstate the role these two kits played in seeding the Web with exploit code that installed malware used in bank fraud and other forms of online crime.
A climate study of Tolkien’s Middle Earth of the Lord of the Rings trilogy reveals some interesting intersections with “Modern Earth.” The places on Earth most similar in climate to the Shire include a small region in New Zealand as well as a part of Britain, while locations that are similar to Mordor fall in the southwest US and a central part of Australia.
The climatology of Middle Earth is examined in a paper released Friday by noted Middle Earth wizard and nature enthusiast Radagast the Brown (also the alias of the Cabot Institute of the University of Bristol), which draws conclusions about the various regions of Middle Earth based on descriptions in the books. For instance, Mordor and Haradwaith are very dry, while the highest precipitation occurs to the west of the Misty Mountains, where the Shire is located.
Based on a climate analysis of Middle Earth’s temperature and rainfall, Radagast maps the regions of the world with similar conditions to different parts of Middle Earth and sees where they overlap. Both New Zealand and England contain large regions with adequate rainfall and enough scattered instances of the right temperature to indicate that Lincolnshire and Leicestershire in the UK are Shire-like, as are (roughly) Gore and Alexandra in NZ.
US law on software patents is as chaotic as it's ever been. In May, the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which takes all patent appeal cases, agreed to have an important case about software patents, Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank, heard "en banc" by the full court (10 judges at the time).
That produced one of the most splintered rulings ever to come out of the court. The ten judges hearing the case issued seven different opinions. None of those opinions gained a six-judge majority, so the ruling produced no binding precedent. It also showed how the Federal Circuit was all over the map when it came to software patents.
Today, the Supreme Court said it will step in to bring some order to that chaos. The court has accepted Alice Corp.'s petition and will be hearing the case sometime next year.
On Thursday, Microsoft's Digital Crimes Unit, the legal and technical team that has driven the takedown of botnets such as Bamital and Nitol during the past year, announced that it has moved with Europol, industry partners, and the FBI to disrupt yet another search fraud botnet. The ZeroAccess botnet, also known as ZAccess or Siref, has taken over approximately 2 million PCs worldwide; Microsoft estimates that it has cost search engine advertisers on Google, Bing, and Yahoo over $2.7 million each month.
According to security reporter Brian Krebs, ZeroAccess began its life cycle in 2009 as a delivery network for other malware—dropping paying customers' viruses and Trojans, including "scareware" fake antivirus packages—onto PCs it had successfully infected. But since then, it has evolved into a "clickfraud" platform—intercepting search requests from the user's Web browser and injecting fraudulent hyperlinks into the results returned from major search sites. The botnet operators get paid through advertising networks for the traffic sent to the sites as if the user had clicked on a legitimate ad.
After identifying the IP addresses of 18 command-and-control servers involved in directing ZeroAccess, Microsoft filed civil lawsuits last week against the botnet operators in the US District Court for the Western District of Texas. The court gave Microsoft permission in court to block traffic between them and PCs in the US using technology provided by networking vendor A10 Networks.
Soylent, the food replacement from former engineer Rob Rhinehart, has hit one of its final milestones before release: the formula has been finalized and frozen, and large-scale manufacturing and packing is underway. Just after Thanksgiving, Rhinehart posted a blog entry discussing the changes in "Soylent 1.0" versus the beta 0.89 version we consumed for a week back at the end of summer.
At the time, the Soylent folks estimated that backers of the company's wildly successful crowdfunding effort would be receiving their initial shipments of Soylent in December; this estimate has now been revised to January. The main reason for the delay has been due to the small Soylent team having to find ways to cope with the realities of mass-producing their product. The beta packages of Soylent sent out to the small list of testers were all hand-stuffed, whereas the actual production version is being mixed and packaged on an industrial scale by a specialist company called a "co-packer."Macro mix
Going by the blog post, there are a number of substantial changes to the Soylent formula from the beta we slurped down. One is that the carbohydrate mixture has been nailed: one 500g bag of Soylent will contain 210g of oat flour and 132g of maltodextrin. The protein mix has also shifted—our beta Soylent contained a mix of rice and pea protein, but production Soylent will contain 102g of brown rice protein isolate.
After a partial attempt to get the Food and Drug Administration to ease up on its complaints, the personal genetics company 23andMe took a rather substantial step yesterday: it pulled all medically relevant information from its site, replacing its normal home page with a disclaimer. This move doesn't meet the FDA's original demand—that the company stop selling testing kits entirely—but it does suggest that 23andMe is now taking the issue seriously.
In late November, the FDA sent an open letter to 23andMe, noting that the company is offering a service that fits the legal definition of a medical device and is therefore subject to regulatory oversight. In fact, the company and agency had been negotiating for years regarding how best to bring the genetic tests into compliance. However, it seems that 23andMe stopped returning the agency's calls sometime earlier this year, and it then launched a new advertising campaign in which it promoted the medical relevance of its tests.
The FDA's letter seemed to alternate between disappointment and annoyance at these developments, but its proposed solution came down clearly on the annoyance end of the spectrum: it gave the company two weeks to stop offering its product. As a conciliatory gesture, 23andMe announced that it would stop promoting its products through advertising. Yesterday, it followed that up with a more dramatic step by removing all medical information from the Web portal that helps users interpret the results of the tests. Today, a visit to the company's website will bring up a dialog that asks the visitor to acknowledge the following:
Stock in Electronic Arts fell more than six percent yesterday after the company said developer DICE was placing other projects on hold as it struggles to fix server and gameplay issues with the recent release of Battlefield 4.
In a statement released late Wednesday, a DICE representative said the company was “not moving onto future projects or expansions until we sort out all the issues with Battlefield 4.” That means the development of announced games like Star Wars Battlefront and a new Mirror’s Edge is on the back burner while Battlefield issues get the developer’s full attention. The new focus also puts a hold on the development of three planned future BF4 expansions; the China Rising expansion, released earlier this week to Premium subscribers, was already in the final stages of development when issues with the base game arose.
"We know we still have a ways to go with fixing the game—it is absolutely our #1 priority,” the DICE representative said. “The team at DICE is working non-stop to update the game… We know many of our players are frustrated, and we feel your pain. We will not stop until this is right."
Once again, as we near the shortest day of the year, I'm heading quite a bit closer to the Arctic Circle. I've been invited to take part in the Nobel Week Dialog, an event organized by the Nobel Foundation to give the public a chance to join discussions regarding the role of science in understanding some of the biggest challenges facing our global society. Last year, the focus was on genetics and genomics, topics that are changing how we understand who we are and how we remain healthy.
This Monday, the Dialog will be focused on a topic that may dictate how thoroughly we get to enjoy the advances in genetics: energy. We're currently in the midst of a major transition where many countries are working toward a transition to sustainable energy sources, while others are trying to provide power for more of their citizens without becoming overly reliant on fossil fuels.
(If any readers live in or near Gothenburg, it's probably worth trying to attend. If that's not possible, many of the panels will be streamed live.)
Spotify will soon allow its ad-supported users to stream music on demand for free on their mobile devices, according to reports from the Wall Street Journal and TechCrunch. The company is reportedly holding an event next week to announce the service tweak, which takes a bit of the incentive away from subscribing.
The Journal reports that Spotify has been negotiating for nearly a year to get new mobile streaming rights, and it finally has the blessing of Sony Music Entertainment, Universal Music Group, and Warner Music Group. The rights holders and Spotify not only had to agree on rates but on how the music could be used.
Part of the beauty of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa is its incredible smoothness. But like most things, if you look closely, cracks appear in this facade. In Europa’s case, the cracks come in the form of jumbled pieces of ice that make up what are called the moon's “chaos terrains.” Just what caused the chaos is an open question.
There is, however, an obvious candidate. Europa’s most exciting characteristic is probably the ocean of liquid water that is thought to exist beneath that icy crust. It seems likely that the ocean has something to do with the chaos terrain, especially given the presence of salt there. To figure that out, however, we’d have to know something about how water circulates in that ocean. And, unlike our own oceans, you can’t just chuck a buoy in and see where it goes.
Circulation in the ocean would be driven by the heat from Europa’s interior. It’s been thought that the big-picture pattern might look something like the atmosphere of Jupiter, with alternating bands of eastward or westward flow. Ultimately, this pattern carries the greatest amount of internal heat to Europa’s polar regions. A new study, led by University of Texas at Austin researcher Krista Soderlund, suggests the circulation pattern could actually look quite different.
The end of 2013 has been a pretty special time for console racers. A couple of weeks ago, the Xbox One arrived on shelves with the flawed-but-compelling Forza Motorsport 5. Now PS3 owners have their turn in the spotlight with Gran Turismo 6, the latest installment of Polyphony Digital’s legendary franchise. Going into this review, I was eager to find out if the underwhelming GT5 was the start of a terminal decline or if creator Kazunori Yamauchi and his team knocked it out of the park.A brief history of Gran Turismo
The GT series of games spans three console generations and more than a decade and a half of time. The original Gran Turismo on the original PlayStation blew my mind in 1997, setting a new standard for what gamers could expect from a racing game. Mario Kart was fun and Codemasters’ TOCA Touring Cars had its moments, but GT was more than a game; it was a digital expression of love for the automobile. Contemporary rivals like Ridge Racer didn’t feature real cars, and even ones that did, like Need for Speed II, felt more like driving the idea of a car than a simulation of one.
GT came packed with 140 virtual representations that behaved like their real counterparts (as much as that was possible with that generation's hardware) and introduced a generation across the world to cult Japanese performance cars like the Subaru Impreza WRX and Nissan Skyline GT-R. Progress through the game involved a series of license tests, some of which could be maddeningly difficult, but the effect on one’s nucleus accumbens and ventral tegmentum area was hard to overstate. How else to explain all those late nights spent trying to thread cars between slalom cones like a lab animal repeatedly pushing a lever to gain a reward? Not to mention the odd broken controller, rendered nonfunctional after a frustration-induced meeting with the wall.
Today, Wired writer Kevin Poulsen brought to light a collection of documents that the Army posted to its FOIA reading room just before Thanksgiving last week, which included 13 pages of unclassified chat logs from 2010 between former intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning (formerly known as Bradley Manning) and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. After handing over a massive trove of diplomatic cables and other videos to Wikileaks, Manning was convicted in July 2013 of espionage, theft, and computer fraud, although she was acquitted of the most serious charge of “aiding the enemy.”
The chat log was recovered from Manning’s computer by an Army forensics expert after her arrest, and some of the log's contents were used by the government in its prosecution of Manning.
The conversation ranges widely from pleasantries to highly sensitive leak information, discussions of the political climate, and the occasional conspiracy theory. (In one chat, Manning, who went by “dawgnetwork,” told “pressassociation,” which the Army says was Julian Assange, “i told you before, government/organizations cant control information... the harder they try, the more violently the information wants to get out.") In all, it's an interesting look into the relationship between the source and the leaker in the days before they released the infamous “Collateral Murder” video, which showed a 2007 military attack that killed civilians in Baghdad, Iraq.
Internet Explorer and Chrome both use a multiprocess architecture to enhance stability and security. They separate the task of parsing and rendering Web pages from the job of drawing the browser on-screen, saving downloaded files, creating network connections, and so on. This allows them to run the dangerous parts—the parts exposed to malicious scripts and exploitative HTML—in a sandbox with reduced permissions, making it harder for browser flaws to be turned into system compromises.
It also means that they're much more tolerant of crash bugs; a bug will bring down an individual tab, but shouldn't, in general, bring down the browser as a whole.
In 2009, Mozilla announced the Electrolysis project, which was to bring this kind of multiprocess design to Firefox.