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Programmable chips turning Azure into a supercomputing powerhouse

1 hour 23 min ago

An Altera Stratix V developer board, which uses the same kind of FPGA as Microsoft is deploying in Azure. (credit: Altera)

Microsoft is embarking on a major upgrade of its Azure systems. New hardware the company is installing in its 34 datacenters around the world still contains the mix of processors, RAM, storage, and networking hardware that you'll find in any cloud system, but to these Microsoft is adding something new: field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), highly configurable processors that can be rewired using software in order to provide hardware accelerated implementations of software algorithms.

The company first investigated using FPGAs to accelerate the Bing search engine. In "Project Catapult," Microsoft added off-the-shelf FPGAs on PCIe cards from Altera (now owned by Intel) to some Bing servers and programmed those FPGAs to perform parts of the Bing ranking algorithm in hardware. The result was a 40-fold speed-up compared to a software implementation running on a regular CPU.

A common next step after achieving success with an FPGA is to then create an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to make a dedicated, hardcoded equivalent to the FPGA. This is what Microsoft did with the Holographic Processing Unit in its HoloLens headset, for example, because the ASIC has greatly reduced power consumption and size. But the Bing team stuck with FPGAs because their algorithms change dozens of times a year. An ASIC would take many months to produce, meaning that by the time it arrived, it would already be obsolete.

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Firefox ready to block certificate authority that threatened Web security

3 hours 25 min ago


The organization that develops Firefox has recommended the browser block digital credentials issued by a China-based certificate authority for 12 months after discovering it cut corners that undermine the entire transport layer security system that encrypts and authenticates websites.

The browser-trusted WoSign authority intentionally back-dated certificates it has issued over the past nine months to avoid an industry-mandated ban on the use of the SHA-1 hashing algorithm, Mozilla officials charged in a report published Monday. SHA-1-based signatures were barred at the beginning of the year because of industry consensus they are unacceptably susceptible to cryptographic collision attacks that can create counterfeit credentials. To satisfy customers who experienced difficulty retiring the old hashing function, WoSign continued to use it anyway and concealed the use by dating certificates prior to the first of this year, Mozilla officials said. They also accused WoSign of improperly concealing its acquisition of Israeli certificate authority StartCom, which was used to issue at least one of the improperly issued certificates.

"Taking into account all the issues listed above, Mozilla's CA team has lost confidence in the ability of WoSign/StartCom to faithfully and competently discharge the functions of a CA," Monday's report stated. "Therefore we propose that, starting on a date to be determined in the near future, Mozilla products will no longer trust newly issued certificates issued by either of these two CA brands."

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Liveblog: Elon Musk has revealed the Interplanetary Transport System

3 hours 36 min ago

The Interplanetary Transport System.

It's time. After weeks of teasing us with talk of his Interplanetary Transport System and images of his new Raptor engine's test firing, SpaceX founder Elon Musk will finally deliver his much ballyhooed speech on Tuesday at 2:30pm ET (7:30pm UK), during the International Astronautical Congress.

Ars has already previewed the speech, which likely will lay out Musk's preferred architecture for Mars settlement, including spacecraft and a large rocket which will be powered by Raptor engines. For the speech to be a success, Musk must go beyond dazzling space hardware. He must prove to us that his plan is not science fiction, but something achievable. Humans have dreamt of going to Mars for decades—one of Wernher von Braun's first public appearances in the United States involved a presentation on Mars exploration to an El Paso Rotary Club. But we have heretofore lacked both the technology and the will to do so.

Musk undoubtedly has the technology, both in reality (such as the Raptor rocket engine or SuperDraco thrusters to land on Mars) and in concept (such as how to transport hundreds of people safely from Earth to Mars). But whether he can build a coalition of support in the government and private industry without undermining NASA's own Journey to Mars is a big question. Tuesday's speech is the start of that effort, and Ars will liveblog the proceedings with a feature-length analysis afterward.

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Dealmaster: Get a Newegg Premier membership, free shipping, plus gift card for $100

3 hours 53 min ago

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, we're sharing a bunch of great deals with you today. Now you can get a one-year Newegg Premier membership, which includes free return shipping and free three-day expedited shipping—and a $100 gift card for the site—for just $100. Newegg Premier costs $50 for the year, so you essentially get the service and all its perks for the price of just the gift card. It will undoubtably come in handy during the holiday shopping season, so grab it now and use it well into next year.

Check out the rest of the deals below, too.


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Google’s latest IM client, Allo, isn’t ready for prime time

4 hours 3 min ago

Google's newest attempt at creating a decent instant messaging platform, Google Allo, is finally available. Google announced the new IM service at Google I/O 2016, and a whopping four months later, we finally get to try it out.

We're still not quite sure what the future of Allo holds. Will it eventually become Android's default instant messaging platform? Will we get a Chrome and Chrome OS client? After a lackluster effort with Google Hangouts (which Google says will stick around), how much does Google really care about this new platform? For now all we can do is talk about the present, and right now Google has given us an instant messaging client that doesn't seem like it was built for the modern age.

Setup—Google? What’s Google?

Setup relies on your cellular carrier's phone number. None of your Google information is pulled over.

Setup is very odd in that Allo doesn't use your Google account. Sign-up and identification are done entirely through your cell carrier's phone number, just like Whatsapp and Wechat. After typing in your random string of 10 digits and getting a verification text, Allo pretends you are a complete stranger and asks for your name and profile picture. Google asking for my name is definitely off-putting, especially when—thanks to my prodigious usage of Google services—the company probably knows damn near everything about me. Allo acts more like a third-party service and pretends the Google connection doesn't exist.

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EFF calls on HP to disable printer ink self-destruct sequence

4 hours 32 min ago

Enlarge (credit: EFF)

HP Inc. should apologize to customers and restore the ability of printers to use third-party ink cartridges, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a letter to the company's CEO yesterday.

HP has been sabotaging OfficeJet Pro printers with firmware that prevents use of non-HP ink cartridges and even HP cartridges that have been refilled, forcing customers to buy more expensive ink directly from HP. The self-destruct mechanism informs customers that their ink cartridges are "damaged" and must be replaced.

"The software update that prevented the use of third-party ink was reportedly distributed in March, but this anti-feature itself wasn't activated until September," EFF Special Advisor Cory Doctorow wrote in a letter to HP Inc. CEO Dion Weisler. "That means that HP knew, for at least six months, that some of its customers were buying your products because they believed they were compatible with any manufacturer's ink, while you had already planted a countdown timer in their property that would take this feature away. Your customers will have replaced their existing printers, or made purchasing recommendations to friends who trusted them on this basis. They are now left with a less useful printer—and possibly a stockpile of useless third-party ink cartridges."

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Driven: The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

4 hours 43 min ago
  • Fiat is paying homage to the original 124 Spider, using the Miata as the starting point. Has it worked? Jim Resnick

The original 124 was Fiat's best-selling car in America by far, selling 170,000 units in the 16 years it lived on these shores through the mid-1980s. Fiat wants to rekindle that love in the new millennium, and the route it chose was to partner with an expert. The result? The new Fiat 124, built on the same bones—and at the same Hiroshima factory—as the fourth-generation Mazda Miata.

Who could blame them? Mazda's success was not to ignore things like quality, management, or dealer networks, the things that contributed to the demise of the original 124 and other sports cars of its ilk. In 1989 Mazda struck gold with a reliable little roadster. The Miata became the best-selling two-seat roadster in history and also the most widely road-raced car in the world.

Since the 124 shares much with the Miata, it should feel and behave like one. Base prices are within spitting distance of each other: $25,890 for the 124 and $25,750 for the Miata Sport, with our Classica test model reaching $27,880 with Bluetooth, rear camera, and pearlescent paint as options. (All prices include destination charges.) Despite Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' efforts to position the 124 away from the Miata to avoid those comparisons (and any possible automotive fratricide), it cannot be ignored.

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From The Wirecutter: The best 4K monitors (so far)

4 hours 55 min ago

IT'S LIL' BUB (credit: The Wirecutter)

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article with more details and background information here.

After spending 37 hours researching 22 4K monitors and testing eight finalists, we’ve found that the Dell P2715Q is the best 4K monitor. Recent improvements in technology and drops in pricing make a 4K monitor a good buy if you’re willing to live with some quirks, but it still isn’t something most people need.

The Dell P2715Q has everything you'd want in a 4K monitor. As a 27-inch IPS monitor with a 3840×2160 resolution, it offers lots of desktop space and fantastic image quality for 4K movies, YouTube videos, and gaming. Because it’s factory-calibrated, you won’t have to do anything to it to benefit from its accurate colors. On the hardware side, it has a highly adjustable stand, it’s VESA-compatible for use with a monitor arm, and it comes with a built-in USB 3.0 hub. And in contrast to the technology on earlier 4K monitors, its single-stream DisplayPort connection can run the monitor at its full resolution at 60Hz.

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Is the Universe the same in all directions?

5 hours 5 min ago

Visualization of the polarization of the CMB over the entire sky, as seen by the Planck satellite. (credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

The standard model of Cosmology makes an important assumption: that the Universe is essentially isotropic, the same in all directions. This is a pretty good assumption, and so far isotropy seems to be the case. The Cosmic Microwave Background radiation we see coming from all directions has some small blips in it, indicating minor deviations from isotropy, but nothing to write home about. So far so good.

But we don’t know for sure just how far that isotropy extends. If there were huge deviations, it would mean we live in a wholly different universe from the one we thought we did. This class of alternative universes is known as Bianchi cosmologies, and only a few of them have been tested against the data. That leaves plenty that haven’t. If our Universe turns out to be a Bianchi universe, it would rule out our standard cosmology and associated ideas, such as inflation.

In an attempt to find out what kind of universe we live in, a group of researchers constructed a more general test. If the Universe is truly anisotropic (different in different directions), it would mean it’s expanding at different rates. If so, light traveling through these differently expanding regions would be red-shifted differently. That's because the wavelength of light is stretched as it moves through expanding space, so if space were expanding at different rates, the redshift would be altered accordingly.

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Microsoft launches “fuzzing-as-a-service” to help developers find security bugs

5 hours 17 min ago

Enlarge / No, not that sort of fuzzing for bugs. (credit: Micha L. Rieser)

At Microsoft's Ignite conference in Atlanta yesterday, the company announced the availability of a new cloud-based service for developers that will allow them to test application binaries for security flaws before they're deployed. Called Project Springfield, the service uses "whitebox fuzzing" (also known as "smart fuzzing") to test for common software bugs used by attackers to exploit systems.

In standard fuzzing tests, randomized inputs are thrown at software in an effort to find something that breaks the code—a buffer overflow that would let malicious code be planted in the system's memory or an unhandled exception that causes the software to crash or processes to hang. But the problem with this random approach is that it's hard to get deep into the logic of code. Another approach, called static code analysis (or "whiteboxing"), looks instead at the source code and walks through it without executing it, using ranges of inputs to determine whether security flaws may be present.

Whitebox fuzzing combines some of the aspects of each of these approaches. Using sample inputs as a starting point, a whitebox fuzz tester dynamically generates new sets of inputs to exercise the code, walking deeper into processes. Using machine learning techniques, the system repeatedly runs the code through fuzzing sessions, adapting its approach based on what it discovers with each pass. The approach is similar to some of the techniques developed by competitors in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Cyber Grand Challenge to allow for automated bug detection and patching.

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The genetics behind what mosquitos choose to bite

5 hours 33 min ago

(credit: Sanofi Pasteur)

Mosquito-borne illnesses are a considerable burden on human and animal health, so understanding what influences the behavior of mosquitos could be useful. A recent study published in PLOS Genetics suggests that there may be a genetic component to mosquito behavioral preferences, including what they choose to bite.

The control of malaria depends on the propensity of mosquitos to bite humans versus other hosts—if mosquitos prefer humans, then they’re more likely to spread diseases between humans, but if they prefer to feed on other animals (like cows, for example), then mosquitos may not be contributing as significantly to the human burden of disease. Additionally, control of malaria depends on the tendency of mosquitos to rest in places where we can ensure they are likely to come into contact with insecticides. Mosquitos are more likely to encounter insecticides indoors, because homes in countries where malaria is endemic are more likely to have long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets, which will kill mosquitos if they come into contact with them. These nets are highly effective and have pared down the number of dangerous mosquito species in many parts of Africa.

For this PLOS study, some researchers were interested in investigating the potential that the surviving mosquitos may have adapted their behavior to avoid control measures like nets. And, if this were occurring through evolution, it should have left a mark in the pests’ genomes. So they investigated the genetic basis for mosquito host and resting area choices.

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Germany orders Facebook to stop sharing and delete WhatsApp user data

5 hours 49 min ago

(credit: samazgor)

Facebook has been ordered to delete all the data that it currently holds of Germany’s 35 million WhatsApp users.

Johannes Caspar, the data protection commissioner of Hamburg, where Facebook Germany is headquartered, said Tuesday there was no legal basis for Facebook to use WhatsApp's user information.

“Facebook and WhatsApp are independent companies that process their user's data on the basis of their own terms and conditions and data privacy policies. After the acquisition of WhatsApp by Facebook two years ago, both parties have publicly assured that data will not be shared between them. The fact that this is now happening is not only a misleading of their users and the public, but also constitutes an infringement of national data protection law,” said Caspar in a statement, adding that “It has to be [users’] decision as to whether they want to connect their account with Facebook. Therefore, Facebook has to ask for their permission in advance. This has not happened.”

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How the Universal Windows Platform briefly let an N64 emulator sneak onto the Xbox One [Updated]

6 hours 57 min ago

Update (Sept. 27): As expected, Microsoft has pulled Xbox One support from the emulator discussed below. Those that purchased and downloaded the app before the change can still use it on their systems, but new purchases can only use the app on Windows PC and mobile devices (and Windows Holographic, if they happen to have that).

Despite the change, the written description for the app still claims Xbox One support, leading to anger from some commenters on the Windows Store page. "I'm pissed," writes one commenter going by the handle jackson. "I just hear about this and I go to buy it so I can play some sweet n64 games but now the app doesn't run on Xbox. So either this gets updated, or I WANT A REFUND!"

Original story: In previous generations, if you wanted to emulate one game console on another, you'd generally have to use some sort of jailbreak or hack to install unauthorized homebrew apps on the system. Today, thanks in part to Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform, you can download a Nintendo 64 emulator to your Xbox One directly from Microsoft's official store.

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Unsafe at any clock speed: Linux kernel security needs a rethink

7 hours 41 min ago

The Linux kernel today faces an unprecedented safety crisis. Much like when Ralph Nader famously told the American public that their cars were "unsafe at any speed" back in 1965, numerous security developers told the 2016 Linux Security Summit in Toronto that the operating system needs a total rethink to keep it fit for purpose.

No longer the niche concern of years past, Linux today underpins the server farms that run the cloud, more than a billion Android phones, and not to mention the coming tsunami of grossly insecure devices that will be hitched to the Internet of Things. Today's world runs on Linux, and the security of its kernel is a single point of failure that will affect the safety and well-being of almost every human being on the planet in one way or another.

"Cars were designed to run but not to fail," Kees Cook, head of the Linux Kernel Self Protection Project, and a Google employee working on the future of IoT security, said at the summit. "Very comfortable while you're going down the road, but as soon as you crashed, everybody died."

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Getting to know the 1,000hp hybrids of the World Endurance Championship

8 hours 38 min ago

Enlarge / The start of the WEC 6 Hours of Circuit of the Americas. (credit: Photo©

AUSTIN, TEXAS—The World Endurance Championship's annual visit to the US is one of the hottest events in racing—figuratively and literally, given the sweltering heat and humidity that afflicts Austin in mid-September. We at Ars have made it to every Lone Star Le Mans weekend, and 2016 was no exception.

You can check out stunning images of the IMSA WeatherTech race elsewhere on the site (the first of the two double-bill headliners), but now it's time to talk prototypes. Specifically, the 1,000hp (745kW) hybrids that compete in the Le Mans Prototype 1 class. Audi, Porsche, and Toyota each enter two-car teams which compete around the world, most often over the course of six hours, although at Le Mans in June the race is obviously four times that.

  • The annual visit to the Circuit of the Americas sees the cars of the WEC race from day into night. Porsche

For our money, nothing else in the world of racing pushes so many buttons. The LMP1 hybrids are breathtakingly fast. Sure, a Formula 1 car is faster on the same FIA Grade 1 circuits; comparing fastest qualifying and racing laps at Spa for both series' visits in 2016 shows the former to be between eight and nine seconds faster over the same 4.3 miles (7km). But the LMP1s weigh an extra 381 lbs (172 kg), and adding 2.2 lbs (1 kg) to an F1 car is commonly held to add 0.1 seconds to a lap.

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Unity at 10: For better—or worse—game development has never been easier

9 hours 24 min ago

Did you enjoy Firewatch? Our Kyle Orland did, too—and the Unity development engine made it possible. (video link)

These days, one tool has essentially unlocked the world of game development for the masses.

Since it was introduced in 2005, Unity has tried to make creating video games possible for everyone regardless of technical know-how or budget. Upon hitting a stable release, Unity took home an award at Apple’s 2006 Worldwide Developer’s Conference after being showcased as the first fully powered game engine—a platform with basic graphics capabilities, physics calculations, and some game behaviors already coded in but extensible—for the iPhone. Unity stood largely uncontested on that platform for a couple of years and quickly became a well-known tool among developers.

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Trump: “The security aspect of cyber is very, very tough”

9/26/2016 11:26pm

Enlarge / Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton shook hands after the Monday debate. (credit: Drew Angerer / Getty News Images)

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump faced off in their first presidential debate—but they only touched on technological issues briefly Monday, and even then, in simplistic terms.

Toward the end of the 90-minute debate, moderator and NBC anchor Lester Holt asked: "We want to start with a 21st century war happening every day in this country, our institutions are under cyber attack, and our secrets are being stolen. So my question is who's behind it and how do we fight it?"

The two candidates disagreed as to who was behind the recent attacks on the Democratic National Committee but concurred that cybersecurity should be a top priority.

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Journalists must fork over $200 for Wi-Fi at presidential debate

9/26/2016 7:50pm

Enlarge / The debate hall at Hofstra University hours before the debate is set to begin. (credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images News)

News organizations attending Monday evening’s presidential debate must pay $200 for a “Secure Wireless Internet Connection” at Hofstra University in New York state. The debate is set to begin at 9pm Eastern.

While profiteering during a high-profile occasion such as this is not unheard of—$15 for a patch cable?—what’s worse is that event staff at Hofstra University are reportedly using a $2,000 device to actively scan for hotspots and other ad-hoc Wi-Fi networks.

Dear god. @RyanBeckler just sent me this from Hofstra. They're charging $200 for media WiFi access.

— (((Steph Haberman))) (@StephLauren) September 26, 2016

There was just an announcement in the debate filing center that personal wifi dongles are prohibited, instead you must buy their $200 wifi

— Jim Newell (@jim_newell) September 26, 2016

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RIAA takes on stream-ripping in copyright lawsuit targeting YouTube-mp3

9/26/2016 7:41pm

Screenshot of Ars testing the service with an Eminem track. We did not download the music. (credit: YouTube-mp3)

The Recording Industry Association of America, the British Recorded Music Industry, and other industry lobbyists have sued one of the world's leading websites. They say that facilitates copyright infringement by enabling so-called stream-ripping for the masses.

Stream-ripping on essentially works like this: input a YouTube music video URL into a field on the site, press "convert video," and minutes later you have a fresh download of the music on the video.

The suit comes as the music industry is hoping that paid streaming services could fuel the resurgence of an industry that has barely grown the past five years. works using links YouTube Red, a paid service that strips ads. The RIAA, the BPI (the British equivalent of the RIAA), and other industry groups are none too happy about that. makes money via advertising on its landing page. Cary Sherman, chairman and CEO of the RIAA, said the following:

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Mylan CEO misled lawmakers about EpiPen profits—they’re 66% higher

9/26/2016 7:20pm

Enlarge / Mylan Inc. CEO Heather Breschtestifies during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee September 21, 2016 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. (credit: Getty | Alex Wong)

The EpiPen profit figures that Heather Bresch, CEO of EpiPen maker Mylan, Inc., proudly displayed on a giant chart to the seething House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week were misleading at best and a flat-out lie at worst, according to a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Bresch, who was called before the committee to explain steep price hikes of the life-saving devices, insisted that the company only makes $100 profit per two-pack of EpiPens. The list price for such a two pack now stands at $608. However, back in 2007, before Mylan bought the rights to the pens and raised the price 15 times, an EpiPen was priced at around just $50.

In her testimony, Bresch blamed the puzzlingly small profit on undefined costs and America’s complicated healthcare system. The committee, however, didn’t buy that—and rightly so.

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