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The Art of Technology
Updated: 2 hours 49 min ago

Oculus Rift DK2 includes the entire screen assembly from a Galaxy Note 3

3 hours 7 min ago
The screen of the Oculus Rift DK2. iFixit

iFixit has gotten a hold of the Oculus Rift DK2, the second version of the virtual reality developer kit, which has slowly started shipping to customers. The site wasted no time in doing its traditional teardown, and what it found as Oculus' choice of display is a little surprising: it's the entire front half of a Samsung Galaxy Note 3.

Yes, you heard that right. The DK2 includes the Note 3's 1920×1080 AMOLED display, a (useless) Synaptics touchscreen controller, and even the glass display cover, complete with Samsung logo and cutouts for the sensors, earpiece, and the home button.

A previous report indicated that Samsung and Oculus had started up a mutually beneficial relationship, which would see Samsung providing display technology to Oculus and Oculus helping Samsung build a VR headset of its own. A leaked Samsung concept showed a head unit that was mostly an empty shell that the user's smartphone would slide into. The concept seems a lot more plausible now, since Oculus is basically taking a more-integrated approach of the same idea for its developer kit.

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Apple’s multi-terabit, $100M CDN is live—with paid connection to Comcast

3 hours 12 min ago

Apple's long-rumored content delivery network (CDN) has gone live in the US and Europe, delivering traffic directly to Comcast and other Internet service providers thanks to paid interconnection deals, Frost & Sullivan analyst Dan Rayburn reported today.

The CDN can deliver multiple terabits of data per second and will help Apple more efficiently distribute new releases of iOS and OS X.

Apple is still using Akamai and Level 3 CDN services for iTunes and app downloads, "but over time, much of that traffic will be brought over to Apple’s CDN," Rayburn wrote. "It’s too early to know how much traffic will come over and when, but Apple’s already started using their own CDN much faster than I expected. The pace of their build out and amount of money they are spending on infrastructure is incredible. Based on my calculations, Apple has already put in place multiple terabits per second of capacity and by the end of this year, will have invested well more than $100M in their CDN build out." Apple has been working on its CDN for about a year.

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Sony “working on” subscription plan for PlayStation Now streaming

3 hours 34 min ago
The exact size and makeup of that "library of games" is going to be quite important to Now's success.

When pricing information for the closed beta of Sony's PlayStation Now streaming service leaked last month, many PS4 owners were up in arms over prices of up to $30 for 90-day rentals of games like Final Fantasy XIII-2, which sell new on disc for roughly half that price. While Sony hasn't significantly altered that ridiculous pricing scheme for today's public beta launch, the company wants customers to know that it has heard their complaints and is developing new pricing options.

"We’ve heard you loud and clear for an update on a PS Now subscription option and want to reassure you that we are working on it," PlayStation Now Senior Director Jack Buser wrote in an announcement of the service's public beta. "We think PS Now represents the next step toward the future of gaming and we’re excited to have the PlayStation Nation come along with us on the beginning of this journey."

Sony originally mentioned a subscription option for PS Now when announcing the service back in January. For now, though, streaming games are available for individual rental periods of four hours, seven days, 30 days, or 90 days. Buser also notes that users will soon "start seeing reduced pricing on some 4-hour rentals which will appear at $1.99."

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Strong PlayStation 4 sales keep Sony in the black

5 hours 10 min ago

Just a few months ago, we were looking at Sony's end-of-fiscal-year financial reports and worrying about the consumer electronics giant's $10+ billion in losses over the past eight years. Today, things are looking a bit rosier, as Sony is riding strong sales of the PlayStation 4 and its associated games and services to an increase in profitability for the quarter ending in June.

The numbers for Sony's Game & Network services division tell the tale, flipping from a ¥16.4 billion (about $160 million) loss this time last year to a ¥4.3 billion (about $42 million) profit this year. Savvy industry watchers (or anyone with half a brain) will note that the PlayStation 4 launched in that time, and Sony confirms that the turnaround is "due to the contribution from sales of PS4 hardware which was launched in November 2013, as well as a significant increase in network services revenues accompanying the launch of the PS4."

Digging deeper into the numbers, we see that Sony sold 3.5 million game consoles (including both PS3 and PS4) worldwide for the quarter, up significantly from the 1.1 million PS3s it sold during the three-month period in 2013. Assuming PS3 sales didn't somehow increase well into the system's eighth year of life, that means Sony probably sold somewhere in the range of 2.5 to 3 million PS4s worldwide in the last three months. That's not far off from the sales pace Sony set earlier in the year, when it was selling roughly a million consoles a month in March.

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This thumbdrive hacks computers. “BadUSB” exploit makes devices turn “evil”

6 hours 13 min ago
Saurabh R. Patil

When creators of the state-sponsored Stuxnet worm used a USB stick to infect air-gapped computers inside Iran's heavily fortified Natanz nuclear facility, trust in the ubiquitous storage medium suffered a devastating blow. Now, white-hat hackers have devised a feat even more seminal—an exploit that transforms keyboards, Web cams, and other types of USB-connected devices into highly programmable attack platforms that can't be detected by today's defenses.

Dubbed BadUSB, the hack reprograms embedded firmware to give USB devices new, covert capabilities. In a demonstration scheduled at next week's Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas, a USB drive, for instance, will take on the ability to act as a keyboard that surreptitiously types malicious commands into attached computers. A different drive will similarly be reprogrammed to act as a network card that causes connected computers to connect to malicious sites impersonating Google, Facebook or other trusted destinations. The presenters will demonstrate similar hacks that work against Android phones when attached to targeted computers. They say their technique will work on Web cams, keyboards, and most other types of USB-enabled devices.

"Please don't do anything evil"

"If you put anything into your USB [slot], it extends a lot of trust," Karsten Nohl, chief scientist at Security Research Labs in Berlin, told Ars. "Whatever it is, there could always be some code running in that device that runs maliciously. Every time anybody connects a USB device to your computer, you fully trust them with your computer. It's the equivalent of [saying] 'here's my computer; I'm going to walk away for 10 minutes. Please don't do anything evil."

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Aereo imitator lashes out at judge who fined him $90,000 for continuing to operate

6 hours 19 min ago
FilmOn CEO Alki David shows off his company's Seattle antenna array in 2013. Like Aereo, he sought to avoid copyright problems by using an individual antenna for each user. FilmOn

After TV-over-Internet company Aereo lost its case against TV broadcasters at the Supreme Court, it quickly shut down. But a less high-profile company engaged in a similar type of video-on-demand service, FilmOn, just kept on going.

Now that decision is coming back to bite FilmOn and its eccentric owner, Alki David. FilmOn and David were slapped with a $90,000 contempt order on Friday—$10,000 for each day that it kept distributing network TV channels.

This isn't the first time FilmOn and David have tried to piggy-back on the strategy of another would-be TV-over-Internet pioneer. When an earlier company called ivi TV tried to fight in court to get Internet broadcasts defined as a "cable system," that legal argument was shot down. FilmOn surprised ivi TV's founder by pursuing that same legal strategy at the same time. But it didn't work.

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Samsung sees profits slip in Q2 as demand for smartphones stagnates

14 hours 49 min ago

Samsung released its Q2 financial statements in South Korea on Thursday, and while the company turned a net profit to the tune of 6.25 trillion Korean won ($6.1 billion), that number represented a decline of 19.6 percent from a year earlier.

In a statement, Samsung said that the weak quarter was the result of slowing demand for smartphones and tablets, which led to increased marketing expenditures to reduce inventory. “Amid low seasonality, Smartphone demand remained flat [quarter-over-quarter] while [it] declined slightly QoQ for Tablet,” a Samsung presentation read (PDF). Samsung ships more smartphones than any other country in the world, and the company wrote that “slower demand for mobile devices also impacted Samsung’s logic chip business or System LSI.”

In addition to the slowed market growth, Samsung also said that the appreciation of Korea's currency played a part in eroding some of the company's profit. As the won strengthened, the company was able to bring back less of the revenue it made off consumers in foreign markets.

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Woman files $123M suit against Facebook over photoshopped nude photos

7/30/2014 10:45pm

Houston woman Meryem Ali has filed a $123-million lawsuit against both Facebook and a former friend who posted a picture of her on an "imposter" Facebook profile under her name, according to Texas Lawyer.

Photographs "that depict the true face of plaintiff" were altered with Photoshop and "attached to false, phony, naked body shots, and at least one pose where there is plaintiff in a graphic pornographic-like photo," states the complaint, which was filed on July 25 in Harris County.

"These phony photos falsely and maliciously depicted plaintiff in a clearly derogatory and false light ... as some overly bold and overly aggressive sexual person, which plaintiff in fact and truth is not," writes Ali's lawyer.

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Inside Citizen Lab, the “Hacker Hothouse” protecting you from Big Brother

7/30/2014 9:00pm
Citizen Lab / Aurich Lawson

It was May of 2012 at a security conference in Calgary, Alberta, when professor Ron Deibert heard a former high-ranking official suggest he should be prosecuted.

This wasn't too surprising. In Deibert's world, these kinds of things occasionally get whispered through the grapevine, always second-hand. But this time he was sitting on a panel with John Adams, the former chief of the Communications Security Establishment Canada (CSEC), the National Security Agency's little-known northern ally. Afterward, he recalls, the former spy chief approached and casually remarked that there were people in government who wanted Deibert arrested—and that he was one of them.

Adams was referring to Citizen Lab, the watchdog group Deibert founded over a decade ago at the University of Toronto that's now orbited by a globe-spanning network of hackers, lawyers, and human rights advocates. From exposing the espionage ring that hacked the Dalai Lama to uncovering the commercial spyware being sold to repressive regimes, Citizen Lab has played a pioneering role in combing the Internet to illuminate covert landscapes of global surveillance and censorship. At the same time, it's also taken the role of an ambassador, connecting the Internet's various stakeholders from governments to security engineers and civil rights activists.

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Report: No new Apple TV coming this year after all

7/30/2014 7:30pm

Those hoping for a refreshed Apple TV box this year might need to keep on waiting, according to a new report from The Information (subscription required). Apple reportedly wants to launch new hardware with a revamped user interface that gives users access to both broadcasts and streaming content. However, the company's efforts to procure this additional content are apparently being held up by "cable companies 'dragging their heels'," the proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner Cable, and other external factors.

The Information's sources say that Apple engineers are now being told to work "off of timelines that assume a launch next year," which contradicts previous rumors that said we could expect a new Apple TV in 2014. The first reports claimed that a new box would be released in the first half of 2014, which has already come and gone, and later rumors said "by Christmas."

In addition to a new interface and a deeper well of content to draw from, other rumors have suggested that Apple could position a new Apple TV box as a mini-game console or that it could serve as a hub for Apple's recently announced HomeKit initiative. While Apple continues to work behind the scenes on its next set-top box, the current Apple TV is competing against an ever-growing list of competitors, including the Roku, Amazon's Fire TV, and Google's Chromecast and upcoming Android TV operating system.

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FCC chair accuses Verizon of throttling unlimited data to boost profits

7/30/2014 6:10pm

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler is not happy about Verizon Wireless' announcement that it will throttle 4G users with unlimited data plans. While he didn't go quite so far as to accuse Verizon of breaking FCC rules, he told the company that it needs to justify its policy.

Verizon's plan to slow down its heaviest data users when they connect to congested cell sites isn't surprising—other carriers do it too. But Verizon said it would only apply the policy to users who are no longer under contract and still have grandfathered unlimited data. In other words, the policy may help Verizon push customers onto newer, pricier plans with limited data and overage charges.

Wheeler wrote in a letter (PDF) to Verizon Wireless CEO Daniel Mead that he is "deeply troubled" by Verizon's policy.

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Virgin Mobile lets you save money on your social media-obsessed teens

7/30/2014 5:10pm
Virgin Mobile

Virgin Mobile has unveiled a new prepaid plan that allows its users to tailor their Internet use for specific applications for just $5 per month on top of a $7 monthly base fee that covers just 20 texts and 20 minutes of talk time. The plan will only be available at Walmart stores starting August 9.

Like many other new, non-traditional cell plans, Virgin Mobile Custom, which debuted Wednesday, requires the use of a custom version of Android that comes pre-installed on certain handsets, including the ZTE Emblem, the LG Pulse, and the LG Unify.

While this type of plan may not be appealing for data-heavy users, it could work well for parents of heavy Facebook users (read: teens), who are interested in little else online. App-specific add-ons (each for an additional $5 per month) are available for a handful of apps, including Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Pandora, and a few others. However, adding on more than a few apps puts the user far closer to Virgin’s normal unlimited text and data plan, which starts at $35 per month.

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Comcast customer pulled gun on technician after objecting to bill, police say

7/30/2014 4:16pm
Note: This is an example of a Glock gun, not the actual one found by police. Adam D

Installation fees have caught many cable customers by surprise, but rarely do service calls end with a customer stealing a technician's tools and whipping out a firearm.

But that's just what happened Monday in Albuquerque, New Mexico, when a Comcast worker went to the home of Gloria Baca-Lucero, according to a criminal complaint filed in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Court.

"Baca-Lucero, 48, was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon Monday and booked into jail," the Albuquerque Journal reported today. "She was released later that day."

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Amazon tries to argue for its Hachette stonewall with math

7/30/2014 3:50pm
A Hachette title currently being sold at $14.99, the price Amazon is fighting against.

As the war between Amazon and Hachette carries on, the Amazon Books team released a longer explanation Tuesday of what it's trying to accomplish by stonewalling the publisher. The gist of Amazon's claims is that e-books need to be cheaper because cheaper books sell more volume, resulting in a larger "total pie" that gets consumers lower prices.

The New York Times first highlighted Amazon's interference with Hachette book sales at the end of May, which involved the company systematically making books unavailable or shipping them very slowly. Hachette has yet to mount a formal defense for holding the line on what was long suspected to be e-book price fixing on Amazon's store. The public has tended to take Hachette's side.

Meanwhile, Amazon has already defended its actions in a forum post, saying that "stocking and assortment decisions" based on publisher relationships are typical for a retailer. In Hachette's case, Amazon implied, it doesn't seem fit to bestow the publisher with shipments or good featured placement on its virtual shelves. In the meantime, Amazon encouraged readers to buy Hachette books elsewhere or even get them secondhand. "If you order 1,000 items from Amazon, 989 will be unaffected by this interruption," the company wrote in May.

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UK green-lights driverless car tests in 2015 in a few cities

7/30/2014 3:11pm
Google bosses in one of the company's autonomous cars back in 2011. Google

Following the lead of the United States, the United Kingdom has announced that it will allow driverless cars to be tested on British roads starting in January 2015.

In a Wednesday announcement, the UK Department of Transportation said that up to three cities would be selected to host trials. They will be awarded a total of nearly $17 million to cover the costs of such tests.

“Driverless cars have huge potential to transform the UK’s transport network—they could improve safety, reduce congestion and lower emissions, particularly CO2,” Transport Minister Claire Perry said in a statement. “We are determined to ensure driverless cars can fulfill this potential, which is why we are actively reviewing regulatory obstacles to create the right framework for trialling these vehicles on British roads.”

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ICANN to plaintiffs: No, you can’t have all of Iran’s domains

7/30/2014 2:43pm
If ICANN's motion fails, the plaintiffs would seize all .IR domains, including, as shown here.

The global body in charge of domain names, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), has asked a federal court to prevent the handover of the country code top-level domain names (ccTLD) of North Korea, Syria, and Iran as part of a terrorism lawsuit dating back over a decade. Those would include the .KP, .SY and .IR names.

The case, formally known as Rubin et al v. Islamic Republic of Iran et al, goes back to a 1997 suicide bombing that took place in Jerusalem. Four Americans were injured in the attack, for which Hamas claimed responsibility. Given that Iran has supported, and continues to support, Hamas in its resistance against Israel, the plaintiffs sued the Islamic Republic, arguing that the Iranian government actually was liable.

It’s unclear why exactly the plaintiffs also seek the Syrian and North Korean ccTLDs as part of this lawsuit. Neither ICANN’s attorneys nor the plaintiffs' attorneys immediately responded to Ars’ request for comment.

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Sea level rise causing huge increases in “nuisance flooding”

7/30/2014 1:54pm
A northeaster—a common type of storm on the East Coast—causes severe flooding in Virginia. Virginia Sea Grant

The warming of the planet is driving ocean levels upward through two processes: the melting of land-based ice and the thermal expansion of the water in the oceans. Due to the vast energies involved, both of these processes are slow, so the ocean levels have only been creeping up a few millimeters a year. That slow pace makes it difficult for anyone to perceive the changes.

But it's clear that those changes are taking place. In the latest indication, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has compiled data on what it calls "nuisance floods," cases where coastal communities have to deal with flooding as a result of high tides or minor storms. Over the last 50 years, instances of these floods along the East Coast have gone up by anywhere from 300 to 900 percent.

On the rare occasions where sea level rise reaches the public's consciousness, it's typically as a result of a catastrophic event like Hurricane Sandy. Sea level rise does exacerbate these events, as the flooding reaches higher levels and extends over a wider area than it would have a century earlier. But the rarity and magnitude of catastrophes like these make it difficult for people to associate them with a gradual process. At the same time, the immediate effect of the process itself—high tides being about an inch higher every decade—is difficult for humans to perceive. As NOAA's new report puts it, "neither changes in tidal datum elevations nor rare-event probabilities are readily apparent to the casual observer."

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Active attack on Tor network tried to decloak users for five months

7/30/2014 1:36pm

Officials with the Tor privacy service have uncovered an attack that may have revealed identifying information or other clues of people operating or accessing anonymous websites and other services over a five-month span beginning in February.

The campaign exploited a previously unknown vulnerability in the Tor protocol to carry out two classes of attack that together may have been enough to uncloak people using Tor Hidden Services, an advisory published Wednesday warned. Tor officials said the characteristics of the attack resembled those discussed by a team of Carnegie Mellon University researchers who recently canceled a presentation at next week's Black Hat security conference on a low-cost way to deanonymize Tor users. But the officials also speculated that an intelligence agency from a global adversary might have been able to capitalize on the exploit.

Either way, users who operated or accessed hidden services from early February through July 4 should assume they are affected. Tor hidden services are popular among political dissidents who want to host websites or other online services anonymously so their real IP address can't be discovered by repressive governments. Hidden services are also favored by many illegal services, including the Silk Road online drug emporium that was shut down earlier this year. Tor officials have released a software update designed to prevent the technique from working in the future. Hidden service operators should also consider changing the location of their services. Tor officials went on to say:

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Music industry sues automakers over in-car audio ripping systems

7/30/2014 1:07pm

The Alliance of Artists and Recording Companies—a nonprofit group—has initiated a federal copyright infringement lawsuit against Ford and General Motors targeting the automakers’ in-car hard drive-based CD ripping technology. The lawsuit (full text) alleges that Ford and GM’s devices fail to comply with the terms of the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 and that the AARC is due "injunctive relief and damages" because of that alleged noncompliance.

The problem with the suit, as outlined in a scathing response from Techdirt, is that the Audio Home Recording Act of 1992 was specifically written to allow exactly the kind of personal copying that in-car CD-ripping audio units perform. This was further cemented in 1999 with the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeal’s RIAA v. Diamond Multimedia Systems decision, which threw the weight of judicial precedent behind the notion that devices designed to make copies of copyrighted audio for personal use (as opposed to serial copies for distribution) are legal and exempt from licensing fees.

With its July 25 suit, the AARC alleges that Ford’s in-car "Jukebox" feature and GM’s in-car "Hard Drive Device" are purpose-built "Digital Audio Recording Devices" and therefore are subject to lots of additional regulation. Specifically, the suit states that both Ford’s Jukebox and GM’s Hard Drive Device fail to implement the Serial Copy Management System copy protection scheme and that both Ford and GM have failed to pay the appropriate AHRA-mandated royalties on their devices.

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Modbook’s next project is the convertible MacBook Apple won’t make

7/30/2014 1:00pm
The Modbook Pro X would be an expensive entry in a crowded niche. Modbook Inc.

Before the iPad, people who wanted an Apple tablet could buy something called the "Modbook" from a company named Axiotron. For $2,279, the company would take a regular white plastic MacBook, take it apart, and reassemble it inside a purpose-built tablet case with a Wacom digitizer and stylus installed. After some financial trouble and the launch of an actual Apple tablet, Axiotron became Modbook Inc., and the company launched the Modbook Pro, which did for the 13-inch MacBook Pro what the Modbook did for the standard Macbook.

Today the company is ready to announce the third iteration of the Modbook, kind of. The Modbook Pro X takes the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro (including the refreshed models introduced yesterday), makes some modifications to its specs, and puts it into a tablet case. Like past Modbooks, the Modbook Pro X is designed to appeal to artists and other creative professionals who would like to draw directly on their tablet screens without having to use a separate drawing tablet. The catch? This project currently exists only as a Kickstarter project, with no guarantee the product will see the light of day if it doesn't hit its $150,000 funding goal.

The Modbook as a tablet. Modbook Inc.

The Modbook Pro X will preserve all of the original ports and the CPU, GPU, and screen specs of the 2013 Retina MacBook Pro, crammed into a black tablet that's 0.7 inches thick and weighs 4.95 pounds, around half a pound heavier than the Retina MacBook Pro is by itself. The screen will be covered by a digitizer that supports 2,048 different pressure levels, and the Modbook will come with software installed to take advantage of the digitizer hardware. Optional "keybars," small rows of keys mounted to the back of the tablet, will provide keyboard hotkey shortcuts that users can press without interrupting whatever they're sketching onscreen.

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