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Updated: 1 week 5 days ago

Saving money on roaming is still hard—or, how a new startup failed me

10/18/2014 4:44pm
These are the items Attaché Arrivals sent me in the mail, in three separate packages. (The red sugar bowl normally lives on my dining table.) Cyrus Farivar

Every time I go to Europe, I make a mental list of things that I need to take with me: electrical adapters, a small stash of euros, and local SIM cards. In a tiny SD card case, I even keep a paper clip and SIMs from various countries (Germany, United Kingdom, Iceland) to ease travel.

But if I’m going to a country I haven’t been to before, I have to do my research. I ask friends and check PrepaidGSM.net to find out what provider offers the best mobile data service. Then, I have to figure out where and how to get a local SIM. In short, it’s a pain.

That's why I was thrilled to learn about Attaché Arrivals, a new San Francisco startup. As Ars reported in May 2014, Attaché Arrivals aims to make this entire process simpler by selling SIMs to customers before they leave home. Users would theoretically save money on exorbitant mobile roaming fees charged by their US providers by renting these foreign SIM cards through the company. The SIM comes with various other items (such as a plug adapter for European Union outlets) to help make the journey smoother.

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Why China’s economic growth hasn’t been getting cleaner

10/18/2014 3:00pm
Zlatko Unger

It’s no secret that China holds a huge amount of leverage on the future of CO2 emissions. Its incredible economic growth over the last 20 years was accompanied by a boom in greenhouse emissions. Actions to reduce that boom (as well as other pollutants) are in progress, but they haven't had any appreciable effect as of yet.

At the Copenhagen talks, China pledged a lower-carbon economy—reducing the CO2 emitted per unit of GDP (also known as “carbon intensity”) by 40-45 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. And China’s current Five Year Plan (2010-2015) set a goal of reducing carbon intensity by 17 percent while still growing GDP eight percent per year.

But between 2002 and 2009, China’s carbon intensity increased by three percent. What drove that? A new study led by Dabo Guan digs below the national level to take a look at the trends behind carbon intensity. The study suggests that, while huge progress is being made, it's still being swamped by massive growth in capacity.

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Graphene-like substance generates electricity when stretched

10/18/2014 11:00am
MIT

Certain materials exhibit what are called piezoelectric characteristics, meaning they develop electric charges when stretched or compressed. In general, the piezoelectric materials we use are large crystals. But researchers have predicted that a substance that forms single-atom-thick molecules—MoS2—would be strongly piezoelectric. And now researchers have studied these effects experimentally, demonstrating that the number of layers and their orientation have a big impact on the substance’s piezoelectric characteristics.

To get enough material to work with, MoS2 layers were flaked off onto a flexible substrate and electrical contacts deposited at the MoS2 interface. The piezoelectric response of the material was studied by application of a strain, which causes a strain-induced polarization of charges at the sample edges. These drive the flow of electrons into an external circuit for measurement. Upon relaxation of the strain, the polarization of charges is diminished, causing the electrons to flow back to their original distribution.

Because of the way the flakes were created, each sample had a different number of layers. When a sample had odd numbers of MoS2 layers, stretching and releasing produced exactly the behavior we just described: oscillating piezoelectric voltage and current outputs were observed.

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New destinations past Pluto for New Horizons

10/18/2014 10:00am
Kuiper Belt Object 1110113Y, one of the objects found by Hubble that may be visited by New Horizons. Hubble

Any organization that pays to put something into space likes to get as much as it can out of its hardware. NASA is no different. So while New Horizons was built specifically to visit Pluto, there was always the hope that we’d spot something beyond the dwarf planet to send the hardware on to. But even as the rendezvous with Pluto kept getting closer and final trajectory corrections needed to be planned, ground-based searches were coming up blank. (They actually located some objects, but none that New Horizons could reach given its fuel supply.)

NASA then brought out one of the big guns:  the Hubble. After a preliminary test of its ability to spot small objects beyond Pluto, the New Horizons team was given time for a full survey. The results are in: we now have additional destinations.

The objects in question are part of a large collection called the Kuiper Belt. KBOs, as they’re called, probably range from comet-sized to several that are larger than Pluto. The three that Hubble spotted are in the area of 25-55 kilometers (15.5 to 34.1 miles) across. All three are roughly a billion miles beyond Pluto. That's a lot, but New Horizons has already travelled about three billion miles since leaving Earth. Initial observations suggest that one can definitely be reached given New Horizons’ trajectory, and the two others are possible, but we need a bit more time to determine their orbital profile.

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Android 5.0 dev preview updated, includes hidden Flappy Bird clone

10/18/2014 9:00am

Flappy Android! You too will soon find this fully playable Easter egg in Lollipop. Android Central On Friday, following Google's earlier announcement that Android 5.0 would be called Lollipop, the company released a new developer build compatible with handsets like the Nexus 5 and Nexus 7. While it wasn't the first preview build for what was previously dubbed the "L release," it introduced more features that users can expect in the next Android's public launch, including an usual "about" menu Easter egg.

Unlike other Android Easter eggs, however, this one is possibly Google's biggest yet—a fully playable Flappy Bird clone. Like other hidden gems in past OSes, this can be toggled by finding the version number in the system options' "About" section and tapping it repeatedly until a lollipop image pops up.

Android Central confirmed on its test devices that doing this will unlock a Flappy Bird-styled game, and Ars was able to replicate the steps necessary to unlock the same game on our own Lollipop smartphone. In this Flappy Bird clone, tapping the screen made a small, spinning Android logo hop in the air as it tried to fly through lollipop-shaped obstacles. Unlike other clones, some of which were more advanced, the game was as simple—and difficult—as its obvious inspiration. The only major gameplay difference was that on occasion, the game would scroll in the opposite direction when players respawned.

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Kickstarter pulls Anonabox, a Tor-enabled router that raised over $585,000

10/17/2014 5:35pm
Kickstarter

Kickstarter removed a fundraiser for a popular Tor-based router project on Friday afternoon.

The Anonabox, which was created by August Germar, of Chico, California, aimed to be an “open source embedded networking device designed specifically to run Tor.” Its fundraising goal was $7,500, and in five days, it raised $585,549 from nearly 9,000 backers—including three Ars editors.

Germar told Ars that he was not aware that it had been suspended until Ars forwarded him an e-mail from Kickstarter outlining the possible reasons why it could have been cancelled.

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After biosafety lapses, US halts funding for work modifying virus targets

10/17/2014 4:34pm

Today, the White House announced a pause in a specific type of research on viruses. Rather than being a response to the recent Ebola infections, this dates back to events that began in 2011. Back then, researchers who were studying the bird flu put it through a series of lab procedures that ended with a flu virus that could readily infect mammals. Some members of the scientific community considered this work irresponsible, as the resulting virus could, again, potentially infect humans.

Similar research and a debate over its value and threat have continued. Now, however, the Obama administration decided to put it on hold. Prompted by several recent biosafety lapses (including the discovery of old smallpox samples at the National Institutes of Health), the government will temporarily stop funding for these projects. During the pause, the government will organize a "deliberative process" that will consider the value of the research and the appropriate safety precautions that will need to be followed if it's done. The review will be run by a combination of the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and the National Academies of Science.

The funding pause will apply to any projects that can allow viruses like the flu, MERS, and SARS to either add mammals to the list of species they can infect, or to increase their virulence following infection. The government also hopes that any lab pursuing this research using private funding will voluntarily join in the pause. Researchers who are simply studying naturally occurring viruses without modifying them will not be affected by this pause.

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Icebergs off the Florida coast?

10/17/2014 3:00pm
Grooves in the seafloor off South Carolina carved by icebergs. Jenna C. Hill

“Snowbirds” they are called—people who escape snowy winters in the northern US by seasonally migrating to second homes in Florida. Probably about the last thing they would like to see while walking along the beach is the ice following them south. At certain times just a handful of millennia ago, it turns out, they might have been surprised to find icebergs floating by the beaches.

When Earth’s climate was colder and an ice sheet covered Canada, impressive flotillas of icebergs were occasionally launched into the Atlantic during incidents known as “Heinrich events.” Each time a batch of icebergs and glacial meltwater were vomited out, the area around the North Atlantic experienced climatic consequences. It’s thought that the infusion of freshwater gummed up the conveyor belt of Atlantic Ocean circulation, disrupting the transport of heat throughout the entire ocean basin.

Heinrich events are usually seen in ocean sediment cores as layers of gritty sediment dropped from melting icebergs onto the fine mud of the seafloor. That’s even been seen as far south as Bermuda. Closer to North America’s eastern coast, trenches carved by the undersides of large icebergs have been spotted in the mud off Nova Scotia, New Jersey, and even the Carolinas.

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Ex-Google lawyer nominated as patent office director

10/17/2014 2:10pm
Michelle Lee, at right, signing a memorandum with the director general of IP Australia in September 2014. US Mission General

Michelle Lee, formerly Google's chief patent lawyer and currently acting director of the US Patent and Trademark Office, has been nominated by the Obama administration to be the next permanent USPTO director. Lee will be the first head of the patent office to have a background at an Internet company.

Lee's nomination comes months after the administration floated the name of Philip Johnson, a lawyer at Johnson & Johnson who was an outspoken opponent of patent reform. The idea of nominating Johnson evaporated after a negative response from tech companies.

Choosing Lee has won praise all around, although the pro-reform forces are likely happier than the anti-reform forces given her background at Google. Lee was one of the first corporate lawyers to be vocal about the problem posed by "non-practicing entities," also known as patent trolls.

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From The Wirecutter: The best budget laptop you can buy

10/17/2014 1:32pm

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy.
Read the original full article below at TheWirecutter.com.

After considering all the major laptops in its price range, I decided that if I had to buy a Windows laptop for $600 or less, I’d get the ~$580 version of the Lenovo IdeaPad Flex 2 14.

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Secrets become history: Edward Snowden on film as Citizenfour

10/17/2014 1:00pm
Radius

Citizenfour is filmmaker Laura Poitras' account of the first meetings between herself, Glenn Greenwald, and Edward Snowden. It was first shown publicly last Friday, and it will open in theaters in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco on October 24.

For those who have followed the news around the Snowden documents, even in small doses, Citizenfour isn't full of revelations (though there are a few surprises). But for viewers interested in surveillance, or the future of the Internet, or journalism—it won't matter. The film is riveting, and its power is in its source material.

Poitras filmed Snowden for 20 hours over eight days in his Hong Kong hotel, and her film has now given the world an unfiltered portrait of the man who, in the course of the year, became the West’s most wanted dissident.

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Opening an Internet time capsule—Internet in a Box for Win95

10/17/2014 12:00pm
How could I refuse?

A few days ago, my wife messaged me a photo from a thrift shop with the question, "You want?" The picture was of a box of software still in shrinkwrap—SPRY Inc.'s Internet in a Box for Windows 95.

The answer was an obvious "OMG YES." I reviewed Internet in a Box back in 1993 when it was first released as an early adopter of independent local Internet dialup (using David Troy's Toad.Net). I spent endless hours connected with the software and my very first laptop PC, pulling down Hubble Telescope images from the Space Telescope Science Institute's Gopher server and raging at Usenet posts. Just the sight of the logo caused a wave of nostalgia to wash over me. It was a simpler time, a somewhat less user-friendly time. CompuServe was still a thing.

This particular box of software was, however, especially endearing. I used version 1.0 for several years before Toad.Net partnered with Covad and ran one of Baltimore's very first DSL connections into my house—allowing me to give up the dual ISDN connection I had for my connection to my employer. This was a bundle designed to bring the masses to the Internet, along with their photos, in 1995. Attached to the box was a Seattle FilmWorks one-use 35mm film camera, emblazoned with the CompuServe logo.

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Report: Cybercrime costs US $12.7M a year

10/17/2014 11:05am

Cyber attacks on large US companies result in an average of $12.7 million in annual damages, an increase of 9.7 percent from the previous year, according to the fifth Cost of Cybercrime report published by the Ponemon Institute on Wednesday.

The report, sponsored this year by Hewlett Packard’s Enterprise Security division, found that business disruption and information loss account for nearly three-quarters of the cost of cybercrime incidents. The study also confirmed that companies that make security a priority have lower costs associated with security incidents during the year. In particular, companies that use technology that helps flag potential intrusions into critical systems have lower costs, by an average of $2.6 million.

“Business disruption, information loss and the time it takes to detect a breach collectively represented the highest cost to organizations experiencing a breach,” Larry Ponemon, chairman and founder of the Ponemon Institute, said in a statement.

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Man sues Comcast, claims ISP got him fired over billing dispute

10/17/2014 10:43am
Conal O'Rourke remains frustrated and baffled at his year-long saga with Comcast, which resulted in his losing his job. Cyrus Farivar

The California man who publicly accused Comcast of getting him fired from his job at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) after he complained to the highest levels of Comcast about his year’s worth of billing errors, has made good on his threat to sue his former ISP. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in San Francisco late Thursday.

Among other accusations, Conal O’Rourke is suing Comcast on allegations of violating the Cable Communications Act by disclosing his personal information to his employer, defamation, breach of contract, emotional distress, and unfair business practices.

“We don’t normally comment on pending litigation and as we have said, there were clear deficiencies in the customer service that we delivered to Mr. O’Rourke," Jenni Moyer, a Comcast spokesperson, told Ars in a statement.

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Mysterious campaign appears to be latest salvo in net neutrality battle [Updated]

10/17/2014 10:00am

This piece originally appeared in Pro Publica.

This story has been updated to include a comment from the National Cable and Telecommunications Association.

On a recent Monday evening, two bearded young men in skinny jeans came to a parklet in San Francisco's trendy Hayes Valley neighborhood and mounted what looked like an art installation. It was a bright blue, oversized "suggestion box" for the Internet.

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Google’s product strategy: Make two of everything

10/17/2014 8:00am
Google

Have you ever heard the expression, "Don't put all your eggs in one basket"? It's a saying that extolls the virtues of diversification—always have a "Plan B." Judging by Google's messy and often-confusing product line, it's something the company takes to heart. Google likes to have multiple, competing products that go after the same user base. That way, if one product doesn't work out, hopefully the other one will.

The most extreme case of this has been Google's instant messaging solutions. At one point there were four different ways to send a text message on Android: Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, Messaging (Android's SMS app), and Google Voice. Google Hangouts came along and eventually merged everything into a single instant messaging platform.

Mercifully, Google has a single, unified instant messaging program now, and all further IM efforts will be poured into this, right? Wrong. A report from The Economic Times of India says that Google is working on a fifth instant messaging program. This one reportedly won't require a Google account and will be aimed at Whatsapp. In KitKat Google removed the stock SMS app and used Hangouts for SMSes, but in Lollipop it is adding back an SMS client, so soon we could potentially be back up to three texting clients. The unified Hangouts update also added a second dialer app to Android, so now there is the main Google Dialer that was introduced in KitKat and a new Hangouts Dialer that makes VOIP calls. Users went from needing IM unity, having it, then chaotically clamoring for dialer unity.

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Whisper CTO says tracking “anonymous” users not a big deal, really

10/17/2014 1:40am

On Thursday, the Guardian reported that the developers of Whisper, a social media platform that allows individuals to post anonymous messages that can be seen by others based on a number of factors, isn’t all that anonymous after all. Whisper, which is advertised as “the safest place on the Internet,” tracks geolocation data of posters and uses their location data for a number of purposes—including censorship and reporting of posts from military bases to the Department of Defense. Whisper’s chief technology officer took to YCombinator’s Hacker News to defend the company against the report, but his explanation was torn apart by security and privacy experts in the discussion that followed.

Much like its competitor Secret, Whisper allows individuals to post anonymous messages overlaid on images or photos to share with others for comment. The application uses geolocation data to determine where the poster is and who should be able to see its contents.  It has become popular with a number of communities, including members of the military.

The Guardian was exploring a potential editorial relationship with Whisper, and staff from the news organization spent three days at Whisper’s offices in Los Angeles. While there, the Guardian team witnessed Whisper employees using an in-house geolocation tool to track posts made from various locations and found that the company is tracking specific Whisper users believed to be “potentially newsworthy,” including members of the military, government employees, and employees of companies such as Disney and Yahoo. The company also shares information about posters and their locations with the Defense Department, FBI, and the UK’s MI5, the Guardian’s Paul Lewis and Dominic Rushe reported.

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New iPads come with special, multi-carrier “Apple SIM”

10/16/2014 7:16pm
The "Apple SIM" allows AT&T, T-Mobile, Sprint, or EE support without switching SIM cards. Andrew Cunningham

Apple's iPad announcements today focused overwhelmingly on the iPad Air 2's thickness, its screen, and its internals, but it and the iPad Mini 3 got some other quieter upgrades too. One such upgrade is a new "Apple SIM," a nano SIM card that allows the cellular models to switch between multiple mobile carriers without changing the actual card. At launch the card supports AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and UK carrier EE. Though Apple is still selling Verizon-compatible iPads, the US' biggest carrier remains conspicuously (though perhaps not surprisingly) absent from the list.

One thing Apple is emphasizing with the SIM is that it can be used to secure short-term data commitments, rather than the regular monthly charges most cellular tablets generally assume. In theory, you can jump between carriers based on the one that's offering the data you need for the price you want, and you never have to swap out the SIM card to do it. Apple is also playing up the ability to buy data from international carriers when traveling, though obviously the carrier list will need to expand before this is practical.

Though the Apple SIM is launching in the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Mini 3, we would expect it to start showing up in other Apple products eventually. Simplifying the product line instead of shipping carrier-specific versions of iPhones and iPads seems like the right move for Apple to make; let's hope carriers continue to climb on board.

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FBI director to citizens: Let us spy on you

10/16/2014 6:30pm

The expanding options for communicating over the Internet and the increasing adoption of encryption technologies could leave law enforcement agents “in the dark” and unable to collect evidence against criminals, the Director of the FBI said in a speech on Thursday.

In a post-Snowden plea for a policy more permissive of spying, FBI Director James B. Comey raised the specters of child predators, violent criminals, and crafty terrorists to argue that companies should build surveillance capabilities into the design of their products and allow lawful interception of communications. In his speech given at the Brookings Institute in Washington DC, Comey listed four cases where having access to a mobile phone or laptop proved crucial to an investigation and another case where such access was critical to exonerating wrongly accused teens.

All of that will go away, or at least become much harder, if the current trend continues, he argued.

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In tit-for-tat patent spat, Comcast slaps Sprint with $7.5M verdict

10/16/2014 6:00pm

These days, most patent lawsuits are filed by so-called "patent trolls," which can't be counter-sued because they have no business other than litigation.

When a company files a patent lawsuit against a competitor, it can expect to be met with a counter-suit. That's exactly what happened when Sprint used 12 VoIP patents to sue Comcast in 2011. Yesterday, Comcast's counter-punch landed, hard.

Sprint got slapped with a $7.5 million jury verdict (PDF) for infringing three Comcast patents, after a Delaware trial ended. That's less than the $16.5 million Comcast lawyers had asked for, but simply by sticking it out through trial and winning, Comcast's point has surely been made: we're not an easy target, and we will hit back.

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