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Updated: 1 hour 8 min ago

Time to try the Vorkosigan Saga—you’ve never read science fiction like this

1 hour 23 min ago

Detail from a front plate in the hardback of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen, by Lois McMaster Bujold. (credit: Dave Seeley)

If you're already a fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's award-winning Vorkosigan Saga novels, then this month's release of Gentleman Jole and the Red Queen will bring much rejoicing. If you're new to the series, this novel is an excellent excuse to start reading. It's one of the most realistic and funny novels you'll ever read about space colonization. Somehow it manages to be gripping, despite its focus on balancing military budgets, dealing with defense contractors, and the weirdness of long-term marriage.

Mild spoilers for the Vorkosigan Saga follow.

Meet the Vorkosigans

Bujold began her galaxy-spanning series in the 1980s with a pair of novels, Shards of Honor and Barrayar, about a young starship captain named Cordelia Naismith from the planet Beta. A peaceful, politically progressive planet—basically, Copenhagen in space—Beta sends out scientist-explorers like Cordelia to gather data for its exoplanetary "geological survey." While studying a supposedly uninhabited planet, Cordelia meets the military officer Aral Vorkosigan, from the patriarchal, conservative planet Barrayar, where women tend to be housewives and men destroy themselves on the battlefield. Against all odds, and in the midst of a deadly war, the two fall in love.

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Uber settles “industry-leading background check” class-action for $28.5M

3 hours 23 min ago

(credit: Uber)

Uber has agreed to pay $28.5 million to settle a federal class-action lawsuit originally filed in late December 2014 by six men who argued that the startup’s claim of running "industry-leading background checks" was false and misleading. Passengers paid a "safe ride fee," usually $1 to $2 on top of each fare, as a way to offset those costs.

Under the terms of the deal, which was filed on Thursday, Uber will now rename this charge as a “booking fee,” and will alter its language accordingly. The settlement also states that Uber and its subsidiary “expressly deny the allegations” and admit no wrongdoing.

Specifically, the consolidated complaint, which combined other similar lawsuits, alleged:

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Deadpool movie suffers for—and hilariously mocks—its major licensing issues

2/11/2016 8:28pm

Yuh-oh—are we in for Yet Another Formulaic Comic Superhero Movie? On paper, Deadpool might seem that way. Its origin story sets up the launch of a brooding hero and a distressed damsel. Its cast is made up mostly of archetypes, including comic relief, stern ally, and bitter villain. Heck, its time-frozen, Matrix-styled intro, in which a climactic action scene is frozen so that cameras can spin all around it, has been done a bazillion times.

Luckily for us, this is Deadpool we're talking about. Marvel's latest comic-to-film conversion wastes no time in forcefully asserting itself as a very different kind of superhero flick.

Fourth-wall break!

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The film's first moment of weirdness arrives only seconds into the runtime, when that opening sequence starts flashing unusual text crawls. Instead of the usual production company credit, we're told this is "some douchebag's film" directed by "an overpaid tool" whose stars include "a moody teen," "a British villain," and "god's perfect idiot"—in this case, Ryan Reynolds, whose real-life face briefly floats between dead and dying bodies on the cover of People magazine.

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SoCal Gas says it has “temporarily controlled” massive natural gas leak

2/11/2016 6:20pm

SoCalGas Aliso Canyon 3. (credit: SoCal Gas / Governor's Office of Emergency Services)

On Thursday afternoon, Southern California Gas Company (SoCal Gas) announced that it had “temporarily controlled” a natural gas leak that has spewed more than 80,000 tons of gas from a well just north of Los Angeles. The leak began on October 23, and after SoCal Gas exhausted all other solutions to plug the leak, the company began drilling relief wells as a last-ditch attempt in early December.

"On Feb. 11, 2016, the relief well intercepted the base of the leaking well, and the company began pumping heavy fluids to temporarily control the flow of gas out of the leaking well,” a statement from SoCal Gas read. "DOGGR [California’s Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources] officials and representatives from other state and local agencies were at the site to observe the operation. The leak and the flow of gas will be declared ended once DOGGR has confirmed that the well has been permanently sealed."

The company will now have to seal the well with cement to permanently shut it down, a process that could take a few more days. Once that occurs, the thousands of displaced residents who lived in the nearby Porter Ranch community will have eight days to return to their homes, at which point SoCal Gas will terminate the leases on temporary housing that the company has been paying for.

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Activision confirms Destiny sequel delay to 2017, “expects” 2016 expansion

2/11/2016 5:23pm

(credit: Bungie)

Following rumors that the official sequel to Destiny would not arrive in time for its previously announced September 2016 window, Activision made the news formal as part of its Q4 fiscal report on Thursday.

The news of Destiny 2's "2017" release window—with no month or quarter mentioned—also came with the announcement of a previously unmentioned "large new expansion," which Activision "expects" to launch this year. No name or release window was included with that news. That may very well be bad news for Destiny's "25+ million registered users" that Activision bragged about in its statement, who the company says have logged "nearly 3 billion hours" inside of the game—and who are avidly complaining about a wave of underwhelming limited-time "events" in the game, particularly this week's Valentine's themed snoozer.

Activision announced good sales news for Call of Duty: Black Ops III, which it dubbed "the number one console game globally for the calendar year." The company claims to have released "four of the top ten games on next-generation consoles life-to-date," including CODBLOPS3 in the top position. In absolutely shocking and world-shaking news, Activision said gamers could expect another Call of Duty game by the end of 2016—to be designed by Infinity Ward.

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SoundCloud has lost over $70M in 2 years, board cites “material uncertainties”

2/11/2016 4:55pm

(credit: Juannomore)

New financial records released by SoundCloud show that the company has nearly doubled its losses from 2013 to 2014—those two years combined account for a total of €62.1 million ($70.3 million) in losses.

The Berlin-based audio social network has been the darling of independent producers and DJs worldwide who use it to share and comment on each other’s work. But like some startups, it has struggled to turn its massive user base into meaningful revenue. As a "freemium" service, most people use the site without paying.

With mounting losses, the company’s board of directors wrote that there are "material uncertainties facing the business."

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30 percent of science teachers give misinformation about climate change

2/11/2016 3:05pm

Teens are left confused and misguided by science teachers. (credit: The Wall)

Though roughly 95 percent of scientists agree that climate change is caused by humans, you might not know it if you were learning about the environment in middle school or high school. In a recent randomized study of thousands of science teachers, a group of US researchers found that nearly a third of teachers tell students that the current observed trends in global climate change are "natural."

Published today in the journal Science, the results of the study reveal that science education on the subject is unevenly distributed. Teachers are all over the map when it comes to what they're teaching about climate change, with 30 percent telling students that "recent global warming 'is likely due to natural causes,'" and another 12 percent not emphasizing potential human causes of climate change. Additionally, 31 percent of teachers appeared to be giving students "mixed messages," teaching that Earth's climate changes could be caused by humans or by natural processes.

Making this scenario even more dismal is the fact that the average teacher only devotes one or two hours to climate change in their lesson plans. That means many students will graduate from high school having been exposed to perhaps only a single hour of teaching about climate change, which is arguably one of the most important drivers of both economic and scientific transformation in our time.

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Congress passes permanent ban on Internet access taxes

2/11/2016 2:45pm

Congress has voted to make permanent a federal law that prevents states or localities from taxing Internet access.

The US Senate accepted the measure as part of a larger trade bill, which passed today on a 75-20 vote. Since the House has already passed a similar measure, the bill now heads to President Barack Obama for his signature.

There's long been general agreement in Congress that taxing access to the Internet is a bad idea and shouldn't be allowed. But permanent consideration of the tax ban was held up by some lawmakers, including Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who wanted it to be passed together with the Marketplace Fairness Act, or MFA.

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Dish to disable DVR ad-skip for 7 days after broadcast to resolve Fox suit

2/11/2016 2:30pm

Fox and Dish have settled a years-long copyright dispute over several Dish viewing features, including the Hopper ad-skipping DVR, Slingbox, and PrimeTime Anywhere streaming technology.

Not much detail is available at this point, but Dish has said it will disable ad-skipping powers on all Fox programming until seven days after a program airs. The companies released a joint statement today, which reads:

Fox Networks Group and DISH Network L.L.C. have reached an agreement resulting in the dismissal of all pending litigation between the two companies, including disputes over Slingbox technology and the AutoHop, PrimeTime Anytime and Transfers features. As part of the settlement, DISH’s AutoHop commercial-skipping functionality will not be available for owned and affiliated FOX stations until seven days after a program first airs.

Dish shows off its two "marsupial-inspired products," the Hopper DVR and the companion box Joey, at CES in 2013. (credit: Pop Culture Geek / flickr)

Fox and NBCUniversal both sued Dish in 2012, saying that the ad-skipping could destroy "the fundamental underpinnings of the broadcast television ecosystem." In the lawsuit, they said because the ad-skipping tech involves the creation of an unauthorized copy, it violates copyright law.

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Religion may explain why people are so weirdly cooperative

2/11/2016 2:20pm

(credit: flickr user: gags9999)

The level of altruism that humans display is an anomaly in the animal world. Most species don’t interact peacefully with strangers every day or build large, stable societies that rely on cooperative behavior between unrelated individuals. Although there are animals that show altruistic behavior toward their relatives or breeding partners, we still don’t know how humans managed to develop the extreme level of cooperation between strangers needed to build and maintain our societies.

A paper in Nature hints that religion may be one of the keys to understanding this cooperation. The paper's authors suggest that, as people started to believe in gods who see everything and punish wrongdoing, they may have had more motivation to behave nicely toward strangers. They also suggest that beliefs in more powerful gods might widen the circle of cooperation: the more all-knowing your deity, the farther away people can be from you and still benefit from your cooperation.

To test this idea, the authors studied nearly 600 people with a wide range of beliefs from countries around the world. The beliefs included predominant world religions such as Christianity and Hinduism but also local traditions like ancestor worship, animism, and belief in supernatural entities like saints or ghosts. After answering detailed questions about what they believed, participants played a game to assess how they would act toward other people.

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Online legal publishers squabble over the right to copyright the law

2/11/2016 2:05pm

(credit: Mr.TinDC)

Two big-name legal research companies are battling in federal court over the right to exclusively publish the law—in this case, the Georgia Administrative Rules and Regulations.

The lawsuit (PDF) comes as states across the nation partner with legal research companies to offer exclusive publishing and licensing deals for digitizing and making available online the states' reams of laws and regulations. The only problem is that the law is not copyrightable—or so says one of the publishers involved in the Georgia litigation. In this instance, District of Columbia-based legal publisher Fastcase wants a judge to fend off a cease-and-desist demand from rival Virginia-based Lawriter, which has been designated as the exclusive publisher (PDF) of Georgia's compilation (PDF) of the rules and regulations of its state agencies. The lawsuit says:

The Georgia Regulations are binding law—a broad-ranging collection of rules and regulations governing areas from consumer protection to banking to elections. The Georgia Regulations are promulgated by public agencies of the State of Georgia, and published for the benefit of the public by the Georgia Secretary of State, as required by O.C.G.A. § 50-13-7. Defendant Lawriter purports to have exclusive rights to publish the Georgia Regulations. Consistent with this claim of exclusive rights, Lawriter has sent Plaintiff Fastcase a demand that Fastcase remove the Georgia Regulations from its legal research service, which is provided as a free member benefit to members of the State Bar of Georgia. The Georgia Regulations are public law published under statutory mandate and are in the public domain. Defendant cannot claim any exclusive right in, to, or in connection with, the Georgia Regulations. Thus, Fastcase seeks declaratory judgment that Lawriter has no basis from which to prohibit Fastcase from publishing the Georgia Regulations in its subscription legal research service.

Fastcase also says Lawriter "cannot claim a valid copyright or an exclusive license to a valid copyright. It is well established in American law that state laws, including administrative rules and regulations, are not copyrightable, and must remain public as a matter of due process."

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Ancient hook-ups with Neanderthals left lasting effects on our health

2/11/2016 2:01pm

Comparison of Modern Human and Neanderthal skulls from the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. (credit: hairymuseummatt)

WASHINGTON—Around 50,000 years ago, anatomically modern humans shacked up with some Neanderthals—and the genetic consequences are still doing a walk of shame through our generations.

The questionable interbreeding left traces of Neanderthal DNA that are linked to mood disorders, mostly depression, as well as tobacco-use disorders, skin conditions, and hypercoagulation (excessive blood clotting), according to a new study published Thursday in Science. The findings lend support to the theory that our past hominin hook-up has had a lasting influence on modern humans’ health. The data also offers hints at genetic adaptations of our ancient ancestors and, potentially, new insights into the diseases they help cause in modern humans, the authors suggest.

Having these traces of Neanderthal DNA doesn’t “doom us” to having these diseases, cautioned John Capra, bioinformaticist at Vanderbilt University and coauthor of the study. The genetic traces linked to disease in modern humans doesn’t mean that Neanderthals were stricken with those diseases either, he added. In fact, some of them could have been advantageous.

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NYPD used stingrays over 1,000 times without warrants since 2008

2/11/2016 1:45pm

(credit: André Gustavo Stumpf)

The New York Police Department used cell-site simulators, better known as stingrays, over 1,000 times between 2008 and May 2015 without first acquiring a warrant, according to new public records obtained by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

According to the NYCLU, this marks the first time that the nation’s largest police department has admitted to using the notorious surveillance technology. The NYPD does not have a written policy for stingray use. Police records show that while stingrays were mostly used in investigations of serious felonies—homicide, assault, kidnapping, drug trafficking, rape—they were also used for investigating money laundering and ID theft.

Stingrays are in use by both local and federal law enforcement agencies nationwide. The devices determine a target phone’s location by spoofing or simulating a cell tower, and mobile phones in range of the stingray connect to it and exchange data with it as they would with a real cell tower. Once deployed, the devices intercept data from the target phone along with information from other phones within the vicinity—up to and including full calls and text messages. At times, police have falsely claimed that information gathered from a stingray has instead come from a confidential informant.

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Qualcomm promises gigabit LTE speeds with its new Snapdragon X16 modem

2/11/2016 12:34pm

(credit: Qualcomm)

Qualcomm's lead in the mobile SoC and modem market is no longer as unassailable as it once was, but the company continues to be out in front when it comes to pushing new LTE technologies. Case in point: its new Snapdragon X16 modem, which together with the WTR5975 transceiver boasts Category 16 LTE download speeds of up to 1Gbps. Most of today's phones top out at 300Mbps or 450Mbps, and the upcoming Snapdragon 820 will only go up to 600Mbps. The X16 will also support upload speeds of up to 150Mbps, which is equal to or only slightly higher than upload rates supported by current LTE modems.

Most recent LTE speed increases have come via carrier aggregation, which essentially combines multiple chunks of spectrum across multiple antennas to improve bandwidth. Most of today's high-end phones use two or three chunks of 20MHz spectrum to achieve download speeds of up to 300 or 450Mbps, respectively. The Snapdragon X12 achieves its 600Mbps speeds by using three chunks of 20MHz spectrum plus a higher 256-QAM rather than 64-QAM, increasing the amount of data that can be transmitted over the same link from 75Mbps to 100Mbps (albeit at the cost of higher interference). The X16 uses a combination of technologies to hit its 1Gbps theoretical peak. From the press release:

The Snapdragon X16 LTE modem is designed to reach Gigabit Class LTE speeds using the same amount of spectrum as Category 9 LTE devices. By using carrier aggregation and 4x4 MIMO, the Snapdragon X16 LTE modem can receive 10 unique streams of data using only three 20 MHz carriers. Its support for 256-QAM boosts the peak throughput of each stream from ~75 Mbps to ~100 Mbps, with additional gains possible with modem data compression.

To increase the number of 20MHz chunks of spectrum available for use, the modem can also use licensed and unlicensed LTE spectrum simultaneously.

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UK authorities sue Star Wars producer over Harrison Ford’s broken leg

2/11/2016 12:22pm

Harrison Ford broke his leg at Pinewood studios. Now the production company is getting sued by UK authorities.

On Thursday, the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) announced that it is pressing charges against Foodles Production, a UK-based Disney subsidiary that produced Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, over an incident that left actor Harrison Ford with a broken leg.

According to the HSE press release, Ford was "struck by a heavy hydraulic metal door on the set of the Millennium Falcon” on June 12, 2014, leaving him with a broken leg among other injuries. The accident occurred at Pinewood Studios in Buckinghamshire.

Ford was 71 at the time of the accident.

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A week with BMW’s unexpectedly charming X5 Hybrid SUV

2/11/2016 12:16pm

This might be the X5's best angle.

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It's no secret that we're big fans of BMW's i3 and i8 hybrids here at Ars. Now the Bavarian company is starting to apply the technology found in those cars to the models in its regular production range, starting with the (deep breath) BMW X5 xDrive40e. There's no more funky styling and carbon fiber to distract you, just a good-old X5 with an up-to-date powertrain. The idea is to maintain the BMW driving experience but with an added dose of efficiency. So we put an X5 through its paces for a week to find out if that's the case.

BMW's decision to choose the X5 as its first "regular" model to hybridize was a smart one. The SUV is its second-best seller here in the US, and it stands to benefit from the electric vehicle treatment more than the cheaper, lighter 3 Series (although a plug-in hybrid version is coming, too). Under the hood is a 2.0 L, four-cylinder turbocharged gasoline internal combustion engine (ICE) and an electric motor, which together give the X5 a respectable 308ph (230kW) and 332lb-ft (450Nm). The batteries—9kWh of lithium-ion cells—live underneath the luggage compartment, an added bonus of the SUV's size and shape.

That power and torque gets fed to the road through the same eight-speed automatic gearbox as the rest of the X5 range. As with the i3 and i8, the X5 gives you three different modes: Comfort, Sport, and Eco Pro. You pick your mood and the electronic control units, and the clever software does the rest. Eco Pro is a bit of a hair shirt. It limits the energy drain from the climate control and seat heaters and lets the car coast with the ICE turned off. Both Eco Pro and Comfort let you drive on electric power alone as long as there's sufficient battery, with the ICE firing up and kicking in as needed (or above 75mph/120km/h).

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Opsec fail: Baltimore teen car thieves paired phones with Jeep UConnect

2/11/2016 11:44am

A Nest video screen grab of a November 22 burglary led to one teen's arrest—and the online hunt for others. (credit: @BaconisFruit)

On November 22, 2015, a group of teenagers broke into the house of a Baltimore man, stealing his bicycle and finding a spare key to his Jeep Renegade. They then took off, stealing the Jeep and taking it for a multiday joyride before abandoning it with an empty gas tank and some minor damage.

In Baltimore (as I can sadly say from personal experience), the story would usually end there with an insurance claim and a shrug. But the group of young men involved in the burglary and theft were all captured on a Nest camera as they rifled through drawers. And some of them left more potential digital evidence when they paired their phones over Bluetooth with the Jeep's UConnect system.

One of the thieves was identified from a head shot from the camera footage a few weeks later by a school police officer and has already pleaded guilty in juvenile court. But the apprehended youth wouldn't give police the identities of the others involved in the theft. Because he's a juvenile, he'll likely be released soon.

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Netflix finishes its massive migration to the Amazon cloud

2/11/2016 11:30am

(credit: Netflix)

Netflix has been moving huge portions of its streaming operation to Amazon Web Services (AWS) for years now, and it says it has finally completed its giant shift to the cloud. “We are happy to report that in early January of 2016, after seven years of diligent effort, we have finally completed our cloud migration and shut down the last remaining data center bits used by our streaming service,” Netflix said in a blog post that it plans to publish at noon Eastern today. (The blog should go up at this link.)

Netflix operates “many tens of thousands of servers and many tens of petabytes of storage” in the Amazon cloud, Netflix VP of cloud and platform engineering Yury Izrailevsky told Ars in an interview.

Netflix had earlier planned to complete the shift by the end of last summer.

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Upgraded LIGO detectors spot gravitational waves

2/11/2016 10:31am

This is the beginning of LIGO's beam tube. (credit: Eric Berger)

LIVINGSTON, Louisiana—In a large press event today, the scientists behind the LIGO experiment announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time generated by strong gravitational interactions. The news, following weeks of rumors, confirms a major prediction of general relativity, and comes a century after Einstein first formulated the theory.

The waves, produced in the final moments of a black hole merger, arrived precisely at 5:51 in the morning (US Eastern) on September 14th last year, and were picked up by both LIGO detectors—one in Louisiana, one in Washington. Since the Louisiana detector picked up the signal a few milliseconds sooner, the event that produced the gravitational waves occurred in the Southern Hemisphere.

"The description of this observation is beautifully described in the Einstein theory of general relativity formulated 100 years ago," said MIT professor Rainer Weiss, part of the team that first proposed LIGO. He said it "comprises the first test of the theory in strong gravitation."

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Liveblog: Scientists to announce major gravitational wave finding

2/11/2016 10:00am

Inside the main control room at the gravitational wave detector facility in Livingston, Louisiana. (credit: Eric Berger)

View Liveblog2016-02-11T09:15:00-06:00

On Thursday morning (10:30 EST, 15:30 GMT) scientists will make what they are calling a major gravitational wave announcement.

The scientists are being pretty coy about it, and after a century of looking for gravitational waves, you can understand their caution about not wanting the cat to slip out of the bag.

However, credible rumors have been swirling about the discovery of gravitational waves emanating from a binary black hole, and physicists associated with the National Science Foundation-funded project are expected to discuss this new research during their presentation.

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