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The Art of Technology
Updated: 1 hour 12 min ago

Here’s how badly we’re getting ripped off by our mobile phone providers

5/23/2015 4:47pm

It is hard to overstate how much I love the British mobile provider Three and how I wish it would come to the United States.

My fellow Americans, let me (again) re-iterate how badly we’re all getting overcharged: Three offers a 30-day prepaid plan with unlimited data, unlimited texts, and 200 minutes of domestic calling, all for £20 ($31). That’s about one-third less than what I pay right now Stateside.

Last month, I traveled to the United Kingdom for a reporting trip on the new Welsh drone startup behind the Zano handheld drone. Before I left California, I had my new Ars UK colleague Sebastian Anthony go to a Three shop, buy a SIM, and send it to me in the mail (or post, whatever). He didn’t have to register it or show an ID. When I landed at Heathrow, I could just pop it in, and boom, I was off and running.

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Cops don’t have to give man his own license plate reader data, court finds

5/23/2015 3:10pm

A San Diego, California court has ruled that a tech entrepreneur will not be allowed to access his license plate reader (LPR) records from a regional government agency.

Earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Katherine Bacal handed down a six-page decision to Michael Robertson, finding that he does not have the right, under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), to access records of his own license plate as scanned by members of the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG).

Judge Bacal found that the LPR records were exempt from the CPRA, under a provision of the law that protects “records of investigation,” and under a catch-all section if releasing such records is not in the public interest. As she wrote in the Statement of Decision:

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Great expectations: An Ars reader wishlist for iOS 9

5/23/2015 11:00am

Last weekend we published a short wishlist of things we’d like to see in iOS 9. Some of it was fairly basic, some of it was more involved. Some wishes were new, and others have been around for years. Some things seemed like a safe bet, and others were more farfetched. But software is never done, and hey, we can dream.

Many of you had desires beyond what we asked about, and we’ve gathered some of the most interesting and frequently requested features here. Like our original list, your requests are a mix of plausible and implausible, simple and complex. But all of them would be interesting additions that would make iOS more useful.

A Spotlight API Spotlight got better in iOS 8, but let's let third-parties do more with it. Andrew Cunningham

Spotlight in iOS is a powerful search tool, and iOS 8 made it more useful by including search results from multiple external sources. But while it can search for third-party apps and show data from within first-party apps (individual notes, calendar appointments, or Mail messages, for example), Spotlight can’t pull data from within third-party apps.

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Asteroid impacts 3.3 billion years ago may have boiled the oceans

5/23/2015 10:00am

The chaos in the early Solar System was fiendish. Even after the planets had coalesced, there was more than enough rubble left behind to cause frequent and violent impacts that would have rocked the Earth’s youthful crust. After a phase of intense bombardment between about 4.1 and 3.8 billion years ago, things on the asteroid collision scene calmed down. Relatively speaking…

We don’t know exactly when life first developed on Earth, but we know it was present by 3.4 billion years ago. We don’t know if life was present to suffer from the earlier period of bombardment, but we know it was around for any impacts that followed. So what kinds of extraterrestrial punches did life take after 3.4 billion years ago?

A new study by Stanford’s Donald Lowe and Louisiana State University’s Gary Byerly examines a fascinating record of major impacts in South African rocks around 3.3 billion years old. Eight impact layers have been identified in these rocks, each containing sand-sized blobs of rock that solidified after the impact vaporized bedrock. The layers also show signs that they were hit by tsunamis shortly afterward.

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VR headset company Fove is betting on eye tracking to compete

5/23/2015 9:00am

SAN FRANSCISO—At a Kickstarter launch party in a swanky downtown hotel, employees and friends of year-old company Fove milled about, ready to talk to anyone and everyone about their contributions to a new virtual reality headset. VR headsets are old news at this point—Oculus Rift, Samsung Gear VR, Sony’s Project Morpheus have all run the press gamut a few times over. But Fove wants to leapfrog the traditional players by coming to the starting line with something that none of those incumbents have (at least thus far): an eye-tracking system.

Fove says the eye-tracking system will eventually allow for foveated rendering—a cutting-edge way of reducing the processing demands of VR headsets by generating a high-resolution image only for the immediate area that a player is looking at, allowing peripheral areas to be rendered with less definition.

Fove just met its Kickstarter goal of $250,000, which it will use to produce an SDK headset with a 5.8 inch display with 2560x1440 resolution, and a 0.8 pound weight. What sets it apart, though, are the infrared sensors that bounce IR light off the user's retinas, to measure the distance between the eyes and the direction they're each pointing. Kickstarter backers have been able to secure development headsets for between $300 and $400, and Fove aims to ship by Spring 2016. The development platform will integrate content from Unity, Unreal Engine, and eventually Cryengine.

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Senate adjourns, rejects compromise metadata surveillance bill

5/23/2015 2:27am

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the United States Senate halted the advance of a compromise bill that aims to end metadata collection under Section 215 of the Patriot Act.

Given that the USA Freedom Act cannot seemingly advance in the Senate, there is a very strong possibility that the relevant portions of the law will expire as of the stroke of midnight on June 1, 2015.

The Senate voted 57-42 to reject the measure, and also immediately rejected a 60-day extension of the existing law on a 54-45 vote. The bill, which previously passed the House of Representatives just over a week ago, has the support of the White House.

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Oculus and founder sued by Hawaiian head-mounted display startup

5/22/2015 10:25pm

A Hawaii-based company called Total Recall Technologies (TRT) is suing Facebook-owned Oculus Rift and its founder Palmer Luckey, saying that Luckey used confidential information he learned from the company in 2011 to build his own head-mounted display.

In a complaint filed in the Northern California US District Court (PDF), TRT says that its two partners, Ron Igra and Thomas Seidl, developed and patented a method to take video of a real-world scene and display it in a head-mounted display using an “ultra-wide field of view.” Seidl met Luckey in 2010 in connection with his work on developing head-mounted displays, and contacted him in 2011 to build a prototype for TRT.

“At all relevant times, the information provided to Luckey by TRT was confidential, and TRT expected the information to remain confidential,” the complaint says.

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How one US Embassy staffer allegedly sextorted hundreds from his desk

5/22/2015 4:20pm

An American staffer at the United States Embassy in London has been accused of running a sextortion scheme—amazingly, primarily from his heavily monitored, government-owned work computer. Despite this, the embassy’s network security protocol apparently failed to flag the man’s behavior.

The suspect, Michael C. Ford, was arrested at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on May 17 as he was flying back to London with his wife and son. The criminal complaint against him was unsealed the following day.

On Thursday, a federal judge in Atlanta set Ford’s bond at $50,000, despite the impassioned pleas by prosecutors for no bond at all, and ordered him to remain under house arrest in his own home in nearby Dunwoody, Georgia.

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DARPA laser research boosts airborne death rays, tiny laser scanners

5/22/2015 3:38pm

This week has been laser week at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, with two very different laser-based programs hitting major milestones: an inexpensive array of lasers on a single chip that can be used as sensors on drones and robots and a killer laser system that could blow up missiles, shells, and possibly vehicles and people.

Yesterday, DARPA announced the successful test of a single-chip laser detection and ranging system that makes it possible to build inexpensive, lightweight short-range "phased array" LADAR that could be mounted on small unmanned aircraft, robots, and vehicles. The technology could bring low-cost, solid-state, high-resolution 3D scanning to a host of devices in the near future.

Called SWEEPER (Short-range Wide-field-of-view Extremely agile Electronically steered Photonic EmitteR), the sensor technology embeds thousands of laser-emitting dots microns apart on a silicon chip—creating a "phased array" optical scanning system that can scan rapidly across a 51-degree arc without the need for mechanical rotation. In the latest test, the system was able to scan back and forth across that entire arc more than 100,000 times per second.

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Microsoft was’s $55 billion suitor, but talks are off

5/22/2015 3:12pm's shares spiked last month amid reports from Bloomberg that an unspecified company was in talks to buy the Software-as-a-Service firm. There was a repeat earlier this month when Bloomberg reported that Microsoft was evaluating a bid for the firm, but had not started talks. CNBC is now reporting that talks between the companies have, in fact taken place, but that they've also come to an end with no agreement being reached.

According to "multiple people familiar with the situation," Microsoft was offering around $55 billion for the cloud company. Salesforce's founder and CEO Marc Benioff wanted to push the price higher still, apparently as high as $70 billion. CNBC's sources claimed that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was hesitant to commit to a deal with such a high price and impact on Microsoft.

Even at $55 billion, the acquisition would have been Microsoft's largest by far. The company's biggest purchase to date was $8.5 billion on Skype in 2011, with the Nokia devices unit, bought in 2013, coming in at second place at $7.2 billion. The previous record holder, the $6.3 billion purchase of aQuantive in 2007, was disastrous. Five years after that takeover, Microsoft had to write down almost the entire purchase price.

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AMD says Nvidia’s GameWorks “completely sabotaged” Witcher 3 performance

5/22/2015 1:40pm

There was a war of words earlier this week as the Internet decided that, once again, Nvidia's GameWorks technology was messing with the performance of its games on AMD hardware.

First, it was shiny new racing sim Project Cars that drew the ire of the Reddit community, with users claiming that the game is built on a version of PhysX that "simply does not work on AMD cards." Never one to turn away from a good Nvidia-bashing, AMD's corporate VP of alliances Roy Taylor responded with a tweet, saying "Thank for supporting/ wanting an open and fair PC gaming industry."

This was swiftly followed by a Reddit reply from Nvidia's GameWorks director Rev Lebaredian, saying that "PhysX within Project Cars does not offload any computation to the GPU on any platform, including NVIDIA. I'm not sure how the OP came to the conclusion that it does, but this has never been claimed by the developer or us; nor is there any technical proof offered in this thread that shows this is the case."

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Report: iOS 9 will be optimized for older devices, including iPhone 4S

5/22/2015 1:24pm

We're just a few weeks out from WWDC, and new details about Apple's next-generation operating systems continue to surface. A new report from the well-sourced 9to5Mac details a handful of features, the most interesting of which is a note about support for older devices. We had assumed that Apple would include support for some devices based on its aging A5 SoC—the fifth-gen iPod Touch, original iPad Mini, and third-gen Apple TV are all still being sold, after all—but the report indicates that we can expect an update for out-of-production devices like the iPhone 4S (the iPad 2 isn't mentioned by name, but the implication is that it will be supported as well).

If true, this would be the longest that Apple has ever provided software updates for any one iPhone model. Normally, iOS releases support four iPhone generations at a time, but iOS 9 could include support for everything from 2011's iPhone 4S to whatever phones Apple introduces in 2015.

New iOS updates have a history of running poorly on older devices—iOS 7 was unkind to the iPhone 4, and iOS 8 wasn't much better to the iPhone 4S—but Apple is apparently taking steps to avoid that problem this time around. The report says that Apple is taking a different approach to supporting older devices in iOS 9. In the past, Apple reportedly put the full version of the operating system on older devices and then disabled features that performed particularly poorly. For iOS 9, Apple is apparently starting with a barebones version of the operating system and enabling features one at a time. As usual, owners of older devices will miss out on some features, but they'll still get the underlying improvements, API changes, and security updates that newer phones and tablets get.

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First US Web operator convicted of facilitating prostitution gets prison

5/22/2015 12:20pm

A California man who ran a website where sex workers and pimps could offer their services was sentenced to 13 months in prison and ordered to forfeit $1.28 million in cash and property. Prosecutors said the case involved the nation's first Web operator convicted of federal charges for running a site dedicated to advertising the world's oldest profession.

53-year-old Eric Omuro, who went by "Red" and other handles, pleaded guilty in December. He was sentenced on Thursday in San Francisco and agreed to forfeit the domains and

According to the Justice Department:

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Who needs poppies? Ordinary yeast can now produce opioids

5/22/2015 12:10pm

Opioid analgesics—pain killers like morphine and codeine—are indispensable to modern medicine; they make recovery from surgical procedures slightly more bearable, and they alleviate pain in cancer patients. Opioid chemical relatives are also hugely important and include antibiotics, muscle relaxants, and cough suppressants.

But these compounds are complex and difficult to synthesize, and labs can't make them nearly as well as biological systems—specifically poppies—can. Manufacturing opioids would be so much easier if we could simply engineer microbes to just spit them out, as we've done for insulin and artemisin.

Now, researchers have done exactly that.

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Here’s the German organ made from 49 floppy disk drives

5/22/2015 12:05pm

YouTube isn't exactly short of low-tech musical recreations of famous songs, particularly when it comes to the humble floppy drive. The once ubiquitous storage device has belted out classics like Haddaway's "What Is Love?," Metallica's "Master of Puppets," and my personal favourite, the theme tune from Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. But for the most part, these floppy musicians have been restricted to mere five-piece bands, rather than full-blown orchestral powerhouses.

A group of enterprising individuals from an electronics-focused youth club in Germany decided to change all that, and build what may well be one of the most impressive floppy instruments on the planet. The Floppy Orgel (that's Floppy Organ to the English-speaking folks of the world), consists of 49 old floppy disk drives mounted onto a large board via custom-designed 3D-printed parts. They're hooked up to an Arduino Uno running Sammy1Am's GitHub "Moppy" code, which translates standard MIDI signals into motor pulses for the drives.

What's most impressive about the Floppy Orgel, aside from the neat colour-coordinated mounting brackets, is just how well it works when directly connected to a keyboard midi-controller. In the youth club's video of the Orgel (embedded below), songs like Yiruma's "River Flows in You," Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On," and the Tetris theme tune are played out with surprising accuracy, despite a delay between pressing a key on the keyboard and the drive playing it.

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Google Fiber’s botched software update locks out users, disables Wi-Fi

5/22/2015 12:00pm

Many Google Fiber customers have been reporting that a software update turned off their Wi-Fi and prevented them from logging into the Google Network Box's administration panel. Customers can still get online using Ethernet connections.

Customers in Kansas City and Provo, Utah have been affected and took to Twitter and sites including to describe the problem.

I'm not eradicating disease with my @googlefiber internet connection, but it would sure be nice for it to work after a 24-hour-long outage.

— Sam Hartle (@Sam_Hartle) May 22, 2015

We have had way more outages with @googlefiber than we ever had with @comcast. Google needs to step up its game.

— Austin Graff (@AustinLGraff) May 21, 2015

A DSLReports forum member from Kansas City wrote yesterday, "Having an issue today with my network box. It lost my custom IP address scheme and went back to default. Now I can't access the advanced menu." A few hours later, the customer had been able to talk to Google Fiber support. "GF Support had to factory reset my network box so I could get in. They acknowledged that a software update this morning caused the issue," the customer wrote.

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British poo-powered bus sets speed record

5/22/2015 11:57am

UK's premier poo-powered bus, the "Bus Hound," has broken the land speed record for a regular service bus. The bus, which is operated by Reading Buses, hit a confirmed top speed of 76.785mph (123.5kph) around the Millbrook Proving Ground in Bedfordshire.

The bus, which is powered by biomethane derived from cow manure, would usually be limited to 56mph. Reading Buses performed some "minor tweaks" to allow for the higher top speed (presumably some suspension tweaks and removal of the speed limiter), but otherwise it's a standard bus that would normally putter around the streets of Reading. The bus is painted black and white in a pattern that is reminiscent of the Friesian cows used for milk production in the UK.

"It was an impressive sight as it swept by on the track," Reading Buses' chief engineer John Bickerton told the BBC. "It sounded like a Vulcan bomber—the aerodynamics aren't designed for going 80mph."

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AT&T et al challenging net neutrality order on 1st Amendment grounds

5/22/2015 11:15am

Remember how Verizon argued in 2012 that net neutrality rules violate its First and Fifth Amendment rights?

While Verizon itself isn't challenging the Federal Communications Commission's latest net neutrality order, AT&T and the other Internet service providers that are suing the FCC have resurrected this argument.

In a statement of issues that AT&T intends to raise when the case moves further into the court process, the company said last week that it plans on challenging whether the FCC’s net neutrality order "violates the terms of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended, and the First and Fifth Amendments to the US Constitution." The First and Fifth Amendment will be used to attack the FCC's decision to reclassify both fixed and mobile broadband as common carrier services, as well as the FCC's assertion of authority over how ISPs interconnect with other networks.

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Database of 4 million Adult Friend Finder users leaked for all to see

5/22/2015 11:00am

E-mail addresses, sexual orientations, and other sensitive details from almost four million subscribers have been leaked onto the Internet following a hack that rooted the casual dating service, security researchers said.

The cache includes more than 3.8 million unique e-mail addresses of current and former subscribers, Australian security researcher Troy Hunt reported early Friday morning. The data, which is in the form of 15 Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, was first seeded to anonymous sites hosted on the Tor privacy network. It has since spread to sites on the open Internet. Links to sites hosting the data are easily found on Twitter and other social networking sites, (Ars isn't publishing the locations).

The compromise was first reported by British broadcaster Channel 4. In addition to including e-mail addresses and the sexual orientations of users, the data also provided other sensitive information, such as ages, zip codes, and whether the subscriber was seeking an extramarital affair. The trove included information for deleted accounts as well as those still current.

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Trademark lawyer to 3-man startup: Hand over your domain—or else

5/22/2015 10:54am

Today is the deadline for Erik Dykema to decide whether or not he will fight for his company's name.

Dykema and two co-founders created CaseRails more than two years ago. The Manhattan-based startup has just three people, all focused on creating and managing legal documents.

Two weeks ago, CaseRails started ramping up its marketing, increasing its advertising, and e-mailing attorneys who might be interested in its product. Not long after that outreach, Dykema got a phone call from Sanford Asman, a trademark lawyer who says his rights are being infringed by CaseRails.

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