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The Art of Technology
Updated: 3 hours 38 min ago

Why don’t we drive more electric vehicles?

7/3/2015 6:03pm

One of the more challenging jobs the auto industry has right now is explaining to consumers that the future isn't going to be like the past. We desperately need to reduce vehicle carbon emissions in order to avoid turning the planet into a hellscape, and that means turning to cars with some kind of energy storage other than hydrocarbons we've dug up from the ground and then distilled. That's where people get confused and the message stalls, a problem laid out in a recent report from the National Academy of Sciences.

For many decades cars have been simple things with internal combustion engines. They burned gasoline or sometimes diesel and occasionally even liquified natural gas. Sometimes they had turbochargers or superchargers to ram more air into the combustion chamber, and very occasionally that combustion chamber was something odd like a Wankel rotary engine. Now, the need to reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality means many more options when it comes to a vehicle's powertrain.

The array of options can be bewildering, says the National Academy of Sciences' report. Commissioned by Congress, it examines the hurdles to adopting plug-in electric vehicles (PEVs). The Academy splits PEVs into four classes: Long-range battery EV (BEV)s like the Tesla Model S, short-range BEVs like Nissan Leaf, range-extended plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV)s like the Chevrolet Volt (which drive on electric power most of the time), and minimal PHEVs like the plug-in BMW i8 (which can perform short trips on battery power alone).

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Hear how Steve Ballmer bailed out Xbox after Red Ring of Death

7/3/2015 5:34pm

The Red Ring of Death threatened to destroy the Xbox 360 and the entire Xbox brand. Consoles were dying en masse. Microsoft didn't immediately know why, but it did know that it was a big problem. A plan was devised to fix gamers' hardware, but it wasn't going to be cheap: to provide the best possible experience for the unfortunate owners of expired hardware, units had to be overnighted to Microsoft, and then, once fixed, back to the waiting gamers. The total cost was estimated at $1.15 billion, $240 million of which was going to FedEx.

Peter Moore, now at EA but then head of Xbox, had to go to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in 2007 to ask for the money to salvage the console's reputation. Ballmer agreed, the Xbox 360 was saved, and it was a huge success.

The full story of the Red Ring of Death, and many other stories, can be heard in the latest edition of IGN's Podcast Unlocked. The show features three different Xbox heads: Xbox creator Seamus Blackley, the Xbox 360-era Peter Moore, and the current head of Xbox, Phil Spencer.

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Samsung sued for loading devices with unremovable crapware (in China)

7/3/2015 5:10pm

ShanghaiDaily reports that in China, Samsung will have some explaining to do about the amount of crapware it ships in its smartphones. The Shanghai Consumer Rights Protection Commission has sued Samsung (and Chinese OEM Oppo) for loading up devices with crapware.

The commission studied 20 smartphones and said that many pre-installed apps were un-removable and eat into customers' data plans. The commission specifically calls out the Galaxy Note 3, which had 44 apps installed (stock KitKat with the full Google Play suite ships with 31 apps) and the Oppo Find 7a, which had a whopping 71 apps.

The lawsuit says that the companies didn't inform buyers of the included crapware, which infringed the consumer's right to know. The group wants a ruling that would make OEMs legally obligated to clearly label the included apps on the packaging and to provide consumers instructions for removing the apps. Samsung and Oppo have 15 days from the case's acceptance date to enter a defense.

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Pirate Bay founders: FBI has Prenda Law under investigation

7/3/2015 4:00pm

A federal judge referred the lawyers behind the Prenda Law "copyright trolling" scheme to investigators in 2013. Since then, there's been no indication of what stage an investigation is at, or if it's happening at all.

Now, two co-founders of The Pirate Bay have said they have reason to believe that an investigation is underway. Peter Sunde and Fredrik Neij each independently told the website TorrentFreak that Swedish authorities questioned them during their recent imprisonment.

The Prenda Law strategy was to sue large numbers of Internet users for downloading pornography and then settle fast for several thousand dollars. The scheme netted millions over the years, but it was shut down in 2013 after sanctions from US District Judge Otis Wright. Other judges have punished Prenda since then. The harsh results were appealed, but to no avail.

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A most unpatriotic YouTube hijacking: America the Beautiful

7/3/2015 2:33pm

Open-source hardware company Adafruit has received a copyright notice for a 4th of July-themed YouTube video.

The video is simple to the point of ridiculous: it features a rotating Arduino processor in front of an American flag. That's it. But music licensing company Rumblefish has claimed ownership of the song "America the Beautiful," which played in the video.

The claim is a reach, to say the least, since the lyrics of America the Beautiful date to a 19th-century poem and have long since passed into the public domain. As for the recorded music, Adafruit used a recording from the United States Navy Band, making the media a product of the federal government that can't be copyrighted.

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FDA moving to regulate e-cigarettes, “vaping” liquid nicotine

7/3/2015 1:40pm

Citing the growing popularity of e-cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration is considering adding warning labels on liquid nicotine used in so-called electronic "vaping" devices and is also mulling a requirement for the liquid to be sold in child-resistant packaging.

"The continuing rise in popularity of electronic nicotine devices (ENDS), such as e-cigarettes, which often use liquid nicotine and nicotine-containing e-liquids, has coincided with an increase in calls to poison control centers and visits to emergency rooms related to liquid nicotine poisoning and other nicotine exposure risks," the agency announced Tuesday.

The agency published its formal proposal in the Federal Register on Wednesday and provided the public 60 days to comment.

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BP engineer convicted of deleting Gulf spill text messages wins new trial

7/3/2015 1:28pm

A federal appeals court has ruled that a former BP engineer deserves a new trial on obstruction charges in connection to allegations that he deleted text messages detailing how much oil was spilling into the Gulf of Mexico in the wake of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Kurt Mix. YouTube

Kurt Mix, 52, was convicted in 2013 of deleting more than 300 text messages, some of which revealed the actual amount of oil being spilled. Investigators recovered most of the text messages and discovered that BP was telling the public a massively deflated figure regarding how much oil was being released.

The spill, which lasted three months, released some 134 million gallons of oil and soiled 1,000 miles of Gulf of Mexico coastline, according to a lawsuit against the company that was settled Thursday for $18.7 billion, the largest US legal settlement over an environmental disaster.

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The week in “iPhone 6S” rumors: Same body, faster LTE, still 16GB

7/3/2015 1:15pm

September is only two months away, and that means three things: summer will turn to fall, network TV shows will return from hiatus, and we'll probably get some new iPhones.

The iPhone rumor business is a 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year grind, but as we draw nearer to the actual release of new phones, the rumors tend to get more accurate. So accurate, in fact, that actual surprises at Apple's product events tend to be few and far between. Rather than re-post everything that comes across our desk, we'll periodically round up the best-sourced and most plausible rumors as they crop up. By the time September actually rolls around, we'll know most of what there is to know long before it's announced on stage.

It’s an “S” year

This shouldn't come as a surprise, but this year's iPhone likely focuses on internal changes, retaining the basic external design of the current iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. We'll settle on calling it the "iPhone 6S" since it follows in the footsteps of the iPhone 3GS, 4S, and 5S, though Apple has been known to shake up its products' naming schemes from time to time.

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Report: Better Android One devices to launch in India, cost $189

7/3/2015 12:59pm

According to a report from The Economic Times, the next wave of Android One devices is due out on July 14th in India—and they'll cost a lot more than the original versions.

The first wave of Android One devices launched in India in September 2014. The selection of low-end phones was supposed to help Android tackle "the next billion users"—people in developing countries who had never owned a smartphone before. The devices were spec'd about as low as possible—4.5-inch 480p screens, 1.3GHz MediaTek processors, and 4GB of storage—which gave them a really low price of about $105. According to the report, this new wave of devices sits a lot higher on the price spectrum: about $189 (Rs 12,000).

The first wave of Android One devices weren't popular with Indian users or handset vendors. Google designed the phones in collaboration with OEMs in China, then handed the plans to Indian OEMs and told them to build devices. Apparently the Indian OEMs didn't like being handed a Chinese design, so for this round, Google is working with Indian OEMs to design the phones. The report also says the program is shifting its focus from "first time users" to people who have had a smartphone before.

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Russian craft carrying ISS supplies successfully reaches orbit

7/3/2015 11:45am

After a number of failed attempts to get supplies up to the International Space Station, a Russian Soyuz rocket successfully carried a Progress supply vessel into orbit just after midnight US Eastern time. The Progress vessel was loaded with 2,750kg of food, fuel, and other supplies, which will eliminate any concerns about the ISS' habitability past October.

Shortly after launch, the Progress module reached orbit and successfully deployed its solar panels. For the next two days, it will orbit Earth until its speed relative to the ISS brings it into close proximity. NASA will show Sunday's docking live on NASA TV for anyone who happens to be awake at 3:30am Eastern time.

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Watch live: Solar Impulse set for noon Eastern time landing

7/3/2015 11:23am

After successfully making its way across the Pacific, Solar Impulse 2 is currently circling near Hawaii, set for an early-morning landing local time. The landing process is challenging due to the lightweight construction and low power of the aircraft. Solar Impulse 2 simply can't move forward fast enough to overcome significant winds, so conditions at the runway are critical to determining whether a landing can be made at all.

A livestream of the Solar Impulse landing.

The wing also needs support once it's no longer holding the aircraft aloft; on landing, this support is provided by team members on bicycles, who match the speed of the plane while helping hold the wing up. In other words—it's a landing worth watching. A livestream is embedded above.

UPDATE: Right on schedule, an incredibly smooth landing has finally given pilot André Borschberg the opportunity for a good night's (day's?) sleep.

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Fabled CD-playing, SNES-compatible “Play Station” prototype found in a box

7/3/2015 11:03am

At the 1991 Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago, Nintendo of America's then-chairman Howard Lincoln took the stage to reveal some unexpected news: the company was partnering with European electronics firm Philips to make a CD-ROM-based games console. While the announcement took everyone in the audience by surprise, Sony engineer Ken Kutaragi was the most shocked of all. Just the night before, he and several Sony executives had been demonstrating a product developed in partnership with Nintendo. It was to be the world's first hybrid console, featuring an SNES cartridge slot and a CD drive, with both formats available to game developers. That product, called "Play Station" (with a space), would never see the light of day.

Industry lore suggests that only 200 of the Play Station consoles were ever produced, and hardly anyone has actually seen one of the fabled consoles in the flesh. However, pictures of the legendary original Play Station surfaced on reddit yesterday (retrieved via Nintendo Life thanks to the current furore over on the site), showing the hybrid console in all its grey and yellowed-plastic glory.

The reddit user claims that the console was discovered in a box of items given to him from a friend of his father who used to work at Nintendo. The pictures show that the Play Station featured an SNES cartridge slot on top (technically a Super Famicom slot, because it's a Japanese model), complete with a small LCD display and buttons that appear to be used for controlling playback of audio CDs. The rear of the Play Station shows a variety of audio and video outputs, while the familiar SNES controller bears Sony branding.

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reddit revolts after site lays off “Ask Me Anything” employee [Updated]

7/3/2015 11:01am

Internet users who awoke Friday and tried to get their daily dose of reddit encountered some difficulty this morning, as an online protest that began Thursday afternoon continued at full boil. Many of the site’s "subreddits"—sections of the site dedicated to discussion of specific topics—have been set to "private" by their moderators, meaning that instead of links and pictures, visitors instead see something like this:

The site's "darkening" is being led primarily by its volunteer moderators. The first subreddit to go dark was the extremely popular /r/IAmA, the place where reddit’s famous "Ask Me Anything" question-and-answer chats are held with notable personalities. These chats, referred to as "AMAs," were typically facilitated by a full-time reddit employee named Victoria Taylor (/u/chooter on reddit). According to this post by /r/IAmA moderator /u/karmanaut, Taylor had been "unexpectedly let go from her position at reddit" some time on Thursday.

In his post, /u/karmanaut explained that Taylor was integral to the AMA process—assisting with scheduling, wrangling celebrity agents, and often going so far as to actually typing responses from celebrities who aren’t familiar with reddit’s interface—so her termination threw the operations of /r/IAmA into chaos. The site's moderators are unpaid volunteers with real-world jobs, and without the full-time staff support Taylor supplied, the moderators said they wouldn't be able to keep the daily scheduled AMAs flowing. While they attempted to figure out what to do, they took the entire /r/IAmA subreddit offline (interrupting an in-progress AMA with mathematician Edward Frenkel).

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Sports car with a social conscience: Ars reviews the BMW i8

7/3/2015 9:57am

Late last year, we reviewed BMW's i3, a range-extended plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) that impressed us despite its high price and limited range. That car is one half of BMW's i Project, a sub-brand created to showcase the company's vision of sustainable mobility. The i8 is the other half. It's a plug-in hybrid sports car made from carbon fiber and aluminum. As such, it looks like very little else on the road.

But if this is what sports cars are going to be like in the future, we're in for a real treat.

VIDEO: We explain just why the BMW i8 impressed us so much. Edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link) Design

Like its smaller city car sibling, the i8 combines a life module (the part you sit in) made out of carbon fiber joined to aluminum drive modules (the parts that make it go) clothed in thermoplastic body panels. Unlike the i3, it's a low-slung machine. The drive modules are mated to the front and back of the life module, and the car's 7.1kWh lithium-ion batteries run along the car's centerline (between the seats). Large butterfly doors open up-and-out, imbuing the car with even more visual drama—something it wasn't really lacking to begin with. This is a car that attracts attention. Introverts beware.

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Apple Music impressions: Tunes for (a more generic version of) you

7/3/2015 8:00am


Hella top charts.

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When Apple showed up to the portable music device industry in 2001, the computer maker didn't have the advantage of being earliest to market. It had to win out by way of simplicity and usability, which its innovative, touch-sensitive click-wheel accomplished heartily.

Apple has since tried to replicate that click-wheel simplicity—albeit through entirely new interfaces and control methods—with varying levels of success, from amazing (iPhone) to lukewarm (Apple Watch). This week saw a relatively smaller launch of the new Apple Music app, and while it doesn't quite compare to a hardware rollout, it's hard not to look at the company's first music-streaming service and think about the iPod's incredible simplicity and reminisce fondly—maybe a little too fondly—about those good ol' days.

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Vinyl records are still riding that big comeback wave, sales up 38% in a year

7/2/2015 10:14pm

On Thursday, Nielsen Music released its 2015 US mid-year report, finding that overall music consumption had increased by 14 percent in the first half of the year. What's driving that boom? Well, certainly a growth in streaming—on-demand streaming increased year-over-year by 92.4 percent, with more than 135 billion songs streamed, and overall sales of digital streaming increased by 23 percent.

But what may be more fascinating is the continued resurgence of the old licorice pizza—that is, vinyl LPs. Nielsen reports that vinyl LP sales are up 38 percent year-to-date. “Vinyl sales now comprise nearly 9 percent of physical album sales,” Nielsen stated.

Who's leading the charge on all that vinyl? None other than the music industry's favorite singer-songwriter Taylor Swift with her album 1989, which sold 33,500 LPs. Swift recently flexed her professional muscle when she wrote an open letter to Apple, criticizing the company for failing to pay artists during the free three-month trial of Apple Music. Apple quickly kowtowed to the pop star and reversed its position.

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Student claims Wassenaar Arrangement prevents him from publishing dissertation

7/2/2015 8:07pm

Grant Willcox, a student studying ethical hacking at the University of Northumbria in the UK, is claiming that the Wassenaar Arrangement, an arms control treaty that was expanded last year to prohibit the export of various kinds of software exploit, is forcing him to censor his dissertation.

Willcox's research investigates ways in which Microsoft's EMET software can be bypassed. EMET is a security tool that includes a variety of mitigation techniques designed to make exploiting common memory corruption flaws harder. In the continuing game of software exploit cat and mouse, EMET raises the bar, making software bugs harder to take advantage of, but does not outright eliminate the problems. Willcox's paper explored the limitations of the EMET mitigations and looked at ways that malware could bypass them to enable successful exploitation. He also applied these bypass techniques to a number of real exploits.

Typically this kind of dissertation would be published in full. Security researchers routinely explore techniques for bypassing system protections, with this research being one of the things that guides the development of future mitigations. Similarly, publishing the working exploit code (with a safe payload, to prove the concept) is standard within the research community.

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Kim Dotcom appeals US seizure of his millions, jet skis, and more

7/2/2015 7:39pm

Kim Dotcom and his co-defendants have filed an appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that the long list of property that was seized under American civil forfeiture was done so improperly.

Last month, a New Zealand court found in favor of the Megaupload founder’s attempt to halt the American government forfeiture of his New Zealand-held assets.

The decision by the High Court of New Zealand, Auckland Registry essentially found that because Dotcom lost the United States civil forfeiture case by default judgment in March 2015—and New Zealand law did not recognize such a concept—that his assets should not be handed over. In recent months, the American government has tried to work with its New Zealand counterparts to have this forfeiture enforced.

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US sees its first measles death in a dozen years

7/2/2015 4:40pm

Today, Washington state health authorities announced that an autopsy revealed that a woman who had died earlier this year had succumbed to the measles, making her the first US casualty of the disease in a dozen years. The announcement comes just days after California's decision to tighten its vaccination requirements.

According to the announcement, the woman "had several other health conditions and was on medications that contributed to a suppressed immune system." Thus, even if she had been vaccinated (it wasn't clear if she had), her treatments put her at the mercy of herd immunity—having sufficient people immunized to prevent her from being exposed to the virus. But Washington has seen 11 cases of measles so far this year, half of them in the county where the woman was infected (Clallam, which covers the northern part of the Olympic Peninsula). The victim was apparently at a health clinic at the same time as an infectious individual.

In part because of her symptoms and other health conditions, the case was not diagnosed immediately but was only detected on autopsy.

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Nintendo execs talk VR, downloadable games, “letting down” fans

7/2/2015 3:01pm

The close of Nintendo's 2015 fiscal year coincided with its annual Japanese shareholders meeting, an event whose closing Q&A session has been transcribed, translated, and posted in English every year since 2010. This year saw the company talking frankly about its position in the gaming market, its slow transition into smartphone game development, and more.

Nintendo President Satoru Iwata fielded most of the questions, the first of which concerned downloadable game prices—and why they are higher than boxed ones. Iwata described the risks that big-box retailers take on when buying bulk inventory, then acknowledged that Nintendo "sets a different wholesale price for these two versions."

But he didn't speak to any efforts by Nintendo to adjust pricing for customers who don't care for the "business risk" issues that retailers face and just want a fair game price; instead, he hinted that the company's upcoming replacement for Club Nintendo, coming this fall, might include "a system where Nintendo can give (individual) offers to each consumer." Iwata confirmed that Nintendo's total downloadable game sales reached 31.3 billion yen—about $254 million—in revenue, which he said was a 30 percent increase from fiscal year 2014.

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