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LibreOffice 4.4 brings better looks and OpenGL to your presentations

1/29/2015 9:30pm

The new OS X theme is much less colorful than the Windows theme.

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Free and open source office suite LibreOffice was updated today, with its developers calling it "the most beautiful LibreOffice ever."

LibreOffice is a fork of the OpenOffice suite created in 2010 amid concerns of Oracle's stewardship of OpenOffice; OpenOffice was subsequently transferred to the Apache Software Foundation. Both projects have subsequently continued as open source alternatives to Microsoft Office.

The highlight of the new release is a far-reaching visual refresh, with menus, toolbars, status bars, and more being updated to look and work better. While LibreOffice retains the traditional menus-and-toolbars approach that Microsoft abandoned in Office 2007, the new version is meant to make those menus and toolbars easier to navigate.

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Silk Road trial: How the Dread Pirate Roberts embraced violence

1/29/2015 7:33pm

NEW YORK—The Silk Road drug-trafficking trial veered towards murder-for-hire allegations today, although the story didn't quite arrive there. As prosecutors near the end of their case, they walked the jury through the personal mailbox of the boss of the drug-dealing website, Dread Pirate Roberts.

The final witness of the day was Brian Shaw, an FBI contractor who sifted through a working copy of the Silk Road he made in July 2013, after law enforcement imaged the Silk Road server, once they found it in Iceland.

The basics of the story were reported more than a year ago, after Ross Ulbricht, who the government accuses of being DPR, was arrested in San Francisco. But today the jury saw the story develop in the words of DPR and the users with whom he interacted.

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DOJ inspector general: reporter’s hacking claims can’t be substantiated

1/29/2015 6:48pm

According to a US Department of Justice Inspector General report released today, an investigation "was not able to substantiate the allegations that [Sharyl] Attkisson's computers were subject to remote intrusion by the FBI, other government personnel, or otherwise." The report was introduced into the Senate record at the confirmation hearing for Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch.

Attkisson, who has written a book about her experiences trying to cover the Obama White House which includes the allegation of hacking, has filed a lawsuit against the Department of Justice, outgoing Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Postmaster General for the alleged hacking of her home and work computers. Today, Attkisson testified at Lynch's confirmation hearing.

The report from the DoJ's Office of the Inspector General casts a different light on Attkisson's allegations:

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Amazon reports modest Q4 earnings and 2014 loss, but stock soars

1/29/2015 6:26pm

Amazon has been announcing its entry into every industry under the sun lately—or so it seems—but the aggressive expansion has, until now, not immediately shown the company a solid profit. However, Amazon ended the quarter on a (relatively) good note according to its financial statement released on Thursday [PDF], with a $214 million net income for the company's fourth fiscal quarter of 2014.

Prior to this quarter, Amazon reported three losing quarters out of four, and those losses showed up in the company's earnings report, reflecting a loss of $241 million in 2014 overall, compared to a net gain of $274 million in 2013.

Still, the company reported a 20 percent increase in net sales after increasing the price of Amazon Prime memberships in March, proving that Amazon Prime memberships are relatively inelastic. “[O]n a base of tens of millions, worldwide paid [Prime] membership grew 53 percent last year—50 percent in the US and even a bit faster outside the US,” said Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos wrote in a statement. In an investor's conference call after the release of the earnings, an Amazon executive said that Prime pays off well for the company. Amazon sees “a very sizable” increase in customer purchasing after that customer buys a Prime subscription. “We're seeing them purchasing a lot more from us,” he said, adding that the service is almost 10 years old and still growing strongly.

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Collision avoidance predicts pedestrians’ behavior

1/29/2015 6:20pm

Some things are just fated. Any article that opens with "In terms of its large-scale behaviors, a crowd of pedestrians can look strikingly similar to many other collections of repulsively interacting particles," is going to be a classic. It is my solemn duty to bring you the low-down on repulsive pedestrians.

Yes, apparently, determining the repulsiveness of your average pedestrian is not just a question of science but, indeed, one of physics. You have to wonder what the unit of repulsiveness is. Fortunately, the paper in question is, unlike me, serious.

Understanding the behavior of pedestrians is a reasonably important problem. It determines where, and how many, emergency exits a building requires. It tells us how the lack of queuing culture slows everything down. It tells us when flow is congested, where people will stand and wait, and how that waiting will make the jam worse.

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Data caps can’t be used to snuff out competition, Canada ruling says

1/29/2015 6:10pm

Two wireless carriers in Canada have been ordered to stop exempting their mobile TV services from data caps in a ruling that targets discrimination against competing online video services.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) issued the ruling today against wireless carriers Bell Mobility and Videotron, which each offered mobile TV services and exempted them from data caps. The country's telecommunications law "prohibits Canadian carriers from conferring an undue disadvantage to others, or an undue preference to itself or others," the commission said. "Bell Mobility and Videotron have given an undue preference in favour of subscribers of their respective mobile TV services, as well as in favour of their own services, and have subjected consumers of other audiovisual content services, and other services, to a corresponding undue disadvantage."

The commission directed Bell "to eliminate its unlawful practice with respect to data charges for its mobile TV service" by April 29, 2015. Videotron must confirm by March 31 that it has completed the withdrawal of its TV app from BlackBerry and Android phones, "thereby removing any undue preference for its mobile TV service, and ensure that any new mobile TV service complies with the determinations set out in this decision."

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New survey shows extent of scientists’ divide with the public

1/29/2015 5:00pm

In conjunction with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the Pew Research Center has conducted a large poll that measures both public attitudes toward science and the attitudes of scientists themselves. Although there are some substantial areas of agreement—the public values science almost as much as scientists themselves—the data also highlights many areas where there are huge gaps between the two.

Good and bad news

The good news first. Almost 80 percent of US citizens feel that science has made life easier, and substantial majorities feel that it has improved food, health, and the environment. Roughly 70 percent of the public feel that research pays off in the long run, with support similar for both fundamental research and applied research. Over 60 percent see an essential role for federal funding in scientific progress.

Things get pretty grim from there. One bit of bad news comes from a comparison of these numbers to results obtained by Pew in 2009. Back then, 83 percent of the public felt that science had a positive impact on people's lives. All the numbers on the specific areas—food, health, and the environment—were down slightly as well. The number of people who are enthused about the US' scientific achievements, however, saw a more substantial drop, with an 11 point plunge in those thinking we're doing above average or better compared to other nations.

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Report: Alibaba pumps $10 million into Ouya microconsole to launch in China

1/29/2015 4:10pm

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the Ouya microconsole, the underpowered gaming system that has had a notable lack of major launches and announcements in recent months, might have some life in it yet—and that's all thanks to Alibaba. The Chinese online merchant, fresh off its record-breaking American IPO in September, reportedly threw a relative pittance of $10 million at the Android-powered game console company "last month."

The report claimed that the cash offer was made in exchange for using Ouya's marketplace and software library as a primary feature in Alibaba's eventual set-top box for Chinese living rooms. That move makes sense, following the end of China's decade-plus ban on game consoles last year; as of now, the only foreign company to take advantage of the lifted ban has been Microsoft, with an Xbox One launch late last year. (We're waiting to see when Sony and Nintendo will follow suit.)

But don't blame us for taking this news with a grain of salt. The last time we heard about Ouya bringing its software ecosystem to other devices was in May of last year, and that Ouya Everywhere initiative has resulted in... well... one compatible device thus far. We've also yet to hear any legitimate news about anything in the way of a followup "Twouya" console. Since we still haven't seen any Ouya activity that eases the worries we expressed last June, other than a partnership with Xiaomi that has yet to result in any substantial product, we're looking at this Alibaba deal as the microconsole's last gasp.

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Patent litigation over human gene breast cancer testing is ending

1/29/2015 3:30pm

The molecular diagnostics company that had won patents of two human genes that were invalidated by a landmark Supreme Court ruling has decided to abandon separate patent litigation surrounding how scientists study those genes.

The Supreme Court in 2013 struck down Myriad Genetics' patents of the human genes BRCA1 and BRCA2. Mutations of those genes have been linked to a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The patents had given Myriad a monopoly over medical testing of those genes in a bid to detect early signs of cancer, often charging women $3,000 per test or more.

The court's decision opened the door to other companies offering cheaper tests. Myriad sued them, however, claiming that they were infringing on other Myriad patents that the Supreme Court did not invalidate.

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Squeezing a playable chess program into 487 bytes

1/29/2015 2:28pm

In a day and age when major game releases can clog up 65 gigabytes of hard drive space or more, it's nice to know that classic game design doesn't require nearly so much storage space. Case in point: BootChess, a playable computer version of the classic board game that fits in a single 487-byte file.

This impressive feat of assembly coding comes courtesy of a coder named Baudsurfer, who posted his tiny effort online earlier this week in formats playable on Windows, Linux, OS X, DOS, and BSD. When we say "playable," we mean that in the most technical sense. Special rules like castling and en passant are missing, pawns can only be promoted to queens, and the game doesn't seem to mind if a king is placed into check by a move, for instance.

The built-in AI is also about as awful as you'd expect from such a tiny binary footprint, sacrificing pieces and position with very little rhyme or reason in our tests. The computer opponent always starts with a "hardcoded Spanish white piece opening," according to the annotated source code included in the ZIP file. The AI can't even use a basic Minimax strategy due to size constraints.

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FCC chairman mocks industry claims that customers don’t need faster Internet

1/29/2015 2:11pm

The Federal Communications Commission today voted 3-2 along party lines to change the definition of broadband to at least 25Mbps downstream and 3Mbps upstream. The vote was no surprise given Chairman Tom Wheeler’s Democratic majority. But Wheeler put on a show just before the vote by contrasting Internet service providers’ marketing claims with their statements to the government.

Internet providers and industry lobbyists argued that the FCC should stick with the previous definition of broadband, a minimum of 4Mbps down and 1Mbps up, or at least not go as high as 25Mbps/3Mbps. But what Internet providers tell the government is in stark contrast to what Internet providers tell their own customers, Wheeler explained in great detail.

“Let’s parse out what they say in their lobbying with us and what they say when they’re talking to consumers,” said Wheeler, a former cable and wireless industry lobbyist himself. While Verizon told the FCC that consumers are satisfied with 4Mbps/1Mbps and that "a higher benchmark would serve no purpose,” they push customers to buy much faster speeds, which cost more, Wheeler pointed out.“In their marketing materials Verizon says, ‘while FiOS provides a lot of speed for bandwidth hungry devices, you’d be surprised how fast it goes. You can think of your household’s Internet connection like a pizza to be shared with your whole family. Some people are hungrier than others and if too many friends show up no one will get enough to be satisfied.’

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iTunes Connect bug logs developers in to other developers’ accounts at random [Updated]

1/29/2015 2:00pm

This morning, a number of developers signed in to Apple's iTunes Connect service only to be greeted by a list of apps that didn't belong to them. TechCrunch has a good roundup of tweets from affected developers—it seems that whenever developers signed in with their credentials, they were being granted access to other developers' accounts at random.

As of about noon Eastern today, Apple took the service down to resolve the problem. It also looks like developers won't be able to submit new apps or invite new testers to TestFlight while iTunes Connect is down. Affected developers can check Apple's System Status page for developers for updates while they wait for the problems to be resolved (no other developer services appear to be affected by the outage).

We don't yet know whether the outage was caused by some error on Apple's end or by a security breach like the one that brought all developer systems down in the summer of 2013. We've asked Apple when the service will be back and what caused the login problem in the first place, and we'll update this article as we have new details.

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Microsoft to invest in Cyanogen, which hopes to take Android from Google

1/29/2015 1:46pm

According to a report from The Wall Street Journal, Microsoft will be investing in Cyanogen, Inc., the Android ROM builder. The report says that Microsoft would be a "minority investor" in a $70 million round of financing that values Cyanogen in the "high hundreds of millions."

Cyanogen takes the Android source code and modifies it, adding more features and porting it to other devices. It has also started supplying Android builds directly to OEMs (like the OnePlus One), which ship the software on devices instead of stock Android. Last week during a talk in San Francisco, Cyanogen's CEO said the company's goal was to "take Android away from Google." It wants to replace the Google Play ecosystem with apps of its own, the same way that Amazon uses the Android Open Source Project for its Kindle Fire products but adds its own app and content stores.

Google pushes a lot of requirements on Android OEMs. If they want the Google Play Store, it also forces them to take all other Google products and services. There is also an "anti-fragmentation clause," which forbids OEMs from selling Android devices without Google Play. Cyanogen's Android distributions wouldn't have any such limitations, but then neither would a self-made AOSP build.

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Sleazy “revenge porn” site is banished to settle federal charges

1/29/2015 1:42pm

The operator of one of the Internet's sleaziest revenge porn websites has been banned from publishing any more nude images of people without their explicit permission under an agreement settling charges that he violated federal law.

Craig Brittain, the man behind IsAnybodyDown, is also required to permanently delete all images he collected, according to a release published Thursday by the Federal Trade Commission. As Ars reported almost two years ago, Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Brittain used a variety of deceitful tactics to obtain nude photos, mostly of women, which he then posted on his site without permission. Alongside the images, he posted names, birthdates, and Facebook profiles of the people portrayed.

According to the FTC, Brittain once boasted that his site was superior to other revenge porn destinations because it produced a "higher level of hatred." In all, he earned about $12,000 from IsAnybodyDown and included photos from more than 1,000 people. At the same time that Brittain published the photos, according to the FTC, Brittain owned and operated two content removal services that could delete people's images and content from IsAnybodyDown in exchange for a payment of $200 to $500. Critics claimed that e-mails sent from the two services—"Takedown Hammer" and "Takedown Lawyer"—used the same IP addresses as Craig Brittain's e-mails, but Brittain denied the connection.

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Clinton courting Obama campaign tech team members for 2016

1/29/2015 11:42am

As the last presidential campaign showed, having the right technology team may not win elections, but it certainly helps. The Obama campaign’s focus on tech startup-style digital talent helped turn it into a fundraising and voter turnout machine, while the Romney campaign’s attempts to match them apparently failed spectacularly.

Now, with less than two years to go until the next presidential election, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is reportedly courting members of Obama’s digital team to lead the technology operations of her expected 2016 campaign—many of whom helped Obama defeat her in the 2008 Democratic primary race. Politico reports that Clinton’s probable campaign manager, Robby Mook, is already feeling out people to run Clinton’s digital operations, including Precision Strategies cofounder and partner Teddy Goff, who led Obama’s 2012 digital strategy, and Hill & Knowlton global digital practice director Andrew Bleeker, who was Obama’s 2008 campaign director of digital advertising.

Building an IT team is now seen as a critical part of the pre-launch of a presidential campaign, former Justice Department new media director and John Edwards campaign digital operations director Tracy Russo told Politico. "Any smart campaign has to have a digital director in place long before they announce so they can take advantage of the excitement of the announcement and funnel that energy into list-building and fundraising,” she said. “You do have to build it into every aspect of the campaign from Day One.”

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Rosetta spacecraft catches pieces as comet sheds its dusty crust

1/29/2015 11:35am

The Rosetta spacecraft has been orbiting the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the past few months, and in addition to taking stunning photographs and making a historic landing, it's been analyzing the comet with its onboard devices, including COSIMA (COmetary Secondary Ion Mass Analyser). The spacecraft was able to capture grains from the comet’s coma in an aerogel plate. Nonetheless, most of the grains captured this way disintegrated anyway. Although that destroyed the grains, it told us something about the comet's recent history in the process.

Aerogel, nicknamed ‘frozen smoke’, is a very soft gel which replaces the liquid in a traditional gel with gas. Because of its softness, aerogel makes a good medium for capturing fast-moving dust, as it has less chance of destroying the grain than with a hard impact. Although the grains were captured at relatively low speeds—about 1 to 10 meters per second—this implied that the grains were structurally weak to not be able to survive the soft impact with the gel.

The grains, collected by COSIMA. Image A) shows the dust particle named 'Eloi' by the researchers, like the post-human creatures in H.G. Wells' novel. Eloi crumbled upon capture. B) shows another particle, named Arvid, which shattered. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for COSIMA Team MPS/CSNSM/UNIBW/TUORLA/IWF/IAS/ESA/BUW/MPE/LPC2E/LCM/FMI/UTU/LISA/UOFC/vH&S

It also implies that the grains didn’t have a water-ice component. If they did, they wouldn’t shatter in the gel—rather, the watery component would evaporate, leaving only the rocky component to be studied. And if the grain was entirely ice, the whole thing would have evaporated, leaving nothing behind.

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Nintendo to share up to 70 percent of ad revenue with game YouTubers

1/29/2015 11:18am

Nintendo's somewhat indecisive stance on letting streamers and producers use video of its games online seems to be crystallizing with this week's beta launch of the Nintendo Creators Program. But the program comes with a number of restrictions that limit how video creators can use Nintendo games in their videos and how they can profit from those videos.

YouTube creators who sign up for Nintendo's Creators Program can easily register individual videos or entire channels that contain content from games made by Nintendo. In exchange, Nintendo will let the video creator keep a portion of the ad revenue generated by the video: 60 percent for individual videos or 70 percent for entire channels. That's a change from the zero percent of ad revenue many video makers saw from videos that included Nintendo games in the past, though Nintendo does note ominously that "this rate may be changed arbitrarily."

The revenue sharing only seems to apply to a small portion of Nintendo's game catalog, however. The Creators Program User Guide notes that only videos including a limited list of "whitelisted" games can be registered for revenue sharing. Program registrants are warned to "be sure [their] videos do not contain copyrighted material from third parties or content from unconfirmed game titles [emphasis added]."

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“Nation’s first” smart gun symposium talks safety, risks, and delays

1/29/2015 11:00am

SEATTLE—On Wednesday, the Washington Technology Industry Association hosted the Seattle International Smart Gun Symposium, an event that King County Sheriff John Urquhart called the "first symposium I've heard of anywhere about this topic." The hours-long series of panels invited lawmakers, smart gun industry representatives, and gun safety advocates to speak on the subject of "user authorized" guns—meaning firearms that can only discharge in the hands of pre-authorized owners.

Notably, the panels lacked anyone who identified primarily as an advocate of gun rights, gun manufacturing, or an organization such as the National Rifle Association, but panelists repeatedly acknowledged, if not answered, concerns about how a rise in smart gun technology might impact Americans' Second Amendment rights. Still, such perspective was clearly overshadowed by the concerns raised most loudly by New Jersey State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, herself the author of her state's Childproof Handgun Law.

"What gun owner wouldn’t want a gun that, if it got into hands of a child, would be rendered inoperable?" Weinberg asked the crowd after listing off stories and statistics about handgun deaths—particularly that of 10,000 American children and teens who go to an emergency room every year due to firearm incidents. "As a mother, a grandmother, a lawmaker, and a citizen who believes in policy [to increase public safety], childproofing handguns was common sense."

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Netflix-like payments to ISPs could be reviewed but not banned by FCC

1/29/2015 10:02am

The Federal Communications Commission will reportedly set up a complaint process to review the controversial paid peering deals in which online content providers such as Netflix pay for access to broadband providers' networks.

Netflix objected to having to pay the likes of Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and Verizon for interconnection, which lets Netflix send traffic directly into the providers' networks without paying a middleman. The FCC's net neutrality rules, scheduled to be revealed next week and voted on February 26, won't ban the deals but will set up a formal process in which Netflix and others could complain that the prices aren't reasonable, according to a Bloomberg report yesterday.

"FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has decided the rules, scheduled for a vote next month, will permit the agreements but include a procedure for companies to ask for agency review," Bloomberg wrote, quoting "a person briefed on the plan."

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On OkCupid, Ross Ulbricht was a “scientist turned entrepreneur”

1/29/2015 9:15am

Government prosecutors say Ross Ulbricht is the mastermind behind Silk Road, the most successful drug-selling market on the Internet. He's currently on trial facing federal drug-trafficking charges and could be sent to prison for life, if convicted. During trial yesterday, as an IRS special agent was showing the jury various e-mails of Ulbricht's, his OkCupid username, ross-0, was shown in court.

On the profile, Ulbricht gives vague answers about his employment, but hardly looks the part of an alleged kingpin. He describes himself as a "scientist turned entrepreneur." After building "several businesses over the years," he's now "an independent investor and plotting my next venture," he explained. He describes himself as working in technology and doesn't disclose his income.

The writeup includes plenty of typical dating-profile fare: a photo of him with a dog ("women are helpless against his powers," reads the caption), a photo of him jumping off a cliff into a body of water, a photo of him in a toga for Halloween. "Doing my best hugh hefner," he writes in a caption to a photo of himself in a robe and smoking from a pipe. In another photo, from Thailand, he feigns shock posing in front of what he describes as a "shrine of dildos." Under "first things people notice about me," he says "many think I look like Robert Pattinson [the lead actor of the Twilight film series] at first."

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