Syndicate content
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 31 min 3 sec ago

Goodbye QWERTY: BlackBerry stops making hardware

9/28/2016 10:56am
  • The BlackBerry Priv, BlackBerry's first Android phone. Ron Amadeo

BlackBerry CEO John Chen has been hinting at this move for almost a year now: today BlackBerry announced it will no longer design hardware. Say goodbye to all the crazy hardware QWERTY devices, ultra-wide phones, and unique slider designs.

Speaking to investors, BlackBerry CEO John Chen described the move as a "pivot to software," saying, "The company plans to end all internal hardware development and will outsource that function to partners. This allows us to reduce capital requirements and enhance return on invested capital." The "Outsourcing to partners" plan is something we've already seen with the "BlackBerry" DTEK50, which was just a rebranded Alcatel Idol 4.

Chen is now betting the future of the company on software, saying, "In Q2, we more than doubled our software revenue year over year and delivered the highest gross margin in the company's history. We also completed initial shipments of BlackBerry Radar, an end-to-end asset tracking system, and signed a strategic licensing agreement to drive global growth in our BBM consumer business."

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Reports: Destiny 2 will be on the PC

9/28/2016 10:38am

Hello Destiny

With over 30 million players registered since its 2014 launch, Destiny is one of the most popular shooters on consoles today. Now it looks like PC players will be able to get in on the action with upcoming sequel Destiny 2, according to online reports.

The rumor got going yesterday with a NeoGAF poster citing "somebody that works at Activision" as confirming that PC support for the sequel was being communicated to Activision employees. That tidbit was then fleshed out by Kotaku's Jason Schreier, who says he heard about the PC plans "earlier this year" and cites "several sources" in confirming the information. Schreier seems well-positioned to know, too, as he previously wrote an in-depth report on Destiny's messy development history.

The reported addition of PC support will likely be aided by the fact that Activision and Bungie officially abandoned the last-generation consoles (i.e., Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3) for Destiny's last Rise of Iron expansion. That likely means any sequel won't have to worry about scaling back the PC experience so it also works on console hardware that is over a decade old at this point. The upcoming launch of the PS4 Pro and Xbox's Project Scorpio should also ensure that the development team can target relatively high-end PCs alongside the console market.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Musk’s Mars moment: Audacity, madness, brilliance—or maybe all three

9/28/2016 10:13am

Enlarge / What the view of Mars might look like from inside the Interplanetary Transport System. (credit: SpaceX)

Elon Musk finally did it. Fourteen years after founding SpaceX, and nine months after promising to reveal details about his plans to colonize Mars, the tech mogul made good on that promise Tuesday afternoon in Guadalajara, Mexico. Over the course of a 90-minute speech Musk, always a dreamer, shared his biggest and most ambitious dream with the world—how to colonize Mars and make humanity a multiplanetary species.

And what mighty ambitions they are. The Interplanetary Transport System he unveiled could carry 100 people at a time to Mars. Contrast that to the Apollo program, which carried just two astronauts at a time to the surface of the nearby Moon, and only for brief sojourns. Moreover, Musk’s rocket that would lift all of those people and propellant into orbit would be nearly four times as powerful as the mighty Saturn V booster. Musk envisions a self-sustaining Mars colony with at least a million residents by the end of the century.

Beyond this, what really stood out about Musk’s speech on Tuesday was the naked baring of his soul. Considering his mannerisms, passion, and the utter seriousness of his convictions, it felt at times like the man's entire life had led him to that particular stage. It took courage to make the speech, to propose the greatest space adventure of all time. His ideas, his architecture for getting it done—they’re all out there now for anyone to criticize, second guess, and doubt.

Read 36 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Amazon looking to abandon UPS, FedEx in favor of its own delivery service

9/28/2016 10:11am

(credit: Getty Images)

Amazon is already in the business of delivering packages to your door as quickly as possible, but now the company seems intent on cutting out shipping middlemen. A report by The Wall Street Journal claims that Amazon is building its own shipping service to replace FedEx and UPS, giving it more control over its packages and possibly allowing it to ship packages from other retailers.

Amazon has said its own delivery services would be meant to increase its capacity during busier times of the year, like the upcoming holiday season. However, "current and former Amazon managers and business partners" claim that the company's plans are bigger than that. The initiative dubbed "Consume the City" will eventually let Amazon "haul and deliver" its own packages and those of other retailers and consumers. That delivery network would also directly compete with the likes of UPS and FedEx.

It makes sense that Amazon would want to sell, ship, and deliver orders on its own. The report estimates that the company spent $11.5 billion on shipping just last year, amounting to 10.8 percent of sales. The shipping process is currently a bit convoluted: packages from Amazon warehouses get sent to one of two shipping routes, either FedEx or UPS, or to a sorting facility that lumps all packages with similar zip codes together. FedEx and UPS handle its shipments and deliver them to customers, while the packages at the sorting facilities either get delivered via USPS or by Amazon employees themselves. If Amazon were to have control over its shipments over longer distances, it's estimated that the company could save about $3 per package—about $1.1 billion annually.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New Galaxy Note 7 reportedly explodes in China, burns customer’s fingers

9/28/2016 9:22am

Enlarge (credit: BusinessKorea)

Samsung's exploding battery nightmare may not yet be over, amid a report from China that a new Galaxy Note 7 burst into flames this week.

A Chinese customer has reported that a Note 7 that he bought this week exploded within 24 hours of acquiring it from an online retailer, causing minor injuries to two fingers and damaging his Apple MacBook.

“We are currently contacting the customer and will conduct a thorough examination of the device in question once we receive it,” the Korean company said in a statement sent to Bloomberg. Samsung, following an earlier Note 7 fire in China, had previously reported that there were no issues with the batteries used in Note 7s sold there.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Wells Fargo execs’ bonuses slashed as feds investigate and employees sue

9/28/2016 8:35am

(credit: FotoGuy 49057)

On Tuesday evening, Wells Fargo announced that the bank’s CEO, John Stumpf, would forfeit $41 million in uninvested equity and forego his salary in the wake of a scandal that has hurt the bank’s reputation. The news comes on the heels of a new Labor Department investigation into the bank's practices, as well as the filing of a proposed $7.2 billion class-action lawsuit by several ex-employees who claim they were forced to "choose between keeping their jobs and opening unauthorized accounts," according to CNN Money.

In early September, federal consumer protection regulators announced that thousands of Wells Fargo employees had temporarily opened at least 2 million fake accounts to goose their sales quotas by using real customers’ names without their consent, going so far as to move money from authorized accounts into unauthorized accounts to make them look real. In some cases, the movement of money triggered overdraft and minimum balance fees for the customers.

About 500,000 of the fake accounts were credit card accounts—the rest were debit accounts. In a hearing held by the Senate Banking Committee last week, Stumpf admitted that he was unsure if any of the fake accounts harmed customers’ credit ratings.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google Allo’s limitations explained in one word: “India”

9/27/2016 7:16pm

The Google Logo for India Independence Day 2014. (credit: Google Doodles)

Google's new instant messaging client Allo doesn't seem like a compelling product. Allo is missing many of the basic features you might expect in an instant messaging app: it only works with one device at a time, it doesn't work on a desktop or laptop computer, it doesn't support tablets very well, it doesn't use a Google account, and it doesn't support SMS. Allo has had a curiously incomplete product launch, and many Google users are left wondering what the company was thinking.

Allo's limitations are deal breakers for many people in the hyper-connected developed world who are accustomed to multiple devices and a few GBs of Internet connectivity. But what if you're not in a developed country? Google hasn't explicitly come out and said so, but Allo's features and Google's actions around the launch of Allo all point to it being targeted at developing countries, and one developing country in particular: India. When viewed through the lens of the average person in India, Allo's "incomplete" launch, odd design decisions, and missing features suddenly make sense.

Google <3 India

Google's love affair with India is no secret. Google is all about scale and having huge numbers of users, and if you look at a list of countries by population, China is first with 1.38 billion people; India is second with 1.32 billion people; and the United States is third, with 324 million people. Google would love to go to China, but that would mean dealing with the censorship-happy Chinese government, so India is the biggest country in the world where Google can freely do business. India is also the home country of Google CEO Sundar Pichai.

Read 17 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Want an Apple Watch? For some Aetna customers, it’ll soon be covered

9/27/2016 6:21pm

Enlarge / Two current-gen Apple Watch Sport models. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

On Tuesday, health insurance giant Aetna announced that it’s starting a new app-based health program that will exclusively rely on Apple products—namely, the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. As part of the program, Aetna will subsidize Apple Watches for select customers as well as offer the smartwatches at no cost to their own 50,000 employees beginning in early 2017.

The news from Aetna, which covers about 23 million people nationwide, may please its Apple-loving customers. But no one will be as happy as Apple, which has recently pushed for its devices to be fashioned into medical hubs. Earlier this year, the company unveiled CareKit, an open source platform for creating healthcare apps.

In a joint statement with Aetna, Apple CEO Tim Cook said the following:

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

FCC official: “Something’s not right” with Wi-Fi at Monday’s debate

9/27/2016 4:06pm

Enlarge / FCC commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel (right) has asked her colleagues to investigate how Hofstra University forced journalists to stop using their own Wi-Fi during the presidential debate. (credit: Bloomberg / Getty Images Press)

One of the members of the Federal Communications Commission, Jessica Rosenworcel, has asked the agency to investigate the Monday evening ban on journalists’ Wi-Fi personal hotspots at the presidential debate held at Hofstra University.

As Ars reported on Monday evening, the host venue demanded that journalists pay $200 to access the event’s Wi-Fi and were told to shut down their own hotspots or leave the debate. At least one photo, taken by Kenneth Vogel of Politico, showed a handheld device that was being used to scan for and locate “rogue” Wi-Fi networks.

My office has asked the @FCC Enforcement Bureau to investigate, figure out what happened. cc: @cfarivar

— Jessica Rosenworcel (@JRosenworcel) September 27, 2016

To be clear, there’s no evidence that Hofstra, or anyone working on Hofstra’s behalf, was actively blocking radio frequencies, as has been the case in other related circumstances that have drawn the ire of the FCC.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Programmable chips turning Azure into a supercomputing powerhouse

9/27/2016 3:15pm

An Altera Stratix V developer board, which uses the same kind of FPGA as Microsoft is deploying in Azure. (credit: Altera)

Microsoft is embarking on a major upgrade of its Azure systems. New hardware the company is installing in its 34 datacenters around the world still contains the mix of processors, RAM, storage, and networking hardware that you'll find in any cloud system, but to these Microsoft is adding something new: field programmable gate arrays (FPGAs), highly configurable processors that can be rewired using software in order to provide hardware accelerated implementations of software algorithms.

The company first investigated using FPGAs to accelerate the Bing search engine. In "Project Catapult," Microsoft added off-the-shelf FPGAs on PCIe cards from Altera (now owned by Intel) to some Bing servers and programmed those FPGAs to perform parts of the Bing ranking algorithm in hardware. The result was a 40-fold speed-up compared to a software implementation running on a regular CPU.

A common next step after achieving success with an FPGA is to then create an application specific integrated circuit (ASIC) to make a dedicated, hardcoded equivalent to the FPGA. This is what Microsoft did with the Holographic Processing Unit in its HoloLens headset, for example, because the ASIC has greatly reduced power consumption and size. But the Bing team stuck with FPGAs because their algorithms change dozens of times a year. An ASIC would take many months to produce, meaning that by the time it arrived, it would already be obsolete.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Firefox ready to block certificate authority that threatened Web security

9/27/2016 1:14pm


The organization that develops Firefox has recommended the browser block digital credentials issued by a China-based certificate authority for 12 months after discovering it cut corners that undermine the entire transport layer security system that encrypts and authenticates websites.

The browser-trusted WoSign authority intentionally back-dated certificates it has issued over the past nine months to avoid an industry-mandated ban on the use of the SHA-1 hashing algorithm, Mozilla officials charged in a report published Monday. SHA-1-based signatures were barred at the beginning of the year because of industry consensus they are unacceptably susceptible to cryptographic collision attacks that can create counterfeit credentials. To satisfy customers who experienced difficulty retiring the old hashing function, WoSign continued to use it anyway and concealed the use by dating certificates prior to the first of this year, Mozilla officials said. They also accused WoSign of improperly concealing its acquisition of Israeli certificate authority StartCom, which was used to issue at least one of the improperly issued certificates.

"Taking into account all the issues listed above, Mozilla's CA team has lost confidence in the ability of WoSign/StartCom to faithfully and competently discharge the functions of a CA," Monday's report stated. "Therefore we propose that, starting on a date to be determined in the near future, Mozilla products will no longer trust newly issued certificates issued by either of these two CA brands."

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Liveblog: Elon Musk has revealed the Interplanetary Transport System

9/27/2016 1:02pm

The Interplanetary Transport System.

It's time. After weeks of teasing us with talk of his Interplanetary Transport System and images of his new Raptor engine's test firing, SpaceX founder Elon Musk will finally deliver his much ballyhooed speech on Tuesday at 2:30pm ET (7:30pm UK), during the International Astronautical Congress.

Ars has already previewed the speech, which likely will lay out Musk's preferred architecture for Mars settlement, including spacecraft and a large rocket which will be powered by Raptor engines. For the speech to be a success, Musk must go beyond dazzling space hardware. He must prove to us that his plan is not science fiction, but something achievable. Humans have dreamt of going to Mars for decades—one of Wernher von Braun's first public appearances in the United States involved a presentation on Mars exploration to an El Paso Rotary Club. But we have heretofore lacked both the technology and the will to do so.

Musk undoubtedly has the technology, both in reality (such as the Raptor rocket engine or SuperDraco thrusters to land on Mars) and in concept (such as how to transport hundreds of people safely from Earth to Mars). But whether he can build a coalition of support in the government and private industry without undermining NASA's own Journey to Mars is a big question. Tuesday's speech is the start of that effort, and Ars will liveblog the proceedings with a feature-length analysis afterward.

Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Dealmaster: Get a Newegg Premier membership, free shipping, plus gift card for $100

9/27/2016 12:45pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, we're sharing a bunch of great deals with you today. Now you can get a one-year Newegg Premier membership, which includes free return shipping and free three-day expedited shipping—and a $100 gift card for the site—for just $100. Newegg Premier costs $50 for the year, so you essentially get the service and all its perks for the price of just the gift card. It will undoubtably come in handy during the holiday shopping season, so grab it now and use it well into next year.

Check out the rest of the deals below, too.


Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google’s latest IM client, Allo, isn’t ready for prime time

9/27/2016 12:35pm

Google's newest attempt at creating a decent instant messaging platform, Google Allo, is finally available. Google announced the new IM service at Google I/O 2016, and a whopping four months later, we finally get to try it out.

We're still not quite sure what the future of Allo holds. Will it eventually become Android's default instant messaging platform? Will we get a Chrome and Chrome OS client? After a lackluster effort with Google Hangouts (which Google says will stick around), how much does Google really care about this new platform? For now all we can do is talk about the present, and right now Google has given us an instant messaging client that doesn't seem like it was built for the modern age.

Setup—Google? What’s Google?

Setup relies on your cellular carrier's phone number. None of your Google information is pulled over.

Setup is very odd in that Allo doesn't use your Google account. Sign-up and identification are done entirely through your cell carrier's phone number, just like Whatsapp and Wechat. After typing in your random string of 10 digits and getting a verification text, Allo pretends you are a complete stranger and asks for your name and profile picture. Google asking for my name is definitely off-putting, especially when—thanks to my prodigious usage of Google services—the company probably knows damn near everything about me. Allo acts more like a third-party service and pretends the Google connection doesn't exist.

Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

EFF calls on HP to disable printer ink self-destruct sequence

9/27/2016 12:06pm

Enlarge (credit: EFF)

HP Inc. should apologize to customers and restore the ability of printers to use third-party ink cartridges, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) said in a letter to the company's CEO yesterday.

HP has been sabotaging OfficeJet printers with firmware that prevents use of non-HP ink cartridges and even HP cartridges that have been refilled, forcing customers to buy more expensive ink directly from HP. The self-destruct mechanism informs customers that their ink cartridges are "damaged" and must be replaced.

"The software update that prevented the use of third-party ink was reportedly distributed in March, but this anti-feature itself wasn't activated until September," EFF Special Advisor Cory Doctorow wrote in a letter to HP Inc. CEO Dion Weisler. "That means that HP knew, for at least six months, that some of its customers were buying your products because they believed they were compatible with any manufacturer's ink, while you had already planted a countdown timer in their property that would take this feature away. Your customers will have replaced their existing printers, or made purchasing recommendations to friends who trusted them on this basis. They are now left with a less useful printer—and possibly a stockpile of useless third-party ink cartridges."

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Driven: The 2017 Fiat 124 Spider

9/27/2016 11:56am
  • Fiat is paying homage to the original 124 Spider, using the Miata as the starting point. Has it worked? Jim Resnick

The original 124 was Fiat's best-selling car in America by far, selling 170,000 units in the 16 years it lived on these shores through the mid-1980s. Fiat wants to rekindle that love in the new millennium, and the route it chose was to partner with an expert. The result? The new Fiat 124, built on the same bones—and at the same Hiroshima factory—as the fourth-generation Mazda Miata.

Who could blame them? Mazda's success was not to ignore things like quality, management, or dealer networks, the things that contributed to the demise of the original 124 and other sports cars of its ilk. In 1989 Mazda struck gold with a reliable little roadster. The Miata became the best-selling two-seat roadster in history and also the most widely road-raced car in the world.

Since the 124 shares much with the Miata, it should feel and behave like one. Base prices are within spitting distance of each other: $25,890 for the 124 and $25,750 for the Miata Sport, with our Classica test model reaching $27,880 with Bluetooth, rear camera, and pearlescent paint as options. (All prices include destination charges.) Despite Fiat Chrysler Automobiles' efforts to position the 124 away from the Miata to avoid those comparisons (and any possible automotive fratricide), it cannot be ignored.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

From The Wirecutter: The best 4K monitors (so far)

9/27/2016 11:43am

IT'S LIL' BUB (credit: The Wirecutter)

This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a buyer’s guide to the best technology. Read the full article with more details and background information here.

After spending 37 hours researching 22 4K monitors and testing eight finalists, we’ve found that the Dell P2715Q is the best 4K monitor. Recent improvements in technology and drops in pricing make a 4K monitor a good buy if you’re willing to live with some quirks, but it still isn’t something most people need.

The Dell P2715Q has everything you'd want in a 4K monitor. As a 27-inch IPS monitor with a 3840×2160 resolution, it offers lots of desktop space and fantastic image quality for 4K movies, YouTube videos, and gaming. Because it’s factory-calibrated, you won’t have to do anything to it to benefit from its accurate colors. On the hardware side, it has a highly adjustable stand, it’s VESA-compatible for use with a monitor arm, and it comes with a built-in USB 3.0 hub. And in contrast to the technology on earlier 4K monitors, its single-stream DisplayPort connection can run the monitor at its full resolution at 60Hz.

Read 56 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Is the Universe the same in all directions?

9/27/2016 11:33am

Visualization of the polarization of the CMB over the entire sky, as seen by the Planck satellite. (credit: ESA and the Planck Collaboration)

The standard model of Cosmology makes an important assumption: that the Universe is essentially isotropic, the same in all directions. This is a pretty good assumption, and so far isotropy seems to be the case. The Cosmic Microwave Background radiation we see coming from all directions has some small blips in it, indicating minor deviations from isotropy, but nothing to write home about. So far so good.

But we don’t know for sure just how far that isotropy extends. If there were huge deviations, it would mean we live in a wholly different universe from the one we thought we did. This class of alternative universes is known as Bianchi cosmologies, and only a few of them have been tested against the data. That leaves plenty that haven’t. If our Universe turns out to be a Bianchi universe, it would rule out our standard cosmology and associated ideas, such as inflation.

In an attempt to find out what kind of universe we live in, a group of researchers constructed a more general test. If the Universe is truly anisotropic (different in different directions), it would mean it’s expanding at different rates. If so, light traveling through these differently expanding regions would be red-shifted differently. That's because the wavelength of light is stretched as it moves through expanding space, so if space were expanding at different rates, the redshift would be altered accordingly.

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Microsoft launches “fuzzing-as-a-service” to help developers find security bugs

9/27/2016 11:21am

Enlarge / No, not that sort of fuzzing for bugs. (credit: Micha L. Rieser)

At Microsoft's Ignite conference in Atlanta yesterday, the company announced the availability of a new cloud-based service for developers that will allow them to test application binaries for security flaws before they're deployed. Called Project Springfield, the service uses "whitebox fuzzing" (also known as "smart fuzzing") to test for common software bugs used by attackers to exploit systems.

In standard fuzzing tests, randomized inputs are thrown at software in an effort to find something that breaks the code—a buffer overflow that would let malicious code be planted in the system's memory or an unhandled exception that causes the software to crash or processes to hang. But the problem with this random approach is that it's hard to get deep into the logic of code. Another approach, called static code analysis (or "whiteboxing"), looks instead at the source code and walks through it without executing it, using ranges of inputs to determine whether security flaws may be present.

Whitebox fuzzing combines some of the aspects of each of these approaches. Using sample inputs as a starting point, a whitebox fuzz tester dynamically generates new sets of inputs to exercise the code, walking deeper into processes. Using machine learning techniques, the system repeatedly runs the code through fuzzing sessions, adapting its approach based on what it discovers with each pass. The approach is similar to some of the techniques developed by competitors in the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Cyber Grand Challenge to allow for automated bug detection and patching.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The genetics behind what mosquitos choose to bite

9/27/2016 11:05am

(credit: Sanofi Pasteur)

Mosquito-borne illnesses are a considerable burden on human and animal health, so understanding what influences the behavior of mosquitos could be useful. A recent study published in PLOS Genetics suggests that there may be a genetic component to mosquito behavioral preferences, including what they choose to bite.

The control of malaria depends on the propensity of mosquitos to bite humans versus other hosts—if mosquitos prefer humans, then they’re more likely to spread diseases between humans, but if they prefer to feed on other animals (like cows, for example), then mosquitos may not be contributing as significantly to the human burden of disease. Additionally, control of malaria depends on the tendency of mosquitos to rest in places where we can ensure they are likely to come into contact with insecticides. Mosquitos are more likely to encounter insecticides indoors, because homes in countries where malaria is endemic are more likely to have long-lasting, insecticide-treated nets, which will kill mosquitos if they come into contact with them. These nets are highly effective and have pared down the number of dangerous mosquito species in many parts of Africa.

For this PLOS study, some researchers were interested in investigating the potential that the surviving mosquitos may have adapted their behavior to avoid control measures like nets. And, if this were occurring through evolution, it should have left a mark in the pests’ genomes. So they investigated the genetic basis for mosquito host and resting area choices.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments