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The Art of Technology
Updated: 2 hours 39 min ago

At SF gender bias trial, top VCs describe all-male getaways

2/25/2015 11:17pm

SAN FRANCISCO—In the second day of a high-profile gender discrimination trial against a top Silicon Valley venture capital firm, two former colleagues of plaintiff Ellen Pao were called to the stand.

Pao's former coworkers, Chi-Hua Chien and Amol Deshpande, both worked as junior partners at Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers while Pao was there. They both received promotions, while she did not.

Chien was singled out in Pao’s lawsuit for having excluded Pao from a number of all-male events. According to the 2012 complaint, Chien organized a party at Al Gore's San Francisco condo, which was located in the same building where Pao lived, and didn’t invite Pao. Pao says that on the night of the party, she ran into Mike McCue, the CEO of news-app Flipboard, with whom Pao had worked closely, as he walked into the building, causing her to have to tell him that she wasn’t invited to the party he was attending.

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Newsflash: the greenhouse effect really exists

2/25/2015 8:00pm

You'd think that over a century after Svante Arrhenius described the greenhouse effect, we'd be done arguing about it. After all, as Arrhenius suggested, the Earth would be an icy place without it, and there'd be no explaining the hellish temperatures on Venus, either. Yet you often see people claiming that carbon dioxide's role in greenhouse warming is already maxed out—people that include a well credentialed physicist.

The simplest thing to do, then, would just be to measure it. If rising levels of carbon dioxide were absorbing more infrared radiation, it should be possible to detect it. And that's now been done, using a decade's worth of data taken at two different sites. The results show, to very few people's surprise, that carbon dioxide's greenhouse impact is alive and well.

Attempts have been made to directly measure the impact of rising CO2 before. But the challenge comes from tracking changes. The amount of the gas in the atmosphere varies substantially with the seasons (it dips in the spring as deciduous trees use it to grow leaves), and can be swamped by temporary events like hot, humid weather. So, to detect any trend, you need long-term data. Satellite measurements that cover sufficient lengths of time require data from instruments on different vehicles, complicating the analysis.

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Attackers protesting Superfish debacle hijack Lenovo e-mail, spoof website

2/25/2015 7:12pm

Almost a week after revelations surfaced that Lenovo preinstalled dangerous ad-injecting software on consumer laptops, attackers took complete control of the company's valuable domain name, a coup that allowed them to intercept the PC maker's e-mail and impersonate its Web pages.

The hijacking was the result of someone compromising a Lenovo account at domain registrar Web Commerce Communications, and changing the IP address that gets called when people typed into their Web browsers or e-mail applications. As a result, the legitimate Lenovo servers were bypassed and replaced with one that was controlled by the attackers. Marc Rogers, a principal security researcher at content delivery network CloudFlare, told Ars the new IP address pointed to a site hosted behind his company's name servers. CloudFlare has seized the customer's account, and at the time this post was being prepared, company engineers were working to help Lenovo restore normal e-mail and website operations.

"We took control as soon as we found out (minutes after it happened) and are now working with Lenovo to restore service," Rogers said. "All we saw was the domain come in to us, at which point we took immediate action to protect them and their service."

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Does a website for models have a duty to warn users about rapists?

2/25/2015 5:15pm

Following lobbying from Craigslist, eBay, Facebook, Tumblr, and other Internet companies, a federal appeals court Wednesday set aside its ruling allowing a woman to sue Model Mayhem for failing to warn her that known rapists were using the website to find victims.

The San Francisco-based 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals (CDA) ruled last fall that the Communications Decency Act did not immunize the website from being sued by the aspiring model, who says she was raped, drugged, and filmed by two rapists who the woman says were known to the website's management, Internet Brands. The CDA precludes websites from being held legally liable as a "publisher or speaker" of content, but that didn't apply in this case, the court had ruled.

The woman identified in court papers as Jane Doe No. 14 "does not seek to hold Internet Brands liable as a 'publisher or speaker' of content someone posted on the Model Mayhem website, or for Internet Brands' failure to remove content posted on the website," a three-judge panel of the appeals court had ruled (PDF). Instead, Jane Doe No. 14 was suing under a California duty-to-warn law, the court said.

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Company with no product wins $533M verdict vs. Apple, says it’s no “patent troll”

2/25/2015 4:55pm

Smartflash LLC is a company that operates out of a tiny office suite in Tyler, Texas. It has no employees or products and no assets except for a handful of patents—but it may be getting a whole lot of cash. A jury verdict (PDF) that came out late yesterday orders Apple to pay the company $533 million for infringing three of its patents.

The company is no "patent troll," its lawyer insisted in e-mail and telephone discussions with Ars. He says that term doesn't apply because the company is part-owned by founder Patrick Racz, who's the named inventor on the three patents found to be infringed, numbered 7,334,720, 8,118,221, and 8,336,772. All three are related to downloading digital content.

"You have the inventor who came up with the idea, disclosed it to the public in a patent application to advance the state of the art, and spent 15 years staying involved as the main figure who always believed in his idea," said Smartflash attorney Brad Caldwell, who discussed the case with Ars by e-mail and telephone.

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Google will launch Android Pay at I/O in May

2/25/2015 4:35pm

A source close to the matter told Ars on Wednesday that Google will be announcing a new payments API that will be called Android Pay at Google's I/O conference in May. The platform will power in-store and in-app payments for third-party apps.

Android Pay will allow companies to add a mobile payments option to their app, to which users can upload credit card or debit card information, so that payments become single-tap transactions within the app. In addition, a company adopting the Android Pay API will be able to allow tap-to-pay transactions in brick-and-mortar stores. This function will rely on Google’s Host Card Emulation (HCE), which makes it easier for third-party apps to take advantage of Android phones’ Near Field Communications (NFC) chips.

As opposed to Google Wallet, the Android Pay API will be “built from the ground up” for Android developers, using HCE.

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Toejam & Earl co-creator turns to Kickstarter to bring series back

2/25/2015 4:20pm

On Wednesday, the co-creator of '90s gaming series Toejam & Earl announced that the cartoony, hip-hop-obsessed roguelike may soon return—so long as it can rack up at least $400,000 in pledges on Kickstarter. The announcement came weeks after game maker Greg Johnson posted teaser sketches of the funky alien duo with a promise of "some announcements" about the series' return.

The Kickstarter site includes a prototype video that features the same isometric camera and randomly generated worlds as the series' first entry on the Sega Genesis in 1991, only now updated with fully 3D environs and higher-res, hand-drawn characters. Johnson promised a game that will feel as "roguelike" as the original, then reminded viewers that prior sequels were changed at the last minute due to publisher demands in ways that "confused" and "disappointed" fans. "Now it's time to finally make that true sequel, the one we wanted to make back then," Johnson said (in a fake Irish accent, no less). "This time, no publisher!"

Johnson also spoke at length to Polygon about the project, assuring leery Kickstarter users that the initial ask of $400,000 will be more than sufficient to fund the game as it's been pitched—and he'd like "to take two years" to make it. He also insisted that his 32 years of game-making experience includes enough perspective to see a game through from pitch to completion, and he answered a question about Peter Molyneux-related promises in diplomatic fashion: "[Molyneux's] desire to do really new stuff speaks to me at a personal level." Johnson's last game, the oddball Doki Doki Universe, came out on PlayStation Vita last year.

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Let’s talk about jets, baby: Jet engines, to be more precise

2/25/2015 4:15pm

I remember an occasion when I was young when my dad and brother and I took a flight on a small regional plane, probably on one of our annual ski vacations. The little plane was a turboprop, and it was the first time I’d been on a plane with actual propellers—every other commercial flight I’d had at that point in my young life had been on jets. Already a nervous traveler, I’d told my dad that I hated the idea of our flight being dependent on the two visible fast-spinning props. A jet engine, with its cowling and apparent motionless magic, seemed a lot more sensible way to provide thrust.

"Fast spinning propellers?" my dad said. "When you look at a jet engine, what do you see in the front? A big fast-spinning turbine!" I realized he was right—jet engines weren’t immutable chunks of high-technology. They had a giant fan at the front, pushing air through just like a propeller! This probably triggered some kind of panic attack and I probably started crying or something, because I was pretty whiny about flying.

Still, it was eye-opening. When I visited GE’s Global Research Center in Munich last month, I heard quite a bit about how GE’s aviation division makes jet engine turbine blades out of carbon fiber—which seemed like the perfect branching off point for an explainer about the different types of jet engines. And it surprised me just exactly how insightful my dad’s long-ago comment turned out to be. As it turns out, a high-bypass turbofan like you’d find on most modern airliners really is like a giant propeller.

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Bus pass: Civic hackers open transit data MTA said would cost too much to share

2/25/2015 3:10pm

Despite promises of transparency and efforts to create "open data" in the hopes of latching onto the "app economy"—words frequently used in government agency press releases—much of the data that would be of the greatest value to citizens often ends up out of reach. For example, if you want to plan a trip on public transportation in many cities (or even just find out when your bus will show up), you often have to turn to Google Maps or another transit-tracking application on your mobile device. In Baltimore, however, that data has been locked behind the firewalls of the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA).

But now a civic hacker has made that data available to app developers by doing what the MTA claimed would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to complete—simply tapping into websites that the agency has already built. And the hacker did it without spending a dime of taxpayer money. The work took just a few man-days' worth of spare time and a commercial app development team's afternoon.

While the MTA released an early version of its own bus tracking application this month, it's a Web application and lacks tools like geolocation. It has the sort of byzantine interface that most people have come to expect from government websites, it makes accessing the data difficult, and the MTA isn't making the data available to Google or others to make finding the best route any easier.

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Gemalto says reports of its hack by the NSA and GCHQ were greatly exaggerated

2/25/2015 3:00pm

In a press release late Tuesday night, Gemalto, one of the world’s largest SIM manufacturers, denied recent allegations that the company had a vast number of sensitive SIM encryption keys stolen by the National Security Agency (NSA) and Britain’s General Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).

The company's statement addressed a number of confidential documents from 2010 which were leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and published last week by The Intercept. The documents indicated that a task force organized by the NSA and GCHQ broke into Gemalto employee e-mails and found ways to steal the encryption keys corresponding to the SIMs that Gemalto manufactured and sent to mobile carriers. Such a hack would allow state-sponsored spies to decrypt traffic coming to a fake cell tower and thereby watch voice, data, and text messages without a wiretap.

But Gemalto says that after a “thorough investigation,” it concluded that although the company did experience hacks in 2010, it suffered none that could have resulted in the loss of the vast number of SIM encryption keys that The Intercept article referenced. And, the company continued, if some keys had been stolen, then technology pertaining to the 3G and 4G networks that Gemalto builds SIMs for would have prevented substantial hacking. The company believed 2G networks were the only ones that would have truly suffered under such a hack.

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Fast and Furious-branded Forza Horizon 2 coming to Xbox consoles

2/25/2015 2:06pm

Does your Xbox live life a quarter-mile at a time? It’s about to. Thanks to a new partnership between Universal Studios and Microsoft, one of Hollywood’s biggest car franchises is teaming up with one of the best racing game franchises to bring us Forza Horizon 2 Presents Fast & Furious, a standalone expansion to Forza Horizon 2. What’s more, the game will be free for both Xbox One and Xbox 360 consoles if you download it between March 27 and April 10 (after that, it will cost you $10).

The game will take advantage of the already-built game environment of Forza Horizon 2, with races and challenges set on and around the roads of Southern France. But a number of Fast and Furious-specific vehicles will also be present, including the iconic 1970 Dodge Charger R/T that has appeared in most of the films. Players will be guided through the game by Tej Parker, played by Ludacris, who will assign tasks like finding cars for the crew’s next big mission.

This isn’t the first Fast and Furious video game, but it does stand a good chance of being the best. We already know that Turn 10’s Forza physics engine is outstanding, and the open world that Playground Games has built looks stunning (and a lot like the real thing, as I found out on a recent trip to that part of the world). The fact that the game will be free for a time is also a welcome change from the much-hated industry trend of charging for DLC (even if there are legitimate reasons behind the practice in most driving games).

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For five years, one FCC commissioner held firm in net neutrality fight

2/25/2015 2:00pm

Just one member of the Federal Communications Commission who will vote on net neutrality tomorrow was on the commission the last time it tackled the issue in 2010.

Mignon Clyburn, a Democrat, took office in August 2009 and soon thereafter argued that the FCC should pass a far stronger version of net neutrality than it ultimately approved. She said that rules preventing broadband providers from interfering with Internet traffic should apply fully to wireless carriers and that the FCC should use its Title II authority to regulate broadband providers as common carriers.

Julius Genachowski, the chairman at the time, ultimately pushed a plan that did not fully apply to wireless and relied on the commission's weaker authority under Section 706 of the Telecommunications Act. Clyburn voted in favor of the plan to get rules in place but made it clear she wanted a stronger net neutrality regime.

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Google mixes business with pleasure, updates Flights shopping service

2/25/2015 1:52pm

On Wednesday, Google announced the final version of its flight-shopping site clearly designed to compete with the travel industry's current deal-sorting titans. Dubbed Google Flights, the site shares a lot in common with Kayak and Hipmunk, meaning that if you know your destination and ideal travel dates, you can sort available flights and tweak your schedule to easily save a few bucks.

But Google Flights' key usability difference, and the newest feature since its beta launch a few years ago, is an interesting one: helping travelers make decisions when they don't have a specific destination in mind.

"Our research shows more than half of searchers don’t know where they’re going to travel when they sit down to plan," Google's Eric Zimmerman wrote in the product's announcement page, and he linked to a data-rich study about how Google users work out their typical travel arrangements.

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Travelogue: My attempt to speak terrible high school German to actual Germans

2/25/2015 1:45pm

In spite of how much I hate traveling, I was kind of excited to draw the Munich assignment of our "Chasing Brilliance" series. Long ago when I was in high school, I took two years of German language class—though living in Texas, I’ve regretted for years that I didn’t take Spanish instead since it would be a lot more useful in daily life. My trip to Deutschland was a long-overdue opportunity to dust off what I’d learned way back in the early 1990s and make my teacher, Frau Bauch, proud.

To me, German is actually not that different from English—in fact, tracing the tangled roots of modern English back through its inception reveals strong Germanic influence. Probably the most complicated new thing an English speaker has to deal with when learning German is gendered nouns; as with most languages, everything in German has a gender, and a thing’s gender is often pretty arbitrary. The German word for "pants," for example, is female (die Hosen—that's pronounced "dee," not "die") and the German word for skirt is male (der Rock—and, yeah, you capitalize all nouns in German). But as far as words that sound vaguely similar or share similar roots, German and English aren’t too far off. It’s not difficult to string together a sentence or two of (bad, broken, but understandable) Deutsch if you know the nouns you’re talking about as well as a few basic verbs and pronouns.

Hilariously, though, the phrase I got the most usage out of was "Ich bin Auslander und spreche nicht gut Deutsch," which means "I’m a foreigner, and I don’t speak German all that well." It's not hilarious because of the phrase's pedestrian content, but rather because of why I remember it. The stupid thing was burned into my skull in German class by this video of a balding man singing those words to the tune of "She’ll be Coming 'Round the Mountain," except when we saw it in German class, it was on videocassette instead of on YouTube (this was 1992 and YouTube was still about 13 years off).

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Citing encryption, FBI lobbying to keep phone metadata spying powers

2/25/2015 1:41pm

The law that the Obama administration cites to allow bulk telephone metadata collection expires on June 1, and the FBI has already begun lobbying to keep Section 215 of the Patriot Act from expiring. Bad guys "going dark" using encryption, the FBI says, is one of the reasons why the government needs to collect the metadata of every phone call made to and from the United States.

Robert Anderson, the FBI’s chief of the Criminal, Cyber, Response, and Services Branch, told reporters during a roundtable discussion Tuesday that the Patriot Act is necessary because encrypted communications are becoming more commonplace in the wake of the Edward Snowden disclosures.

"In the last two to three years, that whole ‘going dark’ thing went from a crawl to a flat-out sprint because the technology is changing so rapidly," Anderson said.

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Secret Service to test its own drones to avoid future White House crashes

2/25/2015 1:20pm

Likely in response to the January 2015 incident where a small consumer drone crashed inside the White House perimeter, the United States Secret Service announced that it will be conducting drone exercises in the Washington, DC, area “in the coming days and weeks.”

The agency did not elaborate beyond a short statement on Tuesday other than to say that the exercises “have been carefully planned and will be tightly controlled.”

In the wake of the White House incident, popular consumer drone maker DJI said that it would update its devices’ firmware to comply with the existing no-fly zone that is centered on downtown Washington, DC, and extends for a 25 kilometer (15.5 mile) radius in all directions.

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AI masters 49 Atari 2600 games without instructions

2/25/2015 1:00pm

Artificial intelligence, machines and software with the ability to think for themselves, can be used for a variety of applications ranging from military technology to everyday services like automated telephone systems. However, none of the systems that currently exist exhibits learning abilities that would match the human intelligence. Recently, scientists have wondered whether an artificial agent could be given a tiny bit of human-like intelligence by modeling the algorithm on aspects of the primate neural system.

Using a bio-inspired system architecture, scientists have created a single algorithm that is actually able to develop problem-solving skills when presented with challenges that can stump some humans. And then they immediately put it to use learning a set of classic video games.

Scientists developed the novel agent (they called it the Deep Q-network), one that combined reinforcement learning with what's termed a "deep convolutional network," a layered system of artificial neural networks. Deep-Q is able to understand spatial relationships between different objects in an image, such as distance from one another, in such a sophisticated way that it can actually re-envision the scene from a different viewpoint. This type of system was inspired by early work done on the visual cortex.

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Hands-on: Motorola sent us the new $150 Moto E inside a mystery box [Updated]

2/25/2015 12:01pm
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Late last week, Motorola asked me for my shipping address. It wanted to send me a mystery box.

Being a reviewer means that a lot of boxes show up at your door. If you're lucky, you've actually asked for them, and you know what they all are. If you're unlucky, some unscrupulous PR firm has gotten your address and is using it to send you weird headphones and iPhone screen protectors you never wanted. Once, a company sent me a box with one of those trash can basketball hoops and a bunch of wadded up pieces of construction paper in it—they literally sent me a box full of garbage.

Sometimes, as in this case, you give them your address and hope that the package has something good in it. We weren't disappointed—Motorola's mystery box contained the latest version of the Moto E, the cheapest of its three Moto phones and the successor to the budget handset that came out last May, along with a "press conference in a box" designed to save reporters from yet another presentation at Mobile World Congress next week. We'll be giving the phone the full review treatment once we've been able to spend a little more time with it, but here are our first-blush impressions.

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Despite FCC vote, Republicans in Congress not conceding on net neutrality

2/25/2015 11:20am

With just one day until the Federal Communications Commission votes on a controversial net neutrality plan, Republicans in Congress are keeping up the pressure on Chairman Tom Wheeler.

Wheeler declined an invitation to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee today. Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) postponed the hearing but criticized Wheeler in a joint statement with House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.).

They said:

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Homeworld Remastered impressions: A refined masterpiece

2/25/2015 11:10am
If you're a game company looking to release an HD remake this year (and looking at the 2015 release schedule, there are plenty of you out there), then the Homeworld Remastered Collection is one of the better blueprints you could look to.

As the name implies, this isn't just a remake of the Relic’s 1999 masterpiece Homeworld. The package also Includes a revamped version of the slightly less classic (though still quite good) Homeworld 2, as well as unaltered versions of both games for absolute purists out there who like their three-dimensional space strategy raw and low-res. Those who don't mind sacrificing historical accuracy for convenience will find familiar gameplay from a one-of-a-kind duology that’s prettier than ever.

That much is clear just from replaying through the first few missions in both included single-player campaigns—the atmospheric heart and soul of Homeworld. What’s still unclear is Gearbox's new "unified" multiplayer, which encompasses both games but was not accessible prior to launch. Even when the game is fully released, players will initially have access to a multiplayer beta rather than the final experience.

Even with that limitation, Remastered is still a masterful collection of games not quite like anything that's come before or since. While real-time strategy games have been on the decline as a genre for years now, Homeworld was unique even before the Command and Conquer- and Warcraft-makers of the world moved on to more profitable things.

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