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It’s the data, stupid: Why database admins are more important than ever

14 hours 47 min ago

It may not be all about the tables anymore, but the DBA role is still essential—even if the person doing it doesn't have the title. (credit: Michael Mandiberg)

For those of us who have been in the information technology realm for too long, the title "database administrator" conjures up very specific images. We picture someone pulling hair out over issues with backups or snapshots not happening, schemas growing out of control, capacity plans blown up by new application demands, sluggish queries, and eternal performance tuning.

That old-school role of the DBA still exists in some places, particularly large enterprises where giant database clusters still rule the data center. But virtualization, cloud data storage, micro-services, the "DevOps" approach to building and running applications, and a number of other factors have significantly changed how organizations store and manage their data. Many of the traditional roles of the DBA seem to be moot in the shiny, happy world promised by the new generation of databases.

"NoSQL" databases don't require a pre-defined schema, and many have replication built in by default. Provisioning new servers can be reduced to clicking a few radio buttons and check boxes on a webpage. Development teams just point at a cloud data store such as Amazon Web Services' Simple Storage Service (S3) and roll. And even relational database vendors such as Oracle, Microsoft, and IBM are pushing customers toward data-as-a-service (DaaS) models that drastically simplify considerations about hardware and availability.

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Elon Musk and JB Straubel talk batteries at the new Gigafactory

21 hours 47 min ago

A stripped down Model S. Tesla batteries will be made at a factory site outside of Reno.

Although the Gigafactory—a $5 billion (£4 billion) battery factory built by Tesla and Panasonic in northern Nevada—is only 14 percent complete, by all accounts it is enormous. Speaking to a handful of press on the grounds of the new facility, which began to pump out Powerwall batteries earlier this year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Tesla CTO JB Straubel, and Panasonic Executive Vice President Yoshihiko Yamada addressed new accelerated goals for auto and storage battery production.

Notably, Musk claimed that Tesla and Panasonic could potentially triple the projected battery output for the factory, delivering up to 150 gigawatt hours of storage per year by 2020. According to Fortune, Straubel told the audience that Tesla is hoping to deliver 35 gigawatt hours of auto and stationary batteries by 2018. The Tesla executives said their confidence in the increased battery production volume stems from logistical changes made to the layout of the Gigafactory.

"The factory itself is a product," Musk told USA Today. "It's the machine that builds the machines and demands more problem solving than the product it makes."

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Tesla and Mobileye call it quits; will the car company build its own sensors?

7/26/2016 10:29pm

Mobileye Co-founder, CTO, and Chairman Amnon Shashua speaks at a Volkswagen press event at CES 2016. (credit: Getty Images | David Becker)

If you're a carmaker looking to give your vehicles some computer vision, your first port of call is probably the Israeli company Mobileye. As we detailed recently, Mobileye's EyeQ system-on-a-chip can be found inside most semi-autonomous cars on our roads, Tesla included. In fact, Mobileye CTO Amnon Shashua gave a lengthy technical presentation at CES in January on how Mobileye's use of deep neural networks enable Tesla's Autopilot functions. (Here's a deep dive into the tech over at WCCFTech.) But on Tuesday, Shashua announced during a Q2 financial results conference call that the relationship between the two companies will end.

In a statement to Ars, Mobileye said that its work with Tesla will not extend past the EyeQ3, the current system-on-a-chip found in Autopilot-capable Model S and Model X electric vehicles. Mobileye will continue to support current vehicles, including software fixes for crash avoidance and auto-steering.

"Nevertheless, in our view, moving toward more advanced autonomy is a paradigm shift both in terms of function complexity and the need to ensure an extremely high level of safety," the company wrote. "There is much at stake here, to Mobileye’s reputation and to the industry at large. Mobileye believes that achieving this objective requires partnerships that go beyond the typical OEM / supplier relationship, such as our recently announced collaboration with BMW and Intel. Mobileye will continue to pursue similar such relationships."

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The normal, boring life of a clone: Dolly’s cloned cohort hits old age

7/26/2016 8:20pm

(credit: Sinclair et al, Nature Communications)

Twenty years ago this month, Dolly the sheep started her life in a laboratory. She quickly gained farm animal fame as the first successfully cloned mammal. Despite her stardom, Dolly’s life was cut short by an unusually early case of osteoarthritis. Some observers thought she aged too quickly. At just six-and-a-half years old, veterinarians put her down. And with her went a lot of optimism about cloning’s potential.

Still, many hopeful scientists hypothesized that her test-tube origins had nothing to do with her tragic fate. And it turns out they were probably right.

Kevin Sinclair, a developmental biologist at the University of Nottingham in England, joined his colleagues in putting 13 other cloned sheep, some in their golden years, through a battery of tests. He and his fellow researchers found that the cloned sheep are not only healthy, but they’re aging completely normally. Four of those sheep were cloned from the exact same batch of cells as Dolly.

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Tim Sweeney claims that Microsoft will remove Win32, destroy Steam

7/26/2016 8:00pm

Epic Games founder Tim Sweeney. (credit: Epic Games)

Tim Sweeney doesn't like Windows 10 or Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform, the common development platform that allows developers to create software that can run on Windows on PCs, phones, tablets, HoloLens, and the Xbox. In March he published an op-ed in The Guardian saying that UWP "can, should, must, and will die" because, he claimed, Microsoft could use UWP to create a walled garden, with UWP games not available through competing stores such as Steam. Still apparently concerned with the health of the PC gaming industry, Sweeney is now claiming, through an interview with the print-only Edge magazine, that Microsoft will use Windows updates to kill Steam.

Sweeney's complaints about UWP were technically off-base. His issues are based on the assumption that all UWP apps had to be individually vetted by Microsoft and could only be delivered by the Windows Store. This was somewhat true in Windows 8—apps built using the WinRT platform (the predecessor branding to UWP) could not be trivially sideloaded, as the ability was officially restricted to enterprise users only. But it's not true in Windows 10. Sideloading is enabled by default in Windows 10, and any third-party store could download and install UWP-based games in much the same way as they already do for software that uses the Win32 API.

Sweeney's Steam concerns are once again driven by UWP:

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Google Maps cleans up map design, adds “areas of interest” highlight

7/26/2016 7:28pm
  • The new Google maps before (left) and after (right).

Google Maps has announced a new update that tweaks the look of the map and adds a feature that highlights "hotspots" in your area.

Google says the new map design is cleaner and easier to read. The company has "removed elements that aren’t absolutely required (like road outlines)" and "improved the typography of street names, points of interest, transit stations, and more" to make the map more readable. Google's more "subtle" visual scheme lets you know what kind of location you're looking at just by the color and even provides a color key.

With the map cleaned up, Google is adding a new feature to the base layer of the map. When zoomed out to a sufficient level, clusters of popular points of interest become highlighted in orange. Zoom in and the individual places appear, also highlighted in orange, letting you know how popular they are.

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Harrison Ford’s 2014 broken leg leads Star Wars producer to plead guilty

7/26/2016 5:59pm

April 29, Pinewood Studios, UK—Writer/Director/Producer JJ Abrams (top center right) at the cast read-through of Star Wars Episode VII at Pinewood Studios with (clockwise from right) Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew, Producer Bryan Burk, Lucasfilm President and Producer Kathleen Kennedy, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Mark Hamill, Andy Serkis, Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, Adam Driver, and writer Lawrence Kasdan. (credit: David James)

On Tuesday, a UK-based Disney subsidiary pleaded guilty to two criminal charges of failing to protect its employees on the set of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, specifically Harrison Ford, whose leg was broken by a hydraulic door on the Millennium Falcon set.

The charges were brought by the UK’s Health and Safety regulator, which sued the Disney subsidiary—called Foodles Production—back in February over the 2014 incident.

Ford, then 71, was struck by the Millennium Falcon door and had to be airlifted to a nearby hospital for treatment. A spokesperson for the Health and Safety regulator said in a press release that “the power of the door’s drive system was comparable to the weight of a small car.”

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Apple’s profit fell 27 percent in Q3 2016, but earnings beat expectations

7/26/2016 5:31pm

Sales of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus haven't been as stellar as the 6 and 6 Plus. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Apple's quarterly profit fell 27 percent in Q3 2016, to $7.80 billion from $10.68 billion a year ago, but the company's shares rose today as the earnings beat analysts' expectations. Quarterly revenue was $42.36 billion, down from $49.60 billion in the year-ago quarter, a drop of 14.6 percent.

The third quarter results "reflect stronger customer demand and business performance than we anticipated at the start of the quarter," CEO Tim Cook said. When Apple announced its previous results three months ago, the company said it expected to make between $41 and $43 billion in revenue in the third quarter of fiscal 2016, with profit margins between 37.5 and 38 percent. Actual results were near the top end of the estimates; gross margin was 38 percent.

"Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters estimated that Apple would post earnings of $1.38 a share on revenue of $42.1 billion," The Wall Street Journal reported. Actual earnings per share were $1.42.

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The tireless, automated bots that want to play Pokémon Go for you

7/26/2016 5:11pm

Why go to the trouble of playing Pokémon Go when this bot offers to do it for you?

Last week, we took a look into the growing world of Pokémon Go hacks that reveal the location of usually hidden Pokémon nearby. Now, a new wave of PC-based Pokémon Go "bots" take the hacking a step further, spoofing locations and automating actions to essentially play the game for you while you sit in the comfort of your own home.

There are a number of competing bots out there, from the open source Necrobot to the pre-compiled Pokébuddy to MyGoBot, which recently started charging $4.99 for its automation tool following a three-hour free trial. All of them work on the same basic principles, sending artificial data to the Pokémon Go servers to simulate an extremely efficient, entirely tireless player.

The user first provides a latitude and longitude as a starting point (the center of any major city is a good place to start) and some Pokémon Go account credentials to authenticate with the servers. The bot then finds any nearby Pokémon (using those previously discussed mapping functions) and simulates a "walk" to the nearest one by sending spoofed GPS coordinates to the server at appropriate intervals. When the bot gets close enough to a Pokémon, it can use a simple API call to quickly catch it before moving on to the next target.

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Keys to Chimera crypto ransomware allegedly leaked by rival crime gang

7/26/2016 4:51pm

Sometimes, the fierce competition in the booming crypto ransomware market works in the favor of the victims whose priceless data is held hostage. That appears to be what played out on Tuesday when the criminals behind a package known as "Mischa" published what's purported to be the secret crypto keys for the rival Chimera malware.

"Earlier this year we got access to big parts of their deveolpment [sic] system, and included parts of Chimera in our project," the Mischa developers wrote in a message posted to Pastebin. "Additionally we now release about 3500 decryption keys from Chimera."

Translation: As if breaking in to the Chimera developers' network and stealing their code wasn't enough of an affront, the competing Mischa gang now claims to have leaked the keys that defang Chimera.

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California closes the Steve Jobs license plate loophole

7/26/2016 4:30pm

(credit: Aurich Lawson)

One of the many things Steve Jobs was famous for was his refusal to put a license plate on the back of his car, a Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMG. Jobs—or someone close to him—spotted a loophole in California DMV regulations allowing six months of grace before a license plate had to be attached to a new car. As a result, the Apple supremo maintained a rolling six-month lease on a series of new SL55 AMGs, replacing one with another just before the grace period ran out.

One of the many identical leased Mercedes-Benz SL55 AMGs driven by Steve Jobs. This one was spotted in 2008. Jobs would change cars (always sticking with an identical model) every six months to avoid having to put a license plate on the back. (credit: Leo Prieto/Tomás Pollak @ Flickr)

Jobs is no longer with us, but in case any of his disciples were in the habit of copying his phobia of license plates, watch out. On Monday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a new law that does away with the loophole. From 2019, California joins most of the other states in the nation by requiring newly bought cars to be issued temporary license plates. Additionally, the law will create a system to allow car sellers to report details of the sale to the DMV, including the date of sale and the names and addresses of the dealer and purchaser.

The bill (AB516) was the work of California Speaker pro Tem Kevin Mullin and was inspired by the hit-and-run death of Michael Bonanomi. Bonanomi was killed in 2013 by a car that was wearing paper dealer plates, and no one has ever been identified as the driver. "While this law will not bring Michael back, in the future it will go a long way in making sure that an offending vehicle and its driver are easier to identify and bring to justice," Mullin wrote in a statement.

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Chinese electronics firm LeEco will acquire TV maker Vizio for $2 billion

7/26/2016 4:15pm

Vizio and LeEco's chairmen shake hands to confirm their deal on Tuesday. (credit: Vizio)

At a Los Angeles press conference, TV and sound bar manufacturer Vizio announced that it will be acquired by Chinese electronics firm LeEco for $2 billion. The Tuesday event included a lengthy statement from company founder and CEO William Wang, who recalled the Irvine, California, TV manufacturer's ten-year history before ironically calling the company's success story "an American dream."

"I have mixed feelings," Wang admitted before handing the microphone back to Vizio's new owners. "As the owner and father of Vizio, I'm really reluctant to let it go. But as a CEO and chairman, I know this is the right decision to make for my hardworking employees and loyal shareholders."

Wang will still be connected to Vizio, however, by becoming chairman and CEO of Inscape, a separate business that will carry Vizio's controversial torch of mining TV viewers' data for advertising and other data-driven services. Wang will be a 51-percent stakeholder in Inscape, with LeEco owning the other 49 percent and licensing Inscape's offerings for Vizio products for 10 years. The deal is still pending regulatory approval, LeEco notes, and the Chinese company may pay an additional $250 million to Vizio and its shareholders based on sales performance in the years to come.

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Dealmaster: Get a Dell Optiplex 9020 micro desktop for $632

7/26/2016 3:27pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, we have a bunch of great deals to share this week. One of the biggest deals is on a very small item: now you can get a Dell Optiplex 9020 micro desktop with a Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive for just $632. Only slightly bigger than a soda can, this small desktop supports VESA mounting under a table or behind a monitor so you can hide it in your setup for a clean workplace look. The list price for that tiny PC is $799, so you're saving nearly $200 with this deal.

Check out the full list of deals below, too.


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VW’s $15 billion buyback settlement gets preliminary approval in federal court

7/26/2016 3:17pm

(credit: James Workman)

On Tuesday, a federal judge in San Francisco gave preliminary approval to a $15 billion settlement proposed by Volkswagen Group and Justice Department lawyers back in June.

The settlement would provide for a buyback of all of VW Group’s 2.0L diesel vehicles sold in the US with illegal software on them—that's 475,474 cars—at the price the cars would have fetched before VW Group’s emissions cheating scandal was made public. In addition, lessees would be able to cancel their leases, and both owners and lessees will get an additional $5,100 to $10,000 in compensation.

VW and Audi owners whose cars qualify for the buyback will also have the option to refuse the buyback and have the cars fixed so that they comply with Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards. So far, US air regulators have not approved a fix, but on Tuesday the head of the California Resources Board (CARB), which has played a large role in the regulatory fallout from Volkswagen’s cheating scandal, told a German paper that regulators were very close to approving a fix.

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Motorola confirms that it will not commit to monthly security patches

7/26/2016 2:24pm

The Moto Z with its 3.5mm headphone dongle.

Motorola has clarified the update situation of the Moto Z and Moto G4, calling Android's monthly security updates "difficult" and deciding not to commit to them.

When we recently reviewed the Moto Z, we said that the device would not be getting Android's monthly security updates. Motorola doesn't make this information officially available anywhere, but when we asked Motorola reps at the Moto Z launch event if the company would commit to the monthly updates, we were flatly told "no."

We passed this along in our review, where we called the policy "unacceptable" and "insecure." Motorola later muddied the waters a bit by releasing a statement saying "Moto Z and Moto Z Force will be supported with patches from Android Security Bulletins. They will receive an update shortly after launch with additional patches." Sure, the Android security patches will reach the devices eventually, but this statement didn't assure that they would arrive on time as monthly security updates. We pressed Motorola for more information, and today the company clarified things with this statement:

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The man who got the first double hand transplant wishes he hadn’t

7/26/2016 1:24pm

(credit: Evan Amos)

Seven years ago, Jeff Kepner underwent the first double hand transplant in the US. It was a risky but exciting surgical feat that offered the possibility of getting the patient most of his normal life back—the life that was taken away in 1999 when sepsis from a strep throat infection led to the amputation of both hands.

But the excitement and possibilities gave way to a grim existence, worse than when he was simply managing with prosthetics, Kepner said.

“From day one I have never been able to use my hands,” he told Time. “I can do absolutely nothing. I sit in my chair all day and wear my TV out.” With the prosthetics, he said, he had about 75 percent functionality. With the transplants, that went down to zero percent.

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New attack bypasses HTTPS protection on Macs, Windows, and Linux

7/26/2016 1:14pm

(credit: Ddxc)

A key guarantee provided by HTTPS encryption is that the addresses of visited websites aren't visible to attackers who may be monitoring an end user's network traffic. Now, researchers have devised an attack that breaks this protection.

The attack can be carried out by operators of just about any type of network, including public Wi-Fi networks, which arguably are the places where Web surfers need HTTPS the most. It works by abusing a feature known as WPAD—short for Web Proxy Autodisovery—in a way that exposes certain browser requests to attacker-controlled code. The attacker then gets to see the entire URL of every site the target visits. The exploit works against virtually all browsers and operating systems. It will be demonstrated for the first time at next week's Black Hat security conference in Las Vegas in a talk titled Crippling HTTPS with Unholy PAC.

"People rely on HTTPS to secure their communication even when the LAN/Wi-Fi cannot be trusted (think public Wi-Fi/hotels/cafes/airports/restaurants, or compromised LAN in an organization)," Itzik Kotler, cofounder and CTO of security firm SafeBreach and one of the scheduled speakers, wrote in an e-mail. "We show that HTTPS cannot provide security when WPAD is enabled. Therefore, a lot of people are actually exposed to this attack when they engage in browsing via non-trusted networks."

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BlackBerry rebrands Chinese smartphone, creates the $299 BlackBerry DTEK50

7/26/2016 12:59pm
  • The BlackBerry DTEK50

As the first-ever Android phone from BlackBerry, the BlackBerry Priv was an interesting experiment. BlackBerry tried to go super-premium with a $700 phone, but the design, build quality, and specs couldn't back up the price tag. Now, BlackBerry is back with its second Android smartphone, the BlackBerry DTEK50. Rather than worry about the design and build quality itself, BlackBerry has taken the TCL Alcatel Idol 4 and given it a new back plate. The result is a $299 "BlackBerry" that features Alcatel's hardware and Blackberry's software.

The specs are nearly identical to an Alcatel Idol 4. The DTEK50 has a 5.2-inch, 1080p display (424 PPI), an eight-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon 617 (four 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53s and four 1.2 GHz Cortex-A53), 3GB of RAM, 16GB of storage with an SD card, and a 2,610 mAh battery. The rear camera has a 13MP sensor with a dual-LED flash, while the front sports an 8MP sensor. The USB port makes the device seem a tad dated: it still has a MicroUSB port instead of the newer, reversible USB Type C port. The one spec difference we see between the Alcatel Idol 4 and the DTEK50 is that the Idol 4 is clocked a little higher: 1.7GHz versus 1.5GHz.

The device has no keyboard—it's just your regular cheap slab phone with dual front-facing speakers. The rear has a new back piece with the all-important BlackBerry logo and almost looks like it's made out of rubber. The Idol 4 did ship with an extra side hardware button, which BlackBerry has turned into its trademark programmable "convenience" key. Other than that, the "Blackberryness" is going to come in the software and security side. Blackberry is promising a secure boot process with a hardware root of trust and "rapid" security patching.

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Mini John Cooper Works goes back to the original Cooper works

7/26/2016 12:27pm

It’s drizzling as I roll into the south-west London suburb of Surbiton, and every so often the automatic wipers on the Mini John Cooper Works I'm driving spring into life to sweep drops of water from the screen. It’s early, and the town is barely awake yet. But even as the pavements start to fill with Suburbiton commuters bustling between newsagents, big-chain coffee shops, and railway station, one part of the town remains empty and ignored. Yet that’s the place I’ve come here to see.

The new generation Mini JCW is named after the man whose vision and no-nonsense organisation created the Cooper racing cars that changed the face of Formula 1 motor racing in the 1950s, and the Mini Coopers that livened up 1960s circuit racing and rallying. So I’ve come to Surbiton—where the Cooper Car Company was based—to find the building that was the original works. From there I’ll head off in search of the greatest of the JCW’s distant ancestors.

First, to find the place where it all started. The Mini’s infotainment controller is on the console between the front seats, where the big rotary control is easy to reach and operate. Navigating the main mode buttons nearby is less easy; until you memorise the position of each one, you have to look down to choose between media, radio, phone, and nav. All set, the Mini navigates me precisely through the thick Surbiton traffic to the junction of Hollyfield Road and Ewell Road where the Cooper works stands. And it’s a bit of a disappointment.

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AT&T to lead robocall “strike force”—after claiming it can’t block them

7/26/2016 11:54am

It seems Ars readers are not ready to welcome our new IoT overlords. (credit: peyri)

AT&T has agreed to lead an "industry strike force" to limit robocalls, just a couple of months after its CEO claimed there's just about nothing it can do to block unwanted calls.

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said in May that his company doesn't have "permission" or "the appropriate authority" to block robocalls, even though the Federal Communications Commission clearly stated last year that carriers have the "green light" to offer robocall-blocking services to cell phone users. FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler last week urged carriers to "offer call-blocking services to their customers now—at no cost to [consumers]," and AT&T has dropped its previous reluctance in response.

In a post titled "Answering the call on robocalling," AT&T Senior VP Bob Quinn yesterday said that Stephenson will chair the new "Robocalling Strike Force, the mission of which will be to accelerate the development and adoption of new tools and solutions to abate the proliferation of robocalls and to make recommendations to the FCC on the role government can play in this battle."

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