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The Art of Technology
Updated: 1 hour 55 min ago

Google’s Android keyboard hits version 5.0, now has fine cursor control

5/2/2016 7:25pm

The new warm welcome screens.

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The Google Keyboard for Android got a major update today. Version 5.0 brings a ton of user-requested features and customization options.

My favorite new addition is the fine cursor control. Just drag your finger along the spacebar to move the cursor between letters. There's a similar "delete word" gesture that works by dragging a finger from the backspace key to the left. Each letter crossed over will highlight the previous word, and releasing your finger will delete the selection.

There's also a new "one-handed mode" that shrinks the keyboard to the left or right side of the screen—a welcome feature for users with large screened devices. A few buttons have been redesigned, and now there's an easy way to bring up a number keypad layout. Words can be deleted from the dictionary via a slick drag and drop interface—just long press on a suggestion and drag it to the new trashcan icon to toss the word (or erroneously-saved typo) down the memory hole.

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Former Biggest Loser contestants fight slow metabolisms, weight gain

5/2/2016 7:11pm

(credit: Pete Thomas)

After successfully dropping pounds, dieters often see their weight bounce back. But they may not see the same rebound in their sluggish metabolisms.

Researchers followed 14 contestants from the TV weight-loss competition The Biggest Loser, and they found that the dramatic weight loss significantly slowed the rate at which the contestants’ burned calories while resting. Those metabolic slow-downs, which make it more difficult to keep off pounds, lingered six years after the competition—even after nearly all of the contestants regained much of the weight they lost.

The findings, published Monday in the journal Obesity, suggests that the body may purposefully slow down its metabolism to regain lost pounds and maintain a weight “set point.” If the finding holds true in larger studies of dieters, it may explain why it’s so difficult to keep off weight once its lost.

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Martian water blasts away sand, may craft features as it boils

5/2/2016 6:48pm

The complex pattern left behind by liquid water flowing through sand under Martian atmospheric pressures. (credit: M. Massé)

We now know that there is liquid water on the surface of Mars. Streaks of dark material flow down crater walls, appearing and disappearing with the seasons. Imaging from orbit has confirmed that these features contain hydrated salts, leading researchers to conclude that the water took the form of a salty brine, which would prevent it from immediately evaporating into Mars' cold, thin atmosphere.

But a new paper released today argues that we might want to rethink the role of brine. The international team behind it tested what would happen if pure water were flowing through sand under Mars-like conditions. Some of the water boiled off quickly, but it managed to spread a bit further than expected and produced features similar to some that have been imaged from orbit.

There are a number of challenges with figuring out what's happening on Mars. The first is that we've got no hardware anywhere near where the watery features form; all our direct exploration has to take place from orbit. Another challenge is that we don't know the nature of the water. At Martian pressures, pure water could boil at temperatures reached in the daytime and freeze at night, while salts could keep it liquid at the prevalent temperatures.

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Woman ordered to provide her fingerprint to unlock seized iPhone

5/2/2016 5:49pm

(credit: Kārlis Dambrāns)

A Southern California woman was recently ordered to provide her fingerprint to unlock a seized iPhone, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.

The case highlights the ongoing balancing act between security and convenience and how the law treats something you know (a passcode) as being quite different than something you are (a biometric). Under the Constitution, criminal defendants have the right not to testify against themselves—and providing a passcode could be considered testimonial. However, being compelled to give up something physiological or biometric (such as blood, DNA sample, fingerprint or otherwise), is not.

As the Times reports, Paytsar Bkhchadzhyan was ordered by a federal judge to provide her fingerprint on February 25, and the warrant was executed and unsealed on March 15.

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That time a bot invaded Thingiverse and created weird new 3D objects

5/2/2016 5:15pm

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Shiv Integer is a bot whose entire purpose in life is to create bizarre objects for 3D printers. It has been living for several months on 3D printer project site Thingiverse, posting objects cobbled together out of dozens of other objects listed on the site. The results are art or spam, depending on your perspective. Last month, artists Matthew Plummer-Fernandez and Julien Deswaef finally came out as the humans behind Shiv Integer, showcasing the results of the bot's work at an event called (appropriately) The Art of Bots in London's Somerset House.

Taken on its own terms, Shiv Integer's work is fanciful and amusing. Each piece looks like a mutant gadget, possibly unprintable, often with one recognizable item merging into another one. The best part is that even the names of the objects are a random salad of words taken from other objects on Thingiverse, creating inadvertent absurdist poetry like "quick cat near a jaw," "disc on top of an e-juice golf," "automatic event adapter," and "customizable damage mask." The bot is known to post several times per day, and in the "about" section of the entry it always credits users whose objects it has repurposed (the bot only works with objects that have been CC licensed for remixing).

Artists Plummer-Fernandez and Julien Deswaef explain the idea behind their project:

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Seattle’s sanitation workers can no longer pry through trash without a warrant

5/2/2016 4:20pm

(credit: Zena C)

A Washington county judge has ruled that the city of Seattle’s warrantless searches of garbage violated the state’s constitution.

In her 14-page order, King County Judge Beth Andrus found in favor of eight Seattle residents whose trash was searched by sanitation workers. The workers were operating under a city ordinance that allowed them to inspect trash for possible violations of a city composting law. Violators could be fined $1 if they mistakenly put food waste into their regular garbage rather than organic waste bins.

The ruling turned on whether these inspections amounted to a privacy violation. The order, which was handed down last week, illustrates that states are able to grant more rights than those interpreted by the Supreme Court.

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Samsung Smart Home flaws let hackers make keys to front door

5/2/2016 2:31pm


Computer scientists have discovered vulnerabilities in Samsung's Smart Home automation system that allowed them to carry out a host of remote attacks, including digitally picking connected door locks from anywhere in the world.

The attack, one of several proof-of-concept exploits devised by researchers from the University of Michigan, worked against Samsung's SmartThings, one of the leading Internet of Things (IoT) platforms for connecting electronic locks, thermostats, ovens, and security systems in homes. The researchers said the attacks were made possible by two intrinsic design flaws in the SmartThings framework that aren't easily fixed. They went on to say that consumers should think twice before using the system to connect door locks and other security-critical components.

"All of the above attacks expose a household to significant harm—break-ins, theft, misinformation, and vandalism," the researchers wrote in a paper scheduled to be presented later this month at the 2016 IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy. "The attack vectors are not specific to a particular device and are broadly applicable."

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Oculus Rift will be in stores long before many pre-orders are fulfilled

5/2/2016 2:20pm

If you want to get your hands on a Rift ASAP, better plan to camp out at Best Buy

The Oculus Rift virtual reality headset will be available for demonstration and purchase at select Best Buy stores starting May 7 (and for purchase through Amazon and Microsoft Stores online starting at 9am Pacific on May 6). That means walk-in customers at brick-and-mortar stores will be able to get their headset well before many who pre-ordered the system directly from Oculus months ago.

While Oculus started taking Rift pre-orders in January and officially started shipping the units in March, many early pre-orders have seen their shipping date estimates slip amid production delays. In April, Oculus admitted that an "unexpected component shortage" meant early adopters could have to wait an extra month or two from initial estimates to receive their units. Orders placed on the Oculus site right now are slated for August delivery.

Oculus says that retail availability will be "extremely limited while we catch up on Rift pre-orders." Still, the company realizes that many early pre-order purchasers may try to pick up a unit from the local Best Buy rather than continuing to wait for their online order. Those users will be able to cancel their pre-orders from the Oculus Store while still keeping access to pre-order bonuses like Eve: Valkyrie and priority access to future Oculus Touch controller orders.

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Craig Wright loudly claims “I am Satoshi Nakamoto,” but few believe his “proof”

5/2/2016 1:57pm

(credit: Christopher Thompson)

An Australian man named Craig Wright told the world today he is "Satoshi Nakamoto," the man who created Bitcoin. Yet despite Wright's stunning declaration and the fact that it's backed by some of the most famous names in Bitcoin, others continue to cry foul.

Wright gave interviews and demonstrations to the BBC, GQ magazine, and The Economist, and he published his own blog post claiming the name of Satoshi Nakamoto. He has convinced Gavin Andresen, former lead Bitcoin developer, as well as former Bitcoin Foundation Director Jon Matonis.

Wright was first identified as the possible creator of bitcoin in December, but he hid from public view at that time.

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Congressmen think FCC’s set-top box plan is just like “Popcorn Time”

5/2/2016 1:36pm

(credit: Descrier)

The Federal Communications Commission proposal to boost competition in the cable TV set-top box market is facing opposition from some members of Congress who claim the plan will lead to copyright violations.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and ranking Democrat John Conyers (D-Mich.) described their concerns in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler Thursday, as noted by Politico. The letter echoes arguments made by cable lobbyists and some groups representing copyright holders.

"Creators have shared concerns that under the FCC's proposed rule, future set-top boxes or their replacements could purposely be designed to distribute pirated content obtained from sources that primarily offer stolen content," Goodlatte and Conyers wrote.

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Secret US spy court approved every surveillance request in 2015

5/2/2016 12:44pm

(credit: Mike Licht)

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, the one that NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed is allowing the government to obtain the metadata of every phone call to and from the United States, approved every surveillance request from US authorities in 2015.

Reuters news service, which reviewed a secret document outlining the figures, reported that the FISA Court granted every one of the 1,457 surveillance applications last year. The scope of the surveillance is unknown but vast. A single application is all it takes for the FISA Court to require the nation's telcos to scoop up and retain the telephone metadata on all phone calls. The court, based in the District of Columbia and whose members are appointed by the Supreme Court's chief justice, approved every one of the 1,379 applications for the year 2014 as well, according to the memo.

The memo said the FISA Court, which was created in 1978 with the stated goal of acquiring intelligence on foreign suspects, had modified 80 warrant applications last year, up from 19 the year before.

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New Call of Duty is the (not) first game ever to involve shooting dudes in space

5/2/2016 12:33pm

Having apparently run out of incoherently threatening foreigners to shoot here on earth, Activision and Infinity Ward's next Call of Duty game will take the wholly original angle of shooting enemies in space, a concept which we believe has never before been done in video games.

A new three-minute trailer for the previously rumored Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is heavy on the usual jump cuts and explosions amid rubble and showers of gunfire, only now some of those scenes are set in the vacuum of space (or the cold, dead light of a space station). There are a few shots of space-based combat that look more at home in a game like Elite: Dangerous than in a Call of Duty game. One shot of floating amid a ruined space station could have come right out of Adr1ft, while another scene walking through a dark corridor looks pulled directly from the Dead Space series.

The new trailer follows an earlier teaser that revealed the Settlement Defense Front, a new antagonist that promises, "You will know loss. We will be the architects of your pain. We will build monuments to your destruction."

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Focus on kids makes moms as competitive as dads

5/2/2016 12:04pm

(credit: Flickr user andrew and his family)

Male competitiveness is pretty engrained in our culture, with popular images of it encompassing everything from sports to business to the PlayStation. And there are some studies that have shown men to be more competitive than women, but this effect hasn’t been studied all that deeply. A new paper published in PNAS shows that gender’s effects on competitiveness go away when the stakes of the competition are related to children’s benefit, rather than personal gain. When children are at stake, women and men are equally competitive.

The study is based on the idea that women aren’t necessarily less competitive than men, but there are gender-specific spheres of competition. The authors hypothesized that one of those spheres involves offspring. To test this hypothesis, the researchers asked participants of both genders to perform tasks under two different reward schemes. In the first reward scheme, participants received cash, a standard incentive in psychology experiments. In the second reward scheme, participants received a scholastic bookstore voucher worth the same value. This voucher was a proxy for children’s benefit.

This study was conducted in China, and all participants were parents of school-aged students. The authors think that Chinese culture’s heavy emphasis on education makes it more likely that the participants would see a “scholastic bookstore voucher” as something that would benefit their child. This expectation was confirmed via interviews with local teachers and parents, who agreed that Chinese participants would likely use a scholastic bookstore voucher to buy educational books for their children.

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Blizzard agrees to meet with team behind shut-down “pirate server”

5/2/2016 11:52am

The Blizzard campus that will soon host the team behind the "pirate server" Nostalrius. (credit: Blizzard)

The administrators behind the recently shut-down Nostalrius server—which ran a popular "vanilla" version of World of Warcraft as the game existed before its many expansions—are currently "scheduling a meeting at Blizzard campus" to discuss the status of what some call "legacy servers" but what Blizzard and others often refer to as "pirate servers."

In a post to the Nostalrius forums late Sunday night, the administrators seemed optimistic about serving as spokespeople for a group of players interested in preserving a playable history of the popular MMO— a group that has now grown to include over 250,000 signatories to an online petition.

"We are very excited to be able to help Blizzard understand the part of their community asking for legacy servers and many other related topics, in the hope that they will eventually make it possible to legally play previous game expansions," the team wrote. "After the answer from Blizzard and the amazing support we received, we feel we are now not only the admins of a private server: We are also the ambassadors of a larger movement for the entire World of Warcraft community that wants to see game history restored. It is a major responsibility. Our top priority and only focus now is to fulfill the needs of this community, by carrying your voice to Blizzard directly."

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Worlds that could support life are found practically in the Sun’s backyard

5/2/2016 11:20am

Astronomers have found three Earth-size worlds around a cool star just 40 light-years from the Sun. (credit: ESO/M. Kornmesser)

The star is only about the size of Jupiter and much colder and redder than the Sun. Its luminosity is far less than 1 percent that of our star—so faint that, although the "ultracool" dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1 lies less than 40 light-years from Earth, it can only be seen via relatively powerful telescopes.

Yet it is a star worth looking for. Astronomers using a 60cm telescope designed especially to study such stars, and any planets around them, have found this system to contain some of the most habitable exoplanets discovered to date. As European astronomers looked at TRAPPIST-1 from September through December of last year, they discovered slight, periodic dimming that indicates the presence of three worlds which are close to or inside the system's habitable zone. All have radii of between 1.05 and 1.17 that of Earth's radius.

According to the observations published Monday in the journal Nature, the two inner planets orbit the star every 1.51 days and 2.42 days. The innermost planet, TRAPPIST-1b, likely receives about four times the solar radiation from its star than does Earth, and astronomers estimate its surface temperature is probably closer to the higher end of a range between 11 degrees and 127 degrees Celsius. The next planet, TRAPPIST-1c, receives a little more than two times the solar radiation as does Earth and has a surface temperature likely between -30 degrees and 69 degrees Celsius. The researchers speculate these worlds are likely tidally locked and, therefore, even if they have extreme average temperatures, they may have habitable regions along the terminator or poles.

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LG Innotek moves fingerprint sensor from home button to bezel

5/2/2016 11:08am

LG's new fingerprint module integrated into smartphone display glass. (credit: LG Innnotek)

LG Innotek, LG's components subsidiary, has announced a new fingerprint reader component that can be integrated into the bezel area of a smartphone's display glass.

The latest round of phones have all shipped with fingerprint readers, but the design limitations imposed by the sensor component left most phones with similar design. Other than the 2015 Nexus phones, LG G5, and the Nextbit Robin, the latest phones all used a fingerprint sensor that is integrated into the front home button.

For this new design, LG cuts a small groove into the underside of the display glass and installs the fingerprint reader there. The result is a fingerprint reader that LG Innotek says "is not exposed to [the] outside of the device," making it invisible. In fact, LG Innotek recommends indicating the location of reader on the bezel of the phone so users can tell where it is.

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Disney and Fox may offer digital TV bundle through Hulu for $40 per month

5/2/2016 10:07am

(credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Another online TV bundle could be hitting the market as soon as next year, and this one may have big TV networks behind it. According to The Wall Street Journal, Disney and 20th Century Fox are close to making a deal with Hulu to license channels and content for a new digital TV service that could be available in early 2017.

Disney and Fox are co-owners of Hulu, so it makes sense that they would partner up with the online streaming platform over the likes of Amazon or Netflix. The unnamed service would stream live TV from popular channels including ABC, ESPN, Fox, and the Disney Channel, as well as archived content from the networks involved. While the Comcast-owned NBCUniversal is also a co-owner of Hulu, it has not agreed to license any network content to the new service.

Reports also suggest that the service may include a "cloud-based digital video recorder" for watching previously aired shows on demand. While no price information has been given, the service is expected to run about $40 per month to compete with similar TV bundles from companies like Dish's Sling TV ($20 per month) and Sony's Playstation Vue (starting at $30 per month).

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BMW boosts i3 battery capacity by 50 percent—and it’s retrofitable

5/2/2016 9:05am

(credit: BMW)

When we reviewed the BMW i3 back in 2014, the little rear-wheel drive city car left us quite impressed. However, the i3 has always had a couple of flaws in comparison with other electric vehicles out there; it costs too much and the range isn't very good, even if you go for the optional two-cylinder range-extending engine. It appears BMW has decided to address the latter issue, because from this summer the i3 will now come with a 33kWh battery in place of the current 22kWh unit.

Battery technology—and the amount of kilowatt-hours a dollar buys—keeps getting better each year. Certainly it improves measurably over the lifespan of a car, and the fact that BMW has seen this and bumped the battery spec for the i3 is a promising sign for the industry. That probably sounds like we're damning with faint praise, but technology now moves too rapidly for OEMs to stick their old cycles of refreshing cars every four years. If BMW wants to sell any i3s once the Chevy Bolt and Tesla Model 3 start shipping, a range boost is the bare minimum it needs to do.

The new battery is 50 percent bigger, so more than 100 miles (160km) should be possible on a full charge. The gas tank for the range extender engine will also grow by 25 percent; expect to stop for gas every 75 miles if you try road-tripping. These range tweaks should help boost the i3's appeal, but before long the Bolt and Model 3 are going to make people expect 200+ miles from their EV as a bare minimum.

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Italy orders Facebook to hand over fake user account data to its alleged victim

5/1/2016 8:34pm

(credit: Google Maps)

The Italian data protection authority has ordered Facebook to provide an Italian user with all of their data, including the personal information, photos, and posts of a separate fake account set up in that person's name by somebody else.

In addition, the US social network must provide details of how the personal data was used, including whom it was sent to or who might have obtained knowledge about it.

Facebook refused to comment on the Italian order, instead sending us a standard boilerplate response.

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If Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer gets ousted, she’ll get $55M to cushion the fall

5/1/2016 7:41pm

Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer at World Economic Forum in 2014. (credit: Jason Alden/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

There's been little light for Yahoo in the time Marissa Mayer has been at its helm. The company is trapped in a spiral of declining revenues, and in February it said that its core assets are up for sale.

On Friday, the company disclosed the packages that will be available to key executives if they are ousted in the event of a sale. Mayer will be paid $54.8 million in cash and stock if she's removed from her job within a year of a sale.

Yahoo has no deadline for reaching a decision on a sale, but The Associated Press reported Friday that analysts "expect a deal to be struck within the next two months at a price ranging anywhere from $4 billion to $10 billion."

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