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The Art of Technology
Updated: 2 hours 2 min ago

Bug can cause deadly failures when anesthesia device is connected to cell phones

4/22/2014 4:33pm
Spacelabs Healthcare Ltd.

Federal safety officials have issued an urgent warning about software defects in an anesthesia delivery system that can cause life-threatening failures at unexpected times, including when a cellphone or other device is plugged into one of its USB ports.

The ARKON anesthesia delivery system is used in hospitals to deliver oxygen, anesthetic vapor, and nitrous oxide to patients during surgical procedures. It is manufactured by UK-based Spacelabs Healthcare Ltd., which issued a recall in March. A bug in Version 2.0 of the software running on the device is so serious that it could cause severe injury or death, the US Food and Drug Administration warned last week in what's known as a Class I recall. In part, the FDA advisory read:

Reason for Recall: Spacelabs Healthcare is recalling the ARKON Anesthesia System with Version 2.0 Software due to a software defect. This software issue may cause the System to stop working and require manual ventilation of patients. In addition, if a cell phone or other USB device is plugged into one of the four USB ports for charging, this may also cause the System to stop working.

This defect may cause serious adverse health consequences, including hypoxemia and death. Spacelabs Healthcare received one report related to the software defect. There has been no injuries or deaths associated with this malfunction.

At least 16 vulnerable units were in place at hospitals in North Carolina and South Carolina, according to the Class I advisory, the most serious type of recall notice issued by the FDA.

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Atari landfill in New Mexico to be dug up on Saturday; Ars will be on scene

4/22/2014 4:20pm
Xbox Entertainment Studios

The site in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where Atari is rumored to have buried some 3.5 million copies of the video game cartridge E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial is set to be dug up this Saturday.

Never wanting to miss an excavation, we've packed our bags, cashed in our frequent flyer miles, and booked our budget motel room to be on the scene when whatever is down there is dredged up—be it hunks of plastic housing and cartridge chips or distilled evil sent to us by a superior alien race and hidden by the ghost warriors employed by Atari, which was really a front for a supernatural crime-fighting ring all along.

Fuel Entertainment Studios secured the rights to dig up the landfill with the help of local garbage contractor Joe Lewandowski, who told a TV news station that he witnessed the Atari dump in question back in 1983. Fuel then asked Microsoft's Xbox Entertainment Studios to help it make a documentary on Atari, which will be directed by Simon Chinn and produced by Jonathan Chinn.

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“Russian Facebook” founder flees country after being forced out as CEO

4/22/2014 3:58pm
Pavel Durov, founder and former CEO of Vkontakte. Pavel Durov/VK

Pavel Durov, the founder of Vkontakte (VK)—the largest social network in Russia—said on Tuesday that he fled the country one day after being forced out of the company, claiming that he felt threatened by Kremlin officials.

In a post on his profile page on Monday, Durov explained that he was fired from his position as CEO of VK and that the so-called “Russian Facebook” is now “under the complete control” of two oligarchs close to President Vladimir Putin.

Durov explained that after seven years of relative social media freedom in Russia, his refusal to share user data with Russian law enforcement has set him at odds with the Kremlin, which has recently been trying to tighten its grip on the Internet, according to The Moscow Times.

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Publishing stings find predatory journals, shoddy peer review

4/22/2014 3:40pm
With the rise of digital publishing, running a fake journal for profit has become a viable business model. State of Washington

Peer-reviewed scientific papers are the gold standard for research. Although the review system has its limitations, it ostensibly ensures that some qualified individuals have looked over the science of the paper and found that it's solid. But lately there have been a number of cases that raise questions about just how reliable at least some of that research is.

The first issue was highlighted by a couple of sting operations performed by Science magazine and the Ottawa Citizen. In both cases, a staff writer made up some obviously incoherent research. In the Citizen's example, the writer randomly merged plagiarized material from previously published papers in geology and hematology. The sting paper's graphs came out of a separate paper on Mars, while its references came from one on wine chemistry. Neither the named author nor the institution he ostensibly worked at existed.

Yet in less than 24 hours, offers started coming in to publish the paper, some for as little as $500. Others offered to expedite publishing (at a speed that could not possibly allow for any peer review) for additional costs. The journals in this case are scams. Without the expense of real editors and peer review, they charge the authors fees and spend only a pittance to format the paper and drop it on a website. The problem is that it can be difficult to tell these journals from the real things.

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Ars looks back at 25 years of puke-green Game Boy memories

4/22/2014 3:30pm
Now you're playing with power... portable power! Andrew Cunningham

Portable video gaming wasn't actually a new thing in 1989. Simple, single-game handheld electronic amusements, including Nintendo's own Game and Watch line, had been around since the mid-'70s, and the cartridge-based Milton Bradley Microvision actually beat Nintendo to market by a full decade. But they all became a historical footnote 25 years ago this week on April 21, 1989, when Nintendo released the original Game Boy in Japan.

A generation of tech-heads tapping away at their smartphone screens can probably be traced back to that first day when people were able to glance down at the four-color grayscale, 160×144 screen while on the go. The Game Boy had its competitors, some of which were much more technically capable, but a combination of better battery life, a cheaper price, and exclusive rights to mega-hit Tetris meant the Game Boy outlasted them all, to the tune of over 118 million units sold before the system was discontinued in 2003 (and that's not including the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance lines the original inspired).

In honor of this auspicious moment in the history of portable electronics, we decided to take a quick look back at our own memories of the original Game Boy.

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Google puts the Nest Learning Thermostat on the Play Store

4/22/2014 2:40pm
Google Play

We haven't seen Google do much with Nest since buying the company for $3.2 billion back in January. Nest makes a connected thermostat and smoke detector, and it's a good bet that Google is rolling the company into its smart home division. Today we finally see the first public Google/Nest crossover: the Nest Learning Thermostat is now available through the Google Play Store.

Nest has been selling the device directly for some time, but now the thermostat is in Google's primary store next to smartphones, tablets, Chromebooks, and the Chromecast. The device is the same second-generation version that has been on sale since 2012, and it's still at the normal price of $249. Nest's other product, the Nest Protect, isn't yet up on the Play Store. Sales of the smart smoke detector have been halted due to problems with the "Nest Wave" alarm deactivation feature.

Nest is even running a promotion for Earth Day. For every Nest device sold today on Google Play, the company will plant a tree.

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Rolling in it: Comcast profited $1.9 billion in first 3 months of 2014

4/22/2014 2:30pm
Alyson Hurt

Earlier this month, Comcast told the Federal Communications Commission that it needs the green light to purchase Time Warner Cable as a way to stay competitive with Google, Netflix, and others.

Nevertheless, in its latest quarterly earnings report published on Tuesday, Comcast reported that it made $1.9 billion in profits in the first quarter of 2014—an 18 percent increase year-over-year.

“Our operating momentum is continuing as we enter 2014 and is highlighted by our second consecutive quarter of video customer growth, as well as strength in high-speed Internet and business services,” Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts said in a statement.

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Earth Day Dealmaster helps you save some green by being green

4/22/2014 2:06pm

Greetings, Arsians! Our partners at LogicBuy have some appropriately themed deals for you today. Today's top deal is a Revolve xeMilo solar USB phone charger with an integrated 4400 mAh battery, which will allow you to charge your phone with the power of the sun! Happy Earth Day!


Desktops and laptops

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Apple releases iOS 7.1.1 with further Touch ID, keyboard improvements

4/22/2014 1:51pm

Apple has just posted iOS 7.1.1, the first minor update to iOS 7.1 following its release in March. As usual with these small updates, it fixes just a few minor problems—there are further improvements to the Touch ID fingerprint recognition in the iPhone 5S. It "fixes a bug that could impact keyboard responsiveness" and another bug affecting Bluetooth keyboard usage while the VoiceOver feature is enabled.

The Touch ID fingerprint sensor was also a focus area for iOS 7.1.1; the update aims to address complaints that the sensor was inaccurate or that it "faded" over time. Current rumors suggest that Apple would like to include the feature in iPads and other products in the future, which only makes sense—features like Siri likewise showed up in the iPhone first and then propagated to other iOS devices later.

iOS 7.1.1 applies to every device supported by iOS 7.1: the iPhone 4, 4S, 5, 5C, and 5S; the iPad 2, both Retina iPads, both iPad minis, and the iPad Air; and the fifth-generation iPod touch.

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Netflix still sucks on AT&T, and now AT&T plans to offer Netflix clone

4/22/2014 1:25pm

AT&T and an investment group run by former Fox President Peter Chernin announced today that they have created a $500 million venture "to acquire, invest in and launch over-the-top (OTT) video services." This venture "creates the opportunity for us to develop a compelling offering in the OTT space," AT&T Chief Strategy Officer John Stankey said in the announcement.

OTT services provide video programming over an Internet connection, one that may come across the same wires as a separate cable TV service. AT&T hasn't been a fan of OTT provider Netflix. It's still haggling with the company over how much money the video service should pay for a direct connection to the TV and Internet provider's network. Netflix was able to strike a deal with Comcast, improving video quality for Comcast subscribers; Netflix quality on AT&T has remained substandard.

AT&T's new venture is with the Chernin Group, which Peter Chernin founded in 2009. "This alliance positions AT&T and The Chernin Group to take advantage of the rapid growth of online video and OTT video services, with each party bringing significant and complementary strengths. The strategic goal of this initiative will be to invest in advertising and subscription VOD channels as well as streaming services," the companies said.

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Powdered alcohol builds on ’60s science, portability, and reckless youth

4/22/2014 1:15pm
One of the labels that was approved, and then rejected, by the US Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. Palcohol

A new alcohol powder is set to be released in the US come fall. Branded "Palcohol," the powder is designed to be added to water by the ounce, resulting in mixed drinks like margaritas and kamikazes, or straight vodka.

News of the brand first started circulating on Monday, when outlets discovered Palcohol's site, following its label approval by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau. The labels were intended for 100-ml packets of powder that were 44-51 percent alcohol by weight (56-65 percent by volume); they instructed would-be imbibers to "just add water." Palcohol is meant to be more portable than alcohol's usual forms, which often involve a lot of glass or aluminum and water.

Palcohol will purportedly come in six versions: two straight spirits (vodka and Puerto Rican rum) and four cocktails (cosmopolitan, mojito, lemon drop, and "powderita"). To the inevitable question of "can you snort it?" Palcohol answers "don't do it! It is not a responsible or smart way to use the product," as if that has ever stopped anyone who snorts things from snorting anything.

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LG claims its Android Wear smartwatch has an “always-on” display

4/22/2014 12:50pm
What? Really? How? LG

LG has launched a teaser site for the G Watch, the company's Android Wear smartwatch. The site is almost a copy of the Moto360 site, but it offers a few extra details about LG's implementation that we hadn't heard before. The most eyebrow-raising of those is the shot above, which claims the display is "always-on" and shows a picture of the normal UI.

Other rumors have pegged the Moto 360 as having an OLED always-on screen, which we had imagined would be a mostly black mode with a simple display of the time. Black pixels on an OLED display use little to no power, so it's theoretically possible to have an all-day time display and decent battery life, as long as it's mostly black. LG's site is suggesting that the normal, full-color, mostly white Android Wear interface is on all the time, which is hard to imagine working without a huge battery drain.

We don't actually know what screen technology the G Watch uses. The last always-on smartwatch we played with was the Qualcomm Toq, which managed to not die after two hours, thanks to a Mirasol display. Mirasol can be thought of as a "color e-ink" display—changing the screen image takes power, but ongoing display does not. While Mirasol could certainly give the G Watch an always-on display with all-day battery life, the downside is that it's likely to look terrible, as the Toq's display did.

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Next-gen Thunderbolt doubles speeds but changes the connector

4/22/2014 12:16pm
The leaked slide that purports to out the next-generation Thunderbolt controller. VR-Zone

Thunderbolt 2 just started showing up in devices late last year, but a new slide leaked by VR-Zone is giving us our first glimpse at what the next version is going to look like. Dubbed "Alpine Ridge," the new Thunderbolt controllers will double Thunderbolt 2's bandwidth from 20Gbps to 40Gbps, will reportedly support PCI Express 3.0, and will reduce power usage by 50 percent compared to current controllers. The downside is that the new version will require the use of a new connector—it supports charging for devices that use up to 100W of power and it's 3 mm shorter than current connectors, but adapters will be required to maintain compatibility with older Thunderbolt accessories.

Doubling the available bandwidth will enable next-generation Thunderbolt controllers to drive two 4K displays simultaneously, where current controllers can only drive one. The new controllers will allegedly be compatible with a variety of other protocols as well, including DisplayPort 1.2, USB 3.0, and HDMI 2.0. Intel will offer two different versions of the controller—a version that uses four PCI Express lanes to drive two Thunderbolt ports and an "LP" (presumably "Low Power") version that uses two PCI Express lanes to drive one port. This is consistent with the current controllers. High-end devices like the Mac Pro and Retina MacBook Pro use two-port controllers, while lower-end, lower-power devices like the Mac Mini and MacBook Air use the one-port version.

Thunderbolt 2 gave the specification a performance boost but didn't change all that much about the protocol. It combined the original Thunderbolt's 10Gbps channels to allow for higher maximum speeds, but it didn't increase the total amount of bandwidth available or introduce any new protocols. The upside is that it maintained full compatibility with all of the original Thunderbolt cables and accessories, something that this next-generation Thunderbolt controller won't be able to do without adapters (though to be fair, USB 3.1 and the new Type-C USB connector have the same problem).

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OpenSSL code beyond repair, claims creator of “LibreSSL” fork

4/22/2014 12:00pm
Peter Miller

OpenBSD founder Theo de Raadt has created a fork of OpenSSL, the widely used open source cryptographic software library that contained the notorious Heartbleed security vulnerability.

OpenSSL has suffered from a lack of funding and code contributions despite being used in websites and products by many of the world's biggest and richest corporations.The decision to fork OpenSSL is bound to be controversial given that OpenSSL powers hundreds of thousands of Web servers. When asked why he wanted to start over instead of helping to make OpenSSL better, de Raadt said the existing code is too much of a mess.

"Our group removed half of the OpenSSL source tree in a week. It was discarded leftovers," de Raadt told Ars in an e-mail. "The Open Source model depends [on] people being able to read the code. It depends on clarity. That is not a clear code base, because their community does not appear to care about clarity. Obviously, when such cruft builds up, there is a cultural gap. I did not make this decision... in our larger development group, it made itself."

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BioWare announces October 7 release date for Dragon Age: Inquisition

4/22/2014 10:41am

At this point, we're already well past the original promise of a "late 2013" release for BioWare's Dragon Age: Inquisition, a game that that developers initially planned would heavily "draw from Skyrim." Mark your calendars, though, because BioWare has revealed via a new trailer that the game is now due for PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, and PlayStation 4 on October 7, 2014.

We got our first look at Inquisition at the Penny Arcade Expo last fall in a hands-off demo that showed off a new combat system and more meaningful storyline consequences to player actions. The developers seem keen to avoid the narrower story focus that led to a relatively poor reception for Dragon Age II and return to the more expansive world-building of the original game.

The new trailer doesn't focus explicitly on these elements, though, instead showing off some impressive, Frostbite 3-powered glowing magical effects amid appropriately overwrought storyline exposition. Internet sleuths are already parsing the trailer's imagery for clues about which characters will be returning this time around.

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Lytro’s new Snapdragon-powered “light field” camera coming in July

4/22/2014 10:21am

We last looked at Lytro's funny little tube camera a couple of years ago when we sat down with one of the devices during a crowded PR event at 2012's CES. The camera's light field capture technology uses a high-megapixel CMOS sensor to record a large amount of "extra" data points over a standard camera CMOS sensor. Rather than using the extra data to pump up the scene's resolution, the camera instead tries to capture a holistic representation of the rays of light it sees. This, coupled with some software magic, allows Lytro cameras to set or alter a picture's focus point after the picture has been taken.

Although Lytro's initial product was small and relatively low-resolution, this July the company will be releasing an updated and vastly improved model: the Lytro Illum. Engadget has posted a lengthy hands-on with the Illum, which sports a sleek exterior that begs to be touched:

The Lytro Illum. Lytro

The Illum is powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 801, and the SoC's processing power is used to drive a high-resolution sensor that captures about 3.6x the number of light rays that the Illum's predecessor could capture (40 "megarays," versus 11 for the first-generation Lytro). The Illum can not only change an image's focus point after capture, but it can also alter an image's depth of field, making the focus plane shallower or broader to change exactly how much of the image is in focus.

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Using bugs—aphids, specifically—to spy on plants’ electrical communications

4/22/2014 10:15am
I’m catching some signals, fellow aphid. Are you? benimoto

Internal communications in plants share striking similarities with those in animals, new research reveals. With the help of tiny insects, scientists were able to tap into this communication system. Their results reveal the importance of these communications in enabling plants to protect themselves from attack by insect pests.

Like any organism, plants need to transport essential nutrients from one part to another. This is achieved by two parts of the plant: the xylem and the phloem. Xylem, which is largely made of dead cells, transports water and dissolved nutrients obtained by roots up to the aerial tissues of the plants. By contrast, the phloem is made up of living cells—active tubes that transport a syrupy sap, rich in sugars made by photosynthesis in the leaves.

In the 1980s, scientists discovered that phloem cells also function as a communication system through which electrical signals travel, similar to the electrical signals transmitted through the neurons in your nervous system.

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Digging for answers: The “strong smell” of fraud from one Bitcoin miner maker

4/22/2014 12:00am
Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

For many crypto-minded libertarians, Bitcoin is the future of money. But that dream hasn't been helped much by the numerous high-profile legal cases involving the currency in recent years: The Bitcoin Savings and Trust hedge fund collapsed; uncertainty fueled the implosion of Mt. Gox, the currency's largest exchange; and the high-profile Silk Road takedown is a treacherous story combining Bitcoin, drugs, and alleged murders.

For now, though, one company sits above all others when it comes to cultivating a new level of direct customer mistrust in the Bitcoin community: Butterfly Labs.

For the past year, the Kansas-based Bitcoin miner maker has been embroiled in numerous accusations of fraud. Customer orders, totaling millions of dollars, were significantly delayed or never fulfilled. Through it all, the company insisted that mere manufacturing delays were to blame. However, suspicion never died down. In fact, it's getting worse after it came to light that Butterfly Labs' largest shareholder—a man who is a company co-founder, current "Innovation Officer," and member of the board of directors—pled guilty in 2010 to one count of mail fraud (PDF) for his involvement in an international, multi-million dollar lottery scam.

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Active malware campaign steals Apple passwords from jailbroken iPhones

4/21/2014 10:05pm

Security researchers have uncovered an active malware campaign in the wild that steals the Apple ID credentials from jailbroken iPhones and iPads.

News of the malware dubbed "unflod," based on the name of a library that's installed on infected devices, first surfaced late last week on a pair of reddit threads here and here. In the posts, readers reported their jailbroken iOS devices recently started experiencing repeated crashes, often after installing jailbroken-specific customizations known as tweaks that were not a part of the official Cydia market, which acts as an alternative to Apple's App Store.

Since then, security researcher Stefan Esser has performed what's called a static analysis on the binary code that the reddit users isolated on compromised devices. In a blog post reporting the results, he said unflod hooks into the SSLWrite function of an infected device's security framework. It then scans it for strings accompanying the Apple ID and password that's transmitted to Apple servers. When the credentials are found, they're transmitted to attacker-controlled servers.

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Apple reportedly hopes to replace your credit card with your iPhone

4/21/2014 7:20pm
Google Wallet for iOS. Apple may be developing a mobile payments system of its own. Google

Apple is "very, very serious" about hiring new executives to head up a new mobile payments system, according to a report from Re/code earlier today. The company is looking to fill two new positions to lead the charge—one for a head of product and one for a head of business development. CEO Tim Cook has previously indicated Apple's interest in mobile payments, lending some weight to the rumors.

“We’re seeing that people love being able to buy content, whether it’s music or movies or books, from their iPhone, using Touch ID,” said Cook in the company's first quarter earnings call. “The mobile payments area in general is one that we’ve been intrigued with, and that was one of the thoughts behind the Touch ID. But we’re not limiting ourselves just to that.”

Apple has also reportedly been in talks with PayPal about a mobile payments system, though neither company would comment on specifics.

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