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The Art of Technology
Updated: 2 hours 22 min ago

Napster founder’s new startup: Voter engagement

4/14/2014 11:58am
Sean Parker suits up to fix our broken political system. Photo by Suman Park

The billionaire cofounder of Napster and former president of Facebook, Sean Parker, has teamed up with Silicon Valley angel investor Ron Conway and CEO Marc Benioff to build a new startup company aimed at boosting voter engagement in the US, according to Politico.

The company, Brigade, is intended to help Americans engage with the political process on all levels of government and mend what Brigade’s founders see as our broken political system.

Parker, who will be the company’s chairman and CEO, will initially contribute more than $9 million to the project.

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IRS another Windows XP laggard, will pay Microsoft for patches

4/14/2014 11:48am

The support deadline for Windows XP has come and gone, and to no one's surprise, there are still many organizations using the obsolete platform. The British and Dutch governments are paying Microsoft for extended support, and joining them is the Internal Revenue Service.

The House Financial Services and General Government subcommittee heard last week that the agency's Windows XP to Windows 7 migration was still ongoing, with about 58,000 machines (of a total of 110,000) still on the unsupported operating system. The agency is trying to find $30 million to finish the upgrade.

Until the replacement is complete, the agency is paying Microsoft for its expensive extended support, but there are quibbles over how much is being paid. Computerworld initially calculated that it would be around $11 million, a little more than the $9.2 million that the British government is paying. The IRS, however, says that the sum is much lower—less than $500,000, with the exact figure to be published at some later date.

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Aftermarket CarPlay console coming this fall, costs between $500 and $700

4/14/2014 11:38am
Soon, you'll be able to use Apple's CarPlay without buying a whole new car. Apple

So far, consoles compatible with Apple's CarPlay feature have only been integrated into a handful of high-end cars. If you want to use the feature without buying an entirely new vehicle, Alpine Electronics will soon be able to hook you up—Nikkei reports that the company will begin selling a standalone CarPlay console in the US and Europe this fall. The console is "likely" to have a 7-inch display and will reportedly cost between $500 and $700.

Alpine already sells a lineup of entertainment and navigation systems, and it's possible that this new CarPlay-compatible version will offer similar features when there's no iPhone connected to it. Current CarPlay-compatible vehicles offer the CarPlay interface when an iPhone is connected, but it's available as an alternative to the automakers' own software solutions rather than a complete replacement.

CarPlay was first demonstrated as "iOS in the Car" at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference last year and was officially released earlier this year as part of the iOS 7.1 update. It provides access to Apple Maps' turn-by-turn navigation features, your music and podcasts, and a handful of third-party streaming services approved by Apple; as of this writing, there's no public API that developers can use to support the feature independently. CarPlay requires a compatible in-dash display and an iPhone 5, 5C, or 5S connected via a Lightning cable. Rumors of a wireless version of CarPlay persist, but it's not clear whether these first CarPlay-compatible displays will be able to operate wirelessly when (and if) that capability arrives.

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Heartbleed bug exploited to steal taxpayer data

4/14/2014 11:32am

Underscoring the severity of the Heartbleed bug affecting huge swaths of the Internet, hackers exploited the vulnerability to steal taxpayer data for at least 900 Canadian citizens and an unknown number of businesses, officials in that country warned Monday morning.

Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) officials said they removed public access to online tax services last Tuesday, a day after the catastrophic defect in the widely used OpenSSL cryptography library surfaced. But by then it was too late. Hackers casing online CRA services were nonetheless able to exploit the OpenSSL flaw, which makes it possible to pluck private encryption keys, passwords, and other sundry sensitive data out of the private computer memory of servers running vulnerable versions of the open-source library.

"Regrettably, the CRA has been notified by the Government of Canada's lead security agencies of a malicious breach of taxpayer data that occurred over a six-hour period," Canadian officials disclosed in a blog post published Monday morning. "Based on our analysis to date, Social Insurance Numbers (SIN) of approximately 900 taxpayers were removed from CRA systems by someone exploiting the Heartbleed vulnerability. We are currently going through the painstaking process of analyzing other fragments of data, some that may relate to businesses, that were also removed."

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Flowing salt water over graphene generates electricity

4/14/2014 10:00am
An image of graphene, showing defects in its single-atom thickness. UC Berkeley

Hydroelectricity is one of the oldest techniques for generating electrical power, with over 150 countries using it as a source for renewable energy. Hydroelectric generators only work efficiently at large scales, though—scales large enough to interrupt river flow and possibly harm local ecosystems. And getting this sort of generation down to where it can power small devices isn't realistic.

In recent years, scientists have investigated generating electrical power using nano-structures. In particular, they have looked at generating electricity when ionic fluids—a liquid with charged ions in it—are pushed through a system with a pressure gradient. However, the ability to harvest the generated electricity has been limited because it requires a pressure gradient to drive ionic fluid through a small tube. But scientists have now found that dragging small droplets of salt water on strips of graphene generates electricity without the need for pressure gradients.

In their study, published in Nature Nanotechnology, researchers from China grew a layer of graphene and placed a droplet of salt water on it. They then dragged the droplet across the graphene layer at different velocities and found that the process generated a small voltage difference.

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Windows Phone 8.1 review: A magnificent smartphone platform

4/14/2014 8:00am

For the growing number of Windows Phone users, Windows Phone 8 was a frustrating release. The major difference between Windows Phone 7.5 and Windows Phone 8 was invisible to end users: merely a kernel swap, going from Windows CE to Windows NT.

Strategically, this was tremendously important for Microsoft. The company is on a trajectory to have a common operating system core across phones, tablets, desktops, and TVs (with the Xbox One console), enabling developers to have substantially the same code running across all these different systems.

But being strategically important doesn't really matter a whole lot to end users. As we noted at the time, Windows Phone 8 was a solid and usable smartphone platform, but it lacked any big headline features. It made lots of things a bit better, but didn't do anything to really convince people to give the platform a second look.

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The look of gaming culture: Day 3 of Pax East 2014 in photos and video

4/13/2014 10:54pm

Of all the gaming conferences I go to in a year, PAX and PAX East are probably the least valuable from a pure news perspective. This year's show saw the announcement of a new Civilization game set in space and the launch of another new PAX in San Antonio, but the show isn't really about breaking news. Instead, it's a chance to hang out with tens of thousands of other people who want to do nothing more with their long weekend than play games, talk about games, and generally celebrate the culture that has grown around everything gaming (and maybe buy some overpriced souvenirs, too).

It's hard to capture what the experience is like in words, but we hope this video and final gallery of show floor photos help convey what a great time we had at this year's show. Also be sure to check out our other photo galleries from Day 1 and Day 2 of the show.

(video link)

Poor Flounder. Ariel just couldn't let him go when she started living on land, but she didn't quite understand the concept of a fishbowl.

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The physics of water drops and lift-off

4/13/2014 7:10pm
City of Raleigh NC

The flow of fluids is one of the most complex, beautiful, and amazing things in physics. Slow motion pictures of drops landing on water or of two fluids mixing can be simply gorgeous. Even more amazing, the basic physics of fluid flow was worked out way back in the 19th century. Those equations, though, hold riches that are still being uncovered today.

Some of the most spectacular work in recent years has involved uncovering what happens as a drop of fluid hits a surface. And one particularly stubborn aspect—why do you get lift-off (a precursor to a splash) near the end of the impact?—has revealed itself after a barrage of high-speed camera images.

To splash or not to splash?

At first, the impact of a slow-speed droplet on a surface seemed very difficult to understand. Eventually, it was decided that the momentum of the droplet competes with its surface tension. Essentially, the momentum tries to force the drop to spread out at a speed governed by the mass of fluid and the speed at which the drop impacts. But surface tension tries to pull the droplet back together, resisting the spreading motion. Hence, a droplet rapidly expands to some radius where the forces balance. Note that viscosity—how resistant a fluid is to flow—is seemingly unimportant.

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When the restaurant you Googled Googles you back

4/13/2014 5:11pm
A tabletop at Eleven Madison Park, a restaurant that goes above and beyond online for its customers. Yelp

A restaurant with three Michelin stars is now trying to up its customer service game by Googling its customers before they arrive. According to a report from Grub Street, an Eleven Madison Park maitre d' performs Internet recon on every guest in the interest of customizing their experiences.

The maitre d' in question, Justin Roller, says he tries to ascertain things like whether a couple is coming to the restaurant for an anniversary, and if so, which anniversary that is. If it's a birthday, for instance, he wants to wish them "Happy Birthday" when they arrive. He'll scan for photos of the guests in chef's whites or posed with wine glasses, which suggest they might be chefs or sommeliers themselves.

It goes deeper: if a particular guest appears to hail from Montana, Roller will try to pair up the table with a server who is from Montana. "Same goes for guests who own jazz clubs, who can be paired with a sommelier that happens to be into jazz," writes Grub Street.

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The sweet rigs and gear of the National Association of Broadcasters conference

4/13/2014 4:15pm

LAS VEGAS—This week at the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) conference, Ars had a chance to hear what broadcasters are saying about the future of their industry, to check out the latest high-end wireless camera addition from Red Digital Cinema, and to listen to Tom Wheeler speak about the importance of broadband in the FCC's plans for the future.

We also hit the show floor, which was filled with hundreds of booths showing off vendors' professional products and services. We already took a look at the high-end consumer video recording tools that are hitting the market this year, but there was plenty more visually striking things to see at NAB. Here are a few favorites, from stuff you could go out and buy tomorrow to rigs that are worth more than your car (probably).

This is called the Padcaster. It's an aluminium frame that holds an iPad into place so you can film with it.

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How to mitigate tracking risks: wrap your phone in tinfoil, quit Google

4/13/2014 3:20pm
Cover photo Julia Angwin

WASHINGTON, DC—When author Julia Angwin has to post a photo of herself online, she now prefers to use a stencil image of her face in order to avoid detection by facial recognition software. Welcome to her paranoid world of trying to frustrate increasingly sophisticated snoops.

In conducting research for her impressive new book, Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy Security and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance, the investigative reporter delved deep into the current state of ubiquitous online surveillance and data mining by corporate and government actors. Speaking at the New America Foundation in the nation's capitol on Wednesday afternoon, Angwin described how, in the year leading up to the book’s publication, she decided to internalize the focus of her inquiry. She used her own attempts to “reclaim her privacy” as a case study for the challenges in eluding the digital dragnets.

As any number of articles from the last year may indicate, privacy in a post-Snowden culture is extremely difficult to attain. Angwin’s book describes the current dragnets as “indiscriminate” and “vast in scope,” explaining that the East German secret police, known as the Stasi—described by some as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies to ever have existed—would have been in awe of the National Security Agency’s current capabilities. "The Stasi managed to generate fear with a fraction of the tools we currently have,” she explained in her talk.

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Glow-in-the-dark roads make debut in Netherlands

4/13/2014 2:20pm
Studio Roosegaarde

This story originally appeared in Wired UK. You can see the full gallery here.

Light-absorbing glow-in-the-dark road markings have replaced streetlights on a 500m (0.3 mile) stretch of highway in the Netherlands.

Studio Roosegaarde promised the design back in 2012, and after cutting through rather a lot of government red tape we can finally see the finished product.

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Reporter: “I was assaulted for wearing Google Glass” in San Francisco

4/13/2014 12:26pm
Ted Eytan

In the aftermath of Friday’s protest in front of the San Francisco home of a Google lawyer, a reporter says that he was assaulted for wearing Google Glass in the city's Mission District.

Kyle Russell, of Business Insider, said that his Glass was torn from his face as he was walking to a local BART (subway) station after filing his story on the protest.

As Russell described the incident:

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Chloroplasts, the plant powerhouses, send signals to roots

4/13/2014 12:20pm

For more than a billion years, plants have had an internal dialogue, and we are just beginning to learn the words. The unusual conversation occurs between two compartments within plant cells—the nucleus and the chloroplast. It is a dialogue that continues today, and, according to research just published in Science, it shapes the productivity of plants.

All living organisms are made of cells. These cells contain many compartments, a bit like organs in an animal body. Each plant cell contains many chloroplasts, which are responsible for producing energy. A billion years ago, the ancestors of chloroplasts existed as free-living individual cells, able to convert energy from light into sugar. But in a spectacular evolutionary event, these early chloroplasts were consumed by larger cells, where they eventually took up residence, supplying the larger cells with sugar. The legacy of that merger is evident around us every day in the green tissues of plants.

The fate of every plant cell is inextricably tied to the interaction between chloroplasts and other compartments of the plant cell. The most important of these interactions is with the nucleus.

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Obama lets NSA use zero-day flaws given “clear national security” need

4/13/2014 11:30am
The White House

President Barack Obama has explicitly decided that when any federal agency discovers a vulnerability in online security, the agency should come forward rather than exploit it for intelligence purposes, according to The New York Times, citing unnamed “senior administration officials.”

However, while there is now a stated “bias” towards disclosure, Obama also created a massive exception to this policy if "there is a clear national security or law enforcement need."

The report comes just one day after the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) responded to a Bloomberg News report. ODNI denied that story, explicitly stating that the “NSA or any other part of the government” had no prior knowledge of the notorious Heartbleed vulnerability that has wreaked havoc across the Internet.

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Gallery: More costumes, competitions, and consoles at PAX East 2014, day 2

4/12/2014 10:30pm


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PAX South show to premiere in San Antonio Jan. 23, 2015

4/12/2014 7:12pm

At a panel at PAX East this morning, Penny Arcade founders Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins announced plans for PAX South, to be held for the first time in San Antonio from January 23 through 25, 2015.

The show is the fourth fan exposition to be put on by Penny Arcade since PAX started in 2004 as an informal gathering of about 3,300 people in a Seattle convention center. The franchise has since expanded to include Boston's PAX East, started in 2010, and Pax Australia, started last year. The two US shows now routinely draw upwards of 60 to 70,000 video, card, board, and role-playing game fans from around the world, with tickets selling out in a matter of hours each year.

"Since its launch in 2004, PAX events have doubled in size almost every year, and our Seattle and Boston events represent the two largest gaming festivals in North America," Penny Arcade Business Manager Robert Khoo said in a statement. "We've been hearing for years that those in the south had a tough time making it to the northern corners of the country; PAX South has always been a matter of 'when' rather than 'if.'"

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Private crypto keys are accessible to Heartbleed hackers, new data shows

4/12/2014 6:30pm
Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock

Contrary to previous suspicions, it is possible for hackers exploiting the catastrophic vulnerability dubbed Heartbleed to extract private encryption keys from vulnerable websites, Web services firm Cloudflare reported Saturday.

As recently as yesterday, Cloudflare published preliminary findings that seemed to indicate that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to use Heartbleed to get the vital key that essentially unlocks the secure sockets layer padlock in millions of browsers. To be extra-sure, Cloudflare launched “The Heartbleed Challenge” to see how other people exploiting Heartbleed might fare. The company set up an nginx server running a Heartbleed-vulnerable version of OpenSSL and invited the Internet at large to steal its private key.

Just nine hours later, software engineer Fedor Indutny and Ilkka Mattila at NCSC-FI had obtained the server's private keys using nothing but the Heartbleed vulnerability. As of this writing, CloudFlare had confirmed a total of four winners: Rubin Xu, a PhD student in the Security group of Cambridge University, as well as security researcher Ben Murphy.

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Review: Why buy an HTC One M8 Google Play edition instead of a Nexus 5?

4/12/2014 2:15pm
HTC's M8 Google Play edition is nice, but is it nice enough to justify the extra cost? Andrew Cunningham Specs at a glance: HTC One M8 Google Play edition Screen 1920×1080 5"(441 ppi) LCD OS Android KitKat 4.4.2 CPU 2.36GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 RAM 2GB GPU Adreno 330 Storage 32GB with MicroSD slot Networking Dual-band 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS Ports Micro USB, headphones Camera 4MP "UltraPixel" rear camera, 5MP front camera, depth sensor Size 146.36mm x 70.6mm x 9.35mm Weight 160g Battery 2600 mAh Starting price $699 unlocked Other perks Front-facing stereo speakers, notification LED

A controversial statement: I don’t really care that much for the Nexus 5.

Oh, there’s no denying it’s a fine phone. It’s fast, it gets updates quickly, it's solidly built, and its price is unmatched by any other smartphone vendor. These are the things that make the Nexus 5 (and the rest of the Nexus family) popular among the tech set. It’s a really good deal.

And yet, it leaves me feeling a little cold. It’s a very plain-looking slab, possessed of no particular style or distinctiveness. Its boxy edges feel awkward in the hand. It is exactly the sum of its parts: on paper it’s superior to something like the Moto X in every possible way, but in practice I’d rather carry Motorola’s phone than Google’s.

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Firaxis takes Civilization to the stars with Beyond Earth announcement [Updated]

4/12/2014 1:21pm
Kyle Orland

When Firaxis announced it would be revealing a new game at its PAX East panel this weekend, the speculation among those in the know quickly converged on the obvious: Civilization VI. While we did get a new Civilization announcement today, the specific direction was far from expected. Instead, the next entry in the Civilization series is going to outer space with Civilization: Beyond Earth.

As the name implies, the game takes the familiar turn based simulation series to the stars. "Our time on Earth is ending, so we turn our gaze upward, to the stars, and embark on the bravest journey in human history," as an introductory trailer for the game puts it.

Many will no doubt link this announcement to the the well-loved Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri from 1999. While the IP rights to that series belong to a different publisher, "we like to think the heart and soul of that game belongs at Firaxis," lead designer David McDonogh said at a PAX East panel today. "For all the fans out there of Alpha Centauri, this is the game we have made for you."

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