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Pay Uber in BTC? Maybe someday: eBay subsidiary Braintree to accept Bitcoin

9/8/2014 5:20pm
Paramount Pictures / Aurich Lawson

Today eBay subsidiary Braintree, which provides a platform for companies like Uber and Airbnb to accept payments, confirmed that it would be partnering with Bitcoin payment processor Coinbase to let users pay for things in Bitcoin from a Coinbase wallet. The news is big for Bitcoin supporters who have been looking to large retailers and service providers to give the virtual currency mass-market appeal.

Braintree, which was purchased by eBay subsidiary PayPal last year for $800 million, builds the software that a handful of big companies use to offer online and mobile payments to customers. In a blog post, CEO Bill Ready said that “in the coming months” Braintree's customers would be able to “add bitcoin to their existing payment methods and provide an elegant, adaptive user interface for consumers to pay in bitcoin with their Coinbase wallet.”

It's unclear which, if any, merchants have decided to incorporate Bitcoin into their accepted payment methods with Braintree. Still, the development shows that PayPal is thinking about bringing alternative forms of payment into its fold. “This is PayPal making a move to embrace Bitcoin,” Ready told TechCrunch today.

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Ohio bill drops one attack on science education, picks up another

9/8/2014 5:00pm

Recently, we covered a bill that was introduced in Ohio to deemphasize teaching the scientific process and open the door for people to object to scientific instruction on political grounds. While under consideration, the text of the bill has been modified considerably. Gone is the language about politics, and in its place is a provision that uses language promoted by a think tank that supports intelligent design.

(The Cleveland Plain Dealer is hosting a change log prepared by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.)

First, the good news: initially, the bill would prohibit "political or religious interpretation of scientific facts in favor of another" while directing teachers to "focus on academic and scientific knowledge rather than scientific processes." The problem there is that many people consider subjects like climate change and evolution to be little more than political indoctrination. In addition, knowing how science operates can be far more important and engaging than simply memorizing a list of what it's discovered.

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Europa’s icy shell may undergo plate tectonics

9/8/2014 4:49pm
An area of crustal spreading, similar to a mid-ocean ridge, is at the center of this image. If the crust spreads there, it must compress elsewhere. NASA/JPL

The Solar System is ancient. Many of the bodies in it show their age with impacts that date back to the violent early days of the Late Heavy Bombardment and craters embedded in craters. Earth is different in that plate tectonics and other geological processes constantly remake its surface. But even the Earth looks pretty old compared to Jupiter's moon Europa. Based on the number of impacts present, Europa looks to be less than 100 million years old.

A variety of evidence indicates that Europa's dynamic surface comes from the fact that the moon has a thin crust of ice above a large sub-surface ocean. Geysers and other features also suggest that the moon is geologically active. But the precise mechanism that drive the surface remodeling have remained uncertain. Now, two researchers are proposing that the mechanism is the same as it is on Earth: plate tectonics.

The proposal is put forth by the University of Idaho's Simon Kattenhorn and Johns Hopkins' Louise Prockter, and it was released by Nature Geoscience yesterday. The authors note the clear evidence of remodeling and point out that we've already identified a source of new ice reaching the surface: some features on the moon's surface appear to be sites of spreading, analogous to a mid-ocean ridge. But assuming the moon hasn't been growing larger, there must be some process that removes old ice from the surface.

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Report: Congress won’t shut down NSA database this year

9/8/2014 4:15pm

Despite widespread support, a bill that would put limits on widespread surveillance is unlikely to get a vote before the elections—or even after them.

According to National Journalthe USA Freedom Act, which would essentially stop the government's bulk collection of telephone call data, is flailing. The bill is struggling despite the fact that it won a stunning new supporter last week: Director of Intelligence James Clapper, one of the top defenders of the surveillance programs.

A Senate staffer told NJ that it was "extremely unlikely" the bill would be considered in September. It was originally introduced in July by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and it has co-sponsors ranging from liberal senators like Sen. Edward Markey (D-MA) to Tea Party favorite Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX).

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MSN is back, with new site and bizarre rebranding exercise

9/8/2014 3:38pm

MSN—known to millions as "the site that Internet Explorer insists on going to after a fresh install"—is getting a new look as part of a broader rebranding effort.

The venerable portal site is Internet Explorer's default homepage and boasts millions of visitors. Its new, stylish makeover brings back memories of iGoogle and so many other portal-type sites before it. The different news sections can be personalized to favor your interests, and there's also integration with Outlook.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

The site aggregates news from a wide range of sources spanning wire services, online publications, and local news outlets. The news partnerships will vary on a country-by-country basis: in the US, partners include The New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The Guardian and Telegraph are those chosen in the UK.

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Bungie: “Reviews of Destiny will wait” until public starts to play

9/8/2014 3:27pm

Activision's MMO-styled shooter Destiny is the kind of release that would usually see a wave of launch-day reviews when it hits stores and download services on all major consoles tomorrow, especially given the interest over whether the Halo creators at Bungie have any life left in them after parting ways with Microsoft four years ago.

That interest won't be met with much critical reaction tomorrow, however. Bungie has decided to let reviewers wait to experience the game with the public this time around.

"Typically, games receive their report cards before they become available to the public," Bungie community manager David "DeeJ" Dague wrote at the company's official blog on Friday, before adding that Destiny is not "a typical shooter." After listing some of the in-game activities that could be accomplished by a group of two-to-four players (a standard group size for a review), Dague described those activities as merely "a foundation for so much more."

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AT&T and Verizon say 10Mbps is too fast for “broadband,” 4Mbps is enough

9/8/2014 2:53pm
No thanks, 4Mbps is fast enough for me. Comcast

AT&T and Verizon have asked the Federal Communications Commission not to change its definition of broadband from 4Mbps to 10Mbps, saying many Internet users get by just fine at the lower speeds.

"Given the pace at which the industry is investing in advanced capabilities, there is no present need to redefine 'advanced' capabilities," AT&T wrote in a filing made public Friday after the FCC’s comment deadline (see FCC proceeding 14-126). "Consumer behavior strongly reinforces the conclusion that a 10Mbps service exceeds what many Americans need today to enable basic, high-quality transmissions," AT&T wrote later in its filing. Verizon made similar arguments.

Individual cable companies did not submit comments to the FCC, but their representative, the National Cable & Telecommunications Association (NCTA), agrees with AT&T and Verizon.

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Amazon’s Fire Phone falls to 99 cents on a two-year contract

9/8/2014 1:30pm

When the Fire Phone came out, it was criticized for its poor app ecosystem, high price, and not-very-good 3D feature. Amazon usually undercuts the competition on pricing, but the Fire Phone was $200 on contract, the same price as much better smartphones from other companies. Now that the Fire Phone is out in the market and apparently not doing very well, Amazon is fixing the one thing it can fix: the price.

Amazon has announced that the (still) AT&T-exclusive device will now be going for 99 cents on a two-year contract. The off-contract price got a $200 price cut, too, going from $649.99 to $449.99 for the 32GB version. Buying a Fire Phone also gets you 12 months of Amazon Prime.

$449.99 off-contract is a little closer to competitive, but it's still a tough sell compared to the 32GB Nexus 5, which is $399.99. Google's device has a much better (and bigger) screen and the full suite of Google Play apps. On-contract, it has to fight other under-a-dollar devices, like the one cent AT&T Moto X.

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Facebook-surfing driver rear-ends car at 85 mph, kills elderly woman

9/8/2014 12:55pm

Abby Sletten, 20. Police Handout A 20-year-old North Dakota woman is being charged with negligent homicide after the car she allegedly was driving at 85 mph slammed into another vehicle, killing an 89-year-old Minnesota woman.

Prosecutors say the incident took place on May 27 in daylight on Interstate 29 outside Grand Forks, North Dakota. Police said Sletten was surfing photos on Facebook and texting before she plowed into a SUV, killing its front-seat passenger, Phyllis Gordon, 89.

"Sletten had also sent and received several text messages since she departed from Fargo," the complaint read, according to the Star-Tribune. Witnesses said the vehicle Gordon was traveling in had slowed to make an unauthorized U-turn before the collision. The criminal complaint said that "several people" unsuccessfully tried to revive Gordon at the scene.

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What to expect at Apple’s big September 9 event

9/8/2014 12:45pm
The iPhone 5S (left) compared to what is allegedly the front glass from the next iPhone. Marques Brownlee

After a year of minimalistic updates and the resurrection of old products, Apple is finally ready to make its first big hardware announcements of 2014 tomorrow at the Flint Center for the Performing Arts in Cupertino, CA.

The event is laden with symbolic significance, not least because Apple used the Flint Center to introduce the original Macintosh over 30 years ago (it normally holds events on its campus in Cupertino or in downtown San Francisco). We're all but certain to hear about new iPhones tomorrow, along with a new version of the operating system that powers them.

But while iPhone sales continue to grow and now account for well over half of Apple's revenue, in the eyes of certain analysts and investors it's old news. The last decade-plus of Apple's growth has been fueled not just by maintaining existing product lines but by introducing new ones. A brand-new product type is what those Apple watchers want to see, and by all reports they'll be getting one tomorrow.

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TiVo announces TiVo Mega, a rackmount DVR with six tuners and 24TB

9/8/2014 11:00am
TiVo

This morning, great-grand-daddy DVR manufacturer TiVo announced that the company is aiming big with its next DVR, the TiVo Mega. With a release date currently scheduled for the first quarter of 2015, the Mega will come in a 10-bay, 19" rack-mount enclosure that appears to be 4U tall, judging from the PR images. The Mega's bays will be filled with hard drives in a RAID5 array, yielding 24TB of storage.

The press release doesn’t say what drive types or capacities are used, but some quick RAID math shows that if all 10 bays are populated, the Mega likely uses 3TB drives, which would give it roughly 25TB of usable space before TiVo’s software is loaded.

The Mega does everything TiVo’s flagship Roamio DVR does—it just does a lot more of it. The device has six tuners and can send content to TiVo Mini devices to send content to multiple rooms; it also comes with a lifetime subscription to TiVo’s service.

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New ice core records show Greenland in sync with the rest of the globe

9/8/2014 10:05am
Researchers working at the site of a recent ice core (designated NEEM) in northern Greenland. Christian Morel

Any interesting field of science (read: all of them) has its little mysteries—things that don’t quite make sense. They're the currency of a research scientist, since they provide interesting questions. One of these little stumpers is found in Greenland ice cores.

Ice cores, with their annual layering, have provided a revolutionary window into Earth’s climate history. By analyzing two isotopes of oxygen in the water molecules, researchers found a record of changing climate. In warmer times, the heavier 18O atoms become a little more common. In colder times, they are less so. This revealed all kinds of information about the last few glacial cycles, which are controlled by subtle changes in Earth’s orbit and amplified by positive feedbacks like CO2.

There are, however, complications. The oxygen isotope ratio can also shift for reasons other than temperature, like changing snowfall patterns. The complications gave researchers reason to be skeptical of a strange detail at the end of the last ice age.

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reddit shuts down subreddit that showcased celebrities’ stolen nude photos

9/8/2014 9:15am

Nearly a week after female celebrities’ nude photos were stolen and shared across the Internet, reddit has banned the subreddit that helped to distribute them.

The reddit group /r/TheFappening and related subreddits were banned on Saturday night after reddit CEO Yishan Wong posted a blog titled “Every Man Is Responsible For His Own Soul.” The blog explained why the company is unlikely to make changes to its policies because of one incident.

In an update to the blog post, Wong wrote that the subreddit was banned because it violated rules unrelated to being a center for people to access stolen nude photos of female celebrities. He wrote that he disagrees with the distribution of stolen images, yet believes that reddit is a place for people to distribute media (and in this case, stolen nude photos):

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Comcast Wi-Fi serving self-promotional ads via JavaScript injection

9/8/2014 8:00am
Mike Mozart

Comcast has begun serving Comcast ads to devices connected to one of its 3.5 million publicly accessible Wi-Fi hotspots across the US. Comcast's decision to inject data into websites raises security concerns and arguably cuts to the core of the ongoing net neutrality debate.

A Comcast spokesman told Ars the program began months ago. One facet of it is designed to alert consumers that they are connected to Comcast's Xfinity service. Other ads remind Web surfers to download Xfinity apps, Comcast spokesman Charlie Douglas told Ars in telephone interviews.

The advertisements may appear about every seven minutes or so, he said, and they last for just seconds before trailing away. Douglas said the advertising campaign only applies to Xfinity's publicly available Wi-Fi hot spots that dot the landscape. Comcast customers connected to their own Xfinity Wi-Fi routers when they're at home are not affected, he said.

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Moto 360 review—Beautiful outside, ugly inside

9/7/2014 7:00pm
The Moto 360 (center) could almost pass for a real watch. Ron Amadeo

CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:["top"], collapse: true});After what seems like an eternity, the most promising Android Wear hardware has finally hit the market. While the LG G Watch and the Samsung Gear Live were first to market, the Moto 360 has always felt like the flagship device for Android Wear.

While the software seems like it's headed in the right direction, the hardware for smartwatches has felt like a live experiment being carried out in the marketplace. Pebble has aimed for maximum battery life with a black-and-white e-paper screen, and Samsung's hardware machine gun has been in full effect, releasing everything from a wrist-mounted smartphone to a skinny, curved OLED device focused on fitness.

Spend a few minutes with the 360 and you'll quickly realize that the square, plastic designs other manufacturers are pushing are dead-on-arrival. The Moto 360 design is a huge step forward for smartwatches. It's round, it's comfortable to wear, and it looks like a normal watch.

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The present and future of Iceland’s volcanic eruption

9/7/2014 5:35pm
Peter Hartree

The Bárðarbunga (or Bardarbunga) volcano has erupted, evoking memories of the 2010 Icelandic ash cloud that caused chaos across European and North American air routes. 

What has been happening?

The ice-covered Bárðarbunga volcano has a magma chamber beneath it, and measurements indicate that magma from this chamber has been escaping into a vertical underground crack. In total, the magma has migrated some 40 km northeast of the chamber. We call this process a dyke intrusion. Escape of magma from the chamber has removed support from the chamber roof, which has collapsed to trigger earthquakes in the area.

At the far northeast tip of the dyke intrusion, the magma managed to find a route to the surface on August 29, producing a small eruption at the Holuhraun lava field. After a pause, a larger eruption started in the same place on August 31—that eruption continues at the time of writing. Both of these events occurred along an ancient fissure that had erupted in 1797. So it looks like the magma in the new dyke intrusion met the old and cold 1797 dyke intrusion and followed its path to the surface. Had this not happened, the new dyke intrusion might have kept moving to the northeast.

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Ransomware going strong, despite takedown of Gameover Zeus

9/7/2014 3:00pm

In late May, an international law enforcement effort disrupted the Gameover Zeus (GoZ) botnet, a network of compromised computers used for banking fraud.

The operation also hobbled a secondary, but equally important cyber-criminal operation: the Cryptolocker ransomware campaign, which used a program distributed by the GoZ botnet to encrypt victims' sensitive files, holding them hostage until the victim paid a fee, typically hundreds of dollars. The crackdown, and the subsequent discovery by security firms of the digital keys needed to decrypt affected data, effectively eliminated the threat from Cryptolocker.

Yet, ransomware is not dead, two recent analyses have found. Within a week of the takedown of Gameover Zeus and Cryptolocker, a surge of spam with links to a Cryptolocker copycat, known as Cryptowall, resulted in a jump in ransomware infections, states a report released last week by security-services firm Dell Secureworks. Cryptowall first appeared in November 2013, and spread slowly, but the group behind the program were ready to take advantage of the vacuum left by the downfall of its predecessor.

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Whaling ruling helps to clarify what counts as science research

9/7/2014 1:00pm

Early this year, the International Court of Justice handed down a ruling that brought at least a temporary halt to Japan's whaling program. Normally, an international court case isn't science news. In this case, however, the whaling was justified under a clause of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling that allowed whales to be killed “for the purposes of scientific research." And, as detailed in a perspective in this week's edition of Science, the court decision came down to whether Japan was actually doing any science.

Australia, which brought the case, argued that science is an international activity, and subject to some properties that hold no matter where it's done:

(i) defined and achievable objectives; (ii) use of appropriate methods, including use of lethal methods only where objectives cannot be answered through alternate methods; and (iii) proper assessment and response through the community of scientists.

Japan, in contrast, argued that if some research resulted from its whaling, the whole effort should be considered "for the purposes of scientific research."

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Feds say NSA “bogeyman” did not find Silk Road’s servers

9/6/2014 3:35pm

The FBI easily found the main server of the now-defunct Silk Road online drug-selling site, and didn't need the National Security's help, federal prosecutors said in a Friday court filing.

The underground drug website, which was shuttered last year as part of a federal raid, was only accessible through the anonymizing tool Tor. The government alleges that Ross Ulbricht, as Dread Pirate Roberts, "reaped commissions worth tens of millions of dollars” through his role as the site's leader. Trial is set for later this year.

The authorities said Friday that the FBI figured out the server's IP address through a misconfiguration in the site's login window. They said that a US warrant wasn't required to search the Icelandic server because "warrants are not required for searches by foreign authorities of property overseas."

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US opens first commercial plant that converts corn waste to fuel

9/6/2014 2:00pm

So far, the largest biofuels efforts have involved the age-old process of converting sugars in plants into ethanol. If biofuels are ever to make a significant dent in fossil fuel use, however, they're probably going to have to be made from something that can't also be used as food (either by us or our farm animals.) That means working with something other than sugar.

The leading candidate is cellulose, a robust polymer of sugars that give plants the strength to grow several hundred feet tall. Breaking down cellulose into sugars (which can then be converted into ethanol) is not easy to do economically, although a lot of research has gone into finding processes that work. A leading candidate for this is to use the enzymes from bacteria and fungi that normally decompose wood. The US Energy Information Agency has announced that the nation's first commercial-scale plant based on this approach has just opened in Iowa.

"Project Liberty," the result of a joint venture between US-based POET and the Netherlands' Royal DSM, will have the capacity to process over 750 tons of corn stover each day. Stover is the inedible parts of the plant: husks, cobs, the stalk and leaves. Although intended to work with corn (hence the Iowa location), it's possible that the facility could be used for other sources of cellulose, like grasses.

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