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The Art of Technology
Updated: 1 hour 12 min ago

Lenovo promises to cut the crapware in the wake of Superfish debacle

2/27/2015 12:50pm

Lenovo announced today that it will stop shipping PCs with adware and bloatware and that it now aims to be the "leader in providing cleaner, safer PCs."

This response comes in the wake of a massive backlash after the company was found to be including bundled advertising software that completely broke the security provided by HTTPS.

Lenovo's plan comes in two parts. First, the company will scale back preinstalled software. Its systems will include the operating system and any necessary drivers and software to make the hardware work (to, for example, support fingerprint readers or 3D cameras). It will also include some Lenovo applications (such as the ThinkVantage System Update software, which is a genuinely useful app for updating drivers and system firmware) and security software.

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Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock of Star Trek: The Original Series, dies at 83

2/27/2015 12:42pm
Leonard Nimoy: 2012 College of Fine Arts Convocation Address

Leonard Nimoy, the actor best known for his role as Mr. Spock, the Vulcan first officer of the starship Enterprise from Star Trek: The Original Series, died on Friday at the age of 83. His wife, Susan Bay Nimoy, confirmed to the New York Times that the cause of death was end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Nimoy announced that he had the disease last year and attributed it to his decades-long smoking habit, which he had given up thirty years before.

As Spock, Nimoy brought joy to millions who identified with the half-human, half-Vulcan who was a hyper-logical hero on his starship but who struggled with human emotions and was often an outcast to his human counterparts. (Well, Spock suffered the insufferable ribbing from Bones more frequently than other Star Trek characters.) His Vulcan salute—and his phrase “live long and prosper”—became a greeting shared frequently between Star Trek fans across the world.

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Dealmaster: This triple-sensor digital watch syncs with an atomic clock

2/27/2015 12:40pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, the Dealmaster has arrived on the scene with a bountiful bag of beautiful bargains for your Friday shopping pleasure.

Leading off today's edition is a watch. But not just any watch—it's the Casio Pathfinder Triple-Sensor digital watch. It powered by the Sun and has a titanium bracelet, making it lighter and more durable than stainless steel. It dishes up all sorts of handy data, including altitude, temperature, barometric pressure, tides, moon phase, compass direction, and more.

Wait, there's more?

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Liveblog: Making smart things smarter in Munich with GE

2/27/2015 12:39pm
View Liveblog2015-02-27T12:00:00-06:00

My trip to Munich is over, and I've fully reintegrated back into the daily grind at the Ars Orbiting HQ. While I was there, however, I learned a ton of stuff about what GE is doing with what they call "the factory of the future"—giving machines doing manufacturing the ability to understand what they're doing and adapt on the fly to changes in conditions.

As we wrap up our coverage of Munich and turn our eyes next to Sean Gallagher's trips to San Ramon and Niskayuna, this is your chance to ask about my adventures in Munich, the perils of international air travel, and maybe even a question or two about carbon fiber or jet engines. Or, heck, we can talk about ski injuries and their aftermath. Whatever questions you have, show up here at noon CST today, click the giant orange banner up at the top of this article, and for about an hour, I'm all yours.

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Common food emulsifiers may be linked to metabolic syndrome

2/27/2015 12:17pm

Emulsifiers are used in processed foods, drugs, vitamins, vaccines, soaps, and cosmetics. They hold ingredients that generally don't like to be together, like oil and water, in a stable union. They are found in everyday products ranging from mouthwash to ice cream to salad dressing and barbecue sauce.

When emulsifiers first came into vogue, they were classified by the government as GRAS—"generally regarded as safe"—because in animal studies designed to detect acute toxicity and/or carcinogenic properties, they exhibited neither. But their consumption in the Western world has risen dramatically over the late twentieth century, largely in tandem with inflammatory disorders like colitis and metabolic syndrome, a collective suite of obesity-associated diseases. That connection has prompted more refined safety studies on emulsifiers and other food additives.

The results of some of this new work were published in Nature, implicating two specific emulsifiers in the development of colitis and metabolic syndrome in mice. The emulsifiers exert these effects by disturbing a mouse's microbial community.

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Future batteries need to triple capacity, cut price by 67%

2/27/2015 11:48am

Battery research is one of the hottest areas of materials science, with a steady stream of promising ideas emerging from research labs. But even though battery performance has steadily climbed, a lot of that progress is due to an evolution of existing technology rather than an adoption of more radical ideas floating around in labs.

At the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, two of the people who run some of these labs gave good descriptions of why it has been so difficult to translate promising results into revolutionary products.

More capacity, lower price

Stanford's Yi Cui showed a slide that laid out the goals of battery research very simply. Right now, batteries cost about $300 per each kiloWatt-hour of capacity. For the two largest use cases (electric vehicles and on-grid storage), we need that figure to drop to about $100 per kW-hr in order for the technology to compete with fossil-fuel-powered cars and generating facilities. For the grid, where the batteries are stationary, it doesn't matter how much they weigh. But for a more effective electric vehicle, we'd like to see the energy density rise from its present 200 W-hr/kg to about 600 W-hr/kg.

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Bring on the lawsuits—FCC chairman says net neutrality will survive

2/27/2015 11:28am

The Federal Communications Commission chairman is expecting lawsuits challenging the FCC's net neutrality order, but is confident that this time the rules will survive.

Verizon sued to block rules issued in 2010, and won when a federal appeals court said in January 2014 that the FCC erred by imposing per se common carrier regulations on broadband providers, which the FCC had never classified as common carriers. The latest net neutrality order, passed yesterday, fixes that, Wheeler said in a press conference after the vote.

"The DC Circuit sent the previous Open Internet Order back to us and basically said, 'hey, you're trying to impose common carrier-like regulation without stepping up and saying, 'these are common carriers,'" Wheeler said yesterday. "We have addressed that issue, that is the underlying issue, that is the sine qua non of the all the debates we've had so far. That gives me great confidence going forward."

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Video: Ars picks ten emotional moments from our favorite sci-fi TV shows

2/27/2015 11:05am
Video: Our top 10 favorite sci-fi character moments. (video link)

If you're reading Ars Technica, there's a good chance that you like science fiction in all its forms. As a storytelling medium, science fiction television has had its ups and downs—from the golden heyday of the 1960s with Star Trek, The Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, and others, to the dreck-y nadir of the late 1970s and early 1980s, where every vision of the future seemed made of dreary beige plastic, all the way through the modern renaissance heralded by Star Trek: the Next Generation and carried on today by a huge variety of shows. But at its very best, the science fiction we love has used its explosions and spaceships and wormholes and bumpy-headed aliens to tell us contemporary stories in an unconventional setting—often turning the status quo on its head to provide new insight into the way life and society works.

There’s no such thing as good "lifeless" science fiction—the set and setting only take you so far. For a show to work, it needs believable characters that an audience can latch on to; we need to be able to buy into their motivations so that even if we don’t agree with them, we understand them. The very best science fiction television shows are the ones that succeed in establishing an ongoing emotional connection to the audience—the ones that make us actually care about the characters.

In the video above, I’ve canvassed through four Ars favorites—Star Trek: The Next Generation, Battlestar Galactica, Babylon 5, and The X-Files—for ten of our favorite character moments. That’s ten instances where actors transcended the medium and wrung raw feeling out of the audience. I could have gone on forever picking awesome bits out of each show—and I could have included dozens more shows, too!—but I had to draw the line somewhere, so in the end I went with my gut and picked the moments that resonated most with me personally.

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Sold out Gold Mario Amiibo sees 670 percent markup on eBay

2/27/2015 10:56am

We're still not entirely convinced of the in-game utility of Nintendo's Amiibo figures, even if the near-field communication plastic statues will soon unlock classic game demos on the Wii U. Regardless, the market can't seem to get enough of the little guys. Case in point: a limited-edition gold Mario Amiibo that is already reselling for up to $100 on eBay, a huge markup for the $13 MSRP.

Preorders for the limited edition gold Mario, offered exclusively at Walmart in the US, sold out about 15 minutes after going up on the retailer's website yesterday, despite a reported limit of two Amiibos per household. If you missed that tiny window to buy one, don't worry, you can check out one of the 177 currently running auctions for the figurine on eBay. That includes one auction that has been bid up to $710 and another at $510, though the bidding history on those outlier prices makes us suspicious of their legitimacy.

What seems more legitimate is the five completed "Buy It Now" listings that have already sold for $100 on the site. Even the cheapest Gold Mario Amiibos on eBay are going for $45, a nearly 250 percent markup. The median of the 140 completed auctions as of this writing is right around a $70 price.

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Travelogue: The long flight home—this time, I enjoyed myself

2/27/2015 10:11am

After three full days in Munich, I rolled out of bed at 4:00am on Thursday to start the long trek home. First came an early cab ride at what in the US would be considered mostly extralegal speeds. Several unlimited speed stretches later, I was dropped off at Munich Airport to await the first of the day's two flights.

Airport security in Germany wasn’t terribly different from going through the TSA pre-check line in the US—I didn’t have to take off my shoes, and although I did have to pull my laptop out, there was a simple metal detector instead of a more advanced imager. I was through it pretty quickly, though it probably helped that it was still only about 5:30am.

On the way over, I’d flown Delta—first from Houston to Atlanta, and then across the ocean from Atlanta to Munich. However, my flights back were code-shared—each leg was actually going to be on KLM aircraft, with a Delta flight number sort of tagged onto the back. This was great because it meant that right off the bat, my business-class ticket got me into Munich Airport’s KLM lounge. I settled in for the thirty-minute wait to boarding with a steaming cup of coffee made from freshly ground beans and enjoyed the quiet.

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PC version of latest Resident Evil loses local co-op available on console [Updated]

2/27/2015 9:33am

Update: Capcom has taken to the Steam Community page for the game to "apologize to our Resident Evil Revelations 2 PC players who purchased the game and expected to have local co-op as a feature." The company says the local co-op feature was never intended for the PC version, and initially left in the Steam description as an oversight. "This was an unintentional error and again, we apologize for the confusion this may have caused."

While Capcom initially said no such PC co-op was planned, it now says it's "currently looking into the matter and potential solutions and we hope to have new information to share very soon, so please stay tuned. Thank you for your patience and understanding."

Original story

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Remote valet mode and revolutionized parking: Ford’s Smart Mobility

2/27/2015 8:00am

Ford has a plan to help cut car emissions, and this time it doesn’t have anything to do with batteries, hybrid powertrains, or clever engine technology. Instead, the company is focusing on improving the parking experience, and its answer involves a crowdsourced real-time database of occupied and empty parking spots across the country and remote control vehicles enabled by off-the-shelf commercial 4G LTE.

At first glance that might not sound like it has much to do with reducing vehicle CO2 emissions, but according to Ford, their data shows that hunting for parking spaces in urban environments can account for between 20 and 30 percent of a vehicle’s emissions. To find out more about what Ford has been working on, we spoke with Mike Tinskey, director of vehicle electrification and infrastructure at Ford. He told Ars about a pair of research projects that the car maker has been working on as part of a larger program called Smart Mobility.

Smart Mobility involves 25 different experiments and pilot studies around the world, but these two have both been developed in conjunction with a team at Georgia Tech here in the US; Ford has had a long-running relationship with the group, which Tinskey describes as being analogous to the company’s research and advanced modeling arm for sustainability. According to Tinskey, Smart Mobility exists at the intersection of mobility and sustainability, with the overall goal of finding novel ways to reduce CO2. "When you look for places to do that, you start looking at antiquated things like parking, where people waste a lot of time, and a lot of CO2," he said.

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Republicans in Congress already trying to overturn FCC’s latest votes

2/26/2015 6:07pm

US Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) today filed legislation to overturn the municipal broadband decision the Federal Communications Commission made earlier in the day.

The FCC today voted to preempt state laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevent municipal broadband providers from expanding outside their territories.

“The FCC’s decision to grant the petitions of Chattanooga, Tennessee and Wilson, North Carolina is a troubling power grab,” Blackburn said in a press release. “States are sovereign entities that have Constitutional rights, which should be respected rather than trampled upon. They know best how to manage their limited taxpayer dollars and financial ventures. Ironically, they will now be burdened by the poor judgment of a federal government that is over $18 trillion in debt and clearly cannot manage its own affairs."

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Twitter adds “report dox” option, makes some users verify contact info

2/26/2015 5:00pm

On Thursday, Twitter announced that its abuse-report system, which was recently refined to simplify and shorten the reporting process, has now expanded to allow users to report content such as self-harm incidents and "the sharing of private and confidential information" (aka doxing).

The announcement, posted by Twitter Vice President of User Services Tina Bhatnagar, explained that December's report-process update was met with a "tripling" of the site's abuse support staff, which has led to a quintupling of abuse report processing. "While we review many more reports than ever before, we’ve been able to significantly reduce the average response time to a fraction of what it was, and we see this number continuing to drop," Bhatnagar wrote.

Thursday's update also mentioned "several new enforcement actions for use against accounts that violate our rules." Sources at Twitter have confirmed to Ars Technica that one of the site's new enforcement actions will include a contact-information verification system—a first for the service. This means that in certain situations where users have been warned or temporarily banned but not permanently suspended, they will be instructed to provide either an e-mail address or phone number to return to the service. Ars was told that for the time being, this verification wouldn't be applied to every warning or temporary ban.

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Privacy advocate tells FTC that Samsung smart TVs are “deceptive”

2/26/2015 4:30pm

This week a nonprofit group filed a complaint (PDF) with the Federal Trade Commission asking it to investigate Samsung for violating its customers' privacy with its voice recording feature on its Samsung smart TVs.

“Samsung routinely intercepts and records the private communications of consumers in their homes,” the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) wrote. “Samsung’s attempts to disclaim its intrusive surveillance activities by means of a 'privacy notice' do not diminish the harm to American consumers.”

In an e-mail Samsung told Ars, “The claims made by EPIC are not correct and do not reflect the actual features of our Smart TV. Samsung takes consumer privacy very seriously and our products are designed with privacy in mind."

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Senate panel votes for ex-Googler Michelle Lee to head US Patent Office

2/26/2015 4:20pm

The Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted today to make Michelle Lee, formerly Google's patent chief, the director of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). She still has to be confirmed by the full Senate, but that shouldn't be a problem after the smooth committee vote.

USPTO directors have come from the tech sector before—the last director, David Kappos, was a top lawyer at IBM. But Lee's appointment marks the first time someone with a background from an Internet-focused company will take the helm at USPTO. While she was at Google, Lee became one of the most outspoken corporate lawyers on the problem of "patent trolls" plaguing the system with their lawsuits.

In June of last year, rumors started to trickle out of Washington that the White House was set to nominate Philip Johnson, a Johnson & Johnson lawyer. That suggestion sparked a major backlash among tech reformers. Nominating Johnson seemed like pouring salt in the wound, since tech was still smarting from the failure to pass a patent reform bill. Big pharma companies were key opponents of reform, and Johnson personally spoke out about some of the changes tech reformers were seeking.

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Photo gallery: In the research labs and around town in Munich

2/26/2015 3:30pm

If there's anything I regret about our recent trip to Munich, it's that I didn't get a chance to see more of the city. Unfortunately, the constraints of production and travel timing meant I only had three days on the ground before I returned home, 10 to 12 hours of each of those three days were spent filming and conducting interviews with the scientists and researchers we were there to see. Consequently, I've got a lot of pictures of the composite manufacturing lab to share!

Research center director Carlos Härtel shows us the all-carbon fiber "maypole" in the center's lobby.

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As far as Munich proper—München, if you're a local—the few spare hours we had weren't enough to do more than the most superficial bit of looking around. Still, we walked, saw Marienplatz and the Ratskeller, rode the subway, and snagged as many pictures as we could. I'll have more to say about my final Munich impressions in my next blog post, but here are some of our images from around town.

A quick trip on an unrestricted section of the Autobahn in our rental car. Crazy speeding Americans coming through!

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Verizon issues furious response to FCC, in Morse code, dated 1934

2/26/2015 3:20pm

Verizon is just so mad at the Federal Communications Commission today that a normal press release wouldn't do.

After all, Verizon issues so many press releases denouncing the FCC for trying to regulate telecommunications that today's vote on net neutrality required a special one to make sure it would be remembered.

So Verizon wrote it in Morse code and set the date as "1934" to make the point that the FCC is taking us backward in time. Verizon sent out the press release in this e-mail:

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Hands-on with the fastest LTE network in Europe: 400Mbps down, 45Mbps up

2/26/2015 2:45pm

LONDON—Today, I got to play around with Europe's (and probably the world's) fastest LTE network: when I opened up, depending on how many people were standing in the room, my download speed was between 350 and 400Mbps, my upload speed was around 45Mbps, and my ping latency was just 20ms.

Funny enough, beyond, it is actually quite hard to use 400Mbps of bandwidth. When I loaded up a 4K video from YouTube, I only used around 40Mbps, or 10 percent, of my wireless uber-pipe. Ars Technica certainly loaded very quickly indeed. As it stands today, there are very few websites or services that will let you pull data down at 400Mbps, or where being able to download at 400Mbps even makes much sense. If we've learned anything from the last few decades of telecoms and networking, however, it's that Internet usage will always expand until every last inch of available bandwidth is consumed. So while 400Mbps might seem a little bit over the top today, in five years you'll probably wonder how you ever survived with anything less.

For some background, I had a 400Mbps LTE connection at my disposal because I had been invited to Wembley Stadium in London to try out the first deployment of Category 9 LTE in the UK. It was a "live" deployment in that it used commercially available hardware, but it was still very much a tech demo—the Cat 9 base station only covered a small portion of the stadium, and there were only a handful of devices in the world configured to connect to this specific LTE network. The LTE network was operated by EE (one of the UK's big four wireless carriers), the LTE base station was made by Huawei, and the mobile device that I used was a smartphone powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 SoC.

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Facebook further expands profiles’ “gender” box, lets users type anything

2/26/2015 2:05pm

On Thursday, Facebook's official "Diversity" account announced another sweeping change to the gender selection on users' profiles. Starting today, users of Facebook's English sites can type pretty much whatever they want into a custom box.

"We recognize that some people face challenges sharing their true gender identity with others, and this setting gives people the ability to express themselves in an authentic way," the unnamed Diversity account holder said.

This change follows in the footsteps of Facebook's decision last year to expand its gender options, which were previously limited to male, female, or no response. Just like the last update, users must type their preferred gender descriptor after choosing "other," and Facebook will suggest terms from its prior list like "androgynous" and "gender fluid." However, if users want to type in their own descriptor, they can now do so—and then choose whether that descriptor is shown publicly, to friends, or privately. Users can also still choose a preferred pronoun: him, her, or they/them.

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