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The Art of Technology
Updated: 54 min 26 sec ago

Microsoft considered renaming Internet Explorer to escape its checkered past

8/14/2014 6:05pm

Microsoft has had "passionate" discussions about renaming Internet Explorer to distance the browser from its tarnished image, according to answers from members of the developer team given in a reddit Ask Me Anything session today.

In spite of significant investment in the browser—with the result that Internet Explorer 11 is really quite good—many still regard the browser with contempt, soured on it by the lengthy period of neglect that came after the release of the once-dominant version 6. Microsoft has been working to court developers and get them to give the browser a second look, but the company still faces an uphill challenge.

Renaming the browser could be seen as a way of breaking from the past and distancing the new, actively maintained, standards-driven browser from this legacy. The team was asked if it had considered such a renaming, and the answer was yes. The browser developers didn't completely rule out the possibility for the future, either, noting that the discussion was "very recent" and asking rhetorically "Who knows what the future holds :)"

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Lawyers in Texas case not allowed to tweet deposition of ex-sheriff

8/14/2014 5:25pm

In a high-profile civil case involving a disgraced ex-Texas sheriff, a judge has prohibited the plaintiff's attorneys from tweeting the deposition of the defendant as it happens.

Earlier this summer, former Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño was sentenced to five years in prison for a money laundering scheme that involved taking campaign contributions from drug trafficker Tomas "El Gallo" Gonzalez. Treviño, however, is still facing several civil lawsuits, including one from a former contender for the sheriff's position, Republican candidate Robert Caples.

In a deposition on August 1, Caples' attorney, Javier Peña, questioned Treviño, and members of Peña's law firm tweeted Treviño's responses. Although the session was supposed to last six hours, Treviño's defense attorney, Preston Henrichson, shut down the session after a little more than four hours, objecting to the questioning and the tweeting. On Wednesday, Judge Rudy Delgado of the Texas State District Court said that the deposition would be allowed to continue on Friday for the one hour and 48 minutes left to Peña's firm, but that tweeting details would be out of the question.

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Former Xbox program manager: ‘Sorry for all the ads’

8/14/2014 4:45pm
Former Microsoft programmer Allen Murray took credit this week for pushing banner ads on the Xbox 360's dashboard, including these that he says he helped design.

The Xbox 360 may have blazed a trail in connecting console players via online gaming, but with that service came an unpopular side effect: banner ads, designed to be downloaded and updated on a regular basis by all of those online players. As the 360 tiptoes toward its tenth anniversary, Allen Murray, a former Xbox programmer, used his own 10-year mark in the games industry to get something off his chest. Banner ads are his fault, he said, and they came after he argued with coworkers who actually didn't want them on Xbox 360.

In a Gamasutra post on Monday, Murray described his start with Microsoft in 2004 as a Web services layer programmer, where he became intimately acquainted with the Xbox Live Arcade initiative—and realized how hard its games were to find for players unaware of a console-specific game-download shop. "It was several clicks down in the UI, hidden from the player," Murray complained, so he asked for a meeting with an unnamed boss to discuss adding promotional content to the in-development dashboard.

According to Murray, he was met with immediate resistance—"Banner ads? Like on websites?"—and was told that "gamers would hate ads." Murray used the post to recall why his sales pitch failed at first: "My choice of language, using terms like ‘advertising’ and 'banner ads,’ conveyed a tone of corporate soullessness. This was games! We were supposed to be cool and 'fuck the man' and all that shit."

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Sony: We don’t “feel the need to go out and buy outright exclusivity” [Updated]

8/14/2014 4:20pm

This week's gaming news has been dominated by Microsoft's controversial decision to buy timed Xbox exclusivity for the next Tomb Raider game. While this is not an unusual practice historically, a Sony executive is trying to make some hay by saying the PlayStation 4 doesn't need to buy exclusive games. Except when it does...

In an interview with CVG, PlayStation Europe's Jim Ryan said that Sony's stable of first- and second-party exclusives, as well as exclusive and early content in games like Destiny, is enough to make the PlayStation 4 compelling.

"So do we feel the need to go out and buy outright exclusivity? Probably not," Ryan said. "You saw last night [at Sony's press conference] that before the media briefing we showed updated videos of games that we had revealed at E3. That's because we wanted to keep the show itself full of new, fresh things. We think that gave us a good, strong, convincing portfolio of exclusive stuff, and we're happy with that."

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Thursday Dealmaster has a 1TB USB 3.0 hard drive for $59.99

8/14/2014 4:05pm

Greetings, Arsians! Our partners at LogicBuy are back with a ton of deals for this week. Have you backed up your files lately? The featured deal today is a 1TB portable hard drive from Toshiba for just $59.99. Nobody likes backing up files, but with USB 3.0, your backups should go just a little bit faster. The drive and a ton of other deals are below. Enjoy!

Featured deal

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The next big smartphone maker might actually be Lenovo

8/14/2014 3:48pm
Lenovo's smartphones are primarily sold overseas, but it's making moves that could significantly expand its presence. Lenovo

Lenovo posted its first-quarter financial results last night (PDF), and overall the news was good. Revenue was up 11 percent compared to the same quarter last year, and profit after operating expenses was up to $283 million from $202 million. These aren't huge numbers if you're used to looking at results from, say, Apple or Google or Microsoft. But overall Lenovo seems to be doing a good job of keeping its head above water and growing share in a time when that's hardly guaranteed for old-guard PC companies. In fact, Lenovo has been one of the few companies to grow faster than the wider PC industry over the last three-or-so years, as tablets and smartphones have taken a sizable chunk out of the traditional PC market.

Even more interesting was the information Lenovo presented about its smartphone sales—the company says it is now the largest seller of smartphones in its home market of China, though worldwide it's still a fairly distant fourth. Lenovo doesn't have a presence in the US market, but increasing share in China has become a major goal for other smartphone makers of late. Apple was very enthusiastic about its partnership with China Mobile earlier this year, and Apple's earnings drive home the extent to which China and other non-US markets are driving the company's continuing growth. Lenovo also says that 20 percent of its smartphone sales are coming from other countries, up from five percent a year ago—it's slowly beginning to expand outside of its home country, something that Xiaomi, Huawei, and other Asian phone companies are also looking to do.


From that perspective, Lenovo's pending purchase of Motorola from Google makes a lot of sense. Why fight to expand your market share when you can buy a ready-made smartphone manufacturer for relatively little money (at least, compared to what Google paid for it in 2011)? Motorola has lost money so consistently under Google's leadership that Lenovo's purchase might seem odd, but it gets the company a foothold in established Western markets and will help Lenovo expand its presence in other markets, too.

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Uber, Lyft want to make nice with cities that have tried to shut them down

8/14/2014 3:35pm
Via Tsuji

The National League of Cities, a group of municipalities from across the United States, announced Thursday that it was forming a new network of startups, cities, and academics to “identify the regulatory challenges posed by the disruptive technologies that power the sharing economy.”

The aptly named “Sharing Economy Advisory Network” comes as many of its member cities have conducted sting operations and issued citations against companies like Lyft and Uber, which allow users to summon cars with the tap of a smartphone app. These cities say that such firms operate as illegal taxis and should be subject to relevant legislation. Both Lyft and Uber have previously fought and won similar battles in some jurisdictions: California formalized rideshare operations in September 2013.

For now, Gregory Minchak, a spokesman for the National League of Cities, underscored that while the umbrella group is a founding member, no individual cities have specifically joined the Sharing Economy Advisory Network to date.

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The sad, strange saga of Russia’s “Sergeant Selfie”

8/14/2014 2:42pm
Radioman Sanya Sotkin wants you to send him WebMoney to help him out of his fix, so to speak.

Alexander “Sanya” Sotkin, the Russian soldier who posted a self-portrait of himself to Instagram from within Ukraine, is now using his social media following to beg for money. Apparently a sergeant in the Russian Army’s signal corps, Sotkin has posted pleas on Instagram and Twitter for “financial aid,” giving two WebMoney accounts for donations.

“Hello! Black PR created a big problem for me! Now I need financial aid,” Sotkin posted on Twitter on August 12. He posted a screenshot of the tweet on his Instagram account, as well as an image of him holding a piece of paper with two WebMoney account numbers. The Twitter account includes links to his VKontakte account, which lists his Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Skype accounts along with his mobile number.

Sotkin drew worldwide attention on Instagram when it was discovered that two posts he made showed up on Instagram’s Photo Map as being taken within Ukraine. However, there is some dispute over whether the photos were actually taken within Ukrainian territory. Depending on the location service used and distortion from the vehicle he was in when he posted the picture, his position could have been miles from where the location data shows, across the border to the north or south of the strip of eastern Ukraine he appeared to be in. The photos appear to have been taken inside a Russian BTR-90 wheeled armored vehicle equipped as a communications vehicle.

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Thousand-robot swarm assembles itself into shapes

8/14/2014 2:10pm
Michael Rubenstein, Harvard

There is something magical about seeing 1,000 robots move when humans are not operating any of them. And in a new study published in Science, researchers have created just that. This swarm of 1,000 robots can assemble themselves into complex shapes without the need for a central brain or a human controller.

Self-assembly of this kind can be found in nature—from molecules forming regular crystals and cells forming tissues, to ants building rafts to float on water and birds flocking to avoid becoming prey. Complex forms emerge from local interactions among thousands, millions, or even trillions of limited and unreliable individual elements.

These self-organized systems have interesting features. First, they are decentralized—that is, they don't need a central brain or leader. Second, they are scalable, so you can add large numbers of individuals. Third, they are robust—individuals that are unreliable don't break the system.

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Are processors pushing up against the limits of physics?

8/14/2014 1:03pm

When I first started reading Ars Technica, performance of a processor was measured in megahertz, and the major manufacturers were rushing to squeeze as many of them as possible into their latest silicon. Shortly thereafter, however, the energy needs and heat output of these beasts brought that race crashing to a halt. More recently, the number of processing cores rapidly scaled up, but they quickly reached the point of diminishing returns. Now, getting the most processing power for each Watt seems to be the key measure of performance.

None of these things happened because the companies making processors ran up against hard physical limits. Rather, computing power ended up being constrained because progress in certain areas—primarily energy efficiency—was slow compared to progress in others, such as feature size. But could we be approaching physical limits in processing power? In this week's edition of Nature, The University of Michigan's Igor Markov takes a look at the sorts of limits we might face.

Clearing hurdles

Markov notes that, based on purely physical limitations, some academics have estimated that Moore's law had hundreds of years left in it. In contrast, the International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors (ITRS), a group sponsored by the major semiconductor manufacturing nations, gives it a couple of decades. And the ITRS can be optimistic; it once expected that we would have 10GHz CPUs back in the Core2 days. The reason for this discrepancy is that a lot of hard physical limits never come into play.

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Facebook knows when you see a product on your phone, buy it on a PC

8/14/2014 12:11pm

Facebook has added the ability for marketers to track customers across devices when a displayed ad is followed by a purchase, according to a blog post from the company Wednesday. "Cross-device reporting" will allow advertisers to track users' activity across multiple devices, including smartphones, tablets, and computers, to better understand how their ads convert viewers into customers.

Facebook writes that it has long offered "conversion measurement," a metric to show how often a displayed ad results in a successful sale, on a per-device basis. If a user clicked an ad on his or her phone and bought the product it was showing, Facebook would be able to tell that advertiser about it. Now, if a user views an ad on his or her phone and then later gets on a computer to buy the product shown, Facebook will be able to know about those actions and report them back to advertisers, too, all thanks to the ubiquitous Facebook login.

In an infographic accompanying the post, Facebook pointed out that cross-device conversion rates can be as high as 32 percent for a clicked ad within a time span of 28 days. While the new metric does give a new concrete dimension to marketers, it has another benefit: showing how effective Facebook advertising can be on Facebook users.

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T-Mobile to throttle P2P traffic and excessive tethering, leaked memo shows

8/14/2014 12:03pm

An internal T-Mobile memo published by TmoNews says the company will begin enforcing rules against peer-to-peer (P2P) file sharing and unauthorized tethering from August 17 onward.

The terms and conditions of T-Mobile US have contained restrictions on P2P and tethering since 2008, but enforcement appears to be new. The memo says that "only customers with Unlimited High-Speed Data" will be affected, and they will be given warnings before their data speeds are reduced.

“T-mobile has identified customers who are heavy data users and are engaged in peer-to-peer file sharing, and tethering outside of T-Mobile’s Terms and Conditions (T&C)," the leaked memo states. "This results in a negative data network experience for T-Mobile customers. Beginning August 17, T-Mobile will begin to address customers who are conducting activities outside of T-Mobile’s T&Cs.”

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Motorola event invite points to new phones, Moto 360 launch on Sept. 4

8/14/2014 11:28am
Motorola is getting ready to unleash a wave of new hardware, if rumors are to be believed. Motorola

Fans of the Moto X and those drooling over early previews of the Moto 360 smartwatch have been waiting for months for official launch information, and it looks like we might finally have it. Motorola began sending out invitations to an event happening on September 4 in Chicago, and the company's teaser site for the event shows pictures of a watch, what appears to be a Bluetooth headset, and the Moto X and G. The Moto 360 was said to be launching in the summer of 2014, a promise that Motorola would just barely be keeping since the autumnal equinox happens on the 23rd, and rumors about a "Moto X+1" and a "Moto G2" have been swirling for several months now.

A telltale teaser from Motorola's site. Motorola

The Moto 360 watch was the first Android Wear device to be announced, but it's launching behind less-interesting entries from both Samsung and LG. It will be the first Android Wear device to use a round screen instead of a square one, even though the face is broken up by a small black bar across the bottom (likely used for the rumored ambient light sensor). The watch is also said to use a wireless charging dock, where Samsung's and LG's use micro-USB docks with pogo pins. The Moto 360 will be sent out to all Google I/O attendees for free—attendees were already given the opportunity to take home either Samsung's or LG's watch to help with developing Android Wear apps.

As for the phones, current rumors suggest that the Moto X+1 and the Moto G2 (assuming those are their names) are upgraded, refined versions of the phones that launched in 2013. This means both should have customizable backs, relatively clean Android installations that are updated quickly, and competitive pricing compared to other phones with similar specs. High-quality, low-cost phones like the Moto G and E have helped Motorola boost its sales significantly after years of losses, and even though Google is preparing to sell Motorola to Lenovo, we wouldn't expect either parent company to mess with a successful formula.

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Here’s another Comcast cancellation horror story, with video evidence

8/13/2014 11:24pm

This story will sound familiar, but it's not a repeat. A month after AOL's Ryan Block posted an audio recording of a Comcast cancellation call that even a Comcast executive called "painful to listen to," another customer has posted a video showing how difficult it was for him to cancel service.  Aaron Spain: Comcast put me on hold until they closed.

Chicago resident Aaron Spain explained in the video Monday that he was on hold for more than three hours, showing the time of the call on his phone as proof. He was calling to cancel Comcast "after a month of trying to get them to fix my service," he said. Spain was transferred to the retention department, but didn't actually get to talk to anyone. After using a different phone to call back the same number, Comcast's automated assistant told Spain, "I'm sorry, but our offices are now closed."

Comcast admitted fault, telling news sites today that “Under no circumstances is this the experience we want our customers to have. Our goal is to be respectful of our customers’ time and fix any issues the first time. We take this very seriously, and after investigating Mr. Spain’s situation, we want to apologize to him and acknowledge that his experience was completely unacceptable.”

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A portable router that conceals your Internet traffic

8/13/2014 8:25pm
Ryan Lackey (left) holds up a prototype PORTAL travel router during his Def Con presentation with Marc Rogers (right). Sean Gallagher

The news over the past few years has been spattered with cases of Internet anonymity being stripped away, despite (or because) of the use of privacy tools. Tor, the anonymizing “darknet” service, has especially been in the crosshairs—and even some of its most paranoid users have made a significant operational security (OPSEC) faux pas or two. Hector “Sabu” Monsegur, for example, forgot to turn Tor on just once before using IRC, and that was all it took to de-anonymize him. (It also didn’t help that he used a stolen credit card to buy car parts sent to his home address.)

If hard-core hacktivists trip up on OPSEC, how are the rest of us supposed to keep ourselves hidden from prying eyes? At Def Con, Ryan Lackey of CloudFlare and Marc Rogers of Lookout took to the stage (short their collaborator, the security researcher known as “the grugq,” who could not attend due to unspecified travel difficulties) to discuss common OPSEC fails and ways to avoid them. They also discussed their collaboration on a set of tools that promises to make OPSEC easy—or at least easier—for everyone.

Called Personal Onion Router To Assure Liberty (PORTAL), the project is a pre-built software image for an inexpensive pocket-sized “travel router” to automatically protect its owner’s Internet traffic. Portal provides always-on Tor routing, as well as “pluggable” transports for Tor that can hide the service’s traffic signature from some deep packet inspection systems.

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Alleged phone thief calls 911 because victim won’t leave her alone

8/13/2014 4:20pm
Gwyneth Anne Bronwynne

A suspect accused of stealing a cell phone called 911 to report her alleged victim for harassment, according to a report from Komo News Tuesday. Police responded to the call when the suspect said the victim was "following her and refusing to leave her alone."

The Seattle Police Department relayed the suspect's story: she was sitting on the bus with her boyfriend near a sleeping 21-year-old man who suddenly woke up and accused the couple of taking his phone. According to the alleged victim, he was listening to music on his phone with his eyes closed when the music suddenly stopped. When he looked up, he alleged, the suspect and her boyfriend were holding his phone.

When he accused them of taking his device, he reported that the couple began punching and kicking him and then ran off the bus. He followed them, and the boyfriend ran away while the woman paused to call 911. Komo News reported that police arrived on the scene, and the woman continued to insist that she had not taken the phone until officers noticed a phone-shaped bulge in her pocket. She was arrested and taken to King County Jail for investigation of robbery as well as for allegedly possessing three grams of crack.

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Craigslist-like website for gun sales not liable for woman’s murder

8/13/2014 3:16pm

A Craigslist-like website that facilitates weapons sales between buyers and sellers cannot be liable for the actions of its users, including the murder of a woman by a handgun advertised on the site, a federal appeals court ruled.

The case decided Tuesday by the 7th US Circuit Court of Appeals concerns a woman murdered in 2011 with a .40-caliber handgun that a Seattle man advertised on Armslist for $400. A Canadian man bought the weapon.

Demetry Smirnov, the gun purchaser, murdered Jitka Vesel in Chicago with that weapon after an online romance soured. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life in prison. The man who sold him the gun, Benedict Ladera, was handed a year in jail for illegally selling the firearm, as federal regulations prohibit the transfer of weapons to people in another state or country, the appeals court said.

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Amazon’s new mobile card reader waltzes onto Square and PayPal’s dance floor

8/13/2014 3:12pm

Amazon just announced its new Local Register service, a mobile card reader and app that allows merchants to swipe cards and take payments without a traditional card reader. The service is akin to those from Square and PayPal, which both use a physical card reader that plugs into a phone or tablet's headphone jack and lets customers swipe magnetic stripe cards.

As Amazon's done many times before with bookstablets (not phones), and hosting services, among other things, the company is dramatically undercutting the incumbent companies right out of the box. Amazon's card reader only costs $10, and the company has promised that customers who register for the service before October 31 will only be charged 1.75 percent on all transaction fees made through the swipe reader until January 1, 2016. Outside of that deal, merchants using Amazon Local Register are charged 2.5 percent for each swiped transaction and 2.75 percent for all manually keyed-in purchases.

That's compared to Square and PayPal, which charge 2.75 and 2.7 percent, respectively, on swiped transactions. Both competitors charge 3.5 percent + $0.15 for manually keyed transactions. Square and PayPal both offer their card readers for free when a customer registers with them, but the true cost of the readers is in the transaction fees. Amazon, for its part, says the first $10 in transaction fees will be credited back to the customer to make up for the cost of the swipe device.

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Konami: Both Metal Gear Solid V episodes coming to PC via Steam

8/13/2014 3:05pm

Famed Konami game creator Hideo Kojima seems determined to break news every single day of this week's Gamescom expo. After yesterday's revelation that Kojima is working on a new entry in the Silent Hill franchise, today comes news that Metal Gear Solid V will see release on the PC as well as consoles.

The news leaked by way of an early post to the Konami website, and it was confirmed during a live gameplay presentation and interview with GameTrailers' Geoff Keighley, which is ongoing. The website blurb suggests that both the introductory Ground Zeroes and the more substantial Phantom Pain episodes will be coming to Windows via Steam.

Metal Gear Solid V is the first game to run on Konami's new Fox Engine, and we can't wait to see what the PC modding community does with the landscape of Kojima's futuristic Afghanistan.

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Internet routers hitting 512K limit, some become unreliable

8/13/2014 3:03pm
Chart courtesy of Renesys, a subsidiary of Dyn

From performance issues at hosting provider Liquid Web to outages at eBay and LastPass, large networks and websites suffered a series of disruptions and outages on Tuesday. Some Internet engineers are blaming the disruptions on a novel technical issue that impacts older Internet routers.

At the heart of the issue, the growth of routable networks on the Internet overwhelmed the amount of memory set aside in infrastructure hardware, typically routers and switches, that determines the appropriate way to route data through the Internet. For the first time, the lists of routable networks—also called border gateway protocol (BGP) tables—surpassed a significant power of two (two to the 19th power or 512K). Many older routers limit their use of a specialized, and expensive, type of memory known as ternary content-addressable memory (TCAM) to 512K by default.

When the tables outgrew the space allotted for them, the routers shut down or slowed.

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