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The Art of Technology
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Nespresso “open-sources” coffee pod business under government pressure

4/17/2014 11:32am

France's antitrust authority has persuaded Nespresso to change its anti-competitive practices in the coffee-pod market and open its espresso machine to third parties, reports the Wall Street Journal. The deal comes after Nespresso's long, losing battle to shut out competitors with patents and customer warnings.

In France, Nespresso controls 78 percent of the coffee pod market, according to the Journal. Two competitors complained to the French Autoritée de la Concurrence two years ago, and Nespresso lost a patent covering its machines last year.

As part of the new agreement, Nespresso will remove language on its pods and machines that suggest only Nespresso products can be used together. Nespresso will also provide support to users of its machines who use third-party pods and will "abstain from negative comments about other capsules."

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Why climate change hits the world’s poor harder

4/17/2014 10:41am
Ethiopians carrying jerrycans of water. UNICEF Ethiopia/2011/Lemma

You’re living in Sub-Saharan Africa during a drought entering its second year. The diminished harvests have left you without enough food, and your family is trying to figure out how to get by. You’ve settled on selling some of your livestock and securing a small loan to help cover the cost of food, confident that you’ll be able to recover quickly and repay your debt.

Some of your friends, however, have less wealth than you. If they sell their last two cattle, it could be a long time before they could afford to replace them. And given that their annual income is highly variable, they can’t risk taking out a loan they may not be able to pay back. So rather than dig themselves into a potentially inescapable hole, they eat less and go hungry. Some of those families have growing children, but they see no other way.

In situations like these, those in poverty can be significantly more vulnerable than their wealthier counterparts. When you have little, your flexibility to deal with unpredictable crises is limited.

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Yahoo’s strategy: Rebuild search, take share, win iOS from Google

4/17/2014 10:17am

Re/code's Kara Swisher has an in-depth scoop describing what is likely Yahoo's overarching goal for the near-to-mid term: displacing Google as Apple's default Safari search engine on iOS devices. There's a lot of money and mindshare to be had by taking the default search position on mobile devices, especially Apple's. Swisher reports that Google allegedly pulls in much more revenue from search on iOS than it does on Android, and Mayer's Yahoo appears to regard a return to prominence in search as a key to the company's long-term success.

There's a lot more going on behind the scenes, though. Yahoo currently relies on Microsoft's Bing for search results as part of a long-term partnership deal with Microsoft; the company has no actual search product of its own. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land correctly points out that it's been a long time since Yahoo provided its own search results, and the company would need to start from scratch with infrastructure, personnel, and an algorithm in order to actually do search again. Just reserving Bing results wouldn't work—if Apple wanted Bing search results on iOS, it would be better off skipping the middle man and going to Microsoft directly.

But the idea of a big investment doesn't appear to scare Yahoo at all. Even as Yahoo appears to struggle, it actually has a huge amount of cash right now due to its stake in Chinese e-commerce portal Alibaba. This gives Yahoo the money (and, more importantly, the time) to resurrect its deprecated search product. As Sullivan notes, the Web has grown considerably since Yahoo last did search, but Mayer has an answer to that: two Yahoo initiatives (reportedly codenamed "Fast Break" and "Curveball") are aimed at recharging both search and search-based advertising).

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Now there’s an easy way to flag sites vulnerable to Heartbleed

4/17/2014 9:52am

Developers at Internet services company Netcraft have released a browser extension that makes it easy for Web surfers to know if the site they're visiting is vulnerable to the catastrophic Heartbleed vulnerability.

The extension works on the Chrome, Firefox, and Opera browsers. It's available here, and you can read Netcraft's description of it here. Once installed, it provides a bleeding heart icon and warning sign when users visit a site that remains susceptible to one or more of the risks posed by Heartbleed, the extremely critical bug that allows attackers to pluck sensitive data from the memory of vulnerable servers. Exposed data most often seems to include usernames and passwords, but it can also include taxpayer identification numbers and even the private encryption keys that are a website's crown jewels.

The Netcraft extension will alert users if an OpenSSL-powered site has yet to install an update that's immune to Heartbleed exploits. It also lets people know if sites that have updated OpenSSL are still using an HTTPS encryption certificate that has yet to be changed since OpenSSL was updated. That latter alert is crucial, since possession of a private encryption key makes it possible for attackers to impersonate HTTPS-protected sites with malicious sites that are almost impossible for most end users to detect. Out of an abundance of caution, all sites that were vulnerable to Heartbleed should assume their keys are now in the hands of malicious attackers.

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Why the Windows 8.1 Update probably means no more Service Packs for Windows

4/16/2014 9:45pm

In response to customer outcry, organizations holding off on deploying the Windows 8.1 Update will be able to get security updates for their systems for another three-and-a-half months, as opposed to the 30 days that Microsoft originally promised.

When the Windows 8.1 Update designed to improve the mouse and keyboard experience of Windows 8.1 was initially released last week, Microsoft said that it was a mandatory update. Any future security updates, starting from next month, would require the update to be installed.

This was met with a frustrated response from IT personnel. Not only did the update cause problems with Windows Server Update Services (WSUS) deployments (though this was fixed today), it was also of a sufficient scale and size that organizations that were partway through deploying Windows 8.1 don't want to switch to the update partway through, due to the need to re-test and re-validate it.

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Still going strong: Sony sells more than 7 million PlayStation 4s

4/16/2014 8:58pm

On Wednesday, Sony said that it had sold more than seven million Playstation 4 consoles worldwide as of April 4, according to a report from Reuters. Those numbers reflect a million-console increase from last month, when Sony said it sold six million consoles after the PS4's Japan launch.

The PS4 launched in North America in November 2013, and at the time Sony trumpeted that it sold more than one million units on day one. Today, Sony's representatives said that the company is having trouble keeping up with demand. "Although we are still facing difficulties keeping up with the strong demand worldwide, we remain steadfast in our commitment to meet the needs of our customers," said Andrew House, president and group chief executive officer of Sony Computer Entertainment, in a statement.

According to a VGChartz estimate, Sony's sales have out-paced those of Microsoft's Xbox One, which has sold about 4.2 million units.

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Despite Lavabit contempt order, e-mail privacy stalled in Congress

4/16/2014 7:54pm
Jase Group LLC

A federal appeals court is holding in contempt the operator of a now-defunct e-mail service because he refused to abide by a court order and turn over the crypto keys and expose Lavabit's 400,000 customers to the government's prying eyes.

Equally troubling as that Wednesday decision by the Fourth US Circuit Court of Appeals may be, Congress has essentially punted on reforming the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, the law surrounding e-mail privacy.

That has led one of the leading lobbyists on the matter to declare a defeat of sorts.

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Google Fiber finally rolling out Internet service to businesses

4/16/2014 7:25pm

Google Fiber began as a service just for residents and public buildings like schools, libraries, and community centers, but it's now being expanded to cover businesses as well.

Google will start a pilot program to connect small businesses in Kansas City before rolling out a more widely available service.

"We are working hard to finalize our service offering for small businesses and would like to invite you to be part of the process," Google says. "We are looking for a few businesses in Kansas City to provide feedback about using Fiber at work. Over the next few months, we’ll be connecting a limited number of small businesses to our network in exchange for feedback about the service."

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Steam Gauge: Addressing your questions and concerns

4/16/2014 7:00pm
Flickr user: Tim O'Brien

Since we finally unveiled our Steam Gauge project late last night, we've been overwhelmed by positive responses to the data. It's been come from all over—comment threads, Twitter, e-mail, and links from other sites. It's much appreciated.

We've also received some questions and concerns about our data, our methodology, and what we plan to do with this project going forward. Here are some responses to the most common issues that have been brought up in the last 24 hours or so.

Isn't your data off? Steam didn't always track gameplay hours in the past

Indeed. Before posting our analysis last night, I was not aware that Steam only started tracking the "number of hours played" statistics on in March of 2009. This isn't a small oversight: games played solely before this date would show up erroneously as "unplayed" in our data, and games released before that time might show fewer total hours than they should. This helps explain why older games like Ricochet and Deathmatch Classic seem so unpopular among people who own them—because most players probably put in their hours before March of 2009.

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Cassini may be witnessing the birth (or death) of a moon of Saturn

4/16/2014 6:45pm

"Saturn’s rings are a conveniently located dynamical laboratory," says the opening sentence of a new paper. The convenient part may be debatable, but the dynamism isn't. The rings are filled with gaps and wiggles, created by interactions among their particles and a collection of small moons that act as shepherds, their gravity ushering the rings' particles into distinctive orbits.

Now researchers have identified a series of bright objects embedded in the outer edge of Saturn's A Ring. The largest of these, which has been nicknamed "Peggy," may be as much as a kilometer across. The objects may represent a moon that is disintegrating after contact with the outer edge of the A Ring. But it could also be one in the process of formation—a process that may have played out many times in Saturn's past.

The initial observation of Peggy, shown above, came in a photograph taken a year ago yesterday by the Cassini orbiter. That prompted a dive into the image archive. Prior to May of 2012, the orbiter didn't have a good perspective for imaging the rings for over a year, but Peggy was visible in over 100 detections between then and November of 2013.

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Confirmed: Nasty Heartbleed bug exposes OpenVPN private keys, too

4/16/2014 6:37pm
Matthew Hadley

Private encryption keys have been successfully extracted multiple times from a virtual private network server running the widely used OpenVPN application with a vulnerable version of OpenSSL, adding yet more urgency to the call for operators to fully protect their systems against the catastrophic Heartbleed bug.

Developers who maintain the open source OpenVPN package previously warned that private keys underpinning VPN sessions were vulnerable to Heartbleed. But until Wednesday, there was no public confirmation such a devastating theft was feasible in real-world settings, said Fredrik Strömberg, the operator of a Sweden-based VPN service who carried out the attacks on a test server. An attacker carrying out a malicious attack could use the same exploit to impersonate a target's VPN server and, in some cases, decrypt traffic passing between an end user and the real VPN server.

Wednesday's confirmation means any OpenVPN server—and likely servers using any other VPN application that may rely on OpenSSL—should follow the multistep path for recovering from Heartbleed, which is among the most serious bugs ever to hit the Internet. The first step is to update the OpenSSL library to the latest version. That step is crucial but by no means sufficient. Because Heartbleed may have leaked the private key that undergirds all VPN sessions, updated users may still be susceptible to attacks by anyone who may have exploited the vulnerability and made off with the key. To fully recover from Heartbleed, administrators should also revoke their old key certificates, ensure all end user applications are updated with a current certificate revocation list, and reissue new keys.

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AT&T hates plan to help small carriers, threatens boycott of FCC auction

4/16/2014 6:28pm
Chris Young

AT&T is hopping mad that the Federal Communications Commission wants to give smaller carriers a more favorable shot at buying broadcast TV spectrum that will be shifted to the cellular industry.

The airwaves in the 600MHz band are set to be auctioned next year, and the FCC seems to be leaning toward putting restrictions on the biggest carriers. The restrictions could limit the amount of money the auction takes in but help prevent AT&T and Verizon from further dominating the US wireless market.

AT&T pulling out of the auction could be good for its rivals, but would make the spectrum sales less lucrative for the government and TV broadcasters.

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AMD demos HSA for the server room with Java on top

4/16/2014 5:15pm

In San Francisco today, AMD demonstrated a new Opteron X Series processor, codenamed Berlin, that brings AMD's APU concept and HSA technology into the server room.

For some years, AMD has been promoting its heterogeneous system architecture (HSA), which enables CPUs, GPUs, and other coprocessors to share data and cooperate more easily. The company released Kaveri, its first desktop APUs ("accelerated processing units"—CPUs with integrated GPUs) that support HSA earlier this year.

Berlin is the server counterpart, wedding AMD's Steamroller x86 CPU cores to its Graphics Core Next 1.1 R-series GPU cores.

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Google misses Q1 2014 earnings with $15.42 billion in revenue

4/16/2014 5:05pm

Google reported its earnings for Q1 2014 on Wednesday. Wall Street was expecting Google to hit earnings of $6.33 a share and revenue of $15.58 billion, but the company missed that mark, only hitting $5.04 a share and revenue of $15.42 billion. Wall Street expectations aside, that's 19 percent more cash than Google brought in this time last year.

Google is actually up to two stock tickers after a stock split that happened early this month. Besides the usual GOOG ticker, there is now also Class C "GOOGL" stock. This move basically doubled the outstanding shares, putting the company at 672 million.

Site revenue, which represents sites Google operates (like, YouTube, and Gmail), generated revenue of $10.47 billion, or 68 percent of total revenue. That's a 21 percent increase over last year. Network revenue, aka "Adsense," did $3.4 billion in revenue, a four percent increase over last year. The "Other Revenue" category, which is mostly Google Play app, media, and hardware sales (including the Chromecast), was again up a huge amount—48 percent—doing $1.05 billion in revenue.

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Heartbleed hacker arrested, charged in connection to malicious bug exploit

4/16/2014 4:32pm
marsmett tallahassee

A 19-year-old student has been arrested for allegedly exploiting the Heartbleed vulnerability to steal taxpayer data from as many as 900 Canadians, authorities said Wednesday.

The arrest of Stephen Arthuro Solis-Reyes by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police marks the first time authorities anywhere have publicly levied charges in connection to the malicious exploitation of a defect in the widely used OpenSSL cryptography library.

Canada Revenue Agency officials said they had removed public access to online tax services a day after the defect was discovered earlier this month.

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Kim Dotcom is totally stoked to get his cars and money back

4/16/2014 4:00pm
Kim Dotcom

More than two years after his home was raided by authorities, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom stands to get back some of the millions of dollars worth of cash and property that was seized due to his alleged copyright crimes.

A New Zealand court has turned down the government's application to continue holding Dotcom's assets past a two-year deadline. The news came via a statement from one of Dotcom's lawyers, Robert Gapes, who shared the statement with Fairfax NZ News.

Dotcom reacted on Twitter. "Mona and I are getting our New Zealand assets back, unless the Crown appeals :-)))" he wrote early Wednesday morning, US time.

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Mt. Gox handed over to court-appointed administrator in Japan

4/16/2014 3:30pm
Zach Copley

A Tokyo court has denied Mt. Gox’s application to revive the embattled Bitcoin exchange, and the company has been handed over to a court-appointed administrator as it attempts to deal with its bankruptcy protection case.

“There are no prospects for the restart of the business,” wrote CEO Mark Karpeles in a statement posted to the company’s website on Wednesday.

Mt. Gox asked the court to begin civil rehabilitation in late February 2014.

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Taking Google’s modular, upgradeable smartphone from concept to reality

4/16/2014 3:23pm
The original Project Ara concept render. We're now just a bit closer to reality. Motorola

Technology has been getting smaller and more tightly integrated for years, but that doesn't mean everyone likes it that way. Enthusiasts in particular (including many Ars readers) are vocal about things like soldered-in system RAM, non-replaceable batteries, and other design decisions that improve our gadgets in some ways at the expense of repairability and expandability.

Google's "Project Ara" is a phone that wants to fight that trend. The goal is to create a smartphone pieced together from individual modules, theoretically giving users the ability to upgrade and repair their phones without replacing the entire thing every couple of years or so. Phone too slow? Upgrade the processor. Hate your camera? Get a new one. Battery worn out? Replace it.

And people seem interested, at least in theory—a concept video for "Phonebloks," a modular phone idea not unlike Project Ara, has amassed more than 19 million views on YouTube as of this writing. At Google's first Project Ara developers conference this week, the company showed off an actual prototype and detailed some of the technologies that will take this phone from a nice-looking, nice-sounding concept photo to an actual, usable device. The prototype simultaneously demonstrates the idea's promise and the reasons why it may struggle to succeed.

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Google overhauls Android camera app with new interface and bokeh effects

4/16/2014 2:34pm

The Android camera app has usually been the worst part of stock Android devices, but it looks like Google is finally going to change that. The company has just released a revamped version of the "Google Camera" app to the Play Store. The new app has an entirely new interface that does away with the nasty sliding arc controls of the old version.

Google Camera is compatible with any device running KitKat and up, which means you can replace the terrible stock camera app—plus you have the option of dumping your skinned OEM app for Google's version.

Besides opening up the "PhotoSphere" 360-degree panorama feature to more devices, the app also adds a fake depth-of-field mode, which is all the rage nowadays. Google's version is pretty clever. While HTC added an entire extra camera and Samsung just used raw computing guess-work, Google lets you take a picture of the subject and then move the camera upward so it can capture the subject from a second angle. It works pretty well, especially if you go to the settings and turn on the "high quality" mode.

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New “solar thermal fuel” has energy density of lead batteries

4/16/2014 2:13pm

Right now, photovoltaic devices are the cheapest, most efficient way to harvest the energy in sunlight. The problem is that this energy ends up in the form of electricity, which we have difficulty storing in a cost-effective manner. An alternative approach, solar thermal energy, converts solar energy to heat and can use that heat to continue generating power for several hours after the Sun goes down. But that's not enough to make solar an around-the-clock energy source.

Researchers are apparently working on a third option, one that could potentially store energy indefinitely. It goes by the name of "solar thermal fuel," but it's not a fuel in the traditional sense. Rather than breaking apart the fuel molecule through combustion, solar thermal fuels release heat by rearranging bonds within a molecule, leaving all the atoms in place. As a result, they can be recycled repeatedly—in the example that introduced me to solar thermal fuels, a research team ran theirs through more than 2,000 cycles with no loss in performance.

How do you get energy into and out of a molecule without breaking any bonds? In this case, the authors worked with derivatives of a chemical called azobenzene, shown below. The double bond between the two nitrogens forces the remaining bonds into one of two forms: either both of the rings can be on opposite sides of the molecule (top, called the "trans" form) or they can be on the same side (bottom, called "cis").

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