Syndicate content
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 1 hour 18 min ago

PS4 Slim leaks online, looks legit

8/22/2016 9:22am

Enlarge (credit: NeoGAF)

Sony will have not one, but two consoles on show at its upcoming PlayStation Meeting event on September 7—and the first appears to have leaked online. A thinner, rounder PlayStation 4 Slim was spotted for sale on classified listings site Gumtree (now removed) via local retailer, which claimed it was due for release in three weeks. Twitter user shortman82 has since purchased the unit, unboxed it, and slapped a load of photos online.

The purported PS4 Slim looks considerably thinner than the original PS4, which was already a small console. The same cleaved-rhombus aesthetic remains, but the corners have been rounded off, while the glossy plastic section that covered the hard drive on the original PS4 has been removed entirely. While that's good for fans of fingerprint-free gadgets, it does raise questions as to whether the hard drive will be replaceable in the PS4 Slim, particularly as the listed model (CUH-2016A) only sports 500GB of storage.

Sony has typically removed features from its consoles to make them cheaper to manufacture and thus cheaper to sell to consumers (remember all the media card slots on the original PlayStation 3?), so such a move wouldn't be unprecedented.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Little Nightmares might be the most impressive game at Gamescom

8/22/2016 9:12am

Little Nightmares made its debut at Gamescom 2016.

COLOGNE, Germany—When you're a child, everything is terrifying. Shadows under the bed hide monsters, the light peeking through the window creating a world of stark whites and blacks. Tarsier Studios' Little Nightmares (formally known as Hunger) brings you straight back to this world, filling you with that inflated sense of wonder and horror only a child can feel. It's impressive stuff.

Boil it down and Little Nightmares is a simple platformer with stealth elements and puzzle solving. In a short Gamescom demo, I traversed an area, trying not to be seen by an overwhelmingly powerful enemy, while also figuring out how to gain enough platforming height to reach an elevated air vent. Philosophically and artistically, though, it's so much more.

"Even though we've got this solid core of a game idea, everyone in the studio has a different take on what’s going on," explains senior narrative director Dave Merkiv. "It would depend on who you talk to as to what the game means, but for me I see the cruelty of being a vulnerable kid caught in the middle of absolute grotesquery and trapped within these things that don't make sense."

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

America hasn’t seen a solar eclipse like this since the end of World War I

8/21/2016 1:00pm

Enlarge / Path of totality for the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. (credit: Wikimedia)

For many cultures a total solar eclipse represents a time when either a demon or animal consumes the Sun. For example, the Vikings saw a pair of sky wolves chasing the Sun, and when one caught it, the wolf would eat it. In Vietnam, either a frog or toad consumed the Sun. For the Kwakiutl tribe on the western coast of Canada, it was the mouth of heaven.

Soon, the United States will have a chance to see an eclipse of our own (and assign cultural value as we please). Mark your calendars: the next total solar eclipse comes to the USA one year from today, on August 21, 2017.

Modern Americans probably don't know exactly what to make of a total solar eclipse—because most of them have never seen one. The last total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States, 37 years ago, only clipped the northwestern United States, mostly rural areas of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and North Dakota. According to, the day of Feb. 26, 1979, was cold and dreary in the Northwest, and most people in the path of totality did not see the eclipse due to clouds and rain. The last eclipse to traverse much of the United States came all the way back in 1918, on June 8.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sonic black hole produces equivalent of Hawking radiation

8/21/2016 12:00pm

Enlarge / Like this, but one-dimensional and only trapping sound. (credit: NASA)

One of the common descriptions of black holes is that their gravitational pull is so strong, not even light can escape it. Stephen Hawking is famous for (among other things) showing that this isn't actually true. The Hawking radiation that bears his name allows matter to escape from the grip of a black hole. In fact, Hawking's work suggests that an isolated black hole would slowly evaporate away and cease to exist.

But his work remains entirely theoretical. Hawking radiation is expected to be so diffuse that we could only detect it if we could somehow find or create a black hole isolated from all other matter. But Jeff Steinhauer of Israel's Technion has been on a sometimes single-handed quest to develop a system that can accurately model a black hole's behavior. And, in a recent paper in Nature Physics, Dr. Steinhauer describes how his model system generates what appears to be Hawking radiation.

Searching for the horizon

A feature called the event horizon plays a central role in both Hawking radiation and the new model system. At a real black hole, the space-time outside the event horizon may be distorted by the intense gravity, but the distortion is relatively limited. Inside the event horizon, however, space-time is stretched at a rate that's faster than the speed of light. Photons can't escape because the space-time they occupy is getting stretched away from the event horizon faster than the photon can move.

Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Most effective teams have high testosterone and low cortisol

8/21/2016 11:00am


Working collaboratively in small groups is one of the primary ways that modern humans accomplish anything. But what explains whether a group succeeds? Previous research on group dynamics has considered things like the demographic and psychological characteristics of individual group members. But a recent study published in PNAS indicates that their biology matters, too. Groups with collectively high testosterone and low cortisol (a stress hormone) show the highest performance in group tasks.

To examine the effects of hormones on group performance, the researchers collected saliva samples from 370 MBA students, then assigned them into groups of three to six members. The groups were then given a group decision-making task, and their performance was evaluated in light of the testosterone and cortisol levels in their saliva samples.

The decision-making task was a computerized exercise that asked the group to manage a fictional computerized laboratory for seven days, with the goal of maximizing profitability. The groups competed against each other to devise the most profitable management scheme. Since the lab required 24-hour monitoring and was too complicated for one person to manage on their own, the task required members to be interdependent and rely on each other to maximize their performance. However, team members were allowed to use any decision-making process they preferred to complete the task.

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Space and booze, an anecdotal history

8/21/2016 10:00am
  • Since this is a cocktail conference, every seminar needs a tasting. This riff on an Old Fashioned was inspired by Comet Lovejoy, "which is effectively a massive Old Fashioned—alcohol and sugar—slinging itself along the universe," said bartender Tristan Stephenson. Nathan Mattise

NEW ORLEANS—"Half a century ago, this was an essential part of spaceman culture," said Jeffrey Kluger, senior writer at Time and author of the book that inspired Apollo 13. Presenting at the world's best alcohol event, Kluger wasn't referring to old astronaut traditions like military experience or crew cuts. "Test pilots were male, under 6-feet tall, and had to be a tough and tireless drinker."

Tales of the Cocktail 2016 continued the conference's trend of sneaking science into a series of bar industry seminars. Food scientists from Bacardi discussed internal testing on carbonation in liquor, and alcohol alchemist Camper English unveiled his tireless research on the compounds and combinations that can be lethal (or at least really, really bad) when unleashed in our cocktails. But this year's schedule also featured what seemed like a peculiarity—a panel titled "Cosmic Cocktails: The Final Frontier" that outlined the informal history of NASA and drinking.

According to Kluger, the intertwining of highballs and high altitudes was inescapable—a natural evolution of the downtime imbibing of previous military generations. For many of the US' early space pioneers, this part of training took place outside Southern California's Edwards Air Force Base at a vast and communal pub in the Mojave Desert called the Happy Bottom Riding Club (fittingly considering its clientele, the bar was created by Pancho Barnes, a pioneering female pilot who had bested Amelia Earhart's air speed record at age 29).

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments defies sex trafficking subpoena despite Senate contempt vote

8/21/2016 9:00am

(credit: Mayor McGinn)

The First Amendment has been good, really good to the online classified ads portal In 2015, the US Constitution helped Backpage dodge a lawsuit from victims of sex trafficking. What's more, a federal judge invoked the First Amendment and crucified an Illinois sheriff—who labeled Backpage a "sex trafficking industry profiteer"—because the sheriff coerced Visa and Mastercard to refrain from processing payments to the site. The judge said Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart's anti-Backpage lobbying amounted to "an informal extralegal prior restraint of speech" because Dart's actions were threatening the site's financial survival.

But the legal troubles didn't end there for Backpage, which The New York Times had labeled "the leading site for trafficking of women and girls in the United States."

Thirteen months ago, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, which is examining sex trafficking on the Internet, subpoenaed (PDF) Carl Ferrer, Backpage's chief executive officer. But Ferrer, citing the First Amendment, has largely refused to comply with the subpoena—which essentially demands to know everything about the company's business model and profits, including how it screens ads. That screening aspect of the subpoena are similar to the one Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood issued to Google about its polices of policing third-party content. In July, however, Hood and Google settled their dispute about the subpoena, which read like a page from the anti-piracy playbook of the Motion Picture Association of America.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Mozilla is changing its look—and asking the Internet for feedback

8/20/2016 5:50pm

Mozilla is trying a rebranding. Back in June, the browser developer announced that it would freshen up its logo and enlist the Internet's help in reaching a final decision. The company hired British design company Johnson Banks to come up with seven new "concepts" to illustrate the company's work, as shown in the gallery above.

The logos rely on vibrant colors, and several of them recall '80s and '90s style. In pure, nearly-unintelligible marketing speak, Mozilla writes that each new design reflects a story about the company. "From paying homage to our paleotechnic origins to rendering us as part of an ever-expanding digital ecosystem, from highlighting our global community ethos to giving us a lift from the quotidian elevator open button, the concepts express ideas about Mozilla in clever and unexpected ways" Mozilla's Creative Director Tim Murray writes in a blog post.

Mozilla is soliciting comment and criticism on the seven new designs for the next two weeks, but this is no Boaty McBoatface situation. Mozilla is clear that it's not crowdsourcing a design, asking anyone to work on spec, or holding a vote over which logo the Internet prefers. It's just asking for comments.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

The International 2016: the greatest event not just in Dota 2 but in all of e-sports

8/20/2016 11:00am

Video shot by Sam Machkovech, edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

The greatest game in the world is Dota 2, and the greatest event in the Dota 2 calendar is The International. Sixteen teams meet at Seattle's KeyArena to compete for a share of the tournament's $20,770,460 prize pool. The winning team takes home a cool $9.1 million.

Dota 2 made me understand the passion and obsession suffered by people who follow sports. Attending the sixth International (TI6) took this to another level. I've spent the last week feeling thoroughly drained. Empty, even. I want the International to come back. I miss it. My life is incomplete without it.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Elite Dangerous: Guardians 2.2: Everything you need to know

8/20/2016 10:30am


Remember Elite's CQC (close-quarters combat) Championship, its lesser loved multiplayer arena combat mode? While it's not getting the overhaul it arguably needs—nor is the now-postponed £75,000 ($100,000) CQC tournament making a comeback—Frontier is taking some of the best bits of CQC and bringing them to the wider Elite universe as part of the upcoming Elite Dangerous: Guardians 2.2 update in October.

The big news: single-seat, ship-launched fighters based on the CQC fighter designs. The idea is that players will be able to launch one of these fighters and pilot it remotely, issuing commands back to the mothership. You could tell the mothership to stay put, for instance, to keep it out of harm's way, or tell it to follow the fighter and go in all guns blazing. You can hot swap between the two ships too, opening up some particularly devious attack patterns.

There are three fighters available. The F63 Condor federal fighter and GU97 imperial fighter are identical their CQC counterparts, the former sporting the fastest acceleration in exchange for manoeuvrability and hull strength, the latter being more fragile but more manoeuvrable. More exciting is the Taipan fighter, which is new to the game. The most tank-like of the three ships, the Taipan trades speed and manoeuvrability for hull strength and shields, making it a particularly good option for heavy combat. Plus, it has a neat swing-wing design that makes it look far more intimidating than the other fighters.

Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Twilight Imperium, a board game with meal breaks

8/20/2016 10:00am

Enlarge (credit: Fantasy Flight)

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage at—and let us know what you think.

A bewildered American, trying to get his head around a game that regularly ends in a draw despite taking five days to finish, once called cricket “the only sport that incorporates meal breaks.” But the comment could also apply to the game many consider the white whale of board gaming: Twilight Imperium.

“Twimp,” as my group calls it, has 300 plastic ship miniatures, more than 400 cards, and thousands of cardboard counters. It comes in a box you could bury the family pet in; its rulebook runs to 44 pages. Expansions each contain more new material than most midsize standalone games, while an online subculture argues about which fishing tackle box provides the most aesthetically pleasing storage solution for the components. Fully expanded, eight players can go for—well, 11.5 hours is as long as we’ve gone, but others like to stretch the festivities over two days.

Read 38 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Space Hulk: Deathwing is an FPS dungeon crawler in spaaaace

8/20/2016 7:05am

Space Hulk: Deathwing got a deeper showing at Gamescom 2016.

COLOGNE, Germany—Both developer Streum On Studio and publisher Focus Home Interactive seem unwilling to define it as such, but Space Hulk: Deathwing is essentially an old-school dungeon crawler masquerading as a first-person shooter. The basic setup is that your four-player squad, consisting of either human players or AI, battle through enormous space stations made up of various rooms, corridors, and doors that can be blocked off or opened up.

The layout of the Space Hulk (read: dilapidated star ship) highlights just how dungeon-like the level design goals are, particularly the overhead map I'm shown during the Gamescom 2016 demo. Pathways bleed into each other to create circuit board-like channels of parallel and intersecting right angles, while rooms have multiple entry and exit points to defend or exploit. Things get very confusing very quickly. Your location goal is indicated on the map, but how you get there is down to you.

As per the tabletop game that shares the Space Hulk name, and from which Deathwing takes its inspiration, the ceaselessly energetic Genestealers (a predatory alien species) pursue you without pause. Their presence both forces your squad of Deathwing Space Marines to keep moving, and prevents you from recklessly pushing forwards. They are reason and fear combined into one.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Windows 10 Anniversary Update breaks most webcams

8/19/2016 4:49pm

Enlarge / Logitech's popular C920 camera. (credit: Logitech)

The Windows 10 Anniversary Update, aka version 1607, has been found to leave many webcams inoperable. The update prevents the use of webcams in applications such as Skype and Open Broadcaster Software (OBS), along with all manner of custom CCTV programs. Extremely popular hardware, such as Logitech's C920 and C930e cameras, in conjunction even with Microsoft's own Skype, will fail to properly broadcast video.

People first noticed the issue earlier this month. But it's only within the last couple of days that the exact cause became clear via a post by Brad Sams on

Microsoft has said that a fix is in development, but has not yet said when that fix will be distributed.

Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

How the NSA snooped on encrypted Internet traffic for a decade

8/19/2016 4:11pm

Enlarge (credit: NSA)

In a revelation that shows how the National Security Agency was able to systematically spy on many Cisco Systems customers for the better part of a decade, researchers have uncovered an attack that remotely extracts decryption keys from the company's now-decommissioned line of PIX firewalls.

The discovery is significant because the attack code, dubbed BenignCertain, worked on PIX versions Cisco released in 2002 and supported through 2009. Even after Cisco stopped providing PIX bug fixes in July 2009, the company continued offering limited service and support for the product for an additional four years. Unless PIX customers took special precautions, virtually all of them were vulnerable to attacks that surreptitiously eavesdropped on their VPN traffic. Beyond allowing attackers to snoop on encrypted VPN traffic, the key extraction also makes it possible to gain full access to a vulnerable network by posing as a remote user.

BenignCertain's capabilities were tentatively revealed in this blog post from Thursday, and they were later confirmed to work on real-world PIX installations by three separate researchers. Before the confirmation came, Ars asked Cisco to investigate the exploit. The company declined, citing this policy for so-called end-of-life products. The exploit helps explain documents leaked by NSA contractor Edward Snowden and cited in a 2014 article that appeared in Der Spiegel. The article reported that the NSA had the ability to decrypt more than 1,000 VPN connections per hour.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google is killing Chrome apps on Windows, Mac, and Linux

8/19/2016 3:55pm

Enlarge / Chrome apps running on an older version of Chrome OS. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Chrome OS has become a low-key success story for Google in the last few years. Because they're relatively cheap and easy to track and manage, Chromebooks has made inroads in businesses and educational institutions. But Chrome OS still has a big shortcoming compared to Windows and macOS: an app gap.

To help close that gap and augment Web apps, Google introduced the Chrome apps platform to let developers make Web apps that looked and functioned more like traditional standalone apps. Part of Google's sales pitch was that Chrome apps were universal—without any additional effort from developers, these apps would run not just on Chrome OS, but also any Windows, Mac, or Linux PC with Chrome installed.

The Chrome apps platform was an interesting experiment, but it has apparently failed. In a blog post today, Google said that "approximately 1 percent" of all Chrome users on Windows, Mac, and Linux were using Chrome apps. Arguing that Web standards have continued to evolve and become more capable and that the company is simplifying Chrome, Google says that support for Chrome apps on non-Chrome OS platforms will be phased out over the next two years. Extensions and themes will remain available on all platforms.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Had it been a tropical cyclone, Louisiana storm likely among 10 costliest

8/19/2016 3:36pm

Enlarge / Along Honey Cut Bayou, in eastern Baton Rouge, just north of Interstate 12. (credit: Louisiana Civil Air Patrol)

The first damage analysis of the slow-moving tropical system that deluged southern Louisiana last weekend is sobering. But for all the destruction it has caused, the low pressure system was not classified as a tropical storm or depression. Had it been a tropical cyclone, the storm would almost certainly rank among the 10 costliest hurricanes to strike the United States.

Louisiana newspaper The Advocate recently shared an analysis by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber. The analysis uses geographic information system data to study homes and businesses that had flooded in nine parishes in southeastern Louisiana. Some of the report's key findings include:

  • About 31% of homes (a total of 110,000 residences) within the nine parishes flooded.
  • The estimated value of homes located in flooded areas is $20.7 billion.
  • About 280,000 Baton Rouge metropolitan statistical area residents live in flooded areas.
  • As a region, a maximum of just 15% of all homes—not solely in the flood-impact areas—were insured against flooding.
  • Overall, 7,364 businesses employing 73,907 individuals are located in areas affected by floods. These represent 21% of businesses in the region.
  • Proportionally, businesses in Livingston experienced the most severe impact with 3,305 businesses that employ 27,653 employees in the areas of flood-impact, representing 91% of businesses and 94% of employees.

The $20.7 billion dollar figure for residential damages represents the estimated total value of residences in areas that flooded, not the actual damage. While that total will be significantly lower, this damage report does not include losses sustained to businesses, automobiles, or other personal items lost in the floodwaters. It will take some time before a total damage amount is released, which will include damage from insurers.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Anti-Google research group in Washington is funded by Oracle

8/19/2016 3:28pm

The Google Transparency Project is a Washington, DC group that's laser-focused on letting Americans know about Google's lobbying efforts. To get its message out, GTP has worked with journalists at Re/Code and The Intercept, which have run stories about Google's many visits to the White House, the prevalence of ex-Googlers in the US Digital Service, and other links.

What wasn't known, until today, is who was paying the bills for research by the "nonprofit watchdog" group. "The folks running the Google Transparency Project won’t say who is paying for it, which is odd for a group devoted to transparency," noted Fortune's Jeff John Roberts, one of many journalists who the group reached out to in April.

Today, Roberts has published a followup, confirming that based on a tip, he found at least one funder—Oracle. That's the same company that lost a major copyright trial to Google and continues to spar with the search giant in court.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

EFF accuses T-Mobile of violating net neutrality with throttled video

8/19/2016 2:43pm


The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) has accused T-Mobile USA of violating net neutrality principles with a new "unlimited" data plan that throttles video. The group is weighing whether to file a complaint with the Federal Communications Commission, and the EFF is evaluating a similar offering from Sprint.

T-Mobile's $70-per-month unlimited data plan limits video to about 480p resolution and requires customers to pay an extra $25 per month for high-definition video. The plan also throttles mobile hotspot connections unless customers pay an extra $15 for each 5GB allotment. Going forward, this will be the only plan offered to new T-Mobile customers, though existing subscribers can keep their current prices and data allotments.

"From what we've read thus far it seems like T-Mobile's new plan to charge its customers extra to not throttle video runs directly afoul of the principle of net neutrality," EFF Senior Staff Technologist Jeremy Gillula told the Daily Dot.

Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

What is all that stuff? A closer look at an Olympic-quality bow

8/19/2016 1:27pm

Enlarge / A recurve bow, showing the recurved limbs and the central riser. (credit: John Timmer)

A lot of us have only seen archery on episodes of Game of Thrones, or maybe we have hazy memories of a simple fiberglass bow at summer camp. If that's your picture of archery technology, then a modern bow probably looks like it was dropped off by aliens.

To find out how this equipment actually functions, we took a subway ride to Gotham Archery, where Anjalie Field walked us through all the moving (and, hopefully, stationary) parts of a bow that's fit for competitive archery. Field got hooked on the sport while young, and she loved it so much that when she ended up at a college without an archery team, she founded one.

Field explained that there are two classes of bows, compound bows and recurves. The string on a compound bow is threaded through a series of pulleys. These pulleys rotate off-center as the string is drawn back, changing the forces involved. Typically, this means that the initial draw requires considerable force, but once it's fully drawn, less effort is involved in holding it there.

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Early impressions: Titanfall 2 is more Titanfall than ever

8/19/2016 12:53pm
  • Those water effects...

Back at E3, a mere ten minutes with an early version of Titanfall 2 were enough. We were convinced that the grappling hook was a welcome addition that already felt like an integral part of Titanfall's rocket-pack-parkour-meets-mechs shooting action. Now, we've had a chance to put a few more hours into a "pre-alpha" version of the game during early access to this weekend's "technical test" on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One (which is available to the public starting today, running again August 26 through 28).

With the benefit of more time, we can confirm that the grappling hook changes the Titanfall formula for the better. Double jumps and zippy wall running are still nice, but they're not always a feasible way to gain the height you need to clamber on to an enemy mech or gain an advantageous shooting position. The grappling hook is often just a simpler way to scale a multi-story vertical wall or gain a little speed boost while trying desperately to dash to a far off objective (or even to rocket forward toward an unsuspecting enemy to score a quick jump-kick kill).

The hook is so useful that we found ourselves cursing its limitations—after a couple of uses in short succession, you have to wait a few seconds for the hook to recharge. This is a necessary limitation to stop players from simply grappling around the map with nonstop abandon, but... actually, that nonstop abandon sounds like a lot of fun!

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments