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Valve refuses government request to cut off Steam skin trading

10/19/2016 11:44am

Enlarge / Some of the CS:GO skins that can essentially be used as gambling chips on third-party sites.

This summer, as third-party gambling sites trafficking in Counter-Strike: GO skins began attracting public attention, Valve found itself the subject of two civil lawsuits accusing the company of aiding and abetting illegal gambling schemes. Now, Valve has been put on notice about a possible criminal complaint from the Washington State Gambling Commission (WSGC) for "facilitating" gambling activities through Steam.

In a letter sent to Valve earlier this month, the WSGC argued that third-party sites that let players gamble with their in-game skins are "facilitated within Valve Corporation’s Steam Platform" and that the sites "have Steam accounts and use the Steam platform to conduct their gambling transactions." The commission said it "expects Valve to take whatever actions are necessary to stop third-party websites from using 'skins' for gambling through its Steam Platform system" and said Valve risked "additional civil or criminal action" if it did not comply.

Earlier this week, in a response obtained by TechRaptor, Valve pushed back strongly against the Commission's accusations, arguing that merely providing a system for trading skins through Steam doesn't break any specific law. As it has in the past, Valve pointed out that it does not directly profit from this kind of skin trading, does not promote such third-party sites, and does not let users "cash out" their skins for real money.

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Report: Apple is working on e-ink keyboard for future MacBooks

10/19/2016 11:25am

Enlarge / Sonder Design's e-ink keyboard, currently available for pre-order. (credit: Sonder Design)

New Macs are right around the corner, but the rumor mill is already looking ahead. According to a report from the Wall Street Journal, Apple is said to be working on a customizable e-ink keyboard for future MacBooks. E-ink keycaps could easily be used to switch between multiple languages or give users easier access to macros and special characters like emoji. Apple reportedly plans to ship the keyboards in its computers beginning in 2018.

Apple is said to be working with Sonder Design on the concept—the Australian company's $200 Sonder Keyboard is currently available for preorder, and it can be viewed as a proof-of-concept for these future Mac keyboards. Sonder's styling is already reminiscent of Apple's standard chiclet keyboards, so it's not hard to imagine a future revision that actually ships with Apple's products. Apple is currently said to be in acquisition talks with Sonder.

Making standard hardware keyboards mimic the customizability and flexibility of iOS' software keyboard appears to be a major goal for Apple; new MacBook Pros, said to be coming at an event next week, will reportedly use a customizable OLED display bar in place of function keys. This approach might work for one row of keys, but an entire OLED keyboard would put a lot of pressure on a laptop's battery. E-ink is a more power-efficient way to accomplish the same goal.

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Halo Wars 2’s new Blitz mode: Getting Hearthstone mixed up in your RTS

10/19/2016 9:00am

REDMOND, Washington—Card economies are pretty much everywhere in video games right now, and Microsoft is leading that charge. The company's first major card stab was last year's Halo 5, whose "Warzone" mode revolves entirely around cards that can be purchased using in-game currency or real cash (and, in my opinion, the game suffers for it).

Clearly, the data shows that people are using, loving, and possibly even paying for cards, because Microsoft is now following up with two major card-economy games: this month's Gears of War 4, and next year's Halo Wars 2. We're concerned with Halo Wars 2 right now because Microsoft invited Ars to its Redmond Halo studio, 343 Industries, to see a reveal of the upcoming RTS's new "Blitz" mode.

Cards against humanity—if you play as the Banished, at least

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Humanity’s war on latency: Semaphore to silicon photonics and beyond

10/19/2016 8:56am

Enlarge (credit: IBM)

For most of humanity's existence, communication has been incredibly slow. For millennia the only way of transmitting information between two humans was via speech or crude drawings. About 5,000 years ago written language and papyrus increased the transmission distance and bandwidth of human-human communication, but the latency, delivered by hand, was still pretty bad.

A relief of the Greek hydraulic telegraph of Aeneas, depicting one half of the system.

Somewhere around 300BC, though—at least according to recorded history—things started to get interesting. Ancient Greece, as described by the historian Polybius, used a technology called hydraulic telegraph to communicate between Sicily and Carthage—a distance of about 300 miles—in the First Punic War.

The system was essentially a slightly higher bandwidth signal fire, with a long unbroken line of humans standing on hilltops with identical telegraph machines. There was still a fair bit of latency, of course, as the humans tweaked the hydraulic levels, but near-speed-of-light electromagnetic radiation was quite a bit faster than papyrus-by-horseback (like the classic example of "driving across the country with a van full of tapes," though, the bandwidth was probably lower).

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Minding the gap, blind

10/19/2016 8:53am

Enlarge (credit: Martin Godwin/Getty Images)

Most commuters keep their eyes down in the morning while traipsing through the gleaming corridors of London’s Euston Underground station. Their attention is focused on the feet, the coffee or, beyond that, the rigours of the day into which they hurtle. If any did manage to bravely look up, however, they’d catch a glimpse of a new addition to this, Britain’s sixth busiest railway station: a phalanx of tiny white boxes stuck fast to the ceiling, one every ten or so paces. These are Bluetooth beacons, transmitters able to provide a GPS lock-on to a phone or tablet even here, deep in London’s soil. Each one is able to produce a tiny miracle: the ability for a blind or partially sighted person to navigate the station’s warren of corridors with precision, without help, using nothing but a mobile phone.

It works eerily well. On a sweltering September afternoon, I’m told to put on a pair of glasses. They look like something designed by Jackson Pollock: chicly black-framed, lenses splattered with thousands of tiny droplets of paint swarmed around the centre. It’s possible to see through them, particularly at the periphery, but only in sketchy patches. This is what, I’m told, it is like to be visually impaired.

I’m handed a white cane and a pair of headphones. Through these, a calming voice asks for a destination station and, once selected, begins to issue brisk commands. “Turn right and walk forward”, she says. “Turn left and take the escalator.” The technology—designed by Wayfindr, a non-profit organisation seeking to create a standards for digital wayfinding and UsTwo, the Shoreditch-based game and app developer—tracks my location as I travel through the station via the ceiling-mounted beacons (whose batteries last for a year apiece).

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Flaw in Intel chips could make malware attacks more potent

10/19/2016 7:00am


Researchers have devised a technique that bypasses a key security protection built into just about every operating system. If left unfixed, this could make malware attacks much more potent.

ASLR, short for "address space layout randomization," is a defense against a class of widely used attacks that surreptitiously install malware by exploiting vulnerabilities in an operating system or application. By randomizing the locations in computer memory where software loads specific chunks of code, ASLR often limits the damage of such exploits to a simple computer crash, rather than a catastrophic system compromise. Now, academic researchers have identified a flaw in Intel chips that allows them to effectively bypass this protection. The result are exploits that are much more effective than they would otherwise be.

Nael Abu-Ghazaleh, a computer scientist at the University of California at Riverside and one the researchers who developed the bypass, told Ars:

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KickassTorrents lawyer: “torrent sites do not violate criminal copyright laws”

10/19/2016 6:00am

(credit: nrkbeta)

Lawyers representing Artem Vaulin have filed their formal legal response to prosecutors’ allegations of conspiracy to commit criminal copyright infringement, among other charges. Vaulin is the alleged head of KickassTorrents (KAT).

KAT was the world’s largest BitTorrent distribution site before it was shuttered by authorities earlier this year. Vaulin was arrested in Poland, where he now awaits extradition to the United States.

“Vaulin is charged with running today’s most visited illegal file-sharing website, responsible for unlawfully distributing well over $1 billion of copyrighted materials,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie Caldwell said in a July 2016 statement.

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Ecuador says it cut off Assange’s Internet over Clinton data dumps

10/18/2016 8:22pm

Enlarge / WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange comes out on the balcony of the Ecuadorian embassy to address the media in central London on February 5, 2016. (credit: Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images)

Ecuador, the nation that has granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at the country's London embassy, said late Tuesday it had cut off his Internet access. Ecuador says it did this because of WikiLeaks' recent dumps of hacked e-mails surrounding Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

"The Government of Ecuador respects the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other states. It does not interfere in external electoral processes, nor does it favor any particular candidate," the government said in a statement. "Accordingly, Ecuador has exercised its sovereign right to temporarily restrict access to some of its private communications network within its Embassy in the United Kingdom. This temporary restriction does not prevent the WikiLeaks organization from carrying out its journalistic activities."

Ecuador, however, said it wasn't revoking the asylum it granted to Assange in 2012.

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The pride of a nation: the North American Eagle land speed record project

10/18/2016 5:35pm

Eric Wittler

Nineteen years ago, at Black Rock Desert in Nevada, a plucky bunch from the UK, led by Richard Noble and RAF Wing Commander Andy Green, set a new land speed record. Noble and his band broke the sound barrier in the process. This was Noble's second land speed record; he was the current record holder at the time, having claimed it in 1982 with Thrust 2.

Regular readers will know that Noble and Green are trying to smash their existing record by aiming for 1,000 mph with Bloodhound SSC. But not everyone is content to let them set a new record unopposed. In fact, Ed Shadle thinks it's his patriotic duty to reclaim the crown for the USA. He hopes to get there with the help of one of the most iconic planes ever to grace the skies: a Lockheed F-104 Starfighter.

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Report: Apple will introduce new Macs at October 27th event [Updated]

10/18/2016 5:25pm

Enlarge / 2015's MacBook Air, which was introduced in March of last year. (credit: Andrew Cunningham)

Update: Recode is now reporting that Apple plans to release new Macs as part of an event on October 27th "at or near Apple's Cupertino campus." There are no new details on the Macs we might see, but the post below still represents the most persistent rumors from the most reliable sources.

Original story: With the exception of the 12-inch MacBook, all of Apple's Macs are currently at least a year old, and many of them are significantly older. Rumors about new models have been making the rounds all year, but the most recent and most reliable say that we'll be getting some updates later this month.

The latest report is from Japanese site Mac Otakara, which is normally a reliable source of information from Apple's Asian supply chain. Its rumors about the MacBook Pro conform with others we've been hearing for most of the year. Both 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros are said to be getting thinner, and they will follow the thin-and-light MacBook in jumping to USB Type-C ports, but Apple is attempting to keep pro users happy by giving them more ports and adding Thunderbolt 3 support. Unique features like a customizable OLED function key bar and TouchID support are also said to be on tap, as are GPUs from AMD's "Polaris" family. Intel's Skylake CPUs seem like the best bet for the main processor, since "Kaby Lake" chips suitable for MacBook Pros aren't due until January at the earliest.

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Patriots’ Bill Belichick dumps Surface tablets in five minute rant

10/18/2016 4:59pm

Enlarge (credit: NFL)

In 2014, Microsoft signed a $400 million deal with the NFL to ensure that its Surface tablets would become "the official tablet of the NFL." Microsoft wanted coaches and players to use its systems from the sidelines.

That promotion hasn't been entirely successful. Casters routinely refer to the devices as "iPads," and a number of complaints surfaced about the tablets not working correctly. Those complaints have driven at least one coach, the Patriots' Bill Belichick, to abandon the technology entirely.

A couple of weeks ago, Belichick slammed one of the tablets in frustration. In a press conference today, he delivered a five-minute diatribe bemoaning the technological failures that led the Pats to abandon the Surfaces entirely.

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This horrid Presidential election has 52% of voters stressed out

10/18/2016 4:45pm

Enlarge (credit: Getty | Bloomberg)

According to political pundits, this US Presidential election has turned “historical.” And by historical, they likely mean exceptionally dismal and noxious. So no one should be surprised that the election is stressing people out.

According to an annual poll on the stress levels of the country, the American Psychological Association reports that 52 percent of adults are “somewhat” or “very” stressed by the battle for the Oval Office. That mental anguish is felt about equally across party lines, with 59 percent of Republicans and 55 percent of Democrats registering as stressed. Women and men are also equally stressed, at 52 and 51 percent, respectively.

Data from the online poll, conducted between August 5 and August 31, 2016, offer a few hints at the factors that are ratcheting up election anxiety. The poll includes data from 3,511 US adults and is weighted to reflect national demographics. The APA found that social media usage boosted election stress. Of those who use social media, 54 percent report being stressed by the campaigns, while, among those who abstain from such online chatter, only 45 percent fret over the political fray.

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Amazon might become ISP in Europe, but laws make US launch unlikely

10/18/2016 4:30pm

Amazon is reportedly considering offering home Internet service in Europe. However, the company would probably not do so in the United States because US law doesn't guarantee wholesale access to existing networks.

Amazon hasn't commented publicly on the topic, which was raised today in a report by The Information (subscription required). The technology news site quotes "a person briefed on the discussion" as saying that Amazon is considering whether to offer Internet service over the networks of existing providers. Since Amazon reportedly doesn't want to build its own network, it would have to purchase wholesale access, which isn't available everywhere.

"In parts of Europe, such as Britain, broadband providers like British Telecom are required to offer wholesale access to their network to rivals," The Information noted. "A US offering would be tougher to pull off as US regulators don’t require cable operators to open up their networks to rivals."

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Intriguing anomaly found inside the Great Pyramid at Giza

10/18/2016 4:20pm

It could be the ultimate archaeological discovery: a previously unknown chamber lurking beneath the stones of the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt. Now, a team using a cutting edge imaging technique called muography has picked up signals indicating a hidden corridor behind the famous chevron blocks on the pyramid's north face.

Muography can detect voids or empty spaces inside thick layers of earth or stone, and it is often used to plumb the depths of volcanoes. Muons are cosmic particles that hit the Earth at an average rate of 10,000 per m² per minute, though they can be absorbed or deflected by dense material. To find voids in rock, researchers set up muon-detecting plates inside a corridor in the pyramid, and they measured the amount of muons that hit over a period of 67 days. By analyzing absorption patterns in the muons that hit the plates, the researchers were able to create a 3D model showing where empty spaces might be in the structure.

Scan Pyramids Mission

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Samsung sets up airport kiosks for last-minute Galaxy Note 7 exchanges

10/18/2016 3:32pm

Enlarge (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Flying with one of Samsung's recalled Galaxy Note 7s is now illegal in the US. To make the exchange process easier for people who haven't had time to send their Note 7 back (or who hoped they could sneak theirs past the gate), Samsung is setting up booths ahead of security checkpoints in busy airports to swap out phones. This way, travelers won't have their Note 7 confiscated by airports or airlines. (Much of our kiosk information comes from a Bloomberg report.)

Samsung's official site only lists Australian airports as of this writing, but ABC News has also spotted a kiosk in San Francisco International Airport. The Korean company says it is trying to bring kiosks to other busy airports across the US. Workers at the kiosk will apparently help users with data transfer to minimize the inconvenience, but, of course, they can't replace the 7's unique hardware features.

If you bought the Note 7, your best move is still to return the phone where you bought it and settle for one of the other models we've recommended, especially since Samsung is giving out $25 credits on top of a full refund if you take your Note 7 back and switch to another brand. If you decide to switch to another Samsung phone like last year's Galaxy Note 5 or the Galaxy S7, that credit increases to $100.

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Tech who deleted Clinton’s e-mails was “joking” when he said “Hillary cover-up”

10/18/2016 2:55pm

Enlarge / Only joking, honest.

Yesterday, the FBI posted a redacted interview report (PDF) that sheds more light on what Paul Combetta was trying to do when he turned to Reddit for help modifying an archive of Hillary Clinton's e-mails. (Combetta is the technician contracted to provide support for the hosted mail server used by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.) The report also reveals that Combetta had mentioned a "Hilary [sic] coverup" in an e-mail thread. Combetta told FBI investigators that the comment was a joke about a change in retention policies.

Combetta's name is redacted from the interviews, but the interviews match up with other information now public about his conversations with the FBI. The interviews, which took place on February 18 at the offices of Platte River Networks in Denver, covered much of the support work Combetta did on the Exchange e-mail server to help users with archived messages—including a July 2014 export of all Clinton messages to .gov addresses. The export was requested by Cheryl Mills, Clinton's former chief of staff at the State Department. Combetta burned the archive on a DVD to mail to Mills, but she then requested a secure electronic transfer of the file. So Combetta arranged the digital transfer and broke the DVD in half.

According to his interview with the FBI, former Clinton IT aide and State Department employee Bryan Pagliano contacted Combetta on July 24 to discuss using a "regular expression text editor" to modify the e-mails in the archive. The reason, Combetta said, was because Pagliano and Mills were concerned that Clinton's new e-mail address—the one that she moved to after leaving the State Department—would be exposed. They were concerned because "when a user changes his or her e-mail address, Outlook updates the old e-mail address with the new e-mail address" in the Exchange mailbox. Combetta was later confirmed as having posted on Reddit, where he asked for help in finding a tool that would allow him to do such a replacement.

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The wealthy commute later, get to take more direct routes

10/18/2016 2:54pm

(credit: Ken Lund)

Being poor comes with many inadvertent costs, while being rich comes with unexpected benefits. For example, poor people are more likely to be in ill health and have poor dental hygiene, which may cost more money in the long run. In contrast, wealthy people can afford to spend money to maintain their ideal level of fitness.

A recent article published in Royal Society Open Science analyzes another advantage the rich have over the poor: wealthy people are able to sleep until later in the morning. In essence, the rich buy the ability to rest more and commute more efficiently.

The paper in question uses data from human mobility studies, which examine large data sets of human movements in search of patterns at particular times of the day or year. This study uses survey response data from the Colombian cities of Manizales and Medellin. The authors separate their population into six different socioeconomic strata to look at finely tuned differences in economic status. This is possible because, in Colombia, households are legally assigned to a different economic strata according to their physical and environmental characteristics. The Colombian government does this for the purposes of differential public services fees.

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Europe will try not to crash its spacecraft into Mars on Wednesday

10/18/2016 2:32pm

An overview of the Schiaparelli descent module's flight down to the Martian surface. (credit: ESA)

On Monday, the popular "Sarcastic Rover" Twitter account offered a succinct description for how difficult it is to launch a probe from Earth and place it safely on the surface of Mars: "Landing on Mars is like tossing a baseball from New York to Tokyo and having it drop into a can of soup. Also the can still has a lid on."

While we can't vouch for the scientific fidelity of the analogy, it seems apt, as many probes that try to land on Mars find a grave instead of a scientific wonderland. Four of the five Soviet landers sent to Mars failed to reach ground safely, and the one that did, Mars 3 in 1971, survived for only about 15 seconds. In 2003, Europe's Mars Express orbiter released the Beagle 2 lander, but its solar panels never fully deployed, and the vehicle never phoned home. Only NASA has had success; impressively, eight of its nine missions to the surface of Mars have made it.

Now Europe is trying again with its ExoMars mission, consisting of an orbiter and lander. On Wednesday morning at 10:42am ET (15:42 UK), the European Space Agency's 1.65-meter wide Schiaparelli lander will enter the Martian atmosphere and make a harrowing six-minute descent to the red planet's surface.

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The perpetual lineup: Half of US adults in a face-recognition database

10/18/2016 2:15pm

Enlarge (credit: Helen H. Richardson via Getty Images)

Half of American adults are in a face-recognition database, according to a Georgetown University study released Tuesday. That means there's about 117 million adults in a law enforcement facial-recognition database, the study by Georgetown's Center on Privacy & Technology says.

"We are not aware of any agency that requires warrants for searches or limits them to serious crimes," the study says.

The report (PDF), titled "The Perpetual Line-up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America," shows that one-fourth of the nation's law enforcement agencies have access to face-recognition databases, and their use by those agencies is virtually unregulated.

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Decrypted: Westworld is playing mind games with us

10/18/2016 1:50pm

Enlarge / Dolores is going outside her loop and hearing some strange voices in her mind. (credit: HBO)

Everything in Westworld is a game. Guests can join robots on quests and missions or just do a hack-and-slash on poor Teddy. The park workers play power games. And programmers like Ford and Bernard are engaged in a giant mind game with all the robot hosts, whose minds are as big a mystery as the Man in Black's quest. On this week's Decrypted podcast, we talk with Ars Technica's games editor Kyle Orland about the gameworld of Westworld in episode 3, "The Stray."

Topics discussed include: Julian Jaynes' theory of the bicameral mind (you must do LSD to fully understand it), robot consciousness (it ain't your grandmother's Three Laws of Robotics), Teddy's new backstory with Wyatt (holy crap Wyatt's gang is scary and confusing), Ford's anti-robot racism (he's got issues), the Westworld gameplay (why are there no consequences to getting shot?), the kinds of quests available to guests (they seem very hack-and-slash), whether the MIB is going on fan forums late at night to compare notes about clues he's found in Westworld (definitely maybe he is), moderation and griefers in Westworld (it's complicated), and who among the so-called humans is actually a robot (Bernard? Ford? Lee?).

This came from a secret file on the Westworld corporate website! Enjoy!

I'll be analyzing, debating, and dissecting Westworld every week with a different guest, and we'll post the podcast on Tuesdays. The episodes air on Sunday, so you have plenty of time to watch before we get into major spoilers. Yes, there are spoilers. Listen when you're ready!

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