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The Art of Technology
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Red Bull drinkers will get first crack at new Destiny mission

6/24/2015 10:32am

Marketing partnerships between gaming companies and snack and soft drink makers are nothing new, as anyone who's ever choked down a can of Mountain Dew Game Fuel can tell you. But a new promotion between Activision and Red Bull takes the idea to a new level, offering a timed exclusive Destiny quest to players who buy the drink.

After the September 15 release of Destiny's "The Taken King" expansion, players who purchased specially marked cans of Red Bull will be able to redeem a code to download the mission, which is currently being referred to as "Epic New Quest" (hopefully not the final name, but you never know). That mission won't be available to the general public until January 1, 2016. Players will also be able to get one-time Destiny XP boosts on specially marked Red Bull cans starting in July.

The snack-industrial complex has been directly involved in the making of games before, dating back at least to the release of Ralston Purina's promotional Atari 2600 game Chase the Chuck Wagon (now one of the rarer console games out there). In 1996, Chex created Chex Quest, a full, cereal-themed conversion of Doom included on a CD-ROM in boxes of the cereal.

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Apple Music picks up major indie labels following Taylor Swift kerfuffle [Updated]

6/24/2015 10:22am

Update 6/25/2015: The New York Times reports that Apple is paying 0.2¢ per song streamed, which is said to be "roughly comparable to the free tiers from services like Spotify." Another, smaller payment will also go to music publishers for songwriting rights.

Original story: Taylor Swift isn't the only artist happy with Apple's decision to pay artists for songs played during Apple Music's three-month free trial: Billboard reports that major indie outfits Beggars Group and the Merlin Network have also made deals with Apple. Indie labels and artists had been fairly vocal about not wanting to sign up for the service, but it took a letter from Taylor Swift to actually change Apple's mind.

Swift's letter, which was published this past Sunday, stated that she would not be releasing her latest album 1989 to Apple Music because of the service's royalty-free trial period. She acknowledged that as a major, established act, she didn't need those royalties to get by; others in the industry aren't so fortunate.

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Netherlands loses landmark global warming case, ordered to cut emissions

6/24/2015 10:18am

In a landmark case that may set a very important precedent for other countries around the world, especially within Europe, the Dutch government has been ordered by the courts to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent.

The ruling came from a class-action lawsuit that was brought before the Dutch courts by Urgenda in 2012. The case, rather magnificently, was based on human rights laws. Specifically, Urgenda asked the courts to "declare that global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius will lead to a violation of fundamental human rights worldwide," and that the Dutch government is "acting unlawfully by not contributing its proportional share to preventing a global warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius."

Today, a Dutch court at The Hague ruled in favour of Urgenda, ruling that the Netherlands' plans to cut emissions by only 14-17 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 were illegal. Moreover, the wording used by the judges in the ruling is incredibly strong and clear-cut: “The state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts ... Any reduction of emissions contributes to the prevention of dangerous climate change and as a developed country the Netherlands should take the lead in this.”

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SEC reportedly looking for hackers who stole e-mails for insider trading

6/24/2015 9:56am

Reuters reported on Tuesday night that the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) has asked at least eight companies for details on some recent data breaches in a probe to find hackers who stole corporate e-mails so they could engage in insider trading. The SEC has not confirmed the report to Ars, but Reuters suggests that this is an unusual move for the commission, which has taken the lead on only a handful of hacking cases.

Reuters also reported that this probe was started after security firm FireEye released a report in December about a hacking group called FIN4 that focused on attacking companies on Wall Street. Ars reported on the FIN4 hacks, noting that the group relied on clever phishing attacks that collected credentials for Microsoft Outlook accounts.

At the time, FireEye speculated that the hackers were American or European, given their strong command of English and their apparent deep knowledge of the culture in Fortune 500 companies. E-mails were often sent from an account the target knew and discussed mergers, acquisitions, and other financial activities that the target was interested in. FireEye researchers said that these attacks penetrated over 100 companies, compromising the accounts of C-level executives, legal counsel, regulatory and compliance personnel, scientists, and advisors.

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European skeleton had Neanderthal ancestor less than 200 years earlier

6/24/2015 9:00am

By now, it's pretty firmly established that modern humans interbred with Neanderthals when our ancestors reached Eurasia. What's less clear is when (and how often) this happened. Estimates of the event have wide error ranges, covering the entire time from when modern humans left Africa to the disappearance of Neanderthals from the fossil record.

Now, human remains have yielded DNA that may indicate at least two distinct Neanderthal interbreeding events, one of them only a few generations earlier. The only problem? There's no indication that this skeleton's population contributed to any current group of humans.

The best evidence we have on the timing of interbreeding comes from a modern human skeleton from Siberia that dates from about 45,000 years ago. That suggests that interbreeding with Neanderthals took place about 60,000 years ago, which would place it at a time when modern humans were first reaching the Middle East. But there were some hints that additional Neanderthal DNA came into that lineage more recently.

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Facebook’s facial recognition will one day find you, even while facing away

6/24/2015 7:30am

Facebook researchers have unveiled new research that allows for faces to be more easily recognized based on other contextual information, such as hair style, clothing, and body shape.

The research, which was published on in January 2015, was presented at a conference in Boston earlier this month and first reported by New Scientist on Monday.

According to the researchers, the system, dubbed Pose Invariant PErson Recognition (PIPER), is accurate 83 percent of the time—far higher than the current state-of-the-art, which primarily requires clear, full frontal photos to work well.

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Will Google’s research-grade fitness band be its biomed breakthrough?

6/23/2015 8:30pm

It's hard not to view Google as an 800-pound gorilla, beating competitors at every turn thanks to its vast mountains of cash and engineering talent. But there's one field where the Mountain View-based search giant has frequently stumbled: repeated attempts to build a foothold in the biomedical realm have either failed or not borne fruit yet. Now it's trying again.

Earlier today, Bloomberg Business reported that Google is developing what it calls a "health-tracking wristband"—in other words, a fitness band. But this one isn't going to be marketed at the general public. Nope, Google's aiming for the academic crowd and wants the device to be used in clinical research. Based on Google's history, should we expect it to catch on?

The history starts back in 2008 with Google Health. Aimed squarely at Microsoft's HealthVault, Google Health was a patient-level electronic medical record. It was designed to be a one-stop shop in the cloud (before we called it that) where users could store their medical records, prescription records, and other important health data. We were skeptical of Google Health's prospects for longevity back then, and so it proved three years later when Google Health went the way of Google Reader—albeit without anything like the same public outcry.

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Ford plans to cover its cars with cameras, catch up on self-driving tech

6/23/2015 8:12pm

On Tuesday Ford detailed its roadmap to building cars for the future, and that plan involves putting lots of cameras and sensors on new models. Notably, the company said it would be moving its work on autonomous cars from the research department to advanced engineering, begin wearable technology development, and introduce a new split view camera to help drivers see obstacles coming in from the side.

Ford said it plans to increase the number of augmented driving functions in its cars over the next five years. It also said it would begin work on making the sensors and computing power necessary to run a fully self-driving car feasible for production. The company already has models that use functions like parking assistance, rear cross-traffic alert, lane-keeping assistance, and blind spot monitoring. But Ford faces intense competition in the autonomous vehicle space: companies like Audi and Volvo have been experimenting with active driving assistance for a long time, and Google and Delphi have already logged hundreds of thousands of miles testing fully self-driving cars.

Ford also announced a new split-view camera set-up that it claims will help drivers scan a wider field of view to reduce accidents. The split view will display a 180-degree-view of the area in front and behind a vehicle. “Split-view uses real-time video feeds from 1-megapixel wide-angle lens cameras in the grille and tailgate,” Ford wrote. “A tri-panel display in the 8-inch screen helps customers understand quickly whether an obstacle is coming from either side or straight on.”

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WikiLeaks publishes top secret NSA briefs showing US spied on France

6/23/2015 6:06pm

On Tuesday, WikiLeaks published five top secret documents definitively showing that the National Security Agency has been spying on French President François Hollande, and his two immediate predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy, and Jacques Chirac, among other top officials.

The documents, as WikiLeaks released them, include excerpts of five intelligence briefs, that contain descriptions of what was intercepted, "taken from various editions of the National Security Agency's Top Secret Global SIGINT Highlights executive briefings." This wording suggests that WikiLeaks has even more complete intelligence briefs that it did not publish, an unusual move for the group. WikiLeaks also published a chart showing a list of redacted phone numbers of those officials.

One, dated March 24, 2010, includes notes from a conversation between two top French officials:

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EFF, having won patent fight over photo contests, wants its opponent to pay

6/23/2015 5:29pm

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has advocated against problematic technology patents for years, but it wasn't until February that the organization directly represented someone who had been sued in a patent lawsuit. A little-known video website called owns US Patent No. 8,209,618, which it says covers online photo contests. It sued four small photo websites seeking royalties, including, a website run by Pennsylvania photographer Ruth Taylor.

EFF labeled Garfum a "patent bully," but it was a bully that couldn't take a punch. After EFF filed a motion to dismiss the patent, Garfum replied with a brief explaining how its patent was special and eschewed "traditional databases."

That 19-page brief was all the fight Garfum's lawyers had. Once a hearing to consider the validity of their patent was scheduled, they dropped the case. Now EFF is seeking to make Garfum pay attorneys' fees.

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Gmail enables “unsend” option for all users

6/23/2015 5:10pm

More than any other Google offering, Gmail has been bolstered for years with a range of weird options tucked away in a "Labs" tab in the settings screen. On Tuesday, one of the webmail provider's most interesting Labs options, "undo send," graduated to official status.

With the option, Gmailers get the chance to click an "undo send" link at the top of the screen after clicking "send" on any e-mail message. As with the original Labs version, the option, which now lives in the service's "general" settings tab, lets users pick a safety timespan between 5-30 seconds. Messages won't actually send until that time runs out, unless a user clicks the "view message" tab next to "undo," at which point a message will immediately whisk through the Internet's many tubes and reach its recipient.

The six-year-old option, which won't be turned on for the general public by default, had previously lived in Gmail's Labs tab, so if users wanted to enable it, they had to bypass a stark warning about "experimental" features that could "change, break, or disappear at any time." Major competitors like Hotmail and Yahoo Mail have yet to offer a similar option.

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Gaming trade org: For DMCA, “there’s no such thing as an obsolete game”

6/23/2015 4:52pm

As part of the US Copyright Office's regular review of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, the EFF and others are asking for an exception that would let users modify games and systems to restore servers for games that have been "abandoned" by their original makers. The Entertainment Software Association, as the industry's biggest trade group, has been fighting those efforts, and the reason, as ESA president and CEO Mike Gallagher puts it, is simple: "There's no such thing as an obsolete game."

Answering questions from Ars at a media event during last week's Electronic Entertainment Expo (which is run by the ESA), Gallagher said copyright arguments that rely on games or servers being considered abandoned or obsolete just don't fly in today's gaming ecosystem.

"If you look at the games that are played now, they're available on multiple devices today because the devices have gotten more and more capable," he said. "All of these games that have been made, certainly by ESA members, these can be used and re-utilized and repurposed in so many different ways. There's no such thing as an obsolete game when you can revive it on any platform at any time. It's digital. From our perspective, there is no merit to the term 'obsolete.' There is no need to allow people to hack or otherwise open up these things or create competing economic enterprises."

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Changes large and small causing recyclers to struggle

6/23/2015 4:44pm

This year, we did a feature on how various factors had combined to make recycling an economic winner for major metropolitan areas in the US. The story argued that it was no single factor that drove this change; rather, a combination of automation and improved sensor technology, more effective use of recycled materials, and the economics of landfilling all contributed.

But recently, The Washington Post described how a similarly diverse set of changes has caused recycling companies to struggle. First and foremost has been the plunge in energy prices, which have dropped the cost of extracting raw materials or producing plastics. Another problem comes from the fact that companies are working hard to reduce the amount of packaging material they use, which means less raw material for recycling in the waste stream overall.

On top of those issues, one major consumer of recyclables—China—has implemented recent changes that add to recycling woes. These include new regulations on importing materials as well as a new emphasis on the use of domestic sources. A general slowdown of manufacturing in the country hasn't helped, either.

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Bringing today’s tech—GPS, efficiency tracking, and more—to 15-year-old clunkers

6/23/2015 4:30pm

In 2015, connected cars are all the rage. You only needed to pay cursory attention to this year’s CES conference for this new reality to become clear. Touchscreens, 3G, and now 4G LTE modems are being added to new vehicles by many car makers, eager to replicate the smartphone experience inside our daily drives. For techies wanting to buy new, this is all good news.

General Motors arguably got the ball rolling nearly 20 years ago with the introduction of OnStar, which coupled remote safety monitoring with an on-demand concierge service. More recently the advent of smartphones and cheap, rugged wireless modems has seen more and more OEMs offer connected cars. So equipped, you can use a smartphone app to lock your car or sound the horn, check how much fuel is in the tank, or access deeper diagnostic information about your vehicle (like error codes or upcoming service intervals). They're even providing APIs for third-party developers.

But very few of us can afford to chop and change our vehicles the way we upgrade our phones. In fact, we’re actually changing our cars less frequently than before—on average, Americans will now hold onto a car for 11 years. This might indicate the connected car experience will remain the preserve of the few, but not so fast. Today, almost any car built after 1996 can join the connected car revolution thanks to aftermarket solutions. We've spent the past year or so trying out a couple of such devices, one from Automatic and another from Mojio. Using a 2005 Saab 9-2x Aero as our test vehicle, we set out to discover if it was truly possible to have all the connected luxury of today without shelling out for an entirely new vehicle.

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NASA lays out its plans for a Europa orbiter

6/23/2015 3:25pm

Get ready, we’re going to Europa! NASA’s plan to send a spacecraft to explore Jupiter’s moon just passed a major hurdle. The mission, planned for the 2020s, now has NASA’s official stamp of approval and was given the green light to move from concept phase to development phase.

Formerly known as Europa Clipper, the mission will temporarily be referred to as the Europa Multi Flyby Mission until it is given an official name. The current mission plan would include 45 separate flybys around the moon while orbiting Jupiter every two weeks. “We are taking an exciting step from concept to mission in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth,” John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a press release.

Since Galileo first turned a spyglass up to the skies and discovered the Jovian moon, Europa has been a world of intrigue. In the 1970s, we received our first look at Europa through the eyes of Pioneer 10 and 11, followed closely by the twin Voyager satellites in the 1980s. Their images provided the first detailed view of the Solar System’s smoothest body. These photos also delivered evidence that the moon might be harboring a subsurface ocean. In the mid 1990s, the Galileo spacecraft gave us the best view to-date of Europa’s surface.

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Cop accused of exposing himself faces jail time for dashcam tampering

6/23/2015 3:10pm

A 37-year-old New Jersey cop accused of exposing his genitalia to the young male motorists he pulled over has accepted a plea deal in which the officer loses his job in exchange for pleading guilty to tampering with his patrol car's dashcam "to conceal unprofessional and inappropriate conduct."

The Newton Police Department officer, Jason Miller, faces up to 60 days in jail at his August 7 sentencing hearing. Miller remains free on $35,000 bail and was nabbed after the authorities began investigating anonymous tips from young male motorists last year.

The 14-year veteran's misdemeanor guilty plea last week comes as police departments nationwide are seeking to expand the use of dashcams and body cameras in a bid to both become more transparent with the public and to shield themselves from false allegations of abuse. The stock of Taser, one of the leading body cam companies, is at a near 52-week high as police departments gobble up the surveillance technology.

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iOS 9 can delete and automatically re-download apps to make room for updates

6/23/2015 2:53pm

iOS 9 is implementing some changes to make things easier on owners of 8GB and 16GB iPhones and iPads. We've already taken a look at App Thinning, a collection of technologies that will reduce the amount of space downloaded apps take up. And Apple also says it has reduced the amount of free space needed to install OTA software updates—the main iOS 9 update needs about 1.3GB, compared to 4.6GB for iOS 8.0.

Today, the company sent out its first update for the iOS 9 developer beta, and iOS developer Kaleb Butt noticed yet another feature—if you don't have the required free space, the operating system will offer to delete apps to make room for the update. It will then automatically re-download them when the update is complete.

Deleting an app from your phone or tablet normally takes all of that app's saved data and settings with it. Presumably, Apple has either devised a way to keep that from happening, or it's using iCloud to backup and restore your data along with the app. It's also not clear whether iDevices could delete and restore, say, locally stored music and video content from iTunes to make room for updates. Even if iOS 9 can only delete apps, though, that should be enough to free up the few hundred megabytes that over-the-air iOS updates require. We'll likely learn more as iOS 9 nears its official release in the fall.

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Instacart contractors turned part-time employees still won’t get health care

6/23/2015 2:50pm

Instacart, a San Francisco grocery shopping and delivery startup, announced Monday that it would allow its shoppers and drivers to become part-time employees, capped at 30 hours per week, rather than independent contractors. The move began in Boston, and it now moves to Chicago before expanding to all contractors nationwide.

Under the arrangement, new part-time employees will not receive health care, but the company will cover other costs, including workers’ compensation and payroll taxes (such as unemployment, social security, and Medicare). In light of the news, an overwhelming majority of the contractors are expected to become part-time employees.

Instacart, which was founded in 2013, lets customers purchase groceries online so Instacart "shoppers" can then purchase the items directly in-store. The order is next handed off to drivers, who finally deliver them to a customer’s door. Over the last two years, the company has received more than $274 million in venture capital and expanded to various cities nationwide.

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Hands-on time and video of Nintendo’s Mario, Zelda, Star Fox triumvirate

6/23/2015 2:45pm
Nintendo at E3 2015, video by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

LOS ANGELES—Nintendo's E3 booth this year, much like its 2015 E3 press conference, was pretty much Nintendo, Nintendo, Nintendo. First-party games continue to be both the company's biggest asset and its greatest limitation, because nobody else is designing compelling, triple-A content for the company's touch-screen consoles.

What we saw at E3's Nintendo booth is what we're gonna get on its system for roughly the next year, so we looked long and hard for something as good as last year's triple-punch of SplatoonMario Kart 8, and Super Smash Bros. We liked what we played this year, but without a major Wii U Zelda announcement or another huge, new IP, we came away feeling like we'd gotten off last year's momentum train and back onto the company's "aw shucks" caboose.

Star Fox Zero: Yep, we did some barrel rolls

5 more images in gallery

Let's get this out of the way: we've been stupidly excited for Star Fox Zero. The Super Nintendo original—which featured basic 3D space-shooting courtesy of the mythical Super FX chip—and its sequel Star Fox 64 remain two of our favorite games of all time. With Star Fox Zero, it looks like we're getting exactly what we wanted: a modernized, slightly fancier take on the Star Fox franchise.

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eBay bans Confederate battle flag, other items bearing racist icon

6/23/2015 2:20pm

On Tuesday, eBay announced it would be immediately banning all Confederate flags and items bearing the flag image. The move comes in the wake of the recent South Carolina shooting that left nine people dead at the Emanuel AME Church, a historic black church in Charleston.

The suspect, Dylann Roof, appeared in several pre-incident photos with the Confederate flag and left a racist manifesto online on his own website. On Tuesday, the governor of Virginia announced that it would begin the process of removing the optional Confederate battle flag from specialized license plates. And one day earlier, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley called for it to be removed from the state capitol.

When Ars searched for "confederate flag" on eBay at 12:45pm Central Time, there were still 1,400 listings available. Just 15 minutes later, that number dropped to 1,388.

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