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Updated: 2 hours 36 min ago

Instead of merging, Sprint and T-Mobile actually compete for customers

8/25/2014 3:13pm
T-Mobile US CEO John Legere. T-Mobile

Now that Sprint and T-Mobile US are no longer planning to merge and may also be prevented from teaming up to purchase spectrum, the companies are focusing on a new tactic: competing against each other.

Sprint announced new 20GB family plans last Monday and then on Thursday unveiled a $60-per-month unlimited data plan, calling it "a $20 savings compared to T-Mobile's $80 per month unlimited plan." While that's true, the Sprint plans do not include personal hotspot service and thus could end up costing more than T-Mobile for customers who intend to share their phones' Internet connections with other devices.

The $60 unlimited plan is for new or existing Sprint customers who bring their own device, buy one at full retail price, or pay on Sprint's Easy Pay two-year installment plan.

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Rumor: Smash Bros. roster leaks; you can finally shoot the Duck Hunt dog

8/25/2014 2:29pm

The next entries in the Super Smash Bros. fighting franchise, a 3DS/Wii U duo with separate (and partly unknown) release dates, has seen its roster of fan-favorite characters expand in drips of one or two character announcements at a time for years now. That promotional slow-drip may have finally run out, however, thanks to a mix of questionable screenshots and convincing video footage that surfaced on enthusiast forum NeoGAF in recent days.

The videos, which were uploaded [and promptly deleted by way of Nintendo copyright claim] on Monday and focused on the 3DS edition of the next Smash Bros., contained appearances from previously unannounced characters Bowser Jr.—piloting the flying clown-face pod that first appeared in Super Mario World—and Shulk, the spiky-haired, JRPG-cliche protagonist from the Nintendo-published Xenoblade Chronicles. These videos appeared to confirm leaked information that surfaced as early as last Wednesday, including a full roster screenshot that contained, among other characters, the dog from NES classic Duck Hunt. If true, this would be the first time the annoying, laughing pooch would be directly controllable in a Nintendo game, though you could actually shoot the mongrel in his grinning face if you tracked down a Vs. Duck Hunt arcade machine.

That supposed full-character roster screenshot also included returning Smash faves like Earthbound protagonist Ness, classic Nintendo mascot R.O.B., and Star Fox sidekick Falco. While we're hesitant to confirm that screenshot as fully authentic without more information, the gameplay videos compare very closely to the gameplay we tried out at this year's Electronic Entertainment Expo. If they're fakes, they're good ones.

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Point-of-sale malware has now infected over 1,000 companies in US

8/25/2014 1:29pm
Mike Mozart / JeepersMedia

More than 1,000 US businesses have been infected with a malicious program that targets point-of-sale systems and steals credit- and debit-card data, the US government warned over the weekend.

The malware, dubbed "Backoff" after a term used in its code, began spreading as early as October 2013 and has typically escaped notice by antivirus defenses. The US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT), the Secret Service, and the National Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Center (NCCIC) initially published an analysis of the malware in late July, but the groups updated their advisory on Friday with the estimated business impacted.

"Over the past year, the Secret Service has responded to network intrusions at numerous businesses throughout the United States that have been impacted by the 'Backoff' malware," the advisory stated. "Seven PoS system providers/vendors have confirmed that they have had multiple clients affected. Reporting continues on additional compromised locations, involving private sector entities of all sizes."

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LG teases a round smartwatch, the “LG G Watch R,” for IFA

8/25/2014 1:07pm
This flashed on the screen for a split second during the teaser. LG

Less than two months after the launch of the LG G Watch, the company is already talking up its successor. Over the weekend, LG posted a video to its YouTube account teasing a new watch from the company, and this time, it's round! Like Motorola with the upcoming Moto 360, LG is making a smartwatch that actually looks like a watch.

The video doesn't contain much in the way of information about the product. The above render is flashed for a split second, and LG PR has since confirmed the device's name to be the "LG G Watch R." The video says we'll see more of the device at IFA, a trade show that runs from September 5 to 10.

The video brags of a "perfect circle" screen, a dig at the "flat tire" shape of the Moto 360's screen. The 360 is missing the bottom chunk of the screen, which it uses for the auto brightness sensor and an internal screen cable. Motorola also trades the perfect circle shape for smaller bezels and compactness, two important areas of smartwatch design.

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Confused Comcast rep thinks Steam download is a virus or “too heavy”

8/25/2014 12:46pm

A Comcast subscriber who wanted to know why his Internet service disconnected when trying to use Steam was offered a bizarre explanation by a customer service representative who had apparently never heard of the popular video game distribution software.

"It’s probably a virus or it could be that it’s too heavy and it’s interrupting the Internet. Those are the only two things I can think about," the rep told a customer who made a recording of the call.

The customer was apparently trying to download a game through Steam when his Internet connection stopped working. He also described the problem on reddit, saying that his 50Mbps Comcast service would initially provide 6Mbps downloads on Steam before quickly "zeroing out." Re-starting the download led to the same result.

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Oregon Attorney General sues Oracle for “racketeering activity”

8/25/2014 12:34pm
Oracle, which has already sued Oregon for failure to pay up on its failed work, now faces charges of breach of contract and fraud from the state's Attorney General in a civil claim. Peter Kaminski / flickr

In the aftermath of what was likely the most spectacular failure among state-run Affordable Care Act health exchange site launches, the state of Oregon has filed a lawsuit against Oracle America Inc. over the total failure of the Cover Oregon exchange. “Oracle’s conduct amounts to a pattern of racketeering activity that has cost the State and Cover Oregon hundreds of millions of dollars,” Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum wrote in a civil complaint filed August 22. The lawsuit seeks over $5.5 billion in damages from Oracle, plus legal fees.

The complaint comes after Oracle filed its own lawsuit against the state’s health exchange for failure to pay for services rendered in early August. Oracle’s attorneys claimed that Oregon Governor John Kitzhaber had defamed the company in a “smear campaign” while failing to take responsibility for the failure of state management of the project and not paying Oracle for additional work done.

The 126-page complaint, filed by Rosenblum in Oregon’s Marion County Circuit Court on August 22, claims that Oracle pushed the state to not hire a systems integrator for the project, giving the company total control over the development of the site and allowing company executives to conceal problems with the software. “According to a former Oracle employee, Oracle advanced a ‘planned’ behind-the-scenes effort' to convince the State 'that a Systems Integrator would just cause delay,'” Rosenblum wrote in the complaint. “The former employee explained that ‘the message was 'we’ve got to make sure that [the State] doesn’t bring [a Systems Integrator] in because it’s just going to cause us trouble.’”

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Leaked slides show details for next-gen Intel mini-PCs, new CPUs

8/25/2014 12:22pm
According to the slides, there will be three new NUC boards spread across give different boxes, all launching in the first half of 2015. FanlessTech

We're generally fans of Intel's NUC ("Next Unit of Computing") mini-PCs, which use Ultrabook parts to create reasonably capable desktop PCs that can fit just about anywhere. When last we heard about new Broadwell-based versions of the boxes, they were due to launch in late 2014, but delays of higher-performance Broadwell parts have apparently pushed them back. New Intel slides from FanlessTech now show seven new NUC boxes launching in the first half of 2015.

The slides also tell us what kind of boxes we can expect, though there are no big surprises. The Broadwell NUC lineup is broadly similar to that of Haswell. There appear to be three boards: one high-end Core i5 model, one middle-end Core i3 model, and one Core i5 model with Intel's vPro technology integrated to make it more appealing to enterprises. All seem to come in two types of enclosures, one with extra room for a 2.5-inch SATA III hard drive and one without. This makes for a total of six Broadwell NUC boxes.

The revised NUC roadmap. FanlessTech

All six boxes will share most of the same ports and features: two display outputs, Ethernet, four USB 3.0 ports, NFC, M.2 slots for SSDs, support for up to 16GB of RAM, and changeable lids (these may just be for customization purposes, though past rumors have suggested that some could be used as wireless charging pads). The vPro models will use two mini DisplayPorts while the standard i5 and i3 boxes will use one mini DisplayPort and one micro HDMI port, and all models appear to come with Intel's 7265 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0 adapter soldered on—with current models, you must supply your own mini-PCI Express Wi-Fi card.

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American Airlines flight diverted after gaming hacker group tweets bomb threat

8/25/2014 11:02am
The diverted flight path of American Airlines flight #362, which was redirected from San Diego to Phoenix yesterday. FlightAware

Another series of depressingly common DDoS attacks on a number of gaming servers became much more serious this weekend when a bomb threat tweeted by a hacking collective resulted in a commercial jet carrying Sony Online Entertainment CEO John Smedley to be diverted from San Diego to Phoenix.

It all started Saturday, when a group going by the handle "Lizard Squad" tweeted links to a number of prominent Twitch streamers, directing followers to target DDoS attacks at servers for Blizzard and League of Legends maker Riot Games. The group's sophomoric MO: demand that the streamers write "LIZARD SQUAD" on their forehead in marker to get their games back online.

Lizard Squad set its sights on Sony's PlayStation Network servers early Sunday morning, causing what Sony acknowledged as "issues" with PSN connectivity across North America. "Sony, yet another large company, but they aren't spending the waves of cash they obtain on their customers' PSN service," the group tweeted derisively. "End the greed." (PSN was back online as of early Monday morning, and planned maintenance on Sony's servers has been delayed indefinitely).

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Airbnb identifies 124 hosts in data handover to NY Attorney General

8/24/2014 7:20pm

In its ongoing tug-of-war with the New York Attorney General, Airbnb announced it will hand over data—including names and addresses—on 124 of its hosts within New York City.

Airbnb elaborated within a blog post about the compliance on Friday. The company said it reviewed its New York hosts and removed a number of them for failing to live up to the site's standards. And as they were working to reach an agreement with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, they became increasingly confident that he "was truly concerned about a relatively small number of hosts he considered to be 'bad actors,' and that the vast majority of our community was never a target of his inquiries. As a result, we came to expect that we would start receiving requests for individual data at a relatively modest level."

Airbnb said the vast majority of the 124 targeted hosts were no longer listed on the site, and those still with the site are hosts with multiple listings. "Without knowing more about why the Attorney General is interested in those hosts specifically, it is hard to know why they have been targeted," the company said. Airbnb did, however, point out that the final number is small (less than one percent) when compared to Schneiderman's original request for data on 15,000+ users.

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Xiaomi Mi4 review: China’s iPhone killer is unoriginal but amazing

8/24/2014 7:00pm
Ron Amadeo Specs at a glance: Xiaomi Mi4 Screen 1920×1080 5.0"(441 ppi) IPS LCD OS Android KitKat 4.4.2 with MIUI 5 CPU 2.5GHz quad-core Snapdragon 801 RAM 3GB GPU Adreno 330 Storage 16GB or 64GB, not expandable Networking Dual Band 802.11b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS Network GSM 850/900/1800/1900
HSDPA 850/900/1900/2100
LTE version TBA Ports Micro USB 2.0, headphones Camera 13MP rear camera, 8MP front camera, Size 139.2mm x 68.5mm x 8.9mm Weight 149g Battery 3080 mAh, not removable Starting price $320 unlocked in China, $480 through importer Other perks RBG notification LED, IrLED, NFC, removable back plate

Xiaomi (pronounced SHAO-mee) is a complete mystery in the West. We often hear stories about the "Apple of China" and how existing OEMs should be worried, but it's rare to get a look at any actual devices from the company. China is the world's largest smartphone market, and the #1 OEM in China isn't Samsung or Apple—it's Xiaomi. The company was only founded in 2010, but it sold 18.7 million smartphones in 2013. It expects to triple that number this year.

Why—and how—is this startup beating the biggest companies in the world? To discover Xiaomi's secrets and to investigate the state of Android in China, we imported the company's brand new flagship: say hello to the Xiaomi Mi4.

Xiaomi's greatest strength is its execution. A lot of things the company does are not unique, but Xiaomi does a fantastic job of whatever it puts its mind to. So yes, the front of the Mi4 (pronounced mee-four) is basically a big iPhone, but it's also built like an iPhone. A steel frame with chamfered edges, thin bezels, and impeccable construction make this the best Android hardware we've seen all year.

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Spacecraft may have captured dust particles from beyond our Solar System

8/24/2014 5:00pm
Flickr user: stefanvds

The vast expanse between stars is not quite empty—it’s home to a diffuse spread of dust, aptly called the interstellar medium (ISM). Studies of the ISM have largely relied on inferences since direct observations of the dim, diffuse material are difficult. But now it seems we have a chance for an up-close look. According to a recent study, seven dust particles caught by the Stardust spacecraft likely came from the ISM. If true, the particles may be the first material captured from outside the Solar System, allowing scientists to study the ISM more directly.

Assuming that they did originate outside the Solar System, the particles can be used to address unanswered questions about the ISM. For one thing, scientists are still unsure whether most of the gas in the ISM is atomic, molecular, or ionic, or whether any of these phases is dominant at all. Scientists would also hope to address whether most particles there are crystalline or amorphous in structure and how much iron is present.

(There are materials called GEMS—glass with embedded metal and sulfides—that may also originate from outside the Solar System, but this is a contentious subject within the scientific community.)

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Android attack improves timing, allows data theft

8/24/2014 2:30pm

A malicious application could enable the theft of login credentials, sensitive images, and other data from Android smartphones by making use of a newly discovered information-leakage weakness in the operating system, according to a team of researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of California at Riverside.

The attack, known as a user interface (UI) inference attack, makes use of the design of programming frameworks that share memory, allowing one application to gather information about the state of other applications. The information can be gathered without any special Android permissions or by grabbing screen pixels, according to a paper presented at the USENIX Security Conference on Friday.

The technique gives attackers the ability to infer the state of a targeted application, enabling more convincing attacks. If malware knows that the targeted user has just clicked on a "login" button, then it can throw up a dialog box asking for a username and password. If the malware can infer that a user is about to take a picture of a check or sensitive document, it can quickly take a second picture.

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Attractive faces and good health may not be related

8/24/2014 1:00pm

Beauty, it is said, is in the eye of the beholder. And yet, there are many faces that a majority would find beautiful, say, George Clooney’s or Audrey Hepburn’s.

Psychologists interested in mate selection and the visual processing of faces have long sought to understand why some faces are widely regarded as attractive. Researchers have identified several cues associated with facial beauty, including “averageness”—faces close to the population mean are judged attractive—and “sexual dimorphism”—faces that accentuate characteristics that distinguish males and females are desirable.

There has also been long-standing interest in facial symmetry. Most faces appear broadly symmetric. Close inspection, however, almost always reveals subtle deviations from perfect symmetry. It is common for one eye to be positioned slightly above the other, or further away from the mid-line, and features are rarely perfectly symmetric in shape. Having examined the relationship between degree of facial symmetry and perceived attractiveness, many studies have found that beautiful faces exhibit greater symmetry.

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Prosecutors hit Silk Road suspect Ross Ulbricht with new drug charges

8/24/2014 10:00am
The US government claims these are Ross Ulbricht's fraudulent identification cards. United States Attorney's Office, Southern District of NY

Federal prosecutors added three new charges to the criminal case against Ross Ulbricht, the alleged mastermind behind the Silk Road online drug marketplace.

According to a 17-page amended indictment filed late Thursday night, the government introduced one count of “narcotics trafficking,” of “distribution of narcotics by means of the Internet,” and of "conspiracy to traffic in fraudulent identification documents."

Previously, Ulbricht was indicted in February 2014 on four formal criminal offenses: narcotics trafficking conspiracy, continuing criminal enterprise, computer hacking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy.

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CarPlay introductions quietly slip back into 2015

8/23/2014 3:30pm

CarPlay, Apple’s in-car iOS integration product, has shown up in flashy demos at various trade shows this year, but it will take a while before we see it on the roads, according to Lucas Mearian at Computerworld. Mercedes-Benz, Volvo, and Honda are all believed to be pushing back plans to include CarPlay in some of their new models until 2015.

Apple’s influence on the automotive industry may have been unintentional at first, but the arrival of the iPod created an infotainment paradigm shift. iPod owners wanted their MP3 players to connect to their cars. Less than a decade later and even the cheapest rental car now comes with a plethora of USB ports and wireless options for piping one’s tunes through the car’s speakers. CarPlay is an evolution of this approach, moving the display from the mobile device to the car’s center stack, as well as integrating Siri into the infotainment system.

An Apple-created solution, (potentially) free of the kludginess that often comes with third-party systems may help sell cars to the 42 percent of American smartphone users who have iOS, but equally might do little to attract their Android-using counterparts, who outnumber them 5 to 4 domestically and by quite a considerable margin worldwide.

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Gallery: Taking a look back at some choice Sierra gaming moments

8/23/2014 2:35pm"xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:["top"], collapse: true});

Space Quest wasn’t the first computer game my dad bought for us to play. As a child of the mid-1980s with an IBM PC, I had a whole rapidly exploding industry of games spread out before me, and the first game he brought home from the store (the same store where I'd someday work!) was Oo-topos, the third of Polarware’s Comprehend series of illustrated text adventures. Space Quest came a bit later, after I was already a pro at thinking my way through convoluted parser-based puzzles.

But even if it wasn’t the first one, Space Quest was probably the most important game my dad brought home from the store, because Space Quest was my introduction to Sierra On-line. And Sierra was responsible for some of the most amazing experiences available to gamers in the '80s and '90s. When I think back on my kid years, the memories of growing up are intertwined with memories of Space Quest and Quest for Glory and, yes, Leisure Suit Larry.

I even remember the smell of the weird yellow invisible ink markers that Sierra packaged with their game hintbooks—oh yes, in those long-ago days, there was no World Wide Web to turn to for game hints. If you got stuck, you called the Sierra hint line (which, if memory serves, was a 900 number), or you went back to the local Babbage's and dropped $10 on an official Sierra hintbook. The answers were all printed in invisible ink, and you scribbled with their provided highlighter-like marker over the books' pages to reveal the answers. Later Sierra games used special blue ink and a red tinted gel filter strip to hide the answers, similar to the "tech stats" on the back of Generation 1 Transformers boxes.

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Should you go forward with a project if the code isn’t clean?

8/23/2014 2:05pm
Stack Exchange

This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 100+ Q&A sites.

solidsnake asks:

I'm a beginner Web developer (one year of experience). A couple of weeks after graduating, I got offered a job to build a web application for a company whose owner is not much of a tech guy. He recruited me to avoid theft of his idea, the high cost of development charged by a service company, and to have someone young he can trust onboard to maintain the project for the long run (I came to these conclusions by myself long after being hired).

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Speed cameras issued thousands of bogus tickets in Long Island

8/23/2014 1:55pm

Nassau County of New York is forgiving thousands of speeding tickets issued this summer from malfunctioning speed cameras, totaling about $2.4 million in fines.

The Long Island county executive, Edward Mangano, said cameras from Arizona-based American Traffic Solutions near six schools were unreliable and issued tickets even when school was not in session. Traffic speeds are reduced dramatically during school hours.

"I don't have a high confidence level that the cameras were operating at statutory levels," Mangano told Newsday Friday. "So we are declaring amnesty with all tickets issued this summer."

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Say goodbye to the video store, hello to the non-profit foundation

8/23/2014 12:00pm
Scarecrow Video

SEATTLE—On a sunny August weeknight, Matt Lynch, a clerk at longtime Seattle rental store Scarecrow Video, grabbed a cup of ice from the shop’s relatively new coffee counter. Cutely named VHS-presso, the counter was one of the shop’s many efforts in recent years to spur interest, attract more renters, and get people to walk into a video store once again.

There’s also the shop’s screening room, opened just over a year ago to host cult and niche movie nights by way of a giant screen, a smattering of speakers, and some comfy chairs. Lynch, among the shop floor’s elder statesmen at 12 years of experience, pulled one of those chairs out to sit and chew on ice while marveling at the room’s walls. The shelves are full of classic VHS tapes. The store prides itself on its vast VHS collection, totaling over 15,000 tapes at this point. But neither that fact, nor the shop’s recent additions, resulted in more rentals or sales as of late.

Lynch looked at Ars’ digital recorder and commented on “the angle” that most magazines and blogs have run with when talking about video rental shops like Scarecrow Video: “’This [industry] is dead, these people are struggling to save it.’” He bit down on ice to punctuate that expectation. “That’s not what I want to see here.”

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BlackBerry can pursue contempt of court charge against Ryan Seacrest’s Typo

8/23/2014 10:04am
This BlackBerry keyboard clone has a celebrity in legal trouble. Typo Products

In a court order on Thursday, a Northern California District Court judge ruled that BlackBerry can pursue a contempt of court charge against Typo, a company co-founded by American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and CEO Laurence Hallier, which sells a small physical keyboard that attaches to an iPhone.

BlackBerry initially sued Typo in January, claiming that Typo's keyboards look almost exactly like its own. Indeed, Seacrest told CNN in an interview that the Typo “came to fruition” because he wanted to put what he liked about the BlackBerry into an iPhone.

In March, the judge agreed with BlackBerry and granted the embattled cell phone and software maker a preliminary injunction that banned Typo from selling its $99 keyboard. But according to the judge's order on Thursday, BlackBerry alleged that Typo has been violating that injunction by providing replacement keyboards under its warranty program, by selling its keyboards to foreign retailers, and by cutting a deal with SMI Investments after the judge ruled in favor of an injunction but before the injunction went into effect. This time the judge again sided with BlackBerry, giving the company permission to gather evidence showing that Typo acted in contempt of court.

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