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The Art of Technology
Updated: 1 hour 59 min ago

Merely receiving a phone notification is enough to distract a driver

7/27/2015 12:14pm

Infotainment systems are a big focus of the auto industry right now. The advent of the connected car means large screens are replacing the traditional car stereo, bringing the Internet into our vehicles. Tech companies like Apple and Google are getting in on the act, too.

Ars editor Ron Amadeo has been trying out Google's Android Auto infotainment system, and he took the view that the power of the system is being unfairly crippled by safety concerns. This view isn't universal across the office, however; some of us are skeptical about whether our fellow road users will remain focused on driving rather than on their screens. This dissenting view is bolstered by a recent publication from a trio of researchers at Florida State University (FSU). Cary Stothart and colleagues have looked at how simply receiving a message notification affects one's attention, and the results aren't good news for those who think they can multitask behind the wheel.

Beyond a small minority of drivers, most of us are terrible at driving and doing anything else at the same time. Distracted-driving legislation has banned using hand-operated cell phones in cars in many states. Consequently, automakers, Apple, and Google are all pushing voice controls as a solution for a public that seems to have no desire to stop communicating on their commutes. But even using voice control appears to be little safer than button pushing; both are dismal compared to simply paying attention to the task of piloting several thousand pounds of steel, something we reported last year.

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So long, Ouya! Razer acquires microconsole’s storefront, technical team

7/27/2015 11:52am

The Ouya Android microconsole went out not with a bang but with a bazillion tweets. Monday morning saw Ouya's founder, Julie Uhrman, direct Twitter posts at a number of people who had worked on or developed for the Ouya, along with one vague nod to the gaming-hardware folks at Razer.

Shortly afterward, the companies announced an acquisition deal, which had already been signed on June 12, that made no bones about it: Ouya's software, storefront, and technical staff were being swallowed up by Razer, while the original hardware was now discontinued. Financial terms were not disclosed.

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Pakistan bans BlackBerry messaging, e-mail for “security reasons”

7/27/2015 11:50am

The Pakistan Telecommunication Authority (PTA) has issued a directive to mobile phone network operators to shut down access to BlackBerry Enterprise Services for all mobile customers by November 30. The new order is "for security reasons," a PTA spokesperson told The Guardian.

The order comes just six days after Privacy International issued a report warning that Pakistan's intelligence agencies are ramping up electronic surveillance efforts. The ongoing battle with the Pakistani Taliban and other insurgents has been used as justification for an increasingly broad surveillance campaign by Pakistan's intelligence community.

"The Pakistani government has been trying for years to capture all domestic phone and internet traffic across the nation’s networks," the authors of the Privacy International report noted. "As of 2013, they are significantly closer to achieving this goal."

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Paper suggests impacts blasted off parts of Earth’s starting material

7/27/2015 11:35am

It’s generally thought that the Earth was built out of asteroids called ordinary chondrites. Chondrites contain some of the most ancient minerals in the Solar System, and their composition suggests that they made up the majority of the material that collapsed to form our planet.

But recent observations have shown that the composition of the Earth’s mantle doesn’t match that of ordinary chondrites, suggesting that something else is going on. If the Earth was indeed formed from chondrites, that material must have separated into two different reservoirs, one of which we haven't identified.

Specifically, the Earth’s mantle has a lower ratio of neodymium-142 to -144 than ordinary chondrites. That means that at some point during the Earth’s formation, the chondrites that formed the planet must have differentiated into higher- and lower-ratio clumps (just as mud, stirred into a cup of water, differentiates with the densest concentration of mud ending up on the bottom). Since this requires the Earth to have been very hot, it would have happened within the first 20 million to 30 million years of the planet’s initial accretion.

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Valve patches security hole that enabled takeover of Steam accounts

7/27/2015 11:08am

Valve has patched a bug in its Steam system that let an attacker easily take over an arbitrary account using nothing but the account's username.

The hijacking exploit took advantage of a hole in Steam's password recovery feature, which sends a recovery code to the registered e-mail address associated with the account. That e-mailed code needs to be entered on a form through the Steam website, but an attacker could simply skip that code entry step, leaving the recovery code area blank, and have full access to the password change dialog, as demonstrated in this video.

In a statement to Kotaku, Valve said it quickly fixed the bug when made aware of it on Saturday, July 25 but that "a subset of Steam accounts" could have been affected since July 21. It's hard to know precisely how often the attack was used in that time, but a number of prominent Counter-Strike: GO streamers and others with well-known Steam usernames seem to have been affected.

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Scientists build single-molecule transistor gated with individual atoms

7/27/2015 9:40am

An international team of scientists has created a field-effect transistor (FET) with a channel that consists of just a single molecule. The transistor is switched on and off by the arrangement of individual atoms around the channel. This isn't the first single-molecule transistor, though the individual-atom gating is rather novel.

Take a moment to appreciate the image at the top of the story, captured with a scanning tunnelling microscope (STM). In the middle is a phthalocyanine (H2Pc) molecule, a large molecule that is the basis of many blue/green dyes. Around the outside, arranged in a hexagon, are 12 charged indium (In+1) atoms. The molecule and atoms rest on an indium arsenide substrate.

Don't get too excited about the prospect of single-molecule transistors being commercialised, though. As you may know, a transistor consists of more than just a channel (the molecule) and the gate (the hexagon of atoms). There also needs to be a source and a drain. The drain is the indium arsenide substrate; no big deal. The source, however, is the tip of a giant STM: a room-sized cryogenic multi-million-pound device that can only really be found at specialised research institutions.

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Hologram performance shut down by police at hip-hop festival

7/27/2015 7:30am

At a hip-hop festival called Craze Fest in Hammond, Indiana, just outside of Chicago, rapper Chief Keef appeared on stage as a hologram. But his Saturday night performance only lasted one song before the police shut it down.

Chief Keef, born Keith Cozart, originally planned to hold a benefit concert for his friend and a toddler who were both killed during a shooting this month. The concert was to be held at a theater in Chicago, but Mayor Rahm Emmanuel's office reportedly pressured the theater to cancel the event, according to the Chicago Tribune. The New York Times reported the mayor's office called Chief Keef "an unacceptable role model" whose music "promotes violence."

Instead, Chief Keef told his fans that he would perform at an undisclosed location and enlisted Hologram USA to help him appear virtually rather than physically, citing outstanding warrants for his arrest in Illinois. Fans weren't told Chief Keef would be performing in Hammond at Wolf Lake Pavilion as part of Craze Fest until 9pm that night.

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Someone has finally made a portable Bluetooth speaker that doesn’t suck

7/26/2015 7:00pm

I know that portable Bluetooth speakers are hardly the sexiest or most technologically interesting gadgets out there, but indulge me for a moment. You see, the trouble with most portable Bluetooth speakers is that they are, almost universally, completely and utterly terrible. The cheap ones—the £10-£30 piles of garishly coloured plastic that you can buy from places like Amazon—are about as enjoyable to listen to as having a swarm of bees repeatedly attack your ear lobes, such is the tinny mess they try to pass off as music.

But worse—far, far worse in my book—are the expensive ones. I can forgive cheap speakers for being terrible; put it all down to case of "you get what you pay for." But spending serious amounts of money and still ending up with something that sounds awful? Well, as they say in here in Blightly, that's just not cricket. It's not like my expectations are particularly high, either. A portable Bluetooth speaker is never going to be an audiophile's dream after all. What's weird, however, is that even though these speakers are being made by fancy design houses, they inexplicably lack basic, fundamental features that a good Bluetooth speaker must have.

The basics are simple: give me a small, portable design that's easy to lug around to hotels, picnics, parties, and the like; an uncomplicated pairing system; a battery that lasts a good eight hours or more; and, most importantly, a speaker that sounds good at quiet volumes, and remains distortion free when cranked to fill a room. So far, scant few have managed to tick all the boxes. The Bluetooth speakers I've tried—the Beats Pill, the Anker Portable, the Sony SRS-X11, and the JBL Flip 2—have all come up short in one way or another.

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So far, WordPress denied 43% of DMCA takedown requests in 2015

7/26/2015 6:00pm

This week WordPress released the latest edition of its recurring transparency report, revealing 43 percent of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown requests it received have been rejected in the first six months of 2015. It's the lowest six-month period shown in the report, though it only dates back to 2014. However, WordPress said this headline figure would be even higher if it "counted suspended sites as rejected notices." That change in calculation would bump the WordPress DMCA denial rate to 67 percent between January 1 and June 30, 2015.

In total, the publishing platform received 4,679 DMCA takedown requests as of June 30, identifying 12 percent of those as "abusive." The top three organizations submitting these requests were Web Sheriff, Audiolock, and InternetSecurities. "Not surprisingly, the list is dominated by third party take down services, many of whom use automated bots to identify copyrighted content and generate takedown notices," WordPress noted. The company wrote at length about this practice in April, both explaining and condemning the general procedure.

"These kind of automated systems scour the Web, firing off takedown notifications where unauthorized uses of material are found—so humans don’t have to," WordPress wrote. "Sounds great in theory, but it doesn’t always work out as smoothly in practice. Much akin to some nightmare scenario from the Terminator, sometimes the bots turn on their creators."

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GM’s Heritage Collection: fuel cells, EVs, concept cars, and more

7/26/2015 4:15pm

ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true}]);STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich.—A little way outside of Detroit is the General Motors (GM) Heritage Center, an unassuming warehouse in a neighborhood of unassuming warehouses. On display inside the Heritage Center are some of GM's 600 significant cars from its history. Concepts, first-off-the-line models, priceless racing cars, and more. Visits to the collection are by appointment only, but as we were in town this week, the company kindly invited us to come take a look at their history in the metal. What follows is a small sample of the automotive delights on show.

EVs and more

Given that this is Cars Technica, we thought it fitting to start with some of the electric vehicles (EVs) and fuel efficiency demonstrators:

Here lurk the alternate energy and fuel efficiency concepts.

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.related-stories { display: none !important; } Corvettes, Corvettes, more Corvettes, oh and some Corvairs

Not only were we lucky enough to get a couple of hours inside the otherwise-deserted collection, we were also met by Harlan Charles, Corvette's product manager. Charles graciously spent an hour talking Corvette history and design with us. Of particular interest to Ars were all the mid-engined Corvette prototypes and concepts, as well as the legendary (and stunning) Mako Shark.

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Android Auto secrets hint at vehicle diagnostic app, expanded car integration

7/26/2015 3:00pm

We just got to spend a week with an Android Auto car (our huge review is right here), and as part of our research to figure out how it works, we ran into quite a few things that are in the app but don't work yet. Android Auto houses non-functional interface mock ups for several new features, along with a whole host of sensor code that Google hasn't talked about.

What Google really intends to do with these is anyone's guess, but it's rare that Google ships non-functional code that doesn't someday become functional. So while we're personally not guaranteeing anything, this could be a peek into the future of Android Auto.

Roadside Assistance and Vehicle Service Screens

This is what the "Car" screen looks like in retail mode. It's just a single button. But...

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ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true}]);The "Car" screen of Android Auto—launched via the right most "speedometer" icon—is pretty lame. Today when you open it you get a single button to exit Android Auto, and that's it. Considering the background of this screen is called "oem_apps_bg," we're guessing it will eventually house OEM-specific features, but right now there really aren't any. Google has bigger plans for this screen though, and you can see some of them if you turn on developer mode. The car screen then populates with four new options! The Car screen then turns into something like an app launcher, serving as a jumping off point to several other screens.

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Ebola created a public health emergency—and we weren’t ready for it

7/26/2015 1:00pm

Could the international community have done a better job when confronted with the outbreak of Ebola in West Africa? Although the virus appears to be largely contained now, this comes after at least 27,000 people were infected, with 11,000 of them dying. The virus also had the opportunity to spread within the human population for over a year, providing it a potentially dangerous opportunity to adapt to us as hosts.

To find out whether we could have managed the outbreak better, the World Health Organization (WHO) recently convened an Ebola Interim Assessment Panel, which analyzed various aspects of the organization’s response. This panel, commissioned by the WHO Director-General, included the Dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, the founding Director of the UK's national Health Service, and other international public health leaders. It recently released its final report on the crisis.

Late Recognition of the Crisis

As the Ebola outbreak turned into a crisis, the WHO’s regional headquarters in Africa attempted to convey the seriousness of the problem to the central body of the WHO, but those messages either didn’t reach the appropriate organizational leaders or these leaders didn’t realize their importance. Early warnings about the outbreak, including some from Doctors without Borders, didn’t result in an adequate response. As one humanitarian organization leader who was working on the ground said, “We didn’t really pay attention to the Ebola outbreak at first, because the numbers were so small.”

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They grow up fast: Apple quietly bulks up Swift and Xcode in year two

7/26/2015 11:00am

While most people tune in to Apple's WWDC keynote to figure out what's coming in the next version of the company's operating systems, the event is a developer's conference. Apple genuinely uses WWDC to introduce a lot of new technologies that end users will never experience directly. So with the exception of big news like Swift, the company generally does this in later, non-public talks and through the software released via its Developer Connection.

This year was no exception. While some things, like app thinning, found their way into the keynote, most technical details were buried for later. Information on the new version of Xcode was scattered throughout the week's panels, and developers were able to get a copy of a beta with plenty of preliminary documentation. In the time following WWDC, we spent a couple of weeks watching conference sessions and looking through both the software and all this documentation. The research gave us a sense of some of the under-the-hood changes that are coming for developers this fall alongside the shiny, new operating systems.

Again, much of this won't reach an end user directly, so this isn't meant to be an exhaustive account. However, Apple has introduced several new tweaks that stood out to us upon further reflection.

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What to watch during the Summer Games Done Quick speedrun marathon

7/25/2015 1:00pm

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (1 p.m. Eastern - Sunday, July 26 -- 2 hours 55 minutes)

One of the most entertaining games to see "done quick," even if a full 100% run takes nearly three hours. A good way to kick off a marathon.

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One of the best live gaming events of the year starts on Sunday. That's when the Summer Games Done Quick marathon kicks off roughly 160 straight hours of live video game speedrunning, broadcast on Twitch from a hotel ballroom in St. Paul, Minn.

During that time, you'll be able to see dozens of runners working their way through dozens of games, both classic and modern, as quickly as possible. Sometimes they abuse glitches or warps or pausing to get to the ending as quickly as possible. More often they use simple frame-perfect inputs, refined over countless hours of play, to put in a seemingly preternatural performance. It's all to benefit a good cause, with viewers encouraged to donate to Doctors Without Borders to achieve a million-dollar goal (additional speedruns are added to the proceedings as fundraising milestones are met).

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Sure, you can watch plenty of similar speedruns archived on YouTube (including many recorded during previous Games Done Quick events), and even watch "tool-assisted" speedruns where players use emulators to often beat a game much more quickly than a live player ever could. Still, there's something to be said for watching a human speedrunner play on real hardware, in real time, having to improvise through mistakes and nerves in front of a live audience. Plus, the Games Done Quick stream features some excellent live commentary from volunteers to explain various techniques and strategies during the run, and a live audience cheering on the best moments.

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Gallery: from nets to lasers, there’s a lot of new ways to take down drones

7/25/2015 12:00pm

MBDA Deutschland, a European missile manufacturer, announced its laser-based drone countermeasure in June 2015.

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As drones of all flavors become increasingly ubiquitous, it was only a matter of time before countermeasures began to pop up—and they have in spades, across a spectrum of prices and tactics. These range from the high-tech (lasers and RF interference) to something as basic as a handheld "net gun."

Still, as we reported earlier this year, a shotgun can also be a particularly effective way of downing a drone.

"While kinetic counter-measures are good for battlefields, they are less than ideal for domestic scenarios," Arthur Holland Michel, the co-director of the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College, told Ars by e-mail.

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We had no idea! An appreciation of science’s discoveries

7/25/2015 11:00am

The recent visit to Pluto by New Horizons has clearly captured a lot of people's attention. It's the first time in many years since we've seen an entirely new world, complete with geology and moons. For anyone younger than 25, it's not happened in their lifetime at all.

For me, however, it's a bit like coming full circle. I hadn't quite entered my teens when the Voyagers flew past Jupiter, and I recall it as being the point where I first really started paying attention to science. The Voyagers revealed the staggering violence of the planet's clouds and found that the planet-sized moons were alive with activity. The Solar System never quite looked the same again and, in a lot of ways, the whole Universe didn't. The Voyagers drove home in a big way how we could not only found out new things, but we could often manage to make sense out of them.

New Horizons got me thinking about all the different ways science has changed what we know about the world in the 35 or so years between the Voyagers reaching Jupiter and the present. So, I put together a completely arbitrary list of some of the discoveries that have happened in the intervening years.

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Nintendo will pull plug on Wii U’s TVii service August 11

7/25/2015 9:30am

Tech companies love to announce major rounds of layoffs and service disruptions in the breezy hours at the end of a workweek, and Nintendo joined that proud tradition on Friday by nixing the weirdest service attached to its beleaguered Wii U console: Nintendo TVii.

In an announcement at both TVii's official support site and its Miiverse page, Nintendo confirmed that TVii, a TV Guide-style interface meant to help users sort through live and streaming video listings, would no longer function after August 11. "Every service has a life cycle, and it is time to focus our resources on other projects," the support site's FAQ read; we suppose that means Nintendo thinks a full three years is pushing it in terms of "life cycle."

That being said, the free service had been swirling down a figurative toilet for some time. In particular, TVii received a considerable, stealth downgrade in 2014 that removed its most interesting feature: the ability to search for a TV show across a number of sources, from a cable box to Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon Prime. With that feature stripped, TVii existed mostly to offer basic cable-box TV listings and provide a strange, TVii-only forum for sports fans to vote and comment on live matches. The service never even launched outside of North America, in spite of repeated promises by Nintendo for a European TVii launch.

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The R9 Fury is AMD’s best card in years, but just who is it for?

7/25/2015 7:15am

What a few months it's been for AMD. Hope sprang eternal after AMD began to drop details on its latest GPU architecture update, named Fiji, which features an all-new, much-hyped technology called High Bandwidth Memory (HBM). After years of playing second-fiddle to Nvidia in raw performance and power consumption, the promised power savings and huge bandwidth of HBM was to be AMD's saving grace, and a turning point for a company in sore need of a win after a string of multi-million dollar losses.

Unfortunately for AMD, the GPU that emerged, the R9 Fury X, didn't quite cut the mustard. Nvidia's pre-emptive strike with the GTX 980 Ti, which was undoubtedly driven by the imminent launch of the Fury X, put a dampener on AMD's bleeding-edge tech. The Fury X cost the same as a 980 Ti, but it wasn't faster, had less memory, and consumed more power—even if its excellent watercooling system kept temperatures under control. Team Red, it seemed, was in trouble once again.

While the flagship R9 Fury X hogged the hardware headlines, however, the release of its little brother—the R9 Fury—a couple of weeks later was far more interesting. At £450 ($560), the R9 Fury is priced below the £550 ($650) of the Fury X and the GTX 980 Ti, but above the £400 ($520) of the GTX 980, and the £350 ($430) of the R9 390X. That puts it, and AMD, in a slightly odd position: if you can get the Fury (and that tasty HBM) for £450, is there any point in stepping up to the Fury X? And on the other hand, if the Fury is only a smidgen better than a 980 or 390X, why bother spending the extra cash?

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Judge crucifies sheriff over his blitzkrieg on’s sex ads

7/24/2015 9:06pm

A federal judge crucified the sheriff for the nation's second-most populous county Friday, ordering Illinois, Cook County Sheriff Thomas Dart to back off on its attacks on's sex ads—attacks that could soon put the classifieds portal out of business.

Thomas Dart

In a case testing the First Amendment and federal laws protecting Web operators for the speech of their users, Backpage sued Dart after he coerced Visa and Mastercard to refrain from doing business with the classifieds portal. Dart labeled the company a "sex trafficking industry profiteer" (PDF) because of its adult ads.

Backpage claimed in a Tuesday lawsuit (PDF) that Dart's actions amount to "an informal extralegal prior restraint of speech."

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Researchers claim they’ve developed a better, faster Tor

7/24/2015 6:15pm

Tor, the world's largest and most well-known "onion router" network, offers a degree of anonymity that has made it a popular tool of journalists, dissidents, and everyday Internet users who are trying to avoid government or corporate censorship (as well as Internet drug lords and child pornographers). But one thing that it doesn't offer is speed—its complex encrypted "circuits" bring Web browsing and other tasks to a crawl. That means that users seeking to move larger amounts of data have had to rely on virtual private networks—which while they are anonymous, are much less protected than Tor (since VPN providers—and anyone who has access to their logs—can see who users are).

A group of researchers—Chen Chen, Daniele Enrico Asoni, David Barrera, and Adrian Perrig of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zürich and George Danezis of University College London—may have found a new balance between privacy and performance. In a paper published this week, the group described an anonymizing network called HORNET (High-speed Onion Routing at the NETwork layer), an onion-routing network that could become the next generation of Tor. According to the researchers, HORNET moves anonymized Internet traffic at speeds of up to 93 gigabits per second. And because it sheds parts of Tor's network routing management, it can be scaled to support large numbers of users with minimal overhead, they claim.

Like Tor, HORNET encrypts encapsulated network requests in "onions"—with each layer being decrypted by each node passing the traffic along to retrieve instructions on where to next send the data. But HORNET uses two different onion protocols for protecting anonymity of requests to the open internet and a modified version of Tor's "rendezvous point" negotiation for communication with a site concealed within the HORNET network.

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