It's an oft-overlooked fact that we at Ars have no actual central office out of which we work. Although we do have space set aside at the Condé Nast building in New York, it's rare that we actually are in a position to use it. Instead, each of us works out of our respective homes scattered across the USA. We did a short gallery last year showing what our home offices look like (spoiler alert: lots of Macs), but we didn't focus much on that all-important bit of office kit: the chair.
People like us who spend most of the day writing have an extremely close relationship with their office chairs. We spend eight, 10, or 12 hours every day (and sometimes even more!) sprawled in the things, and a good chair can make the difference between a productive workspace and crippling boneitis. You'd think that we'd all have high-quality crazy space chairs—and some of us actually do—but like any other group, we're actually pretty diverse in our seating choices. In fact, a couple of us don't use chairs at all.The pedestrian The chair of House Brodkin.
Senior IT reporter Jon Brodkin starts us out with his thoroughly average and only half-functional Office Max special: "This chair is pretty comfortable, but there’s nothing special about it. I bought it years before I started working at home, at Office Max or Office Depot, and I think I paid somewhere between $50 and $75 for it. The only problem is that it doesn’t always stay up at its full height, so I have to hit the lever a few times a week to raise it back up again. I don’t know why Lee wants a picture of it, but he’s a bit off in the head and he lives in Texas so I usually avoid asking too many questions."
OS X 10.9 has been out for just over a month, and earlier this week we gathered our thoughts and talked about some of our biggest gripes with the operating system (both new-to-Mavericks and those carried over from older versions of OS X).
We didn't nearly hit everything, though—a whole bunch of you took to the comments to let us know what was bugging you about Mavericks. So we've picked a few of the most compelling for you to read about in between eating leftovers and talking your family members out of ill-advised Black Friday purchases.The dock Andrew Cunningham
Most of the Mavericks complaints were functional rather than cosmetic, but one gripe that came up a couple of times involved the way the Dock looks when placed on the left or right side of the screen. Ars reader maccouch called the white, mostly opaque dock "hideous," while Erica-Jane lamented that it couldn't be made transparent (and that, when on the bottom of the screen, you're stuck with the "3D" dock look rather than a more traditional 2D look). Many of you don't seem to mind change, but you do mind when those changes are made irreversible. This is doubly true when changing long-standing OS X behaviors, as we'll see in our next complaint.
The "copyright trolling" law firm formerly known as Prenda Law has been hit with a succession of punishing judicial orders since the original slapdown by US District Judge Otis Wright in May. Prenda, which has sued thousands of Internet users over allegations of illegal porn downloads, has been accused of forging signatures on key documents and planting the porn files it sued over.
Wednesday evening, just before the Thanksgiving holiday, Prenda got its latest fee order. Coming in at a whopping $261,025.11, the order (PDF) by US District Judge Patrick Murphy more than doubles the amount that Prenda-linked lawyers owed from four previous decisions and tells them to pay defendants' legal fees.
The newest order isn't just about the Benjamins, though. Judge Murphy has issued the most sharply worded opinion yet. He points out additional evidence that despite their protestations to the contrary, Paul Hansmeier, John Steele, and Paul Duffy "are closely associated and acted in concert" to file the lawsuit in question. Under this order, the trio are "jointly and severally liable" for the fees.
Reporters and producers at a television station in Baltimore recently found out the hard way that they shouldn't blindly accept Facebook friend requests. Last month, they found that their profiles had been cloned by an attacker who quickly used their network of friends to spread malicious links and ask for money.
Attacks on media organizations' social media accounts have been at an all-time high this past year, including "hacktivist" and state-sponsored attacks on media outlets from the Syrian Electronic Army. But the attack on the staff of WBAL-TV was directed toward staff members' personal accounts. And this initiative was a more workaday one, less targeted at the station itself than the friends, co-workers, and viewers who were connected to the cloned accounts.
Because some of WBAL's staff members mixed their personal and professional social networking together, the attack gave the scammer access to a huge audience's Facebook news feeds. After the attack was discovered, it took weeks for Facebook to shut down the fake accounts.
I’m not much of a gardener. In fact, I recently roped in friends to help me expand my home drip system so that I don’t have to water our garden by hand. Basically, my goal is to not kill the plants that I have: if they’re pretty to look at, that’s good enough. If they make something tasty I can cook with, it's an unexpected bonus!
I get the fact that many people find gardening fun. (Earlier this month I saw a bumper sticker in in Oakland that said, “Gardening is cheaper than therapy—and you get tomatoes!”) But for me, it’s work. A lot of work. And I’d rather just not deal with it, even though I do like the idea of growing tomatoes in my own yard.
So earlier this year when I attended a Silicon Valley event highlighting Estonian startups, I was lucky enough to meet the people behind a company called Click and Grow. It’s a fantastic idea: the company makes a little capsule of seeds that requires water and batteries, and it sells the plastic box that does all the work for you.
In recent years, water-repelling materials have gotten better and better at their job of fearing water. But even the best hydrophobic surfaces still take their time when repelling water. This becomes an issue when the surfaces you want to keep water-free operate in freezing conditions. If water is not repelled quickly, it can freeze and end up stuck there.
Now Kripa Varanasi, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has come up with a way of speeding up the process of repelling water. His approach involved creating a textured surface with tiny ridges (0.1 millimeters high).
Previously, scientists thought that contact time was shortest if droplets spread and recoiled symmetrically on a material, but Varanasi's material shows that asymmetrical recoil works better. The time water spends on their surface is 37 percent less than the same material without ridges. All this has been captured on a camera that filmed at 10,000 frames per second. As you can see below, the water repulsion was so effective that the drops bounced right back off.
Don’t let their delicate, graceful appearance fool you: seahorses are efficient and effective killing machines. They are among the most successful hunters in the sea, often reaching a 90 percent success rate (two to three times that of many other predatory fish). But unlike many marine predators, they don’t have lightning-fast speed, strong suction, or creepy catapulting jaws on their side. Instead, seahorses have another evolutionary trick up their sleeve.
Seahorses creep up slowly on their unassuming prey, then snap their head around and slurp the snack into their mouth—experts call this strategy "pivot feeding." But it's no easy feat, especially in the calm seagrass beds where seahorses spend most of their time. Here, prey tends to rely on hydrodynamic clues to sense predators. Even a slight disturbance in these calm waters can signal to prey that there’s danger approaching.
Until recently, it’s been unclear how hunting seahorses can escape detection so effectively. But now, new research in Nature Communications demonstrates that the seahorse’s oddly shaped head plays a major role in its sneaky behavior and hunting success.
The brightness of a black hole depends on its mass and on its feeding habits. Although the body itself traps light, the matter being drawn into it is often raised to energies where it emits copious amounts of light. In some cases, the mass of the black hole can be inferred by how much light is emitted by this matter. Some extremely bright X-ray emitting systems, for example, are thought to be powered by matter in a disk of plasma swirling around a black hole hundreds of times the mass of the Sun.
However, a bright X-ray source in the Pinwheel Galaxy could complicate that picture. Ji-Feng Liu and colleagues found a companion star locked in mutual orbit with the black hole and used the star to determine that the hole is much less massive than is suggested by X-ray emissions. These results could have profound implications for other luminous X-ray sources, which are currently thought to be powered by intermediate mass black holes.
Black holes fall into two major categories based on their mass. As their name suggests, the stellar-mass black holes have masses similar to those of stars; the largest known is about 16 times the mass of our Sun, though they could theoretically grow significantly larger. These black holes formed from the collapsed cores of very massive stars. Supermassive black holes, which reside at the centers of most large galaxies, are millions or billions of times the mass of the Sun; we're not currently certain how those form.
Since the early 2000s, the Ars System Guides have been helping those interested become "budding homebuilt system-building tweakmeisters." This series is a resource for building computers to match any combination of budget and purpose.
There's nothing like a major GPU release and subsequent price war to wake the market up.
AMD unveiled its next-generation GPUs, codenamed Hawaii, back in September. The product promptly topped Nvidia's big guns, sparking price cuts and a surprisingly quick response. You can also add in a not-so-little update to Intel's Xeon product line with Ivy Bridge-E (third generation Core i-series) for the God Box. And to complement all the high-end product news, there was the release of the dual-core desktop versions of Intel's current 4th-generation (Haswell) Core i-series processors, ensuring top-to-bottom product refreshes for the two most critical components inside the System Guide.
Greetings, dear Arsians! It's Black Friday, which means if you're smart, you're not at a store right now fighting your way through demented herds of bargain-zombies—no, you're at home, browsing Ars. Perhaps, though, you still kind of want to get your shopping on. "Man," you might be thinking, "people are dying out there, so to hell with that noise, but I definitely still want to get my savings on. What can I do?"
We've got you covered, dear readers. Our partners at LogicBuy will be sending over updated deals all day long, and we'll be slotting them into the big list below. We've got monitors, computers, tablets, and all kinds of other neat stuff for sale to save you from having to deal with the crowds. Keep coming back, and we'll keep swapping in more savings. Enjoy!
Late Wednesday, the CyanogenMod team received a notice from the Google Play Store: the CyanogenMod Installer application, which automates the process of replacing an Android device's operating system with the popular CyanogenMod alternative ROM, needed to be removed from the Play Store. Google gave the CyanogenMod team the opportunity to voluntarily take down the application, which it did. Had the team instead chosen to decline, Google would have pulled the application itself.
The reasoning given by Google is that the CyanogenMod Installer violates the Google Play Store's developer terms by actively encouraging Android users to "void [the] warranty" on their devices. As we saw when we took the app for a test drive, the Installer does indeed de-hair the hairy process of unlocking an Android device's bootloader and getting an alternate ROM installed; apparently, though, the Installer made things just a little too easy. As our Android expert Ron Amadeo noted, the CyanogenMod Installer is mostly a "one-way street," without a quick way to return the device to its stock state—it's certainly possible, but not with the same level of ease.
The CyanogenMod Installer application didn't even last a full month on the Play Store, but the CyanogenMod team still says that it has seen "hundreds of thousands of installations of the application." Even if the Google Play Store won't be hosting the Installer anymore, the CyanogenMod team will continue to offer it for direct download and installation. Would-be ROM-swappers will have to first sideload the application to get it ready to go, but that shouldn't be much of a roadblock for the right type of user.
Somewhere between the turkey and the eggnog, someone in your family is almost certainly going to mention their plans to pick up a cheap tablet or TV set. Or maybe someone will bring up the nearest mall electronics store’s “amazing” deals on HDMI cables. The holidays are no time to slack on the year-round battle that comes from being more tech-savvy than other members of the family; in fact, the end of the year requires extra vigilance to stop those nearest and dearest to you from letting the consumer electronics manufacturer/retailer train take them for an unholy ride. Without our help, family members can all too easily spend too much of their money on bad, outdated, or overpriced products.
But with so many casual consumers in one place planning so much shopping, the battle you face is prodigious. Reasoning with your family about money and buying products may be only a slightly better topic than the latest political issues, but darned if we don’t all try to help them understand, despite knowing how easy both fights are to lose.
Sometimes—not always, but sometimes—the best strategy is to get them to spend a little more money on a far superior product or experience. This certainly isn’t feasible for everyone, but one of the reasons so many people revile technology is that they just don't know what to look for when comparing and picking out gadgets. A frustrating time spent shopping then ends with a crappy gadget, which results in unhappiness all around. It doesn't have to be that way, though—some care in the buying will lead to much joy in the owning. It's up to you to help your families find a good balance and help quality electronics find a good home. Below are some helpful tips you can use to try to help your family see the consumer electronics light.
Consumer SSD pioneer OCZ Technologies has officially started the process of filing for bankruptcy. In a statement published this afternoon on Marketwatch, the company announced that this past Monday, November 25, its depository accounts were turned over to the control of Hercules Technology Growth Capital due to OCZ's failure to comply with the conditions of a loan from Hercules. Per the loan agreement's terms, OCZ has begun the bankruptcy process—with the goal of dissolution, not restructuring.
The press release notes also that OCZ is in receipt of "an offer from Toshiba Corporation to acquire substantially all of the Company's assets." The offer would transfer not just intellectual property to Toshiba but would also allow OCZ's people to remain employed.
OCZ was one of the first companies to produce and aggressively market enthusiast-targeted consumer SSDs. As solid state disks rose in popularity, OCZ was seen as a lower-cost alternative to Intel's own high performance (and high-priced) drives. However, a long string of failures across several of its product lines (most notably the high-performance Vertex family) took a lot of the shine off of OCZ's name; these days, the consumer SSD space is dominated by players like Samsung and Crucial.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: the launch of a new console generation is the perfect time to check out the games and consoles you may have passed over during the preceding generation. This year’s Black Friday deals bear that logic out with some incredibly good deals on hardware, software, and accessories.
Here are the best deals we found. Keep in mind that supplies will be limited and that many retailers are opening on Thanksgiving evening this year, so you may need to leave early to ensure availability.Sony PlayStation 3
Several retailers have deals on 250GB PS3 systems bundled with two great games, The Last of Us and Batman: Arkham Origins. Fry’s has the best price ($187.77), but you can pick up the same bundle for $200 at GameStop, Hastings, Kmart, Toys R Us, Sam’s Club, Fred Meyer, or Walmart. At Meijer, that $200 bundle comes with a $20 coupon for a future visit. Not bad.
Researchers have discovered a Linux worm capable of infecting a wide range of home routers, set-top boxes, security cameras, and other consumer devices that are increasingly equipped with an Internet connection.
Linux.Darlloz, as the worm has been dubbed, is now classified as a low-level threat, partly because its current version targets only devices that run on CPUs made by Intel, Symantec researcher Kaoru Hayashi wrote in a blog post published Wednesday. But with a minor modification, the malware could begin using variants that incorporate already available executable and linkable format (ELF) files that infect a much wider range of "Internet-of-things" devices, including those that run chips made by ARM and those that use the PPC, MIPS, and MIPSEL architectures.
"Upon execution, the worm generates IP addresses randomly, accesses a specific path on the machine with well-known ID and passwords, and sends HTTP POST requests, which exploit the vulnerability," Hayashi explained. "If the target is unpatched, it downloads the worm from a malicious server and starts searching for its next target. Currently, the worm seems to infect only Intel x86 systems, because the downloaded URL in the exploit code is hard-coded to the ELF binary for Intel architectures."
The Standard Model in physics seems to have split personalities. It's very obviously incomplete since it has no mechanism to give neutrinos mass, and it has no particles that correspond to dark matter. But it handles the phenomena it does include with a precision that seems to frustrate some physicists, who are anxious for signs of a new physics.
This was clearly demonstrated by the discovery of the Higgs boson, which showed up pretty much exactly as predicted. There were a couple of potential discrepancies between prediction and reality, but the researchers behind the ATLAS detector have now slammed the door shut on one of those.
The Higgs is a massive, unstable particle that decays almost as soon as it pops into existence. But it can decay down a number of different pathways, referred to as "channels" by the physicists who were searching them. When its discovery was announced, researchers had spotted the Higgs in two channels: decay into two high-energy gamma rays and decay into pairs of W or Z bosons, which would then decay into a total of four leptons.
The Customs and Border Protection agency flies drones, in part, to catch smugglers bringing contraband into the US, so it was just a matter of time before smugglers tried using drones themselves. Unfortunately for smugglers in Georgia, their drone got spotted and they landed in jail instead.
Four people were arrested in Calhoun, Georgia this week for using a six-rotor helicopter drone to deliver tobacco to a state prison. Operating from nearby woods, the group used binoculars to navigate the drone over the prison's fences.
The alleged perpetrators—Marc Lee Circle, Angel Omega Thomas, Aaron Clint Foster, and Donovan Aaron Johnson—were found by sheriff's deputies about an hour after a lieutenant at the Calhoun State Prison spotted the helicopter and ordered a search. WALB News reports that the four suspects were found with the helicopter and about two pounds of tobacco rolled into a package for delivery, along with cell phones that may have been used to contact prisoners to direct them to pick up the contraband.
The National Security Agency gathered records of porn-viewing habits and online sexual activity as part of a proposed plan to damage the reputation of a half-dozen Muslim men the agency suspected were radicalizing others through incendiary speeches, according to a report published Wednesday.
According to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and reported by the Huffington Post, the program was designed to demonstrate how the "personal vulnerabilities" of the six "exemplars" could be dredged up through electronic surveillance and used to undermine a target's credibility. Among the vulnerabilities identified in the October 3, 2012 document are "viewing sexually explicit material online" and "using sexually explicit persuasive language when communicating with inexperienced young girls."
The NSA possesses embarrassing sexually explicit information on at least two of the targets. Some of the data was gathered through FBI surveillance programs executed under the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act. It was gathered through SIGINT—short for signals intelligence, the interception of communications—methods. "Information herein is based largely on Sunni extremist communications," the document stated, adding "the SIGINT information is from primary sources with direct access and is generally considered reliable." There is no evidence that the NSA carried out the proposal to discredit any of the individuals, whose names were not included in the Huffington Post article.
Many people have a tale of a lost or broken hard drive containing some bit of precious data they wish they could recover. But perhaps no one on the planet has thrown out a hard drive as valuable as the one James Howells says is now buried in a landfill.
According to an article in The Guardian today, Howells threw out the hard drive, "rescued from a defunct Dell laptop," this past summer. "And then last Friday he realised that it held a digital wallet with 7,500 Bitcoins created for almost nothing in 2009," the story notes.
Howells, an IT pro, says his mistake likely occurred in mid-July, at which time a single bitcoin was worth about $90. Today, the value of a single bitcoin passed $1,000 for the first time, making 7,500 bitcoins worth $7.5 million.
According to The Guardian story, Howells did not have a backup. The drive he allegedly threw out "contains the cryptographic 'private key' that is needed to be able to access and spend the bitcoins; without it, the 'money' is lost forever."
Some of the most luminous objects in the Universe are the jets produced by the supermassive black holes that reside at the center of nearly all galaxies. These jets use the energy from particles that have fallen into the black hole's accretion disk and rocket some of that matter out at nearly light speed. As these particles shed energy by emitting photons, they turn the jet into a fantastically bright object.
Studying these jets, however, is a real challenge, because most of them occur in galaxies far from our own. Since we've identified a supermassive black hole at the center of our own galaxy (Sgr A*), the obvious solution would be to study that. But that's been easier said than done. As the authors of a new study put it, "despite its virtue of proximity," the center of our own galaxy is a busy place, with lots of energetic objects. Unfortunately, the matter trapped by the black hole isn't one of them; the same authors describe the Milky Way's central black hole as "exceptionally underluminous."
As a result, astronomers have announced the discovery of jets from Sgr A* a total of seven times; most of these supposed jets don't point in the same direction, suggesting the majority of them are wrong. But an analysis of a huge trove of X-ray data from the Chandra Observatory, coupled with some observations in the infrared, have led a team of researchers to give the nod to one of the candidates: an X-ray feature with the catchy name G359.944-0.052.