Syndicate content
Serving the Technologist for more than a decade. IT news, reviews, and analysis.
Updated: 2 hours 29 min ago

EFF sues US government, saying copyright rules on DRM are unconstitutional

7/22/2016 9:50am

Hacker Andrew "bunnie" Huang is EFF's newest client. (credit: Pauline Ng via Wikimedia)

Since the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) became law in 1998, it has been a federal crime to copy a DVD or do anything else that subverts digital copy-protection schemes.

Soon, government lawyers will have to show up in court to defend those rules. Yesterday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit (PDF) claiming the parts of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act that deal with copy protection and digital locks are unconstitutional.

Under the DMCA, any hacking or breaking of digital locks, often referred to as digital rights management or DRM, is a criminal act. That means modding a game console, hacking a car's software, and copying a DVD are all acts that violate the law, no matter what the purpose. Those rules are encapsulated in Section 1201 of the DMCA, which was lobbied for by the entertainment industry and some large tech companies.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Review: Without quick updates the Moto G4 is merely good, not great

7/22/2016 9:37am
  • The Moto G4 Plus. Andrew Cunningham

It’s not really realistic to expect any new Moto G to live up to the first one. That phone offered decent specs and prompt Android updates for a third of the price of most flagships, and the cheap-but-usable Android phone segment wasn’t as healthy in 2013 as it is now. It was the right phone for the right price at the right time, and no subsequent upgrade has quite nailed the same combination (though the third-generation model was a nice effort).

Now Motorola is owned by Lenovo, and a lot of the stuff that made the Google-owned Motorola a darling of reviewers (namely, prompt updates and good phones that weren’t obsessed with specs and superfluous features) is gone. Bear that in mind as we evaluate the Moto G4 and G4 Plus—they retain many of the selling points that made the first Moto G so good, but not quite all of them, and they’re no longer the cheapest decent phones you can buy even if they are still decent budget options.

Look and feel Specs at a glance: Lenovo Moto G4 and G4 Plus Screen 1920×1080 5.5-inch IPS (400 PPI) OS Android 6.0.1 CPU Qualcomm Snapdragon 615 (4x 1.5GHz Cortex A53 and 4x 1.2GHz Cortex A53) RAM 2GB or 4GB GPU Qualcomm Adreno 405 Storage 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB NAND flash, expandable via microSD Networking Dual-band 802.11n, Bluetooth 4.2.

CDMA (850, 1900 MHz)
GSM / GPRS / EDGE (850, 900, 1800, 1900 MHz)
UMTS / HSPA+ (850, 900, 1700, 1900, 2100 MHz)
4G LTE (B1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 25, 26, 41)

Ports Micro-USB, headphones Camera 13MP or 16MP rear camera, 5MP front camera Size 5.98" x 3.02" x 0.31-0.39" (152 x 76.6 x 7.9-9.8mm) Weight 5.47oz (155g) Battery 3,000 mAh Starting price $200 for G4, $250 for G4 Plus, $300 fully loaded

I really like the design of both Moto G4s, which is sleeker and less chunky than Moto Gs of years past (but unlike the Moto Z, they don’t do anything dumb like removing the 3.5mm headphone jack for no reason). The bulgy back is gone, but the phone is still curved around the edges in a way that’s comfortable to hold. And the lightly textured, rubberized plastic back is nice to touch and easy to hold. It won’t go slipping out of your hands.

Read 29 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Star Trek Beyond—Trek by numbers is no Trek at all

7/22/2016 9:00am

Something wrong, captain?

The newest Star Trek film—if you're counting, it's the 13th in the series and third in the reboot timeline—opens with a modern take on the '60s TV series' Tribbles. A tribunal of CGI creatures, which look like a cross between Muppets and the Murloc specimens from World of Warcraft, surround James T. Kirk and argue over his latest diplomatic gesture. It's classic Trek. Kirk wheels and deals, making sense of a newly discovered world, and he clearly keeps one eye out for plan B. He's a modern conquistador, flashing a smile and proving likable when the weird scene doesn't pan out his way.

It's a good start for Star Trek Beyond. But if you find yourself hating the film by its end, you can blame this opening—a cute, energetic, and personality-loaded scene when isolated—for getting your hopes up about Justin "Fast & Furious" Lin's first directorial take on Trek. More so than the other reboot films, Star Trek Beyond does the series a great disservice by focusing on the known and thus leaving discovery, personality, and stakes in the dust.

Live long and plot-less

After the opening sequence plays out, Kirk narrates in his captain's log about feeling bored with the day-to-day Enterprise grind. It's his 966th day on a five-year, deep-space mission, and he says it's "a challenge to feel grounded in zero gravity." (He also complains about life feeling "episodic," the first of the film's many on-the-nose quips.)

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Feds will pay $475,000 to settle “illegal body cavity search” case

7/22/2016 7:00am

El Paso, Texas, border crossing as seen in 2009. (credit: Robin Kanouse)

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will now have to pay “Jane Doe,” a New Mexico woman, $475,000 to settle a lawsuit filed in December 2013. In the suit, Jane Doe alleged that she was detained at the US-Mexico border and subjected to an illegal cavity search by nearby hospital personnel. Authorities believed she had drugs on her person, but they found nothing after six hours of intimate searches.

This case is separate from, but has remarkable similarities to, a pending case that was filed last month in Arizona by another woman, Ashley Cervantes.

Doe’s attorneys are spread across two activist organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas and the ACLU of New Mexico. The team previously won a $1.1M settlement on her behalf to settle related claims filed against the University Medical Center of El Paso. Under the terms of the new settlement with the feds, the two ACLU organizations will send advisory letters to hospitals from San Diego to Houston, notifying them of their rights and responsibilities. In addition, hundreds of CBP agents will have to undergo retraining.

Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

PayPal will share data, plug Visa in exchange for wider terminal acceptance

7/21/2016 7:45pm

(credit: André-Pierre du Plessis)

On Thursday, Visa and PayPal announced a new partnership designed to push Visa cardholders to link their credit and debit cards to their PayPal and Venmo accounts, eschewing the bank-owned Automated Clearing House (ACH) network that PayPal has long preferred to work with.

PayPal makes more money off ACH-based transactions because it doesn’t have to pay a cut of any transaction fees to a card network like Visa. But two months ago, Visa CEO Charlie Scharf expressed his displeasure with getting cut out of the payments process and vowed to “go full steam and compete with [PayPal] in ways that people have never seen before” if the digital payment platform didn’t start playing nice.

In today's partnership announcement, the two companies said that when a customer goes to sign up with PayPal or make a payment through the platform, Visa-network cards will be presented as “a clear and equal payment option” with ACH. In addition, PayPal said it promises not to “encourage Visa cardholders to link to a bank account via ACH,” and the company vowed to help Visa identify customers that could potentially change their current PayPal setup to route payments over Visa’s network.

Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Here’s what classic games will actually look like on the HD NES Classic Edition

7/21/2016 5:02pm
  • Kirby's Adventure (Left: NES Classic Edition; Right: Wii U Virtual Console)

For a while now, a certain subset of authenticity-obsessed nostalgic NES player has been disappointed with noticeable color-matching issues and blurriness evident in Nintendo's official Virtual Console NES re-releases on the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS. That problem led many to worry that the recently announced NES Classic Edition mini-console would suffer from the same issues.

Today, though, Nintendo released an online trailer for the $60 plug-and-play system. Amid a lot of '80s style marketing glitz, the video briefly showed some NES Classic Edition games in action, displaying what seems to be much crisper and more accurate HD emulation of the NES cartridges you remember.

You can see the improvements directly in the above gallery, with the NES Classic version on the left and the Wii U Virtual Console version on the right (images were sourced from official Nintendo trailers whenever possible to avoid issues with capture fidelity). As you can see, the NES Classic Edition versions are altogether brighter and crisper, with solid colors and well defined corners on the square pixels. It's the kind of high-fidelity ROM recreation that players on PC-based emulators are already used to, but Virtual Console players may be surprised by it (especially if they last played these games through the low-definition output of the Wii).

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Man who built gun, flamethrower drone must comply with FAA, judge says

7/21/2016 4:47pm

This is the July 2015 "Flying Gun" video. (credit: Hogwit)

A federal judge in Connecticut has ruled against a young drone operator and his father. They will now have to turn over a slew of documents and materials as part of a Federal Aviation Administration investigation.

The two men and their legal team argued that the FAA lacks authority to regulate drones, but the FAA clearly disagrees with this assessment.

As Ars reported previously, the case dates back to July 2015. The pilot, Austin Haughwout, posted a video of his drone rigged up with a handgun. By early November 2015, the Federal Aviation Administration sent the two Haughwouts an administrative subpoena seeking a substantial amount of records, including purchase records and an accounting of what monies, if any, were gained from the "Flying Gun" YouTube video.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Snowden designs device to warn when an iPhone is ratting out users

7/21/2016 2:18pm

A conceptual rendering of a “battery case” style Introspection Engine for an iPhone 6. (credit:

Mobile devices have without a doubt brought convenience to the masses, but that benefit comes at a high price for journalists, activists, and human rights workers who work in war-torn regions or other high-risk environments. Now, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has designed an iPhone accessory that could one day be used to prevent the devices from leaking their whereabouts.

Working with renowned hardware hacker Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, Snowden has devised the design for what the team is calling the "Introspection Engine." For now, it's aimed only at iPhone 6 models, but eventually the pair hopes to create specifications for a large line of devices. Once built, the "field-ready" accessory would monitor various radio components inside the phone to confirm they're not transmitting data when a user has put the device into airplane mode. The hardware is designed to be independent from the mobile device, under the assumption that malware-infected smartphones are a fact of life in high-risk environments.

Detecting intoxicated smartphones

"Malware packages, peddled by hackers at a price accessible by private individuals, can activate radios without any indication from the user interface," Huang and Snowden wrote in a blog post published Thursday. "Trusting a phone that has been hacked to go into airplane mode is like trusting a drunk person to judge if they are sober enough to drive."

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Google makes smartphone comic book reading easier with machine learning

7/21/2016 1:30pm

Bubble Zoom in action. (credit: Google)

Reading comic books on a smartphone is a bit of a bummer. Comic books are designed to be read on a 7×10.5" page, which doesn't translate very well to a ~5-inch screen. It's usually pretty hard to see the entire page and read the text, which leads to lots of zooming and panning.

Google is tackling this problem the way it seems to be tackling every problem lately: with machine learning. Google has taught its army of computers to detect the speech bubbles in comic books, allowing you to zoom in on them with just a tap. The bubbles lift off the page and get bigger without affecting the underlying image. This lets you see the entire page while still reading the text. Google calls the feature "Bubble Zoom."

Bubble Zoom is available today in Google Play Books for Android. We'd guess an iOS version is coming later. For now, Bubble Zoom is just a "technical preview" but all Marvel and DC collected volumes are supported. Google says it hopes to eventually bring the feature to "all the comics and manga ever made."

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Dark matter still MIA after most exhaustive search yet

7/21/2016 1:11pm

Lux, a xenon-based dark matter detector. (credit: Lawrence Berkeley Lab)

Today, the team behind one of the most sensitive dark matter detectors announced its full experimental run had failed to turn up any of the particles it was looking for. The LUX detector (Large Underground Xenon) is designed to pick up signs of weakly interacting massive particles, or WIMPs, when they engage in one of their rare interactions with normal matter. The null result doesn't rule out the existence of dark matter, but it limits its potential properties.

As their name implies, WIMPs don't interact with normal matter often, but they should on occasion bump into an atom, imparting energy to it. LUX provides a tempting target in the form of 370kg of liquid xenon. The detector is flanked by photodetectors to pick up any stray photons from the interactions, as well as hardware that picks up any stray charges knocked loose.

The challenge is to determine which signals are caused by dark matter and which are the product of cosmic rays or the natural background of radioactive decays. To handle the former, the detector is located nearly 1.5km below the surface in South Dakota's Homestake Mine. It's also partly shielded from the radioactive decays of the surrounding rock by an enormous tank of ultra-pure water. Even so, the scientists behind it had to spend time carefully characterizing the background noise. The success of that effort meant that LUX ended up four times more sensitive than it was originally designed to be.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Facebook tests full-scale solar-powered Internet drone

7/21/2016 1:02pm

Facebook's Aquila drone takes off from its launch dolly. (credit: Facebook)

Facebook's Connectivity Lab announced today that the company has for the first time test-flown a full-scale version of Aquila, the solar-powered high-altitude drone that Facebook hopes to use to deliver Internet connectivity to the remotest populated corners of the Earth. The test flight took place June 28 but was only announced today by Facebook.

The low-altitude test flight was originally intended only as a 30-minute “functional check” flight. "It was so successful that we ended up flying Aquila for more than 90 minutes—three times longer than originally planned," wrote Jay Parikh, Facebook's vice president of infrastructure engineering, in a post to Facebook's Newsroom blog published today.

The initial test goals were simply to ensure that the huge Aquila drone—with a wingspan comparable to a Boeing 737 and mass more like an automobile—could even get airborne. To minimize its weight, Aquila doesn't have "traditional landing gear," according to Martin Gomez and Andy Cox of the Aquila team. "We attached the airplane to a dolly structure using four straps, then accelerated the dolly to takeoff speed. Once the autopilot sensed that the plane had reached the right speed, the straps were cut simultaneously by pyrotechnic cable cutters known as 'squibs.'"

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

New brain map more than doubles charted regions of the human noggin

7/21/2016 12:10pm

(credit: Nature Video/Matthew F. Glasser, David C. Van Essen)

Despite the advances of modern medicine, the wrinkled, twisted expanse of the human noodle has been mostly an uncharted frontier, with sparse territories and regions staked off so far. In the past, scientists have merely cordoned off sections based on a single type of brain feature, such as cell structures, brain topography, or identified functions. But now, in a comprehensive analysis of 210 healthy brains published Wednesday in Nature, researchers have merged such data sets and drawn an inclusive map of the mind's provinces.

The newly inked atlas, hatched from the National Institutes of Health’s Human Connectome Project, more than doubles the identified realms of the human brain’s outer shell, the cerebral cortex. This is the dominant part of the human brain, responsible for our minds’ higher functions, such as language, consciousness, information processing, and problem solving. The map depicts 360 cortex areas or 180 symmetrical, paired regions in each hemisphere, of which 83 were known and 97 are new.

While the new map is still a first draft, to be adjusted and honed with more research, the study's authors are hopeful that the cerebral sketch may quicken the pace toward understanding how the mind’s hardware works. Plus, it may provide a guide for neurosurgeons’ scalpels and more detail for researchers examining how the primate brain has evolved.

Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Verizon to disconnect unlimited data customers who use over 100GB/month

7/21/2016 12:00pm

(credit: Mike Mozart)

Verizon Wireless customers who have held on to unlimited data plans and use significantly more than 100GB a month will be disconnected from the network on August 31 unless they agree to move to limited data packages that require payment of overage fees.

Verizon stopped offering unlimited data to new smartphone customers in 2011, but some customers have been able to hang on to the old plans instead of switching to ones with monthly data limits. Verizon has tried to convert the holdouts by raising the price $20 a month and occasionally throttling heavy users but stopped that practice after net neutrality rules took effect. Now Verizon is implementing a formal policy for disconnecting the heaviest users.

The news was reported by Droid Life yesterday, and Verizon confirmed the changes to Ars this morning.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Elite: Dangerous players inch closer to solving game’s big mystery

7/21/2016 11:48am

Enlarge (credit: /u/TheZ1mb1nator)

Space flight sim Elite: Dangerous has been officially available on PC for about 19 months (and on Xbox One for about nine), but players have still explored only a vanishingly small fraction of the game’s 400,000,000,000 suns. Frontier Developments has repeatedly said that there are plenty of strange things out in the galaxy that no one has yet found—though one of those mysteries might soon be coming to a head.

Strange objects called "unknown artifacts" have been showing up in the game for months, all appearing as a rough sphere a bit more than 100 light years in diameter surrounding a particular star system: Merope. The artifacts would transmit strange messages to ships that got close enough to scan them. Sleuthy players eventually decoded the signals, revealing them to be encoded wireframe images of the players’ ships. The unknown artifacts also seemed to cause problems when collected by players—shutting down systems and even disabling entire space stations if sold on those stations’ black markets.

Call of the wild

Now, a second class of unknown objects, called "unknown probes," have recently been spotted. These appear to point at a particular planet in the Merope system, Merope 5C. Further, the probes exhibit some remarkable behavior when players scan them with system discovery scanners:

Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Searching the cosmos from under the ice of Antarctica

7/21/2016 11:30am

The building that houses the IceCube servers. (credit:

Neutrinos have precious little mass and no charge, meaning the usual ways of accelerating particles won't work on them. Yet something, somewhere out in space pushed one to energies a thousand times higher than we can reach in the Large Hadron Collider. And we only know that because we finally built a detector that could spot high-energy neutrinos when they travel through the Earth.

In a recent paper in the journal Nature Physics, Francis Halzen, the principal investigator for the IceCube detector, discussed current efforts to learn about the Universe using neutrinos. As it turns out, neutrinos are surprisingly informative about the origins of cosmic rays and potentially about dark matter as well.

Neutrinos are a fantastic tool for astronomy. Their properties—no charge and very little mass—mean that they can arrive here on Earth unobstructed by almost anything in between their source and Earth. Neutrinos generated inside the Sun, for instance, can travel right out far faster than photons, which spend time interacting with the Sun's matter.

Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Sorry, Eileen Collins: Here’s why America is already great in space

7/21/2016 10:48am

Retired US Astronaut Eileen Collins arrives to speak on the third day of the Republican National Convention on Wednesday. (credit: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

In the week or so since it became known that Eileen Collins would appear at the Republican National Convention on Wednesday night, the space community has buzzed with questions and concerns. A brilliant astronaut and the first woman to command a space shuttle, Collins has a sterling reputation among the flight directors, astronauts, and engineers at NASA who worked with her. Why would she jump into the political fray, many asked? And for Donald Trump, of all people?

I felt the answer was pretty simple. Like a lot of astronauts, Collins comes from a military background (she's a colonel in the US Air Force) and is therefore more likely to be conservative politically. Perhaps she had discussions with the Trump people, and they endorsed her view that NASA should return to the Moon before going to Mars. In any case, it's not like she's the first former astronaut to take on politics (Hello, John Glenn and Harrison Schmitt).

So on a night when Ted Cruz stole the show at the convention for political observers, the four-minute speech given by Collins garnered the most interest among the space industry. Her remarks were largely a fairly standard call to restore some glory to America's space program, and she touched on how it has been unacceptable to rely on Russia for transport to the International Space Program for the last five years. America can, and must, do better than that, Collins said.

Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Single-atom-thick sheets efficiently extract electricity from salt water

7/21/2016 10:36am

Salt water, a sheet of molybdenum disulfide, and a pore is all you need to produce current. (credit: Mohammad Heiranian, U of Illinois )

It's possible to generate energy using nothing but the difference between fresh and salt water. When fresh and salt water are separated by a membrane that blocks the passage of certain ions, there is a force that drives the freshwater into the salt water to even out the salt concentration. That force can be harvested to produce energy, an approach termed "osmotic power."

But the generation of osmotic power is highly dependent on how quickly ions can cross the membrane—the thicker (and more robust) the membrane, the slower the ions will flow. Theoretically, the most efficient osmotic power generation would come from an atomically thin membrane layer. But can this theoretical system be achieved here in reality?

Recently, scientists answered that question using atomically thin membranes composed of molybdenum-disulfide (MoS2). In the paper that resulted, they describe a two-dimensional MoS2 membrane containing a single nanopore, which was used to separate reservoirs containing two solutions with different concentrations of salt in order to generate osmotic power.

Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Square Enix teases Apple Watch role-playing game

7/21/2016 10:26am

(credit: Square Enix)

The Apple Watch will soon get its first true RPG, developed by Final Fantasy creator Square Enix. The company released a teaser website that simply shows what is presumably the name of the game—Cosmos Rings.

Aside from some psychedelic blue-and-purple artwork, the site simply shows a wrist with an Apple Watch on it and details that the game will indeed be an RPG available for the Apple Watch through the Watch App Store. While there's no detail of actual gameplay, the Japanese website Gamer appears to have some screenshots of what the game may look like on the device. However, there's no way to know how credible those screenshots are, and Square Enix could still be finalizing Cosmos Rings, so the actual look and feel of the game could change significantly. Also noticeably absent is any mention of Android Wear or other smartwatches—the game appears to be exclusively for the Apple Watch.

Apple's smartwatch isn't necessarily built to support an intense RPG, though. Its screen is quite small and aside from tapping and maybe some gestures, controlling actions in the game might be difficult. There's also battery life to consider—currently the Apple Watch only lasts a full day on a single charge, so putting the system under stress from this game will only make the battery run out faster.

Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Stack Overflow brings its gamified peer support to documentation

7/21/2016 10:16am

For many developers, Stack Overflow has become the go-to place on the Internet for getting programming questions answered. The site's community-based question-and-answer model, combined with extensive gamification, has made it not just an essential resource for programmers of all kinds, but one of the most visited sites on the Internet. Today, the company announced a new product that aims to tackle another long-standing developer bugbear: documentation.

With this new product, named Documentation, Stack Overflow is hoping to bring the same influences that made Stack Overflow a success to the world of creating developer documentation that is rich with sample code to meet the needs of developers. As with the Q&A site, the intent is to develop a community that is rewarded for its contributions through upvotes and badges, giving a way to thank people for adding value and to offer recognition to those who consistently improve the content.

The first focus of Documentation is the development of code samples. Stack Overflow has worked with a handful of companies including PayPal, Dropbox, and Twitch in a closed beta. These companies all offer APIs that are already documented. The value that Documentation adds is the ability to extend those references describing the names of functions and the meanings of the parameters to include much richer content showing how to use those APIs in ways that the user community finds useful. Useful sample code is often missing from API documentation, and even when it exists, it's often narrowly tailored to do the bare minimum to demonstrate how a particular API or APIs are used. The hope with Documentation is to go far beyond this, creating a system where developers can offer a much wider range of examples.

Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Moto Z review: Lenovo brings a huge price increase, lame modular system

7/21/2016 9:00am
  • The Moto Z. We'll have Z Force and Z comparisons later in the gallery, but they look identical.

Under Google, Motorola was one of our favorite OEMs. The company delivered bang-for-your-buck hardware, stock Android with some actually good additions, and speedy updates. Motorola couldn't hold Google's interest for very long, though, and in 2014, Google sold Motorola to Lenovo.

When Google took over Motorola, the company mentioned it would have to clear "12 to 18 months of product pipeline" before Google's changes would take effect. Assuming the Lenovo had the same 12 to 18 months of pipeline after the October 2014 takeover, the Moto Z and Moto Z Force mark the first "Lenovorola" flagship.

And boy, are things different. Along with the new name (RIP, Moto X) comes a huge jump in price: Motorola's flagship has gone from $400 in 2015 to $720 (for the Z Force) in 2016. That's an 80-percent increase. Moto Maker—Motorola's design service that let you customize the outside of the device—is dead, at least for the flagship. Motorola's love of software updates seems to have gone out the window, too. Major updates now take several months instead of several weeks, and a Motorola rep told us the company won't be providing security updates for the Moto Z.

Read 50 remaining paragraphs | Comments