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The Art of Technology
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The new tech making game preservation more authentic and future-proof

8/27/2015 4:50pm

For a medium that’s just a little over 40 years old (give or take), it’s kind of incredible just how many truly classic video games are completely out of print. Yes, there is a relative handful of random games available for download through Nintendo’s Virtual Console, Sony’s PlayStation Network, or Microsoft’s new Xbox 360 backwards compatibility. There’s an even smaller subset of games that have gotten the full “HD remake” treatment in recent years, making them once again available on a new generation of consoles.

For the vast majority of video games that exist, though, the only way to legally obtain a copy is to track down original hardware and used software that may not have been produced for decades. Digital Eclipse is looking to change that, using a mix of technology and attention to historical detail to ensure that the classics of gaming remain in circulation in a cost-effective, accurate, and respectful manner.

“Classic games are being devalued in the way they’re released,” Digital Eclipse’s Head of Restoration Frank Cifaldi told Ars in an interview (note: Cifaldi and I used to work together at Gamasutra). “The Virtual Console is a great platform for just buying a game and playing it, [but] I feel as a consumer when I download something like that, ‘OK, you sold me a ROM and an emulator. Is that all you've got for me?’”

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Key Splinter Cell, Far Cry 2 designer returns to Ubisoft after five years

8/27/2015 4:20pm

Nearly seven years after working as creative director on the critically acclaimed Far Cry 2, and over five years after leaving Ubisoft, Clint Hocking has revealed that he has returned to the French mega-publisher that has given him all of his published game credits.

In a blog post detailing the decision, Hocking notes that he hasn't actually shipped a game since the 2008 release of Far Cry 2 and that he's recently "become anxious and depressed" over that journeyman status. "In the end, for me at least, five years is just too long to be rootless."

Before his departure in 2010, Hocking worked at Ubisoft Montreal for ten years, working on titles primarily in the Splinter Cell series before Far Cry 2. His return to the company is taking place at Ubisoft's Toronto studio, however, where Hocking writes that he's excited to reunite with personal friends who helped found the newer, smaller location. In an interview on the Ubisoft blog, Hocking said he can't go into detail on what he's currently working on at Ubisoft.

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Nielsen is scanning 1,000 Netflix shows to break the streaming “black box”

8/27/2015 3:24pm

The Nielsen ratings company is measuring Netflix watching to inform entertainment studios which of their shows are most popular on Netflix, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Nielsen has been promising to create such a system since last year, and now the company says it's up and running, with viewership of nearly 1,000 Netflix shows being monitored.

The system has been described as using Nielsen meters to listen for audio signals that signal when particular shows are being streamed. The system operates without Netflix's consent or cooperation.

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BitTorrent patched against flaw that allowed crippling DoS attacks

8/27/2015 2:49pm

The maintainers of the open BitTorrent protocol for file sharing have fixed a vulnerability that allowed lone attackers with only modest resources to take down large sites using a new form of denial-of-service attack.

The technique was disclosed two weeks ago in a research paper submitted to the 9th Usenix Workshop on Offensive Technologies. By sending vulnerable BitTorrent applications maliciously modified data, attackers could force them to flood a third-party target with data that was 50 to 120 times bigger than the original request. By replacing the attacker's IP address in the malicious user datagram protocol request with the spoofed address of the target, the attacker could cause the data flood to hit the victim's computer.

In a blog post published Thursday, BitTorrent engineers said the vulnerability was the result of a flaw in a reference implementation called libuTP. To fix the weakness, the uTorrent, BitTorrent, and BitTorrent Sync apps will require acknowledgments from connection initiators before providing long responses.

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Ashley Madison abusing DMCA “to put genie back in the bottle,” EFF says

8/27/2015 2:15pm

The online exposure of the Ashley Madison cheating sites' membership data has, to say the least, shaken the Internet like a giant earthquake.

Many of the site's members have been unmasked as one of the millions of cheaters searching for an affair. Some have committed suicide. Extortionists have taken advantage of those fearing being named. And now it appears that the site's Canadian owner, Avid Life Media, is misusing the Digital Millennium Copyright Act in a bid to make people unpublish the data that lists millions of Ashley Madison members' e-mail addresses and other information. The problem with this scenario is that such data isn't subject to copyright, the Electronic Frontier Foundation says.

"Ashley Madison’s owners have been sending numerous DMCA takedown notices to platforms like Twitter, Reddit, and others in an attempt to stop the dissemination of millions of names and email addresses of the site’s users...," Mitch Stoltz, an EFF staff attorney, wrote in a recent blog post. "While there’s no doubt that the leak is embarrassing and potentially disastrous for the millions of people who have been revealed as users of a site that promotes marital infidelity, Ashley Madison’s attempts to use the DMCA to put the genie back in the bottle are misguided, and in some cases, may violate the DMCA itself."

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Instagram 7.5 removes ratio restriction, says it’s hip not to be square

8/27/2015 2:07pm

If ever a social media service has proven that popularity matters more than functionality, Instagram pulled that off. While smartphone screens, cameras, and LTE access have vastly improved for most users, the image-sharing service had stuck to two archaic standards that turned most photographers' stomachs: a 640x640 resolution limit and a square-ratio restriction.

Complaints about both have raged for long enough that we figured Instagram had no intention of changing its ways, but this summer has seen Instagram address both. First came a silent 1080x1080 resolution upgrade discovered by The Verge in July, and that was followed on Thursday by a feature-change announcement tucked into the app's latest update. Now with the tap of version 7.5's "ratio" button, any previously snapped photo in your device's gallery will appear without an automatic crop to the service's default square ratio.

This change affects both image and video posts, and they'll appear within the updated version of the Instagram app at their full ratio. (Older-version users will see those images auto-shrunken to fit in a square.) There's a catch: those images must be captured by your smartphone's internal camera app. Should users shoot photos or videos within Instagram, however, they'll remain stuck in the square. While the update has gone live at both iOS' App Stores and Android's Google Play Store, we were only able to access the function on iOS as of press time.

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Google rejects antitrust charges, digs in for a long fight

8/27/2015 12:52pm

Google has responded to European Union regulators' claims that its search results violate antitrust law, saying its search results are focused on "improving quality" and are not anti-competitive.

"Google increases choice for European consumers and offers valuable opportunities for businesses of all sizes," wrote company general counsel Kent Walker in a Google blog post. "Economic data spanning more than a decade, an array of documents, and statements from complainants all confirm that product search is robustly competitive."

The blog post accompanies Google's formal legal response that was filed today. European Union antitrust regulators formally charged Google with anticompetitive conduct in April.

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LTE over Wi-Fi spectrum sets up industry-wide fight over interference

8/27/2015 12:45pm

A plan to use Wi-Fi airwaves for cellular service has sparked concerns about interference with existing Wi-Fi networks, causing a fight involving wireless carriers, cable companies, a Wi-Fi industry trade group, Microsoft, and network equipment makers.

Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile US plan to boost coverage in their cellular networks by using unlicensed airwaves that also power Wi-Fi equipment. While cellular carriers generally rely upon airwaves to which they have exclusive licenses, a new system called LTE-Unlicensed (LTE-U) would have the carriers sharing spectrum with Wi-Fi devices on the unlicensed 5GHz band.

Verizon has said it intends to deploy LTE-U in 5GHz in 2016. Before the interference controversy threatened to delay deployments, T-Mobile was expected to use the technology on its smartphones by the end of 2015. Wireless equipment makers like Qualcomm see an opportunity to sell more devices and are integrating LTE-U into their latest technology.

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Invites go out for Apple’s September 9 iPhone event

8/27/2015 12:36pm

Apple has made it official: the company's next product event happens on September 9 at 10am PT. The event will be held at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium in San Francisco, which is larger than the "town hall" event space on Apple's campus in Cupertino. Traditionally, larger spaces usually imply larger, more important announcements.

Apple included a cryptic message with its event invite—"Siri, give us a hint"—but our safe expectations for the event are fairly straightforward. Apple is likely to release "S" versions of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus designs with faster internals, better cameras, and Force Touch support among a handful of other features. Those phones will arrive alongside iOS 9, which is usually released to existing iDevices a couple of days before the new phones are available.

Aside from the phones, a new Apple TV is said to bring much faster internals along with a redesigned remote control and a new version of the iOS-derived Apple TV OS that supports Siri, more robust search, and a full App Store and SDK for developers. This would be the product's first major update since 2012. What's not clear is how many of these software changes will (or even can) be backported to the current Apple TV, which Apple has been selling for $69 since March of this year.

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Ars talks with Matt Damon on being astronaut Mark Watney in The Martian

8/27/2015 12:33pm

To get this out of the way right up front: we’re excited about the upcoming October release of Ridley Scott’s The Martian. Based on The New York Times Best Seller novel of the same name by first-time author Andy Weir, the story follows astronaut Mark Watney as he attempts to survive being left alone on Mars after a freak accident. The book has become a favorite here in the Ars Orbiting HQ—its mix of accurate science, humor, and solid storytelling has resonated with a large audience, and based on the trailers, the movie might just manage to be that most rare of things: a book-to-film adaptation that manages to be as good as the source.

The Martian trailer, courtesy of 20th Century Fox.

Matt Damon was chosen to play Mark Watney, putting him in somewhat the same type of situation as Tom Hanks had to play in 2000’s Cast Away: a person who is utterly, completely alone. Some of the book’s fans expressed trepidation at Damon slipping on Watney’s spacesuit on the big screen, but author Andy Weir was thrilled at the idea when Ars interviewed Weir last November. "A lot of people forget how good an actor Matt Damon is!" explained Weir. "Remember, he can do 'smartass' really well, as we saw in Good Will Hunting!…and I can see him in my mind, saying smart-ass things, kind of with that crooked smile, you know?"

No man is an island

Although we haven’t seen the film yet (though we’re on the press screening list!), we had the opportunity to talk with Matt Damon earlier this week about how he handled the role and what he thought about Mark Watney and life on Mars.

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Galaxy Tab S2: A lighter tablet with the right aspect ratio, high price

8/27/2015 12:23pm

The Galaxy Tab S2.

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ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x251", kws:["bottom"], collapse: true}]);Last night I made my way to the rooftop of a New York City hotel to pick up Samsung's new Galaxy Tab S2, the sequel to last year's reasonably well-regarded Galaxy Tab S. The new tablets, which come with 9.7-inch and 8.0-inch varieties that share most of the same specs, build upon their predecessors in most of the right ways—they're a little faster, they trade a movie-friendly 16:10 aspect ratio for a reading-and-productivity-friendly 4:3 aspect ratio, and the old swipe-based fingerprint reader has been tossed out in favor of one you can simply press.

The downside is that the tablets start at $400 and $500 for the 8-inch and 9.7-inch models respectively—not completely outlandish for a tablet, but much more than you have to pay if all you're looking for is a basic Web, Netflix, and e-book slab. If you're looking for a high-end Android tablet and you're willing to pay for the privilege of owning one, though, they're still worth your consideration.

Look and feel, screen and specs

If it's hard to talk about the Tab S2 without mentioning the iPad, it's because Apple's tablet is still the pace car for this flagging subsection of the consumer electronics business. Superficially, both Tab S2s share a lot of similarities with the iPad Air 2 and Mini 3: all have the same 2048×1536 display resolution. The new fingerprint reader works more like TouchID than in the previous tablets. And Samsung has shifted the buttons around so that the tablet is in portrait mode when it's right-side-up.

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Former security intern admits developing super-stealthy Android spyware

8/27/2015 11:37am

A former intern at security firm FireEye has admitted in federal court that he designed a malicious software tool that allowed attackers to take control of other Android phones so they could spy on their owners.

Morgan Culbertson, 20, pleaded guilty to federal charges involving Dendroid, a software tool that provided everything needed to develop highly stealthy apps that among other things took pictures using the phone's camera, recorded audio and video, downloaded photos, and recorded calls. According to this 2014 blog post from Android security firm Lookout, at least one app built with Dendroid found its way into the official Google Play market, in part thanks to code that helped it evade detection by Bouncer, Google’s anti-malware screening system.

Culbertson, who last month was one of 70 people arrested in an international law enforcement sting targeting the Darkode online crime forum, said in a LinkedIn profile that he spent four months at FireEye. While there, he said, he "improved Android malware detection by discovering new malicious malware families and using a multitude of different tools." He was also a student at Carnegie Mellon University.

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Germany trades citizens’ metadata for NSA’s top spy software

8/27/2015 11:32am

In order to obtain a copy of the NSA's main XKeyscore software, whose existence was first revealed by Edward Snowden in 2013, Germany's domestic intelligence agency agreed to hand over metadata of German citizens it spies on. According to documents seen by the German newspaper Die Zeit, after 18 months of negotiations the US and Germany signed an agreement that would allow the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamtes für Verfassungsschutz—BfV) to obtain a copy of the NSA's most important program, and to adopt it for the analysis of data gathered in Germany. This was a lower level of access compared to the non-US "Five Eyes" nations—the UK, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand—which had direct access to the main XKeyscore system. In return for the software, the BfV would "to the maximum extent possible share all data relevant to NSA's mission."

Unlike Germany's foreign intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the domestic-oriented BfV does not employ bulk surveillance of the kind also deployed on a vast scale by the NSA and GCHQ. Instead, it is only allowed to monitor individual suspects in Germany, and even to do that must obtain the approval of a special parliamentary commission. Because of this targeted approach, BfV surveillance is mainly intended to gather the content of specific conversations, whether in the form of emails, telephone exchanges, or even faxes, if anyone still uses them. Inevitably, though, metadata is also gathered, but as Die Zeit explains, "whether the collection of this [meta]data is consistent with the restrictions outlined in Germany's surveillance laws is a question that divides legal experts."

The BfV had no problems convincing itself that it was consistent with Germany's laws to collect metadata, but rarely bothered since—remarkably—all analysis was done by hand before 2013, even though metadata by its very nature lends itself to large-scale automated processing. This explains the eagerness of the BfV to obtain the NSA's XKeyscore software after German agents had seen its powerful metadata analysis capabilities in demonstrations.

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Sony blocks archiving of Until Dawn Twitch streams through PS4 [Updated]

8/27/2015 10:48am

Update: A Sony representative sent Ars the following statement on the matter: “We are currently working on a fix that will enable archiving of Until Dawn Twitch streams as this feature was unintentionally disabled. We are humbled by the community reception of the game and are excited to see fans sharing experiences on Twitch and YouTube. We apologize for the inconvenience and will provide an update as soon as the issue has been resolved.”

Original Story

If you want to catch your favorite Twitch personality playing through Sony's recent horror title Until Dawn, you may need to make time to catch them playing live. Twitch confirmed late yesterday that "the publisher has disabled archiving for this game," meaning that live gameplay shared on Twitch through the PS4's built-in Share button will not be permanently saved for later viewing. "We're reaching out to hopefully enable," Twitch said.

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Every week is Shark Week: Discovery launches network for virtual reality video

8/27/2015 10:35am

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On Thursday, Discovery Communications, the parent company of the Discovery Channel, launched Discovery VR, an all-virtual-reality network of videos.

On Discovery VR's website you'll find 360° videos that can be viewed through a browser, on iOS or Android, or through Google Cardboard or Samsung Gear VR. Discovery VR says that support for the Oculus Rift is coming soon.

Currently the platform has three Mythbusters shark dive videos and clips from the network's shows Gold Rush and Survivorman. There are also four shows that are less brand-based. In one, skateboarders tackle San Francisco's windy Lombard Street, and in another, a pro surfer gives a five-minute surf lesson. Or, you can simply take a walk through a Pacific Coast beach or through California's iconic Muir Woods.

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We now understand the Universe’s doom better than ever

8/27/2015 10:29am

In a massive study, a team of researchers from around the world has found a depressing, but unsurprising, result: the Universe is dying. Pretty quickly, too. This isn’t really an unexpected finding, but it’s the most detailed examination of its eventual death yet.

The study was part of the Galaxy And Mass Assembly (GAMA) Project, the largest multi-wavelength survey ever put together. The team, which was composed of researchers from across the globe, made use of some of the most powerful telescopes on the planet, including ESO’s VISTA and VST telescopes (both part of the Paranal University in Chile), as well as data from the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and NASA’s space telescopes, WISE and GALEX, and one from the European Space Agency, Herschel.

We used as many space and ground-based telescopes as we could get our hands on to measure the energy output of over 200,000 galaxies across as broad a wavelength range as possible,” said Simon Driver (ICRAR, The University of Western Australia), who leads the large GAMA team.

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License plate reader led police to man who killed reporter, cameraman

8/27/2015 10:07am

The man who authorities said infamously killed two Virginia television journalists Wednesday was tracked down by police via license plate reader technology, according to law enforcement.

A Virginia state trooper told a news conference Wednesday that she hit Vester Lee Flanagan's plate number on her first try along Interstate 66 around 11:20am ET. "As soon as it was entered, it came up with a positive hit that that vehicle just passed me less than three minutes earlier," she said. "I let my dispatch know that the vehicle has passed me and I attempted to catch up with the vehicle, which was travelling eastbound on 66."

Moments later, police tried to stop the Chevrolet the man was driving. The vehicle drove off the road and crashed, and Flanagan, who also went by Bryce Williams, was discovered to have shot himself. He later died of his self-inflicted injuries.

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Water trapped inside diamonds gives us a peek at the Earth’s mantle

8/27/2015 9:38am

Diamonds may be valued by the jewelry industry for their exquisite sparkle. But a recent scientific discovery has revealed that diamonds can be of value for the information they hold in addition to their beauty.

Natural diamonds are formed roughly 90 miles below the Earth’s surface. There are only limited zones in the Earth’s mantle that can produce diamonds due to the high temperatures and pressures required for their formation. Scientists have recently determined that some rapidly formed diamonds provide a snapshot of this extreme environment in which they formed.

The picture of these conditions comes from fluids trapped during formation, which provides information about the material that infiltrates the Earth’s mantle. These materials are thought to be the cause of abrupt changes in chemical and physical properties that are found at the border of the continental upper mantle and crust.

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Facebook’s virtual assistant “M” is powered by real people

8/27/2015 9:10am

Following in the footsteps of Google Now, Apple's Siri, and Microsoft's Cortana, Facebook has launched its own virtual personal assistant, simply named M. M is being baked into the company's Messenger app, and, unlike its competitors, is powered not just by technology, but by real people.

A team of employees, dubbed M trainers, will work alongside the software to ensure that every request is answered. The idea is to go beyond the likes of Siri and Cortana, and offer a true personal assistant experience, allowing users to do things like have gifts delivered, book restaurants, and make travel arrangements.

Currently, M is entirely text based. The few hundred users in the Bay Area who have been given access to the app can tap a new button in Messenger to send a request directly to M, at which point either software completes it, or a human does. Users won’t directly know whether it was a computer or a person that helped them.

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Fire Phone flop blamed for layoffs and reorganization at Amazon

8/27/2015 8:56am

Amazon is laying off "dozens" of employees at Lab126, the hardware-development center in Silicon Valley responsible for products like the Fire Phone, according to a report by the Wall Street Journal. Sources at Amazon "familiar with the matter" told the WSJ that the company has scaled back or halted numerous development projects, including a large-screen tablet, and a smart stylus.

The WSJ's sources claim that the layoffs form part of a broad reorganisation at Lab126, which began last year after disappointing sales of the Fire Phone. This resulted in Lab126 combining its tablet, e-reader, and phone projects. In October 2014, it emerged that Amazon was sitting on over $83 million (~£54 million) of unsold Fire phones, which the company swiftly tried to shift by offering a substantial price drop.

It's not yet clear whether Amazon will continue its in-house smartphone development. Some engineers at Lab126 told the WSJ that development would be shelved, while another claimed it had been shifted to Seattle under Steve Kessel, an executive who helped spearhead the company's hardware unit, and oversaw digital media like e-books and music.

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