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Updated: 3 hours 32 min ago

Op-ed: The Order: 1886 and bad single-player games in a Twitch world

2/22/2015 11:00am

The Order: 1886 is, by all accounts, the rare kind of heavily hyped AAA game whose critical response has bordered on universal derision. Review after review has criticized the Playstation 4 exclusive's length, gameplay, and plot—the kinds of totems you expect in an average game review.

Our own review didn't harp too heavily on the game's length, which is good, because that fact alone doesn't doom a quality game. The past few years include plenty of short-but-amazing titles like Portal, Flower, or The Stanley Parable any day, to name just a few. However, the critical aparatus has largely forgiven many games with some of The Order's other failings: ho-hum combat with a lot of weirdly placed, chest-high objects to hide behind; overlong cut scenes; quick-time event button prompts; and even British accents.

Aside from testing pre-release versions at a few expos, I still haven't played the final release. In fact, because those pre-release demos were so underwhelming, I found myself eager to bypass ever having to play the full game. Nearly a week before The Order: 1886 reached stores, I got that opportunity when someone with an early copy of the game used the PlayStation 4's dedicated "share" button to stream a full playthrough.

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Suburban Chicago cops pay up $500 in bitcoins after latest ransomware scheme

2/21/2015 3:20pm

This week, a suburban police department outside of Chicago paid $500 in bitcoins to an unidentified hacker for relief from Cryptoware, another bit of malware capitalizing on the growing trend of ransomware.

The Chicago Tribune reported that police in Midlothian—located south of the city—first encountered Cryptoware in January. Someone initially opened an e-mail carrying the malware, thus inviting Cryptoware into the department to access a computer. As is standard in the ransomware script, soon a message popped up demanding money in exchange for a code that could free the device from Cryptoware.

Local IT professionals assured the paper that the hacker didn't access files in the police department's system, rather the Cryptoware scheme only encrypted swaths of department computers and made certain documents inaccessible. "It didn't encrypt everything in the police department. It was just that computer and specific files," Calvin Harden Jr., an IT vendor who works with the village, told the Tribune.

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“I’m so sorry. I’m stupid,” says man who allegedly fired laser at police

2/21/2015 2:30pm

Days before pilots in Houston reported being struck by lasers—by culprits who almost certainly will not be caught, much less charged with crimes—two men in Central California have separately been indicted for alleged laser strike incidents perpetrated in 2014 and 2015.

The two cases were filed in recent weeks, and they were indicted by grand juries on Thursday.

According to an FBI affidavit concerning one case, a nearby Kern County Sheriff’s Office Air-1 helicopter was flying above Bakersfield, California (110 miles northwest of Los Angeles) in January 2015 on routine evening patrol when the pilot and tactical officer were struck by a laser. As the helicopter moved around, the laser continued to track them. The officers used their night vision goggles and a forward looking infrared (FLIR) camera to track the man that fired the laser.

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Mobile World Congress 2015: Expect a Galaxy S6, HTC One M9, and more

2/21/2015 2:00pm

February is drawing to a close, and that means it will soon be time to head off to Barcelona, Spain for Mobile World Congress (MWC). MWC is the world's largest smartphone show, and Ars will have boots on the ground to bring you the latest in mobile technology. The show officially runs from March 2-5, but the day before the show—Sunday, March 1—is when most of the big launches happen.

So before the madness starts, let's take a look at what we're expecting to see at the MWC this year. The show should have flagship launches from Samsung and HTC, as well as tons of other news from all over the mobile industry.

The Samsung Galaxy S6—and maybe something else? Samsung's "Galaxy Unpacked 2015" invite. Samsung

Samsung has a big "Unpacked" press event planned for March 1, which you can see the teaser-invite for above. Our favorite interpretation of this image is "Samsung is launching the Galaxy Fork," but it's probably trying to tell us instead that Samsung's next phone will have a curved screen. The white line matches the contours of Samsung Galaxy Note Edge, so we're probably in store for a similar-looking device.

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt will be Oliver Stone’s Snowden this December [Updated]

2/21/2015 12:00pm

Update (2/21/2015): Production company Open Road Films has made it official—Oliver Stone's Snowden will be released on December 25, 2015 with Joseph Gordon-Levitt playing today's most famous whistleblower.

SlashFilm has the scoop on the recent announcement, noting that while it's not unusual for release dates to shift, this initial plan indicates Open Road sees Snowden as a possible Oscar-contender. The cast list certainly supports such intent. In addition to Gordon-Levitt in the title role, the credits include Timothy Olyphant (Justified) as a CIA agent, Shailene Woodley (Divergent) as Snowden’s girlfriend Lindsay Mills, Melissa Leo (Treme among many others) as documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, Zachary Quinto (new Spock!!) as Glenn Greenwald, and Tom Wilkinson (most recently the author in Grand Budapest Hotel) as political reporter Ewen MacAskill.

Filming is already underway in Munich, according to SlashFilm. If everything pans out, Snowden could make it two years in a row for NSA drama at Hollywood's biggest night. Citizenfour, Poitras's documentary on Snowden, is up for an Oscar this weekend.

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Why memes succeed

2/21/2015 11:30am

What causes a particular meme to take the Internet by storm, dominating image boards and inspiring hundreds of variations, while another one languishes?

It’s a tantalizing question in the nascent field of meme theory, and not just because the answer could shed light on our collective online subconscious. It’s also possible that research into it could eventually explain broader aspects of cultural consumption—why an entire work, perhaps even a novel or a painting, might gain a following, flop, or eventually fade into obscurity.

So far, the bulk of research into why a meme goes viral examines how its current position in a social network can be used to predict how it will continue to spread. The idea is that if you look at how influential the people are who have already shared it, their relationships to other people, and whether they shared it at a time when others are likely to see it, then you can crunch the numbers and make an educated guess as to whether it will continue to spread or peter out.

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New HPV vaccine is effective against 9 strains of the virus

2/21/2015 10:30am

In a world obsessed with curing cancer, prevention is less headline-grabbing, but it's also generally less painful and cheaper. Vaccines for the human papillomavirus (HPV) are a formidable weapon in the arsenal against multiple kinds of cancer, yet the uptake of the vaccine in the US is low, especially when compared to other high-income countries.

According to the President’s Cancer Panel Annual Report 2012-2013, only 33.4 percent of girls in the US complete the course of three HPV vaccines, compared to 60.4 percent in the UK and 71.2 percent in Australia. The vaccination rate for boys is even lower, at less than seven percent—unsurprising given that many public health campaigns specifically target girls.

This is a problem given how common HPV is, and how dangerous it can be. At any given time, one in four Americans is infected with at least one strain of the virus. Almost all sexually active people will be infected with it at some point in their lives. Most infections will be cleared by the immune system, but the remaining cases may lead to cervical, anal, or oral cancer, with approximately 26,000 cases in the US every year.

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After iPad initiative failure, school supe says LA can’t buy computers for all

2/21/2015 10:00am

Speaking to a group of reporters on Friday, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) superintendent Ramon C. Cortines said that the city can't afford to buy a computer for every student. The statement comes after intense controversy over a $1.3 billion initiative launched by Cortines' predecessor, former superintendent John Deasy, in which every student was supposed to be given an iPad loaded with content from educational publisher Pearson.

"I don’t believe we can afford a device for every student,” Cortines told the Los Angeles Times, “Education shouldn’t become the gimmick of the year.” Cortines added that LAUSD had never made a definitive plan for how teachers would have used the iPads during instruction, nor had it planned how it was going to pay for the tablets over time.

In the fall of 2013, schools began receiving iPads that would go to each of the 640,000 students in LAUSD. But the students quickly learned how to work around the ActiveSync profile restrictions on the tablets so that they could use them for (probably) non-educational purposes. That debacle was only the first point of turmoil, however. By the beginning of the next school year, the Los Angeles Times reported that there were improprieties in the bidding process, including hints that the Deputy Superintendent, Jaime Aquino, who was also a former Pearson executive, was helping his former company get the bid. The billion-dollar plan was put on hold at that point.

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Making emotive games from open data

2/21/2015 9:00am

Microsoft researcher Kati London's aim is "to try to get people to think of data in terms of personalities, relationships and emotions", she told the audience at the Story Festival in London on Friday. Through Project Sentient Data, she uses her background in games development to create fun but meaningful experiences that bridge online interactions and things that are happening in the real world.

One such experience invited children to play against the real-time flow of London traffic through an online game called the Code of Everand. The aim was to test the road safety knowledge of children between the ages of 9-11 and "make alertness something that kids valued."

The core mechanic of the game was that of a normal world populated by little people, containing spirit channels that only kids could see and go through. Within these spirit channels, everything from lorries and cars from the streets became monsters. The children had to assess what kind of dangers the monsters posed and use their tools to dispel them.

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Superfish doubles down, says HTTPS-busting adware poses no security risk

2/20/2015 4:20pm

Following security professionals' near-unanimous condemnation of adware that hijacked encrypted Web connections on Lenovo computers, the CEO of the company that developed the finished product is doubling down on his insistence that it poses no threat to end users.

The statement, e-mailed to Ars by a Superfish spokeswoman and attributed to company CEO Adi Pinhas, is notable for making no reference to secure sockets layer, transport layer security, HTTPS, or any other form of encryption. Those technologies are at the core of security researchers' criticisms. They say the self-signed certificates, registered to Superfish and installed in the root level of every PC's SSL/TLS folder, makes it easy for malicious hackers and even script kiddies to build websites that trick affected browsers into behaving as if they're connected to servers for Bank of America, Google, or any other HTTPS-protected website on the Internet. In fact, there's near-universal agreement about this. Earlier today, the US CERT joined the growing chorus of critics with an advisory headlined "Lenovo Computers Vulnerable to HTTPS Spoofing."

Update: It turns out the vulnerability is easier to exploit than previously known. As this post was being prepared, a security researcher published new findings showing that a malicious hacker doesn't need the easily-extracted Superfish private key to perform a man-in-the-middle attack on PCs that have the Komodia proxy installed. That's because the proxy will re-sign invalid certs and make them appear valid to the browser.

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Why one photographer decided to fight a patent on online contests

2/20/2015 4:00pm

Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) lawyer Daniel Nazer's Sisyphean task is right in his job title: he's the Mark Cuban Chair to Eliminate Stupid Patents.

So when Nazer says he's seen one of the all-time dumbest patents, that's saying a lot. Yesterday, Nazer and his fellow EFF lawyer Vera Ranieri filed court papers seeking to invalidate a patent on photo competitions. US Patent No. 8,209,618, owned by a little-known video website called Garfum.com, was used to sue four small photo websites last September that dared to ask people about their favorite photos.

One of those four defendants, Ruth Taylor, runs weekly photo competitions on BytePhoto.com. Out of money but determined to not give in to an outrageous patent demand, Taylor is now the EFF's newest client—the first patent defendant to be directly represented by the public interest group.

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Your DNA is everywhere. Can the police analyze it?

2/20/2015 3:00pm

Anybody who has watched a crime drama knows the trick. The cops need someone's DNA, but they don’t have a warrant, so they invite the suspect to the station house, knowing some of the perp’s genetic material will likely be left behind. Bingo, crime solved. Next case.

A human sheds as much as 100 pounds of DNA-containing material in a lifetime and about 30,000 skin cells an hour. But who owns that DNA is the latest modern-day privacy issue before the US Supreme Court. At its core, the issue focuses on whether we must live in a hermetically sealed bubble to avoid potentially having our genetic traits catalogued and analyzed by the government.

The Supreme Court's justices will meet privately on February 27 to consider putting a case with this science-fiction-like question on their docket. The dispute blends science, technology, genetic privacy, and a real-world, unspeakable crime against a woman.

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Accused British hacker, wanted for crimes in US, won’t give up crypto keys

2/20/2015 2:40pm

An alleged British hacker who has criminal charges pending in three American federal districts is preparing to petition a Suffolk, United Kingdom court to compel the National Crime Agency (NCA) to return his encrypted seized computers and storage devices.

The BBC reported Friday that Lauri Love “will petition Bury St Edmunds magistrates for the return of his property,” adding that “the BBC understands that the NCA has been unable to decrypt some of the files and does not want to return the computers and media devices until Mr Love helps them to decrypt them.”

Love, who was arrested in the UK in October 2013 and was released on bail in July 2014, did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment. The NCA is the rough British equivalent to the FBI.

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“SSL hijacker” behind Superfish debacle imperils large number of users

2/20/2015 2:15pm

Thursday's revelations that Lenovo PCs ship with adware that intercepts sensitive HTTPS-protected traffic have focused intense scrutiny on Superfish, the company that markets the intrusive software. But lost in the furor is the central role a company called Komodia plays in needlessly exposing the passwords and other sensitive data of not just Lenovo customers but also a much larger base of PC users.

As this post was being prepared, Komodia's website was only sporadically available, with the company's homepage saying it was under distributed denial of service attacks. There's never a legitimate reason for people to carry out DDoS attacks, but the underlying anger directed at Komodia is understandable. The company proudly markets HTTPS-decrypting and interception software that's used by more than 100 clients, including Fortune 500 companies. "With a simple-to-control interface, you can intercept website traffic and network applications from any program language," a promotional video boasts. The company's website brazenly refers to one of its software development kits as an "SSL hijacker."

The fake secure sockets layer certificate found on Lenovo machines preinstalled with Superfish came from Komodia. It was bundled with a password-protected private encryption key, presumably to prevent it from being used by malicious hackers to create websites that spied on users as they visited HTTPS-protected pages. But as Ars reported Thursday, the measure was laughably easy to bypass, since it took Errata Security CEO Rob Graham just three hours to discover that the password was—you guessed it—"komodia".

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FDA allows 23AndMe to use its genetic kits to test for Bloom Syndrome

2/20/2015 2:09pm

In a significant boost for 23andMe, the Food and Drug Administration has allowed the direct-to-consumer genetics Silicon Valley startup to use its kit to test for a serious genetic disorder known as Bloom Syndrome.

In November 2013, the FDA ordered 23andMe to stop marketing and selling its kits as a way to test for genetic health information. This marks the first time the FDA has allowed for a home “carrier screening” genetic test. (Ars examined the state of direct-to-consumer genetic testing in April 2014.) Since the 2013 ban, 23andMe customers could only use the service as a way to find out more about their genealogy.

According to the National Institutes of Health, Bloom Syndrome “is an inherited disorder characterized by short stature, sun-sensitive skin changes, an increased risk of cancer, and other health problems.”

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Windows Defender now removes Superfish malware… if you’re lucky

2/20/2015 1:55pm

First the good news. Microsoft today released a signature update for Windows Defender, the anti-malware software that's built in to Windows, to enable it to both detect and remove the Superfish malware that Lenovo installed on some systems.

Defender's removal process seems to be quite robust, both uninstalling the software and removing the dangerous certificate that Superfish installs. However, it doesn't appear to clean any contaminated installs of Firefox or Thunderbird; for that, you'll want to check out our manual removal instructions.

Uh oh...

2 more images in gallery

Now the bad news. While Windows Defender is supplied as part of Windows and works well enough, Microsoft gave it some rather strange behavior as a concession to third-party anti-malware vendors. If a third-party anti-malware product is installed, Windows Defender will automatically disable itself. Many Lenovo systems include trial versions of anti-malware software; during the duration of these trials, Windows Defender will be inactive.

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Turkey to spend $3.4B on air defenses that won’t work with NATO network

2/20/2015 1:40pm

Turkey's defense minister has announced that the Turkish military will go ahead with the $3.5 billion purchase of an air defense system from China—one that is fundamentally incompatible with the NATO air defense network. Defense Minister Ismet Yilmaz said that the system, which will be purchased with "foreign financing," will be "integrated with the national system for Turkey's defense and will be used without integrating with NATO."

Yilmaz's statement was in response to a question submitted by the Turkish parliament. But the purchase decision, which was initially announced in September of 2013, may not yet be final. In a statement sent to Reuters, a spokesperson for Turkey's undersecretariat for defense industries said that negotiations were still underway, and "we are continuing discussions with all the bidders."

The system in question, called T-LORAMIDS (Turkey Long Rage Air and Missile Defense System), would be built jointly by China Precision Machinery Import and Export Corporation (CPMIEC) and Turkish defense companies, based on China's HQ-9 "Red Banner" long-range ground-to-air missile. CPMIEC won over bids from the French/Italian Eurosam consortium and Raytheon's Patriot missile system. Part of the reason for the selection was that Turkey's own defense companies would be involved in manufacturing the missiles.

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Dealmaster: Get a tiny Dell Optiplex 3020 Micro for a $469

2/20/2015 1:20pm

Greetings, Arsians! The Dealmaster is back with a bunch of tech deals courtesy of our partners at TechBargains.

The top item today is a Dell OptiPlex 3020 Micro. This tiny computer measures only 7.17" x 7.93" x 1.4" but manages to pack in a quad-core Intel i5 4590T processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 500GB hard drive. The price is small, too: it's $469, which is $343 off the original price.

Coffee mug not included. Dell

Featured

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Dark matter vs. dwarfs: Issues for our best model of the Universe

2/20/2015 12:37pm

Dark matter has had incredible explanatory power. After the introduction of the concept in the early 1980s, dark matter quickly became a central feature of our cosmological picture of the Universe. The current leading dark matter model is called Lambda Cold Dark Matter, or ΛCDM, and its predictions have consistently been borne out. A host of observational evidence confirms that our galaxy, as well as every other, sits within a halo (basically a spherical blob) of invisible, weakly or non-interacting matter, with a mass that far outweighs all the stars that sit within it.

There has been some skepticism, of course. Some have argued that there may be no dark matter and that instead, our understanding of gravity doesn’t apply on galactic scales, which could eliminate the discrepancies that we explain with dark matter. But as time goes on, the evidence that comes in continues to support dark matter. Those alternative models are still possible, but no convincing evidence has come to light in support of them.

But that doesn’t mean the ΛCDM model is perfect. Two problems have arisen in the form of predictions that don’t match certain observations. It may be the case that these issues can be solved by tweaking the model or by taking into account other processes that may be taking place involving normal, “baryonic” matter. A group of researchers has written a piece for the journal PNAS summarizing the various possible resolutions of the issues.

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Producer trades sheep, two wood for “Settlers of Catan” film, TV rights

2/20/2015 10:49am

One of the most bewildering trends I've seen in gaming over the last few years is Hollywood's obsession with adaptations of games that have next to no narrative, plot, or character of any kind. It's one thing to adapt the lore of Assassin's Creed or The Legend of Zelda into less interactive forms, especially after films like Tomb Raider and Prince of Persia did well at the box office. It's another to purchase the film rights to the likes of Tetris, Space Invaders, Asteroids, and Spy Hunter, all of which have or had film projects in the works at some point... for some reason.

This is all a long-winded way of contextualizing the bewildering news that the immensely popular "Settlers of Catan" board game has been optioned for film and TV adaptations by producer Gail Katz, a veteran of blockbusters like The Perfect Storm and Air Force One.

"I’ve been wanting to see an adaptation of the game for years, ever since my Catan-obsessed college-aged kids introduced me to it,” Katz said in a statement. "The island of Catan is a vivid, visual, exciting, and timeless world with classic themes and moral challenges that resonate today. There is a tremendous opportunity to take what people love about the game and its mythology as a starting point for the narrative."

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