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Updated: 1 hour 34 min ago

Atari to indie dev: Stop ripping off your own work on Tempest 2000 [Updated]

3/18/2015 4:21pm

A screen from 1994's Tempest 2000...

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Update: Minter has posted a letter dated June 2014, sent by Atari law firm Dorsey & Whitney LLP, laying out what it sees as the legally actionable similarities between Tempest and TxK.

Original Story:
Llamasoft developer Jeff Minter is currently embroiled in a heated legal discussion with Atari over the rights to TxK, a tube shooter released last year on the Vita that bears a striking resemblance to 1994 Atari Jaguar release Tempest 2000.

The apparent similarities between Tempest 2000 and TxK are perhaps unsurprising, given that Minter single-handedly did the coding on both games, the former while working for Atari and the latter as an independent developer (credit for 1980's original Tempest, which was the inspiration for Tempest 2000, belongs to Atari's Dave Theurer). Minter even called TxK "an updated version [of Tempest 2000] on modern hardware" when announcing the Vita game back in 2013.

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NASA’s MAVEN spots auroras, dust at high altitudes above Mars

3/18/2015 3:53pm

NASA has announced a pair of unusual findings made by its MAVEN mission, which is meant to sample Mars' atmosphere in order to help us understand its evolution. But, by orbiting through the outer edges of the atmosphere, the mission has identified some unexpected features of the area above the red planet.

The first, and easiest to understand, is the auroras. Dubbed the "Christmas Lights" because of their appearance in December of last year, the glow was in the ultraviolet range and spanned the entire Northern Hemisphere of Mars. The source of the energy was electrons accelerated out from the Sun, which were detected by another instrument on MAVEN. Because Mars lacks a magnetic field, the electrons also made it deep into the atmosphere, producing a light show that was close to the surface relative to Earth's auroras.

The dust, however, is not as easy to explain. It's been a constant, present since MAVEN first entered orbit, and ranges between 150 and 300km above the surface, with the density of particles increasing at lower altitudes. Much like the recent dust plume observed above the planet, it's not clear what could be lofting the particles from Mars' surface. "If the dust originates from the atmosphere, this suggests we are missing some fundamental process in the Martian atmosphere," said Laila Andersson of the University of Colorado.

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Appeals court revives Microsoft Xbox 360 console defect litigation

3/18/2015 3:43pm

A federal appeals court on Wednesday revived a proposed class-action lawsuit against Microsoft that claims the Xbox 360 damages gaming discs, rendering them unplayable.

The 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals said a lower court had misconstrued the court's own precedent when it ruled that Xbox owners in the US could not collectively sue Microsoft for damages.

".... [A]lthough individual factors may affect the timing and extent of the disc scratching, they do not affect whether the Xboxes were sold with a defective disc system. Plaintiffs contend that (1) whether the Xbox is defectively designed and (2) whether such design defect breaches an express or an implied warranty are both issues capable of common proof. We agree," the San Francisco-based court ruled (PDF).

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Windows 10 Technical Preview updated, build 10041 out now

3/18/2015 3:00pm

Microsoft promised last week to deliver Windows 10 preview builds more regularly, and today it published the first new build in close to two months.

Build 10041 should be available right now to preview users on the fast update track. The new features are broadly those we saw in leaks earlier this month: a prettier Start menu, some changes to virtual desktops, and a better (though still incomplete) interface for picking Wi-Fi networks. Strikingly, the new Project Spartan browser isn't in this build.

From here on out, the plan is to offer at least one build a month and quite possibly two or more. Microsoft has learned that the people on the Windows Insider "fast" track are more willing to accept buggy releases than previously anticipated. This has led Microsoft to shake up its testing process and let it publish builds that are only a couple of working days old.

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Dealmaster: Save $300 on a Dell XPS 8700 desktop computer

3/18/2015 2:46pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, the Dealmaster is back with a ton of tech deals for your consideration. The featured item today is a Dell XPS 8700 desktop computer. It has an Intel Core i5-4460, 8GB of RAM, an Nvidia GT 720 GPU, and a 1TB hard drive for just $549.99—that's over $300 off the list price. If you need a monitor, you can add on a 1920x1200 IPS Monitor with a bonus $100 Dell Gift Card for $810.98.

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Laptops and tablets

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Sorry, Europe, you still can’t get refunds on your Steam game purchases

3/18/2015 2:40pm

Scanning the gaming news headlines recently, I was surprised to see a few reports that Valve had begun offering refunds to European Union customers within 14 days of a digital game purchase on Steam. That would indeed be big news, as getting refunds or any resale value for a Steam purchase is usually near-impossible, aside from some one-off exceptions to policy. After sifting through the legalese, though, it seems that Valve's refund policy hasn't actually changed, despite reports to the contrary.

The rumor of a new refund program for European Steam users seems to have started on reddit, where user punikun noted that the following language had been added to the Steam subscriber agreement:

IF YOU ARE AN EU SUBSCRIBER, YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO WITHDRAW FROM A PURCHASE TRANSACTION FOR DIGITAL CONTENT WITHOUT CHARGE AND WITHOUT GIVING ANY REASON FOR A DURATION OF FOURTEEN DAYS OR UNTIL VALVE’S PERFORMANCE OF ITS OBLIGATIONS HAS BEGUN WITH YOUR PRIOR EXPRESS CONSENT AND YOUR ACKNOWLEDGMENT THAT YOU THEREBY LOSE YOUR RIGHT OF WITHDRAWAL, WHICHEVER HAPPENS SOONER. THEREFORE, YOU WILL BE INFORMED DURING THE CHECKOUT PROCESS WHEN OUR PERFORMANCE STARTS AND ASKED TO PROVIDE YOUR PRIOR EXPRESS CONSENT TO THE PURCHASE BEING FINAL.

It's easy to read that "right to withdraw" bit at the beginning of that clause and jump to the conclusion that EU law is forcing Valve to adhere to a 14-day return window. Indeed, the EU's directive on consumer rights does generally establish a 14-day "right of withdrawal" for the sale of "distance goods" and the execution of some service contracts.

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PlayStation Vue launches live-TV service in three cities, starts at $49/mo

3/18/2015 1:30pm

The slow, trudging dinosaur that is the television industry took another shuffling step toward the modern era on Wednesday in the form of PlayStation Vue. Sony's new live TV-streaming service, announced in November, has now officially launched in three major American markets—New York, Chicago, and Philadelphia—with a three-tier subscription plan in each city.

In short, paying as much as $69.99 per month will let users watch at least 82 network and cable channels over the Internet through their PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 consoles, while downgrading to a $49.99 subscription will drop that station count to about 50 in each market.

Unlike its current major competitor, Sling TV, PlayStation Vue has the upper hand in terms of major network content—meaning CBS, Fox, and NBC, along with many of their cable subsidiaries (MTV/Comedy Central, FX/Fox Sports, and Bravo/USA, respectively). The obvious missing piece of that TV-watching puzzle is the ABC family of stations, and Sling has those in the form of ESPN (and its myriad offshoots) and a few Disney channels. The only major overlap these two Internet-live-TV services share is the Turner family of stations, meaning TBS, TNT, Cartoon Network, and Boomerang.

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What would microbes on another planet look like from Earth?

3/18/2015 1:10pm

In one of the finest understatements of this very young century, some researchers have written that "The great distances that separate us from even the most nearby stars dictate that all measurements of the exoplanet must be made through remote sensing techniques for the foreseeable future." Considering we struggle to put the funding together to go anywhere else in this Solar System, that foreseeable future seems to be stretched out for a long time.

But, if we're limited to remote sensing, then there's no excuse for not taking the time to think about what we should be looking for. When looking for life on Earth, we tend to look for green, since that's the color of chlorophyl, the molecule that provides most of the energy for life here. As these researchers point out, green plants are a relatively recent arrival on Earth, only showing up about 450 million years ago. For 3 billion years prior to that, life was microbial.

And, while some microbial organisms get their energy through photosynthesis, a lot of others harvest light using different pigments or simply produce colored chemicals as an incidental byproduct of their metabolic activities. Microbes can range from a rich red to the dark purple of some salt-loving bacteria. So, if we're looking to directly image signs of life on other planets, then we should think more carefully about what it might look like.

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Elon Musk believes non-self-driving cars may one day be outlawed

3/18/2015 1:00pm

At Nvidia's GTC conference in California, Tesla's Elon Musk has given us yet another glimpse into his view of the future. Talking to Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, Musk said that, in the future, driving cars might be outlawed. "[It's too] dangerous," he said. "You can't have a person driving a two-ton death machine."

Huang and Musk were on stage during the GTC 2015 keynote, ostensibly chatting about the computational challenges of computer vision and deep learning. Then, Huang decided to ask Musk, in fairly general terms, how the whole self-driving car thing will actually go down in practice. "I don't think we have to worry about autonomous cars, because that's sort of like a narrow form of AI," Musk replied. "It's not something that I think is very difficult, actually, to do autonomous driving, to a degree that's much safer than a person, is much easier than people think."

The difficulty arises, though, when we have a mix of normal and autonomous cars on the road. That's where Musk's "you can't have a person driving a two-ton death machine" line comes into play. When every car is autonomous—and optionally also talking to each other via a car-to-car mesh network—you can cram a lot more traffic on the roads. Throw a dumb human driver into the mix, though, and suddenly you have to go back to the old way of doing things, with enough space between cars that humans actually stand a chance of braking or maneuvering in time.

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Shady drug marketplace vanishes, owners believed to have spirited away $11.7M

3/18/2015 12:45pm

Evolution, the Dark Web’s largest underground marketplace, appears to have closed its doors abruptly on Tuesday evening. Ars was unable to access the site as of Wednesday morning.

The site’s creators, who go by the online monikers Kimble and Verto, also have apparently absconded with over $11.7 million in bitcoin. According to Wired, Verto was also the creator and administrator of Tor Carding Forum (TCF), a longstanding “private forum that charges $50 to join, has long maintained a brisk trade in stolen financial details."

Like the previous incarnations of Silk Road, Evolution (or “Evo" as it’s known to its users) requires Tor for access and offers a slew of questionable goods for sale in bitcoins. Evo itself took in between 2.5 and 4 percent of all transactions.

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A common over-the-counter cough suppressant can boost insulin

3/18/2015 12:16pm

Dextromethorphan (DXM) is a cough suppressant found in Vick's NyQuil Cold & Flu Relief, Triaminic Multi-Symptom Fever, Dimetapp Children's Multi-Symptom Cold & Flu, Tylenol Cold Multi-Symptom Nighttime, and similar over-the-counter cold medicines that make life so much more bearable when you're coughing your lungs out. It's not good for everyone though; the American Academy of Pediatricians has recommended that it not be given to children under the age of four, because it is completely ineffective for them and may even cause them harm.

But although it may be bad for kids, it may be good for type 2 diabetics; a recent report in Nature Medicine suggests that it increases glucose tolerance and does so in a way that is more effective than existing drugs.

Antidiabetic drugs currently on the market increase what's called the basal levels of insulin secretion—it goes up all the time, whether it's needed or not. This basal insulin secretion is a major cause of lethal hypoglycemia in the patients who take these drugs. New types of drugs that only boost insulin in response to glucose are thus highly desirable.

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Microsoft takes 4 years to recover privileged TLS certificate addresses

3/18/2015 12:04pm

On Tuesday, Ars chronicled Microsoft's four- to six-week delay responding to a Finnish man who had obtained a Windows Live e-mail address that allowed him to register unauthorized transport layer security certificates for the live.fi domain. Today comes the tale of a Belgian IT worker who has waited more than four years to return two similar addresses for the live.be domain.

Microsoft's delay in securing the addresses such as [email protected] and [email protected] has potential consequences for huge numbers of people. Browser-trusted certificate authorities such as Comodo grant unusually powerful privileges to people with such an address. All the account holders had to do was ask for a domain-validated TLS certificate for live.fi or live.be. Once they clicked a validation link Comodo sent to their e-mail addresses, the certificates were theirs. Comodo's automatic certificate application also works for addresses with the words admin, postmaster, and webmaster immediately to the left of the @ and the domain name for which the certificate is being applied.

It came as a surprise that Microsoft waited until this week to respond to the Finnish man's report, reportedly from January, that he came into possession of the [email protected] address. One would have expected such addresses to be locked down tight to begin with. Once a breach of this policy was reported, it would have been reasonable to assume Microsoft security personnel would respond to it within a day or two, if not sooner. But the Belgian IT worker's e-mail reveals a mind-boggling wait of more than four years for company officials to respond to his private and voluntary report he was sitting on the addresses [email protected] and [email protected]

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Xiaomi and Microsoft to offer Windows 10 conversion for Android phones

3/18/2015 11:50am

We wrote earlier about Microsoft's plans with Xiaomi to offer a Windows 10 Technical Preview ROM for the Xiaomi Mi 4. A few more details have come to light since then, along with a photograph showing Microsoft's operating system running on the Chinese OEM's Android phones.

TechCrunch writes that from Xiaomi's perspective, this is emphatically not a partnership with Microsoft. Rather, Redmond is running a kind of experimental trial to gain feedback from Chinese users and enhance the experience of running Windows 10 for phones in China. Xiaomi promotes the use of custom ROMs on its devices, so a Windows 10 ROM is simply just another operating system option rather than an indication of any desire on Xiaomi's part to make or ship Windows 10 phones.

Microsoft released an official statement with somewhat different verbiage. From Microsoft's perspective, there very much is a partnership, though the Windows 10 ROM is still pitched as an information-gathering exercise and nothing more:

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Windows 10 will be a free upgrade for all users worldwide [Updated]

3/18/2015 11:42am

Speaking to Reuters from the WinHEC conference in China, Microsoft's operating system chief Terry Myerson said, "We are upgrading all qualified PCs, genuine and non-genuine, to Windows 10." This means that everyone running Windows 7 or 8.1, irrespective of whether you pirated the operating system or not, will be allowed to upgrade to Windows 10.

It isn't clear if Myerson's comments only pertain to China, or to all Windows users worldwide. We have reached out to Microsoft for clarification, but haven't yet heard back. Myerson's wording certainly sounds like this will affect all Windows users worldwide.

Updated: ZDNet's Ed Bott got a response from a Microsoft spokesperson, confirming that the free upgrade path is indeed available for all pirates everywhere, and not just in China.

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HTC offers free phone replacement during the first year of ownership

3/18/2015 11:40am

HTC has launched a new customer service program called "Uh Oh Protection." The service comes free with the purchase of an HTC One M8 or M9 and promises one free phone replacement for anyone that cracks their screen, suffers water damage, or switches carriers. If you end up not using the one-time replacement, HTC will give you $100 toward the purchase of a new HTC One series phone.

The program is an expansion of "HTC Advantage," a similar program that launched a year ago. HTC Advantage offered a one-time screen replacement during the first six months. This new program doubles the coverage length and throws in coverage for water and carrier switching. The $100 credit is a new addition as well. The credit is only valid on HTC.com and must be used for a "HTC One M9 or future HTC One series device."

The promotion applies to any HTC One M8 or M9 purchased from March 25, 2015 onward, but the current terms say the promotion will no longer be offered come August 15, 2015.

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Comcast’s gigabit technology is ready for field testing

3/18/2015 10:56am

Comcast says it has begun rolling out gigabit per second cable technology to employee homes for testing, LightReading reported today. The company appears on track to test in consumers' homes this year and roll out the faster speeds on a wider basis in 2016.

"The target for us is to be in the field establishing network readiness in 2015," Comcast VP of Access Architecture Jorge Salinger said, according to the LightReading article. "Our overall goal is to be able to deploy DOCSIS 3.1 and gigabit-per-second in a broad scale starting in 2016."

The new version of DOCSIS (Data Over Cable Service Interface Specification) is able to support gigabit download speeds, bringing cable in line with the top fiber downloads available to consumers, though with lower upload speeds. Broadcom announced a DOCSIS 3.1 system-on-a-chip for cable modems in January; at the time, Comcast said it would use DOCSIS 3.1 technology to "offer our customers more than 1 Gigabit speeds in their homes in 2015 and beyond."

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Surprising gamma ray signal in satellite galaxy could come from WIMPs

3/18/2015 10:50am

Like moons orbiting a planet, there are smaller bodies circling the Milky Way. Known as dwarf galaxies, they can be dim enough to escape detection—it’s not known how many there are in total, and new dwarfs are still being detected. One such dwarf galaxy was discovered within the last few weeks using data from the Dark Energy Survey, an experiment that scans the southern sky in order to learn about the accelerating expansion of the Universe (the experiment’s name comes from the mysterious dark energy that causes that acceleration).

The dwarf, known as Reticulum 2, is about 98,000 light-years from Earth, making it one of the Milky Way’s closest discovered satellites. But that’s not its most exciting feature. The mini-galaxy seems to be emitting a strong gamma ray signal, a research team concludes in a paper submitted to the journal Physical Review Letters. That’s surprising for a dwarf, since they tend to be mostly devoid of the objects that typically produce gamma rays. While it’s too early to say for sure what the source of the gamma rays is, the authors have tentatively come to a very intriguing conclusion: dark matter annihilation.

Dwarfs and dark matter

Like their larger counterparts, dwarf galaxies rest within a spherical blob, or halo, of dark matter that accounts for most of the galaxy’s mass. In the case of the Milky Way’s satellites, their halos rest within the Milky Way’s own larger halo, making them subhalos.

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New York county sheriff must give up stingray records, judge orders

3/18/2015 8:30am

According to a judicial ruling issued Tuesday, the Erie County Sheriff’s Office (ECSO) in Northwestern New York state must turn over a number of documents concerning its purchase and use of stingrays. The 24-page order comes as the result of a lawsuit brought by the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) and marks a rare victory in favor of transparency of "cell-site simulators," which are often shrouded in secrecy.

The devices can not only be used to determine a phone’s location, but they can also intercept calls and text messages. During the act of locating a phone, stingrays also sweep up information about nearby phones—not just the target phone. Earlier this year, Ars reported on how the FBI is actively trying to "prevent disclosure" of how these devices are used in local jurisdictions across America.

"The court today has confirmed that law enforcement cannot hide behind a shroud of secrecy while it is invading the privacy of those it has sworn to protect and serve," Mariko Hirose, a NYCLU Staff Attorney, said in a statement. "The public has a right to know how, when and why this technology is being deployed, and they deserve to know what safeguards and privacy protections, if any, are in place to govern its use."

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Classic FPS Descent to be rebooted by Star Citizen alums

3/18/2015 7:30am

The last time we checked in with Eric "Wingman" Peterson was August of 2014, where he was running Cloud Imperium Games’ Austin office and overseeing development on Star Citizen’s persistent universe. However, just a few months after that, Peterson left Cloud Imperium to develop his own game: a reboot of the mid-'90s first-person shooter game Descent.

Peterson has formed Descendent Studios, hired a development staff, and is currently overseeing a Kickstarter to pull together a minimum of $600,000 to finance development of the game, which is titled Descent Underground. Critically, Descent Underground has something that previous attempts to resurrect the Descent franchise have lacked: a licensing agreement with IP-holder Interplay.

Kickstarter teaser for Descent Underground, formerly code-named "Ships That Fight Underground." Old name, new presentation

Descent was published by Interplay more than 20 years ago, in 1994. The first-person shooter developed by Parallax Software had players zipping around underground in a series of cavernous (and sometimes claustrophobic) mines filled with mad killer robots. Players navigated the underground environment in a Pyro GX spacecraft, which led to the game’s main selling point: it wasn’t just a regular FPS, but one which offered "six degrees of freedom." In other words, you could move in any direction (X, Y, and Z) and turn in any direction (roll, pitch, yaw).

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Windows 10 to launch in “summer” around the world

3/17/2015 11:25pm

Microsoft has until September 23 to get the Windows 10 operating system finished. The company announced today that Windows 10 will launch in 190 countries and in 111 different languages "this summer," which gives the company six months and change to get the operating system out the door.

Microsoft executives made the announcement in connection with the company's recently resurrected WinHEC conference for hardware developers, being held this week in Shenzhen, China. In announcing the approximate release date, Terry Myerson, executive vice president of the Operating Systems Group, also described some of the promotions and offers that will run to get Windows 10 into the hands of Chinese customers: Lenovo will be offering an upgrade service at its service centers and some retail stores, and Tencent and Qihu 360 both said that they'd be giving the operating system to their customers for free.

This has potentially vast reach; Tencent has some 800 million customers, Qihu 360 around 500 million. Tencent also promised Windows 10 versions of its QQ app and that the enormously popular League of Legends (developed by Tencent subsidiary Riot Games) would be brought to the Windows store.

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