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Meet Deep Thunder: IBM’s next step in the automation of forecasting

6/16/2016 12:08pm

Five months after acquiring The Weather Company, IBM continues to move toward automated forecasting. (credit: IBM)

Until recently, weather forecasting was a fairly straightforward process. Scientists and meteorologists with a government agency developed computer forecast models, collected data about current weather conditions, input that data into their models, and then ran them on government hardware. A TV forecaster would next review the output of these models and give you the weather during the 6 and 10 o’clock news.

But more recently, the private US weather industry, valued at between $3 billion and $6 billion, has gone far beyond this traditional method of forecasting. Because the National Weather Service is federally funded, the agency makes both the basic code of its model, as well as the raw output, available to both research and commercial entities. Companies have taken the government’s models and “added value” for consumer and business customers.

In late January of this year, IBM finalized its acquisition of The Weather Company, buying all of its assets except for The Weather Channel television network. Both IBM and The Weather Company had been working separately with one of the government’s most popular models, the WRF, or Weather Research and Forecasting Model. Developed in the late 1990s, the WRF is tuned to provide more accurate local forecasts rather than predicting conditions across the globe. (Other companies, such as Panasonic, have developed their own global models based upon the government's code).

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The XPS 13 DE: Dell continues to build a reliable Linux lineage

6/16/2016 11:50am

Behold, the latest in Linux out-of-the-box: Dell's XPS 13 Developer's Edition (2016). (credit: Scott Gilbertson)

Hardware that ships with Linux installed isn't as rare as it used to be. System 76, Purism, ZaReason, and others have been cranking out hardware with Linux pre-installed for quite a while now. But while those of us who use Linux may know these companies, there's only one household name that currently ships laptops with Linux installed—Dell.

Dell's Project Sputnik has been dedicating resources to creating a "just works" experience for Dell Ultrabooks running Ubuntu for nearly four years now. Lead developer Barton George, who leads the effort, and other developers have been writing code where necessary (and contributing that code back upstream) and refining the user experience to a point where everything does indeed just work.

The original Dell XPS 13 Developer Edition had a few rough edges. Since that first device, I sat on the sidelines watching as George and Dell polished off those rough edges and tweaked the hardware options to better meet the needs of developers. Over time, the team expanded the available RAM to 16GB, added a matte screen option (albeit only on the low-end model), and slimmed the dimensions down considerably.

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After Comcast complains, Verizon is told to alter deceptive “#1” speed ads

6/16/2016 11:45am

(credit: Verizon)

Verizon ads claiming that FiOS fiber service "is rated #1 in Internet speed" are misleading and should be changed, the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) said this week.

Verizon doesn't actually offer the fastest speeds, but the company justifies the claim based on PC Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Survey. NARB's decision—which came after a complaint filed by Comcast—noted that ranking "was not based on a comparison of objective Internet speed performance and/or a head-to-head comparison of different Internet service providers." Instead, it was based on customers' perceptions.

Verizon ads do note that the #1 claim is based on "customer satisfaction studies," but the board ruled that Verizon's ads made it seem as if the company actually offers the industry's fastest speeds.

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Gwent: The collectible card game that’s more than just a Witcher spin-off

6/16/2016 9:45am

Didn't you hear? Collectible card games are all the rage these days, what with Blizzard's Hearthstone sporting over 20 million players, Magic: The Gathering going through some kind of renaissance, and publishers like Bethesda definitely not trying to cash in on the whole thing with games like The Elder Scrolls: Legends. And so at this year's E3 we have yet another entry in the genre from developers CD Projekt Red, a Witcher 3 spin-off called Gwent. The difference is, Gwent is far more than just a collectible card game. This one has an honest-to-god proper storyline. There's even an open-world map to explore.

For the uninitiated, Gwent was originally a collectible card game embedded into the vast world of The Witcher 3. Only, as player data began to trickle in, CD Projekt Red discovered that many players were spending hours roaming inns during quests just to play Gwent. Some even ignored the main game entirely. This was more than enough incentive for the developer to spin Gwent off into its own free-to-play game across PC, Xbox One, and PlayStation 4. And in true CD Projekt Red fashion, it's gone a little overboard in the process.

Instead of just pitching players against each another in one-on-one card battles, Gwent features several single-player campaigns, each of of which has its own unique storyline and lead character, is fully voice acted, and is brought to life via some highly stylised 2D drawings that gently slide across the screen. There's even an overworld map where, in the demo I was shown at least, you control a cute 2D Geralt to explore and find hidden snippets of story, or extra cards to add to your deck. Each campaign is said to last a whopping 10 hours or so too.

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I Am Setsuna is everything great from the PlayStation-era RPG

6/16/2016 9:18am

I Am Setsuna is all about nostalgia. Sure, it doesn't rehash a familiar franchise, or dig up a cast of long forgotten characters, but it does serve up a mixture of PlayStation-era graphics and storytelling that harks back to the classic '90s RPGs that came to the West from Japan. The result, from the few of hours I've played, is a game that feels reassuringly familiar without being gratuitously mercantile in the process.

The story begins grimly, taking a more adult approach than is typical of the genre. You play as Endir, a warrior born into a tribe that pays its way through the world by offering mercenary services to whomever needs them. Following Endir's impressive feat of heroism in saving a girl from a monster (a sequence that acts as tutorial for the turn-based combat system), he is commissioned to kill another girl, Setsuna, who is about to turn 18.

Without straying too far into spoiler territory, it turns out Endir's mission is part of a series of regular sacrifices that are made to prevent monster attacks on settlements. Those attacks have been becoming more frequent, leading to more sacrifices. Before you can kill Setsuna, which Endir is more than ready to do given his sell-sword lineage, you're stopped by a small group seeking to end the cycle of teen killings. After some negotiation Endir becomes a reluctant member of the group.

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E-books fair game for public libraries, says advisor to top Europe court

6/16/2016 8:45am

(credit: shiftstigma)

Electronic books should be treated just like physical books for the purposes of lending, an advisor to Europe's top court has said.

Maciej Szpunar, advocate general to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), said that public libraries should be allowed to lend e-books so long as the author is fairly compensated.

A 2006 EU directive says that the exclusive right to authorise or prohibit rentals and loans belongs to the author of the work, however countries may opt out of this rule for the purposes of “public lending,” provided that authors obtain fair remuneration.

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Municipal fiber network will let customers switch ISPs in seconds

6/16/2016 8:00am

Website where Ammon customers will choose an ISP. (credit: City of Ammon, Idaho)

Most cities and towns that build their own broadband networks do so to solve a single problem: that residents and businesses aren't being adequately served by private cable companies and telcos.

But there's more than one way to create a network and offer service, and the city of Ammon, Idaho, is deploying a model that's worth examining. Ammon has built an open access network that lets multiple private ISPs offer service to customers over city-owned fiber. The wholesale model in itself isn't unprecedented, but Ammon has also built a system in which residents will be able to sign up for an ISP—or switch ISPs if they are dissatisfied—almost instantly, just by visiting a city-operated website and without changing any equipment.

Ammon has completed a pilot project involving 12 homes and is getting ready for construction to another 200 homes. Eventually, the city wants to wire up all of its 4,500 homes and apartment buildings, city Technology Director Bruce Patterson told Ars. Ammon has already deployed fiber to businesses in the city, and it did so without raising everybody's taxes.

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Lone wolf claims responsibility for DNC hack, dumps purported Trump smear file

6/15/2016 9:16pm

(credit: Wikimedia)

In an intriguing follow-up to Tuesday's report that Russian hackers gained access to Democratic National Committee servers, an anonymous blogger has claimed he alone was responsible for the breach and backed up the claim by publishing what purport to be authentic DNC documents taken during the online heist.

In a blog post published Wednesday, someone with the handle Guccifer 2.0 published hundreds of pages of documents that the author claimed were taken during a lone-wolf hack of the DNC servers. One 231-page document purports to be opposition research into Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee. Other files purport to be spreadsheets that include the names and dollar amounts of large DNC donors. Yet another document purportedly came from the computer of presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton while she was secretary of state.

"Worldwide known cyber security company CrowdStrike announced that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) servers had been hacked by 'sophisticated hacker groups,'" Wednesday's blog post stated. "I’m very pleased the company appreciated my skills so highly))) But in fact, it was easy, very easy."

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Losing all four limbs to infection hasn’t stopped Frédéric Sausset from racing at Le Mans this year

6/15/2016 7:45pm

Frédéric Sausset ensconced in the cockpit of SRT41's Morgan-Nissan LMP2 car. You can see how his prosthetic connects to an adaptor that replaces the steering wheel used by his two teammates.

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One of the cooler things about the 24 Hours of Le Mans is called Garage 56. The name dates to 2012, when Le Mans only had room for 55 cars in its pitlane, but the ACO (the race organizers) added one extra spot for a car which, according to the ACO's Sporting Director Vincent Beaumesnil, "explores the automobile technology of tomorrow and beyond." In the past, Garage 56 entries have gone to cars that have been pushing the envelope on fuel saving (the Deltawing) or electrification (the ZEOD RC), but this year the focus is rather different.

In 2012, a French businessman called Frédéric Sausset scratched his finger while on vacation in the southwest of France. Tragically, the scratch rapidly led to a life-threatening infection (necrotizing fasciitis) which left Sausset a quadruple amputee. At the point where many of us might just give up and wallow in depression, Sausset instead decided he wasn't going to let the lack of hands or feet get in the way of a life-long ambition—racing in the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And this coming weekend, he's going to do just that.

Sausset's team, SRT41, had a tricky job. A 24-hour race like Le Mans isn't a solo effort—each car has three drivers who split the race between them, swapping in and out during pitstops. The team had to convert its Morgan-Nissan LMP2 car (the slower of the two prototype classes at Le Mans, intended for pro-am teams) so that Sausset could drive it, without compromising the ability of his two able-bodied teammates Jean Bernard Bouvet and Christophe Tinseau from being able to do the same.

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“Spam King,” who defied nearly $1B in default judgments, sentenced to 2.5 years

6/15/2016 6:57pm

(credit: Abraham Williams)

A Las Vegas man known as the "Spam King" was sentenced Monday to 2.5 years in federal prison. He pleaded guilty last year to one count of fraud.

The federal judge in San Jose, California also ordered Sanford Wallace to pay over $310,000 in restitution.

Prosecutors wrote that by his own admission, Wallace executed "a scheme from approximately November 2008 through March 2009 to send spam messages to Facebook users that compromised approximately 500,000 legitimate Facebook accounts, and resulted in over 27 million spam messages being sent through Facebook’s servers."

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E3: Oculus Touch comes out swinging with two stellar motion-controller games

6/15/2016 4:37pm

(video link)

LOS ANGELES—Oculus may be the best-known name in the virtual reality gaming space, but it's still lacking in one key category: motion controllers. The HTC Vive has proven how fun those devices can be in a VR game or app, and Oculus' answer, the "Touch" set of motion-tracked controllers, still doesn't have a price or a release date.

Thankfully, Oculus Touch is getting closer to a "fall" launch, and at this year's E3, Oculus Studios gave Ars a chance to try two brand-new games in wildly different genres—to prove how serious the company is about hand-tracking gaming.

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Napster returns! Well, it’s a cat logo on top of Rhapsody, wearing a Napster trench coat

6/15/2016 4:05pm

The DJ Cat logo will remain associated with the Napster brand.

Rhapsody announced yesterday that it will be forsaking its given name (well, its second given name, as the music streaming service started as back in 2001) in favor of the name "Napster." Yep, Napster is coming back (again), 17 years after it debuted and caused a culture war over peer-to-peer music downloads and file sharing.

It seems that nothing is changing about Rhapsody except the name and the branding—in fact, Rhapsody already sells its streaming service under the Napster name in countries outside the US. But the company may be looking for a new way to compete in a packed music streaming market, and pulling on the heartstrings of millions of now-grownups who gleefully marvelled at the ease with which they were able to download music in the new millennium might be just the ticket.

Of course, Rhapsody-now-Napster will still cost money: $1 for the first three months and then $9.99 every month after that to stream music from the company's library. But then, that's what keeps it "100% legal," as Rhapsody's website proclaims.

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ISIS hacker pleads guilty to giving terrorists US military kill list

6/15/2016 3:55pm

(credit: YouTube/CNN)

A hacker the US authorities have labeled as the leader of an overseas Internet hacking group—the Kosova Hacker's Security—pleaded guilty Wednesday in federal court to charges of providing material support to the US enemy. It was the first known prosecution of a hacker joining forces with a terror group in a bid to carry out terrorism, the government said.

The defendant, a Kosovo citizen named Ardit Ferizi, was arrested in Malaysia last year and was accused of stealing data on US military personnel by hacking US corporate computers and then providing that data to the Islamic State terror group.

"Ferizi admitted to stealing the personally identifiable information of over 1,000 U.S. servicemembers and federal employees, and providing it to ISIL with the understanding that they would incite terrorist attacks against those individuals," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin. "The case against Ferizi is the first of its kind, representing the nexus of the terror and cyber threats."

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Android N Developer Preview 4 finalizes APIs, teases version number [Update]

6/15/2016 3:46pm

The latest version of the Android N Developer Preview is out, and the Developer Preview Program is really starting to wrap things up. Version 4 brings finalized APIs and the final SDK for developers, so the time for serious bug fixing is right now. After this preview, there's just one more version to go until the final release in "Q3 2016."

With the final SDK, the Play Store is also ready to accept apps that are targeting API 24 (the API level of Android N). Devs are encouraged to test backward compatibility on their Alpha or Beta channels and then push full N-ready apps to the Play Store. (Developers, you're totally going to do this, right?)

On the consumer side of things, Google has added a silly joke to the hidden Android N version screen. If you go to the "About Phone" screen and mash on the Android version number section, you'll get the usual "N" logo to pop up. Long press on the "N" logo and instead of an Android version of Flappy Bird, you'll now get an "N" logo with "Namey McNameface" written across it. We're guessing that's not going to be the final "N" name.

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Coffee no longer comes with cancer warning—it may actually prevent it

6/15/2016 3:11pm

(credit: trophygeek)

Despite brimming data showing that drinking coffee can be good for your health, there has been a lingering black stain on the popular drink’s reputation—the 1991 assessment by the World Health Organization that classified coffee as a possible carcinogen. Today, that stain got scrubbed away.

In a Wednesday announcement and an accompanying article in the journal The Lancet Oncology, the WHO reversed that 1991 classification, striking coffee from the Group 2b list of foods and beverages that are “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” That initial classification was based on “limited evidence of an association with cancer of the urinary bladder from case-control studies, and inadequate evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” According to 23 health experts who met in May to review more than 1,000 new and old human and animal studies on coffee, that limited evidence didn’t stand up. The experts concluded that coffee is a Group 3 agent, which is “not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.”

Moreover, amid their review, the experts also noted that several studies provided evidence that coffee drinking may reduce the risk of cancers of the liver and uterine endometrium. For more than 20 other types of cancers, the effect of coffee drinking was inconclusive, the experts found.

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The female ethos in Game of Thrones

6/15/2016 2:37pm

Exploring the female themes in Game of Thrones season 6. Edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)

There was something gnawing at me after so many critics panned the first episode of Game of Thrones season 6. Some considered it "boring" or "tedious" since there was so much exposition, and some felt the season was headed nowhere. I realized a few episodes in what that pestering feeling was—each storyline is about a strong woman. The season had gone from tedious to unexpectedly interesting, and many critics agreed.

This is a logical story progression, not a plot to pander to a sense of diversity. If you consider what Joseph Campbell has written about the structure of epic stories, you'll start to see what’s going on here. Emerging from the bloody battles and men on the many thrones of power, each storyline has seen a strong heroine prevail or at least scheme to dominate her opposition. What we're seeing here is the classic Campbellian emergence of the mother—the ethos of nature, life, and resurrection—rising to fight the darkness, the winter, and the ruin in this hero cycle. In this video, we explore each storyline and track the journey of this female ethos.

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Bay Area: Join us TONIGHT, 6/15, to discuss tech solutions to Internet harassment

6/15/2016 2:34pm

If you're in the Bay Area tonight, June 15, join Ars editors Annalee Newitz and Cyrus Farivar for the filming of our third episode of Ars Technica Live, a monthly interview series with fascinating people who work at the intersection of tech, science, and culture. Our guest tonight at Oakland's legendary Longitude bar is journalist Sarah Jeong, who will discuss online harassment and what technologists can do about it. Doors are at 7pm and the discussion starts at 7:30.

Filmed before a live audience in Oakland tiki bar Longitude (located on 347 14th Street), each episode of Ars Technica Live is a speculative, informal conversation between your fine hosts Annalee Newitz and Cyrus Farivar and an invited guest. The audience—that would be you—is also invited to join the conversation and ask questions. These aren’t soundbyte setups; they are deep cuts from the frontiers of research and creativity.

This month's event is about online harassment, trolling, and cleaning up Internet garbage. Guest Sarah Jeong is a Poynter Fellow in Journalism at Yale and the author of the book The Internet of Garbage. She writes for magazines and newspapers about the overlap between policy, tech, and the law.

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FBI says utility pole surveillance cam locations must be kept secret

6/15/2016 2:01pm

(credit: Chris Blakeley)

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has successfully convinced a federal judge to block the disclosure of where the bureau has attached surveillance cams on Seattle utility poles. The decision Monday stopping Seattle City Light from divulging the information was expected, as claims of national security tend to trump the public's right to know.

However, this privacy dispute highlights a powerful and clandestine tool the authorities are employing across the country to snoop on the public—sometimes with warrants, sometimes without. Just last month, for example, this powerful surveillance measure—which sometimes allows the authorities to control the camera's focus point remotely—helped crack a sex trafficking ring in suburban Chicago.

Meanwhile, in stopping the release of the Seattle surveillance cam location information—in a public records act case request brought by activist Phil Mocek—US District Judge Richard Jones agreed (PDF) with the FBI's contention that releasing the data would harm national security.

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Dealmaster: Get a redesigned Dell Inspiron 3650 desktop for $579

6/15/2016 1:45pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, we have a ton of new deals today. Of note is this steal of a deal on a redesigned Dell desktop: you can now get the Dell Inspiron 3650 desktop—complete with a Core i7 Skylake processor, 16GB of RAM, and an AMD R9 360 discrete graphics card—for just $579. Dell has revamped this PC with modern design cues from its XPS line, and it's built to take up 45 percent less space than the original. This is one of the best prices on a Skylake-equipped desktop we've seen, so grab it while you can.

Check out the rest of the deals we have, including discounts on new E3 releases and more.


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For sale: 70k hacked government and corporate servers—for as little as $6 apiece

6/15/2016 1:37pm

Enlarge (credit: Gerald England)

Underscoring the flourishing world of for-profit hacking, researchers have uncovered a thriving marketplace that sells access to more than 70,000 previously compromised servers, in some cases for as little as $6 apiece.

As of last month, the xDedic trading platform catalogued 70,624 servers, many belonging to government agencies or corporations from 173 countries, according to a report published Wednesday by researchers from antivirus provider Kaspersky Lab. That number was up from 55,000 servers in March, a sign that the marketplace operators carefully maintain and update the listed inventory.

"From government networks to corporations, from Web servers to databases, xDedic provides a marketplace for buyers to find anything," Kaspersky researchers wrote in a separate blog post. "And the best thing about it—it's cheap! Purchasing access to a server located in a European Union country government network can cost as little as $6." The post continued:

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