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Google silent on support for group opposing net neutrality and muni broadband

9/5/2014 4:10pm
Network neutrality protest at Google headquarters. Steve Rhodes

Common Cause and more than 50 other advocacy groups this week called on Google to end its affiliation with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that has pushed state laws limiting the rights of cities and towns to create community-owned broadband networks. ALEC also opposes network neutrality rules that Google used to be a staunch supporter of and last month urged the FCC to quickly approve Comcast’s purchase of Time Warner Cable without imposing any regulatory conditions on the merger.

In a letter to Google’s top executives, Common Cause et al wrote that “Over the last year, hundreds of thousands of Americans have signed petitions asking Google to end its ALEC membership because of their concerns about the harmful role ALEC has played in our democratic process… The public knows that the ALEC operation—which brings state legislators and corporate lobbyists behind closed doors to discuss proposed legislation and share lavish dinners—threatens our democracy. The public is asking Google to stop participating in this scheme.”

Common Cause also complained about ALEC’s nonprofit status to the IRS in 2012, saying the group “massively underreports” lobbying it does on behalf of corporate members.

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Bitcoin exchangers Charles Shrem, Robert Faiella plead guilty to federal charges

9/5/2014 2:30pm
Zach Copley

On Thursday two prominent Bitcoin supporters, Robert Faiella and Charles Shrem, pleaded guilty to federal charges in a Federal District Court in Manhattan. Faiella, 54, was also known as BTCKing and admitted to operating an unlicensed money transmitting business on Silk Road. Shrem, 24, was formerly the CEO of BitInstant and is one of the founding members of the Bitcoin Foundation. He pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the operation of an unlicensed money transmitting business.

A district court press release says that both men were accused on the basis that they, “knowingly transmitted money intended to facilitate criminal activity—specifically, drug trafficking on 'Silk Road,' a black-market website designed to enable its users to buy and sell illegal drugs anonymously and beyond the reach of law enforcement.” Federal investigators shut down the Silk Road last October and arrested the alleged founder, Ross Ulbricht, who went by the name “Dread Pirate Roberts.”

Shrem and Faiella were both arrested in January. Prosecutors said the two sold over $1 million in Bitcoins to users of the Silk Road. According to court documents, Faiella sold bitcoins to Silk Road users directly and relied on Schrem's company to set up anonymous exchange accounts for his customers.

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Apple and Google appeal, refuse to pay more than $325M in “no poach” case

9/5/2014 2:10pm

A class-action lawsuit against hiring practices at Adobe, Apple, Google, and Intel was set to settle shortly before trial for $324 million. The companies are accused of violating antitrust laws by creating "no poach" deals in which they wouldn't cold call each other's employees for recruitment purposes.

Last month, US District Judge Lucy Koh threw out the settlement, agreeing with objectors from the class that $324 million wasn't enough. The companies should have paid out "at least $380 million" to match the rate paid by other companies that had already settled, including Lucasfilm, Intuit, and Pixar.

But the four remaining defendants don't want to pay more, and they're going to fight for the $324 million deal they struck with lawyers representing the plaintiffs.

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Facebook’s “privacy checkup” aims to make users comfortable again

9/5/2014 2:00pm

Facebook has installed a "privacy checkup" pop-up on its Web interface intended to help prevent users from sharing information that they don't intend to, according to a press release issued on Thursday. The feature walks users through a set of steps to let them see which groups of friends see which pieces of profile information, as well as information from third-party apps.

The feature first asks users to adjust their default privacy setting on posts and then to look through their Facebook-connected apps to adjust the privacy settings in each one or to revoke access. The last step pulls up the privacy settings of each profile element into one box with the same drop-down menu for tweaks.

Facebook's previous best effort at privacy transparency was its View As tool, which allows users to see their profile as another particular user might see it. While this helped with profile design, it didn't address app information or posting privacy status. Facebook will be prompting users in waves over the coming weeks to use the checkup, but completing it won't be required.

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Cable companies want to unbundle broadcast TV, and broadcasters are angry

9/5/2014 1:20pm
Iain Watson

A Congressional proposal to let cable and satellite customers choose which broadcast TV channels they pay for has led to a battle between small cable companies and broadcasters. While cable companies usually are opponents of mandates to sell channels individually instead of in bundles, in this case they are fighting for à la carte and against the broadcasters. The “Local Choice” proposal by US Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) and Sen. John Thune (R-SD) affects local broadcast stations such as affiliates of NBC, CBS, ABC, and Fox.

A group called TVfreedom.org that represents local broadcasters and other organizations today criticized the American Cable Association (ACA) for supporting Local Choice. “We believe ‘Local Choice’ represents a frontal assault on free and local TV broadcasting,” TVfreedom Public Affairs Director Robert Kenny wrote. “It would tilt television’s balance of power in favor of pay-TV providers at the expense of broadcasters invested in localism. It would cost consumers more on their monthly bills, and do nothing to address shoddy pay-TV service or the deceptive billing practices of cable and satellite TV providers.”

TVfreedom is composed of “local broadcasters, community advocates, network television affiliate associations, multicast networks, manufacturers and other independent broadcaster-related organizations” and says its mission is to make sure “cable and satellite TV providers [are] held accountable for stifling innovation and repeatedly using their own customers as bargaining chips while increasing their record profits.” The group chided the ACA for supporting à la carte pricing this year despite arguing in a previous case that “current technology costs make à la carte a financial impossibility for ACA member systems, the business model is entirely unproven, and no lawful basis exists for imposing regulated a la carte.”

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Dell kicks your puny 4K monitor to the curb, debuts 27-inch 5K panel

9/5/2014 12:40pm
You probably can't make out any pixels on that indistinct blue background thanks to the monitor's staggering 5K resolution. Dell

A recent Dell press event saw the computer manufacturer debut a number of new laptop and desktop models, but tucked into its product list came one particular stunner: a 27-inch monitor sporting a 5120×2880 resolution. The Dell UltraSharp 27 Ultra HD 5K Monitor, set to launch by the end of Q4 2014 for $2,499, will scream past the consumer-grade competition with a whopping 14.7 million pixels in all. That's over 70 percent bigger than the standard 4K spec of 3840×2160.

Maximum PC managed to make eyes with the monitor—and, perhaps more importantly, its backside, where their reporter found dual DisplayPort 1.2 ports required to handle 5K resolution; that dual-port solution suggests that Dell may be combining two 2560×2880 displays to make this monitor work. (Users who prefer the stone-age days of 4K can use a miniDisplayPort for that resolution as well.) Dell has also left out some details, such as the monitor's refresh rate.

At 218 PPI, the UltraSharp's pixel density just about matches that of a MacBook Pro with Retina display, and it will additionally sport six USB ports, a media card reader, and a pair of Harmon/Kardon speakers. We expect this monitor to serve as a workstation and photo-editing option for professionals who already split between multiple monitors as opposed to a jumping-off point for 5K gaming—most high-end rigs can barely render games in 4K resolution as it stands.

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Google branches out from D-Wave in quantum computing initiative

9/5/2014 12:25pm
Erik Lucero

Google was one of the early backers of a new approach to quantum computing adopted by a company called D-Wave. The company offers boxes that perform a process called quantum annealing instead of the more typical approach, which involves encoding information in a quantum state of a collection of entangled qubits. Although whatever D-Wave is doing is clearly quantum, it's still not clear that it offers a speedup compared to classical computers.

So rather than keeping all its eggs in D-Wave's basket, Google's "Quantum A.I. Lab" announced that it is starting a collaboration with an academic quantum computing researcher, John Martinis of the University of California-Santa Barbara. Martinis' group focuses on creating fault-tolerant qubits using a solid-state superconducting structure called a Josephson junction. By linking several of these junctions and spreading a single quantum state across them, it's possible to reach fidelities of over 99 percent when it comes to storing the quantum state.

Quantum states tend to be fragile and decay when they interact with their environment, so a lot of labs are working on making qubits that are more robust or have error correcting ability. Josephson junctions are one possible approach to this, but they have the advantage of being on familiar turf for computing companies, since they can be made by standard fabrication techniques (although they still need to be chilled to near absolute zero).

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Ocean acidification XPRIZE competition begins

9/5/2014 12:06pm
An earlier version of Team Durafet's sensor. Yui Takeshita

A year ago, we reported on the launch of a new XPRIZE competition—not to launch a rocket, but to build a better device to measure ocean pH. The aim was to produce something that could be added to automated platforms like ARGO floats to greatly expand pH data collection, which presently has to rely mostly on expensive research vessel cruises.

Teams are competing for a pair of $1 million prizes put up by Wendy Schmidt—who, together with her husband Eric Schmidt, just donated $500,000 to help keep the famous atmospheric CO2 monitoring program at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography running.

The first of three stages in the competition will begin next week. The 18 teams who were selected for the competition will place their devices into carefully controlled tanks of water at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute. Over three months, the devices will be judged on the accuracy, precision, and stability of their pH measurements.

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Baby monster galaxy spotted in the early Universe

9/5/2014 11:56am
Artist's impression of a young, growing elliptical galaxy's rapid star formation. NASA, Z. Levay, G. Bacon (STScI)

Eleven billion years ago, when the Universe was half the Earth's present age, massive galaxies had already begun to form, planting the seeds for the present-day Universe. According to current models, the dense cores of massive elliptical galaxies formed first, within which there were regions of intense star formation. By looking at distant objects, we should be able to see evidence of this process. Until now, however, we had not seen anything that looked definitively like the formation of a galaxy core. But a newly discovered object, GOODS-N-774 (nicknamed “Sparky”), may be the first glimpse of exactly that.

The researchers used data from the Hubble Space Telescope, obtained as part of the CANDELS survey, as well as the Herschel Space Observatory and the W.M. Keck Observatory, to study Sparky, which has about 150 billion (1.5 x 10^11) times the mass of the Sun (solar masses), of which 100 billion is in the form of stars.

GOODS-N-774, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope. The bright orange object near the center is Sparky. NASA, ESA, and E. Nelson (Yale University, USA)

Scientists still aren’t sure why galaxies like Sparky haven’t been observed before. While there’s a good chance that they are very rare, the authors of the study suggest that many similar star-forming cores may be obscured by gas and dust. If that’s the case, visible-light and near-infrared telescopes could be missing them.

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Intel launches three Core M CPUs, promises more Broadwell “early 2015”

9/5/2014 11:30am
A Core M CPU package. Intel's low-power CPUs include both the CPU/GPU die and the chipset die to reduce the amount of motherboard space needed to house the chip. Intel

There's not a whole lot more information we can give you about Core M, the new CPU from Intel based on its delayed Broadwell architecture. We've given you the high-level architectural information, along with quite a few details about how it will perform, the kinds of systems it will fit into, and what the power savings will be compared to a previous-generation Haswell chip.

Today Intel is formally announcing the specific CPUs that will be going in these Core M tablets and convertibles, along with model numbers, clock speeds, and thermal design power (TDP) numbers. We'll talk about those first, comparing them to last year's Haswell-Y processor. Then we'll move on the actual Core M systems that have been announced so far and what we know about the more powerful members of the processor family. If you want details about Broadwell's new 14nm process and how Intel has shrunken Core M to get it into fanless systems, our original post has all of that information for you.

The first Core M chips—click to enlarge for details. Intel

All of the chips have a default TDP (not SDP, mind you) of 4.5W, less than half of the 11W TDPs that the Haswell chips had last year. Intel has made some small sacrifices to get there, though most people shouldn't really notice them—the biggest is that the Core M 5Y10 and 5Y10a both share a base CPU clock speed of just 800MH and a GPU base clock speed of just 100MHz. The top-end 5Y70's base CPU clock is just a little higher, at 1.1GHz. Compare that to Haswell-Y chips from last year.

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Lower-end desktop CPUs won’t get Broadwell, will need to wait for Skylake

9/5/2014 11:30am
Up-close with a silicon wafer packed with Core M chips. Intel

Intel's delayed Broadwell architecture is finally upon us, though the rollout is going to be more staggered than we're typically used to. This year, we'll just be seeing the low-power Core M chips, with larger and faster versions to follow in the first half of 2015.

Intel did drop one interesting tidbit during our Core M briefing, though: the company mentioned that not all of its socketed desktop CPUs would be refreshed with the new architecture. Intel normally upgrades all of its CPUs over the course of six months or so, starting with the higher-end Core i7, i5, and i3 chips before moving on to lower-end Celeron and Pentium CPUs that are good options for budget buyers. Not so with Broadwell.

"It won't be a full stack with Broadwell on desktop," an Intel representative told us. "You know like, from Pentiums, Celerons all the way up to i7s."

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Cockatoos pick up tool use and manufacture through social learning

9/5/2014 9:25am
Figaro, the one who started it all. University of Vienna

Two years ago, we brought you the story of Figaro, a Goffin's cockatoo that lived at a research center in Vienna. These birds don't use tools in the wild—Figaro's minders even argue that the cockatoo's curved beak makes tool use rather difficult for them.

But Figaro's environment, which features lots of wired mesh, apparently drove him to some novel behaviors. He was observed splitting off splinters from wooden material, and the bird used them to retrieve objects (generally food or toys) that were on the wrong side of the wire. Figaro was making tools.

Tool use had been seen in a number of birds, so this in itself wasn't entirely radical. But the researchers involved realized that it presented a fantastic opportunity to learn how tool use spreads in birds and what that tells us about their inherent mental capacities. Now, two years on, they're back with a description of how, when given the chance, Figaro has started a bit of a social revolution.

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Infamous “podcast patent” heads to trial

9/5/2014 9:13am
Aurich Lawson

Jim Logan is an archetype in the patent world—he personifies the great American invention story. In 1996, Logan says, he had a brilliant idea: a digital music player that would automatically update with new episodes. Think iPod, five years before the iPod.

"Our product concept, which spawned the patent, was all about a handheld MP3 player that could download off the Internet some kind of personalized audio experience," he told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in an April interview. "We designed that, we prototyped it, we went to investors trying to raise money to produce the product, and we were not successful."

His young company, PersonalAudio Inc., soon went under. Logan blew $1.6 million of his own money, never making a sale. There was nothing left but patents. In 2003, his troubles multiplied: the Securities and Exchange Commission came after him over insider trading charges, leading to him paying nearly $600,000 in penalties and interest. Through it all, Logan kept those patents and waited.

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My book, The Internet Police, now out in snazzy paperback edition

9/5/2014 8:30am

I'd like to thank Ars readers for making last year's publication of my first book, The Internet Police, a hugely rewarding experience. You bought copies, sent me encouraging e-mails, and even supported my oldest daughter's quest to become a professional bookmark designer. Related opportunities, such as appearing on NPR's Fresh Air and getting a one-page review in the New York Times, might well be once in a lifetime events, and I savored them.

But now, the most exciting moment in my book's journey from brain to page has arrived: it is available in paperback (direct Amazon link). Bright yellow paperback. And I think it looks terrific.

The Internet Police opens in the 1990s and early 2000s, when legislators, spooks, and police believed that the Internet was a "borderless," chaotic place in which the forces of order were at risk of losing all control. It chronicles the decade-long shift to the far more bordered, intensely surveilled Internet we have today, one in which the 'Net is often a cop's best friend. The book is packed with in-depth stories that show how online investigations work (and sometimes how they don't), including: the Cleveland man whose “natural male enhancement” pill inadvertently protected the privacy of your e-mail; the Russian spam king who ended up in a Milwaukee jail; and the Australian arrest that ultimately led to the breakup of the largest child pornography ring in the United States.

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Hands-on: Moto G and Moto X get big screen updates—but not new names

9/5/2014 2:00am
The Moto X we received has a leather back (top), while the Moto G was black rubberized plastic. Both devices are highly customizable with an array of colors and materials. Lee Hutchinson

CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:["top"], collapse: true});Ars had the opportunity to spend most of Thursday ensconced in Motorola’s beautiful new office space in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, and we walked out of there with a bag full of new toys to review: a Moto 360 smart watch, a new Moto X, and a new Moto G. Not included in our goodie bag—the Motorola Hint, the company's new bluetooth earpiece that lets you access Google Now functionality without ever touching the phone.

While Eric Bangeman is handling the quick hands-on of the Moto 360 in his post, I’m going to run you through the two Android smartphones in this brief, hands-on post.

We’ve got a full review coming in a couple of days after Ars Android genius Ron Amadeo and reviewmaster Andrew Cunningham have some time to tear into these devices, so if you want more info, don’t worry: it’s coming!

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Hands-on: Moto 360 is a great leap forward for Android smartwatches

9/5/2014 2:00am
The Moto 360 on its wireless charging stand. Lee Hutchinson / Ars Technica

CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:["top"], collapse: true});Motorola is throwing its hat into the smartwatch ring with today’s release of the Moto 360. According to one Motorola executive, the company "didn’t come to invent a new gadget, but to reinvent the wristwatch." And in a field currently dominated by clunky, square Android smartwatches, the Moto 360 with its circular display and leather wristband actually looks and feels like something you wouldn't mind wearing.

Available Friday from motorola.com, bestbuy.com, and the Play Store for $249, the Moto 360 is made out of stainless steel and comes with three different options for leather straps (classic black, stone leather, and limited-edition gray). There also will be two metal options available for sale later this year, one with a dark finish and one with the classic stainless steel watchband look. Those will retail for $299.

Spec-wise, the 360 sports a 1.6” 320x290 (205ppi) display protected by Corning Gorilla Glass, Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy connectivity, water resistance in up to three feet of water for 30 minutes (IP67), wireless charging, 4GB of internal storage, and 512MB of RAM. It's 46mm in diameter and 11.5mm high.

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After hacking, Apple to send out more security alerts to users

9/5/2014 12:23am

Apple plans to send out more e-mails to alert users of a potential security risk following the hacking of celebrities’ iCloud accounts.

Apple CEO Tim Cook told The Wall Street Journal on Thursday that users will soon be able to receive e-mail notifications when iCloud data is restored. Apple already sends e-mails to users when a new password is requested, when a password is changed, or when an account is used on a new device for the first time.

The company will start to send out the new notifications in two weeks, according to the WSJ. It will also expand the two-step verification process—which requires a separate code or a key in order to log in to an account—to include access to an iCloud account on the new iOS.

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Nevada governor strikes $1.25B tax deal with Tesla to build battery factory

9/4/2014 8:30pm
Tesla outside of Bucket of Blood Saloon, Virginia City, Nevada. Brad Armstrong

On Thursday afternoon in Carson City, Nevada, Gov. Brian Sandoval called a press conference to discuss a “major economic development” with CEO of Tesla Motors Elon Musk in attendance. As expected, the Governor and Musk announced that Tesla would be joining with Panasonic to build a 10 million-square-foot battery factory outside of Reno, Nevada.

Several states—Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, California, and of course, Nevada—were in hot competition to get Tesla to grant them its forthcoming Gigafactory. The giant complex will cost $5 billion to build and will employ 6,500 people when fully operational. So what did Nevada offer the electric car maker to persuade it to bring its business to Reno?

Primarily, a tax incentive package that will amount to $1.2 billion in tax breaks over the next 20 years. The Reno Gazette Journal says the plan is “unprecedented in size and scope for the state of Nevada and is one of the largest in the country.” Tesla had said earlier that it was looking for at least $500 million in tax incentives from the state it chose to build its factory in—Nevada's deal comes to more than double what Tesla was hoping to get.

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Home Depot breach a near certainty, yet Backoff remains a question

9/4/2014 7:35pm
Diwong

Home Depot has not yet confirmed that a slew of fraudulent transactions came from a breach of its systems, yet an increasing body of evidence is mounting that points to a massive compromise linked to the home-supply retail chain.

Financial institutions first detected the suspected breach when a wave of fraudulent transactions on cards had been used at Home Depot. On Wednesday, journalist and blogger Brian Krebs, who originally broke the story, analyzed the zip codes of a recent batch of stolen cards offered for sale on the underground and found a 99 percent match with the locations of Home Depot's stores.

Such a correlation is a "smoking gun," Lucas Zaichkowsky, enterprise defense architect at AccessData, a digital forensics and security services firm, said in an e-mail interview. Whether Home Depot has been breached is no longer a question, he said.

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Twitpic to shut down picture sharing service after trademark dispute with Twitter

9/4/2014 6:40pm

Popular picture sharing site Twitpic announced today that it would be shutting down on September 25 after a dispute with Twitter. Twitpic says that Twitter gave the picture host an ultimatum: either drop a 2009 trademark on the term "Twitpic," or lose access to the Twitter API. This loss of access would prevent the easy tweeting of pictures posted to Twitpic.

The company has accordingly decided that rather than cede the trademark it will go out of business. Twitpic founder Noah Everett wrote that trademark application had to face a number of difficulties, the last of which was only recently overcome. Twitter issued its threat during the "published for opposition" phase of the trademark application.

Twitter writes that it is "sad to see Twitpic is shutting down" and notes that it was fine for the sharing service to "operate using the Twitpic name." Twitter's opposition to the trademark was a necessary move to "protect its brand." While Twitpic could plainly have continued to operate without the trademark, giving it up would allow others to also use the Twitpic name.

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