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Updated: 6 min 9 sec ago

Court won’t force US to divulge secret strategy to cut mobile phone service

5/15/2015 1:16pm

A federal appeals court won't force the US to disclose its clandestine plan to disable cell service during emergencies.

That was the decision from the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concerning Standard Operating Procedure 303. The court had taken the same position in February and agreed with the government's contention that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows the Department of Homeland Security to withhold documents if their exposure could "endanger" public safety.

After the decision, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which brought the FOIA suit, had asked the court to revisit the issue in what is known as an en banc review. The appeals court declined (PDF) in a one-sentence order Wednesday.

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Researcher turns tables, discloses unpatched bugs in Google cloud platform

5/15/2015 1:03pm

Vulnerabilities in the Google App Engine cloud platform make it possible for attackers to break out of a first-level security sandbox and execute malicious code in restricted areas of Google servers, a security researcher said Friday.

Adam Gowdiak, CEO of Poland-based Security Explorations, said there are seven separate vulnerabilities in the Google service, most of which he privately reported to Google three weeks ago. So far, he said, the flaws have gone unfixed, and he has yet to receive confirmation from Google officials. To exploit the flaws, attackers could use the freely available cloud platform to run a malicious Java application. That malicious Java app would then break out of the first sandboxing layer and execute code in the highly restricted native environment.

Malicious hackers could use the restricted environment as a beachhead to attack lower-level assets and to retrieve sensitive information from Google servers and from the Java runtime environment. Technical details about the bugs, noted as issues 35 through 41, are available here, here, here, and here. In an e-mail to Ars, Gowdiak wrote:

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Pandora, fresh off one copyright win, loses its rate case to BMI

5/15/2015 12:51pm

Songwriters' group Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI) has beaten online radio provider Pandora after a two-year legal battle, winning a substantially larger copyright royalty rate of 2.5 percent.

That's a large increase from the 1.75 percent Pandora was paying before. It's also a stark contrast to Pandora's win in a similar case against BMI's rival, the American Society of Composers Authors and Publishers, or ASCAP. It was just last week that a federal appeals court upheld Pandora's win in that case, finding that the royalty rate should rise to only 1.85 percent.

The judge's opinion in BMI v. Pandora isn't yet public, but both sides have put out statements about the results.

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This is the PC hardware you’ll need to run the Oculus Rift

5/15/2015 12:45pm

Through years of dev kits, prototypes, and trade show demos of the Oculus Rift, we've been stuck guessing at just how much hardware power the eventual consumer version of the device would require. Now, with that consumer launch officially slated for early 2016, Oculus has announced what PC hardware it recommends for a quality VR experience.

According to Oculus, those recommended hardware specs are:

  • NVIDIA GTX 970 / AMD 290 equivalent or greater
  • Intel i5-4590 equivalent or greater
  • 8GB+ RAM
  • Compatible HDMI 1.3 video output
  • 2x USB 3.0 ports
  • Windows 7 SP1 or newer

That's a relatively beefy system, all things considered. A quick price check on Newegg suggests that the listed CPU, RAM, and video card would add up to just over $600. Add in a barebones tower, motherboard, and 250GB solid state hard drive, and you're looking at a nearly $900 system to run the Rift, all told. That's before you account for the (still unannounced) price of the headset itself. Upgrading from an existing gaming rig will obviously be cheaper, and component costs will come down by the Rift's early 2016 launch, but a lot of potential VR users are still going to be staring down some significant upgrade costs.

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ASRock packs Cherry Trail and USB Type-C into a fanless mini-desktop

5/15/2015 12:23pm

The world of mini desktop PCs keeps getting bigger. ASRock's Beebox is coming by the end of June, reports AnandTech, and it has an interesting mix of features. For one, it includes a new Intel Braswell chip. Because of that, it's totally fanless, and it's the first mini-desktop we've seen to include a USB Type-C port, a standard that's going to become increasingly common throughout 2015.

If you haven't memorized Intel's complex pile of codenames, Braswell is the desktop version of Cherry Trail, which is the new 14nm version of Atom that we looked at in Microsoft's Surface 3. Braswell chips are given a higher 4W TDP than the 2W Cherry Trail chips, and because they're intended primarily for budget desktops and laptops, they include things like SATA support and extra USB ports. They're sold as Pentium and Celeron chips instead of Atoms, but otherwise their CPU and GPU architectures are identical, which means we're looking at Intel's Airmont CPU cores and a cut-down version of the same GPU included with the higher-end Broadwell chips.

The Beebox's specific chip is the Celeron N3000, a 1.04GHz (2.08GHz Turbo) dual-core processor with a GPU that can run up to 600MHz. Performance will probably fall a bit short of dual-core Celerons based on the Broadwell and Haswell architectures, but it should also be much more usable than the Bay Trail-D chips that it replaces.

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Dealmaster: Save money on these Xbox One Master Chief Collection bundles

5/15/2015 12:11pm

Greetings, Arsians! Courtesy of our partners at TechBargains, the Dealmaster is back with a whole host of things that cost less than they normally do. The featured items today are a pair of Xbox One Master Chief bundles.

Both bundles come with the namesake Halo: The Master Chief Collection game, a compilation of Halo 1-4 with eventual access to the Halo 5 multiplayer beta, and an Xbox One.

You can grab one bundle for $299.99—$100 off the MSRP, while the other adds a $100 Dell gift card and two more games—State of Decay Survival Edition and Killer Instinct—for $379.99, a savings of $69 (and you get a $100 gift card!).

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Lawsuit takes down new Grooveshark site—and another one pops up

5/15/2015 11:56am

Just a few days after illegal music-streaming service Grooveshark apologized and shut down, a mysterious person identified only as "Shark" reconstituted the site at Grooveshark.io.

In response, the major record labels appear to have obtained a temporary restraining order wresting away that domain name. According to Torrentfreak, the labels filed a lawsuit under seal in New York federal court. The site reports that US District Judge Deborah Batts issued a seizure order "directed at the site’s operators, hosting providers, and domain registrar NameCheap."

NameCheap appears to have quickly complied, and the grooveshark.io Web address no longer functions.

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How a chicken leg saved our advertising director from the Nepal quake

5/15/2015 11:17am

Up until recently, Andrew Maiorana was an advertising director for Ars (as well as Wired), working out of Wired's San Francisco offices. If you're on the outside looking in, that world probably doesn't sound terribly exciting, but he's a great guy, very outgoing, and it was a pleasure to work with him for many years.

When he told us he was going to leave his position for some crazy trek through the mountains, we were sad to see him go, but we wished him the best.

Andrew and his wife Jennifer decided that before they settled down, had kids, and got properly domesticated, they wanted to travel the world for a while. Parents can probably sympathize with the notion of "one last fling" before kids become the center of your universe. Not everyone wants to trek through the world's back countries, but it sounded like an incredible adventure.

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Cortana for all: Microsoft’s plan to put voice recognition behind anything

5/15/2015 11:00am

When Microsoft introduced the Cortana digital personal assistant last year at the company's Build developer conference, the company already left hints of its future ambitions for the technology. Cortana was built largely on Microsoft's Bing service, and the Cortana team indicated those services would eventually be accessible to Web and application developers.

As it turns out, eventually is now. Though the most important elements are only available in a private preview, many of the machine learning capabilities behind Cortana have been released under Project Oxford, the joint effort between Microsoft Research and the Bing and Azure teams announced at Build in April. And at the conference, Ars got to dive deep on the components of Project Oxford with Ryan Gaglon, the senior program manager at Microsoft Technology and Research shepherding the project to market.

The APIs make it possible to add image and speech processing to just about any application, often by using just a single Web request. "They're all finished machine learning services in the sense that developers don't have to create any model for them in Azure," Gaglon told Ars. "They're very modular." All of the services are exposed as representational state transfer (REST) Web services based on HTTP "verbs" (such as GET, PUT, and POST), and they require an Azure API subscription key. To boot, all the API requests and responses are encrypted via HTTPS to protect their content.

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Holographic patterning used to create 3D microbatteries

5/15/2015 10:42am

The recent explosion in technology has led to the development of devices that would have been unfathomable just a few decades ago. Many of these technological advancements are enabled by the miniaturization of electronic components. Microscale devices can be used for a host of applications ranging from portable and implantable medical devices to wireless sensors.

Unfortunately, the development of functional microscale devices has been stalled by difficulties in miniaturizing energy storage to match. The high energy and high power density required for most applications is difficult to achieve in microbatteries due to their size and footprint restrictions. Though scientists have been researching a variety of possible workarounds, few functional microbatteries have been developed; the majority of the existing microbatteries designs simply cannot be manufactured easily.

A team of researchers has now fabricated microbatteries containing microelectromechanical and complementary metal-oxide-seminconductor (CMOS) devices using a futuristic 3D fabrication route. By combining 3D holographic lithography with conventional photolithography, the scientists demonstrated increased control of the electrode structure and spatial arrangement.

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FBI now claims its stingray NDA means the opposite of what it says

5/15/2015 10:13am

The FBI has released a statement regarding the use of stingrays, which apparently claims the opposite of what its nondisclosure agreement (NDA) with local law enforcement actually says.

According to The Washington Post, which quoted from but did not publish the statement on Thursday, the FBI doesn’t actually prevent local law enforcement from disclosing stingray use.

Ars received a copy of the statement from the FBI early Friday morning and is publishing it in full here for the first time.

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Google’s quirky self-driving bubble car hits public roads this summer

5/15/2015 10:11am

It's been almost a year since Google unveiled its quirky prototype self-driving bubble car, which has so far been confined to closed testing on private roads. Now, however, the company is ready to let the high-tech contraption loose on California's public roads. Google says "a few of the prototype vehicles" will be driving around Mountain View this summer.

Those worried about any potentially dangerous hiccups happening during testing—especially given the recent questions surrounding Google's safety record—will be pleased to hear that the cars will always have a human inside, and will sport a removable steering wheel, accelerator pedal, and brake pedal in case manual control is required. They'll also be capped to a gentle 25mph.

Google's also drawing on its experience with its self-driving Lexus RX450h SUV fleet, which has been roaming the streets of California since September of last year. According the the company, that fleet has logged nearly a million autonomous miles on the road, and is currently clocking up around 10,000 miles per week. Google says the totality of its logged autonomous miles are equivalent to "75 years of typical American adult driving experience."

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Humanity weeps as Candy Crush Saga comes preinstalled with Windows 10

5/15/2015 10:01am

In what is no doubt a sign that humanity as we know it is coming to a swift, unproductive end, Microsoft has announced that King's notoriously moreish Candy Crush Saga will come pre-installed with Windows 10. That's right, pre-installed. In what appears to be an entirely non-ironic post over at Xbox Wire, Microsoft says that "as an added bonus, Candy Crush Saga will automatically be installed for customers that upgrade to or download Windows 10 for periods of time following the game launch."

There's no word on whether you'll be able to opt out of the automatic install, although it's likely King will want to get as many people as possible hooked on Candy Crush given its recent financial struggles. Earlier today, the company's shares fell as much as 14 percent in after-hours trading after it issued a profit warning. It noted in its first quarter financials that revenue was lower than expected due to slowing Candy Crush sales, and players moving to "more mature games."

The Windows 10 version of Candy Crush Saga was first demonstrated at Microsoft's Build conference earlier this month, and served as something of a showcase for Microsoft's Project Islandwood and Project Astoria initiatives. Islandwood allows iOS developers to bring their apps over to Windows via an Objective C toolchain and middleware layer. While some recompiling is still required, it should make the process of porting apps easier for a large number of iOS developers. Things are easier still for Android developers, with Windows Mobile including an Android runtime layer that'll let most existing apps run unmodified. Notably, the new Windows 10 version of Candy Crush Saga will include cross-play options for iOS and Android devices.

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Gallery: Ars tours the battleship USS Iowa (BB-61)

5/15/2015 10:00am

ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true}]);A few months ago, as I was planning to head out to California for Microsoft's Build developer conference in San Francisco, I decided I needed to stretch the trip a bit further to the south—down to the Port of Los Angeles to visit the Pacific Battleship Center, the home of the battleship USS Iowa.

I served on the Iowa for two years in the late 1980s, and that experience was life-changing. But I had not had a chance to see the ship in over 26 years—my last visit had been in late April of 1989, weeks after an explosion in the ship's second 16-inch gun turret took the lives of 47 men. Many of those who died had worked in my division aboard Iowa; others had been colleagues and friends.

So nearly 26 years to the day after I last visited the Iowa, I stepped aboard with my wife and daughter in tow, escorted by James Pobog—a former Navy boiler tech and the "deck boss" of the Pacific Battleship Center's volunteer Iowa crew. It was a cold and rainy Saturday afternoon, making it not so ideal for photos, and some of the places I had on my list to visit were not the most photogenic and well-lit spaces aboard Iowa. But the second the smell of the ship below deck hit me—the mix of a thousand different lubricant and paint fumes, and god knows what else lingering in the spaces of a 72-year old battleship—memories started flooding back.

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Hands on with the new Windows Phone: Office, Music, and more

5/15/2015 9:27am
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In April, Microsoft promised that the universal touch Office apps for Windows 10 Mobile—which is to say, Windows 10 for phones—would be available by the end of the month. That didn't end up happening in April. Two weeks into May, Microsoft has published a new build of Windows 10 Mobile, version 10080. With this new build comes a new beta of the Store app, and in that Store app are the new Office apps.

The new build adds support for the Lumia 930/Icon, the new Lumia 640 and 640XL, and for the first time, a non-Nokia/Microsoft phone: the HTC One (M8) for Windows. It fixes a few bugs from the previous build and introduces a few more, with MMS being notable as still having reliability issues. The big thing this release does is greatly expand the range of Universal Windows Platform apps that are available. The Office apps, Xbox, Music, and Video have all been updated, and as we'd expect from Universal apps, they show an incredible similarity to their desktop counterparts.

The most significant apps are probably the quartet of Office apps: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. These apps have had touch versions available for iOS and Android for some months now, with the Windows versions notably by their absence. The tablet versions of these Universal apps have been available since February. What we got today are their miniature siblings.

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Drone gets too close to the White House, operator detained by US Park Police

5/14/2015 9:28pm

Around 1pm on Thursday, the Secret Service spotted a drone flying about 100 feet above Lafayette Square, a park in front of the White House. Secret Service members and the US Park Police quickly located the drone operator, who was standing on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue, and told him to land the drone. He did.

According to The Washington Post, the man was taken into custody by the US Park Police and roads around the White House were closed. The DC police inspected the craft—apparently a small Parrot Bebop drone. The drone was not found to be a threat. Still, the man will be charged with violating a federal order.

Just yesterday, the Federal Aviation Administration launched a campaign to inform people that any area within a 15-mile radius of Reagan National Airport is a “No Drone Zone.”

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Microsoft pushes back on reports of Xbox “bricking” punishment

5/14/2015 8:29pm

Many gamers, us included, were surprised earlier today when reports started showing up alleging that Microsoft was making some Xbox One units "entirely unusable" as punishment for testers breaking a non-disclosure agreement. Microsoft has since pushed back on those reports, seemingly denying that such a punishment is within its power.

The story starts last month, when rumors of a remastered Gears of War collection for the Xbox One started leaking out as the game was apparently sent to beta testers. Earlier this week, off-screen video footage of that test started appearing on YouTube, sourced from some of those same testers.

These leaks drew a stern rebuke from VMC Consulting, a third-party testing service that helps coordinate these kinds of tests for Microsoft through its Global Beta Test Network. In a letter to testers obtained by Polygon and Kotaku, VMC warned of serious consequences for breaking a non-disclosure agreement associated with the test, including punishment from Microsoft that could render an Xbox One useless.

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Tiny diamonds wrapped in graphene get rid of friction

5/14/2015 7:37pm

Friction is an important fact of life, robbing efficiency from anything where two surfaces interact with each other, such as engines and wheels. Lubrication can reduce the amount of friction, but it's never possible to get rid of it entirely.

In some rare cases, however, it's been possible to get the coefficient of friction to drop dramatically. A phenomenon called superlubricity occurs when two perfectly flat surfaces with incompatible crystal structures slide past each other. It's only been observed in extremely small samples, however, as larger surfaces have imperfections that tend to get stuck as they slide around.

Now, researchers have managed to create superlubricity in a large sample. They do so by getting graphene to wrap around nanoscopic diamonds, creating something akin to tiny ball bearings.

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“The media is always lying” hacked WaPo website says

5/14/2015 6:40pm

Hackers briefly hijacked The Washington Post's mobile website and displayed messages critical of the news media and Saudi Arabia, according to a security researcher who documented the hack.

Data collected by North Carolina-based computer scientist Kenn White shows no evidence the people responsible used the hack in an attempt to install malware on the devices of people visiting the site. That's a lucky break, since the attackers appeared to have complete control over m.washingtonpost.com for what White estimated was about 30 minutes. Instead, they used their control of the subdomain to display hacktivist messages including "The media is always lying" and "Saudi Arabia and its allies are killing hundreds of Yemens people [sic] every day!"

A Washington Post executive told CNN the page was redirected to a site claiming affiliation with the Syrian Electronic Army hacktivist group. Company engineers were redirecting mobile users to the desktop version of its site as they worked through the problem.

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Before and After: Google Play Music website gets a Material redesign

5/14/2015 6:30pm

The new Google Play Music design. The biggest difference on the main page is a bright orange header.

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ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true}]);Today Google is launching a redesign of the Google Play Music website, its browser-based companion to the Android and iOS apps. The new design looks a lot like the mobile apps, with a bright orange header, collapsible sidebar, and full-width background images for some pages.

The interface was rewritten in Polymer, Google's UI toolkit for the Web that aims to bring an app-like experience to the Web. In an interview with The Verge, Google UX designer Bryan Rea stated "We're moving towards making the web feel more like an app and less like a series of web pages strung together by links. The new header, the slick transition as you scroll, the collapsible nav, new animations, these all feel like things you expect in an app not on the Web."

When we noted that Polymer version 1.0 was launching at Google I/O, we wondered if the toolkit was the secret sauce holding back Google's promised Material Design overhaul of all its Web properties. It's looking more and more likely that that is the case, and that we're about to see a flood of Google website updates. Google's Product Forums also got a Material redesign today, and the Google Translate Community page was updated a few days ago.

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