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Hey, drone owners! Don’t fly at the Super Bowl

2/4/2016 4:00pm

Do not be trying to get aerial shots of Peyton Manning. Thanks, the FAA. (credit: Kevin Baird)

Hey, all you newly minted unmanned air vehicle enthusiasts out there (and especially those of you in the San Francisco Bay area)! The Know Before You Fly campaign has an important message for you: don't bring (or fly) your drone to Super Bowl 50. The campaign—a joint effort of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)—is urging drone and model aircraft owners to respect the temporary flight restrictions (TFR) covering everywhere in a 32 nautical mile radius around Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, California, on February 7.

The FAA usually places restrictions on the airspace around any major event with attendance of 30,000 people or more, including sporting events and concerts. But because of its high-security profile, the Super Bowl is getting a much larger no-fly zone than usual. The Super Bowl TFR, which lasts from 2:00pm Pacific Time until midnight, covers almost all of the Bay Area, including all of San Francisco and Oakland to the north and Santa Cruz and most of the northern Monterey Bay coast to the south.

Super Bowl Sunday's flight restriction zone (the two red concentric circles) are a no-fly zone for drones or model aircraft of any kind.

The Know Before You Fly campaign, which operates the website for registering new drones under the FAA's recently announced regulations, is part of a broader effort by the FAA and its industry and nonprofit partners to reduce the risk of drones interfering with commercial and government aircraft or injuring people on the ground. The FAA has also launched a mobile app, called B4UFLY, to allow drone operators to check for TFRs where they are, based on geolocation data. Hint: if you live in a major urban area, you are probably in a restricted flight area, since any hospital or other facility with a helicopter pad qualifies as an "airport" for FAA purposes. The app is in Apple's iOS App Store, and an Android version is in testing now through the Google Play Store (though Ars was unable to access the test version).

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Nintendo puts its sleep-tracker plans to sleep

2/4/2016 3:15pm

Tellingly left out of this old Nintendo flow chart: the part where it becomes an actual product.

Remember a little over a year ago when Nintendo announced it was taking some of its focus off of making video games and consoles to develop a "Quality of Life" sensor that monitors your sleep? That was weird, right? Apparently, Nintendo has come to this conclusion too, and the company has officially put the effort on hold.

"In regards to the Quality of Life [device], which was not mentioned in any of today’s questions, we do not have the conviction that the sleep-and-fatigue-themed [device] can enter the phase of actually becoming a product,” Nintendo President Tatsumi Kimishima said during an investors Q&A session (translated by Wired). "We no longer have any plans to release it by the end of March 2016."

The remarks echo similar comments Kimishima made to the Japanese newspaper Asahi (as translated by Kotaku), where he said the sleep-tracker is "not yet at the level of a Nintendo product. If we can release it, we’ll release it. If we can’t, then we’ll examine things further."

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Android Wear gets wide Marshmallow rollout, adds speaker and LTE support

2/4/2016 3:10pm

The speaker-equipped Android Wear devices: The Huawei Watch (left) and ASUS ZenWatch 2 (49mm) (right). (credit: Google)

The Android 6.0 Marshmallow update for Android Wear is back. The update debuted on the disastrous LG Watch Urbane 2nd Edition LTE in November, but due to "image quality issues," LG pulled the watch from the market after only six days. The Marshmallow Android Wear update seemed to go down with the Watch Urbane, and the update went missing in action for the last two months. According to a post on the Official Android Blog, it's now back and will now roll out to "all Android Wear watches over the next few weeks."

Other than the update to a new base of Android, the new version of Android Wear adds the ability to send an instant message with your voice while specifying the service you want to use. For instance, it's now possible to command "OK Google, Send a WhatsApp message to Nathan: I’ll be right there." Google notes that you can currently call out Google Hangouts, Nextplus, Telegram, Viber, WeChat, and WhatsApp by name.

The other big update feature will require extra hardware—Android Wear now supports speakers. If you have a watch with a speaker, you can listen to audio messages and make calls directly from the watch. (There's no word on audio notifications, though.) Some watches currently on the market actually planned ahead for this and included speakers. Both the Huawei Watch and ASUS ZenWatch 2 (49mm) have included dormant speakers for instance, and with the update these should wake up and function.

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Mysterious spike in WordPress hacks silently delivers ransomware to visitors

2/4/2016 3:00pm

If you're a gamer (or anyone else), this is not a screen you want to see. (credit: Bromium Labs)

It's still not clear how, but a disproportionately large number of websites that run on the WordPress content management system are being hacked to deliver crypto ransomware and other malicious software to unwitting end users.

In the past four days, researchers from three separate security firms have reported that a large number of legitimate WordPress sites have been hacked to silently redirect visitors to a series of malicious sites. The attack sites host code from the Nuclear exploit kit that's available for sale in black markets across the Internet. People who visit the WordPress sites using out-of-date versions of Adobe Flash Player, Adobe Reader, Microsoft Silverlight, or Internet Explorer can then find their computers infected with the Teslacrypt ransomware package, which encrypts user files and demands a hefty ransom for the decryption key needed to restore them.

"WordPress sites are injected with huge blurbs of rogue code that perform a silent redirection to domains appearing to be hosting ads," Malwarebytes Senior Security Researcher Jérôme Segura wrote in a blog post published Wednesday. "This is a distraction (and fraud) as the ad is stuffed with more code that sends visitors to the Nuclear Exploit Kit."

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Epic announces VR updates for Unreal Editor, predicts VR editing future

2/4/2016 2:38pm

The battle for the next big thing in virtual reality isn't just raging among headset makers; there's also a battle over the 3D engines that power those experiences. Though most of the leading 3D engine makers offer robust support for burgeoning VR platforms, our anecdotal experience has seen creators leaning heavily toward the Unity engine. In total, 11 out of the 12 demos we tried out at last week's major HTC Vive Pre VR event took that route.

Epic Games, the creators of the popular Unreal Engine, want in on that action. On Wednesday, the company announced an ace up its sleeve: full inside-of-VR support. The feature, which will receive its first public demo during March's Game Developers Conference, will allow any owner of a motion-tracked VR system on a PC (meaning, HTC Vive or Oculus Touch) to warp into their in-development 3D worlds and edit them using nothing more than those systems' handheld controllers.

Unreal Engine VR proof of concept.

"As soon as we got our hands on the first Oculus, we were intrigued by the possibilities," Epic Technical Director Mike Fricker said in an interview with Ars. "[Co-founder] Mark Rein came to us in 2013 with the first Oculus DK1 and asked about getting an editor in VR."

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Space experts warn Congress that NASA’s “Journey to Mars” is illusory

2/4/2016 2:11pm

House Republican Brian Babin chaired a hearing in which experts said NASA's plans for Mars lacked real substance. (credit: NASA)

For the last half-decade, NASA has resolutely declared that it has embarked on a Journey to Mars. Virtually every agency achievement has, in one way or another, been characterized as furthering this ambition. Even last summer when the New Horizons spacecraft flew by Pluto, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said it represented “one more step” on the Journey to Mars.

But as the end of President Obama’s second term in office nears, Congress has begun to assess NASA’s Mars ambitions. On Wednesday during a House space subcommittee hearing, legislators signaled that they were not entirely pleased with those plans. Comments from lawmakers, and the three witnesses called to the hearing, indicate NASA’s Journey to Mars may receive some pushback in the next year or two.

Some of the most critical testimony came from John Sommerer, a space scientist who spent more than a year as chairman of a National Research Council technical panel reviewing NASA’s human spaceflight activities. That panel’s work, summarized in a 2014 report titled Pathways to Exploration, considered possible pathways to Mars.

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Would you buy smartphone service from Comcast? You may get the chance

2/4/2016 1:32pm

(credit: Comcast)

Comcast executives say they are ready to purchase spectrum in an upcoming auction if the price is right, potentially setting the stage for the nation's largest cable company to offer mobile broadband.

The Federal Communications Commission has scheduled the auction to begin on March 29. It will transfer spectrum licenses in the 600MHz range from broadcast TV to wireless service. The chance to buy low-band spectrum is seen as a golden opportunity for T-Mobile USA and other smaller carriers to improve their networks and compete more effectively against AT&T and Verizon Wireless.

But it also offers potential for companies that aren't currently wireless carriers, like Comcast.

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A-10 to fly until 2022 as DOD test chief warns against F-35 “block buy”

2/4/2016 11:57am

The US Air Force has revised its retirement plan for the A-10 attack plane, keeping the aircraft in the air into the next decade when the F-35 is finally ready for combat (whenever that is). (credit: US Air Force)

In the Department of Defense's budget request for 2017, the Air Force has conceded what to many has been obvious—that the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will not be ready to take the place of the A-10 Thunderbolt II (also known as the "Warthog") in close air support missions any time soon. In its budget request, the Air Force is seeking funds to keep the A-10 flying, and DOD officials say the aircraft will remain in service until at least the 2022 fiscal year.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter gave a summary of the budget request in a speech at the Economic Club of Washington, DC on February 2. He said that the A-10 would be replaced by the F-35 squadron by squadron as the new aircraft are brought into service. But the Air Force has also reduced the number of F-35A aircraft it plans to purchase in 2017.

Officials at the Air Force's F-35 Joint Program Office had suggested last year that a "block buy" of F-35 aircraft, possibly in 2018, would reduce the overall cost of the program. But that idea is being opposed by the Defense Department's chief of systems testing. Michael Gilmore, the DOD's Director of Operational Testing and Evaluation (OT&E), has warned against committing to a "block purchase" of the F-35 by the US and other military customers until after the aircraft passes its initial operational test and evaluation.

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“AT&T is the villain” in city broadband fight, Republican lawmaker says

2/4/2016 11:45am

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson. (credit: AT&T)

A Republican state senator in Tennessee is fed up with AT&T and other private Internet service providers that are trying to stop the spread of municipal broadband.

"We're talking about AT&T," Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga) said at a rally of business owners, residents, and local officials in the state Capitol, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reported yesterday. "They're the most powerful lobbying organization in this state by far... Don't fall for the argument that this is a free market versus government battle. It is not. AT&T is the villain here, and so are the other people and cable."

The battle over municipal broadband in Chattanooga and surrounding towns is among the most prominent nationwide. Tennessee state law has prevented the Chattanooga electric utility—which also provides broadband—from expanding to adjacent communities that lack fast, cheap Internet access. Chattanooga petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to preempt that state law, and the FCC granted the request, using its authority to promote competition in local markets by removing barriers to infrastructure investment.

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Hubble discovers origin of the mysterious Smith Cloud

2/4/2016 11:03am

Composite image of the Smith Cloud, as it might look from Earth if we could see it. The cloud itself is in false color, radio data from the Green Bank Telescope. The background image shows the cloud's actual location, with the Milky Way stretching from top to bottom right. (credit: Saxton/Lockman/NRAO/AUI/NSF/Mellinger)

Seventy million years ago, some unknown force blasted a tremendous amount of gas out of our galaxy. Known as the Smith Cloud, that gas is now arcing back toward the Milky Way, pulled in by its gravity. Thirty million years from now, it will return to our galaxy once more.

The cloud and its trajectory were already well-known, but the new study confirms its origin was inside the Milky Way.

The Smith Cloud was originally an amorphous blob of gas, but the forces it has been subjected to have shaped it into a comet-like form. It’s a whopping 11,000 light-years long and 2,500 across. At that size and its current distance, if it could be seen in visible light, it would appear 30 times bigger than the Moon in the night sky.

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New Doom launches May 13, including $120 collector’s edition

2/4/2016 10:36am

The wait for "spring 2016" just got a little more specific and easier to bear, as Bethesda Softworks has announced its Doom reboot will be released on PS4, Xbox One, and Windows on May 13. Players will be able to buy the game for $60 or invest in a $120 collectors edition that includes a 12-inch Revenant demon statue and a metal case. Players who decide to put their money down early will get a "Demon Multiplayer Pack" as a preorder bonus, a package that includes a number of cosmetic upgrades and six "Hack Modules" that can be used for a one-time boost in multiplayer.

Today's announcement comes alongside a new campaign trailer, shown above, which... actually doesn't tell us that much about the game's campaign. Instead, the jumpcut-filled trailer is packed with lots of extremely gory shooting action and almost no indication that the game has an actual plotline to speak of. Which is kind of how it should be when it comes to Doom.

The game originally known as Doom 4 was first announced way back in 2008 and was largely unseen by the public during its long and reportedly troubled development. The game was eventually renamed to just Doom and first shown off in its new form at Quakecon 2014.

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BBC looks for global appeal, hires Matt LeBlanc for Top Gear

2/4/2016 10:13am

(credit: BBC)

Today, the BBC announced that Matt LeBlanc—best known as Joey from the sitcom Friends—is joining the cast of Top Gear alongside Chris Evans. Although the full cast is yet to be confirmed, it's widely believed that Evans and LeBlanc will be joined by car journalist Chris Harris and German racing driver Sabine Schmitz. And if the picture on Top Gear's website is anything to go by, The Stig will be back in May of this year as well.

LeBlanc has proper car credentials, too. He was the fastest "Star in a Reasonably Priced Car" on Top Gear and is a frequent sight in the paddock club at Formula 1 races. According to Top Gear's website, further cast announcements are due soon—Harris has just announced he's closed his Patreon, if any more clues are needed.

Hiring LeBlanc is a smart move by the BBC. The previous incarnation of the show had to work hard to create global appeal but did so successfully, earning a lot of money for the corporation along the way. With Clarkson et al. off to Amazon, LeBlanc gives the new version some star appeal beyond Evans (who is unknown in the US).

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Google now blocking websites that show fake download buttons

2/4/2016 9:48am

Google has now started blocking websites that use deceptive content or ads to make you do things that you wouldn't normally do, such as fake download buttons that appear right next to the real download button, or pop-ups demanding you phone tech support to remove a million malware infections that were apparently found on your computer. It sounds like this will be a gradual rollout; it'll take time for Google to work out which sites are consistent offenders.

The blocking will occur via Google's Safe Browsing tech, which you've probably seen before: it's that big red interstitial that appears when you click on a dodgy search result. Safe Browsing has been around for years, but it mostly just prevented you from visiting sites that were serving up malware, or sites that Google had otherwise deemed unsafe.

In November, however, Google started blocking sites that used "social engineering attacks" to get you to install unwanted software or reveal sensitive information—and today, Google is expanding that to websites that serve up deceptive embedded content (i.e. adverts). Google gives the following examples of ads that will get a website blocked:

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After 100 years, scientists are finally closing in on Einstein’s ripples

2/4/2016 8:00am

The 4km "west" arm of the LIGO interferometer stretches into the foggy distance. (credit: Eric Berger)

LIVINGSTON, La.—The rain began to fall as Joe Giaime and I scrambled down a lonely rise, back toward the observatory’s main building. It wasn’t so much rain as a hard mist, characteristic of the muggy weather southern Louisiana often sees in January when moisture rolls inland from the Gulf of Mexico. As gray clouds fell like a shroud over the loblolly pines all around us, Giaime mused, “Well, I guess you’ve already gathered that we’re in the middle of nowhere."

Middle of nowhere happens to be ground zero in the search for gravitational waves, which were first posited by Albert Einstein a century ago and may soon become one of the hottest fields in science. Livingston is remote in terms of geography, but as humans scan the heavens for gravitational waves this forest is practically the center of the physics universe.

Because of general relativity, we understand that large masses curve spacetime, kind of like standing in the middle of a trampoline distorts the fabric. When massive, dense objects in space accelerate, such as black holes or neutron stars, they create ripples in the fabric of spacetime. These ripples carry gravitational radiation away from the very massive objects, and the radiation then propagates through the Universe. This Louisiana observatory, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO, exists to try to measure these subtle ripples.

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I am weirdly excited about this new Seth Rogen space comedy

2/3/2016 6:42pm

Seth Rogen demonstrates his Kylo Ren lightsaber joint.

Seth Rogen, Bill Hader, and Zach Galifianakis are set to star in a new astronaut movie called The Something, and I'm unreasonably excited about it.

I say "unreasonably" because the movie is written and directed by Rodney Rothman, who wrote 22 Jump Street and Grudge Match, a decidedly mixed bag when it comes to awesomeness. Still, the first-time director has pulled together an impressive cast for a comedy and that could make all the difference.

All we know about the plot so far is that it's about a group of three male astronauts who have been drifting in space for years... until they come upon another spaceship. Given that the official summary emphasizes that the astronauts are all male, my guess is that we can expect some lady alien shenanigans in that other spaceship. Or lady somethings, anyway.

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Jury: Apple must pay $626 million to patent troll VirnetX

2/3/2016 5:49pm

An East Texas jury has ruled that Apple must pay patent-holding company VirnetX $625.6 million for infringing four patents. It's a massive verdict for VirnetX, a company that has no products and makes its money solely through patent litigation.

The verdict form (PDF) shows the jury found Apple infringed on every patent claim that was at issue. The first question was how much Apple should pay for infringement related to two VirnetX patents that it had already been ruled to infringe, and the jury held Apple should pay $334.9 million. The panel also found in VirnetX's favor on other, disputed patent claims, and ordered Apple to pay another $290.7 million for infringing those. The accused products included Apple's VPN on Demand, FaceTime, and the iMessage service.

The VirnetX v. Apple showdown may be one of the last of its kind in which a "patent troll"-style company is able to wrest a nine-figure jury verdict from a tech company. Patent trolling still abounds and is increasingly concentrated in East Texas. But the ability to get huge verdicts has been dampened by changes in case-law, particularly the Supreme Court's 2014 Alice Corp. v. CLS Bank decision that made it easier for defendants to get software patents thrown out of court.

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US takes first steps toward approving babies with three genetic parents

2/3/2016 5:29pm

In this magnified image of mouse cells, the nucleus is blue, the mitochondria are green, and the cell walls are red. Every cell has hundreds or even thousands of mitochondria producing energy. (credit: D. Burnette, J. Lippincott-Schwartz/NICHD)

Today a panel of scientists released a report recommending that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approve testing for a medical procedure known as mitochondrial replacement, which could prevent dangerous genetic diseases in newborns. The procedure, already approved in Great Britain, still has a long way to go before final approval in the US.

A microscopic organ transplant

Though critics say it will send us down a slippery slope of "gene editing," there is in fact no gene editing involved in mitochondrial replacement. Instead, it's more like a microscopic version of an organ transplant.

Mitochondria are called "organelles" because they play an organ-like role in the cell. A bit like a miniature stomach, mitochondria break down molecules to provide energy for the entire body. Mitochondria are also the only part of the cell that contains DNA, other than the nucleus. Some biologists believe this is because mitochondria were once separate cells, absorbed in a process called endosymbiosis during a very early phase in cellular evolution, which nevertheless retained a shred of DNA over the billions of years since that merging.

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Take-Two Interactive accused of infringing tattoos in NBA 2K video games

2/3/2016 5:16pm

LeBron James in full tattoo glory on the cover of NBA2K14.

The rights holders of tattoos on NBA superstars Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and other professional basketball players are suing Take-Two Interactive, alleging that the maker of the NBA 2K video game series and other titles is infringing their artwork. The federal copyright infringement lawsuit accuses the video game maker of copyright violations because it has not licensed the tattoos from Solid Oak Sketches.

The suit is a maximalist approach to intellectual property. But it's not the first to assert copyright infringement of tattoos in a video game or on the silver screen. That said, all the cases concerning tattoo copyright infringement have settled out of court, and none have come to an ultimate in-court resolution. That's a legal fact that even Solid Oak Sketches notes in its lawsuit.

"The issue of tattoo copyrightability has yet to be decided upon in court due to numerous settlements preventing a final judicial opinion," the rights holder noted in its filing.

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Google Fiber gives free gigabit Internet to poor people

2/3/2016 4:43pm

A Kansas City resident and her son, two of the first people to get free gigabit Internet from Google Fiber. (credit: Google)

Google Fiber today said it will provide free Internet access at gigabit speeds to residents in affordable housing.

Google Fiber was already providing free Internet in public housing, but speeds were limited to 5Mbps downloads and 1Mbps uploads.

Today's announcement said that's being pushed up to 1Gbps downloads and uploads, a speed that normally costs $70 a month. The free gigabit Internet is being rolled out first to West Bluff, a property in Kansas City, Missouri. Google partnered with the Housing Authority of Kansas City on the project.

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Former Energy Department employee admits trying to spear phish coworkers

2/3/2016 4:33pm

This carp was not paranoid enough. (The person pictured has nothing to do with the case reported in this post.) (credit: Wikipedia)

A former Department of Energy employee has pleaded guilty to federal charges that he attempted to infect 80 current DOE employees with malware so foreign hackers could take control of computer systems that held sensitive information related to nuclear weapons, officials said Wednesday.

Charles Harvey Eccleston, 62, pleaded guilty to one count of attempted unauthorized access and intentional damage to a protected computer, according to a statement issued by officials with the US Department of Justice. The statement said the man, who previously worked for both the DOE and the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission, plotted to compromise federal computer networks by sending current employees highly targeted e-mails that he believed contained links to malware that would give hackers remote access. Such campaigns are often referred to as spear phishing because they target a specific individual, often referring to them by name and referencing specific interests of job duties.

Prosecutors said the plot came to their attention in 2013 after Eccleston entered an unnamed foreign embassy in Manila, Philippines and offered to sell a list of more than 5,000 e-mail addresses of officials, engineers, and employees of a US government agency. Undercover FBI agents posing as embassy employees then worked to build a criminal case against the former employee, who prosecutors said was terminated from his employment at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in 2010. To make the e-mail more convincing, it posed as an advertisement for a conference related to nuclear energy. According to the press release:

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