The icy giant worlds Uranus and Neptune are the least studied planets in the Solar System. Of all the space probes only Voyager 2 visited them, and their great distance from the Sun (and therefore Earth) makes them difficult to study with ground-based telescopes. As a result many aspects of the planets are mysterious, including the strong winds in their atmospheres.
A new study of data from Voyager 2 and the Hubble Space Telescope may have demonstrated that the weather on Uranus and Neptune is confined to a relatively thin layer of atmosphere. Yohai Kaspi and colleagues analyzed variations in the planets' gravitational fields, which are affected in a small way by atmospheric fluctuations. They compared various models of both the atmosphere and interior and determined the region containing the strong winds comprised a very tiny fraction of the planets' mass: 0.2 percent or less. However, they stressed that the ultimate cause of the winds probably lies in the planets' warm interiors, especially on Neptune.
As with Jupiter and Saturn the atmospheres on Uranus and Neptune separate into zones, wide bands where the prevailing winds blow in the same direction. On all four worlds the zones alternate directions with the winds blowing the same direction as the planets' rotation in one zone and in the opposite direction in the neighboring zone. Neptune's measured wind velocities can top -300 meters/second (-670 mph, where the negative indicates a direction opposite to the planet's rotation) in the equatorial zone while Uranus achieves the still-impressive but more sedate 200 m/s at tropical latitudes.
Google today announced a new version of its mobile Maps application and talked about the new things it's doing to fill out Google Maps. At the Google I/O conference Wednesday, Google outlined several improvements to both the desktop and mobile versions of its Maps app and a new user-contribution feature called Map Maker. Map Maker will allow users to add their own data, which Google may then incorporate.
The new version of Google Maps will allow users to zoom in on maps and see 3D renderings of buildings while searching for locations. Users will now be able to see whether their friends have rated places using a new five-point rating scale that will be introduced across all Google Maps incarnations. The partnership with Zagat ratings and reviews will persist into the new version alongside the new five-point ratings.
Google Offers will now be integrated within Maps, offering users discounts from within the app, but at launch it will only be integrated with partner brands. The new Maps will also use live coverage of "incidents from around the world" that will allow users to see news updates in context in real time. Dynamic rerouting in traffic view will help users avoid traffic snafus.
During its Keynote today, Google announced new features coming to its flagship search function—you know, that thing we all started using Google for. VP Amit Singhal spent some time discussing what Google's search functionality will eventually morph into.
Google's strategy is summarized by three words: answer, converse, and anticipate. Singhal explained that many of the pieces of these upcoming changes can already be seen in products that Google has recently introduced—namely, Google Knowledge Graph and Google Now, with perhaps a splash of Google Glass, too.Answer: Knowledge Graph
Last year, Google launched Knowledge Graph. The intent was to let Google move beyond simply locating keywords to begin understanding real-world entities (people, places, and things) and the relationship between them. Two example questions Singhal cited as questions Knowledge Graph was designed to answer are "What are the movies by J.J. Abrams?" and "What's the release date of Star Trek: Into Darkness?" Google has over 570 million connected entities in its Knowledge Graph right now.
Today Google removed the mystery surrounding “Babel,” the possibly ironically codenamed software and cloud service that integrates many of the chat and communications applications spread across Google’s various app and service families. BabeI, now officially branded as part of Hangouts, integrates the Hangout video chat service of Google+ and Messenger text-based chat with Google’s “legacy” Google Talk chat tool and the Gmail inbox.
Until now, the Google+ communications tools have stood alone from Google Talk, creating a schism between new adopters and those using Google's older platform. Messenger, the chat tool of the Google+ mobile app, has had no connection to the much larger universe of Google Talk users. And Google has lagged behind other messaging tools, such as Apple's iMessage platform, in its integration of photo sharing in chat.
Hangouts will now allow users to archive chats as they have been able to do with Google Talk. Google described the conversations as "long-lasting" and compared them to being in the same room with your conversation partners. Hangouts includes photo sharing and a new extended collection of emoticons and other graphic message elements, elements that will be archived alongside text.
Rejoice, PS3 racing fans, Polyphony Digital has some news for you. That’s right—there’s a new installment of Gran Turismo, the world’s most popular console-racing franchise, and it’s (allegedly) coming in time for the holidays. Earlier today at the UK’s Silverstone race circuit, Sony held a "15 years of Gran Turismo” event where it announced Gran Turismo 6 is on its way, and despite speculation that it might be a PS4 title, it’s going to be a PS3 game.
All the existing cars and tracks in GT5 will carry over to GT6, which gains another seven new locations (including Silverstone), as well as roughly 200 more cars. Polyphony Digital has also partnered with the tire company Yokohama and suspension makers KW Automotive to create a new physics engine, something that the game sorely needed after its Xbox rival, Forza Motorsport, did the same with Pirelli. The game will also feature "connectivity with… smartphones and tablets for social and community functions," although there appear to be scant few details on what that actually means in practice. Sony also promises monthly DLC updates with new cars and tracks, although you'll forgive me if I’m somewhat skeptical based on past performance.
I’ll also admit that I'm not sure if I believe the promised 2013 launch date, given that we waited six long years for the underwhelming GT5, which has improved over time but still, in my opinion, remains the second-best console racer on the market. That said, I’m also very much looking forward to getting my hands on the new game to see how one of the most iconic gaming franchises has responded to no longer being top dog. If the graphics in the trailer are anything to go by, it’s going to be even more visually stunning than GT5 (check out the rendering of the KTM X-bow at ~1:05). So come on, Polyphony Digital, knock my socks off!
Apple was the "ringmaster" in a conspiracy to fix the prices of e-books at rates higher than those charged by Amazon, US officials said yesterday in court documents.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) filed suit last year against Apple and six e-book publishers: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, Pearson, and Simon & Schuster. The trial is scheduled to begin June 3 in the US District Court for the Southern District of New York. Apple has denied being part of any conspiracy, but the government's proposed conclusions of law (PDF) include an e-mail Steve Jobs sent to James Murdoch of HarperCollins' owner News Corp., in which Jobs said HarperCollins should "[t]hrow in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream e-books market at $12.99 and $14.99.”
The government also noted that Jobs "admitted to his biographer that Apple 'told the publishers "We’ll go to the agency model, where you set the price, and we get our 30%, and yes, the customer pays a little more, but that is what you want anyway. But we also asked for a guarantee that if anybody else is selling the books cheaper than we are, then we can sell them at the lower price too.'"
Google showed off a Samsung Galaxy S 4 running stock Android 4.2 this morning at the Google I/O keynote. Stripped of the extra Samsung interface bits, the S 4 drew applause from the developer-heavy audience; they applauded even harder when Google VP Hugo Barra announced that the device would deliver to users the same software experience as a Nexus device, including timely Android updates.
The Google-ified S 4 will ship unlocked, with the capability to function in the US on AT&T and T-Mobile's cellular networks with full LTE support. It will include 16GB of flash and an SD card slot to expand its on-board storage.
The smartphone will be available directly from Google via the Google Play store starting on June 26 for $649.
Google announced a handful of new developer tools at its I/O conference Wednesday in San Francisco. Among the handy new tools are Android Studio, which allows developers to view and tinker with their app rendered at different screen sizes and resolutions; new dev console features like app performance analysis; and Google Play game services, which provide a multiplayer experience and player matching within apps.
Android Studio, which is a new IDE based on IntelliJ, will give developers a bit more flexibility in how they create their apps. At the I/O keynote, the Android Studio demo showed the interface’s ability to render apps at various screen sizes (only Nexus devices were used) and view what the app looks like in different (spoken) languages.
In addition to Android Studio, Google also added five new features to the dev console announced last year. The dev console can now provide optimization tips, including how the app is performing in the Google Play store and ways to improve its performance. The dev console will also add an option for professional translation services, referral tracking to see what types of ads are the most effective within the app, and revenue graphs that can break numbers down by country.
Google announced a new music subscription service that integrates with Google Play at its Google I/O conference Wednesday. The service, called Google Play Music All Access, is offered on demand with a catalog of content that users can play and organize as they choose, similar in offering to popular streaming services Rdio and Spotify.
The service can show personalized recommendations and will also offer featured playlists curated by "music editors." Chris Yerga, the engineering director for Android, noted that anything the user can see, they can "immediately start playing," and if the user likes the song, they can start a radio station based off of the track.
The My Library section of the app includes personal music (presumably local tracks and those not acquired via the Google Play store) as well as anything discovered and added from All Access. Yerga emphasized the app's ability to make music recommendations, and will offer top albums by genre as well as "expert power recommendations."
The service gained a number of updated and new APIs. First up is version 2 of the Google Maps Android, which lets developers build Google Maps functionality directly into apps.
Next are three location-related APIs: Fused Location Provider, Geofencing, and Activity Recognition. Fused Location Provider takes advantage of an Android device's extra sensors to quickly figure out the phone's location. According to Google, it's faster to acquire location, it's more accurate, and it uses less power than previous location services (Google says the new mode uses less than 1 percent of battery per hour). Geofencing gives app developers a standardized method to define up to 100 "fences" around areas and trigger actions when the device enters or leaves the area. Finally, Activity Recognition uses the device's accelerometer data and a number of machine-learning classifiers to let developers understand whether a user is walking, driving, or cycling with the Android device. It does not use GPS.
For more than two years, the Linux operating system has contained a high-severity vulnerability that gives untrusted users with restricted accounts nearly unfettered "root" access over machines, including servers running in shared Web hosting facilities and other sensitive environments. Surprisingly, most users remain wide open even now, more than a month after maintainers of the open-source OS quietly released an update that patched the gaping hole.
The severity of the bug, which resides in the Linux kernel's "perf," or performance counters subsystem, didn't become clear until Tuesday, when attack code exploiting the vulnerability became publicly available (note: some content on this site is not considered appropriate in many work environments). The new script can be used to take control of servers operated by many shared Web hosting providers, where dozens or hundreds of people have unprivileged accounts on the same machine. Hackers who already have limited control over a Linux machine—for instance, by exploiting a vulnerability in a desktop browser or a Web application—can also use the bug to escalate their privileges to root. The flaw affects versions of the Linux kernel from 2.6.37 to 3.8.8 that have been compiled with the CONFIG_PERF_EVENTS kernel configuration option.
"Because there's a public exploit already available, an attacker would simply need to download and run this exploit on a target machine," Dan Rosenberg, a senior security researcher at Azimuth Security, told Ars in an e-mail. "The exploit may not work out-of-the-box on every affected machine, in which case it would require some fairly straightforward tweaks (for someone with exploit development experience) to work properly."
The Google I/O developer conference is finally here. The event will kick off with a keynote on Wednesday, May 15 at San Francisco's Moscone Center. Ars reporters Andrew Cunningham, Sean Gallagher, and Florence Ion will be in attendance to liveblog big announcements during the event.
We've recently seen numerous leaks and rumors about the event crop up. We can probably expect the announcement of a dedicated multiplayer gaming service called Google Games as well as an all-inclusive, cross-platform messaging service called Babel (though some outlets are saying this service may just fall under the Google Hangouts umbrella). We're also hearing that Google may only announce incremental updates to its latest Nexus devices, the Asus-manufactured Nexus 7 tablet and LG-manufactured Nexus 4 smartphone. Android Jelly Bean will likely get a minor bump too—up to version 4.3. There are other murmurs too, everything from Android@Home possibilities to replacements for iGoogle. For now we're all just waiting for the keynote to begin (while, of course, taking bets on whether or not we'll see any skydiving antics this year).
So join us this Wednesday for the keynote liveblog as we learn what's next from the search engine giant. Be sure to follow along with us throughout the week for more coverage from the rest of the Google I/O conference.
The Department of Homeland Security is investigating Mt. Gox, the largest Bitcoin exchange, for violating laws on US money exchange and money transfers—and it's grabbing the exchange's money in the process.
DHS officials refused to comment on the ongoing investigation, but they did provide a copy of the warrant that was used yesterday to seize funds that Mt. Gox had in Dwolla, a money transfer service. Dwolla is a Des Moines, Iowa company that provides one of the most popular ways to move US dollars to Mt. Gox, where they can be used to buy bitcoins.
In the warrant, a special agent with Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), states that there's probable cause to believe Mt. Gox is engaging in "money transmitting" without a license, a crime punishable by a fine or up to five years in prison. The warrant goes on to demand that Dwolla hand over the keys to account number 812-649-1010, which is owned by Mt. Gox subsidiary Mutum Sigillum LLC, and held in the custody of Veridian Credit Union.
Apple has been hit with a class action lawsuit over the power button on its iPhone 4, per a report from GigaOm Wednesday. California resident Debra Hilton alleges that Apple knew about the defective power button in “thousands” of iPhone 4s sold to customers, but the company neglected to do anything about the defect.
The lawsuit describes a problem that begins with a “wiggly” power button, described on Apple’s discussion forums. After about a year of ownership (around when the phone’s warranty expires), the lawsuit states that eventually the button becomes unresponsive, failing to lock or turn off the phone when pressed.
Hilton claims that Apple knew that the source of the defect was in a flex cable connected to the button, but the company continued to sell the phones regardless. GigaOm reports that Hilton is suing Apple under the RICO statute, a racketeering law commonly employed in class action suits.
Speculation and rumor are flying as we count down the minutes until the Google I/O keynote at 9:00am PDT/12:00pm EDT this morning. It's widely expected that Google will announce the release of a new version of the Android operating system during its multihour presentation, but it looks like Google gave The Verge a quick accidental peek behind the curtain this morning.
The Verge is reporting that a concrete reference to Android 4.3 made a brief appearance in their search results when they were poking through Google's Android developer site:The Verge
We'll know the whole story later this morning—we have Florence Ion, Andrew Cunningham, and Sean Gallagher on the scene at I/O and waiting for the keynote. Our intrepid team will be liveblogging the whole thing shortly.
At long last, VMware's dual-persona software for smartphones is available on actual devices. Today, VMware and Verizon Wireless announced that the Android-based LG Intuition and Motorola Razr M can now be purchased with VMware's Horizon Mobile software, which separates the device into isolated partitions that keep a user's work applications and data separate from personal stuff.
VMware began promising virtualized smartphones in 2010, claiming they would be available for sale in 2011. Samsung promised to support VMware's virtualized phone vision in September 2011, and VMware started promising virtualization for iPhones and iPads in August 2012. We called it "vaporware."
Samsung and Apple devices still aren't running the dual-persona software, but it's nice to see VMware phones finally materialize. VMware and Verizon said the Intuition and Razr M are immediately available for sale with Horizon Mobile software. Perpetual licenses to Horizon Mobile start at $125 per user and "can be purchased through local resellers of VMware and Verizon Wireless," the companies said.
In 2008, Google joined the mobile world with T-Mobile's G1 handset. Originally branded as the HTC Dream, the first-ever Google Android phone served as a predecessor of sorts to a line of bloat-free devices that would receive timely software updates, almost all of which are sold under Google's Nexus banner.
The Nexus lineup has since expanded to include tablets and handsets of varying sizes, and once or twice a year Google teams up with one of its partners to introduce new devices and to showcase new versions of Android. Each phone can be seen as an interesting look at the evolution of Android over the years as the company's mobile division has grown and the hardware Android runs on has changed and improved. All of the Nexus devices have played a pivotal role in Android's history by introducing new software iterations and hardware standards across the board, and they keep the rumor mill churning for months on end in between developer conferences and surprise Google announcements.
In the spirit of this week's Google I/O developer's conference, let's take a step back in time and go through some of those devices to see how they helped increase Google’s reach among smartphone users and application developers. We’ll look at the devices that have been launched throughout the past few years and briefly touch on those slated for the future, too.
On the evening of Wednesday, March 23, 1983, Ronald Reagan delivered a televised address about defense and national security. “Let me share with you a vision of the future,” the president began in what was a last-minute addition to the half-hour speech. In Reagan’s vision, we would “embark on a program to counter the awesome Soviet missile threat with measures that are defensive.” It was the first mention of Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), the plan to change America’s nuclear posture from offensive to defensive. His goal was to render the Soviet nuclear weapons “impotent and obsolete.”
Reagan’s admirers praised SDI while his critics scoffed, calling it a fantasy and assigning it the enduring nickname “Star Wars.” The Soviet Union found itself in the rare position of joining Reagan’s admirers—they had to take SDI more seriously. Soviet leaders feared it was an American plot to disarm their nation or surreptitiously put a battle station in orbit. Reagan's plan naturally compelled them to act.
The Soviet response was a hushed effort that came with the potential to roar. Leadership fast-tracked a space weapons system they hoped would disable US anti-missile satellites. The gist of this plan? The Soviets would use their own space program to launch weapons into orbit: nuclear missiles and lasers.
Google will announce a new, subscription-based music service tomorrow at Google I/O, the company's annual developer conference. Sources close to the matter told The Verge that Google signed separate licensing deals with Universal Music Group and Sony Music Entertainment. The company would use those deals to add music subscription services to both YouTube and Google Play.
This effort would take on subscription-based music streaming services like Spotify, Rdio, and even Pandora. For years, the rumor mill has said that Apple wants to create a subscription-based music service, so Google's announcement could be a move to beat Cupertino to the punch. As the New York Times wrote, “The subscription feature will be connected to Play, Google’s online media hub, complementing its download store and 'locker' feature, which lets people store their digital entertainment collections in the cloud.”
The Times' sources also said there would be no free tier to this supposed subscription service, a notable distinction from some competing streaming companies. The paper speculated that subscriptions might begin at $10 per month.
The Department of Homeland Security has apparently shut down a key mobile payments account associated with Mt. Gox, the largest Bitcoin exchange.
Chris Coyne, co-founder of online dating service OKCupid, tweeted out an e-mail he received from Dwolla this afternoon. The e-mail states that neither Coyne, nor presumably any other Dwolla user, will be able to transfer funds to Mt. Gox.
Dwolla confirmed the change to the New York Observer, which first reported the story. Dwolla received a seizure warrant from a federal court.