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How archaeologists found the lost medieval megacity of Angkor

7/18/2016 7:30am

Angkor Wat today, as viewed across a pond next to the 12th century Hindu temple to Vishnu built under the rule of Suryavarnam II. (credit: Bjørn Christian Tørrissen)

The ornate, pinecone-shaped towers of Angkor Wat in Cambodia float above a vast temple complex of shrines, pools, houses, and a perfectly square moat. Today, only a small number of monks remain within the temple walls. The remaining structures have been reclaimed by trees whose roots wind around the stone like cellulose tentacles. Archaeologists have long wondered what life was like here when Angkor was the cosmopolitan heart of the Khmer Empire in the 12th and 13th centuries. Why did so many people abandon this place in the 15th century, never to return?

Unlike a majority of archaeological endeavors, the answers didn't come from digging up the ground. Instead, our first glimpse of Angkor as it once was came just a few years ago from a sophisticated laser scanning machine mounted on a helicopter.

Invisible city

For centuries, the Angkor region's wealth of artifacts drew looters, archaeologists, and looter-archaeologists. They focused their attention, both good and ill, on Angkor Wat and a few other nearby moated temple complexes. Based on those ruins, the first European explorers to encounter Angkor in the 19th century assumed Khmer urbanites lived in what were basically moated cities of a few thousand people. These European explorers thought Angkor Wat was something like a medieval walled city in Europe, which typically held fewer than 10,000 people. They explained all the moated complexes in the Angkor area by suggesting that maybe the royal family and their people were moving from one moated city to the next over time. But as archaeologists learned more in the intervening century, something about those population numbers seemed off. Beyond the moated cities were vast canal systems and reservoirs hinting at something bigger.

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SpaceX in 2016: Launching more with a better rocket that it can land [Updated]

7/17/2016 10:40pm

Stream tonight's launch as it happens.

Update, 7/17 (10:45p ET): SpaceX will livestream its launch attempt (above) this evening at 12:45a ET. Our original story from 7/15 appears below.

One of the most persistent criticisms of SpaceX has been the rocket company's inability to meet its launch commitments. Talk to any of Elon Musk's competitors in the rocket and spacecraft business, and they will all say the same thing—SpaceX isn't meeting the demands of its customers. Too much pizzazz, too little substance, and so on.

To some extent, this jealousy-tinged criticism is valid. In 2014, the company had about a dozen missions on its books, and it launched six times. Last year the company had as many as 17 launches planned, but an accident on June 28, 2015 forced it to stand down for nearly the entire second half of the year. SpaceX ended up making six successful launches in 2015. However, this year the company is off to a good start with six successful missions completed so far and a seventh launch planned for 12:45am ET Monday (5:45am BST) from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

This flight of SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket seeks to deliver the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station with its payload of 1.7 tons of supplies as well as an International Docking Adapter. This adapter will allow crewed versions of the Dragon Spacecraft and Boeing's Starliner to perform automated rendezvous and docking maneuvers with the station beginning in late 2017 or early 2018.

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Meet Olli, the autonomous electric people mover from Local Motors

7/17/2016 7:35pm

This is Olli. It uses 3D printing and is self-driving at speeds of 12-18mph with a 60-mile range.

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Local Motors is not your regular car company. It's been pioneering the use of open source development to design its vehicles, starting with the Rally Fighter off-road sports car and a number of vehicles that have been the result of competitions, including one held in conjunction with the Department of Energy's ARPA-E. Most recently, the company unveiled Olli, its first autonomous vehicle. When we discovered that Olli was just up the road in National Harbor, Maryland, we decided it was time to head over there to find out more.

Local Motors has a large retail location at National Harbor (selling merchandise), along with a test lab complete with a gigantic 3D printer for rapid prototyping. Several of the company's designs were also on display—the Strati, which was the first 3D-printed car, as well as the Swim, which was the winning design from its Project Redacted competition. And of course, Olli the autonomous people mover.

As we looked at the Swim, David Woessner, general manager at Local Motors, explained the ongoing process that's expanding Local Motors' product line up. "We started in July of 2015. In September of that year, we did the first print and revealed the car in November. It's the next iteration in our path to a highway car."

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After victory at Le Mans, we catch up with Ford to talk about its GT

7/17/2016 6:52pm

Ford mechanics and engineers prep the car for the six-hour race ahead.

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Just as it was 50 years ago, the battle for sports car supremacy on the world's race tracks this year has been between Ford and Ferrari. At this year's 24 Hours of Le Mans, the two marques were head-and-shoulders ahead of their competition in the hotly contested GTE-Pro class (for racing versions of cars that you or I could buy). Ford emerged victorious, but the end of the race was somewhat acrimonious, with protests and counter-protests from both camps. We caught up with both teams at their next match up—the Sahlen's Six Hours of the Glen at Watkins Glen in upstate New York—both to check out their machinery and also to find the hatchet well and truly buried.

Back in 1966, after Henry Ford's attempt to buy the Italian car company was rebuffed, his company built the legendary GT40, beating Ferrari's V12-powered cars at Le Mans and most everywhere else. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of that match up, Ford decided to build (and race) a new mid-engined supercar, the Ford GT. The road-legal Ford GT won't actually appear until 2017, but Ford's rivals all gave their permission for the Blue Oval to start racing the car this year—the rules insist on a minimum of 500 production cars built in order to be eligible to race.

Ford has been running a quartet of GTs on track, a pair in the WeatherTech Sportscar Championship here in the US, and another pair contesting the World Endurance Championship. The cars aren't just racing for glory either; Ford Performance (the division of the company responsible for the GT as well as the Shelby GT350 and Focus RS) is using the experience to develop and improve the road car ahead of production. We met with Mark Rushbrook, motorsports engineering manager at Ford Performance, to find out more.

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The hack that almost wasn’t: How a pen test led to Mr. Robot’s ransomware

7/17/2016 9:00am

Yes, it's an homage to a famous hacker (nice touch). (credit: USA Networks / NBC Universal)

Warning: This piece contains minor spoilers for this week's episode of Mr. Robot (S2E1)

Near the intermission of Mr. Robot's two-part season two premiere, fsociety hacker Darlene boots her desktop computer and opens up something called the "Social-Engineering Toolkit." She scrolls through a list of options including a "Java Applet Attack" (done through a Remote Administration Tool) then chooses to unleash the "F-Society Cryptowall." Suddenly, tellers and high-level employees at one of the world's most powerful banks all stare at the same screen (above).

Ars readers will recognize this as another instance of art imitating life. And as Mr. Robot's premiere played out, the episode relied on a cryptoransomware story arc that could've been ripped from any number of headlines, including those high-profile Maryland hospital hacks. Similar to that real-life outcome, executives at fictitious E-Corp decide they could come up with the requested $5 million in the couch cushions and eventually pay up (or at least intend to).

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Does Snapchat’s Lenses feature violate Illinois’ biometrics law?

7/17/2016 8:00am

(credit: Patrik Nygren)

An Illinois man has sued Snapchat for alleged violations of a state law that requires users to expressly consent to instances in which their biometric information is used.

This is the second time a plaintiff has brought such a case under the Illinois Biometric Information Privacy Act (BIPA). Last year, a Chicago man sued Facebook on similar claims.

The proposed class-action lawsuit, known as Jose Martinez v. Snapchat, was originally filed in May 2016 in a Los Angeles County court but was transferred to federal court on Thursday at Snapchat’s behest.

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Gravity doesn’t care about quantum spin

7/16/2016 11:00am

An atomic clock based on a fountain of atoms. (credit: National Science Foundation)

Physics, as you may have read before, is based around two wildly successful theories. On the grand scale, galaxies, planets, and all the other big stuff dance to the tune of gravity. But, like your teenage daughter, all the little stuff stares in bewildered embarrassment at gravity's dancing. Quantum mechanics is the only beat the little stuff is willing get down to. Unlike teenage rebellion, though, no one claims to understand what keeps relativity and quantum mechanics from getting along.

Because we refuse to believe that these two theories are separate, physicists are constantly trying to find a way to fit them together. Part-in-parcel with creating a unifying model is finding evidence of a connection between the gravity and quantum mechanics. For example, showing that the gravitational force experienced by a particle depended on the particle's internal quantum state would be a great sign of a deeper connection between the two theories. The latest attempt to show this uses a new way to look for coupling between gravity and the quantum property called spin.

I'm free, free fallin'

One of the cornerstones of general relativity is that objects move in straight lines through a curved spacetime. So, if two objects have identical masses and are in free fall, they should follow identical trajectories. And this is what we have observed since the time of Galileo (although I seem to recall that Galileo's public experiment came to an embarrassing end due to differences in air resistance).

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Dissonant tones sound fine to people not raised on Western music

7/16/2016 10:00am

(credit: Josh McDermott)

Bobby McFerrin demonstrates how Western music lives in our brains.

The notes used in Western music—or, more accurately, the relationships between the notes used in Western music—have a strange power. Bobby McFerrin demonstrated this dramatically by showing that an audience somehow knows what notes to sing when he jumps around the stage. He remarked that “what’s interesting to me about that is, regardless of where I am, anywhere, every audience gets that.”

He’s suggesting that something about the relationships between pitches is culturally universal. All people seem to experience them the same way, regardless of where they're from or whether they have musical training. The question of universals in music perception is important because it can help us determine how much of our perception is shaped by culture and how much by biology. A paper in this week’s Nature reports on the surprising finding that a form of musical perception long thought to be common across all humans might not be so universal after all.

In music, relationships between notes can be used in two different ways. If pitches are played in sequence, the relationships between them are melodic, like the difference between each successive note in "Mary had a Little Lamb." When notes are played simultaneously, like a single strum of all the strings on a guitar or a choir singing, the relationships are harmonic. Different musical traditions have different rules about which melodic and harmonic relationships are permissible.

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How to set up your own VoIP system at home

7/16/2016 8:40am

(credit: Philippe Put)

The landline phone may seem an anachronism to many, but if like me you work from home it can still be an essential business tool. Even if you're not a regular home worker, many people still like to have a phone that's separate to their mobile. In a family house or shared house, it can sometimes also be useful for different people to have their own number too.

In the past, your choices were fairly stark—either multiple analogue phone lines, which is what I had when I first moved into my flat, or ISDN. While the latter was very popular in parts of Europe, it never really took off in the UK or US. BT's pricing was part of the problem, together with a lack of equipment. Nevertheless, for many years, I used a small German ISDN PBX at home. It made it simple to separate business and work calls, and thanks to the 10 number blocks BT issued as standard with ISDN2 lines, my lodger could have a number too.

Pricing was the killer for ISDN in the home, unless you could claim it as a business expense. Now, however, VoIP services make it much easier to provide the same sort of functionality at a fraction of the cost, and it's much easier than you might have thought, too. Here's how I did it.

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The 2016 “Board Game of the Year” nominees, reviewed

7/16/2016 7:00am

Welcome to Ars Cardboard, our weekend look at tabletop games! Check out our complete board gaming coverage right here—and let us know what you think.

(credit: Thinkstock)

While the worldwide board gaming community has plenty of awards ceremonies, arguably the most important is still the "Spiel des Jahres" (Game of the Year) award issued by German-speaking game critics from Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Past winners have included everything from Catan to Qwirkle, and winning ensures solid sales and (very occasionally) fame and fortune.

Nominees aren't necessarily guaranteed to be everyone's favorite games from the past year. But as far as the influential German board gaming establishment is concerned, these are the best of the best when it comes to games that everyone can enjoy. We decided to put all six nominees to the test by rounding up some past coverage, adding some new reviews, and rolling the whole thing together into a massive one-stop shop for all things SdJ.

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Sorry, there’s no more porn with your Starbucks latte

7/15/2016 4:55pm

(credit: Bradley Fulton)

Starbucks said Friday it would soon add porn-blocking filters to its public, in-store Wi-Fi. The move follows McDonald's, which disclosed this week that it had blocked the hamburger-eating public from accessing Wi-Fi-enabled porn at its restaurants.

"Once we determine that our customers can access our free Wi-Fi in a way that also doesn't involuntarily block unintended content, we will implement this in our stores," Starbucks said in a statement. "In the meantime, we reserve the right to stop any behavior that interferes with our customer experience, including what is accessed on our free Wi-Fi."

The group Enough is Enough and the National Center on Sexual Exploitation have been putting pressure on companies that provide free Wi-Fi to the public to block porn sites.

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Mobile carriers aren’t doing enough to fight robocalls, senators say

7/15/2016 3:48pm

(credit: Federal Trade Commission)

Two US senators are urging the mobile phone industry to fight robocalls and texts by creating a database of phone numbers that have been reassigned from one customer to another.

Reassigned numbers are one of the major contributors to unwanted calls and texts, and carriers haven't done enough to fight the problem, said US Senators John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The lawmakers wrote a letter today to CEO Meredith Attwell Baker of CTIA–The Wireless Association, a lobby group that represents AT&T, Verizon Wireless, T-Mobile USA, Sprint, and other mobile carriers.

Thune and Markey "believe wireless carriers may have an opportunity to provide consumers and businesses more needed relief by establishing a reassigned numbers database, containing a list of cell phone numbers that have changed ownership," they wrote. "Periodically, consumers receive unwanted robocalls and robotexts because the previous holder of the phone number provided consent. Not only are robocalls and robotexts to reassigned numbers a nuisance to consumers, but they also create liabilities for calling parties."

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Fake Pokémon Go app on Google Play infects phones with screenlocker

7/15/2016 3:20pm

Badware purveyors trying to capitalize on the ongoing Pokémon Go frenzy have achieved an important milestone by sneaking their fake wares into the official Google Play marketplace, security researchers said Friday.

Researchers from antivirus provider Eset report finding at least three such apps in the Google-hosted marketplace. Of the three, the one titled "Pokemon Go Ultimate" posed the biggest threat because it deliberately locks the screen of devices immediately after being installed. In many cases, restarting an infected phone isn't enough to unlock the screen. Infected phones can ultimately be unlocked either by removing the battery or by using the Android Device Manager.

Once the screen has been unlocked and the device has restarted, the app—which by now has the title PI Network—is removed from the device's app menu. Still, it continues to run in the background and surreptitiously clicks on ads in an attempt to generate revenue for its creators.

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Killer Instinct’s original ‘90s soundtrack to get sexy vinyl release

7/15/2016 2:40pm

Killer C-C-C-Cuts! (credit: iam8bit)

You'd be forgiven for scoffing at limited-edition vinyl album releases, whether because you mock them as the stuff of snooty hipsters or because you take issue with their supposed sound-reproduction superiority. But I will defend to the death anybody who lovingly manufactures gatefold-sleeve albums—or, at least, the ones that are dedicated to retro video game soundtracks.

This new niche genre of gaming product actually didn't kick off until late last year, when British company Data Discs began publishing remastered vinyl soundtracks of classic Sega games. Gaming-merch company iam8bit has also gotten in on the fun with its own line of albums. Ars doesn't typically write about album launches, but we're making an exception for Killer Cuts: the Killer Instinct soundtrack.

Why? Because the soundtrack for the original 1995 arcade game was a veritable soup of genres and sound samples, which makes it one of the most interesting candidates for iam8bit's remastering process. The soundtrack won't start shipping in its vinyl edition until October, but preorders kicked off Friday as a promotion linked to this weekend's hugely popular EVO fighting game tournament. The vinyl will come in one of three covers, each with the record colored to match the character on its front. This weekend only, interested fighting-music fans can score KI's green-vinyl Fulgore edition with metallic paper. Also, pre-order customers are automatically entered to win a pretty cool-looking Fulgore figurine.

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Wiped out phone market means that Windows 10 will miss one billion user mark

7/15/2016 1:52pm

Windows 10 runs on many different kinds of hardware, from the giant Surface Hubs down to itty bitty IoT things.

As part of its pitch to developers, Microsoft said that it was aiming to have 1 billion devices—PCs, tablets, phones, Xboxes, HoloLenses, and whatever else can run the operating system—within the first two to three years of its availability. That target is now off the table, report Ed Bott and Mary Jo Foley.

In a statement, the company said:

Windows 10 is off to the hottest start in history with over 350M monthly active devices, with record customer satisfaction and engagement. We're pleased with our progress to date, but due to the focusing of our phone hardware business, it will take longer than FY18 for us to reach our goal of 1 billion monthly active devices. In the year ahead, we are excited about usage growth coming from commercial deployments and new devices—and increasing customer delight with Windows.

The issue is mobile. At the time of the prediction, Microsoft was counting on selling 50 million Windows phones a year. These were an important part of the 1 billion devices, because one of the key selling points of Microsoft's Universal Windows Platform is the way it enables developers to easily adapt their software for the many different form factors that Windows supports. Phones were expected to be the largest of the non-PC form factors, but a series of missteps has seen Microsoft's phone sales collapse.

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Play a homebrew game designed for the mythical SNES CD-ROM drive

7/15/2016 12:38pm

In an alternate universe, 30-somethings have nostalgic memories of playing this game on the SNES-CD

The fabled SNES-CD peripheral may have never actually made it to market in the mid-'90s as planned. But that hasn't stopped homebrew developers from utilizing the magic of emulation to make software designed to run on the near-mythical "Nintendo PlayStation."

It's been a long and weird road to get to this surprising point in emulation history. After a seemingly one-of-a-kind "SFX-100" prototype of the SNES-CD was found and disassembled last year, an apparent working version of the system's BIOS found its way to the Internet in March.

Armed with that BIOS file (and some additional sleuthing on components, memory, and IO mapping for the CD-ROM add-on), the latest version of low-level SNES emulator no$sns is actually able to simulate how games would have run on the SNES-CD prototype.

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Comcast expands $10 low-income Internet plan

7/15/2016 12:17pm

(credit: Comcast)

Comcast's Internet Essentials program that provides $10-per-month Internet service to low-income families has been expanded to make about 1.3 million additional households eligible.

Comcast created Internet Essentials in order to secure approval of its acquisition of NBCUniversal in 2011 and has decided to continue it indefinitely even though the requirement expired in 2014. Comcast says the 10Mbps plan has connected more than 600,000 low-income families since 2011, for a total of 2.4 million adults and children, and provided 47,000 subsidized computers for less than $150 each.

Advocates for the poor have complained that the Internet Essentials service is too hard to sign up for, in part because of problems with the application process but also because it's usually only available to families with kids in school. That latter issue is what Comcast addressed today, announcing that "adults without a child eligible for the National School Lunch Program will be eligible to apply for Internet Essentials." Previously, pilot programs gave access to some low-income seniors and low-income community college students, but this is the first time that Internet Essentials will be available to adults without children nationwide.

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Weighty weed debate: New analysis blows away past guesses at joint content

7/15/2016 12:06pm

(credit: Chuck Grimmett)

There may finally be some clarity to the long hazy debate on exactly how much marijuana is in an average, pre-rolled joint. The answer, according to two researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, is 0.32 grams.

That number is far lower than some reports, which have been as high as a gram. But the number generally falls within the range of the many estimates that have come before it, which is typically between 0.30 and 0.75 grams.

Nailing down the average amount in a pre-rolled joint may not seem all that important to some, as many users now use vaporizers. But Penn drug policy expert Greg Ridgeway, one of the researchers behind the new estimate, argues it is. "It turns out to be a critical number in estimating how much marijuana is being consumed [nationwide], how much drug-trafficking organizations are putting on the market, and how much states might expect in revenue post-legalization," he said in a news release.

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If you’re worried that stupid people have more kids, don’t be (yet)

7/15/2016 11:39am

(credit: Universal Pictures)

It’s a common perception that less-educated people have more children. The idea causes much hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over the possibility that human populations might become stupider over the course of generations. But it’s actually pretty difficult to confirm whether there really is a reproductive trend that would change the genetic makeup of the human population overall.

Jonathan Beauchamp, a “genoeconomist” at Harvard, is interested in questions at the intersection of genetics and economics. He published a paper in PNAS this week that provides some of the first evidence of evolution at the genetic level in a reasonably contemporary human population. One of his main findings is slight evolutionary selection for lower education—but it’s really slight, just 1.5 months less of education per generation. Given that the last century has seen vastly increased education across the globe, and around two years extra per generation in the same time period as Beauchamp’s study, this genetic selection is easily outweighed by cultural factors.

There are other important caveats to the finding, most notably that Beauchamp only looks at a very small segment of the global population: US citizens of European descent, born between 1931 and 1953. This means that we can’t generalize the results to, say, China or Ghana, or even US citizens of non-European descent.

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Ignorance and indifference: Delving deep into the Clinton e-mail saga

7/15/2016 11:07am

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton checks her Blackberry phone alongside Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan (R) as she attends the Fourth High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea, November 30, 2011. Clinton used the uncleared, personal device throughout her four years at the State Department in conjunction with a private mail server in her home. (credit: SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images)

Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and presumptive Democratic nominee for the presidency, is facing a massive backlash after an FBI investigation found her to have been "extremely careless" in the handling of classified information. The scandal surrounding her use of a private e-mail server has only grown since the Justice Department's decision not to pursue criminal charges. Polls show that a majority of Americans believe she should have been indicted, and more recent polls place Clinton in a dead heat with the presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump. Clinton led by a significant margin just weeks ago.

Regardless of the political games being played, the facts of Clinton's use of a private e-mail server and the related potential exposure of Top Secret information—including the names of covert intelligence personnel overseas and at home—are worth knowing and nailing down. At the core, these details raise a much broader question surrounding how national secrets are kept and shared and how broken the information infrastructure of the United States government really is.

In order to have an intelligent conversation about Clinton’s e-mails, here is a technical analysis of the evidence as it has been presented (think of it like a print version of Congressional hearings, minus screaming, finger-pointing, and grandstanding). A clearer picture has started emerging based on the testimony given by FBI Director James Comey and the Inspectors General of the State Department and the Intelligence Community (OIG), plus a portion of the 30,000-plus e-mails released thus far through FOIA requests by the State Department and other agencies. That picture, based on our assessment, is not a very pretty one.

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