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After 23 years, the Apple II gets another OS update

9/16/2016 1:55pm
  • Hello, old friend

Yesterday, software developer John Brooks released what is clearly a work of pure love: the first update to an operating system for the Apple II computer family since 1993. ProDOS 2.4, released on the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the Apple II GS, brings the enhanced operating system to even older Apple II systems, including the original Apple ][ and ][+.

Which is pretty remarkable, considering the Apple ][ and ][+ don't even support lower-case characters.

You can test-drive ProDOS 2.4 in a Web-based emulator set up by computer historian Jason Scott on the Internet Archive. The release includes Bitsy Bye, a menu-driven program launcher that allows for navigation through files on multiple floppy (or hacked USB) drives. Bitsy Bye is an example of highly efficient code: it runs in less than 1 kilobyte of RAM. There's also a boot utility that is under 400 bytes—taking up a single block of storage on a disk.

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Lawsuit: Who did the FBI pay to get into the San Bernardino attacker’s iPhone?

9/16/2016 1:40pm

Enlarge / FBI Director James Comey has forcefully advocated the need to unlock this phone in light of the larger "Going Dark" problem. (credit: Drew Angerer / Getty Images News)

A trio of major media entities—The Associated Press, USA Today, and Vice Media—sued the FBI on Friday in an attempt to force the agency to reveal details from a mysterious deal that the agency struck in order to bust into a seized iPhone used by a now-deceased terrorist.

In April 2016, FBI Director James Comey suggested that his agency paid over $1.3 million to an unnamed company to unlock the iPhone 5C that was used by Syed Farook Rizwan, the man behind an attack in San Bernardino, California in December 2015.

The Department of Justice and Apple were set to square off in federal court in California in March 2016 before the hearing was called off. The government soon announced that it had been shown a new technique to unlock the phone and no longer needed Apple's help. The DOJ previously received a court order that would have compelled Apple to create an entirely new customized iOS to allow investigators to brute force the passcode on the device. Apple, for its part, forcefully argued that this was a significant government overreach.

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Arctic sea ice coverage is at its 2nd lowest on record

9/16/2016 12:55pm

Enlarge (credit: NASA Earth Observatory)

Mark it down, Arctic sea ice watchers: the US National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) has (preliminarily) called the annual minimum ice extent. On September 10, Arctic sea ice coverage dipped to 4.14 million square kilometers (1.6 million square miles) before ticking back upward for a few days. While it’s possible that a couple more days of shrinkage could come along, that was probably the low point for the year.

That puts 2016 in second place for the lowest minimum on record—statistically tied with 2007, which was within the error bars of this year's data. The record low is retained by 2012, which fell to an incredible 3.39 million square kilometers. This continues the trend of marked decline observed by satellites since 1979.

(credit: National Snow and Ice Data Center)

The ice was a little harder to track than usual this time around. Earlier this year, the Defense Meteorological Satellite Program satellite used by the NSIDC to track Arctic sea ice went on the fritz. After careful calibration, they switched to the next satellite in the series, bringing daily updates back online a couple months later and ensuring that there was no gap in the record.

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After key donations, GOP tried to keep poisoned kids from suing lead makers

9/16/2016 12:46pm

Enlarge / Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. (credit: Getty | Joe Raedle )

Between 2011 and 2012, large, secret donations from the billionaire owner of one of America’s leading lead producers provided critical support to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-led legislature as they weathered recall elections. Not coincidentally, around that time the lawmakers passed two laws that would effectively make it impossible for childhood victims of lead poisoning to sue lead companies, according to leaked documents obtained by The Guardian.

Since the laws were passed, federal courts have overturned key elements of them, ruling them unconstitutional and allowing legal challenges to go forward. However, if the laws had stayed in effect, they would have spared lead industries from potentially paying out millions in damages to hundreds of victims who were exposed to extremely high doses of the poisonous metal through paint during childhood.

“These children were perfectly innocent. They entered life with all the gifts and health that God gave them and were devastated by this neurotoxin,” Peter Earle, the principal attorney on 171 cases that are currently ongoing against lead producers and lead paint manufacturers, told The Guardian.

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Muni ISP forced to shut off fiber-to-the-home Internet after court ruling

9/16/2016 12:29pm

(credit: Virginia Tech)

The city council in Wilson, North Carolina, has reluctantly voted to turn off the fiber Internet service it provides to a nearby town because of a court ruling that prevents expansion of municipal broadband services.

The Federal Communications Commission in February 2015 voted to block laws in North Carolina and Tennessee that prevent municipal broadband providers from expanding outside their territories. After that vote, Wilson's Greenlight fiber Internet service expanded to the nearby town of Pinetops.

But the states of North Carolina and Tennessee sued the FCC to keep their anti-municipal broadband laws in place, and last month they won a federal appeals court ruling that reinstated the law that prevents Wilson from offering Internet service to nearby municipalities. At last night's city council meeting, Wilson decided not to appeal the court decision and voted to terminate the service agreement with the town of Pinetops, Wilson's city spokesperson, Rebecca Agner, told Ars today.

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iPhone 7 teardowns: Big Taptic Engine, Intel modems, waterproofing, and more

9/16/2016 12:24pm
  • The iPhone 7 Plus, exploded. iFixit

It's iPhone release day, and while people around the world wait impatiently by their windows for the delivery truck or in line at Apple Stores, the iPhone teardown cottage industry has been ripping the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus apart to see how they tick.

iFixit's is still the teardown of record, though as of this writing it has only torn down the larger of the two phones. The write-up focuses in part on the stuff that Apple is doing with the space freed up by killing the headphone jack. A bigger battery is part of that—the 2900mAh, 11.1wHr battery in the 7 Plus is a step up from the 2750mAh battery in the 6S Plus, though still not quite as large as the 2915mAh battery in the old 6 Plus. Chipworks' teardown notes that the standard iPhone 7 battery is now 1960mAh, a step up from the 1810mAh in the iPhone 6 and the 1715mAh battery in the 6S.

A lot of that space goes to the new Taptic Engine, too, which is several times larger than the version in the iPhone 6S Plus. Apple says the larger Taptic Engine is more precise, something necessary both to make the solid-state home button feel like a physical button and to enable the haptic feedback API supported on both iPhones 7. And some of it is taken up by a plastic bumper "that seems to channel sound from outside the phone into the microphone."

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How the feds used Internet searches to find 5 child pornography victims

9/16/2016 11:30am

Enlarge / Postal inspectors routinely investigate child pornography cases in the US. (credit: Joshua Lot/Getty Images)

In 2013, US federal agents investigating the child pornography collection of one David S. Engle—who was later sentenced in Washington state to 25 years in prison—came across a new set of eight images. The pictures showed five boys, ranging in age from around seven to 15, urinating outdoors, shaving their pubic hair, and posing naked in bathtubs.

According to an affidavit from Postal Inspector Maureen O'Sullivan, who helped investigate the images, the photo set was "emerging and being widely distributed and traded by child pornography collectors on a national and international scale." Being new and uncatalogued, the images were forwarded to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which maintains a vast database on prohibited images for use in investigations and image blacklists.

While law enforcement generally focuses on finding those who create and/or trade child pornography, a simultaneous effort is made to identify—and if necessary to secure—the victims. At the federal level, this task is centralized within NCMEC at the Child Victim Identification Program (CVIP)—and this new image set wound up at CVIP accordingly. The investigation of the pictures, which took three years to complete, opens a rare window into the world of digital detectives who specialize in tracing some of the world's most horrific imagery.

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Verizon Wireless data meter accuracy questioned after $9,100 bill

9/16/2016 11:12am

Data cap cash. (credit: Aurich Lawson | Getty Images)

Verizon Wireless is facing questions about the accuracy of its data meter after a series of newspaper stories on customers who were charged big overage fees after unexplained data usage increases.

The Plain Dealer of Cleveland on Wednesday detailed a $9,100 bill charged to a customer named Valarie Gerbus. “For months, the mother of two from suburban Tampa paid $118 a month for her cellphone package that included 4 gigabytes of data, which she says she never exceeded,” the article said. “That changed last month when Verizon charged her with using an eye-gouging 569 gigabytes for a whopping $8,535.”

Verizon added $600 to the bill when she dropped her plan. Gerbus refused to pay and asked Verizon “repeatedly” to explain how her bill soared, but she got no answer, the article said. "I told them that I won't pay the bill,'' Gerbus said to the Plain Dealer. "I can either wait until they take it to a collection agency or when they take it to court. Either way, my credit history will be ruined. I can go bankrupt here.''

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Russia bans Pornhub, YouPorn—tells citizens to “meet someone in real life”

9/16/2016 10:15am

Two of the biggest porn sites in the world have been blocked by Russia's media regulator, a decision which has apparently prompted uproar on the country's social media.

Weirder yet, Roskomnadzor, the body that enacted the bans (whose name translated into English is the Federal Service for Supervision of Communications, Information Technology and Mass Media), has been actively engaged in sassing members of the Russian public who complain.

The regulator dropped the banhammer on Tuesday, applying rules which had previously been imposed by two separate regional courts. Any Russian citizen visiting PornHub or YouPorn is now redirected to a simple message telling them that the sites have been blocked "by decision of public authorities."

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Lamar Smith invites legal scholars to tell him what he’s doing is fine

9/16/2016 10:07am

Enlarge / Ronald Rotunda prepares to deliver testimony.

As Chair of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) has sent a lot of subpoenas. It started with his campaign to dig up wrongdoing by NOAA climate scientists after they published a paper updating the agency’s global temperature dataset—an update that happened to weaken Smith’s claim that the world hadn’t warmed in some number of years. When NOAA refused to start handing out the researchers’ e-mails and drafts, Rep. Smith started firing off subpoenas.

More recently, subpoenas went out to several state attorneys general who have launched securities fraud investigations of ExxonMobil. The investigations followed media reports that the company had funded its own climate research in the 1970s and '80s—and that research made it clear that climate change was real and dangerous. After ExxonMobil shut down the research, it focused on fighting any climate policies by claiming that climate change was uncertain. The company never publicly disclosed the potential risks to its business, as regulations require.

Rep. Smith’s subpoenas targeted both the attorneys general pursuing the investigation and a pile of environmental groups that advocated for the investigation. That’s how we got to yesterday’s House Science Committee hearing, entitled “Affirming Congress’ Constitutional Oversight Responsibilities: Subpoena Authority and Recourse for Failure to Comply with Lawfully Issued Subpoenas.” In essence, Smith was seeking legal backing for his actions.

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Accused UK hacker to be extradited to the US to face charges

9/16/2016 9:55am

(credit: BBC)

Briton Lauri Love will be extradited to the US to face charges of hacking, Westminster Magistrates' Court ruled on Friday.

Love faces up to 99 years in prison in the US on charges of hacking as part of the Anonymous collective according to his legal team.

Handing down her ruling at Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London, district judge Nina Tempia told Love that he can appeal against the decision. The case will now be referred to the home secretary Amber Rudd while Love remains on bail.

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Snowden’s bias is blatant—but Gordon-Levitt makes its message powerful

9/16/2016 9:07am

"Is America the greatest country in the world?" "Yes," Gordon-Levitt replies in his role as Edward Snowden.

The first major film event about Edward Snowden did not come this year thanks to Director Oliver Stone. Instead, it came in the form of Citizenfour, the deserving winner of the 2015 Academy Award for Best Documentary.

That film is given a lot of attention in Stone's own creation, this week's Snowden, as many of its scenes include actor portrayals of Snowden, filmmaker Laura Poitras, and journalist Glenn Greenwald. The reenacted documentary scenes are quite authentic, complete with Snowden ducking under a blanket to enter a password while he's being filmed, and they were shot in the same Hong Kong hotel where Snowden was staying when the documents he copied were revealed to the world.

One documentary scene didn't make the dramatized cut, however. The first moment in which Snowden appears in the documentary includes Greenwald asking about the leaker's life and identity. To those, he almost immediately responded, "I'm not the story here."

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The Grand Tour: Clarkson’s Amazon motoring show launches November 18

9/16/2016 9:00am


The Grand Tour—the new Amazon Prime motoring show from ex-Top Gear presenters Jeremy Clarkson, James May, and Richard Hammond—is launching on November 18.

New episodes will run every week exclusively for Amazon Prime and Amazon Prime Video subscribers, but there's no word yet on whether the show will run in regions that do not have access to Prime Video.

While Amazon is keeping the finer details of The Grand Tour firmly under wraps, the company has dropped a few details on what will be in the first episode, which features a studio tent recording in California that will be filmed later this month. The studio tent has previously made its way to Johannesburg, with other locations due to be revealed in the lead-up to launch. Further updates are promised on the show's Facebook and Twitter accounts.

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The Router rumble: Ars DIY build faces better tests, tougher competition

9/16/2016 7:30am

Over the course of 2015, I noticed a trend. Rather than replacing routers when they literally stopped working, I increasingly needed to act earlier—swapping in new gear because an old router could no longer keep up with increasing Internet speeds available in the area. Famously around the Ars forums, this problem soon evolved into our homebrew router initiative. In January, I showed my math as a DIY-Linux router outpaced popular off-the-shelf options like the Netgear Nighthawk X6 and the Linksys N600 EA-2750. And in August, I shared the steps necessary to build one of your own.

After readers got a look at the performance charts, I got a ton of outraged "why didn't you test my favorite brand?!" comments. If you were one of those skeptics, congrats—today is your day! The Ars homebrew router special has been coaxed out of retirement to test its speeds against an entirely new lineup of gear. And to raise the stakes a bit further, the Ars team has broken out some new and improved methods that test more hardware and a couple of purpose-designed router distros. This time, we're even offering power consumption figures as well.

On the right: our test server Monolith, newly upgraded with an Intel server-grade gigabit NIC, plus a trusty Kill-A-Watt power meter. (credit: Jim Salter)

Methodology updates

For our new and improved testing, we're still hammering everything with streams of HTTP connections and varying filesizes. But we've tightened down the time that the HTTP sockets are allowed to respond (from 240 seconds down to 20) mostly in order to make prettier graphs. Wait, did I say graphs? (Yes!) This time around, we're going to look at realtime bandwidth graphs of the testing as it's being performed, which lets us see what's happening with the contestants more clearly than we could the first time around. We'll also look at power consumption for each device, both idle and under (routing) load. And when we look at raw throughput numbers, we're going to look solely at completed downloads, since we care more about "how much can we successfully download" rather than "how much useless noise this thing can make on my network."

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For early prostate cancer, a watchful eye is just as good as treatment

9/16/2016 7:00am

Enlarge / A surgeon performs a robot-assisted prostate tumorectomy using ultrasound imaging. (credit: Getty | JEFF PACHOUD)

In the wake of a cancer diagnosis, deciding to sit back and see how things play out may seem like a ballsy move. But, if that diagnosis is for early-stage prostate cancer, it might be the smart one.

In a trial of 1,643 men diagnosed with early prostate cancer, those who actively monitored their cancer instead of immediately starting treatment had the same minuscule risk of death in a ten-year study as men who underwent either radiation therapy or surgery straightaway. The finding, reported Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that it’s safe to hold off on the often slow-growing cancer when it's caught early and only seek treatments—which can have devastating side effects, including incontinence and impotence—if the disease progresses.

Disease progression (i.e. the cancer grows and spreads to other parts of the body) was more common among the 545 men randomly assigned to the monitoring group. About half ended up getting either radiation or surgery by the end of the ten-year study. However, they still had the same low death rate from the cancer as the radiation and surgery groups—about one percent. And the remaining portion that didn’t progress and go through treatments were able to dodge needless side effects.

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Police IT staff checked wrong box, deleted 25% of body cam footage

9/16/2016 6:00am

Enlarge (credit: Justin Sullivan / Getty Images News)

One-quarter of all body-worn camera footage from the Oakland, California, police was accidentally deleted in October 2014, according to the head of the relevant unit.

As per the San Francisco Chronicle, Sgt. Dave Burke testified on Tuesday at a murder trial that this was, in fact, a mistake.

This incident marks yet another setback in the efforts to roll out body-worn cameras to police agencies nationwide.

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US renewables: Dropping in price, growing in significance

9/15/2016 6:58pm

Enlarge (credit: Iberdrola Renewables)

The Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley Lab has taken on the task of doing an annual evaluation the state of solar and wind power in the United States. With the data in hand from 2015, it recently completed a look at the trends in the two renewable power sources, both of which appear to be booming. Thanks to a restored tax break, wind installations have returned to levels last seen in 2012. But that's tame compared to solar, where 2016 is on track to see more than double the previous record for utility-scale installations.

As a result of the booming market, state renewable energy standards are now lagging behind the time. To meet them, we'd only need to install 3.7GW of solar and wind energy a year; last year saw over 40GW of wind installed alone.

Trends in solar

There are a number of interesting changes mentioned in the report on solar energy. One is that the price of photovoltaic panels has dropped so much that it's changing the way the plants are set up. We're seeing more installations where the total direct current output can exceed the installation's capacity to convert it to alternating current, which is needed before the electricity can be put on the grid. In other words, it now makes economic sense to buy more panels than are strictly needed, just to make sure your DC-to-AC hardware is kept at full capacity when the generating conditions aren't ideal.

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Feds: Explosive Samsung Galaxy Note 7 earns official CPSC recall status

9/15/2016 5:40pm

Enlarge / Samsung's IMEI database flags our Note 7 review unit as defective.

It seemed like Samsung was finally getting its ducks in a row in dealing with the worldwide recall of 2.5 million defective and potentially explosive Galaxy Note 7 devices. Now, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) is finally involved and today it issued an official recall for the Note 7.

The CPSC's official description of the recall is that the Note 7 battery can "overheat and catch fire, posing a serious burn hazard to consumers." The recall affects all Note 7s sold before September 15, 2016, which works out to "about 1 million" units in the US. According to the CPSC's report, "Samsung has received 92 reports of the batteries overheating in the US, including 26 reports of burns and 55 reports of property damage, including fires in cars and a garage." The commission says consumers should "immediately stop using and power down the recalled Galaxy Note 7 devices."

Samsung knew about problems with the Galaxy Note 7 batteries at least as early as September 1, when it halted sales of the Note 7. The CPSC is only getting involved now because Samsung waited eight days before notifying them

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RetroUSB’s AVS hardware breathes new life into old NES cartridges

9/15/2016 5:00pm

Enlarge / With the dust cover open, you can at least see what cartridge you're playing. Inserting and removing those cartridges is a pain, though.

It's a bit of a boom time for retro gamers looking for souped up versions of the original Nintendo Entertainment System hardware. After decades spent dealing with cheap, compromise-ridden Famiclones and janky emulation-based hardware, we now have two competing lines of high quality, highly authentic, HDMI-compatible NES reproductions.

We reviewed the first of these, the Analogue NT, earlier this summer and were impressed with its case construction and its crisp, lag-free graphical output, even as we balked at the more than $500 price tag. But we're even more impressed with the RetroUSB AVS, a system that provides much better value, performance, and features in many ways.

Bad-looking case, great-looking games
  • The AVS box, which looks like something you'd find at a Chinatown bootleg stand.

Out of the box, the AVS certainly doesn't win any awards for case design. The boxy plastic trapezoid mimics the color scheme and button design of the original, boxy NES from 1985. That might be a nice nostalgic nod for some, but overall it makes the system look and feel like a cheap antique toy, especially compared to the smooth aluminum lines of the Analogue NT.

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World’s most valuable dye existed in Peru 1,800 years before anywhere else

9/15/2016 4:53pm

Enlarge / A piece of 6,000-year-old yarn, woven into a sophisticated striped pattern. The blue stripes are dyed with Indigo blue, which doesn't appear elsewhere in the world for another 2,000 years. (credit: Science Advances)

One of the great technological breakthroughs in human civilization was textile manufacturing, which allowed people to weave and dye their own clothes from plants. Weaving was also fundamental for fishing, as it's crucial for making nets. And in the great empires of South America, weaving was also used to produce historical records. The Inca used a writing system called Quipu, where manuscripts were vast tapestries of carefully tied and colored knots, allowing them to produce records about everything from astronomy to trade. Now, a new study in Science Advances reveals that the people of South America were also the first to use indigo blue dye on their cotton fabrics. This dye, still in use today, is one of the most valued and popular in the world.

Archaeologists found evidence of indigo blue on cotton yarn found in Huaca Prieta, located in a lush seaside basin below the rocky mountains of northern Peru. It was once home to a bustling prehistoric settlement of farmers and fishers. People first came here 14,500 years ago, and within a few thousand years they had domesticated a number of staple foods such as beans and squash, as well as cotton. The ancient peoples of Huaca Prieta also left behind a ceremonial mound, full of valued goods and human remains. It was in this mound that researchers found several pieces of yarn, two dating back 6,200 years and 6,000 years. These items were subjected to a chemical and spectrographic analysis, and this showed conclusively the presence of two dye components, indirubin and indigotin, which are signature chemical compounds of indigo. It's unclear what plants the locals used to make indigo, but the researchers think it was likely Indigofera, which is native to the region.

We already knew that people first began domesticating cotton in this region 7,800 years ago, and now it appears that they were making elaborate, striped cloth with it less than 2,000 years later. Indigo was also used elsewhere in the ancient world, notably in Egypt and China, but the first known examples of indigo in the Old World are from Egypt, roughly 4400 years ago. Andean indigo was being used nearly two millennia before it was in Egypt.

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