posted about 6 hours ago on ars technica
(credit: Philippe Put) On Wednesday, a federal judge ruled (PDF) that Arkansas could not prohibit companies from making political robocalls to residences. The calls, he ruled, are protected by the First Amendment despite Arkansas’ Secretary of State arguing that forbidding such calls protect citizens’ privacy and safety. According to the Wall Street Journal, the lawsuit was filed by a Virginia-based communications company called Conquest Communications, whose clients hired it to automatically call residents in Arkansas and ask them to participate in surveys that urge folks to vote. The robocalls also included “advocacy calls and a variety of other calls made in connection with political campaigns.” Thirty-five years ago, Arkansas enacted a law that prohibited automatic pre-recorded voice calling for the purposes of “soliciting information, gathering data, or for any other purpose in connection with a political campaign…” as well as standard prohibitions on selling goods or services via robocall. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 8 hours ago on ars technica
Female Aedes aegypti mosquito as she was in the process of obtaining a "blood meal" (credit: US Department of Health and Human Services) The US Food and Drug Administration requested Wednesday that Florida’s Miami-Dade County and Broward County temporarily stop accepting blood donations after four people in the area inexplicably came down with Zika infections. The four cases were not immediately explained by travel to an area experiencing an outbreak of the mosquito-borne virus, nor from sex with an infected person—the two main ways US residents become infected. This has led some health officials to speculate, though not confirm, that local mosquitoes may be transmitting the virus to residents in those areas. If local transmission is confirmed, the cases would represent the first homegrown outbreak of Zika in the continental US. It would also suggest that Zika infections, which are linked to birth defects in pregnant women but otherwise mild illnesses in adults, may be spreading undetected among Floridians. Thus residents could conceivably donate blood containing infectious viruses without knowing it. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 8 hours ago on ars technica
Oh, does this mask look familiar? It's the fsociety mask in Mr. Robot, right? USA Network Warning: This piece contains minor spoilers for this week's episode of Mr. Robot Mr. Robot rightfully gains a lot of attention for its obsession with detail. The show employs outside consultants to make sure things like its portrayal of the FBI or the bits of code flashing across the screen adhere as closely to reality as possible. As NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans told Ars ahead of the season two premiere, the show simply “gives viewers the feeling everything is grounded in reality… Because they get the details right, the average viewer—and 80 percent of the viewers may not know the computer stuff—can watch it and it feels right. And when the show has to do something that’s unrealistic, this makes it that much easier to buy it.” It turns out this granular focus extends beyond the show's depiction of technology, hacking, or any of the related real world news—it includes video too. Last night's episode (S2E4, "init1.asec") opened with a flashback to Elliot Alderson and his sister Darlene watching a digital copy of one of their favorite childhood VHS tapes. Plot-wise, the sequence revealed a minor detail as it flushed out the origin story of the fsociety hacker mask. But that low impact didn't stop show creator Sam Esmail from ensuring this VHS film became fully realized. Today, USA released the VHS—The Careful Massacre of the Bourgeoisie—online as a sub-10 minute film. Entertainment Weekly reports series staff writer/producer Adam Penn lovingly created this era-appropriate Easter egg, and a quick viewing will ring true for any fan of 1980s b-horror films. For a quick plot synopsis of this NSFW gem: Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 8 hours ago on ars technica
(credit: NASA) Deep-space travel takes a toll on the body—and it’s apparently something you can’t moon-walk off. Apollo astronauts who have ventured out of the protective magnetosphere of mother Earth appear to be dying of cardiovascular disease at a far higher rate than their counterparts—both those that have stayed grounded and those that only flew in the shielding embrace of low-Earth orbit. Though the data is slim—based on only 77 astronauts total—researchers speculate that potent ionizing radiation in deep space may be to blame. That hypothesis was backed up in follow-up mouse studies that provided evidence that similar radiation exposure led to long-lasting damage to the rodents’ blood vessels. All of the data was published Thursday in the journal Scientific Reports. The study, while not definitive, may add an extra note of caution to the potential hazards of future attempts to fly to Mars and elsewhere in the cosmos. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 10 hours ago on ars technica
(credit: Andrew Cunningham) In the months leading up to the announcement of the new Apple TV box last year, there were multiple reports that said the company was also working on a streaming TV service as a way to entice cord-cutters and "cord-nevers" into its ecosystem. Those reports suggested that the service would include some 25 channels and cost $30 or $40 a month, and it would stream live content as well as offer a Netflix-esque back catalog of shows on demand. But it never came to pass. When the new Apple TV launched, Apple pushed apps as the future of TV rather than an all-in-one service. A new report from the Wall Street Journal today says that Apple's negotiating tactics were to blame and that the service didn't come to pass in part because Apple was offering too little money and making too many demands. The report, which it should be noted is sourced mostly from anonymous TV industry executives and not from anyone on Apple's side of the negotiating table, lays most of the blame at the feet of SVP of Internet Software and Services Eddy Cue. The executives say he showed up to a meeting with Time Warner late and underdressed ("jeans, tennis shoes with no socks, and a Hawaiian shirt," which to be fair does sound pretty much like the Eddy Cue we see at Apple events) and that his list of requests included on-demand seasons of popular shows and Tivo-esque cloud-based recordings of shows that would allow for ad skipping. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 11 hours ago on ars technica
Yep, this is real. Continuing its reputation for securing some of the best licenses in the tabletop world, Fantasy Flight Games (FFG) has announced that it's bringing Doom: The Board Game to a tabletop near you in the fourth quarter of 2016. Bewildered video game fans wondering how one might translate the ultra-violent demon grinder into cardboard form may be surprised to learn that FFG already did so in 2004. The new version is a "completely redesigned tactical experience" rather than simply a new edition of the older game, and it's based entirely on the well-received 2016 id and Bethesda outing. The game will support two to five players, with one player controlling the legions of hell and the other players taking on the role of the UAC Marines who have to beat them back (Doomguy has some friends this time around). The gameplay itself looks to be the sort of dice-chucking, miniatures-pushing, grid-based tactical goodness that is FFG is known for with some Doom-specific mechanics weaved in for good measure. Marines must complete various objectives (which we can only assume includes such classic tasks as "get the blue key" and "get the red key") as they fight through the game's 12 included missions, whereas the demon player has only one goal: kill the Marines then kill them again for good measure. The press release ensures us that players can be as aggressive and reckless as they want—"fear of death has no place in this game," as Marines will be able to respawn a few times before going down for good. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 14 hours ago on ars technica
(credit: Mike Mozart) AT&T overcharged two Florida school districts for phone service and should have to pay about $170,000 to the US government to settle the allegations, the Federal Communications Commission said yesterday. AT&T disputes the charges and will contest the decision. The FCC issued a Notice of Apparently Liability (NAL) to AT&T, an initial step toward enforcing the proposed punishment. The alleged overcharges relate to the FCC's E-Rate program, which funds telecommunications for schools and libraries and is paid for by Americans through surcharges on phone bills. The FCC said AT&T should have to repay $63,760 it improperly received from the FCC in subsidies for phone service provided to Orange and Dixie Counties and pay an additional fine of $106,425. AT&T prices charged to the districts were almost 400 percent higher than they should have been, according to the FCC. AT&T violated the FCC's "lowest corresponding price rule" designed to ensure that schools and libraries "get the best rates available by prohibiting E-Rate service providers from charging them more than the lowest price paid by other similarly situated customers for similar telecommunications services," the FCC said. Instead of charging the lowest available price, "AT&T charged the school districts prices for telephone service that were magnitudes higher than many other customers in Florida," the FCC said. Between 2012 and 2015, the school districts paid "some of the highest prices in the state... for basic telephone services." Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 14 hours ago on ars technica
OK, not much has changed with the Spark-Renault SRT_01, but the new nose is rather distinctive. Formula E—the world's first fully electric racing series—recently wrapped its second season with a close championship fight in London. Ahead of the start of the third season later this year, the series has just unveiled a revised version of the Spark-Renault SRT_01 cars that each of the 10 teams will race in cities around the globe. In fact, from the wheels back, the cars are basically the same; the big change is a striking new front wing, meant to make the car look more aggressive: "I like the look of the new front wing—it looks a little bit more futuristic, and from inside the car you can see the top part of the wing, so visually for the driver there is also a small change," said Sebastian Buemi, the Swiss driver and reigning Formula E champion. "We want Formula E to look different and be different, and the new wing is a good way of showing that. I don’t think it will make too big of an impact on aero which isn’t in the ethos of this championship—but it’s a good way to show visual development heading to Hong Kong for the start of season three." Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 15 hours ago on ars technica
NASA's Orion spacecraft may first carry crew into space in 2023. (credit: NASA) At the request of Congress, the nonpartisan US Government Accountability Office reviews the finances and management of federal programs, and this week it released a study critical of NASA’s crew capsule, Orion. Most worryingly, the 56-page report (PDF) regularly draws parallels between the Orion program and another large NASA project, the James Webb Space Telescope. The successor to the Hubble Space Telescope is notorious for ballooning from a 10-year, $500 million project to a 20-year, $8.8 billion instrument that may finally launch in 2018. Although Orion has not yet experienced such dramatic increases in costs, the spacecraft is now into its second decade of development. NASA estimates that it will spend a total of $16 billion to ready Orion for its first crewed flight in April 2023. However, the GAO review, signed by Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management Cristina T. Chaplain, did not find these numbers to be reliable. The federal auditing agency based this conclusion on the fact that only a handful of NASA’s methods for estimating costs and schedule were consistent with “best practices.” Moreover, the GAO found, in making a number of its estimates, NASA appears to be relying too heavily on data analysis from the primary contractor for Orion, Lockheed Martin. In regard to Orion’s cost and schedule estimates, then, the GAO report concludes, “They do not fully reflect the characteristics of quality cost or schedule estimates and neither estimate can be considered reliable.” Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 16 hours ago on ars technica
(credit: quinn norton) Sorry, kids. You may be doing your best at jamming your finger up your nose, digging tirelessly. But it seems scientists are the ones that have struck gold. Sifting through the bacteria that inhabit our cavernous snouts, researchers came up with one that produces a new antibiotic—an antibiotic unlike any other bacteria-busting drug known to modern medicine. That prized chemical nugget can kill off Staphylococcus aureus strains, including the dastardly methicillin resistant kind called MRSA, plus other drug-resistant foes. Though it's still unclear how exactly the new drug slays nasal rivals, scientists are hopeful that the compound will be useful in treating deadly MRSA infections and even clearing out S. aureus from the nose before it has a chance to cause an infection. “Nobody has found something like this before,” Bernhard Krismer, a bacteriologist at the University of Tübingen in Germany and a lead scientist for the research, said in a press briefing. The drug, along with its bacterial maker, have “a huge impact on the composition of the microbiota,” Krismer added. The full results of the nasal excavation appear in the July 28 issue of Nature. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 17 hours ago on ars technica
Allow Harry Brignull to explain. It happens to the best of us. After looking closely at a bank statement or cable bill, suddenly a small, unrecognizable charge appears. Fine print sleuthing soon provides the answer—somehow, you accidentally signed up for a service. Whether it was an unnoticed pre-marked checkbox or an offhanded verbal agreement at the end of a long phone call, now a charge arrives each month because naturally the promotion has ended. If the possibility of a refund exists, it’ll be found at the end of 45 minutes of holding music or a week’s worth of angry e-mails. Everyone has been there. So in 2010, London-based UX designer Harry Brignull decided he’d document it. Brignull’s website, darkpatterns.org, offers plenty of examples of deliberately confusing or deceptive user interfaces. These dark patterns trick unsuspecting users into a gamut of actions: setting up recurring payments, purchasing items surreptitiously added to a shopping cart, or spamming all contacts through prechecked forms on Facebook games. Dark patterns aren’t limited to the Web, either. The Columbia House mail-order music club of the '80s and '90s famously charged users exorbitant rates for music they didn’t choose if they forgot to specify what they wanted. In fact, negative-option billing began as early as 1927, when a book club decided to bill members in advance and ship a book to anyone who didn’t specifically decline. Another common offline example? Some credit card statements boast a 0 percent balance transfer but don’t make it clear that the percentage will shoot up to a ridiculously high number unless a reader navigates a long agreement in tiny print. Read 31 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 21 hours ago on ars technica
Ira Rothken (left) has been representing Kim Dotcom since 2012. (credit: Ira Rothken) Just over a week ago, federal authorities announced the arrest of a Ukrainian man that they say is the mastermind of KickassTorrents (KAT), which, until recently, was the world’s largest BitTorrent search site. Now, the suspect, Artem Vaulin, 30, has retained Ira Rothken, the California lawyer who has successfully kept Kim Dotcom out of custody in New Zealand since 2012. Rothken serves as Dotcom's lead global counsel—his client still faces criminal charges over alleged massive copyright infringement on his now-shuttered site, Megaupload. American prosecutors have failed to get Dotcom extradited to the United States. Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted about 21 hours ago on ars technica
Valve has now released its second piece of software for the HTC Vive virtual reality system: a free spectator hub for its hugely popular online-battling game Dota 2. While the Wednesday release isn't a game per se, my brief test with the surprise-launched VR experience proves that this may very well be a game-changer for the system, and maybe even for e-sports. The Dota 2 VR Hub got its first tease as early as this April, shortly before the Vive hardware saw its commercial launch, but word about the app dried up shortly afterward. And unlike other functions added to Dota 2, including a switchover to the Source 2 engine and Vulkan API support, this VR hub didn't launch in a separate "test" branch or with any major "beta" indication. The mode requires a roughly 300MB installation, which can be toggled in the "DLC" list in the game's Steam "Library" section. What's it like inside? Quite honestly, Dota 2 VR Hub is a total trip. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
(credit: Donald Trump) On Wednesday evening, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential candidate, took to Reddit for an “Ask Me Anything” (AMA) session. Trump didn’t extensively answer many science and technology-related questions—responding to just 12 total questions during the hour—and ignored other crucial issues, such as intellectual property law and Edward Snowden. His answers were very short and sounded very similar to previous things he’s said on the campaign trail. In response to “What role should NASA play in helping to Make America Great Again?” Trump answered: “Honestly I think NASA is wonderful! America has always led the world in space exploration.” Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
This photograph, like nearly all of Carol Highsmith's, is donated to the public via the Library of Congress. (credit: Carol Highsmith / This is America! Foundation) A well-known American photographer has now sued Getty Images and other related companies—she claims they have been wrongly been selling copyright license for over 18,000 of her photos that she had already donated to the public for free, via the Library of Congress. The photographer, Carol Highsmith, is widely considered to be a modern-day successor to her photographic idols, Frances Benjamin Johnston and Dorothea Lange, who were famous for capturing images of American life in the 19th and 20th centuries, respectfully. Inspired by the fact that Johnston donated her life’s work to the Library of Congress for public use in the 1930s, Highsmith wanted to follow suit and began donating her work "to the public, including copyrights throughout the world," as early as 1988. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Over one billion of these things have been sold. (credit: Andrew Cunningham) Apple has sold fewer iPhones in the last two quarters than it did last year, but it's still selling plenty of them. Apple CEO Tim Cook proclaimed today that the company has sold one billion iPhones since the launch of the original device back in 2007. Recent slump aside, the iPhone's astronomical growth rate means that nearly half of those iPhones have been sold within the last two years; about 472 million of those phones were sold between Q3 of 2014 and Q3 of 2016. For his part, Cook expects the iPhone's slump to be temporary, and he has blamed the year-over-year drop on the abnormally high number of upgraders who bought an iPhone 6 after it came out—the 6 and 6 Plus were Apple's first large-screened phones and there was a lot of pent-up demand. New iPhones (possibly without headphone jacks) are due in the fall, and we'll need to wait until then to see if new models can restart the phone's steady growth. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
(credit: Delaware.gov) Soft, juicy, delicious tomatoes were a feature of my childhood and are still available from the plants I grow each summer. However, they've largely vanished from stores. The ripe fruits don't hold up well to shipping, so producers have focused on growing variants where mutations have partially blocked the ripening process. These tomatoes stay firm longer, but it comes at the cost of texture and flavor—as well as a decline in their nutritional value. Now, researchers seem to have identified an enzyme that specifically helps soften the tomato during the ripening process. By knocking its activity down, they've interfered with softening while leaving other aspects of the ripening process intact. The result is a ripe fruit that can sit at room temperature for two weeks and still remain firm. In some ways, the surprise of these results isn't that they happened; it's that they took so long. A high-quality tomato genome sequence was first published in 2012, and it allowed researchers to identify more than 50 genes that were likely to encode proteins that could modify the plant cell wall. Four of these genes appeared to be active at high levels in the ripening fruit, and so these genes were targeted through genetic engineering. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
Hello, Xbox Design Lab box! Back in the day, if you wanted a specially colored game controller, too bad. Gamers were stuck with the system default (unless you bought a cruddy third-party pad, of course). The N64 was the first system to buck that trend, launching 20 years ago with six default controller colors. This many years (and consoles) later, the novelty has worn off. Or, has it? At this year's E3, Microsoft announced that players could head to Xbox Design Lab to really customize their Xbox One controllers by letting them pick seven discrete color options spread across its body and buttons. We had a chance to see a few sample pads during the conference, and now we've gone and gotten ourselves a pair of fully customized pads. As a result, we've observed exactly how Xbox Design Lab's $80-$90 controllers look from Web-store interface to couch-combat reality—but we've also gotten to see their biggest Bluetooth-related shortcoming for now. Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
Intel's Core m3 Compute Stick. Andrew Cunningham Back in January at CES, Intel showed us a full range of mini desktop PCs that it has been releasing steadily over the course of the year. The first was a new, inexpensive version of its Compute Stick, followed by a new, mainstream Skylake NUC, and finally a quad-core NUC box that wasn't quite like anything the company had done before. Now Intel has sent us the last device we learned about at the beginning of the year: a Core m3-powered version of the Compute Stick that sits somewhere between the Atom version and the Skylake NUC on the price and performance spectrum. It looks more or less like the Atom version we've already seen, but it introduces a few neat ideas (and enough performance) that it's actually plausible as a general-use desktop computer. The bad news is the price tag, which at $380 (with Windows, $300 without, and XXX with Windows and a Core m5) is pretty far outside the sub-$150 impulse-buy zone that the other Compute Sticks exist inside. So how well does it work? What compromises do you make when you shrink a decent laptop's worth of power into a stick? And how big is the niche for a relatively powerful, relatively expensive stick-sized desktop, anyway? Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
The Mi Notebook Air in gold and silver. Overnight, the Chinese smartphone maker Xiaomi announced that it's jumping into the laptop market with the launch of the definitely-not-Macbook-inspired Mi Notebook Air. For now, the Windows 10 devices only have a release date in China. The 13.3-inch version is about $750 (RMB 4999) and has a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-6200U (Turbo up to 2.7GHz), 8GB of DDR4 RAM, an Nvidia Geforce 940MX, a 256GB PCIe SSD with a factory expandable SATA SSD slot, and 802.11AC Wi-Fi. The 13-inch version measures 309.6mm x 210.9mm x 14.8mm (12.18" × 8.3" × 0.58") and weighs 2.82 pounds (1.28kg). Xiaomi is claiming a "9.5 hour" battery life. If you're looking for something a little smaller, there's the $525 (RMB 3499) 12.5-inch model. That version has an Intel Core M3 with integrated graphics, 4GB of RAM, a 128GB SSD, and 802.11AC Wi-Fi. The device weighs (1.07kg), measures 292 x 202 x 12.9mm (11.5" × 7.95" × 0.51"), and has a claimed "11.5 hours" battery life. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
A once-upon-a-time company called "BusCall" advertised its product in a video, pictured here. Its patents have become the basis for hundreds of lawsuits against companies that use vehicle and package tracking. (credit: BusCall) The three biggest patent trolls of 2015 will all soon face new legal challenges to their most valuable "inventions." United Patents, a company that focuses on invalidating patents through the use of the inter partes review (IPR) process, has filed challenges against patents belonging to the three most litigious "non-practicing entities" of 2015. In late June, the company challenged Uniloc's patent on DRM. Last week, it filed papers against a company called Sportbrain Holdings, which makes wide patent claims over fitness tracking devices. On Monday, United challenged Shipping & Transit LLC, formerly known as ArrivalStar, a company that has demanded payments from hundreds of small companies—and even city transit systems—for using GPS vehicle tracking or sending package tracking numbers in e-mail. The IPR process, created in 2012, has proven effective at knocking out patents that the Patent Office says shouldn't have been issued in the first place. Many private companies have used IPRs, as have third-party organizations like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which challenged the podcasting patent. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
Enlarge / Surface Pro 3. (credit: Peter Bright) Microsoft says that it is going to release a software update for Surface Pro 3 systems that should restore their battery life without requiring any hardware fixes. Over the last few months, there have been scattered claims that some Surface Pro 3 systems are suffering from extremely poor battery life. Some amount of battery degradation over the lifetime of a system is to be expected, but some owners of Microsoft's tablet computer are saying that battery life has dropped to as little as one to two minutes, which is far below what it ought to be, even after many charging cycles. Windows' own battery health reporting shows that the charge capacity of affected batteries has dropped precipitously, from the 42Wh they started with to, in some cases, less than 0.2Wh. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
In comments that appeared to condone the hacking of sensitive US correspondence, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Wednesday said he hoped Russia locates missing e-mails sent by Hillary Clinton when she was US secretary of state. "Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 e-mails that are missing," Trump said during a news conference. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let's see if that happens. That'll be nice." Donald Trump on Russia missing Hillary Clinton e-mails (C-SPAN). At the same event, Trump also said, "I'm not gonna tell Putin what to do. Why should I tell Putin what to do?... It's not even about Russia or China or whoever it is that's doing the hacking. It's about the things they said in those e-mails. They were terrible things." A video of the entire news conference is here. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
Jacob Appelbaum is a former Tor staffer. (credit: SHAREconference) The Tor Project said Wednesday that its internal investigation has been completed into allegations of sexual misconduct allegedly perpetrated by one of its most prominent staffers, who has since left the organization. In a statement, Executive Director Shari Steele wrote that the inquiry concluded that "many people inside and outside the Tor Project have reported incidents of being humiliated, intimidated, bullied, and frightened" by Jacob Appelbaum, a now-ex-member of Tor’s "Core Team," adding, "and several experienced unwanted sexually aggressive behavior from him." The Tor Project is the Massachusetts-based nonprofit that maintains Tor, the well-known open source online anonymity tool. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 1 day ago on ars technica
(credit: Virginia Tech) As Verizon plans a fiber expansion in Boston, CEO Lowell McAdam yesterday said the company is talking to other cities about potentially building fiber networks. Verizon stopped expanding its FiOS fiber-to-the-home Internet, TV, and phone service several years ago, making it a surprise when in April the telco announced plans to replace its copper network in Boston with fiber. In an earnings call yesterday (see transcript), McAdam said, "We are talking to other cities about similar partnerships." Verizon's fiber expansion plans are as much about improving backhaul to its more profitable mobile network as they are about bringing wired Internet to people's homes. "We will create a single fiber-optic network platform capable of supporting wireless and wireline technologies and multiple products," McAdam said. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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