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Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock In the fourth day of the Ars UNITE virtual conference, we took a look at how the promise of cheap virtual reality head-mounted displays from Oculus and others are already revolutionizing fields well outside of the gaming industry that gets the most attention. This morning's feature on the topic attracted a number of comments, ranging from skepticism to excitement. "I remember the last time it was all the rage. E3 1995 IIRC," commenter Feniks noted, echoing others who remember the last time VR was the "next big thing." But our expert live chat panel agreed that things are different this time around. "For starters, the technology is more affordable today than it was back then," Virtually Better Inc.'s Dr. Marat Zanov said. "I think what happened in the 90's wasn't nearly the scale of what we're seeing now. The number of companies, from tiny startups to megacorps, that are investing in the technology at this point is unprecedented," added NASA JPL engineer Jeffrey Norris. Other commenters said they feel the technology isn't quite there yet, with commenter DisplayNameTaken complaining about feelings of nausea, even on the Oculus DK2 with additional head-tracking hardware. "This is a technology where fine tuning the apps is what's going to sell it at this point because I can see people having a bad experiences and swearing it off for good. The first time, I was in 5 minutes and had to lay down an hour [because] my head was swimming so bad. I really want this to take off." Read 114 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Inflation—in the cosmic sense, at least—has been in the news lately. Early this year, researchers announced that they found conclusive evidence that our Universe experienced a period of rapid expansion fractions of a second after the Big Bang, an event that left its mark on the present-day Universe. Unfortunately, that result hasn't held up well under more intense scrutiny. But it's worth understanding what all the fuss is about. Inflation is the only way we have of explaining how the Big Bang could possibly produce the Universe that we find ourselves in today. And the theory has consequences, including the implication that our Universe is not alone; other universes would pop into existence as inflation sped faster than the boundaries of our Universe expanded. If this sounds like your cup of tea, then you'll have a great opportunity tomorrow afternoon. Alan Guth, the theoretical physicist who was instrumental in developing inflationary theory, is doing a live session in which he'll explain inflation and field questions about it. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Nintendo Nintendo's latest internal financial report came with a Tuesday presentation from company president Satoru Iwata, who took the opportunity to announce a new type of product being developed by the game maker: a touchless sleep sensor. (Wait, really?) Though neither a design nor product name was announced, Iwata repeatedly described a forthcoming "Quality of Life Sensor" meant to sit next to a user's bed during sleep. Overnight, the product will visually record "movements of your body, breathing, and heartbeat," then upload resulting data to Nintendo's cloud servers so that a corresponding app can analyze your sleep and offer suggestions for better rest in the future. "Fatigue and sleep are themes that are rather hard to visualize in more objective ways," Iwata said. "At Nintendo, we believe that if we could visualize them, there would be great potential for many people regardless of age, gender, language, or culture." Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Intel Free Press The Internal Revenue Service asked a federal appeals court Thursday to reconsider its September ruling that allowed Electronic Arts founder William "Trip" Hawkins to avoid paying $26 million in California and federal taxes. The IRS said that Hawkins is not qualified to enjoy the tax relief benefits from his 2006 bankruptcy. The taxing agency claims that Hawkins maintained a wealthy lifestyle ahead of his bankruptcy filing instead of satisfying his tax debt. But the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals didn't agree, and a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based court ruled 2-1. "A mere showing of spending in excess of income is not sufficient to establish the required intent to evade tax; the government must establish that the debtor took the actions with the specific intent of evading taxes," the court said. "Indeed, if simply living beyond one’s means, or paying bills to other creditors prior to bankruptcy, were sufficient to establish a willful attempt to evade taxes, there would be few personal bankruptcies in which taxes would be dischargeable. Such a rule could create a large ripple effect throughout the bankruptcy system. As to discharge of debts, bankruptcy law must apply equally to the rich and poor alike, fulfilling the Constitution’s requirement that Congress establish 'uniform laws on the subject of bankruptcies throughout the United States.'" Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A different RNA-based enzyme, showing how complex even short molecules can be. UCSB Even the simplest forms of life, like bacteria, have a handedness, one that's built into the chemicals they're composed of. The complex, three-dimensional molecules that are essential to life can have the same exact set of atoms, yet be physically distinct—one the mirror image of the other. All the amino acids that life uses have a single orientation; same with all the sugars. While life is very good at operating with this handedness, called chirality, nature isn't. Most chemical reactions produce a mixture of left and right forms of molecules. This seemingly creates a problem for the origin of life—if both chiral forms were available, how did life pick just one? The problem is even more severe than that. If both forms are present, then the reactions that duplicate DNA and RNA molecules don't work. And without those reactions, life won't work. Now, researchers have found this doesn't pose much of a barrier at all. Through a little test-tube based evolution, they were able to make an RNA molecule that could copy other RNA molecules with the opposite chirality. In other words, they made a right hand that could only copy the left. But the duplicate, the left-handed form, could then readily copy the right-handed version. And as an added bonus, the new RNA molecule may be one of the most useful copying enzymes yet evolved. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The next wave of virtual reality may be largely driven by the gaming industry, but the technology's impact is being explored and felt by many other fields as well. Join us at 1pm Eastern for a discussion of how the cheap availability of quality VR headsets is already changing the worlds of psychology and space exploration. With us today are: Dr. Marat V. Zanov, director of training at Virtually Better Inc., which has used VR in the treatment of phobias and trauma for decades. Dr. Albert "Skip" Rizzo , USC Institute for Creative Technology, who has been researching therapeutic uses for VR since the early '90s. Victor Lee and Jeff Norris, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory who are using VR to improve Martian mapping techniques and robotic remote controls. Please join us using the link below and participate by leaving comments and questions for our panelists either before or during the event. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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Verizon Wireless has agreed to a $64.2 million settlement in a class action lawsuit that alleged it billed phone customers for calls that were supposed to be free. The proposed settlement (PDF) was filed last week in US District Court in New Jersey and first reported by Law360. "The motion asks US District Judge Jose L. Linares to sign off on the agreement, which would include a $36.7 million cash payment from Verizon in addition to $27.5 million in 'calling units' that will be accessible via personal identification number," Law360 wrote. The lawyers who represented consumers will get $19.26 million from the total settlement amount. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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As a rule, you don't spend $2 billion on a company like Oculus without expecting the technology to eventually reach some kind of world-changing scale. In an earnings call earlier this week, though, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it could take a little bit of time before virtual reality becomes a market force that could represent the kind of "new major computing platform" that only comes around once every ten or 15 years. "[Oculus] needs to reach a very large scale, 50 million to 100 million units, before it'll really be a very meaningful thing as a computing platform," Zuckerberg said during the call to investors and analysts. "So I do think it's going to take a bunch of years to get there. ... That'll take a few cycles of the device to get there, and that's kind of what I'm talking about. And then when you get to that scale, that's when it starts to be interesting as a business in terms of developing out the ecosystem." Even with 100,000 development kits already distributed worldwide, Zuckerberg sees the first few consumer iterations of the Rift, expected in the next few years, to merely be the tip of the spear for VR as a platform, so to speak. "So when I'm talking about that as a 10-year thing, it's building the first set of devices and building the audience and the ecosystem around that until it eventually becomes a business." Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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If anyone was unaware of GamerGate by this point, Stephen Colbert provided a one-night crash course through an editorial segment (below) and an interview with critic Anita Sarkeesian (above). "You and the other feminazis in the gamer world are coming for our balls, to snip 'em off, put 'em in a little felt purse, and take them away so we have to play your non-violent games, right?" "Not quite. There is something going on," Sarkeesian replied. "What it is, is women are being harassed, threatened, and terrorized..." "After you first attacked male gamers for enjoying looking at big breasted women with tiny armor that barely covers their nipples?" Colbert interjected. "What's wrong with that? I'm a man, baby. Newsflash: I like that." In typical Colbert fashion, the host boiled down a hot media controversy to its core and found spots of seeming lunacy. Sarkeesian retold the story of her lecture at Utah State University being canceled after an anonymous threat to have the biggest school shooting to date. She dismissed the "threat" of women gamers, saying it may be a result of the gaming industry's resistance to becoming more inclusive. Colbert's response to all of that? "Why not just have a separate game? Have separate but equal games?" Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Spoooooooky! Earlier today, Ars IT editor Sean Gallagher was doing some scary things with wireless when he discovered someone probing for a Wi-Fi network with a name that appeared to be something un-parseable. I theorized that it was actually something in Unicode that Wireshark wasn't parsing properly. "So someone has a Unicode SSID?" Gallagher asked, incredulous. That's the strangest SSID I've ever seen. Sean Gallagher I was inspired. I wanted a Unicode SSID—one that could match the season and give my network name a seasonal gothic flare. So I set out to see if I could do it with my own Wi-Fi network. While I was successful, the effect may be lost on Windows users and others on devices that can't handle Unicode characters in their wireless network name. And as Gallagher determined, it doesn't work on all Wi-Fi networking hardware. OS X ♥ Unicode The tools Unicode has some fun characters that can be used to generate a spooky SSID, but it can be difficult to type these characters using a traditional keyboard. After some digging around, I found the excellent Unicode Text Converter. This page allows you to enter a simple string and get back a variety of clever representations. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Apple CEO Tim Cook speaking during a September 2012 media event. Nathan Mattise / Ars Technica After years of speculation and debate about the seemingly open secret of Apple CEO Tim Cook's sexuality, Cook himself finally addressed the matter in an editorial in Bloomberg Businessweek Thursday. "I’ve come to realize that my desire for personal privacy has been holding me back from doing something more important. That’s what has led me to today," Cook wrote. "While I have never denied my sexuality, I haven’t publicly acknowledged it either, until now. So let me be clear: I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me." Cook had long been a focal point in discussions about powerful gay CEOs. He's also been in the middle of a meta-discussion about titans of industry and their right to privacy versus the powerful position Cook is in as a member of the LGBT community who, as Felix Salmon at Reuters wrote, "rises to a position of great success and prominence." For a long time, Cook wrote at Bloomberg, many Apple colleagues knew he was gay, but he refrained from publicly defining himself as such. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Stockmonkeys.com Since 1998, breaking most types of digital locks, often called Digital Rights Management (DRM), is against the law. Even well-lawyered companies that tried to plead fair use, as RealPlayer did in 2008, have been crushed. What chance does a regular Joe have? But if you have a legal use for copyrighted content, there is an "out." Every three years, the Copyright Office accepts petitions on what activities should get an "exemption" under the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The sixth tri-annual rulemaking is now upon us, and the deadline is this Monday, November 3. "It's not a heavy life to file a petition," said Sherwin Siy, VP of legal affairs at Public Knowledge, an advocacy group that's long been active on copyright issues. "Five pages, max, short and sweet." Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Aurich Lawson / Thinkstock Welcome to Ars UNITE, our week-long virtual conference on the ways that innovation brings unusual pairings together. Today, a look at how virtual reality excitement is happening beyond the world of gaming. Join us this afternoon for a live discussion on the topic with article author Kyle Orland and his expert guests; your comments and questions are welcome. When Oculus almost single-handedly revived the idea of virtual reality from its ‘90s vaporware grave, it chose the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo as the place to unveil the first public prototype of the Rift headset. The choice of a gaming convention isn’t that surprising, as the game industry has been the quickest and most eager to jump on potential applications for VR. Gaming has already demanded the majority of the attention and investments in the second VR boom that Oculus has unleashed. But just as the Rift itself is the result of what Oculus calls a “peace dividend from the smartphone wars,” other fields are benefiting from virtual reality’s gaming-driven growth. Creators all over the world are looking beyond entertainment to adapting head-mounted displays for everything from psychotherapy, special-needs education, and space exploration to virtual luxury car test drives, virtual travel, and even VR movies. The well-worn idea of “gaming on the holodeck” may be driving much of the interest in virtual reality, but the technology’s non-gaming applications could be just as exciting in the long term. Read 42 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Microsoft After being leaked just a few hours ago, it's now official: Microsoft's first entry into the wearable space is Microsoft Band, a fitness band. The gadget isn't a smartwatch and isn't intended to replace your watch. It's a Bluetooth fitness band packed full of sensors: optical heart rate sensing, 3-axis accelerometers with a gyroscope to track movement, GPS to track your runs even if you leave your phone at home, skin temperature, galvanic skin response presumably to measure sweating, ambient light and UV light, and a microphone so it can be used with Cortana on Windows Phone. Microsoft The 1.4 inch touch screen with its 320×106 resolution can deliver alerts, and there's a vibration motor too. Twin 100mAh batteries give it 48 hours of what Microsoft calls "normal use" though GPS can shorten this. The charge time is 1.5 hours, using a magnetically attached USB charger. There are three different sizes, so it should fit on most wrists. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Rumors that Microsoft was coming up with its own cross-platform appear to have been validated with the perhaps accidental disclosure of apps for OS X, Windows Phone, Android, and iOS designed to support the gadget. Windows Central was first to spot the early publication. The OS X app 5 more images in gallery The device will be called "Microsoft Band". Thanks to the app in the Mac App Store, we have a good idea of what it will look like: a black wristband with a screen. Functionally, it looks like it's going to be a pretty standard fitness band: it'll count footsteps (and use this information to attempt to count calories burned), and appears to monitor heart-rates day and night to tell you how well you're sleeping. The Windows Phone app. The apps for iOS and Android look all but identical. 5 more images in gallery As we should expect, there will also be a cloud service for accumulating and analyzing the data the band collects. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Not content with launching five Yoga-branded tablets earlier this month, Lenovo has added a sixth device to its range. The new device almost rounds out the range announced before. The new line-up has 8-inch and 10-inch tablets in both Android and Windows variants, and a 13-inch Android tablet, the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro, that also includes an integrated projector that can cast a 50-inch picture. Lenovo 4 more images in gallery Today, the company has announced a 13-inch Windows tablet, the Yoga Tablet 2 Windows. This is almost a counterpart to the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro, matching its 13.3 inch 2560×1440 screen, quad core Intel Atom Z3745 processor at up to 1.86GHz, 802.11a/b/g/n dual-band Wi-Fi, 15-hour battery life, and a 2.27lb weight. But it's not quite identical. The Windows tablet doesn't have the integrated projector. It does, however, double the RAM, to 4GB, and double the storage, to 64GB. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The latest version of the Android operating system, Lollipop, adds encryption by default, along with a variety of easy-to-use ways to lock and unlock the phone and a more secure foundation to help protect devices against current threats. In a blog post published on Tuesday, Google described the features, which will begin shipping with the Lollipop operating system in new Android devices in the coming weeks. While some of the capabilities, such as encryption, are already included in the current Android OS, the new version will turn them on by default. Many of the security features were born of Android’s open-source foundations and the fact that other researchers and companies can create and test new security features for the operating system, Adrian Ludwig, lead security engineer for Android at Google, said during a briefing on the security features. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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University of Virginia Early in my training, I learned one rule: loss is not your friend. In laser physics, loss means that every photon that goes missing is a photon that no longer stimulates emission. And, with every lost photon, it becomes just that little bit harder to keep a laser going. So, when Science published a paper showing that this rule doesn't always hold, I was intrigued. Also it gives me the chance to talk about lasers, which I never tire of. Gain, loss, and lasers Before we get to the experiment, let's talk about lasers in general. Lasers emit light through a process called stimulated emission. Stimulated emission only dominates under two conditions: there has to be more emitters ready to emit light instead of absorbing light. This is referred to as population inversion, and provides the gain (or the source of light amplification). The other requirement is that there is light present to stimulate emission. To put it slightly incorrectly, the amplifier needs something to amplify. Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Some 2011 MacBook Pros with AMD GPUs are experiencing graphical corruption issues. Apple Support Communities poster abelliveau Last week three men filed a class action lawsuit in Northern California District Court alleging that Apple's 2011 MacBook Pro laptops were defective and that Apple did not take proper steps to compensate customers whose hardware broke. The lawsuit specifically addresses 15” and 17” MacBook Pros from 2011, which the plaintiffs claim suffered from “random bouts of graphical distortion, system instability, and system failures.” The plaintiffs also assert that the problem is widespread, with an online survey conducted by the plaintiffs receiving over 3,000 responses from 2011 MacBook Pro owners in a single week. In the complaint, the plaintiffs blame the solder used to connect the dedicated GPU in the laptops to the main circuit board, saying that the solder was lead-free to comply with EU regulations, and made its way into US products so Apple could save on manufacturing costs. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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After listening to our resident alien life form and cable industry sleuth Jon Brodkin lament yesterday evening that he hadn’t been invited to join Verizon’s funded cadre of tech writers over at SugarString, I popped over to the site and flipped through the articles, wondering what Brodkin was missing out on. SugarString's layout isn’t afflicted with what StackExchange developer Jeff Atwood once referred to as "Pinterest Cancer," so I scrolled through and clicked on a few things to get a feel for what kind of reporting—or possibly "reporting"—the Verizon-controlled site was producing. This story caught my eye: Not sure if entitlement or just hyperbole. SugarString In the piece, author Meredith Haggerty reached out to three different professionals and gauged their reaction to the idea of being made to work in an office where the employer disallows the use of Google Chat (informally, "GChat"). Haggerty’s first interview subject drew a line in the sand, responding strongly in the negative when asked whether or not he would work in such an office: Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Today was the third day of Ars UNITE, our virtual conference, and the topic of the day was the advent of the self-driving car. Our self-driving car feature this morning looked at the technological solutions that will soon allow our cars to drive themselves under certain circumstances, assuming the regulations and other policy issues are in place. That piece has seen a lively discussion covering a number of different areas. Ars reader mexaly suggested that “[t]o succeed, robots need only drive better than average humans. That's not a high bar.” Some were skeptical that self-driving cars would be safer. caldron writes, “I think it is a big leap to assume a self-drive is better than a human at driving. Sure in certain conditions and in terms of reaction time, but no computers have been able to reach our level of decision making and ability to react in abstract and unpredictable situations, and there is none in the foreseeable future. We make constant micro-decisions all the time. When there is a grey-area situation that requires deduction I am not so sure a computer will be able to react properly.” Read 66 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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It's never a good day when the Halon discharges in the server room. Keith4048 It all began when the monitors started bursting into flames. Well, at least that’s when I knew I had walked into a tech support horror story. Back in the day when the cathode-ray tube was still the display of choice and SVGA really was super, I was working as a network engineer and tech support manager for a government contractor at a large military research lab. I spent two years on the job, and I learned in the process that Murphy was an optimist. The experience would provide me with enough tech horror stories and tales of narrow escape through the most kludged of hardware and software hacks ever conceived to last a lifetime—and to know that I would much rather be a writer than work in tech support ever again. Of course, all of us have tech horror stories to tell, especially those of us who were “early adopters” before the term was de rigueur. So we’re looking for you, our readers, to share yours. The most bone-chilling and entertaining of which we’ll publish tomorrow in honor of Halloween—that day each year when some people change their Twitter handles to pseudo-spooky puns, and others just buy bags of candy to have ready for the traditional wave of costumed home invaders. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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redditmade reddit has launched its own crowdfunding platform dubbed "redditmade" as of Wednesday, according to a post on the site. redditmade focuses on campaigns for T-shirts and knick-knacks associated with subreddit communities, but the boundaries expand as far as "the best designs and products by the community." redditmade joins platforms like Kickstarter and Indiegogo, but with a more specific focus on redditors and items they want to see made. Sample projects on the redditmade front page currently include a "Not A Cocktail" book associated with r/cocktails, a t-shirt for r/redditblack, and bumper stickers for the r/camping subreddit. While anyone can open any project for funding, the redditmade FAQ clarifies that "Official subreddit campaigns are distinguished on redditmade as featured campaigns, and they can also receive complimentary ads on reddit for the subreddit they are associated with." The ads are auto-generated but are not shown if the ad space has already been sold, reddit says. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Biblioteca de Art A movie theater industry group and the Motion Picture Association of America updated their anti-piracy policies and said that "wearable devices" must be powered off at show time. "Individuals who fail or refuse to put the recording devices away may be asked to leave. If theater managers have indications that illegal recording activity is taking place, they will alert law enforcement authorities when appropriate, who will determine what further action should be taken," said a joint statement from the MPAA and the National Association of Theatre Owners, which maintains 32,000 screens across the United States. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A very SCARY Wednesday to you, fellow Arsians! On this fine fall day, our partners at TechBargains have lined up a truly BOO-TIFUL selection of FRIGHTENING deals, sure to make your HAIR STAND ON END! (Cue maniacal laughter here!) Yeah, OK, jumping the gun on Halloween a bit, but we watched the Tales from the Crypt intro on YouTube a few minutes ago and are feeling the vibe. OR SHOULD WE SAY... THE... knife... vibe? No, that doesn't work. TERRIFYING GHOST SOUNDS! OOOooooOOOO! Below are our most HAUNTING bargains, featuring a Dell Inspiron with a Haswell i5 for just $549—a price guaranteed to make anyone SCREAM! But in delight, not terror, because it's a pretty good deal. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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