posted 1 day ago on ars technica
Awesome Minecraft architecture by Arsian qchronod. Lee Hutchinson As predicted last week by the Wall Street Journal, Microsoft used its Xbox blog to announce that it has acquired Mojang AB, the Swedish company behind the blocky sandbox game Minecraft. Last week the rumors were that the company’s acquisition price would be a whopping $2 billion, although Reuters and a few others suggested a higher amount.  According to Mojang AB’s blog, those guessing high had it right—the total amount was, as Mojang puts it, "a smooth 2.5 BILLION dollars." The obvious fear when a small company swallows a large one for a valuable IP like Minecraft is that the large company is going to radically change the formula that made the IP successful in the first place. For Minecraft, radical change would mean altering the egalitarian, open-platform nature of Minecraft or undermining the vast community of livestreamers who monetize their own Minecraft experiences. Though the deal is only just now being made public, early indications from both Microsoft and Mojang are that fundamental changes to Minecraft's formula won’t be happening—at least, not yet. The expectation right now is that the majority of the company's employees will remain in place and working on Minecraft. Founders Persson, Carl O. Manneh, and H. Jakob Porsér, however, will all be departing. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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There have been no less than 11 federal judicial rulings striking down patents as "abstract" since the US Supreme Court's June 26 decision in Alice v. CLS Bank. It's a high number. The case was recognized as a big decision by commentators when it came, and what's happened since suggests the ramifications may be broader than first thought. Vox Media's Tim Lee (former Ars contributor) has an article rounding up the 11 rulings. The list only highlights patents that have lost under Section 101 of the US patent law, which governs when a patent is an "abstract idea" that can't be patented. Section 101 wins are important to repeat defendants, because they're wins without going through discovery and hiring costly experts. However, some members of the patent bar see Section 101 as an overly blunt tool for weeding out bad patents from true innovations. Many of the patents being knocked out under 101 are "do it on a computer" patents that take everyday activity and add a lot of computer jargon. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Space Shuttle Enterprise: namesake of the Star Trek spaceship, and one of NASA's greatest, and biggest, behind-the-scenes testing tools. (video link) NEW YORK—The space shuttle Enterprise has been ensconced aboard the USS Intrepid for just over two years. It sits in a silent warehouse, dramatically lit so it appears to be cruising in a dark vacuum. Tourists can wander around or under it at the exhibit; they can even walk up some stairs and get nose-to-nose with the Enterprise, staring down its long axis through a thick layer of glass. While the whole thing evokes space exploration, the Enterprise has never actually made it out of Earth's atmosphere. The shuttle on display has the distinction of being one of NASA's biggest workhorses despite earning perhaps the least amount of glory among the entire space shuttle fleet. So while visitors look closely at the Enterprise, they can see what has stopped it from earning more prestige and examine the scars its body has retained from experimentation during its years in service from 1976 through 2012. Casey Johnston Like the USS Enterprise it's named after, the Enterprise shuttle is more or less fake. Where a shuttle's $40 million engines should be, the Enterprise has mere mockups, covered by a cone for aerodynamic purposes. A shuttle should be speckled with reaction control system thrusters to help maintain or change its orientation in space. But since the Enterprise has always been Earth-bound, it has nothing but covered holes. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Opium poppies—soon to be a thing of the past? Stanford The past few decades have seen enormous progress being made in synthetic biology—the idea that simple biological parts can be tweaked to do our bidding. One of the main targets has been hacking the biological machinery that nature uses to produce chemicals. The hope is that,once we understand enough, we might be able to design processes that convert cheap feedstock, such as sugar and amino acids, into drugs or fuels. These production lines can then be installed into microbes, effectively turning living cells into factories. Taking a leap in that direction, researchers from Stanford University have created a version of baker’s yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) that contains genetic material from the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum), bringing the morphine microbial factory one step closer to reality. These results, published in the journal Nature Chemical Biology, represent a significant scientific success, but eliminating the need to grow poppies may still be years away. More than bread and booze If dog has been man’s best friend for thousands of years, the humble yeast has long been man’s second-best friend. The single-cell organism has been exploited by human societies to produce alcoholic beverages and bread for more than 4,000 years. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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"Apple Pay beta" TheTruthAbout A couple of months ago I was visiting New York City and had to catch an early flight out of LaGuardia. At 4:30am I hailed a taxi on Houston Street and the driver and I sped to the airport over dark, empty streets. On the way, I found a Samsung Note 3 in my bag that Review Editor Ron Amadeo had sent me a few weeks before. The thing had a Near-Field Communications (NFC) chip in it, and I had set up my Google Wallet account on it earlier. I also noticed that the taxi I was in had a tap-to-pay terminal displayed in the backseat. I am a consummate morning person, and a rush of new-day adrenaline told me that it was time to make my first Google Wallet purchase in three years—my last one occurring in 2011 when I reviewed the service at its debut for PCWorld. As we pulled up to the curb, the driver continued to ignore me as I got out my phone. I touched the Note 3 to the terminal. The phone vibrated, but nothing happened. At this point, the driver turned around. I gave an embarrassed laugh and he said a few polite words but he had no idea how to help me. “Nobody ever uses their phone to pay,” he said. I tried again. Nothing. But the driver was curious now, and maybe because it was so early in the morning and he had nothing else going on, he got out of the taxi and came around to my side. Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Stack Exchange This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 100+ Q&A sites. durron597 asks: I was naughty. Too much "cowboy coding," not enough committing. Now, here I am with an enormous commitment. Yes, I should have been committing all along, but it's too late now. Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Aurich Lawson It's now been nearly 10 months since we first sized up the launch day competition between the Xbox One and PS4 (and even longer since we took a holistic look at the Wii U experience). Back then, we didn't really recommend upgrading to either system immediately. But given every head to head needs a winner, we gave a slight edge to the Xbox One for its superior game lineup and media features. Those consoles, as they existed on their respective launch days, don't really exist anymore. In the intervening months, the system software changed through downloadable updates, and the game library grew with dozens of new releases. So naturally, our general opinions of the systems evolved as we kept using them over the weeks and months. Today we have a fuller picture of the Xbox One and PS4 instead of a quick peek based on a few hectic usage days before "comprehensive" launch reviews. With that in mind, it's time to revisit the state of the console wars as it stands today and potentially amend our launch day thoughts with the benefit of a few hundred days of extra experience. Read 32 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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US Forest Service Chickens are not fussy eaters. Any object resembling food is worth an exploratory peck. But give a chicken the choice between sugary sweets and seeds, and they will pick the grains every time. This is odd. Many animals, including our own sugar-mad species, salivate for sugar because it is the flavor of foods rich in energy. New research suggests that many birds’ lack of interest in sugar is the result of genes inherited from their dinosaur ancestors. Most vertebrates experience sweet taste because they possess a family of genes called T1Rs. The pairing of T1R1 and T1R3 detects amino acids and gives rise to the savoury “umami” taste, while the T1R2-T1R3 pair detects sugars, giving us our sweet tooth. Maude Baldwin, a postgraduate student at Harvard University, searched the genomes of ten species of birds, from chickens to flycatchers. She found that insectivorous and grain-eating birds possess the gene pair that detects the amino acids present in insects and seeds, but none of them had the T1R2 gene responsible for the ability to taste sugar. These modern birds evolved from carnivorous theropod dinosaurs that had diets that were rich in proteins and amino acids, but lacked sugar. So Baldwin reasoned that without a need to detect sweetness, ancient birds lost their T1R2 gene. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Wikipedia The head of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee is urging the federal bureaucracy to restore a decade's worth of electronic court documents that were deleted last month from online viewing because of an upgrade to a computer database known as PACER. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) said the removal of the thousands of cases from online review is essentially erasing history. "Wholesale removal of thousands of cases from PACER, particularly from four of our federal courts of appeals, will severely limit access to information not only for legal practitioners, but also for legal scholars, historians, journalists, and private litigants for whom PACER has become the go-to source for most court filings," Leahy wrote Friday to US District Judge John D. Bates, the director of the Administrative Office of the Courts (AO). Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Engineers from Stanford and Berkeley Universities have figured out how to make radios the size of an ant, which have been created specifically to serve as controllers and sensors in the Internet of Things. The radios are fitted onto tiny silicon chips, and cost only pennies to make thanks to their diminutive size. They are designed to compute, execute, and relay demands, and they are very energy efficient to the point of being self-sufficient. This is due to the fact that they can harvest power from the incoming electromagnetic signal so they do not require batteries, meaning there is no particular lifetime associated with the devices. "We've rethought designing radio technology from the ground up," said Amin Arbabian from Stanford, who worked on the project. "The advantage of moving to this architecture is that we can have the scalability we want." This means that they can scale the technology to potentially thousands of devices within a very dense area. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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On Friday, Nintendo's Twitch channel hosted an all-day livestream of testers playing the company's upcoming holiday and 2015 releases, including Ultimate NES Remix, Bayonetta 2, and the 3DS version of Super Smash Bros. While showing off the fighting game, Nintendo used the livestream to confirm a surprise announcement: Its portable version was coming to the 3DS eStore in the form of a free, downloadable demo version, and it launched simultaneously with the announcement. However, the demo hasn't been made available to all users, yet it doesn't require pre-ordering the game, either. Instead, the demo must be claimed by a download code, and those are only being sent to Club Nintendo users who achieved platinum status before June 30 of this year. While Club Nintendo allows fans to register purchased games and rack up points, which can be spent on merchandise and downloadable games, this is the first time it has offered Club Nintendo-exclusive software to its users. (As of right now, however, this distribution of codes comes with a catch: They're only being sent to users who gave Nintendo permission to send promotional e-mails, meaning if you made the no-spam call back when you signed up, you're out of luck.) The demo isn't as expansive as the ones that launched at Best Buy stores across the country this summer; instead, it lets players pick from five combatants—Mario, Mega Man, Link, Pikachu, and the Animal Crossing villager—and fight in a single arena via local multiplayer. That same demo will see wide release on the eStore the following Friday, September 19, ahead of the game's full retail 3DS launch on October 3rd; the Japanese version hits stores tomorrow, but review copies have already hit the wild, confirming many of the game's so-far unannounced characters. Its Wii U version still doesn't have a release date beyond "Winter 2014." Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor visits Rosa Parks Elementary School in Berkeley, Calif. in 2011. Berkeley Unified School District Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor says that without proper privacy safeguards, the advancement of technology could lead to a world like the one portrayed in "1984" by George Orwell. Speaking to Oklahoma City University faculty and students, the justice said Thursday that technology has allowed devices to "listen to your conversations from miles away and through your walls." She added: "We are in that brave new world, and we are capable of being in that Orwellian world, too." The President Obama appointee also discussed the lack of privacy standards concerning drones. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 4 days ago on ars technica
"If you ask anyone my name, in or out of drag, they will tell you it's Roma. Is it the name on my driver's license? No. But it is my name." On Wednesday, Facebook's policy of only allowing legal names on personal accounts ran headlong into a drag queen. According to a report by the Daily Dot, performer Sister Roma, whose legal ID actually reads Michael Williams, found herself locked out of her account with a prompt asking that her profile name be changed to the legal one as it "appears on your driver's license or credit card," as per Facebook's official real-name policy. This was the first such request Roma had seen since opening her Facebook account in 2008. When she complied to reopen her Facebook page, she wasn't asked to confirm her name via an ID card—"They seem to know my real name already," she said in an e-mail interview with Ars—and she didn't take the name-change requirement lightly: "I've been Sister Roma for 27 years," Roma said. "If you ask anyone my name, in or out of drag, they will tell you it's Roma. Is it the name on my driver's license? No. But it is my name." Roma is also a decades-long member of the famed Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence (SPI), an LGBT-friendly human rights advocacy nonprofit, and she immediately rounded up the social media troops to spread the word about Facebook's real-name policies. She soon found out that she was far from alone. "Every few minutes, I get a message from a friend or see a post of someone complaining that they've been forced to change their name," Roma said to Ars. "It's happening all over the country." Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Satellite view of the remains of the Larsen B ice shelf on March 7, 2002. NASA/Earth Observatory A number of noteworthy studies have recently highlighted the importance of what's going on at the bottom of glaciers that flow into the ocean. The topography beneath the glacier—as well as the “grounding line” beyond which a glacier becomes thin enough to float in the water rather than rest on the seafloor—have a lot to do with its stability. In 2002, the Larsen B ice shelf on the Antarctic Peninsula abruptly collapsed, scattering 3,200 square kilometers (yes, approximately one standard Rhode Island unit of area) of 200 meter thick ice into the waves. But why? Did warming water beneath the ice shelf loosen it from the grounding line and destabilize the ice shelf in front? Or can we pin the blame on the warming temperatures of the region? With the ice shelf gone, researchers looking for answers have been able to look at the seafloor that once sat beneath it. In 2006, a research vessel spent some time at the site of the collapse, looking for clues. The findings of that team, led by the Italian National Institute of Oceanography and Experimental Geophysics’ Michele Rebesco and the University of South Florida’s Eugene Domack, have now been published in the journal Science. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Beware, scammer! Aurich Lawson Tech support scams are nothing new—we first went in-depth almost two years ago on "scareware scammers" who cold-call unsuspecting victims and try to talk them into compromising their computers by installing remote control applications and handing the keys over to the scammers. We even managed to engage with one for a protracted length of time, with deputy editor Nate Anderson playing the role of a computer neophyte and recording the entire mess. But one developer has taken things a step further, producing a tool that will enable you to fight back if targeted—if you don’t mind a bit of bad acting yourself. Matt Weeks is one of the developers who contributes code to the open source Metasploit Project, a sprawling and continually updated security framework that functions as a repository for software vulnerabilities and is frequently used as a Swiss Army Knife for penetration testing. Weeks has published a long report on his site detailing how he was able to reverse-engineer the encrypted communications protocol used by Ammyy Admin, one of the most popular remote control apps used by tech support scammers, and then use that knowledge to ferret out a vulnerability in the Ammyy Admin application. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The head of the patent examiners' union at the US Patent and Trademark Office has shot back at allegations that workers there are abusing a "telework" program, saying the idea that thousands of workers have bent the rules is "ridiculous on its face." He also defended the "cleaned up" version of the report that was sent to an inspector general, calling it a "more balanced and accurate" report than the original version, which he called biased. The fiery exchange comes at a sensitive time. The Washington Post, which broke the news of the telework scandal, reports that top Commerce Department officials will talk to Congressional oversight committees today, following allegations that the US Patent and Trademark Office's "telework" program has been abused by patent examiners. Robert Budens, president of the Patent Official Professional Association (POPA), sent a note to his membership earlier this week. The leaked, 32-page report that formed the basis of the Post report was biased, he suggested. Budens wrote: Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The Montreal Protocol, created in response to the decline in the Earth's ozone layer, called for a world-wide phase out in the production of chemicals that were responsible for the ozone's decline. It is perhaps the greatest global environmental achievement to date. And, this week, the World Meteorological Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program announced it was working. Unfortunately, this week also saw the WMO release its annual greenhouse gas bulletin, and here the news was nowhere near as promising, as emissions returned to levels not seen since the 1980s. First, the good news. In the 2014 version of the Scientific Assessment of Ozone Depletion, the WMO finds that the atmospheric concentrations of most of the chemicals covered by the Montreal Protocol are in decline. The exceptions are hydrochlorofluorocarbons, which are used in refrigeration, and halon, used in fire suppression. The WMO also noted that there must be some unidentified source of carbon tetrachloride to explain its persistence in the atmosphere. In sum, however, the effect has been positive. Chlorine and bromine levels in the stratosphere were down 10-15 percent over the past 15 years. And, after having declined over the course of the 1980s and '90s, the ozone concentrations have been stable since about 2000. If everything continues to go as expected, ozone will return to levels seen in 1980 by the middle of this century. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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An HP subsidiary, HP Russia, pleaded guilty to bribing Russian companies in order to score a technology contract worth millions, US prosecutors said. The company has agreed to pay a $58.77 million fine in a prosecution brought by San Francisco federal prosecutors asserting the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which applies to US companies and their subsidiaries abroad. “In a brazen violation of the FCPA, Hewlett Packard’s Russia subsidiary used millions of dollars in bribes from a secret slush fund to secure a lucrative government contract,” Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Marshall Miller said in a statement Thursday. “Even more troubling was that the government contract up for sale was with Russia’s top prosecutor’s office." Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A screenshot used as proof that an unknown person has taken control of the e-mail address of bitcoin creator Satoshi Nakamoto. Source Messages demanding payment in order to out details about mysterious Bitcoin creator "Satoshi Nakamoto" have proliferated in the few days since an unknown person took control of the e-mail address historically used by the reclusive cryptographer. By Friday, at least seven messages on Pastebin threatened to release information, or "dox," taken from Satoshi Nakamoto's e-mail account on gmx.com, the address used in Nakamoto's original Bitcoin paper. The messages used at least five different Bitcoin addresses and demanded varying amounts of Bitcoin in order to reveal Nakamoto's true identity. "Satoshis [sic] dox, passwords and IP addresses will be published when this address has reached 25 BTC," stated one demand. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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After screenshots showing a first look at an early version of Windows 9 leaked yesterday, today we have a couple of videos from German site WinFuture.de. Among other things, it's possible to revert to the Start screen if you prefer it. Both videos show the new Metro-esque Start menu. They demonstrate how the live tile portion works essentially identically to the Start screen today, with the same kinds of customization and organization options, and how the menu portion likewise works much like the Windows 7 Start menu. Getting rid of all the live tiles. The second video has some good news for inveterate live tile haters, showing that you can remove all the live tiles to leave the menu on its own. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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BEEP BOOP YOUR DOCUMENT, SIR. Nikkei Business Publications Japan’s Fuji Xerox Company unleashed an automated roving robot printer on an unsuspecting office building in Tokyo over the summer. It’s definitely no giant beweaponed Gundam, but the robot does include a Xerox color laserjet printer mounted on a set of LIDAR sensors which it uses to build a map of the room its in and to avoid obstacles while navigating. To summon the printing robot, users access a webpage unique to their seating location, denoted by a card at each desk. Users drag the document to be printed into the browser window, and the printing robot begins to roll happily in their direction. Once the printer arrives at the desk, the user holds up the desk’s card to be scanned by the robot, which then prints your document. (Having the robot print at your desk introduces a delay into the process, but it also prevents other people in the office from seeing your documents.) Once the robot has done its job and produced the document, tap a button on its top and it rolls away to service the next job in queue—or scurries back to its home location to await the next print job. The batteries in the unit are said to last up to a full day. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The iPhone 6 Plus has already become scarce. Megan Geuss Less than 12 hours after Apple opened the floodgates to pre-orders, certain iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus models have already become impossible to order for a September 19 delivery. The larger iPhone 6 Plus is in particularly short supply—all models in the Apple online store now show estimated shipping times of three to four weeks, and the story is the same on the various US carrier sites. This might suggest that the larger model is more popular among pre-orderers, but that's not necessarily the case. Leading up to Apple's announcement, the rumor mill consistently agreed that the 5.5-inch version of the phone would be in shorter supply, and some rumors even suggested that the phone would launch after the smaller 4.7-inch version. That was basically how things played out the last time Apple introduced two new phones at once—the iPhone 5C was available in abundance at launch, while the iPhone 5S (and the new TouchID sensor that allegedly created a manufacturing bottleneck) was much more difficult to find. AT&T told Re/code that demand for iPhone 6 models was higher than it had been for the iPhone 5S launch a year ago, or for the iPhone 5 launch the year before that. Apple usually releases official iPhone sales numbers within a week or so of the launch date, and so far every iPhone launch has managed to outstrip the one before. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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29 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } As a video game developer, Bungie's legacy is tied up almost entirely in the world of Halo. The company isn't known for a wide spectrum of games (no offense, Marathon fans) or for staffing up with well-known game designers; for most gamers, Bungie is the giant studio from which Master Chief and friends sprung into existence. More importantly, Bungie is the company most responsible for the shooter's growth and styling on consoles. Over the course of five full-length Halo games, Bungie relied on a few significant tentpoles to hold up its creations: masterfully choreographed military battles, powered in large part by brilliant artificial intelligence; stunning, colorful art direction that bypassed the industry's terrible brown-and-gray period; snappy, accessible multiplayer modes, whether they grouped friends together or made them fight each other; and a lore-crazy world of sci-fi that, at its heart, told an accessible story of a hero fighting to save the universe. So any conversation about the video game Destiny, Bungie's first release after leaving Halo to Microsoft and its 343 Studios, must acknowledge the Master Chief-sized shadow looming over the ambitious venture. After all, the new game isn't shy about resembling the old series, from the symphonic swells in its opening theme to its robo-armored heroes engaging in first-person shooter combat across a futuristic solar system. Destiny—that new game from the Halo people—sure seems a lot like Halo, doesn't it? Read 24 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Ron Amadeo One of the most important tech stories in the coming years will be the bridging of the "digital divide." Only one-third of the world is online, which leaves about 4.8 billion people unplugged with no way to access the Web. A lot of work needs to be done on the ISP side, but people in these poorer countries will need devices, too. Here at Ars, we're trying to go on a bit of an international tour. We've already checked out the surprisingly good Xiaomi Mi4 from China, but, at $350, that's way too expensive for most of The Disconnected. We've got our eye on the Android One event happening in India in a few days, but at a rumored price of $115 to $165, those are still pretty expensive. In India, the average salary was $1,570 in 2013 (compared to $51,755 in the USA), which makes ~$150 a pretty big purchase. So we need to go cheaper. That leads us to what is probably the world's cheapest smartphone, India's Intex Cloud Fx, which costs a whopping $35 (Rs 1,999)—that's cheap. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Early this year, the journal Nature published two papers with some completely surprising results. Researchers had only recently figured out how to use a small set of genes to reprogram mature adult cells into a stem-cell-like state. The new papers suggested you could forgo the genetic engineering entirely; a short time in an acidic environment, followed by some carefully controlled growth conditions, could completely reprogram the cells. It was a potentially revolutionary finding. Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the wheels to fall off. Other researchers quickly pointed out possible instances of improperly manipulated figures and plagiarism, and one of the researchers involved had already had some ethical issues in the past. Initial attempts to replicate the experiments in other labs failed. By the summer, there was an official finding of misconduct; shortly thereafter, one of the researchers involved committed suicide. In July, the papers were formally retracted by the remaining authors. That's a relatively quick resolution to a problem like this, but it leaves a rather significant question: how did these papers get published in the first place if the problems became apparent so quickly? That question only got more bewildering this week, as people have started to leak the reports of peer reviewers who had evaluated the papers. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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