posted 6 days ago on ars technica
Last year, the restructured teams at Lucasarts, under new Disney ownership, got into PC gamers' good graces by announcing a plan to digitally re-release a smattering of out-of-print Star Wars video games on PC. That October news included a partnership with Good Old Games (GOG.com), and on Tuesday, Lucasarts announced another digital storefront partnership, this time with Steam. The news coincided with a "May the Fourth" sale event on both storefronts, and each service now includes Star Wars games that had been previously unavailable. GOG.com debuted a Rebel Assault bundle that combined both games in that arcade-action franchise for only $10; its on-rails flight and speeder sequences haven't been remastered in the slightest, nor have its cheesy, CGI-laden full-motion video sequences, but the two games do now run on PC, Mac, and Linux. Meanwhile, Steam received a glut of games from the X-Wing and TIE Fighter space-sim series—as in, both of those original titles' special editions, along with followup releases X-Wing Vs. TIE Fighter and X-Wing Alliance. While those games had already premiered on GOG last year, that storefront automatically upgraded its buyers to special editions for free today wherever applicable. (Meanwhile, Steam already launched both Jedi Knight games a few years ago; those have finally appeared on GOG as of today.) Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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On Tuesday, Wired published an extensive feature on Silk Road founder Ross Ulbricht’s rise and fall, which contains some new details surrounding the government-orchestrated fake execution of a Silk Road lieutenant, Curtis Green, better known as “chronic pain.” As Ars reported at the end of the trial in February, Ulbricht was found guilty of seven charges including three drug counts: distributing or aiding and abetting the distribution of narcotics, distributing narcotics or aiding and abetting distribution over the Internet, and conspiracy to violate narcotics laws. His sentencing hearing is currently scheduled for May 15, 2015 in federal court in New York. Wired detailed how one day in January 2013 Green received an unexpected package in the mail—it turned out to be cocaine sent as part of a federal bust. As soon as Green opened the package, a SWAT team stormed him and threw him to the ground, his two chihuahuas yapping around him. He immediately pleaded with the agents to not send him to prison, deathly afraid of Dread Pirate Roberts (DPR): “This guy’s got millions. He could have me killed.” Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The climate is full of feedback loops. When a warming climate melts sea ice, the water that's left behind reflects far less sunlight, leading to a further warming. Now, some researchers at the University of California Berkeley have looked at a human feedback loop: the relation between climate change and air conditioning. Using Mexico as an example, they find that the rising use of air conditioning may boost the country's electricity use and carbon emissions by 80 percent before the century is over—but only if economic growth continues at a pace that allows people to buy air conditioners. Understanding the margins The study involves combining two types of economic figures, the intensive and extensive margins. Intensive margins, in this case, focused simply on what happens to electricity use as the temperature goes up. Here, the authors took advantage of the complete household-level billing records of 25 million residential electricity customers in Mexico. That data was cross-correlated with local temperature data. Mexico contains everything from high-elevation deserts to tropical forests at sea level, so customers are exposed to a range of climate conditions. The authors found that electricity use remained relatively flat until the temperatures reached about 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit), after which they rose to the point where each day of the month with temperatures at or above 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit) boosted electricity use by 3.2 percent. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The back is leather and has stitching down the middle. 23 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } ars.AD.queue.push(["xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true}]);NEW YORK CITY—We're here in New York City checking out LG's freshly launched flagship device: the LG G4. LG has a couple of issues to deal with this year—the first is the build quality of its devices. While Samsung has gotten most of the criticism for making devices out of cheap-feeling plastic, LG really hasn't been any better. The G-Flex 2 and G3 were both made of bottom-of-the-barrel glossy, greasy plastic. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Netflix performance on FiOS Internet service has been solid ever since Netflix paid Verizon for a direct connection to its network. Even Verizon's basic 25Mbps fiber service should be plenty for Netflix, which streams in standard quality at 3Mbps and HD at 5Mbps. But Verizon sales reps told one customer that his 50Mbps service won't provide the smoothest Netflix experience available. For that, he needs to upgrade to 75Mbps. In a blog post titled "Verizon Falsely Promising Better Quality Netflix Streaming With Faster, More Expensive Internet Tier," streaming video industry analyst Day Rayburn wrote yesterday that multiple Verizon sales reps gave him this pitch. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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We recently covered a study indicating that the Isthmus of Panama docked with South America earlier than we once thought, connecting North and South America and separating the Pacific from Caribbean waters. Instead of linking up just 3 million to 4 million years ago, those researchers found evidence that a connection was present by 14 million years ago. One of the loose ends created by the new result was that the exchange of North and South American species had also been pinned at about 3.5 million years ago. That raised the question of why species waited to migrate. One possible explanation is that migrations were triggered by a climatic cooling around 3 million years ago. Well, a new study led by Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and University of Gothenburg researcher Christine Bacon re-examines the evidence for the exchange of species, dubbed the Great American Biotic Interchange, and suggests that there might not be much of a delay to explain. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Home and small-office routers from manufacturers including Trendnet and D-Link are vulnerable to attacks that allow attackers anywhere in the world to execute malicious code on the devices, according to an advisory issued over the weekend. The remote command-injection bug affects routers that were developed using the RealTek software development kit. That includes routers from Trendnet and D-Link, according to the developer who discovered the vulnerability. There's no comprehensive list of manufacturers or models that are affected, though more technical users may be able to spot them by using the Metasploit framework to query their router. If the response contains "RealTek/v1.3" or similar, it's likely vulnerable. The remote code-execution vulnerability resides in the "miniigd SOAP service" as implemented by the RealTek SDK. Security researcher Ricky "HeadlessZeke" Lawshae reported it to HP's Zero Day Initiative (ZDI) in August 2013. ZDI, which uses such vulnerability information to block attacks in its line of intrusion prevention services, then reported it to officials inside RealTek. After 20 months of inaction, the HP division disclosed it publicly even though no fix has been released. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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It's a story that seems ripped straight from the 1990s, but it happened in 2015. An AT&T phone customer rang up more than $24,000 in long-distance charges over two months with a misconfigured AOL dial-up Internet connection, The Los Angeles Times reported yesterday. Eighty-three-year-old Ron Dorff of Woodland Hills is one of the 2.2 million remaining AOL dial-up customers. He lives off monthly Social Security checks and usually pays $51 a month to AT&T. But in March, he got a bill for $8,596.57, and then a bill in April for another $15,687.64. AT&T initially insisted that he must pay the entire amount of $24,298.93 including late fees, but ultimately waived all of the charges and helped Dorff fix the problem, according to the article. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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It's time for Microsoft's annual Build developer conference, and we'll be wearing flowers in our hair on Wednesday morning as we liveblog the opening keynote presentation in San Francisco. Kicking off at 08:30 PDT, we're expecting to hear all about Windows 10 and the universal app platform that will let apps run on phone, tablet, PC, and console. Visual Studio 2015 is nearing completion, so a release candidate wouldn't surprise us. There's sure to be plenty of cloud capabilities shown off, building on the Azure Service Fabric announced last week. And we're hearing that HoloLens will get another public outing. View Liveblog2015-04-29T10:30:00-05:00 Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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The games industry has its fair share of developers who traffic in equal parts acclaim, inconsistency, and camera mugging, and for better or worse, Double Fine's Tim Schafer is possibly the best known of them all. Here's a game maker who is steeped in old-school industry cred (Secret of Monkey Island, Full Throttle), who is hilarious and engaging everywhere you see him, and who is also hanging on to a reputation that hasn't included a bona fide smash for nearly two decades. That combination made him a lightning rod for mainstream attention and eager donations when he asked fans to fund a new game via Kickstarter in 2012, but his uneven track record also set the stage for heightened drama as delays and money woes followed. It's hard enough for any game maker to issue bad news to eager fans, but try doing that once you already have their money and see how long it takes before your "biggest fans" start reminding you of your biggest flops. Luckily for us, the weight of the world didn't bury Schafer and his Double Fine team. We're simply left with the whole reason anyone cared back in February 2012: a point-and-click adventure game just like mom used to make. Broken Age got a little less than halfway there last January, when the game's first act took a bow for both the game's original Kickstarter backers and curious passersby, and today sees the game's conclusion roll out to the masses. Anyone who Kickstarted the game got a one-day sneak peek at the final product—which is to say, this review may already be irrelevant for the pre-orderiest Schafer fans imaginable. But for those who stood on the sidelines with reluctant adventure-game hopes, rest assured that Broken Age's conclusion, ripe with polish, humor, and smart puzzles, has positioned the game comfortably among history's best remembered point-and-click titles—even if that means holding onto the dated genre's more annoying trappings. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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When we reviewed Apple’s new MacBook earlier this month, we compared it primarily to the MacBook Air (which it kind-of-sort-of supplants) and Dell’s most recent XPS 13 (which is one of our favorite PC laptops right now). One other laptop came up multiple times in my inbox and in the comments, though—Asus’ Zenbook UX305. It’s got quite a bit in common with the MacBook on paper: high-resolution screens, Core M processors without fans, a focus on thinness. The thing that will probably draw your eyes is the price. The Microsoft Signature version we’d recommend, which includes 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, costs $699. In practice there are still a lot of things the MacBook does better, and this laptop’s design isn’t without its issues. Overall, though, we came away pleasantly surprised by what this Zenbook does well. Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Google has announced the Digital News Initiative, “a partnership between Google and news publishers in Europe to support high quality journalism through technology and innovation,” which sees it working with eight European news organizations to help with product development and putting €150 million into a three-year “innovation fund.” This evident attempt by Google to mend its bridges with the European news publishing industry comes in the wake of years of complaints about the effects of Google's services on traditional newspapers, and against a background of the European Commission's antitrust investigation into Google's search and Android businesses, with the threat that it could be widened to include other services. Speaking in London, Carlo D'Asaro Biondo, Google's European president of strategic partnerships, admitted that the company's relationship with newspapers had been difficult, and that sometimes Google was to blame: “I firmly believe that Google has always wanted to be a friend and partner to the news industry, but I also accept we’ve made some mistakes along the way.” In an attempt to win over European news publishers—and perhaps to minimize future complaints to the European Commission—D'Asaro Biondo laid out Google's plans for the new Digital News Initiative. One strand involves helping European news publishers with product development: “We will create a publishers’ working group from across Europe to explore product developments aimed at increasing revenue, traffic and audience engagement.” Again, he admitted that Google had made mistakes here: “Over the years we have worked on a range of news-related initiatives, but we tended to work in isolation, and the feedback has been that Google can be complicated to work with, and at times unpredictable!” Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Dave Mortimer went house shopping in 2013, and he made Internet speed a top concern. His standards weren’t incredibly high—he just wanted 20Mbps or so to make sure he could avoid some trips to the office. “I work in IT, so fast speeds are essential for me to work at home,” Mortimer told Ars. “I called AT&T on three separate occasions to verify that this home had U-verse capabilities or, at the very least, 20Mbps. I was told every single time ‘Yes, that service is available at that residence.’” (When contacted by Ars, AT&T was unable to comment on what company representatives told Mortimer in 2013.) Mortimer's house. Dave Mortimer Mortimer also plugged the address into AT&T's U-verse availability checker. The system reported that the home could get the service he wanted, Mortimer said. Read 45 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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When former CIA head David Petraeus was sentenced last week to two years of probation in a plea deal with the Justice Department for leaking classified information to his former lover and biographer, US Magistrate Judge David Keesler said he received letters supporting leniency for the retired four-star general. Keesler is said to have received nearly three dozen such letters, including some from high-level military and government officials. "The letters paint a portrait of a man considered among the finest military leaders of his generation who also has committed a grave but very uncharacteristic error in judgment,” Keesler said at the sentencing hearing. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Only four days after Valve Software launched a new paid-mods service on digital gaming storefront Steam, the company officially changed course on Monday and removed pricing from its Steam Workshop pages, all while admitting "it's clear we didn't understand exactly what we were doing." A Monday blog post at the Steam Community site confirmed the rollback and stated that anyone who paid for a mod in the Steam Workshop storefront would receive a full refund for their purchase. As of press time, all mods listed under the game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim—the only game that had been affected by Valve's change this past Friday—are back to being free. That means add-ons and updates for that game, like new weapons and levels, no longer come with either static prices or pay-what-you-want options, nor can mod creators post new content with pricing attached. (However, the announcement page for paid mods remains online, at least for now.) Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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During Apple’s Q2 financial call today, the company mentioned that big-box retailer Best Buy would be supporting Apple Pay in stores later this year, and Best Buy will allow customers to make purchases within the company app using Apple Pay starting today. The news is notable because of Best Buy’s alliance with MCX, or the Merchant Customer Exchange, a retailer’s association that wants to start its own mobile payments platform called CurrentC. MCX and CurrentC made headlines in November, just after Apple Pay launched, when many MCX members—including Best Buy, 7-11, and CVS—disabled some Near Field Communications (NFC) devices that would allow Apple Pay to work at the chains’ registers. Instead, MCX companies said they would be adopting a more “consumer friendly” option called CurrentC, which would work using QR codes. The most apparent reason for companies to adopt CurrentC seemed to be that it would only work with debit cards—ideally replacing some customers' credit transactions, which require the retailer to pay a transaction fee to the bank, with debit transactions. CurrentC is set to launch sometime this year. Now Best Buy is saying that it will break ranks with big retailers who have stood in solidarity with MCX, but it still remains committed to working with MCX. "Today’s consumers have many different ways to spend their money and we want to give our customers as many options as possible in how they pay for goods and services at Best Buy,” the company said in a statement. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 7 days ago on ars technica
More than seven months after being flagged as vulnerable, more than a dozen Android apps collectively downloaded at least 350 million times still contain fatal HTTPS flaws that cause them to leak passwords, phone numbers, and other highly sensitive user data, student researchers at City College of San Francisco found. The vulnerable apps include OKCupid Dating, Dish Anywhere, ASTRO File Manager with Cloud, CityShop – for Craigslist, and PicsArt Photo Studio, which collectively have commanded from 170 million to 670 million downloads, according to official Google Play figures. Most of the titles have been updated regularly, but they continue to contain a game-over vulnerability that fails to detect fraudulent transport layer security (TLS) certificates, according to a blog post published Sunday by Sam Bowne, a security researcher who teaches a class on the ethical hacking of mobile devices at the City College of San Francisco. They likely are a tiny fraction of the Android apps that suffer the same flaw. All 15 of the apps called out by Bowne's class were first flagged as unsafe in a September blog post from the CERT Division of the Software Engineering Institute. In the September post, researcher Will Dormann said CERT was contacting developers of all 23,668 apps found to be vulnerable. Bowne's class didn't have the resources to check all of the apps on the list, so it's likely many more also remain unfixed. Bowne assigned this class project after independently discovering that all text transmitted by Snap Secure could be decrypted by anyone presenting the app with a fraudulent TLS certificate. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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As Konami faces down the cancellation of the anticipated Silent Hills and an apparent labor dispute with storied developer Hideo Kojima, the venerable Japanese publisher has voluntarily decided to delist itself from the New York Stock Exchange, effective this coming July. Konami will still be traded on the London and Tokyo Stock Exchanges, and it will still be available as an "over the counter" trade in the US, according to a corporate release. And while Konami will no longer be required to file regular financial and business updates with the SEC following the delisting, it promises to "continue to disclose financial statements and other information, in English, on its website to ensure that its overseas shareholders and investors will continue to have appropriate information about the Company." In a statement provided to Game Informer, Konami noted that it expanded to the New York Stock Exchange in 2002 "mainly to diversify its opportunities for fund-raising and to raise the visibility of the Konami brand." Since then, Japanese stocks have been opened to foreign investors, and updates to Japanese accounting standards have put the country more in line with those in the US, Konami said. Overall, less than 0.3 percent of the company's total international trading takes place in the US—the vast majority of the rest goes through Tokyo—meaning the New York listing is "not economically justified," according to the company. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Apple's earnings report for the second quarter of fiscal 2015 has arrived, and while the numbers are different the story is pretty much the same as last quarter. iPhone sales are way up, and they account for over two-thirds of Apple's revenue. Macs continue to grow at a respectable rate, while iPads take another sharp year-over-year tumble. Apple broke quarterly records with $13.6 billion in profit and $58 billion in revenue, compared to $10.2 billion in profit and $45.6 billion in revenue in Q2 of 2014. It maintained a gross margin of 40.8 percent. These results easily beat Apple's guidance for the quarter, which predicted revenue between $52 billion and $55 billion and profit margins between 38.5 and 39.5 percent. Andrew Cunningham Andrew Cunningham The biggest percentage of Apple's bread is still buttered in the Americas—it made $21.32 billion there this quarter—but growth is the strongest in China, which unseats Europe as Apple's second-largest territory. Apple made $16.82 billion there, compared to $12.20 in Europe. Sales are also up significantly in the Asia Pacific region, though they're down just a bit in Japan. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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On Monday, Chipotle began only serving food that is free of genetically modified (GMO) ingredients. According to The New York Times, it's the first major chain to take such a policy. “This is another step toward the visions we have of changing the way people think about and eat fast food,” Steve Ells, founder and co-CEO of Chipotle, told the Times. “Just because food is served fast doesn’t mean it has to be made with cheap raw ingredients, highly processed with preservatives and fillers and stabilizers and artificial colors and flavors.” Chipotle has advocated against GMO food—or at least in favor of more GMO transparency—in the past. The Mexican grill chain started indicating what menu items included GMO ingredients in 2013, another first. And the Times notes Chipotle may be in a unique position to take such a hard stance given the grill's menu includes only 68 ingredients. For those items that appeared problematic—NYT notes more than 90 percent of US corn and soy can be categorized as GMO—Chipotle worked with farmers to increase production of alternatives. Flour tortillas proved to be the most difficult item to replace, but Chipotle now uses non-GMO canola oil to make them. It's a setup that costs more, but Chipotle told the paper it may raise prices slightly this year to account for the shift. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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This week, Minecraft on all Xbox and PlayStation consoles will receive an update. While some of the new features will vary between the two platforms, they will all share one new addition in common: a free set of female "skins" for the game's main character. The "Alex" skin pack, which launched on the PC version in August and the mobile version in December, will broaden the default options for the game's avatar for all console players on Wednesday. Alex's default style is a mess of red hair tied up in a ponytail that has been drawn in such a way that it appears as pixels on her shoulder. Alex, just like the male "Steve" character before her, comes in eight versions in all, which means Alex also gets a "boxer," "cyclist," and even "Scottish" style. (There's one exception: "Tuxedo Steve" is balanced with "Pantsuit Alex.") This news follows last week's Temple Run 2 update, which added the series' first free default female character. These changes come after a 12-year-old girl wrote a Washington Post story in March in which she concluded that most popular "endless runner" games on iOS and Android forced users to pay if they wanted to switch from a male character to a female one—and that over half of the games didn't offer female characters at all. As that author concluded, "these biases affect young girls like me. The lack of girl characters implies that girls are not equal to boys and they don’t deserve characters that look like them." Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Last week, Audi announced that it had filled the tank of one of its vehicles with a synthetic diesel fuel made with a high-temperature process that starts with only water and carbon dioxide. While there's a substantial energy input involved in generating the fuel, the company expects that excess renewable energy will eventually be able to supply that energy cheaply. The diesel was produced through a process called high-temperature electrolysis, in which steam is heated before electricity is used to split the water vapor into hydrogen and oxygen. The high temperatures make this process more efficient and, as Audi notes, the waste heat can be used for other purposes, further boosting the efficiency. The hydrogen can then be combined with carbon dioxide in a process that produces liquid hydrocarbons (these reactions require high temperatures and pressures as well). The current production facility (partly supported by Germany's Federal Ministry of Education and Research) uses CO2 supplied by a biogas facility, supplemented by a carbon capture facility that pulls the gas from the atmosphere. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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As a way to combat the pernicious effects of patent trolls, Google announced Monday that it would be buying up patents from any inventor or entrepreneur who wants to sell. “We view this as an experiment,” the company writes in an FAQ. “We are looking for ways to help improve the patent landscape, and we hope that by removing some of the friction that exists in the secondary market for patents, this program might yield better, more immediate results for patent owners versus partnering with non­practicing entities.” According to Google, inventors will be able to retain a license to practice their innovation. Of course, Google will also be able to license it out (or use it as part of litigation) just like it would with other intellectual property. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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For those not up on the UK political scene, the country is currently on the verge of a general election (it's on May 7). For the average Joe, this means enduring several weeks of non-stop political campaigning from the UK's top parties across every form of media known to man. Hot Instagram selfies? Check. Increasingly awkward TV debates? Check. Showing a caring, nurturing side by feeding a lamb in a carefully choreographed and sickly set of newspaper photos? Err, unfortunately, check. And then there are the party manifestos: pages and pages of meaningless buzz words and phrases like "long-term economic plan," and "package of measures," and completely outlandish promises that get thrown to the wayside within seconds of the elected setting foot in their new digs at 10 Downing Street. Frankly, with such a deluge of information and media to dig through, it's any wonder that people are able to make an informed voting decision at all. Fortunately, like for most things in life, technology has the answer. Why bother taking a shot in the dark and hoping that those outlandish manifesto promises pan out for the best when a computer can make that decision for you? Enter Democracy 3, a video game with a network of systems that seamlessly feed back into each other to simulate the tough political decisions that a government has to face. New Statesman has spent the last few weeks feeding each party's manifesto promises into the game, starting with the same save file each time, to see which of them results in a successful and prosperous country. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Researchers trying to study the earliest signs of life on Earth have a tall task—it would be easier to find a needle in a haystack. Not much of the rock that formed at the surface of the Earth over three billion years ago is around for us to examine today, and what’s left has taken a tectonic beating over the eons. But it’s in these rocks that we hope to find recognizable remains of single-celled organisms. Indirect evidence for life has been claimed to be present in roughly 3.7-3.8 billion-year-old rocks in Greenland, where carbon isotopes could reflect the activity of living organisms. This is not definitive, however, and actual fossils would be much less ambiguous evidence for the existence of life. The title for oldest fossils had been pinned on the 3.46-billion-year-old Apex chert in Western Australia. Those rocks contain microscopic structures interpreted by some geologists as similar to cyanobacteria (also called blue-green algae). But the interpretation of those structures is not without debate. In a newly published study highlighting the potential for new technology to aid in the ancient life “needle search," a team led by Oxford’s Martin Brasier (who passed away in December) turned a critical eye on those purported fossil microbes in the Apex chert. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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