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The Band of Holes in a photograph taken by drone. The road stretches for a mile up a mountain top, and may be the remains of a structure used for collecting and measuring food tributes for the Inca state. (credit: Charles Stanish) The Inca Empire covered vast parts of South America, uniting distant cities in Chile, Peru, and even Argentina with well-engineered highways. Sophisticated agricultural systems and architecture allowed the Inca to live on the steep slopes and jagged peaks of mountains. And they did it all without money or markets as we know them. Instead, Inca leaders had an elaborate system of tributes or taxes that took the form of the land's most precious resource: food. But how do you quantify many different forms of tribute—from squash and rope to corn and peppers—without a system like money to measure exchange value? Perhaps by inventing other systems of measurement. Archaeologists are exploring a mile-long road made entirely of shallow, rock-lined holes that may have once been a dropoff point for Inca food tributes. Dubbed the "Band of Holes," the road climbs the slope of Peru's Monte Sierpe, in a region that has been home to complex human settlements for thousands of years. The rock here is so hard that the people who built it did not bother to dig their carefully sized holes (each is about 3 feet wide and 20-40 inches deep); instead, they constructed the nearly 6,000 holes out of soil and fist-sized rocks they brought from elsewhere. Seen from above, the Band of Holes looks like ribbon of precisely placed firepits, or maybe an infinite punchcard. Though locals have always known about the Band of Holes, it's possible that archaeologists have ignored it because it's hard to see except from the air. The first modern-day record we have of the structure comes from an aerial photograph taken in 1931, and today two archaeologists, Charles Stanish and Henry Tantaleán, are exploring it with drones. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Cole Marshall's house—and a welcome message from Charter. (credit: Cole Marshall) The Department of Justice and the Federal Communications Commission chairman have formally signed off on the blockbuster deal that allows Charter Communications to purchase Time Warner Cable for $78 billion and Bright House Networks for $10.4 billion. However, both agencies expressed conditions that the telcos must abide by for the deal to go through. The remaining full FCC must now vote on the proposed deal. As Ars reported earlier, Charter is now set to become the nation's second largest Internet service provider after Comcast, with the two companies controlling the majority of high-speed Internet subscriptions. Comcast struck a deal to buy Time Warner Cable in February 2014, but it failed to convince the FCC and DOJ to approve that merger. Among other things, the agencies were concerned that a bigger Comcast would try to harm online video providers that need access to Comcast's broadband network. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The Bangladesh central bank had no firewall and was using a second-hand $10 network when it was hacked earlier this year. Investigation by British defense contractor BAE Systems has also shown that the SWIFT software used to make payments was compromised, enabling the hackers to send money around the world without leaving any trace in Bangladesh. In February, unknown hackers broke into the Bangladesh Bank and almost got away with just shy of $1 billion. In the event, their fraudulent transactions were cancelled after they managed to transfer $81 million when a typo raised concerns about one of the transactions. That money is still unrecovered, but BAE has published some of its findings. The SWIFT organization is owned by 3,000 financial companies and operates a network for sending financial transactions between financial institutions. Institutions using the network must have existing banking relationships; SWIFT transactions do not actually send money but instead send payment orders that must then be settled by having the institutions involved moving money between accounts. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: CloudFlare) In less than two months, online businesses have paid more than $100,000 to scammers who set up a fake distributed denial-of-service gang that has yet to launch a single attack. The charlatans sent businesses around the globe extortion e-mails threatening debilitating DDoS attacks unless the recipients paid as much as $23,000 by Bitcoin in protection money, according to a blog post published Monday by CloudFlare, a service that helps protect businesses from such attacks. Stealing the name of an established gang that was well known for waging such extortion rackets, the scammers called themselves the Armada Collective. "If you don't pay by [date], attack will start, yours service going down permanently price to stop will increase to increase to 20 BTC and will go up 10 BTC for every day of the attack," the typical demand stated. "This is not a joke." Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc. (left) and Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah (center) are both signatories to a letter demanding answers about how many Americans have had their information caught up by NSA "upstream" data collection. (credit: Getty Images) On Friday, a group of members of Congress who are central to the surveillance debate demanded some kind of answer, even a vague one, about how many Americans are having their data harvested by surveillance programs. In a sharply worded letter (PDF) to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, 14 members of the House Judiciary Committee insisted he provide some type of "public estimate" of the number of US communications that are being caught up in surveillance programs authorized by Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act. That's the law that spy agencies like the NSA use to justify "upstream collection" of bulk data from Internet infrastructure. "We note that we are not the first to ask you for this basic information," states the group of representatives. They mentioned that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and former Sen. Mark Udall (D-N.M.) have asked for such information since 2011. Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: US DefenseImagery) Opening a new front in its campaign to defeat Islamic State terrorists, the US military has, for the first time, directed its Cyber Command to mount hacking attacks against ISIS computers and networks, The New York Times reported Sunday. While US National Security Agency hackers have targeted ISIS members for years, its military counterpart, the Cyber Command, virtually conducted no attacks against the terrorist organization. The new campaign reflects President Obama's desire to bring the types of clandestine military hacking operations that have targeted Iran and other nations to the battle against ISIS. According to the NYT: The goal of the new campaign is to disrupt the ability of the Islamic State to spread its message, attract new adherents, circulate orders from commanders and carry out day-to-day functions, like paying its fighters. A benefit of the administration’s exceedingly rare public discussion of the campaign, officials said, is to rattle the Islamic State’s commanders, who have begun to realize that sophisticated hacking efforts are manipulating their data. Potential recruits may also be deterred if they come to worry about the security of their communications with the militant group. Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter is among those who have publicly discussed the new mission, but only in broad terms, and this month the deputy secretary of defense, Robert O. Work, was more colorful in describing the effort. “We are dropping cyberbombs,” Mr. Work said. “We have never done that before.” The campaign began by installing several implants in the militants’ networks to learn the online habits of commanders. Now, Cyber Command members plan to imitate the commanders or alter their messages. The goal is to redirect militants to areas more vulnerable to attack by American drones or local ground forces. In other cases, officials said, US military hackers may use attacks to interrupt electronic transfers and misdirect payments. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, seen here in 2013. (credit: Partnership for Public Service) Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said Monday that the Snowden revelations have sped up the sophistication of encryption by "about seven years," according to the Christian Science Monitor. "From our standpoint, it’s not a good thing," Clapper reportedly said at CSM's breakfast event. When asked how he came up with that figure, he cited the National Security Agency. “The projected growth maturation and installation of commercially available encryption—what they had forecasted for seven years ahead, three years ago—was accelerated to now because of the revelation of the leaks," Clapper continued. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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If you're hoping for a gameplay reveal from John Romero's newest game announcement, too bad. Instead, here's some concept art. Hey, look, a barrel. (credit: Night Work Games) How deep—and selective—does your first-person-shooter nostalgia run? John Romero and Adrian Carmack, who cut their teeth on Doom and Quake before burning their reputations to the ground with Daikatana, are curious to find out. The ex-id Software staffers launched a Kickstarter campaign for a new video game on Monday with little more than fond memories and concept art as selling points. Don't do anything illegal, and don't forget your physical hashtag-filled sign, kids! In a four-minute video, Romero told fans that new game Blackroom "hearkens back to classic shooter gameplay," but the Kickstarter campaign doesn't currently back those promises up with hard details. Sci-fi concept art is shown as Romero describes a hologram-obsessed plot and tells us to expect "circle-strafing enemies and, of course, rocket jumping." But as of press time, the campaign isn't forthcoming with anything that looks like gameplay, let alone any enemy, level, or weapon descriptions. (The closest we really get is a recent Romero-built remake of a Doom level, and it's admittedly a damned good take on e1m8.) We also have no idea who is going to build the game alongside Romero and Carmack—remember, that's Adrian Carmack, id's former art director, not John Carmack, id's original lead programmer. Romero is listed as the game's only programmer thus far. Instead, fans are assured that the project already has a "metal composer" in the form of George Lynch, who has played in bands such as Dokken. More staffers will presumably be hired to help build a "10-hour" single-player campaign and a multiplayer mode that consists of six Romero-made maps plus whatever the community creates, since the game will be "fully moddable" and support custom maps and dedicated servers. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Oh, Tyrion. I'm worried, too. (credit: HBO) Spoiler alert: The below contains heavy spoilers for the Game of Thrones season six premiere and the entire series to date. If you haven’t watched and want to go in fresh, stop reading now. Though Game of Thrones has earned a reputation for its top-billing-can’t-keep-you-safe unpredictability, the season six premiere last night did what every Game of Thrones premiere has done. It’s a sweeping check-in on the characters who are still standing and a chance to resolve most of the major cliffhangers from last year. Only once that's done do we begin the arduous table-setting process for what we hope are the more action-heavy episodes that typically hit around the middle and end of the season. So let’s remember where everyone was at the end of last year: Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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That's a lot of hard disks. (credit: Backblaze) For the last few years, we've looked at the hard disk reliability numbers from cloud backup and storage company Backblaze, but we've not looked at the systems it builds to hold its tens of thousands of hard disks. In common with some other cloud companies, Backblaze publishes the specs and designs of its Storage Pods, 4U systems packed with hard disks, and today it announced its sixth generation design, which bumps up the number of disks (from 45 to 60) while driving costs down even further. The first design, in 2009, packed 45 1.5TB disks into a 4U rackable box for a cost of about 12¢ per gigabyte. In the different iterations that have followed, Backblaze has used a number of different internal designs—sometimes using port multipliers to get all the SATA ports necessary, other times using PCIe cards packed with SATA controllers—but it has stuck with the same 45 disk-per-box formula. The new system marks the first break from that setup. It uses the same Ivy Bridge Xeon processor and 32GB RAM of the version 5, adding extra controllers and port multipliers to handle another 15 disks for 60 in total. The result is a little long—it overhangs the back of the rack by about four inches—but it's packed full of storage. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Pretty soon, there's going to be a Fallout 4 bobblehead for every month of the year. Then every week... then every day... 27 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } I do a lot of traveling to various gaming conventions for this job, but PAX East is the show I look forward to more than any other on the calendar. The convention straddles the marketing-heavy vibe of a show like E3 and the geeky/wonky vibe of the Game Developers Conference with aplomb. It then mixes in the passion of actual gamers who don't work in the industry and who have paid hundreds or thousands of dollars for a chance to commune with their fellow fans for the weekend. Indie games have never been a rare sight at PAX East through outfits like the Indie Megabooth, but this year's show floor showed a marked shift away from massive booths for big publishers toward the "little guy." Everywhere you looked was another practically unknown, two-person developer team with a booth barely bigger than a folding table and a pixel-art aesthetic. Simply spending 10 minutes with every game on offer could easily take an entire week, much less a weekend (and that's without the massive queues of show-goers). Check out the above gallery to get a feel for some of the best costumes, booths, and random sightings at this year's show. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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The first justified use of a selfie stick I'm aware of: Bertrand Piccard, high above the Pacific. (credit: Solar Impulse) Last night, after over 60 hours in the air and months of work on the ground, Solar Impulse completed its crossing of the Pacific. The landing at Moffett Field completed the most challenging part of its round-the-world journey, one interrupted by a long layover in Hawaii that allowed the team to sort out issues with the craft's batteries. Solar Impulse is attempting to complete the first fuel-free circumnavigation of the Earth. It started the journey last year, with pilots Bertrand Piccard and André Borschberg completing legs that took the craft to Japan and then across the Pacific to Hawaii. Progress was slow, however, as the delicate aircraft has some very specific requirements in terms of wind and weather in order to take off and land safely. It also needs to complete the journey within the Northern Hemisphere's summer, or the on-board battery capacity would be insufficient to power it through the longer winter night. Once in Hawaii, however, the team identified problems with overheating batteries that required a major overhaul. This put the completion of its journey on hold for the year. With the work completed and the longest day of the year about two months away, the team was ready to resume its journey. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Nogas1974) The role of genetics in mental illness is a complex topic. On the one hand, evidence of genetic and biological causes for mental illnesses may help to fight the stigma that often accompanies them. On the other hand, certain researchers have suggested that a focus on genetics rather than traumatic life events can run the risk of ignoring the social ills that underlie or enhance many mental illnesses. Despite some ambiguous feelings, the work has gone on. A genetic study recently published in Nature Genetics describes the results from the work of an eye-popping 190 scientists around the world. It describes an in-depth exploration of three separate traits: depression, neuroticism (the tendency to experience anxiety and fear easily), and subjective well-being (an experience of life satisfaction and/or happiness). They found evidence suggesting that these three traits are influenced by some of the same genes and are linked to the pancreatic, adrenal, and central nervous systems. Tiny cumulative effects Psychology researcher Richard Bentall argues that genetic studies are fruitless; so many genes have been identified as playing a role in mental illness that their medical usefulness becomes diluted. And, even when the genetics are simple, it's not always helpful. “Consider Huntington’s Disease, a terrible degenerative neurological condition that is caused by a single dominant gene with a known biological function,” he writes. “Many years after this gene was discovered there is still no sign of a medical therapy for this simplest of all the genetic conditions.” Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: BBC) Doctor Who fans may be fretting about the sci-fi show's break from our screens this year, but the BBC has already began its PR blitz for the next series by unveiling the Time Lord's new companion. Step forward (or should that be run away from the Daleks?) Pearl Mackie, who is expected to make her debut as the Doctor's sidekick on this year's Christmas special. Mackie's character name is Bill, and—based on a short introductory clip—appears to be a straight-talking ("wouldn't it be quicker just to say 'kill'?"), and cheeky ("it's got a sucker on it") Londoner for the tenth season of the rebooted show. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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As Season Three starts, Richard Hendricks is heading out the door, and everyone is thinking through their options. (credit: HBO) When I watched the first season of HBO's Silicon Valley in 2014, I thought it was OK, but not amazing. Yet I kept thinking about the show and talking to friends about it. That's when I realized—Silicon Valley isn't a perfect satire, but that doesn't matter. It's the satire we need in our tech-obsessed world. Hunger is the best seasoning, and when it came to tech satire, I was a starving man. The tech corporations that run the machines in our pockets and the skies have more money, power, and influence than ever before. Even when they're good, but especially when they're bad, we've got to take them down a notch sometimes—just to stay sane. And nothing does that like satire. So where's The Daily Show for the tech world? Comedies about computers tend to be insipid, miss the target, or worse, culminating with The Internship. That vapid and formulaic 2013 film used the considerable talents of Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn to produce what amounted to a Hollywood press release for Google. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Occator crater on Ceres keeps some shiny secrets. (credit: NASA) NASA's Dawn spacecraft is a success from both a scientific and a technical standpoint. During the nearly nine years since its launch, the probe has orbited both Vesta and Ceres, two of the largest objects in the asteroid belt. For scientists, Dawn's most notable discovery is that it found spectacular craters on Ceres, the Texas-sized dwarf planet dotted with brilliant white specks. Dawn has also demonstrated the viability of ion propulsion as a means of interplanetary travel. The spacecraft's thrusters ionize its xenon propellant, offering a considerable savings in terms of a propellant-to-thrust ratio. Ion engines get good gas mileage compared to traditional chemical rockets, although on this scale they travel more slowly. NASA may eventually use larger ion thrusters to ship large amounts of cargo to Mars in advance of human landings. Now thanks to this efficiency, even after getting into orbits around both Vesta and Ceres, Dawn has a little bit of xenon gas left. Originally mission managers had planned to park it in a stable orbit around Ceres later this summer, creating a permanent artificial satellite. They could not crash the spacecraft into Ceres, as is customary with many similar missions, because Dawn has not been sterilized in accord with planetary protection procedures. But the extra xenon has created an additional opportunity. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Blue Coat) An ongoing drive-by attack is forcing ransomware onto Android smartphones by exploiting critical vulnerabilities in older versions of Google's mobile operating system still in use by millions of people, according to research scheduled to be published Monday. The attack combines exploits for at least two critical vulnerabilities contained in Android versions 4.0 through 4.3, including an exploit known as Towelroot, which gives attackers unfettered "root" access to vulnerable phones. The exploit code appears to borrow heavily from, if not copy outright, some of these Android attack scripts, which leaked to the world following the embarrassing breach of Italy-based Hacking Team in July. Additional data indicates devices running Android 4.4 may also be infected, possibly by exploiting a different set of vulnerabilities. It's the first time—or at least one of only a handful of times—Android vulnerabilities have been exploited in real-world drive-by attacks. For years, most Android malware has spread by social engineering campaigns that trick a user into installing a malicious app posing as something useful and benign. The drive-by attack—which has been active for at least the past 60 days and was discovered by security firm Blue Coat Systems—is notable because it's completely stealthy and requires no user interaction on the part of the end user. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Andrew Cunningham The MacBook is still a thin-and-light laptop that can go pretty much anywhere. 12 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } Designing a portable gadget is all about compromise. The main tension is between power and portability: how light can I make this phone without making it unacceptably slow or killing battery life, and how fast can I make this laptop without making the battery and necessary heatsinks and fans too large to comfortably carry around? Every laptop you can buy exists somewhere on this spectrum, and the new version of Apple’s Retina MacBook still prioritizes portability over pretty much everything else. At two pounds, it’s one of the thinnest, lightest full-fledged laptops you can buy today. But to achieve that feat, Apple uses low-voltage processors, offers a super-shallow keyboard and trackpad, and sheds all but one of this laptop's ports (headphone jack excepted). It’s not a laptop for everyone. It’s not going to make every MacBook Air and Pro user happy. It probably won’t make most people who disliked the 2015 MacBook happy. But for OS X users who value portability over all else, it’s a decent generational bump that gets you more speed for the same price. Read 37 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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InauspiciousPagan The work-in-progress dialog box that a user was able to bring up. 2 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } Google first brought the ability to run Android apps on Chrome OS with a project called the "App Runtime for Chrome (ARC)." Google build an Android runtime on Chrome OS and partnered with select developers to port a handful of Android apps. Now it sounds like Google is ready to unleash millions of Android apps onto the platform by bringing the entire Play Store to Chrome OS. In the Chrome OS subreddit, users are reporting some interesting behavior in their Chromebooks. "TheWiseYoda" noticed that when the settings first load up, an option quickly flashes on screen that reads "Enable Android apps to run on your Chromebook." The option immediately disappears, so it's not possible to click on normally. We were able to replicate this on our 2nd-gen Chromebook Pixel running the developer build. After some hunting in the Chrome OS source code, Mr. Yoda found a few strings in this file (starting at line 6522) that mention the arrival of Google Play on Chrome OS. The most important message seems to be this one: Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Global Panorama) The HPV vaccine provides effective protection from the human papilloma virus and the cancers it can induce. Because HPV is transmitted sexually, inclusion in mandatory vaccination schedules has been a controversial issue, and legislation varies by state. Complicating matters further, companies have continued to improve the vaccine, expanding the list of viral strains that it protects against. A new study in PNAS finds that having states require the latest, most protective HPV vaccine for girls and boys would be highly cost-effective and would lead to better health outcomes at the national level. HPV is the most prevalent sexually transmitted infection in the US, with over 100 viral strains circulating in the population. Over half of cervical cancer cases in the US are thought to be caused by HPV, which can also cause vaginal cancer, penile cancer, anal cancer, and cancers of the mouth and throat. Fortunately, several vaccines for HPV are now available, including bivalent, quadrivalent, and nonavalent—these protect against two, four, and nine strains of HPV respectively. These vaccines can protect women from 66-81 percent of cervical cancers, depending on the number of strains that are included in the formulation. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Camera images from the drone ship show the Falcon 9 first stage coming in on target April 8. (credit: SpaceX) SpaceX launched its Falcon 9 rocket into space on April 8, and after the first stage delivered its payload, the vehicle descended back to Earth and landed on an autonomous drone ship in the Atlantic Ocean. Now the company hopes to repeat that sea-based feat under more dynamically challenging conditions. The launch earlier this month carried a Dragon spacecraft, destined for the International Space Station about 400km above the surface. With a launch tentatively set for May 3 during the early morning hours, SpaceX plans to deliver a Japanese broadcast satellite into orbit 22,000km above the planet's surface. This means that the first stage will accelerate to a greater velocity, moving almost parallel to the surface and away from the launch site, before it releases the second stage and the primary payload. This trajectory will leave the vehicle with far less fuel to arrest this horizontal motion, and to control its descent to the barge waiting below. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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CJ Wilson Racing This is the real #35 Cayman GT4 Clubsport. 5 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } If you're an up-and-coming racing team, and you want to make new fans, what better way than to set up an e-sports series featuring a digital version of your real race car? The team in question is CJ Wilson Racing, which has partnered with Logitech and The Online Racing Association (TORA) to run the CJ Wilson Racing Cayman Cup—a 10-race series that gets underway on April 27th. We spoke to some of the people involved in order to find out more, particularly about how they arrived at their Forza Motorsport 6 version of the real race car. The e-racing community might not have the same following—or prize fund—as something like Dota 2. But e-sports are being taken more and more seriously by the people that run real-word racing. As far back as 2008, Nissan and Sony in Europe were using Gran Turismo tournaments to find promising young racing drivers. TORA was officially recognized by the UK's Motor Sports Association in 2010, and even the FIA (which runs international motorsport) recently announced it would sanction a new series in the next Gran Turismo game. How accurately racing games recreate the experience of driving the real thing is a topic we've tackled a few times. For 2016, CJ Wilson Racing switched cars, from the Mazda MX-5s it had been running in the Continental Tire Sportscar Challenge to a pair of Porsche Cayman GT4s. The Cayman GTS just came back to Forza 6, but there isn't actually a Cayman GT4 in the game. So, we wondered, how did the team recreate it? Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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"The tunnel entrance to the North American Air Defense (NORAD) Space Command Cheyenne Mountain Complex." Utah Mining, the company that excavated Cheyenne Mountain, also built a civilian tunnel going from Denver to Idaho Springs. The dimensions of that tunnel entrance are similar to the dimensions of this tunnel entrance. (credit: Department of Defense) COLORADO SPRINGS, CO—Across the highway from the US Air Force Academy is a tiny cluster of buildings that represents one of Colorado Springs' earliest claims to fame: mining. The Western Museum of Mining and Industry (WMMI) looks out onto a glorious expanse of the Rocky Mountains and is home to all manner of antique equipment that extracted minerals from those mountains. But on a balmy April night, as a spring snowstorm rolled in from the west, Ars attended a lecture at the museum about a nearby mining marvel that was not intended to extract riches, but to bury something more valuable beneath the unyielding rock—knowledge. Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Chromecast Audio! Identical size to the standard 2015 Chromecast. Those vinyl-like grooves are purely intentional. (This one also requires power via a USB mini cable.) (credit: Sam Machkovech) I received my Google Chromecast Audio for review at the end of September, and I buried my impressions of it in an article about the Chromecast's 2015 refresh. Not a ton to say, really: it provides Chromecast-like functionality... but only for audio. Chromecast Audio. Got it. However, Google didn't really tell critics about the Chromecast Audio's most interesting feature, possibly because it wasn't yet ready or tested. Roughly a month after its October launch, Google rolled out a "group" synced-audio update. The update wirelessly daisy-chains an unlimited number of Chromecast Audio dongles so that their audio is synced across an entire house. For $35 a pop, you can turn an old speaker with a 3.5mm audio jack into an audio repeater. It's too late for super-fresh impressions, but my month of Chromecast Audio has proven so fruitful, I wanted to share my experience and offer recommendations so that you too can rock a party-ready house like mine. Read 20 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Oceanic crust sometimes ends up on land—like the Ingalls Peak area in Washington. This stuff pulls carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as it weathers. (credit: brookpeterson) Earth’s climate has stayed within a pretty narrow range of temperatures over its history if you compare it to the inhospitable heat and cold found elsewhere in our Solar System. This relative stability has been maintained by an intricate system of interactions. On geologic timescales, the chemical commerce between the atmosphere and the rock of Earth’s crust acts as a thermostat. The weathering of common minerals includes a reaction that removes CO2 from the atmosphere. High temperatures (caused by higher CO2) mean faster weathering, which gradually brings CO2 and temperature back down. It’s a moderating influence. But plate tectonics also fiddle with the dial on that thermostat. Arcs of volcanoes along subduction zones (where one plate dives beneath the other) provide a constant source of CO2, and subduction zones come and go over time. Research using tough zircon crystals as records of volcanic arcs has found a correlation with climate over geologic time. In fact, a new study published this week in Science extends that comparison over the last 720 million years by finding evidence that volcanic activity rises and falls with the great swings in Earth’s climate. A second study—published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and led by MIT’s Oliver Jagoutz—looks at the flip side of the equation: the ability of plate tectonics to strengthen the weathering feedback that eats CO2. Although climate change can increase or decrease the rate of weathering, the amount of exposed and easily weatherable rock makes a huge difference. The igneous rocks that make up oceanic crust, for example, make excellent CO2 sponges—or at least they would, if they weren’t at the bottom of the sea. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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