posted 8 days ago on ars technica
Anthony Fine Verizon Wireless just made it more expensive to cancel service by delaying monthly reductions in early termination fees (ETFs) until the eighth month of a contract. Until today, the early termination fees of $350 for new smartphone contracts declined $10 each month. Customers who signed contracts before today will still see their ETFs decline the first month and all months thereafter. But customers who sign up today or later will not see any reductions until the eighth month, Verizon's updated customer agreement says. That means that after seven months, a customer's ETF would remain at $350 instead of declining to $280. Under the new terms, ETFs will decline "$10 per month in months 8–18, $20 per month in months 19–23, and $60 in the final month of your contract term." Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The SanDisk iXpand marries USB and Lightning connectors to a sort-of-compact flash drive. SanDisk 16GB iPhone got you down? Apple doesn't offer an easy way to augment your phone's storage, but plenty of third parties have tried to make it possible. They've tried wireless drives, SD card adapters, and even cases with extra storage on board. Now SanDisk is joining the fun with an alternate option that looks at least passably attractive. Its iXpand flash drive includes both USB and Lightning connectors, providing what will theoretically be an easy way to offload files from your phone or tablet while still making them easy to get at. Since iOS doesn't handle external storage natively, offloading and syncing of files is handled by a separate iXpand app that can "automatically sync photos and videos from the camera roll to the drive." Movies stored on the drive in the WMV, AVI, MKV, MP4, and MOV formats will all be playable, and files can be password-protected and encrypted for safety. The drive costs significantly more than a standard USB 3.0 flash drive or external hard drive, and it looks bulky and homely compared to most flash drives. That said, it costs less than buying a new, higher-capacity iPhone or iPad and it may appeal to those who aren't interested in using the cloud or connecting their devices to a computer to free up space. 16GB drives will start at $59.99, while 32GB and 64GB will run you $79.99 and $119.99, respectively. The drive launches on November 16 and is compatible with any iOS 7 or iOS 8 device with a Lightning port. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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The Gear VR. The brown strip at the front is the side of a Note 4 For fans of virtual reality, it's been excruciating waiting for Oculus to release a commercial version of the Rift headset it first displayed as a prototype way back in May of 2012. Given that, it's a bit amazing that the first version of the Oculus-powered Samsung Gear VR has officially been "slated for early December" after being unveiled just over two months ago. The "Innovator Edition" of the Gear VR headset will start at $199, Oculus announced this week, or come in a $249 bundle that includes a Bluetooth gamepad. Of course, that price doesn't include the Samsung Galaxy Note 4, the only mobile phone that works with the device, which runs about $800 unsubsidized and unlocked on its own. Oculus says that the Innovator Edition is akin to a Rift Developer Kit, intended to give "developers and enthusiasts everything they need to build and experiment with the platform before the hardware and software are ready for consumers." Samsung seems to be marketing the device more directly as a consumer-facing product, though, with a splashy pre-order page encouraging customers to "see the difference" in an "unparalleled 360° virtual reality viewing experience." Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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An interruption in satellite imagery from NOAA’s Geostationary Satellite Server was caused by efforts to end an alleged Chinese infiltration of NOAA's satellite operations systems—not, as the agency initially reported, "unscheduled maintenance." NOAA An interruption of satellite imagery feeds to the National Weather Service in October was caused by a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shutdown of network connections intended to combat an intrusion into NOAA’s computer systems, the Washington Post reported this week. But the breach, which started in September and lasted until late October, was not reported to Commerce Department officials and other federal cybersecurity authorities. The NOAA satellite imagery system is used by civilian and military meteorologists worldwide to build weather models; it is also used in planning commercial aircraft and merchant shipping traffic. While NOAA did not identify the attacker publicly, agency officials reportedly told Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-VA) about the attack and that it was traced back to China. The attacks happened during the same timeframe of an alleged Chinese infiltration of the White House’s unclassified network and a data breach at the US Post Office that exposed 800,000 employee records—also now attributed to Chinese attackers. Ironically, the attacks came just before President Barack Obama’s visit to Beijing where he discussed (among other things) measures to combat climate change. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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But you might not actually get that "free TV." The Advance Guard Verizon has agreed to pay $1.375 million to Maryland customers to settle charges that it misled them about the price of its FiOS fiber-to-the-home service and failed to deliver promised promotional items including free televisions, Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler announced Wednesday. "The settlement follows a wide-ranging investigation of Verizon, including its alleged failure to deliver promised promotional items to new FiOS customers, such as free televisions and gift cards; its offer of bundled prices that did not include the cost to lease equipment necessary to receive the services; its alleged practice of assessing early termination fees when customers cancelled after they did not receive what they had been promised; and other issues, including billing complaints, contract disputes, and poor customer service," the announcement said. "Although Verizon denied that it violated any Maryland laws, it agreed to a settlement that addresses the Division's concerns." New FiOS customers reported in 2008 that they didn't receive the free TV Verizon promised them in exchange for signing up for service. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A panorama of Philae's current home. ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA The landing of Rosetta’s Philae on comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko was a triumph of engineering. Many spectacular scientific firsts will follow now, but small glitches during the landing make it more difficult to obtain all of the scientific goals. The harpoons did not fire to anchor the lander; as a result, it bounced off the surface twice before coming to rest at its “third landing.” It is as yet unclear where exactly Philae landed, but it is not the flat, safe surface of the targeted Agilkia landing site. The lander now sits in a position partly shaded from the Sun, which limits the ability to charge its secondary battery. The Philae teams are now scrambling to give each scientific instrument on the lander a measurement slot within the 60 hours of power available from the primary battery. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Our own Megan Geuss attended the dump dig-up in Alamogordo earlier this year. Megan Geuss The phrase "one man's trash is another man's treasure" isn't often true in a literal sense, but it was this week as the City of Alamogordo, New Mexico raised nearly $36,500 by auctioning off the first set of nearly 100 cartridges dug up from their infamous 1983 Atari dumping. While many different Atari 2600 games were represented in the city's eBay auctions, the E.T. cartridges that were central to the dumping's "urban legend" were—unsurprisingly—the most popular. The eight crumpled-but-still-complete-in-box copies of the game, which many have dubbed the worst in history, sold for a median of $1,400, with one copy topping $1,537 when the auction concluded after 42 bids last night. Even the 11 unboxed E.T. cartridges dug up from the dirt fetched a hefty median price of $635. The minimum price to own a trashed copy of one of the biggest flops in gaming history? $511. The 78 non-E.T. cartridges being auctioned in this first batch weren't nearly so in-demand, but they still fetched an average price of $227, which is pretty good for literal trash that's been sitting in the ground for over 30 years. One boxed copy of Asteroids went for $490, while the absolute lowest price to own a piece of Atari landfill history so far was $157.50 for a copy of Missile Command. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A flowchart of the infection process used by a malicious Tor exit node. F-Secure Three weeks ago, a security researcher uncovered a Tor exit node that added malware to uncompressed Windows executables passing through it. Officials with the privacy service promptly shut down the Russia-based node, but according to new research, the group behind the node had likely been infecting files for more than a year by that time, causing careless users to install a backdoor that gave attackers full control of their systems. What's more, according to a blog post published Friday by researchers from antivirus provider F-Secure, the rogue exit node was tied to the "MiniDuke" gang, which previously infected government agencies and organizations in 23 countries with highly advanced malware that uses low-level code to stay hidden. MiniDuke was intriguing because it bore the hallmark of viruses first encountered in the mid-1990s, when shadowy groups such as 29A engineered innovative pieces of malware for fun and then documented them in an E-zine of the same name. Written in assembly language, most MiniDuke files were tiny. Their use of multiple levels of encryption and clever coding tricks made the malware hard to detect and difficult to reverse engineer. The code also contained references to Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy and alluded to 666, the "mark of the beast" discussed in the biblical Book of Revelation. "OnionDuke," as the malware spread through the latest attacks is known, is a completely different malware family, but some of the command and control (C&C) channels it uses to funnel commands and stolen data to and from infected machines were registered by the same persona that obtained MiniDuke C&Cs. The main component of the malware monitored several attacker-operated servers to await instructions to install other pieces of malware. Other components siphoned login credentials and system information from infected machines. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Cyrus Farivar Some prisoners told Ars that despite the cellphone ban, phones do show up on the inside. 23 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:[], collapse: true});Usually cameras are not allowed inside San Quentin State Prison, but for a special media event such as the one held on Thursday, an exception was made. Reporters were treated to about two hours inside the prison and got a chance to meet and interact with inmates one-on-one. Ars hopes to return to San Quentin in the coming weeks to see how they have progressed in their coding classes. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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Cyrus Farivar SAN QUENTIN, CA—It sounds almost like a parody of Silicon Valley: two wealthy San Francisco Bay Area tech veterans want San Quentin State Prison inmates to learn basic computer programming as a way to better themselves. The eventual goal? That a specially selected group of 18 men be employed as Web designers and developers even before they're released and then continue beyond prison, competing with coders worldwide. The hope is that given the right skills, recidivism (returning to prison) will decrease. On Thursday, prisons officials and program organizers invited local media to attend a regular class session of what they've dubbed "Code 7370," a four-day-per-week, eight-hour-per-day, six-month course teaching HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It's believed to be the first computer coding class taught inside any prison in the United States. Of course, as the class is taught inside a prison, it has an extra obstacle—inmates don't have access to the Internet at all, and their only time spent with a computer is inside the classroom. (All course materials are saved locally.) Read 26 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Aleksander Markin On Thursday afternoon, the Wall Street Journal published a report saying that the US Marshals Service (USMS) was using small, fixed-wing Cessnas equipped with so-called “dirtboxes”—receivers that act like cellphone towers—to gather data from citizens' phones below. The purpose of such collection is to target and spy on criminal suspects, but the data from any citizen's phone is collected by such devices. Sources told the WSJ that USMS operated these planes from five major airports in the US and that the program had a flying range “covering most of the US population.” The devices on the planes can capture unique identifying information from “tens of thousands” of cellphones on the ground. Using that information, federal authorities can pinpoint a cellphone user's location from “within three meters or within a specific room in a building,” the WSJ said. Individuals with knowledge of the matter told the news outlet that the plane flyovers were targeted at “fugitives and criminals” and that non-target phone data is “let go” as it is gathered. The dirtboxes are described as higher-grade Stingrays, which police use on the ground to collect International Mobile Subscriber Numbers (IMSI). Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Taylor Swift has struck back in her ideological battle with streaming music service Spotify by releasing the amount of money that she's earned from its customers in the last 12 months: less than $500,000 across hundreds of millions of plays. The two parties have carried on an argument in the last two weeks over where streaming fits in the music industry, even as her work has remained available on other streaming platforms. Swift formally started her campaign against streaming services with an editorial in July published by the Wall Street Journal that denounced the idea of giving music away for seemingly no cost.  "Music is art, and art is important and rare. Important, rare things are valuable. Valuable things should be paid for. It's my opinion that music should not be free, and my prediction is that individual artists and their labels will someday decide what an album's price point is," she wrote. This came to bear for Spotify earlier this month, when Swift not only elected to make her newest album, 1989, unavailable on the service, but pulled her entire catalog from Spotify. Spotify responded immediately and publicly, blogging that 40 percent of its 40 million users have played her music in the last 30 days, and that the company has paid out $2 billion to labels in royalties over the service's lifetime. Spotify begged her, and begged her fans to beg her, to come back. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The 2012 Nexus 7's Lollipop update neither helps nor harms. Andrew Cunningham The 2012 Nexus 7 is more than two years old now, and it hails from a time when Android was still trying to find itself on tablets. Perhaps as a result, it feels older than it is. It's showing its age in a way that the 2013 Nexus 7 (or any given iPad from 2012) isn't yet. When you've been reviewing stuff for a while, you get better at determining the relative strengths and weaknesses of a device after spending only a little time with it. The majority of the time, those strengths and weaknesses don't change much after a few weeks or months of use, but the older Nexus 7 is an exception. Though it was initially praised widely by reviewers for its speed, over time that reputation shifted. Now, it's known mostly for being annoyingly laggy and slow, a problem we can pin on its poor storage speeds. Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Admit it, the Zelda theme is stuck in your head now, isn't it? Mario Kart fans are used to waiting out entire console generations before they get a new edition of their favorite item-filled racing series. So today's release of the first pack of downloadable content for Mario Kart 8, mere months after the game's May release, is a big departure for the series. It's also a big departure for Nintendo, which is only starting to jump on the DLC bandwagon that other major developers have been riding for years. Thank goodness the company is finally catching up, because the first bit of Mario Kart DLC (available now for $8 or as part of a $12 bundle with a second pack, due next May) is the best kind of nostalgic love letter to Nintendo's biggest fans. Every corner of the new content is full of the kind of historical winks and nods to a variety of Nintendo series that would usually seem more at home in the Super Smash Bros. games. Some parts of this nostalgia-mining have been obvious since the DLC was first announced in August, with Legend of Zelda protagonist Link as the most surprising addition to the racing roster. Racing around as Link, there is initially a bit of a disconnect seeing his trademark green tunic jammed into a horse-shaped motorbike, surrounding by the trappings of Mario games. And to be sure, Zelda fans will get a nostalgic contact high of recognition when Link lets out his trademark "Hyaaa!" and thrusts his sword triumphantly upward during a jump (complete with the brief flash of a Triforce icon for good measure). Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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doctress neutopia The United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is now patrolling half of the US-Mexico border with drones, according to a new report by the Associated Press. According to two anonymous sources from within the CBP, Predator B drones fly over remote areas with "a high-resolution video camera and return within three days for another video in the same spot." Then, those videos are compared to see if there was any difference—footprints, livestock tracks, or vehicle trails. Agents have found that most of the time, nothing has changed. Only 2 percent of the drone missions did offer evidence of unauthorized border crossings, and the CBP usually places more detailed "ground sensors" in those areas. False alarms were reported for four percent of the missions, while two percent of missions were inconclusive. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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At its AWS re:Invent cloud computing conference today, Amazon announced AWS Lambda, a way of performing computing in the cloud in response to events without the need for virtual machines, compute instances, or any kind of administration. The usual model when performing computation in cloud services is to create some kind of a persistent application, such as a Web server on a virtual machine. Sometimes the developer manages everything on the VM. Sometimes aspects of this are abstracted away—Azure's Web roles, for example, leave management of the base operating system and server up to Microsoft, letting developers focus solely on the Web content—but those persistent deployments, with their time-based billing, have become the basic model of cloud computing. With Lamba, those things are abstracted away even further. Developers write functions—currently using JavaScript running on node.js, though Amazon says there will be more options available in the future—and plumbs those functions into event sources, such as file uploads to S3 storage. Every time an event fires, Amazon's cloud will trigger the Lambda function, seamlessly taking care of managing the underlying resources. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Perpetual Tourist Members of Congress are personally investing tens of millions of dollars in the tech sector, with Microsoft and Apple leading the way, according to an analysis by Maplight, the California nonprofit that tracks money and politics. The analysis of "personal financial disclosures" that lawmakers must submit shows that as many as 57 lawmakers had invested in Microsoft, making it the No. 2 pick in terms of the number of congressional investors. The held Microsoft stock was valued at as much as $5.53 million. Apple came in at No. 5, with 48 congressional investors, according to the 2013 data. Stock held by members of the House and Senate in Apple was valued at about $9.8 million. "MapLight has compiled and organized this information into a single dataset searchable by politician, company, year, or Congressional session, with results categorized by income type (dividends, capital gains, etc.) and personal or spousal ownership. This data is made freely available to the public through a simple web interface and may also be downloaded as a CSV spreadsheet for deeper scrutiny," the organization said. (The data includes investments from lawmakers' spouses and dependent children.) Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Contradictory statements. Brett Farmiloe The Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a remarkable letter (PDF) this morning in which the Department of Justice admits its lawyer misled a judge during oral arguments last month over the legality of National Security Letters, or NSLs. To the surprise of some observers, during his rebuttal, Justice Department lawyer Douglas Letter told the three-judge panel that recipients of NSLs could, in fact, speak about the letters in general terms. They could discuss the fact that they had received a letter and could engage in public debate about the "quality" of the NSLs they had received, he said. But actually, they can't. Letter's statements contradicted longstanding policy, and EFF apparently asked the DOJ for clarification. The result is that DOJ has sent a note to the Clerk of Court for the 9th Circuit to correct the error, clearing up "an inadvertent misstatement by government counsel during the rebuttal portion of the argument." Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Don't blame the robots, says law professor Gregory McNeal—instead, focus on the activity of surveillance itself. Brookings Institute A report published this week by the Brookings Institute urges Congress not to respond to public concerns about the privacy implications of unmanned aircraft with a raft of drone-specific legislation. Instead, the focus should be on pervasive surveillance of all kinds—and the report’s author—Gregory McNeal, a professor of law at Pepperdine University and a contributor to Forbes—believes that drones and automated surveillance may actually provide better privacy controls than are available for human surveillance. In his report, McNeal wrote that a recent wave of anti-drone legislation at the state level “focused on the technology (drones), not the harm (pervasive surveillance)." "In many cases, this technology-centric approach creates perverse results, allowing the use of extremely sophisticated pervasive surveillance technologies from manned aircraft, while disallowing benign uses of drones for mundane tasks like accident and crime scene documentation, or monitoring of industrial pollution and other environmental harms," he continued. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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flickr user: People can sometimes easily estimate results that would otherwise require very complex calculations on paper. For instance, two people throwing a ball around are not completing equations of motion in their head, but they can accurately predict the ball’s trajectory. Similarly, we know that people in Western societies have “probabilistic intuition,” meaning they are able to make intuitive judgments about probability without any actual calculations. We can usually guess that a blue ball is more likely to be drawn out of a box containing five blue balls and one yellow. However, it isn’t a given that this ability is universal to all people. Literacy, numeracy, and a built environment can affect the way people reason about the world; behavior that was previously thought to be universal can actually vary widely between cultures. But in order to generalize observations about human cognition to the whole species, it’s essential to observe whether an ability is present in a wide variety of cultures. So a group of researchers decided to test probabilistic intuition in people without any formal education. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Greetings, Arsians! Despite Thanksgiving not even happening yet, if you wander into a store or check out a TV commercial, you'll see you should be fully into the holiday shopping swing. Thanks to our partners at TechBargains, we're here to help with a ton of deals for everyone on your list. Today's featured deal is an Xbox One with a whopping 1TB of storage. And it's not just an Xbox One—this is a limited edition Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Bundle complete with a copy of the game and a fancy paint job. Below you'll see that's just where the deals begin. We have price drops on laptops and desktops, an entire tablet section, and more than a few deals on cameras and consoles. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Taser International When the Minneapolis Police Department began testing body cameras for its officers the other day, Chief Janee Harteau said that the surveillance equipment, some of it purchased from Taser International, was an "added tool" for her force in a post-Ferguson, Missouri world. As it turns out, Harteau's agency isn't alone. The Arizona-based company is selling its devices like hotcakes—specifically surveillance wearables with names like AXON body cameras and AXON flex camera eyewear. It's technology that records video of what an officer is seeing. The company's stock is hovering near a 52-week high, and sales of nearly $44 million for the latest quarter ending in September jumped about $10 million from the same quarter the year prior, according to its latest Form 10-G (PDF). On top of that, Taser announced that camera and digital evidence storage orders nearly tripled from the same period as last year. "The positive momentum in the law enforcement market toward wearable technologies and cloud solutions is continuing to build, further encouraging our investment in and passion to grow this business. Major cities in the US and abroad are continuing to look to Taser to provide secure and cost-effective solutions," CEO Patrick Smith said when announcing earnings last week. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Sony On Thursday, Sony announced its own internally developed online streaming video service, dubbed PlayStation Vue, set to launch in a limited beta this month. The announcement outlined many of the subscription service's early details, including a focus on network television, roughly 75 participating stations, and, perhaps most notably, the ability to stream live television. That's in stark contrast to similar paid services like Hulu, which force users to wait up to a full day for their favorite series to be streamable online. According to Sony's press release on the matter, participating stations currently include much of the Viacom family (CBS, MTV, Comedy Central), along with Fox and NBC and some of their subsidiary stations. Currently, the major holdout is the ESPN-Disney family, which also carries ABC; that combination of network hits, sports content, and family viewing will be a major content hurdle for anybody seeing PlayStation Vue as a no-cable, cord-cutting path to live TV. Shocking no one, Sony announced that the service would debut on PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 consoles. Those versions will roll out in a limited, New York-only beta (only on PlayStation Plus) by the end of this month, with a wider launch expected in the first quarter of 2015. The company also announced that it's "working on" an iOS app, but no timeframe was given for when that, or other compatible device apps (particularly the PlayStation Vita), might arrive. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Amazon and Hachette, the fourth largest book publisher in the US, announced Thursday that they had come to a private agreement ending their months-long dispute over e-book prices. The terms of the deal are not known, but the New York Times reports that Hachette will be able to set prices on its books, following a similar deal between Amazon and Simon & Schuster. In a news alert that Amazon sent to Ars via e-mail, the company said the agreement "will take effect early in 2015. Hachette will have responsibility for setting consumer prices of its e-books and will also benefit from better terms when it delivers lower prices for readers." "Amazon and Hachette will immediately resume normal trading, and Hachette books will be prominently featured in promotions," Amazon specified. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Although it often doesn't seem like it on a warm summer night, insects that feed on human blood are a rarity. There may be as many as 10 million species of insects; only about 100 of them specialize on humans. But rare doesn't mean unimportant. A single species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti, can spread yellow and dengue fevers, making it a major player in public health. Aedes aegypti is also unusual in that, while it specializes in humans, we've found a population of what researchers have termed "forest" mosquitos that prefer to go after other animals. Now, researchers have used the forest mosquitos to help us understand how their peers have ended up specialized in feeding on humans. The answer, in part, is that the mosquitos have evolved a receptor that makes us smell good. The key for this new paper was a forest mosquito population in Kenya, last observed in the 1970s. The research involved in the new work returned to the site in 2009, and the team found that mosquitos with two different color patterns still existed in the region. Returning to the lab with them, they found that the forest mosquitos tended to prefer the scent of guinea pigs, while mosquitos isolated in or near houses preferred human smells. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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