posted 8 days ago on ars technica
In the wake of the ongoing hostage crisis in Sydney’s Central Business District (CBD), the quasi-taxi service Uber initially imposed its surge pricing to astronomical levels—four times a normal fare, with a A$100 ($82.50) minimum charge—before correcting the fare, and instituting refunds and free rides in the area. The price increase was first reported by Mashable. On Monday morning Australian time, at least one gunman took over the Lindt Chocolate Café in Martin Place, just one block from the consulates of New Zealand, Pakistan and the United States in downtown Sydney. As of this writing, the area had been cleared, but according to the Sydney Morning Herald, there are 20 people being held inside the café, although three of them did manage to escape. The hostages also appeared to be forced to hold up a Shahada flag, which portrays the Muslim creed in Arabic calligraphy: "There is no god but the God, Muhammad is the messenger of the God." It is not the flag of the terror group known as the Islamic State. Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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This weekend, the “Guardians of Peace”—the cyber-attackers who brought Sony Pictures Entertainment’s network down in November and have since shared over a terabyte of the company’s internal data—made two more dumps of SPE data to file sharing sites and torrents. The second of the two, on Sunday, was the e-mail box of Sony Pictures Releasing International president Steven O’Dell. And the hackers promised a “Christmas present” soon of even more data if the company does not relent and meet their unspecified demands. "We are preparing for you a Christmas gift," the GoP said in a post to Pastebin and Friendpaste. "The gift will be larger quantities of data. And it will be more interesting.The gift will surely give you much more pleasure and put Sony Pictures into the worst state. Please send an email titled by 'Merry Christmas' at the addresses below to tell us what you want in our Christmas gift." As the breach spills into another week, details have emerged that suggest the attack may have begun much earlier this year, or even earlier, and that the attackers were able to collect significant intelligence on the network from Sony Pictures’ own IT department. It's clear that those behind the attack were deep inside Sony's network for a long time before they set off the malware that erased Sony hard drives—and some of the data they collected could have been used in other attacks. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A local judge in Arizona ruled Friday that the Tucson Police Department (TPD) does not have to disclose records related to the use of stingrays, also known as cell-site simulators, under the state’s public records act. According to a Saturday report from Capitol Media Services, a state news wire, complying with reporter Beau Hodai’s public records request "would give criminals a road map for how to defeat the device, which is used not only by Tucson but other local and national police agencies." Hodai sued the TPD and the City of Tucson in March 2014 to force them to hand over such records. The devices are often used covertly by local and federal law enforcement to locate target cellphones and their respective owners. However, stingrays also sweep up cell data of innocent people nearby who have no idea that such collection is taking place. Stingrays can be used to intercept voice calls and text messages as well. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 8 days ago on ars technica
Marvel's upcoming Ant-Man wrapped shooting last week, and now the studio has finally released the official plot details for the film. The film will feature Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, the diminutive hero of the piece who keeps peak human strength despite shrinking down to microscopic sizes and can command hordes of insects. Michael Douglas appears as Hank Pym, Lang's mentor and creator of the Ant-Man technology, with Evangeline Lilly as Hope van Dyne, love interest and presumed relation of The Wasp. The studio's synopsis reads: "The next evolution of the Marvel Cinematic Universe brings a founding member of The Avengers to the big screen for the first time with Marvel Studios' Ant-Man. Armed with the astonishing ability to shrink in scale but increase in strength, master thief Scott Lang must embrace his inner-hero and help his mentor, Dr. Hank Pym, protect the secret behind his spectacular Ant-Man suit from a new generation of towering threats. Against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, Pym and Lang must plan and pull off a heist that will save the world." Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Gaz_Edge asks: Over the last few years, the trend for client-side (browser) applications has really taken off. For my latest project, I have decided to try and move with the times and write a client-side application. Part of this application involves sending transaction emails to users (for example, validate sign up, password reset emails, etc.). I am using a third-party API to send the emails. Normally I would have my application running on a server. I would call the third-party API from code on my server. Running a client-side application means this now needs to happen on a user's browser. The third-party API provides the necessary JavaScript files to achieve this. Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 8 days ago on ars technica
Today is the second anniversary of the opening of the Museum of Math in New York City. And, to celebrate, the museum is releasing a swarm of robots on the public, starting this Sunday. We got a chance to look over the new Robot Swarm exhibit earlier this week, and thought it made a nice addition to the museum's regular displays. The swarms of the exhibit are meant to be an example of emergent behavior, where complex actions result from a group of individuals following simple rules. The behavior of things like schools of fish and flocks of birds may appear to require sophisticated mental activity, but computer simulations showed that it was possible to model similar behavior using a few simple rules, primarily involving keeping a certain distance from your neighbors. Once computer models showed that this worked, robotics researchers quickly jumped in and showed that programming these rules into computers produced the same effect. Those demonstrations appear to have inspired the creators of the Robot Swarm exhibit. In this case, the robots are small wheeled devices, about the size of a grapefruit and shaped to evoke a horseshoe crab (it even has small, non-functional "eyes" molded into the plastic). Its back is filled with LEDs that change colors to indicate its current status and programming. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 8 days ago on ars technica
Twice this year, we at Ars declared that Lenovo was onto something with its Yoga Pro laptop line, offering conditional praise for both the Yoga 2 and Yoga 3 flavors of that ultra-thin, reasonably powered, fold-and-bend model. However, at starting prices at or over $1,000, they didn't necessarily feel powerful enough to deplete someone's gizmo budget just because users wanted a 13-inch touchscreen. Specs at a glance: Lenovo Yoga Tablet 2 Pro Screen 2560×1400 13.3" (221 PPI) IPS LCD OS Android 4.4.2 (custom Lenovo fork) CPU Intel Atom quad-core 1.8GHz Z3745 RAM 2GB LPDDR3 GPU Intel HD Graphics for BayTrail Storage 32GB (plus up to 64GB micro-SD card) Networking 802.11 a/b/g/n, MiMo Ports Micro-USB, headphone Camera 8MP rear camera, 1.6MP front camera Size 13.1" × 8.8" × 1.0" (333 x 224 x 25 mm) Weight 2.1 lbs (948g) Battery 9600 mAh (non-removable) Starting price $499 Someone at Lenovo must have agreed, as the company has found a way to get that giant touchscreen onto a more reasonably priced device. If the Yoga Tablet 2 Pro had been nothing more than a 13.3-inch Android tablet with an Intel Atom chipset and 2GB of RAM, we'd have called it a day. Here, have a giant, so-so Android device for $500, we might have said, otherwise not giving the thing much consideration. Instead, Lenovo has made a few interesting design decisions to make the Tablet 2 Pro stand out. Most notably, the tablet isn't flat like most of its peers. It sports a bulging hinge system that has been loaded with... a fully fledged projector? Really? This we had to see, and look at it we sure did. Read 27 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 9 days ago on ars technica
Android Police reports that the Google Play edition of Samsung's Galaxy S4 has begun to get its Android 5.0 Lollipop update, which means that every past and present Google Play Edition device will soon be running Google's latest operating system. The S4 was the last of the GPE phones to receive the update—it was preceded by the Moto G, the HTC One M7 and M8, Sony's Z Ultra, and the LG G Pad 8.3. Google Play Edition phones and tablets look and feel like Nexuses, but behind the scenes the OEMs are still doing much of the heavy lifting. Google provides the software and distributes the update, but ultimately your phone's manufacturer still needs to handle things like the kernel, drivers, and firmware. The only Google Play Edition devices currently listed on Google's site are the 2013 Moto G and the HTC One M8; neither is in stock as of this writing. We had hoped that Google and the OEMs would be working together in the future to deliver Android updates to the Google Play Edition devices (and, hopefully, other phones) at the same time, but Lollipop's rollout has taken the better part of two weeks. Device owners are still getting Android updates faster than most people—Nexus phones and tablets only began getting over-the-air updates and factory images a month ago. The 2014 Moto X and Moto G, some variants of the LG G3, and the newest Nvidia Shield tablet have also been updated. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

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GCHQ has released its own "fun, free, educational" Android app to teach secondary school students about cryptography. The Cryptoy app, which has no permissions to access confidential information on Android devices, helps children understand basic encryption techniques and create their own encoded messages. The government hopes the app could help find the next generation of cyber-spies. Minister for the cabinet office Francis Maude said that it was a "creative solution in the hunt for expertise, but with a 21st century spin." Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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This post was done in partnership with The Wirecutter, a list of the best technology to buy. Read the full article below at TheWirecutter.com. TheWirecutter The $90 Buffalo MediaStation Portable BDXL Blu-ray Writer is the best external Blu-ray drive for most people to use with their computers—if you need one at all. It’s the fastest one for less than $100, and it’s quieter than most of the others we tested. Read 38 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 9 days ago on ars technica
This story was published by The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C. Sign up for its newsletter. That AT&T just won an eight-figure contract to provide the federal government’s General Services Administration with new mobile devices isn’t itself particularly notable. What is: Casey Coleman, an AT&T executive responsible for “delivering IT and professional services to federal government customers,” oversaw the GSA’s information technology division and its $600 million IT budget as recently as January. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 9 days ago on ars technica
Bacteria, like all living things, needs iron for a variety of biochemical functions. Humans and other higher order organisms have plenty of iron; we limit bacterial access to it as a means of defending against bacterial infection. So when we need to transfer iron throughout our bodies, we keep it tightly sequestered in a protein called transferrin. In order to infect us, bacterial pathogens must try to wrest that iron away; they have specialized transferrin binding proteins (Tbps) to do just that. Recent work demonstrates that transferrin "is engaged in ancient and ongoing evolutionary conflicts" with one of these Tbps, TbpA. By comparing the genetic sequence of transferrin across twenty-one different primate species, researchers found that transferrin has undergone positive evolutionary selection in a manner often seen in molecular arms races between mammals and viruses. Fourteen of the sixteen rapidly evolving sites identified in transferrin are in amino acids that form direct contact with TbpA from bacterial all-stars like Neisseria meningitidis, which causes meningitis; Neisseria gonorrhoeae, which causes gonorrhea; and Haemophilus influenzae, which can cause pneumonia. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 10 days ago on ars technica
One of this week's Patch Tuesday updates for Windows 7 has been withdrawn after some users discovered that it blocked installation of software containing digital signatures, including first- and third-party software, and even other Windows updates. The problem update is called KB3004394. The purpose of this update was to change how Windows updates its collection of root certificates used to authenticate SSL and TLS connections. Without the update, Windows is meant to poll for certificate updates once a week. With the update, this frequency is increased to once a day. Unfortunately, this apparently simple change has had severe consequences for some users of Windows 7 Service Pack 1 and Windows Server 2008 R2 Service Pack 1, with users reporting that Windows Update, drivers from both Nvidia and AMD, and some third-party software including Virtual Box are all unable to install correctly. The error code 0x8004FF91 seems to be a common finding. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The German Federal Constitutional Court (Bundesverfassungsgericht) has dismissed a petition by left-leaning German members of parliament in their attempt to get Edward Snowden to Germany to testify before its so-called NSA Committee. The Constitutional Court’s December 4 decision, which was only announced (Google Translate) on Friday, said that the appropriate venue for such a petition was the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof), Germany’s highest court. The Constitutional Court, as the name implies, deals with the constitutionality of federal laws. Founded in March 2014, the NSA Committee is tasked with specifically investigating "whether, in what way, and on what scale" the United States and its Five Eyes allies "collected or are collecting data" to, from, and within Germany. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 10 days ago on ars technica
If you're a young person on the Internet, you've likely been down this tough road before. You have an idea for an awesome animated GIF—the kind that will rack up likes, karma, or other worthless points on your social-media site of choice—but once you find your ideal video source, you're stymied by getting GIF-fy with it. You have to hunt for weird third-party services that take too long to export and process your desired clip, all while being bombarded by ads (and possibly dealing with a dumb watermark on the GIF of your dreams). This week, YouTube followed through on November plans to cut out the middle-man and rolled out a limited test version of its new GIF creator, which allows fans to make a six-second GIF from any compatible clip. Though YouTube officially announced the idea in a November "creator preview" demo, the launch came this week, as intrepid YouTube user Andy Baio found the GIF menu hidden in the "share" portion of a PBS Idea Channel video. The functionality is simple and limited, with the most impressive feature being the ability to add text to both the top and bottom of the output GIF (in the popular Impact font seen in most image macros, at that). Otherwise, attributes like animation speed and size can't be tweaked, and users can't seek through a video and create a GIF out of mulitple scenes; their ideal GIF will need to contain footage from a single, concurrent chunk. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 10 days ago on ars technica
The BBC reports that a software failure in the United Kingdom’s National Air Traffic Control Services (NATS) Swanwick control center caused widespread flight delays and cancellations. The failure, according to a BBC source, was in NATS’ “flight planning tool”—software that tracks and coordinates flights coming into the London control area and manages landings and take-offs at the area’s airports. The software is part of a system managed under contract by Lockheed Martin, Flights at Heathrow and Gatwick were temporarily grounded while the software bug was corrected. The groundings led to a chain reaction across other airports in the UK, where many flights were held on the ground because of the problem. They also disrupted inbound flights from overseas to some airports, which had to be delayed because of the issues. NATS’ Swanwick center controls all of the airspace over England and Wales. The center, which opened in 2002, has experienced software problems in the past—including delays in the initial delivery of the software. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 10 days ago on ars technica
Google is set to shut down its Russia-based engineering team, pulling its team of more than 50 engineers, who will be able to transfer to Google offices elsewhere. "We are deeply committed to our Russian users and customers, and we have a dedicated team in Russia working to support them," Aaron Stein, a Google spokesman wrote to Ars in an e-mailed statement. Stein confirmed the move, which was first reported by The Information. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 10 days ago on ars technica
CES is almost here, and while most of the industry's biggest names (Apple, Google, and Microsoft, among others) either hold their biggest announcements for separate events or decline to show up at all, there's still plenty that happens there. It remains an important show for chipmakers and component suppliers, the companies making the stuff that's going to show up in the year's biggest gadgets. One of those companies is Qualcomm, and its flagship going into next year is the Snapdragon 810. This chip was announced back in April, but chips are usually in development for at least a couple of years—the 810 will replace the current 805 in the first flagships of 2015. We spent an hour with Qualcomm yesterday hearing more about what phones based on the 810 will be able to do. The presentations were light on speeds and feeds and availability dates, but we'll give you all the information we have now ahead of further announcements at CES next month. Tech specs Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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It's now widely accepted that the impact of an asteroid at Chicxulub in Mexico's Yucatan region finished off any dinosaurs that we don't currently refer to as birds, while triggering a mass extinction that wiped out a lot of other species. But that hasn't ended the debate regarding the dynamics of the extinction event, with other ecological influences getting consideration as contributing to the dinosaurs' vulnerability. One potential contributor that's hard to overlook is situated in western India: the Deccan Traps. These enormous deposits are built of layer upon layer of volcanic rock, suggesting a series of flood eruptions took place over thousands of years. These eruptions happened suspiciously close to the start of the mass extinction—close enough that some researchers argued that it was the eruptions that killed off the dinosaurs. There was, after all, precedent; the eruptions that formed the Siberian Traps have been blamed for a mass extinction that was so severe, it's known as the The Great Dying. To help settle the issue, an international team of researchers has gone back and obtained the most precise dates for the eruptions yet. The dates show that the eruptions started nearly a quarter-million years before the onset of the mass extinction but continued for roughly 750,000 years, meaning they spanned the extinction event. This supports the idea that the eruptions helped set the stage for the end of the dinosaurs. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The virtual "Holiday Auction" Steam first announced yesterday evening seemed like a cute idea at the time. For a limited time, users would be able to trade in unused or unwanted Steam Inventory items for "gems," which could in turn, starting Monday, be used to bid against others on codes for 2,000 Steam games, 200,000 copies in all. In practice, things didn't go quite as planned. Shortly after the event launched, users of the Steam subreddit started discussing the appearance of possible duplication exploits, letting users create gems out of thin air. Soon, accounts showing billions of presumably ill-gotten gems started appearing, and the secondhand market for selling gems in exchange for real money saw prices quickly deflated to ridiculously low levels. Once the anarchy became apparent, Valve shut down the auction Thursday night, seemingly removing the gems from everyone's inventory and posting the following apology on the Holiday Auction FAQ: "Sorry, but there have been some issues with Gems and the Steam Holiday Auction has been temporarily closed. The elves are working frantically to get the issues sorted out, and the auction will start again as soon as they're done." Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 10 days ago on ars technica
The US senators from Comcast's home state of Pennsylvania, who have received nearly $185,000 from a Comcast committee and employees, urged the Federal Communications Commission to approve Comcast's purchase of Time Warner Cable "as soon as possible." "Comcast has informed us that the proposed merger will produce substantial benefits for the public, and that the company has acted proactively to prevent anti-competitive effects," US Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Pat Toomey (R-PA) wrote in a letter to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler yesterday. Casey received $114,175 from Comcast's political action committee (PAC) and employees or employee family members between 2009 and 2014, according to OpenSecrets.org. Toomey received $70,600 from Comcast interests. Comcast's PAC is a prolific donor, even giving to opponents such as Sen. Al Franken (D-MN). Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Most of the matter in any given galaxy is dark matter. But the rest of the matter—called baryonic matter—can be significant to our understanding of the Universe as well, despite it being the vast minority of stuff out there. Baryonic matter might be familiar to you—you’re made of it, as are the Earth, the planets, and the stars. Indeed, baryonic matter makes up everything in the Universe we can directly see. Predictions hold that most of the baryonic matter in the Universe should be in the form of stars, close to the centers of their galaxies. But observations show a lot of molecular gas near many galaxies. How did it get there? According to some models, the gas should have remained inside the galaxies and formed into stars. A new observation of the distant galaxy SDSS J0905157 reveals that a huge amount of gas is being expelled from the galaxy—up to a third of its total is being shed. This is a shocking contrast with local galaxies, where outflowing gas makes up only a few percent of their reservoir. J0905‘s gas flow, racing at a whopping 2,500 kilometers per second, is also one of the fastest known of any star-forming galaxy (more mundane galaxies typically reach 200-500km/s). As a result, SDSS J0905157 is shooting the gas farther out into space than has ever been observed. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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When it comes to tracking console sales in the US, the PS4's monthly winning streak of outselling the Xbox One has been going on so long—since February—that it has ceased to become surprising (though we do still mention it occasionally). But it was a surprise when Microsoft announced that NPD data shows the Xbox One breaking that nine-month streak in November, outselling the PS4 in both the US and the UK. Neither Microsoft, Sony, nor NPD shared specific units sales numbers for any of the systems, but GeekWire and The Verge both report sales of 1.2 million Xbox One systems for the month. NeoGAF user creamsugar, who has a history of leaking reliable NPD numbers, shared a cryptic, unlabeled pie chart that would suggest the PS4 (the second largest section of the chart) sold roughly two-thirds as well as the Xbox One for the month, representing about 800,000 units sold. These numbers are far from confirmed, but they are the best data we have at the moment. The Xbox One's November sales were likely bolstered by Microsoft's aggressive pricing on the system, including a November 2 price drop to $350 with a bundled game, as well as Black Friday and Cyber Monday deals that pushed the price as low as $330 with up to three games included. Just this week, Sony officially added a choice of four bundled games to the previously game-free $400 PS4 package. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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posted 10 days ago on ars technica
Apple's PR strategy revolves around scarcity of information—the company makes so few official announcements or even comments on news stories that people pay attention when it speaks. Its product announcements are day-long events revolving around hour-long keynotes that completely consume the tech news cycle whenever they happen. It's a different approach from, say, Google, which has so many things going on at any given time that it feels like the company is announcing some small news basically every day. For the first half of 2014, Apple just didn't have much to say. Its big product announcements in the first half of the year involved the resurrection of the iPad 4 in place of the $399 iPad 2 (it has since been re-discontinued) and a small spec bump and price drop for the 2013 MacBook Air. WWDC in June brought a flood of software and developer announcements, but none of those products actually started shipping until September. But Apple didn't have a quiet year—all of its big announcements just came in a flood between June and October. This is the year we got iOS 8 and OS X Yosemite, our first look at the Apple Watch, a long-awaited boost in screen size for the iPhone, a new iPad Air with a really speedy new chip, a mobile payments system in Apple Pay, and a brand-new iMac with a 5K Retina display. Let's look at how each of Apple's major product lines fared in 2014 and what we have to look forward to 2015. Read 39 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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The Venezuelan businessman who recently agreed to purchase a substantial portion of the assets of HashFast—a bankrupt Bitcoin miner maker startup—believes that he has a plan to save the company. What is it exactly and why will it succeed where the company itself failed? He’s not saying. "I cannot talk about certain areas because of a confidentiality clause I signed as a member of the HashFast Creditors Committee," Guido Ochoa told Ars by e-mail, in English. "However, it is not like you asked: as part of the contract negotiation with HashFast we offered some things in exchange for others, among them, we offered the HashFast Estate the possibility to acquire part of our future production at a cost price," he said. "There is also a marketing topic but I am afraid I cannot give you details at the moment." Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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