posted 9 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Parkmerced) Uber has announced a partnership with Parkmerced, an expanding townhome and apartment complex adjacent to San Francisco State University, which gives new residents who don't have cars a monthly $100 stipend as a way to encourage “car-free living.” Residents must use at least $30 of the subsidy toward Uber rides, and they’ll pay a flat fee of $5 to travel from the residence to the nearby BART and MUNI stops. The remaining $70 will be auto-loaded to a Clipper Card, which can be used on nearly all of the Bay Area’s transit systems. The subsidy will last for the duration of the lease, up to two years. “The immediate benefits to residents will be to decrease or eliminate the need for private car ownership, facilitate a more efficient commute, reduce transportation costs, and minimize the need for parking,” Rob Rosania, founder of Maximus Real Estate Partners, the developer of Parkmerced, said in a statement. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Flickr user Scott Jones) Intelligent design, the argument that life is so complex that it must have needed a sophisticated designer, was formulated to get around court rulings that banned creationism from being taught in science classes. For a while, there was an effort to get intelligent design into schools, but that came crashing down after a court case in Dover, Pennsylvania, recognized it as inherently religious. That court case is now more than a decade old, and it looks like some school districts have a short memory. Zack Kopplin, an activist who has tracked attempts to sneak religious teachings into science classrooms, found a bit of sneaking going on in Youngstown, Ohio. There, a document hosted by the city schools includes a lesson plan that openly endorses intelligent design and suggests the students should be taught that there's a scientific controversy between it and evolution. The document focuses on the "Diversity of Life" and is a bizarre mix of normal science and promotion of intelligent design. Most of the first page, for example, is taken up by evolution standards that have language that echoes that of the Next Generation Science Standards. But the discussion is preceded by a statement that's straight out of the "teach the controversy" approach: "The students examine the content of evolution and intelligent design and consider the merits and flaws of both sides of the argument." In fact, elsewhere in the document, teachers are told to host a debate where students take turns arguing for evolution and intelligent design. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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It's not the first time that Google has been sued for its search rankings, but it's among the first in which the company's First Amendment defense is failing. For the moment, a federal judge in Florida is allowing a search-censorship lawsuit to proceed against Google. Search engine optimization company E-ventures Worldwide claims (PDF) that Google wrongfully removed hundreds of its websites from Google search. E-ventures claims that it did not breach any of Google's terms of service but instead was hit in September 2014 because of "economic" and "anti-competitive" reasons. According to the ruling (PDF) by US District Judge John Steele of Florida: While a claim based upon Google’s PageRanks or order of websites on Google’s search results may be barred by the First Amendment, plaintiff has not based its claims on the PageRanks or order assigned to its websites. Rather, plaintiff is alleging that as a result of its pages being removed from Google’s search results, Google falsely stated that e-ventures’ websites failed to comply with Google’s policies. Google is in fact defending on the basis that e-ventures’ websites were removed due to e-ventures’ failure to comply with Google’s policies. The Court finds that this speech is capable of being proven true or false since one can determine whether e-ventures did in fact violate Google’s policies. This makes this case distinguishable from the PageRanks situation. Therefore, this case does not involve protected pure opinion speech, and the First Amendment does not bar the claims as pled in the Second Amended Complaint. Essentially, E-ventures is claiming that because its business focuses on getting websites higher rankings in Google's unpaid search listings, Google removed it and its affiliates so that companies will instead pay Google for higher rankings. "Google hopes that third parties read Google's publications and pay Google to be ranked higher in Google's search results," E-ventures said. "E-ventures hopes that third parties read E-ventures' publications and pay a SEO provider instead of Google to achieve the same result. In sum, Google has an anti-competitive, economic motivation to eliminate the visibility of E-ventures' websites on its search engine." Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Example of Android Pay in PaymentRequest. Today at Alphabet's annual developer's conference, the company announced a host of new tools for developers working with Android Pay—including support for Android Instant Apps, a new feature called PaymentRequest, and improvements to the Save To Android Pay API. In a call with Ars on Tuesday, Senior Director of Product Management for Android Pay Pali Bhat said that the Android Pay team has been working to increase user signups and encourage continued use of the platform, something that all mobile payment platforms have struggled with in the last five years. “We have to deliver more utility and value," Bhat said. The new Android Pay features announced today are a means to that end. For instance, Instant Apps—Android's new name for creating an app-like experience without having to download an app—will come with support for an Android Pay checkout feature. If users tap an Instant App URL, the app will run without installing or taking up valuable space on the user's phone. With an Android Pay button, an Instant App from a parking garage could speed along the checkout process, for example. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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With Instant Apps, clicking a link can give you an app-like experience even if you don't have the app installed already. (credit: Google) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—Mobile websites are often more convenient than their desktop counterparts when you're on your phone, but they're also usually missing some important functionality that's available (or just easier to find) on the desktop. Apps can help solve the problem, but only if you have the foresight and/or bandwidth to install them when you need them. Android's just-announced Instant Apps feature, which should be available to all phones running Android 4.2 or later and via an update to the Google Play Services software coming "later this year," will attempt to bridge that gap. Instant Apps are designed to provide the richer, Android-native experience of an app combined with the convenience and the lower data and storage usage of a mobile website. When users tap an Instant App URL, they are taken directly to an app that runs without installing. Developers who want to offer Instant Apps will have to modularize their apps so that users don't have to install the entire app just to use certain features of it—this is where most of the data savings come from. Google's examples included museum or resort apps with maps and schedules, along with apps that help you pay for parking. These are the kinds of rarely-used apps that are useful in the moment, though you wouldn't necessarily want to install them on your phone beforehand or keep them around afterward. Developers can, however, can provide "call to action" links that encourage users to download and install apps that they find particularly useful. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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A screenshot of Allo's predictive replies. "Yum clams!" may have to be attunded to the user's taste. On Wednesday at Google I/O, the company announced a new messaging app called Allo and a new video messaging app called Duo. Both apps are based on your phone number and are focused on bringing more information to users as they're typing or about to pick up the phone. Allo's claim to fame is that Assistant is built into the app so that, as you exchange information with someone else, the app can offer auto-replies—even based on photos—or it can see if you're thinking of getting Italian food for dinner and suggest restaurants nearby. The messenger has a wide variety of stickers you can exchange with others, and the “Whisper Shout” function lets users decide how big or small they'd like to send their message to give the impression of volume (NO MORE ALL CAPS WHEN YOU'RE SHOUTING!!!!!). You can also write on pictures that you send and type @google to use the search engine while you're still in the messaging app. With Allo, third-party developers will be invited to work with Assistant to increase the app's usefulness. OpenTable, for instance, is working with Allo to help users make reservations at a restaurant if they're talking about going there later that evening. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / Android Wear 2.0 promises major improvements for Google smartwatches. (credit: Google) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—Google has provided three major updates to Android Wear since it came to market two years ago—every time the version of Android that Wear is built on top of is updated, Google also adds Wear-specific features. Android 5.0, 5.1, and 6.0 all had corresponding Wear releases that smoothed out rough edges, refined the interface, and made the watches more capable. Today at its developer conference, Google is announcing Android Wear 2.0, a version number bump that reflects the magnitude of the changes it introduces. The update gives the UI a comprehensive Material Design-themed overhaul, enables compatible watches to do more without a phone attached, introduces some new input methods to make communication easier, and copies one of the things that the Apple Watch gets right. And since it’s based on Android N, it picks up support for features like Data Saver, Java 8, and new emoji, among other platform features. Here are the highlights. Standalone apps Probably the biggest addition to Wear 2.0 is the ability for apps to communicate directly over the Internet via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or (for the few watches that have it) cellular, rather than relying exclusively on a tethered phone or cloud syncing between your watch and your phone for communication. Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge / The Android mascot wearing the Vive. We don't know what the hardware will look like yet. (credit: Ron Amadeo) MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—As we've been obsessively tracking for about a year and a half now, Google is making a big push into virtual reality. This week at I/O 2016, the company is finally ready to talk about its VR ambitions, and the first news out of the gate is about the "Virtual Reality Mode" built into Android N Developer Preview 3. Google is also announcing a hardware certification program that allows an Android phone to earn the title "VR ready," and the first "VR ready" phone will be the Nexus 6P. Google has done a lot of work whipping Android into shape for VR with Android N DP 3. Previously Google's only smartphone VR project was "Cardboard," a cardboard box with plastic lenses that could hold a smartphone. Cardboard gave a rough approximation of VR at a very low cost, but it wasn't a serious platform for real VR immersion. "Google currently has Cardboard, but Cardboard worked in spite of Android, if you'd like," explained Android VP of Engineering Dave Burke to Ars. "It's clever and simple but we never did anything at the platform level to make it work. With N, we have." In Android N, those changes come down to improving motion-to-photon latency—how quickly you can get the display pixels to change in response to your head moving. When you move in VR, the sensors detect the movement, signal the GPU to draw new frames, and those frames get sent to the display to be drawn. If this doesn't happen fast enough, you'll feel sick. Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: Google) MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA—Today Google is releasing the third developer preview of Android N, the new version of Google's mobile operating system due this fall. Developer Preview 3 continues to tweak existing features while adding new ones, and stability should also be improved; Google tells us that it considers this build to be "beta" quality, ready for developers and more-ambitious users to use it as their daily driver. One of the largest additions is something we found evidence of in the second preview build: a new Google-developed VR service that will make it easier to turn compatible Android smartphones into modest VR headsets like Samsung's Gear VR. We have more on the feature and its system requirements in a separate article. Also new to DP3 is a revised partitioning scheme that borrows from ChromeOS in order to expedite the installation of system updates. Android N is already using a combination of just-in-time (JIT) and ahead-of-time (AOT) code compilation to get rid of the lengthy "app optimization" part of system updates. DP3 reduces the amount of time your phone actually shuts down to install updates to the system partition. Theoretically, Android updates should now work more like ChromeOS updates: install them in the background and then do a quick reboot to make the update take effect. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Today, Android N is killing the "Installing System Update" screen. Earlier, Android N killed the "optimizing apps" screen. Overall we should see much faster update installs. MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.—With Google I/O comes a fresh version of the Android N Developer Preview—we're now up to Developer Preview 3. Google is calling this version of N its "first beta-quality candidate" and is encouraging a wider audience to try it out. Both OTA and image download should be available for the Nexus 6, 9, 5X, 6P, Nexus Player, Pixel C, and Android One (General Mobile 4G). There are two headline features in this release. The first is a new VR platform, which we're covering in a separate article. The second will make for some great headlines: "Android copies Chrome OS update system!" But it's probably not what you're thinking. Yes, Chrome OS and Android are getting a little closer together, but Android is just borrowing the update installation method from Chrome OS, not the part where Google has full control over everything and delivers reliable updates. Updates, once they are created by your OEM, approved by your carrier, and downloaded, will now be applied "seamlessly," just like on Chrome OS. You'll be on version 1.0, reboot, and you'll be quickly, transparently upgraded to version 2 without having to wait for any "Android is upgrading" dialog boxes. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Alan Brenner, speaking at BlackBerry DevCon 2010. Brenner, a former Sun executive who dealt with Java licensing, testified on behalf of Oracle in federal court today. (credit: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images) SAN FRANCISCO—Oracle put two former Sun Microsystems executives on the stand today to testify about how Google's Android hurt the market for Java licensing to phones. It's the eighth day of the Oracle v. Google trial, the second showdown in a legal dispute that began in 2010, when Oracle sued Google over the use of Java APIs in Android. In 2012, a judge ruled that APIs can't be copyrighted at all, but an appeals court disagreed. Now Oracle may seek up to $9 billion in damages, while Google is arguing that its use of the 37 APIs in question constitutes "fair use." First to the stand was Neil Civjan, Sun's head of global sales, who testified about how the company's substantial business licensing Java for mobile phones tanked after the launch of Android. Read 22 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Google Home) At its I/O developer conference today, Google unveiled Google Home, a hardware device shipping later this year, and Google Assistant, a conversational digital personal assistant. With this pair of announcements, the company is going head-to-head with Apple's Siri, Microsoft's Cortana, and most significantly, Amazon's Echo and its Alexis voice agent. The Home is a small round gadget with microphones and speakers that's always listening for your questions and commands. It will plumb into home automation, including Google's own Nest, and it will broadcast video and audio to Chromecast sticks; this is all driven by an always-listening voice interface. Google's conversational assistant is in the same vein as Cortana and Siri, Google Assistant. Google Assistant will be on phones and wearables too, and Google says that it will be better at picking out the context of what you're doing than any of the competitors. As an example, when standing near Cloud Gate, better known as The Bean, in Chicago, you can ask Google Assistant "Who designed this?" Based on your location alone, Assistant will understand that you're probably referring to the large shiny sculpture in front of you, and answer "Anish Kapoor." Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Cole Marshall) Charter Communications today said it has closed its acquisitions of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, following approvals from the Federal Communications Commission and regulators in California, the final state that had to sign off on the deal. Charter has nearly quadrupled in size as a result of the transactions, going from 6.8 million customers to about 25.4 million in 41 states, second in the US after Comcast's 28 million. The merger drew opposition from some advocacy groups, including one that took to calling the new Charter "Mega Cable." The cost of the acquisitions was originally expected to be about $67.1 billion, though Charter will reportedly end up paying a bit more than that. Charter's announcement today said, "The completion of the transactions will drive investment into the combined entity's advanced broadband network, resulting in faster broadband speeds, better video products, more affordable phone service and more competition, for consumers and businesses." Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Buzz Aldrin, left of President Obama, visited the Oval Office in 2014. (credit: NASA) Of all the Apollo astronauts that walked on the Moon, none has made more of his fame than Buzz Aldrin, who followed Neil Armstrong onto the lunar surface in 1969. But long before he danced with the stars and inspired Buzz Lightyear, and even before he served as the Apollo 11 lunar module pilot, Aldrin was known as an expert in orbital rendezvous. In recent years, Aldrin has used his astronautics expertise and fame to push a cycler concept that he believes would be the best way to visit and eventually inhabit Mars. In his public lectures, however, Aldrin has largely avoided criticizing the present approach being taken by NASA with the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft and its two-decade "Journey to Mars." That changed at this week's Humans to Mars conference. In his remarks, Aldrin said NASA should change the approach it has had in place since the 1960s, that of designing and managing development of its own rockets. He took direct aim at the SLS vehicle, which he reminded listeners was based on 1970s technology and the space shuttle rather than more modern concepts. "It competes with the private sector," Aldrin said. "I thought most of us were in the process of learning that the government shouldn't do that." Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Enlarge (credit: @flanvel) Login credentials for as many as 117 million LinkedIn accounts have been put up for sale online by someone who is seeking more than $2,200 for the haul, a security researcher said. The credentials—which include e-mail addresses and passwords hashed using the woefully weak SHA1 function—appear to come from a 2012 breach of the career networking site, researcher Troy Hunt said in a series of tweets. LinkedIn officials have since verified that the 2012 hack was the source and said they are working to invalidate any passwords that may still be actively used on compromised accounts. According to LeakedSource, a site that maintains a database of more than 1.25 billion compromised accounts, the new batch contains data for 167 million accounts. 117 million of the records in the batch include a password field. The discovery means that the 2012 LinkedIn breach was much bigger than previously believed. At the time, researchers found almost 6.5 million credentials belonging to site users. It's not clear if the new number of affected accounts is news to LinkedIn. In the days following discovery of the 2012 breach, company officials implemented a mandatory password reset for affected users. A statement from company officials on Wednesday saying that they're working to change any passwords still in use leaves open the possibility that they were unaware the number was so high. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Valentina Palladino) Fitbit devices are known for being easy-to-use, fitness-first products, but now the company that makes them may be planning to tack on extra features. Fitbit released a statement today announcing that it has acquired "wearable payment assets" from the Silicon Valley company Coin. According to the statement, Fitbit gains "key personnel and intellectual property" from Coin's wearable-payments platform in the deal. However, it excludes smart-payment products such as Coin 2.0, a singular smart card meant to replace the many credit and debit cards stuffed in your wallet. Coin's website shows that Coin 2.0 has sold out, and Coin's own statement about the acquisition, the company says it will no longer continue to sell its smart payment products. Existing Coin users will be able to use their devices for the duration of their "lifetime"; the card itself can last two years without any recharging. Fitbit also says in its statement that there are no plans to integrate Coin's mobile payment technology into any 2016 products. Fitbit recently launched the Alta fitness tracker and the Blaze smartwatch a few months ago, and while the company could launch another product or two before the year is up, it likely won't have time to thoughtfully integrate mobile payments into any of them. The statement did say, though, that the deal "accelerates Fitbit’s ability to develop an active NFC payment solution that could be embedded into future Fitbit devices, broadening its smart capabilities." Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Jim Resnick) Among all the American auto brands in business today, none are more truly free than Jeep. You know the story. Conceived for light-duty battlefield work in WWII. Conveyor of military brass and even limited firepower. Popular and nimble off-roader. Simple mechanicals. Honest, forthright service. Ever faithful. And now, international. The Italian-built Renegade is built on a shared platform with the Fiat 500X and fills the niche Jeep needs in order to compete in the small SUV dogfight that runs the gamut from car-derived vehicles like Subaru's Crosstrek, Chevy's Trax, Nissan's Juke, the Fiat 500X itself, Mazda's CX-3, and the absolute staple of the segment, Honda's CR-V. Aside from the Subaru, the Jeep offers the most comprehensive off-road prowess in Trailhawk form, though admittedly few will venture through mud bogs and single-track trails with any of these vehicles. (We did test a Renegade Trailhawk on serious off-road trails and even non-trails last year and came away enormously impressed. It's not just a cute ute.) More than a box on wheels: The Italian-built Renegade Sport offers an affordable, versatile and cheeky variation on the strong Jeep theme. (credit: Jim Resnick) And those Italian roots actually make more sense than you might imagine now that Europeans have made such a strong shift to small SUVs from station wagons and Americans have replaced small sedans with subcompact SUVs. As a business, FCA can spread cost and productivity internationally by focusing Renegade production at the Melfi, Italy factory alongside other Fiat models. Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Ana Guzzo) Our skin provides a protective barrier against things like extreme temperatures, toxins, microorganisms, radiation, and mechanical force. But as skin ages, it becomes weaker, more sensitive, and less able to repair itself. Aging also results in things we don't like, such as the formation of wrinkles or sagging skin. Many individuals spend a great deal of time and money trying to restore their skin’s youthful appearance, but what if there was a simpler way? In an investigation recently published in Nature Materials, a team of scientists have developed a synthetic skin that can be worn invisibly, restoring both the mechanical and aesthetic characteristics of normal, youthful skin. Complex design criteria Though the skin may seem like a simple organ, development of a synthetic skin isn’t as easy as it sounds. The material needs to be formulated so that it can be easily spread across the skin and then adhere to it. It also needs to be biocompatible, preventing skin irritation or sensitization. The synthetic skin would have to be breathable yet protect against the environment—and it can't be toxic itself. Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Hell is a lack of other people. Modern first-person shooter design can be a real drag. So many shooters these days layer on RPG-style character development or optional stealth abilities to let you take down enemies without firing a single shot. When a firefight does happen, you're too often hiding like a turtle, nigh-unhittable behind a corner or a bit of cover, waiting for a break in the fire to pop up and spray a few quick shots at the opposition before reloading. And don't get me started on the selective devotion to "realism" that often lets players hide and "catch their breath" to recover from dozens of bullets to the torso yet forces those same players to slow down when they run out of breath after sprinting for a few seconds. Those elements can all be fine in their own way. But the new Doom says nuts to all that. Like the early '90s ur-shooter it draws its name from, Doom is about nonstop dodge-and-fire action. You're constantly running at full speed while relatively out in the open, sidestepping bullets and enemies that you can actually see coming at you and shuffling between overpowered weapons to fire back at the enemies. Sneaking around or hiding behind a pillar won't help you here, and your health and armor meters don't recharge unless you actually run over items sitting on the ground—a once-standard shooter feature that feels practically archaic these days. There are just enough modern shooter touches here to keep Doom from feeling entirely dated, but the basic gameplay doesn't feel like it's changed much since the days of Quake. It's as if the makers of the new Doom saw a shooter genre weighed down by decades of complex and often unnecessary cruft and said, "Nah, that's OK, we think we got it right the first time." (even if the current id Software "we" no longer actually includes any of the company founders that worked on the first Doom). Demons, demons everywhere If you think this huge skull is totally badass, you're probably still in middle school (at least mentally). 9 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } Unfortunately, taking inspiration from the original Doom means taking inspiration from its general aesthetic as well. The second half of the game in particular looks like it uses a disturbed 7th grader's idle doodles as concept art, full of the kind of occult symbols, flames, and blood-drenched surfaces that seemed a lot edgier when you were a teenager. You could argue that it's all intentionally over the top, but I found the ruddy, red and brown gore-fest to be more than a bit numbing after a while. Read 15 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Amazon) While a primarily online store, Amazon isn't turning its back on physical retail establishments. After opening its first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle last year, the company's CEO Jeff Bezos confirmed at Amazon's shareholder meeting that more stores are coming. "We’re definitely going to open additional stores; how many we don’t know yet,” Bezos said at the meeting according to a report from The Wall Street Journal. “In these early days it’s all about learning rather than trying to earn a lot of revenue." Currently Amazon's Seattle location is mostly a bookstore, and the company is already building another location in San Diego. Amazon has also said it would build smaller kiosks in cities like San Francisco and Sacramento, but there's no indication if those locations will sell only books or other items as well. Back in February, General Growth Properties, Inc. CEO Sandeep Mathrani said in an earnings call that he estimated 400 more Amazon Books locations to open in the future. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Galdor's channel) Nokia phones are making a comeback thanks to a licensing deal struck between Microsoft, FIH Mobile—a subsidiary of Foxconn—and HMD global Oy. Microsoft is selling its feature phone business to the two companies for £242 million (~$350 million), and will include some 4,500 employees, as well brands, software and services, care network, and its Vietnam-based manufacturing facility Microsoft Mobile Vietnam. Those facilities, as well as Microsoft's feature phone technology, will be used to create new Nokia phones as part of an "exclusive global" licensing agreement between HMD global Oy and Nokia Technologies. The deal will allow HMD to produce phones and tablets bearing the Nokia brand name for the next 10 years. While no devices have been announced just yet, HMD plans to invest $500 million into the venture. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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Montebello Mons, at left, is higher than any mountain in North America. Jupiter's moon Io is notable for being the most volcanically active body in our Solar System. But Io also has some of the highest mountains we've seen yet, as well, the tallest rising about 17km above the surrounding terrain—Boösaule Montes is roughly twice the height of Mount Everest. And, unlike Mars' Olympus Mons, it isn't volcanic. In fact, many of the moon's tallest peaks aren't associated with volcanoes. They don't form in chains, either, instead rising as isolated blocks roughly 100km across. Since Io doesn't seem to have plate tectonics, it's not obvious what could build these sorts of peaks. But a new study suggests they're created as a result of volcanism, but only very indirectly. Io's volcanism, it seems, is emptying its interior out fast enough to create intense stresses on its crust. The researchers involved (Michael Bland and William McKinnon) suggest that Io's mountains do have some earthly analogs. "Their morphology, which varies from peaks and ridges to massifs, plateaux and mesas, is consistent with thrusted or tilted fault blocks," they suggest. These are cases where pieces of the crust are fractured and pushed up relative to their surroundings (though obviously not to the same extent as on Io). So what could be creating the excessive strain that pushes them so high? Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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You'd better have a big stick if you're naked with a glyptodont. (credit: Heinrich Harder) One of the iconic weapons of the Paleolithic is the fire-hardened spear, its wooden tip carbonized by fire to a wicked point. Unfortunately, it turns out that our hunter ancestors were wrong about fire-hardening. Yes, the charring can make wood slightly harder, but it becomes so much more brittle and weak that there's little overall improvement of the weapon. After experimenting with their own fire-hardened spears, a group of British biomechanics researchers now believe our ancestors used fire not so much to make a more deadly weapon, but to speed up the process of cutting wood into a point. The Clacton Spear is the tip of a 450,000 year-old fire-hardened spear discovered in England. (credit: The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London) The oldest spear ever discovered, the Clacton spear (named after the region in England where it was discovered), dates back 450,000 years. Made by some unidentified ancestors of modern humans, its sharp wooden point was snapped off and buried in a soil. There it was sealed away from the elements and preserved far longer than wood ordinarily can be. When the Clacton spear was discovered in the early twentieth century, archaeologists noticed that its tip had been fire-hardened, using a technique that some hunter gatherer groups still use. It has long been believed that the practice of heating a pointed spear tip in the fire was a way of making it sharper and harder. But a new paper published in Royal Society Biology Letters suggests otherwise. Two bioscientists at the University of Hull, Roland Ennos and Tak Lok Chan, decided to find out for themselves whether fire really makes spears harder. So they harvested 20 rods from local hazel trees and spent weeks abusing them inside machines of very precise, codified destruction. First, each rod was divided in half. One half dried naturally over two weeks in the laboratory, and the other half were given a simulated fire-hardening treatment with an experimental rig known technically as a "disposable barbecue." Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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In 1982, a tainted drug caused a handful of young Californians to become mysteriously frozen, unable to move. Their doctor’s ensuing investigation helped catalyze the start of modern Parkinson’s disease research, which is on the verge of its first clinical stem cell trials. “There was this big argument that broke out on the ward,” remembers William Langston, chief scientific officer and founder of the Parkinson’s Institute, a clinic and research center in Sunnyvale, California. The argument he’s recalling took place in 1982 at the Santa Clara Valley Medical Center in San Jose, California. It was over a newly admitted patient named George Carillo who, curiously, couldn’t move or speak—he appeared completely frozen. “The psychiatrists thought it was neurologic and the neurologists thought it was psychiatric,” says Langston. The center soon asked Langston to weigh in on what it thought might be catatonic schizophrenia. Read 51 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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(credit: Alphabet) Google announced today that its mobile payments app Android Pay will be rolling out in the UK. Android Pay is the company's re-vamped version of Google Wallet, which launched in 2011 and used near-field communications (NFC) to send payment information from an Android phone to a contactless terminal. Alphabet decided to update and re-brand the service last September after Apple launched Apple Pay in 2014 with a stronger business model due to some key alliances with banks. Android Pay's launch in the UK will arrive with support for Visa or Mastercard debit or credit cards from a variety of supported banks including Bank of Scotland, First Direct, Halifax, HSBC, Lloyds Bank, M&S Bank, MBNA and Nationwide Building Society. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

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