posted 12 days ago on ars technica
Over the past 40 years, evidence has turned up on Mars pointing to the presence of oxygen. This suggested that some oxygen must have been created in the early Earth’s atmosphere as well, due to the similar compositions of the two atmospheres. Before this new idea, it was widely understood that oxygen in the Earth’s atmosphere originated in an event called the “Great Oxidation Event,” which occurred about 2.4 billion years ago as the first plants appeared and converted carbon dioxide to oxygen. But a new experiment has confirmed that there is a mechanism for creating oxygen that doesn't require the presence of life. The results have implications not only for understanding the evolution of Earth’s atmosphere, but also for the study of exoplanetary atmospheres. The experiment The team used a vacuum ultraviolet (VUV) laser to break carbon dioxide apart, leaving free carbon and oxygen. Vacuum ultraviolet has a short wavelength (a range of 200-10 nanometers) that puts it at the far end of the ultraviolet portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Today, VUV is absorbed by the oxygen in the atmosphere (hence its name). But in the early atmosphere, VUV from the Sun could have been producing oxygen out of then-abundant carbon dioxide. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Microsoft has a message for businesses: it's in the hardware game for the long haul, and Surface Pro 3 is the ideal machine for corporate customers, able to serve both as a laptop and a tablet. There have been questions over Redmond's commitment to hardware from practically the moment that the company announced its first Surface tablet. These questions became louder with CEO Satya Nadella's open letter. Although it said that the company would continue building Surface devices, it moved away from former CEO Steve Ballmer's "Devices and Services" concept, leaving many unsure of just how strong the software firm's commitment to hardware really was. The company is hoping to reassure potential buyers that it's serious about hardware, and that Surface Pro will offer the kind of long-term support that corporate customers want. To that end, it's making some promises and offering some new pricing options that it thinks will appeal to corporate buyers. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Sam Machkovech The last time Samsung released a newly designed smartphone that turned heads was in 2010—which we believe amounts to roughly 28 years ago in smartphone years. The debut Galaxy S, unlike most Android sets at the time, was noticeably clean and sleek. Users often compared its looks to the iPhone 4. But that comparison didn't hold much muster, especially when considering Samsung's love for cheap, plastic phone bodies. You only had to spin the first Galaxy around your palm once to be sure you hadn't mistakenly grabbed an iPhone. Subsequent Galaxy S upgrades stubbornly stuck to the line's original design tenets, particularly an adherence to plastic shells. Most everyone else in the Android space upped their design game since, and while Samsung's jump from the S4 to the S5 would have benefited hugely from an aesthetic overhaul, it didn't receive one. As such, the April 2014 phone otherwise produced a collective yawn. Finally, this fall, Samsung ticked the checkbox that drove Galaxy critics nuts for the past couple of years: a phone that looks good. The metal frame of the company's newest model, the Samsung Galaxy Alpha, is distinct and different enough from its Galaxy S peers to make people wonder: Is this a new statement device from the Korean phone giant, or is it merely a redesign slapped onto the usual Galaxy experience? Does it belong among the rest of the $199-on-contract competition? Read 23 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
An employee of defense contractor Northrop Grumman has accused the company of faking tests on its LN-100 Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System (INS/GPS). The GPS unit is installed on "various aircraft, including helicopters and unmanned drones (including the Predator drone), missiles, submarines, and other vehicles," the lawsuit said. The LN-100 provides essential positioning data to the sensitive systems. The case was filed in September 2012 [PDF] by a plant manager named Todd Donaldson, but it was kept under seal from the company and from the public over the following two years. A Utah District Judge ordered the complaint unsealed last Friday. In the suit, Donaldson alleges that Northrop Grumman employees had been faking “pass” results for the LN-100 units, which were then sold to the US government for military and other purposes. The tests took 10 minutes to run on each LN-100 unit. Donaldson's complaint against Northrop stated that because the LN-100 units typically failed the GPS Communication Test, “Defendant has taken to having its technicians manually key in positive responses, such that the word 'pass' appears on a print-out of the tests without the test actually being run.” Donaldson, who has worked at Northrop Grumman since 1986, said that he brought up the issue internally but was demoted, “as a result of his internal complaints regarding fake testing results on the LN -100 and other improper acts of Defendant.” Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Earlier today, the first Ebola patient to have been diagnosed within the US died of his infection. Thomas Eric Duncan succumbed to his illness 11 days after being admitted to the hospital. Duncan had become infected while in Liberia, but was asymptomatic until after his travels brought him to Dallas, Texas. Also in Dallas, a sheriff's deputy has been hospitalized after exhibiting a limited set of the symptoms that are used to diagnose Ebola infection. The deputy had been in contact with some of Duncan's family members, but not the infected individual. CNN quotes an official from the Centers for Disease Control as saying that the individual, "does not have either definite contact with Ebola or definite symptoms of Ebola." Nevertheless, a local hospital has admitted him through its emergency room as a possible case of exposure. In response to these events, the US has announced that passengers arriving from three countries where the epidemic is uncontrolled—Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone, will be subjected to screening if they arrive in any of five major airports. (These are JFK, Dulles, Newark, Chicago O'Hare, and Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson.) Customs staff will observe them, ask basic health questions, and screen them for fever. This will supplement the existing exit screening procedures already in place in the affected countries. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
The next version of iOS may not be an upgrade for fans who use their iDevices to emulate classic games. The latest beta version of iOS 8.1 removes the famous (or infamous) "Date Trick" workaround used by iOS emulator makers to bypass App Store restrictions on their work, without the need to jailbreak the device. Apple rules have long prevented emulators for classic game consoles and computers from appearing on the App Store, though some have managed to sneak their way through briefly (or more officially through licensing deal with rights holders). Since last year, though, the makers of emulators like GBA4iOS and SNES emulator SiOS have relied on a loophole called the "Date Trick" to allow these apps (and ROM files) to be downloaded and installed through the built-in Safari browser. The trick gets around restrictions on unsigned apps by setting the device's date back at least two months, allowing users to easily run emulators to their heart's content without jailbreaking. iOS 8.1 beta testers are reporting those days of easy emulation seem to be coming to an end in the latest update, though. GBA4iOS tester Dario Sepulveda writes that iOS 8.1 Beta 2 blocks the Date Trick workaround, cutting off the ability to install the app. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) spoke to reporters and students after his event Wednesday at his alma mater, Palo Alto High School. Cyrus Farivar PALO ALTO, CA—Speaking at the gym at the high school where he used to play basketball in the 1960s, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) gave a dire warning to a group of students and locals on Wednesday about the effects of government spying on Silicon Valley: "There is a clear and present danger to the Internet economy." The Oregon senator led a roundtable discussion on the "Impact of Mass Surveillance on the Digital Economy" with representatives from major Silicon Valley firms, including Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Dropbox. Wyden, a longstanding critic of the National Security Agency (NSA) and United States government’s policy on digital surveillance, made the case that active spying hurts the American economy. "The NSA ran an expensive and invasive bulk e-mail records collection program for years, and it turned out to be worthless," he said. "And its bulk phone records collection program is still up and running now, even though the President’s own surveillance review group has indicated that it is not necessary or effective." Read 21 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Comcast has to convince the federal government to approve its purchase of Time Warner Cable (TWC), but so far the government advancing the most aggressive opposition may be in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky's second-largest city is served by Time Warner Cable, and it isn't happy with the service. The city council "voted unanimously during a council work session Tuesday to put two resolutions denying transfer of ownership on the agenda for Thursday's council meeting," reported the Lexington Herald-Leader.  Comcast's purchase of Time Warner Cable includes a sale of certain territories to Charter. Charter would take over in Lexington after the deal. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Master OSM 2011 Federal prosecutors are reviewing an incident in which a Drug Enforcement Agency created a counterfeit Facebook profile and posted risqué personal pictures the agency obtained from a female suspect's mobile phone without her consent. Details surrounding the DEA creating the fake Facebook account in the woman's name—a profile complete with pictures seized from her mobile phone during a 2010 drug-related arrest—were disclosed Monday by Buzzfeed. The Justice Department told Buzzfeed on Tuesday that the "incident at issue in this case is under review." The department did not immediately respond to Ars for comment. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Ron Amadeo The HTC Desire Eye. That's a big camera lens. 12 more images in gallery .related-stories { display: none !important; } NEW YORK—We've been worried about HTC lately. The company had a stretch where it was in the news for all the wrong reasons. The HTC-built Facebook phone was a flop, its employees were constantly leaving the company and/or being arrested for leaking company secrets, and its camera supplier said it was "no longer a tier one customer.” CN.dart.call("xrailTop", {sz:"300x250", kws:["top"], collapse: true});The company seems to be turning things around though. In the last two quarters, HTC has gotten back into profitability, and the company is making a high-profile jump back into tablets by producing the Nexus 9 for Google. Today in New York, the company is showing off the "flagship" product of its mid-range Desire line of phones, the AT&T-exclusive "Desire Eye." If you can't already tell from the pictures, it's addressing a popular use-case for smartphones as of late—selfies. Read 13 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
This image from Microsoft Research's "Mano a Mano" paper shows how three projector/Kinect pairs can create believable 3D virtual objects from two different perspectives. MSR / ACM Microsoft may be taking an official wait and see approach before following companies like Oculus and Sony down the virtual reality headset path. That isn't stopping the company's research arm from looking into interesting ways to use Kinect and projector technology to create holodeck-style augmented reality experiences in the living room, though. Microsoft Research has prepared a number of interesting demos and papers on these lines for the Association for Computing Machinery's User Interface Software and Technology Symposium, showing off just how far those efforts have come and how they could lead to interesting new forms of gaming in the future. The first project, RoomAlive, promises to "transform any room into an immersive augmented virtual gaming experience," as the researchers put it. The system uses six paired projector/Kinect units, mounted to the ceiling so they have somewhat overlapping fields of view. These units can auto-calibrate themselves with a series of projected light patterns, transforming their individual Kinect depth maps into a unified 3D point-cloud model of the room. From there, RoomAlive translates the point data into a series of vertical and horizontal surfaces representing the walls and furniture, then translates that into a 3D environment in the Unity game engine. Using that virtual representation of the room, the system then figures out how to project a unified image on those walls and surfaces, warping the projection so it appears correct on each surface. The effect is akin to transforming the entire room into a computer screen or monitor, complete with player-tracking through the array of Kinect cameras. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
A San Francisco federal appeals court heard arguments today in an activist lawsuit seeking to ban National Security Letters, or NSLs, as unconstitutional. NSLs are one of the more controversial tools used by the FBI to conduct investigations, as they include a gag order preventing the recipient from talking about the fact that they got an NSL. The Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a lawsuit challenging the NSLs as unconstitutional in 2011, well before the Snowden disclosures about widespread surveillance. Their client is an unnamed "service provider" that wants to speak out about the fact that it received a letter, but can't. In April of last year, they won a stunning victory, when US District Judge Susan Ilston agreed with EFF that the letters are unconstitutional. The gag order stopping EFF's client from discussing "controversial government powers" violates the First Amendment, Ilston ruled. The government has appealed the proceeding. Today, almost 19 months after Ilston's order came out, a three-judge appeals panel heard arguments from both sides. Read 16 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Comcast executive Charlie Herrin is aiming to improve Comcast's legendarily poor customer service. Comcast Comcast has publicly apologized to the California man, Conal O’Rourke, who accused the company of getting him fired from his former position at PriceWaterhouseCoopers in the wake of a yearlong billing dispute. The apology comes less than 24 hours after Ars published an article detailing O’Rourke’s documented allegations. "What happened with Mr. O’Rourke's service is completely unacceptable," Charlie Herrin, a company senior vice president, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday. "Despite our attempts to address Mr. O’Rourke’s issues, we simply dropped the ball and did not make things right. Mr. O’Rourke deserves another apology from us, and we’re making this one publicly. We also want to clarify that nobody at Comcast asked for him to be fired. We’re also determined to get to the bottom of exactly what happened with his service, figure out what went wrong at every point along the way, and fix any underlying issues." Herrin is the same new Comcast executive who said late last month that improving customer service was his "number one priority." Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Earlier this year, Microsoft renamed its Windows Azure cloud computing platform to be just "Azure," reflecting support for operating systems other than Windows. Today, the company made an equivalent announcement for Windows Intune, its cloud-based mobile device and application management tool. Since it supports iOS and Android, neither of which are actually Windows, Windows Intune is now known simply as Microsoft Intune. The software itself will pick up the new branding in a major update that's planned for later in the year. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Standard fluorescence microscopy (left) and PALM images (right). Note that the scale bar in the far right image is roughly the diffraction limit. Nobel Prizes/originally Betzig et. al., Science This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry honors an interesting mix of developments. It honors three researchers who overcame an apparent physical limitation in our ability to image microscopic objects, in the process building microscopes that are proving to be incredibly useful for biology. But because the breakthroughs depended in part on our understanding of the behavior of individual molecules, the prize comes in chemistry. The limit in question is the diffraction limit, first described back in the 1800s by Ernst Abbe. This limit means that the best resolution we can obtain in imaging an object is half the wavelength of the light we're using to image it. If we're using visible wavelengths, this means we can't do much better than about 250nm—a distance that dwarfs viruses and individual proteins. Although lots of improvements in microscopy have been made since the 1800s, all of them kept running into diffraction-related problems. At least, that was the case until recently. The Nobel Prize honors not one but two distinct ways of overcoming the limit. (Conveniently, we have coverage of both—see the sidebar.) In the case of one of the recipients, it honors an idea that came to him when he had given up on research and was working in the family business. Read 12 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
AT&T AT&T has agreed to pay $105 million to settle a case with the government over alleged bill cramming that cost consumers tens of millions of dollars. It’s the largest-ever settlement over wireless bill cramming. $80 million of the settlement will cover customer refunds, which will be distributed by the Federal Trade Commission. Another $20 million will be paid in penalties and fees to states attorneys general, and $5 million in penalties will head to the Federal Communications Commission, according to today’s announcement. FTC The FTC has set up a website where consumers can seek refunds until May 1, 2015. “Current and former AT&T customers who paid for unauthorized third-party charges after January 1, 2009 may apply for refunds,” the site says. Customers can fill out an online form or request a refund by mail. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
JetBlue's Twitter image. Not seen here: whoever on their staff booted a Boston resident from a flight over complaining about it on Twitter. On Tuesday, a JetBlue passenger took to Twitter to publicly complain about an hours-long delay to her flight, and she accused JetBlue of delaying her return home even longer by not letting her reboard the flight. Boston resident Lisa Carter-Knight used Twitter to report her flight's delay, using a #JetBlue hashtag to announce to her followers—as of press time, roughly 300—that the "pilot accuses passengers of accusing him of being intoxicated demands all passengers back." As she told Philadelphia's ABC affiliate WPVI, "We had been waiting an hour, so there was a joke by another passenger—it had been a long night and he hoped there was a fully stocked bar on the airplane. The pilot ran out and said, 'That's it, everybody out by the gate. I've been accused of being intoxicated." The pilot reportedly ordered all passengers off the flight so he could take a sobriety test as mandated by law. At that point, Carter-Knight posted six tweets about the delay, commenting on an "unruly pilot" and "false accusations" of his sobriety being questioned. When she attempted to reboard hours later, she was not allowed to do so. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
A 14-year-old boy's videotape of an Indiana cop smashing an ax though a vehicle window, shooting the passenger with a stun gun, and ripping him from the vehicle has become the subject of an excessive force lawsuit. Monday's lawsuit [PDF] is among the most recent in a wave of police encounters gone awry that have been captured on video and resulted in legal action. The incident was filmed two weeks ago in Hammond, Indiana, and it started with a motorist being stopped and pulled over for allegedly not wearing a seatbelt. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
More than 99 percent of Comcast shareholders today voted in favor of the company's $45.2 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable, Comcast announced. The merger "is subject to various regulatory approvals and other customary conditions and also requires approval by Time Warner Cable shareholders," who are scheduled to vote tomorrow, Comcast said. If all goes well for Comcast, the merger will close in early 2015. Not many people attended the meeting in Philadelphia. "Five people spoke at a sparsely attended special shareholder meeting at the Kimmel Center on South Broad Street—three against the deal, and two for it," according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.  The real test for Comcast will be getting approval from the government. Consumer advocates have argued that the two largest cable companies in the country should not be allowed to merge, while Comcast points out that it doesn't compete against Time Warner Cable in any city or town. Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Apple Apple is having another media event on October 16, just under a week after Re/code first predicted the date. The event will be in Apple's small town hall event space at its 1 Infinite Loop campus, implying a much smaller event than the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch event in the Flint Center last month. If the rumor mill is to be believed, new iPads will be the headlining item for the event, and we'll also supposedly be getting the public release of OS X Yosemite. Both the iPads and Yosemite will reportedly be accompanied by iOS 8.1, the first major update to iOS 8. Other rumors also suggest we'll be seeing new Macs at the event—the most interesting ones suggest a new Retina iMac, but several other computers in Apple's lineup (including the Mac Mini and Mac Pro) are ripe for a refresh. The event starts at 10am Pacific. We'll be on site to liveblog the proceedings and go hands-on with the new hardware afterward. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Another day, another online-centric game launching to widespread server issues. This time it's the PlayStation 4's DriveClub, whose servers are apparently causing so many problems for launch day customers that Sony and developer Evolution Studios have indefinitely delayed a planned "PlayStation Plus" edition that would have given limited access to millions more. "We are seeing a lot of activity and new social behaviors right now, but unfortunately this is pushing the servers to their absolute limits," Evolution Studios Director Paul Rustchynsky wrote in a Facebook post Wednesday morning. "In order to help all DriveClub players who have the game already, we're temporarily holding back the PS Plus Edition and the My DriveClub app to ease the load and traffic to the servers. This should give players a better chance of connecting to the game servers and, once the servers are operating well, we’ll be sure to let you know when the PS Plus Edition and My DriveClub app will be available to download." While DriveClub does have a limited single-player mode, operating servers are necessary to join clubs with other players and compete in the online challenges and time trials that form the bulk of the game. The PS Plus edition, which was supposed to launch alongside the full game, will give PlayStation Plus subscribers free access to 11 tracks and a limited selection of cars. Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 13 days ago on ars technica
Minneapolis While the use of renewable energy is booming, the boom started from a very low point. We're only now reaching the stage where renewable power is providing a substantial fraction of the energy used in some developed economies. Pushing things further and faster would require a lot of resources as, per unit of electricity produced, renewable power equipment takes more material than fossil fuel plants. Plus, at least initially, a lot of the manufacturing will be powered by fossil fuel plants. How does all this balance out? An international team of researchers has looked at the material demands and pollution that would result from a push to get the globe to 40 percent renewables by the middle of the century. The analysis finds that despite the increased materials and energy demands, a push like this would result in a dramatic reduction in pollution. And for the most part, the material demands could be met, with the possible exception of copper. The work involved what's called a life cycle analysis, which tracks the material and energy demands of items from the production of the raw materials through to obsolescence and recycling. Normally, these studies are done with static assumptions; take the life cycle of copper in 2011, for example, and use that figure for the entire analysis. In this case, however, being able to shift values over the course of the study period was essential. For example, as more renewable energy is produced, the pollution associated with producing new equipment will go down, as less of it will be provided by fossil fuels. Meanwhile, demand for raw materials could shift mining to sources that result in higher environmental damage. Read 9 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
Apple Pay is one of the biggest features expected to launch with iOS 8.1 later this month. Apple Last week, numerous publications (including Ars) reported seeing references to iOS 8.1, 8.2, and 8.3 in their site analytics pages. iOS versions 5, 6, and 7 only saw one major point update apiece during their respective lifespans, so evidence of three different updates being tested simultaneously just weeks after the release of iOS 8.0 came as a surprise. It looks like we'll be seeing the first of those updates sooner rather than later. Today Apple pushed out the second beta build of iOS 8.1 in as many weeks to its registered developers, and the final version of the software is rumored to be released at or near Apple's event later this month. Obviously such a quick turnaround time will make iOS 8.1 a smaller update than iOS 7.1, which gestated for around six months and fixed a host of problems when finally released. But the update is still rumored to include a handful of significant features—here's a list of the most important additions. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
Free Press Wireless carriers like to say that monthly data caps are necessary to prevent heavy users from slowing down less active ones. After surveying the four biggest carriers this year, the US Government Accountability Office reported that “some wireless ISPs told us they use UBP [usage-based pricing, i.e. data caps] to manage congestion.” Verizon Wireless has insisted to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that data caps are so effective at reducing congestion that they eliminate the need to throttle most customers. I won't argue that data caps have no positive impact on wireless networks—they can prevent the most egregious overuse of what is a limited resource. But it's a crude tool at best, targeting monthly averages with no regard for whether the network is congested at a particular time or place. Read 25 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
Conal O'Rourke remains frustrated after his year-long battle with Comcast, which allegedly led to his termination. Cyrus Farivar OAKLAND, CA—Speaking over lunch last Friday, a Northern California man named Conal O'Rourke laid out what admittedly sounds like a crazy story: a year-long billing dispute over his home Comcast service that ultimately resulted in Comcast getting O'Rourke fired from his job at PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC) in nearby San Jose earlier this year. But O’Rourke arrived to last week’s lunch meeting with Ars with an astonishing amount of documentation: he has pages and pages of Comcast invoices. He has a spreadsheet, photos, notes, business cards, and complaint letters. He and his lawyer, Maureen Pettibone Ryan, happily provided digital copies of these materials to Ars, which we have re-published with his permission here. As a result of his firing, O’Rourke has hired a local attorney and is now threatening to file a lawsuit against Comcast if the company does not agree to his demands, which include "a full retraction and apology, his re-employment with his former employer, and $100,312.50" by October 14. Read 45 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...