posted 14 days ago on ars technica
A Tennessee county whose sheriff praised Jesus on the Bradley County department's Facebook page—and then deleted negative comments about the post—is settling a federal First Amendment lawsuit for $41,000. Sheriff Eric Watson wrote a post titled "He is risen..." on Easter, prompting a lawsuit by an Atheist group and unnamed local residents in the eastern county of about 100,000. The deal calls for $15,000 in damages to be paid to the American Atheists organization and other plaintiffs in addition to $26,000 in legal fees. "This settlement is a clear win for the plaintiffs, whose First Amendment rights to free speech and to be free of government establishment of religion were infringed upon," Amanda Knief, the legal and policy director of American Atheists, said in a statement. "We are pleased the sheriff has agreed to do the right thing by no longer using this official government social media account to promote religion." Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
The new trailer for Hidden Figures, in theaters January 13, 2017. This movie has everything that a nerd could possibly desire: spaceships, astronauts, and a group of brilliant mathematicians who made NASA's Apollo mission possible. Hidden Figures focuses on the achievements of Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji Henson from Person of Interest and Empire), winner of the 2015 National Medal of Freedom. Johnson, now retired, was a mathematician at NASA whose work helped plot the trajectories of orbiting spacecraft. The movie is your classic "nerd genius makes good" tale, as teachers discover the young Johnson's incredible math skills that eventually led to her meteoric rise, including college at the age of 15. She was so brilliant that NASA hired her out of graduate school in the 1950s—even though she lived at a time when black women were rarely welcomed into the science and engineering professions. What I love about this story is how it celebrates the minds behind the space program. Based on a book that comes out next month, Hidden Figures is also a personal story about Johnson's struggles and her friendships with two other black women working at NASA, engineer Mary Jackson (the incredible Janelle Monáe) and mathematician Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer). But most of all, this is just one of those feel-good geek stories about how math can actually change the world. Hidden Figures should make for a fascinating companion piece to movies like Apollo 13 and Gravity, which celebrate astronauts while putting scientists mostly into the background. Possibly only The Martian has thus far successfully shown the drama of science unfolding alongside the drama of being an astronaut (and that was science fiction, of course, rather than a retelling of actual events). Read 1 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
Today, Microsoft released official support for Minecraft on the Oculus Rift VR headset, making good on a promise that was made 11 months ago. That official support, however, helped lead to the end of a popular mod that has been letting players experience Minecraft on the Rift for years now. "Now that Microsoft/Mojang have released VR support for MCPE/Win10 Minecraft, they are exercising their rights over our unofficial mod (Minecrift)," mod co-creator mabrowning wrote on Reddit. "I received notice a few days ago that I can no longer use the name 'Minecrift' or the minecraft-vr.com domain. I've already shutdown the website, but anyone who wants to get a copy of the code should grab it from GitHub before that goes offline, too." Later in the thread, mabrowning clarified that Microsoft's problem was merely with the name of the Minecrift project and the minecrift-vr.com domain that hosted it. To be fair to Microsoft, names like Minecrift and Minecraft-VR do seem to carry a high chance of being legitimately confused with the new official "Minecraft for Rift" product (it's somewhat admirable that Microsoft didn't take exception to the name before now, in fact). Read 3 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Ron Amadeo) An estimated 80 percent of Android phones contain a recently discovered vulnerability that allows attackers to terminate connections and, if the connections aren't encrypted, inject malicious code or content into the parties' communications, researchers from mobile security firm Lookout said Monday. As Ars reported last Wednesday, the flaw first appeared in version 3.6 of the Linux operating system kernel, which was introduced in 2012. In a blog post published Monday, Lookout researchers said that the Linux flaw appears to have been introduced into Android version 4.4 (aka KitKat) and remains present in all future versions, including the latest developer preview of Android Nougat. That tally is based on the Android install base as reported by statistics provider Statista, and it would mean that about 1.4 billion Android devices, or about 80 percent of users, are vulnerable. "The tl;dr is for Android users to ensure they are encrypting their communications by using VPNs, [or] ensuring the sites they go to are encrypted," Lookout researcher Andrew Blaich told Ars. "If there's somewhere they're going to that they don't want tracked, always ensure they're encrypted." Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: HEI Hotels & Resorts) The chain that owns Starwood, Marriott, Hyatt, and Intercontinental hotels—HEI Hotels & Resorts—said this weekend that the payment systems for 20 of its locations had been infected with malware that may have been able to steal tens of thousands of credit card numbers and corresponding customer names, expiration dates, and verification codes. HEI claims that it did not lose control of any customer PINs, as they are not collected by the company’s systems. Still, HEI noted on its website that it doesn’t store credit card details either. “We believe that the malware may have accessed payment card information in real-time as it was being inputted into our systems,” the company said. The breach appears to have hit 20 HEI Hotels, and in most cases, the malware appears to have been active from December 2, 2015 to June 21, 2016. In a few cases, hotels may have been affected as early as March 1, 2015. According to a statement on HEI’s website, the malware affected point-of-sale (POS) terminals at the affected properties, but online booking and other online transactions were not affected. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Getty | Tom Pennington) After a week of trying to part with green tides in two outdoor swimming pools, Olympic officials over the weekend wrung out a fresh mea culpa and yet another explanation—neither of which were comforting. According to officials, a local pool-maintenance worker mistakenly added 160 liters of hydrogen peroxide to the waters on August 5, which partially neutralized the chlorine used for disinfection. With chlorine disarmed, the officials said that “organic compounds”—i.e. algae and other microbes—were able to grow and turn the water a murky green in the subsequent days. The revelation appears to contradict officials’ previous assurances that despite the emerald hue, which first appeared Tuesday, the waters were safe. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Getty Images) The owner of a patent on podcasting is hoping to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. Personal Audio and its owner, Jim Logan, lost their patent last year after lawyers from the Electronic Frontier Foundation showed the US Patent and Trademark Office that various types of Internet broadcasts pre-date the patent, which claims a 1996 priority date. The podcasting patent became famous and received national media attention after it was used to sue several high-profile podcasters, including Adam Carolla, who raised $500,000 and fought back for a time before reaching a settlement in 2014. Personal Audio had also sued several big TV networks, and its case against CBS went to a jury in September 2014. The jury found the patent valid and awarded Personal Audio $1.3 million, a victory that Personal Audio's lawyers have noted in their appeal arguments. Read 14 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Kmeron) Reddit says it won't give Atlantic Records the IP address of a Reddit user who posted a link on the site of a single by Twenty One Pilots a week before the song's planned release. The song, "Heathens," was originally uploaded on June 15 to the file-sharing site Dropfile. That same day, the file landed on Reddit. According to a lawsuit (PDF) in New York State Supreme Court, the file was posted to the Twenty One Pilots subreddit with the title “[Leak] New Song – ‘Heathens' at the URL https://www.reddit.com/r/twentyonepilots/comments/4oa475/leak_new_song_heathens/." The Poster submitted the link under the username "twentyoneheathens," according to Atlantic. Atlantic and its subsidiary label, Fueled by Ramen, want the IP address of the Reddit leaker. The company said the file fell victim to "widespread distribution" on the Internet, so the company released the single June 16, a week ahead of schedule; the label also said the early release hindered a planned rollout on Spotify, iTunes, and other platforms. Atlantic says the leaker must be an Atlantic employee who was contractually obligated not to leak the track, which is featured in the movie Suicide Squad that debuted earlier this month. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Android Police) Over the weekend a new set of real-life Nexus pictures hit the internet, and the device looks... pretty much like what we were expecting. The slow drip of Nexus leaks continues at Android Police, which had its source send over a set of heavily cropped pictures. The device looks almost exactly like the renders the site created back in July. There's no branding in the pictures at all, but Android Police is still maintaining that a "G" logo will be on the final device to the exclusion of a "Nexus" logo. We're calling this a "Nexus device" but maybe it would be more accurate to start calling it a "Google Phone." The devices are being built by HTC, so of course they come with HTC's trademark humongous top and bottom bezels. The device is supposed to be a custom design by Google, but we're starting to think the outside is heavily based on the HTC A9. This would explain the bottom bezel—it's that big because it used to house a fingerprint scanner. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Scott K. Johnson) Ice sheets are large and complex things. Figuring out how quickly—and where—they’ll melt as the world warms is a monumental task. We worry about some portions (like the vulnerable West Antarctic Ice Sheet) collapsing entirely, but we know some other parts will be disappearing in the foreseeable future. Records from past periods of climate change are important guides here. What better way to figure out what will happen than to see what has happened before? For the Greenland Ice Sheet, there has been some debate about how small it has gotten in past warm periods where we know sea level was higher than it is today. The problem is that Greenland's ice doesn’t go nearly so far back in time as Antarctica’s. Snowfall is greater here, and ice flows more quickly to the edges of the continent where it disappears from the pages of the history we read from ice cores. Few Greenland cores go back more than about 110,000 years, failing to tell us about the last interglacial warm period. But at the bottom of a couple of ice cores from the thickest parts of the ice sheet, there is some messed up ice we know could be a lot older. Figuring out how old is another matter. Without an orderly stack of annual layers to count back through, there aren’t many reference points preserved in the ice. To make things worse, water can refreeze to the underside of glaciers, so it might not have even been glacial ice in the first place. Read 8 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
Selected scenes from Ars' first few hours playing No Man's Sky (video link) The video game No Man's Sky captured our hearts the moment its veil was lifted for one reason: seeming infinity, right now. A very sci-fi, virtual version, of course, but its abstract take is still something wild: more than 18 quintillion planets, all "magically" generated on the fly, for us to immediately fly toward, excavate, and marvel at. It's not flying cars or an auto-mutating vaccine that can cure all influenza or anything, but it still seems like some sort of sci-fi dream. The marriage of technology and infinity is the kind of thing you might not have ever expected to see, especially on current systems. Read 30 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Nissan) The vast majority of American drivers could switch to battery electric vehicles (BEVs) tomorrow and carry on with their lives unaffected, according to a new study in Nature Energy. What's more, those BEVs need not be a $100,000 Tesla, either. That's the conclusion from a team at MIT and the Santa Fe Institute in New Mexico that looked at the potential for BEV adoption in the US in light of current driving patterns. Perhaps most interestingly, the study found that claim to be true for a wide range of cities with very distinct geography and even per-capita gasoline consumption. The authors—led by MIT's Zachary Needell—used the Nissan Leaf as their representative vehicle. The Leaf is one of the best-selling BEVs on the market, second only to the Tesla Model S in 2015 (10,990 sold vs 13,300 Teslas). But it's not particularly long-legged; although the vehicle got an optional battery bump from 24kWh to 30kWh for 2016, its quoted range is 107 miles on a full charge. You don't need to spend long browsing comment threads or car forums to discover that many drivers think this is too short a range for their particular use cases. Yet, Needell and colleagues disagree. The authors use the 24kWh Nissan Leaf as the basis for their calculations, based on a probabilistic model of BEV range based on driving behavior (rather than just looking at average commute distances and BEV range). This involved using information from the National Household Travel Survey, hourly temperature data for 16 US cities, and GPS data from travel surveys in California, Atlanta, and Houston (to calculate second-by-second speed profiles of different trip types). Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Infiniti) One of the key variables for an internal combustion engine is its compression ratio. This is the ratio of the maximum volume within the cylinder (when the piston is at bottom dead center) and the minimum volume within the cylinder (when the piston is at top dead center). Obviously, this ratio is fixed at the point of design—the amount of travel of a piston within a cylinder is determined by the profile of the crankshaft and the length of the connecting rod between the two. At least that has always been the case. But Infiniti plans to change that with the debut of its new VC-T engine, which is debuting at next month's Paris Motor Show. The higher an engine's compression ratio is, the more mechanical energy it converts from the combustion of a given amount of fuel mixed with a given amount of air. But too high a ratio causes knocking—premature detonation of fuel-air mixture during the engine's compression stroke caused by high cylinder temperatures. Read 5 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
Few grounds in the battle over the meaning of truth are as hotly contested as the edit wars which people wage on Wikipedia's biographies of living people. As you'd expect, the edit histories of polarising figures like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are an eternal clustershag of counterclaims and counter-counterclaims, but almost every sufficiently famous public figure has their detractors, no matter how benign they seem. Even those rare ones who somehow manage to avoid upsetting anyone still attract vandals trying to insert whimsical libel into their articles for the lulz (who could remember the laughs we had way back in 2006 when someone asserted David Beckham was Chinese?), while there are dozens of examples of lies plucked unknowingly from the site being reported as fact in the newspapers, which is a battle without end in itself for libel lawyers. However, at the other end of the endless struggle waged by keyboard warriors to prove that popular celebrities are all ultimately problematic, there's the fight fought by the marginally famous for recognition and notability. Who decides who is famous enough for their own entry on the encyclopedia of everything? It's inevitably a matter of degrees, of lines drawn in the sand. But where do we draw them? Read 10 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
LAS VEGAS—On a raised floor in a ballroom at the Paris Hotel, seven competitors stood silently. These combatants had fought since 9:00am, and nearly $4 million in prize money loomed over all the proceedings. Now some 10 hours later, their final rounds were being accompanied by all the play-by-play and color commentary you'd expect from an episode of American Ninja Warrior. Yet, no one in the competition showed signs of nerves. To observers, this all likely came across as odd—especially because the competitors weren't hackers, they were identical racks of high-performance computing and network gear. The finale of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's Cyber Grand Challenge, a DEFCON game of "Capture the Flag," is all about the "Cyber Reasoning Systems"(CRSs). And these collections of artificial intelligence software armed with code and network analysis tools were ready to do battle. Inside the temporary data center arena, referees unleashed a succession of "challenge" software packages. The CRSs would vie to find vulnerabilities in the code, use those vulnerabilities to score points against competitors, and deploy patches to fix the vulnerabilities. Throughout the whole thing, each system had to also keep the services defined by the challenge packages up and running as much as possible. And aside from the team of judges running the game from a command center nestled amongst all the compute hardware, the whole competition was untouched by human hands. Read 43 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 14 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Square Enix) At a major Final Fantasy XV promotional event earlier this year, the game's developers announced its release date by having a slot-machine spin of months and days whiz by before briefly locking into "November 30," only to then slide into the "official" date: September 30, 2016. Yeah, about that joke. Early Monday morning, FFXV director Hajime Tabata took to YouTube to announce an official delay for the long-awaited RPG, now slated to launch on November 29 of this year (meaning, one off from the joke date). Tabata-san explained that the game's "master disc" (typically called the "gold" copy) had been completed "the other day," but its content would not be "the highest possible quality" without a downloadable patch, which he said would be completed by September 30. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on ars technica
Ars tries to interview Pepper the robot. Filmed by Chris Schodt/Edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)PALO ALTO, Calif.—Turns out it’s really hard to interview an adorable interactive robot when she's stuck on a demo loop and other journalists are trying to interview her at the same time. Nevertheless, being face-to-face with SoftBank Robotics’ new “social robot” named Pepper was exciting and a bit odd. Read 11 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on ars technica
(credit: NASA) We live and die by data these days. Data rates and latencies are everything, with data centers and chips designed to maximize communication speeds. The hero in the world of data is the optical fiber. Thanks to light's very high base frequency, it is possible to modulate it very quickly without using a huge amount of bandwidth. Optical fiber's ability to modulate light quickly allows network designers to choose a wavelength band, divide it up into slots, and use each slot to communicate its own data. So a typical fiber will carry several channels, each operating at multi-gigabit-per-second speeds. This approach, already many, many years old, has served us very well. But all good things come to an end. Researchers are always looking for ways to carry more information, and one idea—that one, at the back of the class, ignored by all the other ideas—is to use special states of light to encode information. These orbital angular momentum (OAM) states have the potential to vastly increase bandwidth, but they are difficult to handle. Some recent research, however, suggests that we might well be using OAM states before too long. Read 19 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 15 days ago on ars technica
Hiiiiiiii! Not many gaming franchises can sustain an entire fan convention on their own. The second annual Super Smash Con proves that Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. is one of those franchises. A diverse audience of thousands of fans descended on Chantilly, Virginia for the four-day event this weekend. Most were there for the multi-tiered double-elimination tournaments, fought on everything from the Wii U to the Nintendo 64 where Super Smash Bros. first appeared. Other attendees were there for a celebration of gaming's past and present, including a bustling arcade, fully stocked classic gaming vendors, a variety of game-themed musical and variety acts, and a selection of indie "platform fighters" inspired by the Smash phenomenon. Attendees mixed and mingled between both parts of the convention throughout the day. But every time the tournament audience let out a loud, synchronized "Ohhhh!" at some amazing takedown or comeback, minglers from around the convention hall literally came running to see what the fuss was about. As fun as it is to watch Smash Bros. tournaments on a livestream, nothing compares to the electricity of a live crowd. Read on Ars Technica | Comments

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on ars technica
(credit: SpaceX) SpaceX hopes to continue increasing the cadence of its rocket business with a Sunday launch. The two-hour launch window for the company's Falcon 9 rocket opens at 1:26am ET on Sunday, as SpaceX endeavors to deliver the JCSAT-16 commercial communications satellite to geostationary transfer orbit. After seven successful launches in 2016, SpaceX has already broken its previous mark for successful rocket missions during a calendar year, six. Sunday morning's attempt comes a little less than one month after the last flight of the Falcon 9 on July 18, when the Dragon spacecraft delivered two tons of supplies to the International Space Station. Considering the company's launch manifest through December, it is possible SpaceX will make a dozen or more flights of its Falcon 9 rocket in 2016, coming close to reaching its stated goal of a launch cadence of once every other week by the end of this year. The other big question tonight again surrounds the company's prospects for a successful return of its Falcon 9 first stage to Earth. Because the rocket will be delivering the satellite to an altitude of 35,800km above the equator, the first stage must reach a high velocity before releasing its upper stage and payload into orbit. Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on ars technica
Last year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the draft of a major report on the practice of hydraulic fracking—a technique to harvest oil and natural gas trapped within shale rocks. Although the report is only a draft, it was four years in the making and represents one of the first formal evaluations of fracking in the US as a whole. In general, the EPA report is positive. While various problems with fracking are brought up, the report seems to suggest that the technique has no systemic issues. With proper caution, the evaluation says, it should be possible to frack while keeping water sources safe. Or, to use the EPA's own words: Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Tao lab, Emory University) When evolution hits on a solution that works, that solution tends to get reused. Researchers have found that genes that play key roles in development typically get deployed over and over again in different tissues. Once this happens, however, it can create a problem: you can't make major changes to the gene without messing up a whole lot of essential processes. This week, however, a team of researchers from the Janelia Research Campus describe a case in which an essential gene that's critical for neural activity was tweaked in an incredibly subtle and specific way. The new version of the gene changed only a single feature of the species it evolved in: the details of the male courtship song. You might not think fruit flies would do much in the way of singing, and they don't in the traditional sense. But their courtship behavior involves a song created by rapid vibrations of their wings. The song is a mixture of repeated chirps interspersed with longer, buzzing vibrations. The details of this song—the frequency of the buzzing, the space between the chirps, etc.—often varies among the dozens of species of Drosophila we've identified. Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on ars technica
Gen Con bills itself as "the best four days in gaming"—and in many ways, it is. More than 60,000 people crammed into the Indiana Convention Center in downtown Indianapolis to play, purchase, and demo the hottest new board games and RPGs releasing in 2016. The Ars crew spent several days at the show drowning in a delicious gaming gumbo; now that we're back, we've put together a list of the top titles we played at the show. If you're looking for a solid overview of what's hot in board gaming for the second half of 2016, you've come to the right place. (And stay tuned for our coverage of the Essen Spiel fair in October for all your Eurogame needs.) Unless otherwise noted, these games should be hitting store shelves soon. Read 90 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on ars technica
(credit: Alistair) A 27-year-old Irishman who American prosecutors believe was a top administrator on Silk Road named “Libertas” has been approved for extradition to the United States. According to the Irish Times, a High Court judge ordered Gary Davis to be handed over to American authorities on Friday. In December 2013, federal prosecutors in New York unveiled charges against Davis and two other Silk Road staffers, Andrew Michael Jones (“Inigo”) and Peter Phillip Nash (“Samesamebutdifferent”). They were all charged with narcotics trafficking conspiracy, computer hacking conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. Read 4 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...
posted 16 days ago on ars technica
Ars visits 42 US. Filmed by Chris Schodt/Edited by Jennifer Hahn. (video link)FREMONT, Calif.—As you read these words, hundreds of students are hunched over iMacs in a massive computer lab. Most of them have little, if any, programming experience, and they haven’t paid a cent to get here. And yet, here they sit, just 7.6 miles directly across the Dumbarton Bridge from Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, dreaming of joining Silicon Valley’s legions of programmers. Each day, the students get new programming assignments, but there are no teachers. There is a help desk, or rather a “help” desk—which really, really doesn’t want students to ask for guidance—all in the name of “peer-to-peer learning.” Read 32 remaining paragraphs | Comments

Read More...