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Date: Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 15:25
Aurich Lawson

Verizon doesn't want to deploy high-speed wired broadband service to all New Jersey residents, despite receiving financial perks from the state for the past 20 years in exchange for building a statewide network.

To make sure it doesn't have to complete the buildout to all of New Jersey's 8.9 million residents, Verizon led an astroturf campaign that flooded the state Board of Public Utilities (BPU) with hundreds of identical e-mails purporting to support Verizon's case. One person who is listed as having written one of these e-mails told Ars that he didn't submit anything, and if he did, "I would've slammed them." A report in Stop the Cap this month found several other Verizon "supporters" who had no idea e-mails were submitted under their names.Before describing the astroturf campaign, here is a little background. Verizon is on the verge of getting state approval of a settlement eliminating an obligation to provide broadband service to the whole state by 2010. Instead of just getting service automatically, people who want broadband from Verizon would have to complete a "bonafide retail request" process and prove that they and at least 34 neighbors can't get service from anyone else. Even then, Verizon would have nine months to comply and could meet its newly lessened obligation by making 4G cellular service available through its subsidiary, Verizon Wireless.

Verizon predecessor New Jersey Bell agreed to the statewide broadband buildout in a 1993 agreement with the state. In exchange for a different form of price regulation that would allow the company to make more money, "Verizon agreed to upgrade its network to provide broadband to every Verizon New Jersey business and residential customer, school, and library for 100 percent of its service territory," according to the state's Division of Rate Counsel.

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Author: "Jon Brodkin" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Ministry of Innovation, ..."
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 14:58

Late Tuesday night, Marty O'Donnell, the composer for the original Halo games trilogy, announced his firing from developer Bungie, where he had been serving as co-composer for upcoming first-person shooter Destiny.

"I'm saddened to say that Bungie's board of directors terminated me without cause on April 11, 2014," O'Donnell posted on his Twitter account. The decade-plus Bungie veteran did not offer any further clarification or comment. Within an hour, Bungie took to its news page with a brief farewell message that stated, in part, "Today, as friends, we say goodbye." We are tempted to assume that O'Donnell's use of "without cause" may bring Bungie's use of the word "friends" into question.

O'Donnell was last seen promoting the score of Destiny, which he had been composing with Paul McCartney and longtime Bungie collaborator Mike Salvatori. In the meantime, we're still waiting on more concrete details and gameplay of Bungie's latest online shooter.

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Author: "Sam Machkovech" Tags: "Opposable Thumbs, Bungie, destiny, Halo"
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 13:00

It's no secret that biology research in the US is facing a number of challenges. After years of rapid growth, the funding for biomedical research has dropped by 25 percent in real dollar terms since 2003, leaving researchers scrambling to keep their labs running. Meanwhile, the system is still training far more graduates than there are faculty positions to fill. But it's tempting to think that taking care of the first by increasing the funding would help take care of the second.

"Don't kid yourself" seems to be the message of a perspective published this week by PNAS. The authors, Bruce Alberts, Marc Kirschner, Shirley Tilghman, and Harold Varmus (most of whom helped create or expand the current system), say its current course is unsustainable without some deep-rooted reforms. The ones they suggest would produce far fewer graduates and research labs, but they're courses better equipped to keep biomedical research sustainable even without a large budget increase.

The grad student problem

The researchers identify a couple of major structural problems that have made the current system unsustainable. One is simply that graduate students represent the cheapest form of labor, and so graduate programs have expanded to keep researchers well supplied. The end result is that 8,000 people get a PhD in the biological sciences each year, far more than can ever hope to find faculty positions. Only about 20 percent of them end up staying in research positions, yet graduate education generally provides training in nothing but research.

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Author: "John Timmer" Tags: "Scientific Method, biomedical research, ..."
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 01:56

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella was in San Francisco today to talk about data and Microsoft's data platform. Nadella repeatedly spoke of Microsoft's "data culture"—using data and analytics to enable employees to get the information they need to understand their work, answer questions, and make decisions. At the event, he celebrated the recent launch of SQL Server 2014 and announced a pair of other products: a preview of Azure Intelligent Systems Service and general availability of Analytics Platform System.

SQL Server 2014 has been available to developers and others for a few weeks. Its headline feature is broad support for in-memory databases with an engine previously codenamed "Hekaton." As one would expect, in-memory databases are substantially faster than ones stored on-disk. The in-memory database engine is limited in terms of the programmatic features it offers, but when it can be used, it can make operations 10 to 30 times faster.

Microsoft said that SQL Server 2014 has been developed in a different way from prior versions of the database server. It was described as "born in the cloud," developed for Azure and the cloud first. It includes a range of Azure-related features, too, such as backups to Azure.

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Author: "Peter Bright" Tags: "Technology Lab, Big Data, databases, mic..."
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 01:08

The second episode of the fourth season of, you guessed it, Game of Thrones, takes the crown.

The HBO episode generated more than 193,000 pirates simultaneously sharing the same file late Monday. Other files of the same episode were also being downloaded by the thousands—some 1.5 million downloads in all, TorrentFreak noted.

The site predicted that the record will be broken as the Game of Thrones season progresses.

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Author: "David Kravets" Tags: "Law & Disorder, BItTorrent, Game of Thro..."
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Date: Wednesday, 16 Apr 2014 01:00
Aurich Lawson

Right now, I can tell you that about 37 percent of the roughly 781 million games registered to various Steam accounts haven’t even been loaded a single time. I can tell you that Steam users have put an aggregate of about 3.8 billion hours into Dota 2. I can tell you that Steam users tend to put nearly 600 percent more time into the multiplayer mode on Modern Warfare 2 than the single player mode.

Basically, I can give you an idea of how any of the thousands of games on Steam have performed, both in terms of sales and gameplay hours.

These estimates are based on publicly available information described in much more detail below. It's the kind of data that the public almost never gets access to in the video game industry. Sure, we get a monthly “Top 10” list of best-selling titles in the US from tracking firm NPD, but these results smash together myriad versions of multi-platform releases and don’t even contain specific sales numbers these days (foreign services like Britain’s Chart-Track and Japan’s Media Create are slightly more robust in their public reporting). Those with deep pockets can pay for access to a treasure trove of historic and current sales numbers, but subscribers are contractually forbidden from sharing those numbers with the public. Steam, to its credit, offers real-time and “daily peak” snapshots of how many players use its 100 most popular games, but these numbers can be transitory and don’t reflect total sales or play time very well.

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Author: "Kyle Orland" Tags: "Features, Opposable Thumbs, games, sales..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 23:10

On Monday evening, Re/code wrote about the complicated set of rules that the FCC's wireless bureau is hoping will be adopted for the TV spectrum auction that will take place in 2015. According to these restrictions, carriers with lots of spectrum like AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint, could be prohibited from bidding on up to one-third of the auctioned-off spectrum in a given area, at least when the bidding in that area reaches a particular price.

The auction rules would dictate how many licenses a wireless company could purchase by creating two classes of spectrum licenses: restricted and unrestricted. According to Re/code, all companies would be allowed to bid on the available spectrum at first, generally in blocks of 5 MHz. Then if the bidding reaches a “threshold price,” 30 percent of the spectrum in that market would be reserved for smaller competitor companies.

Additionally, the FCC is looking to adopt new “spectrum screens” which would limit how much spectrum a wireless carrier could hold in a certain market. Under the rules, if a carrier tried to buy up more than a certain amount of spectrum in the market, that would trigger extra scrutiny at the FCC before the deal could go through. The upcoming availability of spectrum, combined with new rules for who can own it, has garnered a lot of attention.

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Author: "Megan Geuss" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Ministry of Innovation, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 22:40
Pioneer's $700 AVH-4000NEX is on sale today and will get a CarPlay-compatible firmware update early this summer.

Yesterday, Alpine Electronics announced plans to release a new in-car display compatible with Apple's CarPlay. It was the first announcement we'd heard about adding CarPlay support to an existing vehicle rather than buying an all-new one, but it will require the purchase of all-new hardware—as far as we know, Alpine's existing in-car displays won't be upgraded to support the feature.

Today, the Pioneer Corporation is doing Alpine one better: it will be upgrading five of its existing aftermarket car displays to support CarPlay via a firmware update. That update will be issued in the "early summer." So if everything happens on time, buying one of Pioneer's displays will be the fastest way to get CarPlay in a car you already own.

The five displays being upgraded span a variety of price points, from the $1,400 AVIC-8000NEX at the high end to the $700 AVH-4000NEX at the low end. Those two and the $1,200 AVIC-7000NEX have 7-inch 800×480 touchscreens, while the $750 AVIC-5000NEX and $900 AVIC-6000NEX sport 6.1-inch displays with the same resolution. Each display offers a variety of features (including, in some cases, turn-by-turn navigation and Android compatibility) when there's no iPhone connected, though connecting a CarPlay-capable iPhone running iOS 7.1 should offer approximately the same experience no matter which of the screens you use.

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Author: "Andrew Cunningham" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, Infinite Loop, AirPlay, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 22:35

Google added a paragraph to its terms of service as of Monday to tell customers that, yes, it does scan e-mail content for advertising and customized search results, among other reasons. The change comes as Google undergoes a lawsuit over its e-mail scanning, with the plaintiffs complaining that Google violated their privacy.

E-mail users brought the lawsuit against Google in 2013, alleging that the company was violating wiretapping laws by scanning the content of e-mails. The plaintiffs' complaints vary, but some of the cases include people who sent their e-mails to Gmail users from non-Gmail accounts and nonetheless had their content scanned. They argue that since they didn't use Gmail, they didn't consent to the scanning.

US District Judge Lucy Koh refused Google's motion to dismiss the case in September. Koh also denied the plaintiffs class-action status in March on the grounds that the ways that Google might have notified the various parties of its e-mail scanning are too different, and she could not decide the case with a single judgment.

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Author: "Casey Johnston" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Ministry of Innovation, ..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 22:30
In the next few decades, will we need to make room here for our flat panel monitors as well?

Oculus VR founder Palmer Luckey has never been shy about sharing his vision for the potential of virtual reality (VR) technology to create wholly new experiences and computing interfaces. But some off-the-cuff statements Luckey made in the halls of PAX East last weekend have got one far-reaching question buzzing around many tech and gaming industry watchers today—will VR ever be so good that it makes traditional panel displays all but obsolete?

Luckey certainly seems to think so. Speaking to Maximum PC after a panel on the state of PC gaming, the Oculus founder (and new Facebook employee) gave it about 20 years before today's flat panels are a thing of the past.

"I think there's almost no way traditional displays will be around in a couple decades," Luckey told the site. "Why in the world would you buy a 60-inch TV that, even if it were dirt cheap for that, it's still going to cost a lot to ship it and make it from raw materials? A VR headset is going to be much better and much cheaper, and you can take it anywhere."

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Author: "Kyle Orland" Tags: "Opposable Thumbs, augmented reality, dec..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 22:20

Rather than waiting for pending legislation to mandate an anti-theft kill switch, the leading mobile phone manufacturers and service providers—including Apple, Samsung, Huawei, AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and Sprint—came together Tuesday to impose their own solution.

The new “Smartphone Anti-Theft Voluntary Commitment” stipulates that new phones made after July 2015 will have a “preloaded or downloadable” anti-theft tool.

Two months ago, Mark Leno, a California state senator introduced a bill in response to the rise of smartphone theft. More than 50 percent of all robberies in San Francisco involve a smartphone, according to law enforcement statistics Leno cites in his bill. Sections of the bill also note that smartphone theft was up 12 percent in Los Angeles in 2012, and nationwide, 113 smartphones are lost or stolen each minute.

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Author: "Cyrus Farivar" Tags: "Infinite Loop, Law & Disorder, anti-thef..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 22:14
Our once-cute author, seen here at the ages of 3 and "roughly 60," according to a University of Washington age-progression application. Still holding on to those baby teeth, apparently!

For years, the “have you seen this child?” part of missing persons’ reports has been the most difficult one. Not just emotionally but literally. How can someone be recognized based on a childhood photo—often a low-detail one, at that—along with an awkward-looking artist's estimate of their current appearance?

Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman, an assistant computer science professor at the University of Washington, stumbled upon this challenge after roughly a decade of research in similar fields. Kemelmacher-Shlizerman and her colleagues have worked for years to accurately re-render photos, mostly in converting 2D faces to 3D models.

The results of her teams’ studies thus far have been intriguing—and even hilarious. In 2010, for example, her team made it possible to be John Malkovich, translating live facial movement onto another face on a screen. Her most recent project was a little different, as it began with a nudge from the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children to find out what more could be done with so much facial data.

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Author: "Sam Machkovech" Tags: "Scientific Method, age progression, stud..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 18:25
Steven Dean Gordon, left, and Franc Cano.
Megan's Law database

Police said two convicted sex offenders were wearing GPS-tracking ankle monitors when they allegedly raped and murdered four Southern California women.

The two convicts, who could face the death penalty if convicted, are to appear in court Tuesday to answer to four charges of rape and murder each. Data from their monitors and the mobile phone records of the victims helped police crack the case, the authorities said.

"That was one of the investigative tools we used to put the case together," Anaheim Police Chief Raul Quezada said Monday at a news conference.

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Author: "David Kravets" Tags: "Law & Disorder, cell tracking, GPS"
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 17:46

Greetings, Arsians! Our partners at LogicBuy are back with some more deals for you. The top deal this week is a 24-inch 4K Dell monitor, which costs $699.99 after the use of a gift card. Ars looks a whole lot better in 4K! Just imagine how many more comments per screen you could fit in!

Top deals:

Laptops, desktops, and tablets

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Author: "Ars Staff" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, dealmaster"
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 17:36
Drone retrofitted with a DARPA mobile hotspot unit.

With all of the talk of Facebook’s efforts to blanket the planet with drones that the company promises will provide global Wi-Fi accessibility, another technology leader, the US military’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has also entered the drone Wi-Fi game.

Through DARPA’s new “Mobile Hotspots Program,” the agency has planned to retrofit a fleet of aging RQ-7 shadow drones that were once deployed for various surveillance missions by the US military in Iraq. The repurposed drones will now be used to help the military carry out operations in remote locations that lack Internet connectivity.

The hotspot program aims to provide a 1Gbps communications backbone to deployed units. In order to establish a secure connection from ground stations without requiring large antennas, each drone will be equipped with a lightweight, low-power pod, holding low-noise amplifiers, which DARPA claims can boost signals while minimizing background noise. The drones can apparently run for nine-hour shifts to provide continual coverage as needed.

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Author: "Joe Silver" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Uncategorized, darpa, dr..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 16:50

The newest addition to Microsoft's range of Office 365 subscriptions is now available. For $6.99 a month, or $69.99 a year, Office 365 Personal lets you use Office on one PC or Mac and one Windows tablet or iPad.

The Personal plan slots in below the Home plan (formerly known as Home Premium), which costs $9.99 a month, or $99.99 a year, which supports five PCs or Macs and five tablets in the same house.

Both subscriptions also include 20GB of OneDrive storage and 60 minutes of global Skype calls per month. Both are also licensed only for "home" use, with "business" use requiring different subscriptions; the Small Business Premium subscription, for $12.50 a month or $150 a year, appears to be the closest equivalent.

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Author: "Peter Bright" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, Infinite Loop, Technolog..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 16:40

Google is finally updating the underlying OS in Google Glass. The device was previously running on an ancient Android 4.0.4 build, but later this week it will be brought up to speed with the latest version: Android 4.4, KitKat.

Google says the update will bring "improved battery life and makes Glass more reliable and easier to update in the future." The KitKat update will also allow developers of native Glass applications to use the latest Android SDK tools and APIs. KitKat's lower memory requirements should help, too, along with the numerous other core OS improvements Glass will gain from the four-version jump.

The Glass software is being improved, as well. Photos and videos will now be bundled together in a single card for the day, instead of polluting the entire timeline with an endless strip of cards. Glass can now send photo replies in Google Hangouts, and the ever-growing voice command list will be sorted by most-used.

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Author: "Ron Amadeo" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets"
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 16:30

The founder of Mt. Gox, Mark Karpeles, won't head to the US to respond to a Treasury Department inquiry concerning the Japanese bitcoin exchange's bankruptcy flap.

Karpeles filed for bankruptcy in Tokyo in late February after Mt. Gox, which was once the world's largest Bitcoin exchange, reportedly lost about 750,000 customer Bitcoins and 100,000 of the company's own Bitcoin reserves. On March 9, Karpeles filed in a Dallas, Texas court to have the bankruptcy recognized in the United States.

The US Department of Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network has subpoenaed Karpeles, demanding he testify Friday in Washington, DC, according to a court filing [PDF] lodged in the Dallas bankruptcy case Monday. FinCEN, as the investigative branch of the Treasury is known, has been monitoring the virtual currency.

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Author: "David Kravets" Tags: "Law & Disorder, bitcoin, Mt gox, subpoen..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 15:52

The heavily marketed fingerprint sensor in Samsung's new Galaxy 5 smartphone has been defeated by whitehat hackers who were able to gain unfettered access to a PayPal account linked to the handset.

The hack, by researchers at Germany's Security Research Labs, is the latest to show the drawbacks of using fingerprints, iris scans, and other physical characteristics to authenticate an owner's identity to a computing device. While advocates promote biometrics as a safer and easier alternative to passwords, that information is leaked every time a person shops, rides a bus, or eats at a restaurant, giving attackers plenty of opportunity to steal and reuse it. This new exploit comes seven months after a separate team of whitehat hackers bypassed Apple's Touch ID fingerprint scanner less than 48 hours after it first became available.

"We expected we'd be able to spoof the S5's Finger Scanner, but I hoped it would at least be a challenge," Ben Schlabs, a researcher at SRLabs, wrote in an e-mail to Ars. "The S5 Finger Scanner feature offers nothing new except—because of the way it is implemented in this Android device—slightly higher risk than that already posed by previous devices."

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Author: "Dan Goodin" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, Risk Assessment, Technol..."
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Date: Tuesday, 15 Apr 2014 15:36
Toshiba's Satellite P55t, the company's first 4K laptop.

Are you reading this on a laptop right now? Are the screen's giant, blocky, visible pixels ruining your experience? If so, Toshiba has the fix: today it's announcing a 15.6-inch laptop with a 3840×2160, 282 PPI IPS display, the same model we originally saw at CES earlier this year. The Satellite P55t goes on sale April 22 and will cost $1,499.99, the same starting price as the company's Kirabook Ultrabook.

In most important ways, the laptop is very well-specced. It includes quad-core Haswell CPUs from Intel, a dedicated AMD R9 M265X GPU with 2GB of GDDR5 RAM, 16GB of system RAM, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, four USB 3.0 ports, a 4K-capable full-size HDMI port, and an integrated Blu-ray writer. The one area where the laptop disappoints is in its 1TB mechanical hard drive—the extra storage space will be good for those working on high-resolution images and 4K video, but we'd at least like to see a hybrid SSD/HDD solution in a laptop this pricey.

Toshiba has also made a few additions that it hopes will attract photography enthusiasts: each display will be color calibrated at the factory, and the screen is Technicolor-certified. The laptop comes with a built-in application called "Chroma Tune" that will allow users to select from among a few different color profiles depending on their preferences and needs. A license for Adobe's Lightroom 5 photo editing software is included as well.

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Author: "Andrew Cunningham" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, 4K, toshiba"
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