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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 21:40
A red giant star really is quite gigantic compared to our Sun.

Radioactive decay is a powerful tool. The predictable decay of radioactive isotopes can be used for far more than just dating old rocks. Scientists have used radioactive isotopes to determine the age of the Earth and the age of the Solar System itself. Now, a team of scientists has used radioactive dating to study the pre-history of the Solar System more accurately than before, in the process reconciling data that had seemed to be contradictory.

The contradiction came in the form of data from two different isotopes. The radioactive elements iodine-129 and hafnium-182 are found throughout meteoroids in the Solar System. The abundance of those elements, in relation to the abundance of their non-radioactive counterparts, should give estimates of the time when those elements were produced. The problem is that the date calculated from the iodine (~72 million years prior to the Sun’s formation) does not match the date from the hafnium (~15 million years). Since the two elements should have been produced in the same event (typically a supernova), this was quite a problem.

Both these isotopes are produced via a neutron-capture process. Under certain conditions, an atomic nucleus can pick up a loose neutron. While it remains the same element, it ends up being a different isotope with a different atomic weight. There are two known types of neutron-capture processes: the s-process and the r-process.

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Author: "Ars Staff" Tags: "Scientific Method, astronomy, astrophysi..."
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 21:15
HTTP Shaming's ethos is even on a fridge.

The amount of personal data traveling to and from the Internet has exploded, yet many applications and services continue to put user information at risk by not encrypting data sent over wireless networks. Software engineer Tony Webster has a classic solution—shame. 

Webster decided to see if a little public humiliation could convince companies to better secure their customers' information. On Saturday, the consultant created a website, HTTP Shaming, and began posting cases of insecure communications, calling out businesses that send their customers' personal information to the Internet without encrypting it first.

One high-profile example includes well-liked travel-information firm TripIt. TripIt allows users to bring together information on their tickets, flight times, and itinerary and then sync it with other devices and share the information with friends and co-workers. Information shared with calendar applications, however, is not encrypted, Webster says, leaving it open to eavesdropping on public networks. Among the details that could be plucked from the air by anyone on the same wireless network: a user's full name, phone number, e-mail address, the last four digits of a credit card number, and emergency contact information. An attacker could even change or cancel the victim's flight, he says.

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Author: "Robert Lemos" Tags: "Risk Assessment"
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 20:51

The world is still waiting for the year of Linux on the desktop, but in 2003 it looked as if that goal was within reach. Back then, the city of Munich announced plans to switch from Microsoft technology to Linux on 14,000 PCs belonging to the city's municipal government. While the scheme suffered delays, it was completed in December 2013. There's only been one small problem: users aren't happy with the software, and the government isn't happy with the price.

The switch was motivated by a desire to reduce licensing costs and end the city's dependence on a single company. City of Munich PCs were running Windows NT 4, and the end of support for that operating system meant that it was going to incur significant licensing costs to upgrade. In response, the plan was to migrate to OpenOffice and Debian Linux. Later, the plan was updated to use LibreOffice and Ubuntu.

German media is reporting that the city is now considering a switch back to Microsoft in response to these complaints. The city is putting together an independent expert group to look at the problem, and if that group recommends using Microsoft software, Deputy Mayor Josef Schmid of the CSU party says that a switch back isn't impossible.

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Author: "Peter Bright" Tags: "Ministry of Innovation, Technology Lab, ..."
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 20:25

Anyone paying vague attention to the PC games market has long known that it's a space dominated by downloadable titles. Still, it's a bit astounding to hear a report estimating that a full 92 percent of PC game sales in 2013 came from digital downloads, as DFC Intelligence recently told British tech site PCR.

That may sound high, even to people who haven't bought a PC game on a disc for years, but it lines up with other numbers reported throughout the industry. Last year, Payday 2 publisher Starbreeze announced that 80 percent of its 1.58 million first-month sales came from downloads, for instance. And let's not forget the scores of PC games that are totally ignoring retail sales for 100 percent downloadable releases these days, from Dota 2 to Day Z.

Download-dominated PC gaming is a newer phenomenon than some gamers might realize. As recently as 2010, analyst firm NPD was estimating that downloads made up only 48 percent of all PC game sales.

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Author: "Kyle Orland" Tags: "Opposable Thumbs, console, digital, down..."
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 20:15

Delaware has become the first state in the US to enact a law that ensures families’ rights to access the digital assets of loved ones during incapacitation or after death.

Last week, Gov. Jack Markell signed House Bill (HB) 345, “Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets and Digital Accounts Act,” which gives heirs and executors the same authority to take legal control of a digital account or device, just as they would take control of a physical asset or document.

Earlier this year, the Uniform Law Commission, a non-profit group that lobbies to enact model legislations across all jurisdictions in the United States, adopted its Uniform Fiduciary Access to Digital Assets Act (UFADAA). Delaware is the first state to take the UFADAA and turn it into a bona fide law.

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Author: "Cyrus Farivar" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Delaware, Facebook, jack..."
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 18:15

Internet copyright enforcer Rightscorp has told investors some revelatory details about its strategy in its second-quarter earnings call, as reported by TorrentFreak.

Rightscorp was founded to be a kind of RIAA-lite, getting online pirates to pay record companies and other rights-holders without the need to resort to high-stakes litigation. Instead, it creates e-mail notices demanding $20 per song from users it deems "repeat infringers" and insists that ISPs forward those notices.

The company is growing fast, but is still way, way in the red. Last year it earned $324,000 in revenue, while spending more than $2.1 million to run its operations. This year it's earning more revenue: $440,414 in the first six months of the year. However, operating costs during the same period have already hit $1.8 million.

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Author: "Joe Mullin" Tags: "Law & Disorder"
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 18:05

Gene expression is the process by which the DNA of genes is used to produce proteins that perform essential roles as enzymes, hormones, antibodies, and more. However, this complex process is not fully understood because it varies dramatically due to environmental factors, developmental stages, and diseases. We’d like a better understanding of gene expression, but finding a system that allows it to be studied free of extraneous influences has been difficult.

Researchers may have overcome this obstacle with the development of a biochip that contains an array of artificial “cells” that enable the precise study of how gene expression changes with time. This system could be used to investigate how different cells change their activity as development proceeds or in response to environmental changes.

The biochip was constructed by assembling bundles of DNA on the surface of circular silicon compartments (50 μm radius and 1-3 μm height). Thin capillaries were used to connect DNA compartments to a channel that provided nutrients and energy. Researchers were able to observe stable gene expression and expression patterns that changed over time by tracking the presence of green fluorescent protein (GFP) expressed from the DNA.

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Author: "Ars Staff" Tags: "Scientific Method, biochemistry, Biology..."
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 17:30
The @peoriamayor Twitter account.

The Illinois city that arrested a local man for parodying its mayor on Twitter said Monday that the prankster's detainment wasn't "unreasonable."

The arrest of Jonathan Daniel by Peoria authorities in April made national headlines, and the 29-year-old cook sued in federal court, claiming civil rights violations.

In its first response to the lawsuit, the city of Peoria's and Mayor Jim Ardis' attorney told Ars that the mayor and city officials believed Daniel was breaching an Illinois law making it illegal to impersonate a public official. The mayor's attorney said city officials got a judge to issue warrants from Twitter and Comcast to track down Daniel. In short, they were just following the law.

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Author: "David Kravets" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Jim Ardis, parody, peori..."
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 16:41
Levi's Stadium crowd on August 17, 2014.

The San Francisco 49ers' massive Wi-Fi network delivered to its first NFL crowd yesterday when the home team took on the Denver Broncos in a preseason game at the just-opened Levi's Stadium.

Mobile Sports Report Editor Paul Kapustka tested the network in person during the game and detailed his findings extensively.

"In its first 'real' test with an almost-full house on Sunday the Levi’s Wi-Fi and cellular networks seemed to work well throughout the game, delivering solid speed test results from almost every part of the new 68,500-seat facility," Kapustka wrote. In an outside concourse, Kapustka got speeds of 57.92Mbps down and 41Mbps up. He still got more than 20Mbps in both directions inside near the concession stands, while Mbps dropped to the teens in the seats, still plenty fast enough to qualify as broadband.

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Author: "Jon Brodkin" Tags: "Technology Lab, 49ers', levi's stadium, ..."
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 16:00

Over the weekend, Best Buy posted the product page for the Moto 360 a bit early, revealing specs and pricing for Motorola's long-awaited smartwatch. The most noteworthy part of the listing is the price, a surprisingly low $249. That's only slightly more than the less-fashionable square watches from Samsung ($199) and LG ($229).

Best Buy showed specs that claim the device is equipped with 802.11N Wi-Fi hardware, which a tiny watch battery surely can't handle. Because smartwatches use smartphone SoCs, most have a Wi-Fi hardware that's kept switched off, so unless Motorola has worked some serious battery magic, we doubt the 360's will be active.

The other surprise is the mention of a Texas Instruments SoC. The company had worked with Motorola before on devices like the Droid, but it decided to quit making smartphone chips after the high-end smartphone market was dominated by Qualcomm. If the Best Buy listing is right, that decision apparently left the door open for low-powered devices like smartwatches.

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Author: "Ron Amadeo" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, Android Wear, moto 360, ..."
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 15:30
Damage following the tsunami from the April 2014 earthquake.
Juan González-Carrasco (Universidad Catolica del Norte, Chile)

Sometimes it seems like the Internet holds as many ridiculous claims about predicting earthquakes as it does cat memes. While it’s very clear that neither seismologists nor anyone else can fully predict earthquakes, that doesn’t mean the scientists know nothing.

The basic process behind an earthquake is pretty simple. Friction between two blocks of rock trying to slide past each other along a fault holds them in place until the sliding force is too great, and then BOOM!—an earthquake. We can measure that sliding very precisely, so as the strain on the fault mounts, we know an earthquake will happen; it’s just a question of when. And the greater the strain that has accumulated since the last earthquake, the larger the potential magnitude of the next one.

Along a long subduction zone, where an oceanic plate slides beneath a continental plate, faults slip one section at a time. Sections that haven’t slipped in a while but sit between sites of recent major earthquakes are known as “seismic gaps.” Those sections are likely to host the next major earthquake in the region.

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Author: "Scott K. Johnson" Tags: "Scientific Method, chile, earthquakes, s..."
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Date: Monday, 18 Aug 2014 01:00

Finally, the KDE project has released KDE Plasma 5, a major new version of the venerable K Desktop Environment.

Plasma 5 arrives in the middle of an ongoing debate about the future of the Linux desktop. On one hand there are the brand new desktop paradigms represented by GNOME and Unity. Both break from the traditional desktop model in significant ways, and both attempt to create interfaces that will work on the desktop and the much-anticipated, tablet-based future (which may or may not ever arrive).

Linux desktops like KDE, XFCE, LXDE, Mate, and even Cinnamon are the other side of the fence. None has re-invented itself too much. They continue to offer users a traditional desktop experience, which is not to say these projects aren't growing and refining. All of them continue to turn out incremental releases that fine tune what is a well-proven desktop model.

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Author: "Ars Staff" Tags: "Features, Technology Lab, Linux, Plasma ..."
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Date: Sunday, 17 Aug 2014 23:10
We've all had this first-world problem, but USB is still leagues better than what came before.

Like all technology, USB has evolved over time. Despite being a “Universal” Serial Bus, in its 18-or-so years on the market it has spawned multiple versions with different connection speeds and many, many types of cables.

The USB Implementers Forum, the group of companies that oversees the standard, is fully cognizant of this problem, which it wants to solve with a new type of cable dubbed Type-C. This plug is designed to replace USB Type-A and Type-B ports of all sizes on phones, tablets, computers, and other peripherals. Type-C will support the new, faster USB 3.1 spec with room to grow beyond that as bandwidth increases.

It's possible that in a few years, USB Type-C will have become the norm, totally replacing the tangled nest of different cables that we all have balled up in our desk drawers. For now, it’s just another excuse to pass around that dog-eared XKCD comic about the proliferation of standards. While we wait to see whether Type-C will save us from cable hell or just contribute to it, let’s take a quick look at where USB has been over the years, what competing standards it has fought against, and what technologies it will continue to grapple with in the future.

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Author: "Andrew Cunningham" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, USB 3.1"
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Date: Sunday, 17 Aug 2014 22:15

On Friday, Microsoft recommended uninstalling a recent security update following reports that it caused Blue Screens of Death.

ComputerWorld reports that the patch—MS 14-045—was first announced on August 12 before it received further attention on Friday. The patch intended to fix three issues including one in the Windows kernel. But soon after it was initially released, a Microsoft support forum thread sprung up with tales of "Stop 0x50 errors," aka blue screens. (ComputerWorld notes the thread has surpassed 50,000 views within the week.)

Microsoft's updated information page for the patch includes an official, relatively detail-free explanation:

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Author: "Nathan Mattise" Tags: "Technology Lab, blue screen of death, mi..."
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Date: Sunday, 17 Aug 2014 21:30

The former chief executive officer of Redflex, a major red light camera (RLC) vendor, has been indicted on federal corruption charges stemming from a contract with the City of Chicago.

On Wednesday, in addition to former CEO Karen Finley, government prosecutors also indicted John Bills, former managing deputy commissioner at the Department of Transportation, and Bills’ friend Martin O’Malley, who was hired as a contractor by Redflex.

According to the indictment, O’Malley himself was paid $2 million for his services as a contractor, effectively making him one of the company’s highest paid workers. Much of that money was then funneled to Bills, who used it for personal gain. Via Redflex employees, Bills also acquired a Mercedes and a condominium in Arizona. In December 2013, Ars reported on red light cameras nationwide, and in particular, Redflex's four cameras in the central California town of Modesto.

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Author: "Cyrus Farivar" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Chicago, john bills, kar..."
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Date: Sunday, 17 Aug 2014 20:30
The new Nomiku is circulating chilled water to cool down the bubbly. Temperature is listed in Celsius.
Megan Geuss

Nomiku, a small company founded by culinarily-inclined couple Lisa and Abe Fetterman, launched a Kickstarter this week to raise money for their second retail-ready sous-vide machine. The new machine, which will have a Wi-Fi connection and the ability to integrate with a companion app, was funded in under 12 hours. That’s impressive for a Kickstarter, but even more impressive considering how relatively obscure sous-vide still is outside of fine-dining and high-tech circles.

Sous-vide is a method of cooking food in a vacuum-sealed bag in precisely temperature-controlled water. Preparation usually requires a very long cook time, but it allows food to cook at a much lower temperature, which many people find makes meat more tender and vegetables better-flavored because they’re all cooked evenly throughout. Although the method was discovered hundreds of years ago, it has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in the last decade thanks to “the scientific cooking movement,” as the New York Times called it in 2005: “Cryovacking, which is more often called sous vide (French for ''under vacuum''), is poised to change the way restaurant chefs cook—and like the Wolf stove and the immersion blender, it will probably trickle down to the home kitchen someday.”

If Nomiku and its gaggle of competitors have their way, “someday” is today. The original Nomiku, which went on sale last year, was one of the first sous-vide appliances that was affordable to regular households at $300. Today, competing companies Anova and Sansaire both have sous-vide cookers that look similar design-wise and cost about $100 less than Nomiku’s first-generation sous-vide appliance, which you can find on Amazon. A company called Mellow is also taking pre-orders for a device that is Wi-Fi connected, but it comes with its own tub, which is either a turn-off for people with smaller kitchens or a huge boon for people who do have the space and want something that looks more elegant. (Our senior reviews editor Lee Hutchinson just put his name on the list for a Mellow—look for a sous-vide cook-off later in the year!)

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Author: "Megan Geuss" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, Nomiku, sous-vide"
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Date: Sunday, 17 Aug 2014 20:02

The 2014 Pokémon World Championships are happening this weekend, and the finals are underway right now on Twitch.

The Junior division championship already took place, with Kota Yamamoto (Japan) securing victory in game three when his Aegislash and Zapdos took down London Swan's (US) Rotom. (Yamamoto's brother Shota won the same division back in 2010.) The Senior division is now happening with the Master division to follow. Every finals is a best of three match, where players compete in Double Battles using Pokémon X/Y on any device from the Nintendo 3DS family (Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo 3DS XL, or Nintendo 2DS). If you're newish to the game, play-by-play announcers are on hand to analyze the action. So far, they've noted things like Garchomp being the most popular selection in the field and the resurgence of Red/Blue Pokémon overall (particularly a Lapdos in play for the Senior division match).

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Author: "Nathan Mattise" Tags: "Opposable Thumbs, Nintendo 3DS, pokemon,..."
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Date: Sunday, 17 Aug 2014 19:30

On Friday, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and state authorities in Missouri reached an agreement that members of the public and journalists are within their rights to record on-duty police officers. Protests in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, MO have continued throughout the weekend, sparked by the police shooting Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager.

The outrage was flamed by the authorities' tone-deaf response in the first few days of the protests, when police wearing riot gear used tear gas and military-style vehicles to force protesters to disperse. During that time, several protesters were told to cease videotaping police activity and arrests were made including Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery and Huffington Post reporter Ryan Reilly.

Politico was given a copy of the agreement by the ACLU. The news site reports, “The St. Louis county government, the city of Ferguson, and the superintendent of the Missouri State Highway Patrol all acknowledged in a Friday agreement that both members of the media and the public at large are permitted to record events so long as they are not interfering with the duties of the police.”

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Author: "Megan Geuss" Tags: "Law & Disorder, Ferguson, First Amendmen..."
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Date: Sunday, 17 Aug 2014 19:00
The larval form of the midge (left) and the adult.

When the term "extremophiles" gets thrown around, it's usually in reference to single-celled organisms that thrive in high salt or near-boiling water. But there are a few animals that also manage to make do in rather extreme conditions.

Perhaps the top example is a wingless midge that goes by Belgica antarctica. As its name implies, it's native to the frozen continent—in fact, it's the only insect that's native. (A few others have more recently introduced themselves from South America in recent years, and cockroaches undoubtedly ride in shipments to research bases.) Now, to try to help understand how anything can survive in such inhospitable conditions, researchers sequenced the genome of the midge and discovered it's gotten rid of a lot of the DNA that's frequently termed junk.

The researchers describe just how difficult the insect's living conditions are in detail: "The larvae, encased in ice for most of the year, require two years to complete their development and then pupate and emerge as adults at the beginning of their third austral summer. The [wingless] adults crawl over surfaces of rocks and other substrates, mate, lay eggs and die within 7–10 days after emergence."

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Author: "John Timmer" Tags: "Scientific Method, Biology, evolution, G..."
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Date: Sunday, 17 Aug 2014 18:05

I consider myself pretty lucky, overall, for how rarely I've broken my phone in the number of times it has flown out of my hands three, four, or even five feet in the air. These are times I've misjudged a throw onto a bed or couch and had it bounce off onto the floor; times I thought I had it perfectly balanced on that uneven surface; times I thought my grip was firm and true only for that grip to give out unexpectedly; and times I went to reach for it but didn't so much reach for it as Falcon-punch it off the surface where it rested. My phone seems to spend almost as much time in the air or on the ground, face down, in a quantum superposition of shattered and intact, as it does safely in my hands.

One recent and unusually fun Tuesday, in my happy-hour two-drink overconfidence, I attempted a bold maneuver. I put my phone back in my crowded purse. Rather than pulling it off, the phone went rogue and flew out of my hands, landing on its bottom-right corner on the pavement. A spiderweb of cracks spread across the screen. I'd done it again.

Cracked screens are a little-studied phenomenon in smartphone ownership, presumably because researchers have much better things to do. One survey from 2013 by a "mobile insurance" company with an obvious vested interest in reminding everyone how fragile their phones are suggested that as many as 23 percent of iPhone owners (of the 2,471 surveyed) have cracked their screens.

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Author: "Casey Johnston" Tags: "Gear & Gadgets, 5s, break, display, disp..."
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