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Microsoft beats Q3 estimates, but profits decline on strong dollar, weak PCs

Ars Technica - Fri, 24/04/2015 - 01:14

In its third quarter of the 2015 financial year, Microsoft announced revenue up 6 percent to $21.73 billion, with a gross margin up 1 percent to $14.57 billion. Operating income declined 5 percent, however, to $6.60 billion, with earnings per share down 10 percent to $0.61. This beats estimates of around $21.06 billion revenue, and $0.51 earnings per share.

The increased revenue was attributed primarily to cloud and server software growth, with Office 365 continuing to expand, and Windows Server, System Center Server, and SQL Server in particular showing strong performance. Offsetting this was a sharp decline of Windows revenue to consumers, and smaller declines in corporate Windows and Office sales.

Microsoft said that a $190 million cost due to the continued restructuring and integration of Nokia's Devices and Services business reduced operating income, as did the continued strength of the US dollar.

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Potent, in-the-wild exploits imperil customers of 100,000 e-commerce sites

Ars Technica - Fri, 24/04/2015 - 00:27

Criminals are exploiting an extremely critical vulnerability found on almost 100,000 e-commerce websites in a wave of attacks that puts the personal information for millions of people at risk of theft.

The remote code-execution hole resides in the community and enterprise editions of Magento, the Internet's No. 1 content management system for e-commerce sites. Engineers from eBay, which owns the e-commerce platform, released a patch in February that closes the vulnerability, but as of earlier this week, more than 98,000 online merchants still hadn't installed it, according to researchers with Byte, a Netherlands-based company that hosts Magento-using websites. Now, the consequences of that inaction are beginning to be felt, as attackers from Russia and China launch exploits that allow them to gain complete control over vulnerable sites.

"The vulnerability is actually comprised of a chain of several vulnerabilities that ultimately allow an unauthenticated attacker to execute PHP code on the Web server," Netanel Rubin, a malware and vulnerability researcher with security firm Checkpoint, wrote in a recent blog post. "The attacker bypasses all security mechanisms and gains control of the store and its complete database, allowing credit card theft or any other administrative access into the system."

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170-year-old champagne provides clues to past winemaking

Ars Technica - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 23:34

Divers discovered bottles in a shipwreck off the Finnish Aland archipelago in the Baltic Sea in 2010. After tasting the bottles on site, the divers realized they were likely drinking century-old champagne. Soon after, 168 unlabeled bottles were retrieved and were identified as champagnes from the Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin (VCP), Heidsieck, and Juglar (known as Jacquesson since 1832) champagne houses. A few of the recovered bottles had been lying horizontal in close-to-perfect slow aging conditions.

Discovery of these wines, likely the oldest ever tasted, unleashed a flood of questions. When were these wines produced? What winemaking processes were in use at the time? Where was the wine going when the shipwreck occurred?

An analytic approach

A team of scientists gathered to search for the answers through the application of current analytical techniques, an approach called archaeochemistry. Using a combination of targeted and nontargeted modern chemical analytic approaches, the researchers aimed to uncover aspects of the winemaking practices.

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ARM details its new high-end CPU core, Cortex A72

Ars Technica - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 23:00

LONDON—At its annual, somewhat exclusive Tech Day event, ARM has detailed its new high-performance CPU core: Cortex A72. In simple terms, the A72 is a faster, more efficient, and smaller version of the Cortex A57. The first 16nm FinFET mobile SoCs with the Cortex A72 CPU will likely ship in 2016, fabricated by TSMC. In the words of Mike Filippo, ARM's chief architect for Cortex A72, "Our focus on A72 was to achieve next-gen performance and pull a ton of power out of the design. We did that in spades."

In more detailed terms, the Cortex A72 CPU pairs a three-wide, in-order front end with a five-wide, out-of-order back end (i.e. 8-issue). This is significantly wider than the A57, resulting in higher single-threaded performance. Along with the new architecture, ARM has "re-optimized every logical block from Cortex A57" to reduce power consumption and area (i.e. die size), which in turn reduces static power losses through leakage.

Cortex A72 block diagram, with some enhancements highlighted ARM

Drilling down into some of the more significant logical block changes: ARM says the A72 has a much better branch prediction, around 20 percent better than the A57. There's also a reworked 3-way L1 cache that's "almost as powerful as direct-mapped cache," and a much smaller (~10 percent) and reorganized dispatch unit.

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Zlatan Todorić: Internet freedom

Planet Debian - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 22:48

Why did internet succeed and is growing by incredible pace? Because there were no politicians, no lawyers no economist or managers. Period.

Comcast plans to drop Time Warner Cable deal

OS news - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 22:40
Comcast Corp. is planning to walk away from its proposed $45.2 billion takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc., people with knowledge of the matter said, after meeting with opposition from U.S. regulators. Comcast’s board will meet to finalize the decision on Thursday, and an announcement may come as soon as Friday, said one of the people, who asked not to be identified because the information is private. Great news for American consumers.

Congress: Stop Trying to Limit EFF’s Ability to Challenge Patents

EFF Breaking News - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 22:38

EFF recently won our challenge to invalidate claims of the “podcasting patent” using a procedure at the Patent Office called inter partes review. This procedure allowed us to challenge a patent that was being used to demand licenses from individual podcasters, even though EFF itself had never been threatened by the patent owner. EFF’s ability to file this petition was important because many of those targeted by the patent owner—small podcasters—would be unable to afford the $22,000 filing fees to challenge the patent, let alone the attorneys’ fees that would come along with it. Also, if an individual podcaster had filed an inter partes review it would have faced a risk of retaliation in the form of a district court lawsuit from Personal Audio. Instead, EFF was able to defend the public interest on behalf of the community as a whole.

But if Sen. Chris Coons has his way, EFF would not be able to file such challenges anymore. Specifically, Sen. Coons wants to amend the Patent Act to require that anyone who wants to challenge a patent using inter partes review would have had to have been accused of infringement by the patent owner.

This is a step backward. As we previously explained, the changes Sen. Coons proposes would gut the ability of non-profit organizations like EFF to protect the community when the community is unable to protect itself. Patents that have been wrongly granted hurt the public, and the public should have a right to challenge them.

Sen. Coons justifies this proposed change in the law because of perceived “abuse” of the system. Specifically, a few people have publicly challenged some important patents with the intent of making a quick buck by shorting the patent owner’s stock.

There are better solutions to the perceived problem. (We say “perceived” because, if a patent is bad, should it really matter who is challenging it? If it gets invalidated, the public gets the benefit of one fewer bad patent out there being used to give a company an undeserved monopoly). First, it’s not even clear (login req.) this is a problem. A recent challenge to a patent caused barely a blip in stock price—indeed, some stocks have gone down, but some have gone up after a challenge. Second, if this is a problem, this is not a patent problem. This sort of behavior is better regulated by securities law. The SEC should be who we turn to if we think this type of behavior is bad, not the USPTO. Finally, there are better ways to address the issue of stock price manipulation than banning public interest groups from challenging patents. One possible easy fix is to require the parties to disclose any financial interests they may have in the patent. The market could then take that into consideration.

There are problems with the patent system, but Sen. Coons’ bill is not the way to fix them. The Innovation Act deals with the problem of abusive litigation by patent trolls. Tell your lawmaker: Let's stop patent trolls. Pass the Innovation Act!

Related Issues: PatentsPatent TrollsInnovation
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The Onion and Vice Are Now Making Ads With Facebook

Wired - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 22:32

People watch 4 billion videos a day on Facebook. Now it's joining with viral mavens like The Onion and Vice to make video ads those people might actually want to watch.

The post The Onion and Vice Are Now Making Ads With Facebook appeared first on WIRED.








America Needs to Figure Out the Ethics of Gene Editing Now

Wired - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 22:05

Co-signors of moratoriums on germ line DNA editing speak up about the recent revelation the scientists in China have been editing human embryos.

The post America Needs to Figure Out the Ethics of Gene Editing Now appeared first on WIRED.








Jonathan Dowland: Deterministic Doom

Planet Debian - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 21:38

What happens if you remove randomness from Doom?

For some reason, recently I have been thinking about Doom. This evening I was wanting to explore some behaviour in an old version of Doom and to do so, I hex-edited the binary and replaced the random number lookup table with static values.

Rather than consume system randomness, Doom has a fixed 256-value random number table from which numbers are pulled by aspects of the game logic. By replacing the whole table with a constant value, you essentially make the game entirely deterministic.

What does it play like? I tried two values, 0x00 and 0xFF. With either value, the screen "melt" effect that is used at the end of levels is replaced with a level vertical wipe: the randomness was used to offset each column. Monsters do not make different death noises at different times; only one is played for each category of monster. The bullet-based (hitscan) weapons have no spread at all: the shotgun becomes like a sniper rifle, and the chain-gun is likewise always true. You'd think this would make the super-shotgun a pretty lethal weapon, but it seems to have been nerfed: the spread pattern is integral to its function.

With 0x00, monsters never make their idle noises (breathing etc.) On the other hand, with 0xFF, they always do: so often, that each sample collides with the previous one, and you just get a sort-of monster drone. This is quite overwhelming with even a small pack of monsters.

With 0xFF, any strobing sectors (flickering lights etc.), are static. However, with 0x00, they strobe like crazy.

With 0x00, monsters seem to choose to attack much more frequently than usual. Damage seems to be worst-case. The most damaging floor type ("super hellslime"/20%) can hurt you even if you are wearing a radiation suit: There was a very low chance of it hurting whilst wearing the suit (~2.6%) each time the game checked; this is rounded up to 100%.

Various other aspects of the game become weird. A monster may always choose to use a ranged attack, regardless of how close you are. They might give up pursuing you. I've seen them walk aimlessly in circles if they are obstructed by another thing. The chance of monster in-fighting is never, or a certainty. The player is either mute, or cries in pain whenever he's hurt.

If you want to try this yourself, the easiest way is to hack the m_random.c file in the source, but you can hex-edit a binary. Look for a 256-byte sequence beginning beginning ['0x0', '0x8', '0x6d', '0xdc', '0xde', '0xf1'] and ending ['0x78', '0xa3', '0xec', '0xf9'].

Calbuco Calms Down After Explosions and Lava Flows

Wired - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 21:30

After lava flows and a second explosion, Calbuco takes a breather from its new eruption.

The post Calbuco Calms Down After Explosions and Lava Flows appeared first on WIRED.








This iPad App Helps Pilots Spot Bad Weather in Real Time

Wired - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 21:17

Adding real-time, highly visual weather forecasts to an iPad that may already be in a pilot's flight bag is a savvy move.

The post This iPad App Helps Pilots Spot Bad Weather in Real Time appeared first on WIRED.








Steam Workshop lets users sell mods, but only shares 25 percent of revenue

Ars Technica - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 21:12

Online game store Steam unlocked the hit game The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim as a temporary, weekend-long freebie for all its users on Thursday, and the reason was so that fans might put their cash elsewhere. As of this morning, the game's Steam Workshop section, full of user-made content like mods, turned into a marketplace where creators and fans can assign prices to their creations and directly make cash—a first for the Steam service.

Up until today, the Steam Workshop allowed fans to tinker with compatible games and upload their creations, additions, and updates for the sake of free downloads. What changed today is that those creators can now, after filling out a "tax interview" and providing a bank account that accepts US dollars, charge users whatever price they please for their new levels, their visual overhauls, and their flaming swords. A creator can still leave their wares on the service as freebies, or they can choose either a static price or a "pay what you want" structure. Should a buyer not be satisfied with a mod, they can request a refund within 24 hours of purchase.

The Steam Workshop launched in 2011 as a way for fans to upload weapon and item designs for the game Team Fortress 2; Valve then chose its favorites, along with favorites as voted by fans, to be added to the official game, at which point DLC payments would go into those creators' pockets. Other non-Valve games include this "golden gate" user-generated sales functionality, as well, but Skyrim is the first—and currently only—Steam game where users can bypass the game's developers and sell their add-ons without any creative approval. (Should an unethical modder try selling other users' Skyrim creations via this updated Steam Workshop, they can file a DMCA Takedown Notice directly through Valve's site.)

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Xiaomi’s $205 Mi 4i mirrors the iPhone 5C design, claims 1.5-day battery

Ars Technica - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 21:03

The Mi 4i comes in white, blue, black, yellow, and pink.

9 more images in gallery

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Last night, Xiaomi announced it's tackling the low-end phone market in India with a new product called the Mi 4i. It looks just a little like a certain Apple product, but the specs and pricing are what make this interesting. $205 (Rs.12,999) gets you a 5-inch 1080p LCD, an eight core, 64-bit Snapdragon 615, 2GB of RAM, 16GB of storage, a 13MP rear camera, 5MP front camera, dual SIM support, and—perhaps the most eye-popping stat—a 3,120mAh battery.

Most companies only seem concerned with packing as big of a spec sheet into a phone as possible. The battery is often an afterthought (the Galaxy S6 has a 1440p screen and a 2550 mAh battery, while the Galaxy S5 had a bigger 2800mAh battery). The Mi 4i spec sheet strikes a balance we would like to see manufacturers hit more often—Xiaomi claims the device will last a day and a half. There's no telling how true that is until (unless?) we get our hands on one, which will be difficult since the device is only for sale in India.

The company says it "put considerable effort into fitting the highest battery capacity possible" into the device, which, frankly, is something all OEMs should strive for. The size doesn't seem to have suffered too much. At 7.8mm thick, it's still in the range of the ~7mm iPhone 6 and much thinner than the 9mm iPhone 5c. Again, to all manufacturers out there, we will gladly trade thinness for battery.

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All Android Wear watches have Wi-Fi chips, but some won’t get Wi-Fi support

Ars Technica - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 20:55

Android Wear is getting a big update that enables a top-level app list, always-on apps, a hands-free scrolling gesture, and it's also enabling Wi-Fi support. Wi-Fi is coming not just in the software; a lot of existing devices will have their Wi-Fi functionality enabled—but not all of them.

Every Android Wear smartwatch has a Wi-Fi chip, because they use smartphone SoCs. These all-in-one processors put the CPU, GPU, RAM, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS, and a bunch of other things on a single chip. Smartwatches that use these SoCs get all these features whether they need them or not, and things they don't need are disabled.

Phandroid got in contact with most of the Android Wear OEMs to see which watches get Wi-Fi. The Moto 360, Sony SmartWatch 3, and LG's new Watch Urbane are in, while the Asus ZenWatch and early adopters of LG products—the LG G Watch and LG G Watch R—are being left out. Samsung, which made the Gear Live, hasn't responded.

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Will the Apple Watch apps be any good?

OS news - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 20:50
The trouble is, no one really knows what makes a good Watch app yet. Apple can hand guidelines to developers, but even it doesn't know for certain how people are going to want to use the watch. Developers almost have to code for it, though - waiting means losing ground, users, and publicity to other apps - so thousands are now taking a crack at it and hoping that they get it right. Even of they aren't any good yet, they will improve rapidly once the Apple Watch is in the hands of the millions of users who have pre-ordered them (and the many millions more buying them over the coming months). We'll have to wait for the real applications to arrive later this year, when the native SDK arrives. The current ones are just small shells who have to beam virtually everything over from your iPhone, causing lots of performance issues across the board. I do hope they get better looking though, because my god, the current crop is clunky, busy, and ugly. Those dark transparent backgrounds everywhere remind me of old Android widgets.

Creepy but legal phone-tracking company gets wrist slap for empty privacy promise

Ars Technica - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 20:45

A company that tracks customers as they walk through retail stores reached a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission this week after it found itself in regulatory cross-hairs for reneging on its promise to notify customers in-store that they could opt out of the tracking.

Nomi Technologies (now known as Nomi Corporation after its merger with video intelligence company Brickstream in October) deploys sensors throughout a participating retail store or relies on existing Wi-Fi access points to collect the MAC addresses of all the smartphones in the area searching for a Wi-Fi signal. Nomi stores a “hashed” MAC address but keeps the hash unique to the phone so that if the customer returns to the store later, or visits another participating retail store, or even passes by a participating store, Nomi can track that device over time.

According to the FTC complaint (PDF), in addition to collecting the MAC address hash, Nomi can also determine the phone's signal strength and the device manufacturer. It takes note of the phone's proximity to a sensor and the date and time that the phone is observed, as well. Add that all up and you get a pretty clear picture of who your customers are and how they shop, something that brick-and-mortar shops are eager to learn with more precision as they compete with online retailers.

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The new releases of Ubuntu, Kubuntu, etc. are now available

OS news - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 20:33
The new Ubuntu, Kubuntu, etc. are now available and include the change to systemd as the init system, new versions of LibreOffice, Firefox, Chromium, etc. The big change in Kubuntu is KDE Plasma 5 as the default desktop, and also KDE Applications 14.12.

Comcast will reportedly abandon Time Warner Cable acquisition

Ars Technica - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 20:14

Comcast is going to abandon its attempt to buy Time Warner Cable, with an announcement to be made as soon as tomorrow, Bloomberg reported today, citing anonymous sources.

When asked if the report is accurate, a Comcast spokesperson told Ars, "We have no comment."

"Comcast Corp. is planning to walk away from its proposed takeover of Time Warner Cable Inc., people with knowledge of the matter said, after regulators decided that the deal wouldn’t help consumers, making approval unlikely," Bloomberg wrote.

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Audio Visuals: David Hasselhoff Gives Us Just What We Need

Wired - Thu, 23/04/2015 - 20:00

We tried to spot a trend in this week's best videos but it turns out that, like Tim Tebow signing with the Eagles, they're just something that happened.

The post Audio Visuals: David Hasselhoff Gives Us Just What We Need appeared first on WIRED.








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