Tech News courtesy of Ars Technica
- MakerBot lays off 20 percent of its staff
- The evolution of the interface, from text through touch
- After a gas stop, Navy’s first carrier drones fly off to history
- No joke: Google’s April Fool’s prank inadvertently broke site’s security
- Pirate Bay co-founder denied bid to play original Nintendo in prison
- Comcast/TWC merger may be blocked by Justice Department
- EA shows off Star Wars Battlefront footage at fan convention
- New Touch Office should come to Windows phones by month end
- Android versus iPhone debate escalates into stabbing and car theft
- Faked Flash-based ads on HuffPo, other sites downloaded extortionware
On Friday, Motherboard reported that 3D printing company MakerBot laid off 20 percent of its staff today, estimating that approximately 100 people from the 500-person company had their positions cut.
MakerBot has been the friendly face of 3D printing for about six years, marketing to a “prosumer” audience rather than business-class customers with more intensive rapid prototyping needs. In 2013, MakerBot was purchased by a seasoned rapid prototyping and 3D printing company called Stratasys, which has been in business since 1989. Stratasys paid $403 million in stock for MakerBot at the time, plus $201 million “in performance-based earn-outs,” the company said at the time.
The orders to lay off staff at MakerBot reportedly came from the company's new CEO, Jonathan Jaglom, who was previously a general manager at Stratasys and replaced MakerBot native Jenny Lawton, who was promoted to a position within Stratasys. An anonymous employee told MotherBoard that the reason for the layoffs was to “streamline” the staff of the company so it could integrate more fully with Stratasys.
This weekend, Ars staff is checking out the Vintage Computer Festival East (and you probably should, too, if you can). But two weeks ago, I got the chance to take a different trip through the history of computing. Rather than focusing simply on the past, an exhibit at the Bard College Center is tracking the changes in our interactions with computing hardware, from the Commodore to the Kinnect.
The exhibit consists of a mixture of displays. The walls are covered with a mixture of hardware, from early "luggable" portable computers (there's an Osborne 1) through to some of the latest hardware. Mixed in are video screen captures of some key pieces of software: the Xerox Alto OS, Visicalc, PageMaker, and Netscape Navigator. There's also a wall dedicated to music players, cellphones, pagers, and other portable devices.
But the central focus of the display is working versions of some of the hardware that was, in retrospect, revolutionary. The earliest of these is the Commodore 64 which, along with the TRS80 and Apple ][e, was part of what Byte magazine called the "holy trinity" of personal computing. Because it stayed on the market for so long, it's still the single best-selling model of computer in history, with estimates ranging from 12 to 30 million sold. But it was separated by only two years from the introduction of the Apple Mac, which ushered in the era of the GUI.
This week, "Salty Dog 502"—one of the Navy's two X-47B carrier-based unmanned aircraft— did something no other drone has ever done: it lined itself up behind a human-flown tanker plane and pulled up for a fill-up. While the technology used for the refueling had been previously tested and demonstrated on a manned Lear jet acting as an "unmanned aircraft surrogate testbed," this was the first time that a drone had completely autonomously flown in behind a tanker plane and completed an actual refueling.
In-flight refueling extends the range of military aircraft, allowing them to stay in the air longer while on patrol and fly extended long-range missions. The refueling plane used in the test, a modified Boeing 707, belonged to Omega Air Refueling, a DOD contractor that provides refueling to Navy and Marine Corps planes and the air forces of other countries. The test was important because of the roles envisioned for carrier-launched drones in the future: combat air patrol around carrier groups, persistent surveillance, and long-range attack missions.
The X-47B flies autonomously, guided by commands from a desktop application rather than by a pilot with remote controls. It was the first unmanned aircraft to ever perform a carrier landing with a tailhook capture (though other drones have been flown from ships, they have either been unmanned helicopters or were small drones captured by hook or net). And while drones have conducted in-flight refueling tests before—DARPA and NASA performed a test using two Northrop Global Hawks—those unmanned aircraft have been piloted by humans remotely.
An April Fool's prank Google pulled two weeks ago inadvertently broke some of the site's security, an error that briefly allowed so-called click-jacking exploits that trick users into performing undesired actions such as changing their user preferences.
Google's April Fool's pranks have become a favorite pastime on the Internet. This year, people who visited the site on April 1 found the entire contents of Google's iconic home page displayed backwards. Web developing nerds also found a comment in the web page itself that read "!sLooF LIRPA YPPAH," which spells "Happy April Fool's" backward. According to a blog post published Friday by researchers from Netcraft, the prank also caused Google's homepage to omit a crucial header that's used to prevent click-jacking attacks.
Attackers could have seized on the omission of the X-Frame-Options header to change a user's search settings, including turning off SafeSearch filters. The chief reason for using X-Frame-Options is to prevent the use of HTML iframe tags to display Google's homepage on third-party Web pages. With that protection bypassed, attackers were free to stitch the Google page into their own site and embed hidden code that changed the function of certain links. As the Netcraft blog post explained:
Pirate Bay co-founder Fredrik Neij (aka "Tiamo") has lost his effort to keep an original Nintendo in his cell while serving time at the Skänninge prison in Mjölby in central Sweden.
Expressen (Google Translate) quoted the Swedish Prison and Probation Service as saying in its decision:
The console is sealed in such a way that it can not be opened without the machine being destroyed. In light of this, the institution implements the necessary control of the game console and it is therefore impossible to ensure that this does not contain prohibited items.
Ars contacted the Service but did not immediately receive a reply.
Department of Justice (DOJ) antitrust lawyers are "nearing a recommendation" to block Comcast's proposed acquisition of Time Warner Cable, Bloomberg reported today.
To prevent the merger, the DOJ would have to sue in federal court and prove that the transaction is likely to reduce competition. The DOJ has made no public announcement, but Bloomberg cited anonymous sources while reporting that "The antitrust lawyers will present their findings to Renata Hesse, a deputy assistant attorney general for antitrust, who will decide, along with the division’s top officials, whether to file a federal lawsuit to block the deal."The findings could be submitted as soon as next week, Bloomberg wrote.
There is also a separate review underway at the Federal Communications Commission that could block the deal if it finds it is not in the public interest. The FCC could also approve the deal and impose conditions designed to benefit consumers, as it did when Comcast bought NBCUniversal in 2011.
Nearly ten years after the series went dormant with Star Wars: Battlefront 2, a new shooter set in the Star Wars universe game series is set to hit the PC, Xbox One, and PS4 on November 17.
At the Star Wars Celebration in Anaheim, members of the DICE development team showed off a pre-alpha trailer for the Frostbite engine-powered game, which is simply being called Star Wars: Battlefront. While the footage didn't show off much direct gameplay, the whole thing was reportedly rendered in real-time on a PS4.
The in-game footage displayed the team's use of photogrammetry to render models directly from pictures of the actual models used in the movies rather than 3D figures created whole cloth by digital artists. The development team said they took trips to shooting locations for the original Star Wars films and referenced materials from the libraries at Skywalker Ranch to add further to the authenticity to the source material. Skywalker Sound will be providing the audio for the game.
We've already seen the new Outlook-branded mail and calendar apps for Windows 10 for phones, as they were included in the new preview build released last week. The rest of Office, however, wasn't included in that build. It will, Microsoft announced today, be available soon—the apps should become available by the end of the month.
The apps will be universal; the forthcoming phone apps will use essentially the same code as the tablet apps released in February. The universal apps won't support all the features of the traditional desktop app, with Microsoft still promoting those as the best option for mouse and keyboard heavy users and those looking to do complex data processing in Excel or complex layouts in Word or PowerPoint.
To ensure that the universal apps provide the best possible compatibility (and, critically, that they do not break any features that they do not directly support), they share the same core code with the desktop apps.
Proving once again that platform loyalty is a powerful thing, two Tulsa, Oklahoma, roommates got into an argument over whether Android smartphones are better than Apple smartphones—and both ended up in jail.
Tulsa’s Channel 8 reports that police were called to a local apartment complex at around 1:00am on the morning of April 17 to investigate at least one report of a bloody person wandering around the parking lot. According to the Tulsa World, police found roommates Jiro Mendez and Elias Ecevo each in some distress—Mendez was the man in the parking lot and was covered in scratches and wounds, while Ecevo, similarly wounded, apparently had stayed inside their apartment.
The World indicates that Mendez told police that the wounds resulted from an argument between the roommates, which started over which roommate had the better smartphone—Apple or Android—and ended with both roommates allegedly stabbing each other with broken glass bottles, and Ecevo allegedly stealing Mendez’s car (police found the car near the apartment, with blood in the interior). Perhaps unsurprisingly, alcohol appears to have been a factor in the fight.
Google's DoubleClick advertising network is the lifeblood of many websites driven by ad revenue—and it's also a potential path of attack for criminals trying to spread extortionware and other malware. Some Huffington Post readers fell victim to malicious advertisements spread through Google's DoubleClick network early this week, but another simultaneous attack may have reached an even bigger audience.
Two ad network merchants became an unwitting accomplice to attackers with similar Flash-based ads, displaying them on multiple legitimate sites. The Huffington Post advertisement—a fraudulent Hugo Boss ad which also appeared on other major legitimate sites (including the real estate site Zillow.com)—was spread through DoubleClick via the ad network AdButler, according to Malwarebytes, which tracked the attack. That attack attempted to download Cryptowall ransomware to victims' PCs.
The second attack came to DoubleClick through Merchanta, an ad network that serves up 28 billion advertisement impressions a month in the US alone. There is no estimate of how many people were exposed to the attack, but it likely cast a worldwide net and could have infected thousands of PCs with malware. Malwarebytes did not collect the malware payload of the Merchanta attack, but Malwarebytes Lab's Jérôme Segura wrote in a post on the attack that the Flash exploit used in both attacks was identical, using the same Flash exploit kit. "It is worth noting that this malicious SWF (Flash file) had zero detection on VirusTotal when it was first submitted," Segura said.