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Posted by Joe Mullin

Enlarge (credit: St. Regis Mohawk Tribe / Aurich Lawson)

The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe has filed patent lawsuits against Amazon and Microsoft, using patents it acquired from a company called SRC Labs, according to reports in Reuters and CNBC.

Until recently, the patents were owned by a holding company called SRC Labs, which is a co-plaintiff in today's lawsuit. The lawsuits against Amazon and Microsoft are the second and third lawsuits filed by patent-holding companies working together with Native American tribes. Patent-holding companies, sometimes derided in the tech industry as "patent trolls," produce no goods or services and make their revenue from filing lawsuits.

At least two patent-holding companies have chosen to give their patents to Native American tribes, seeking to benefit from tribal "sovereign immunity" that could avoid certain types of patent reviews at the US Patent Office.

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Quick Check-In

Oct. 18th, 2017 10:29 pm
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Posted by John Scalzi

Hello fellow humans! I am not dead. I am slowly making my way down the length of California toward my high school reunion.

Life is good. I hope also that your life is good.

Tell the class about your day in the comments.



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Posted by Megan Geuss

Enlarge / A wind turbine, May 17, 2016 in Melaune, Germany. (Photo by Florian Gaertner/Photothek via Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

GE and Apple announced a partnership today that will pave the way for putting utility analytics software Predix on iOS devices. The Predix software development kit will allow 77 utilities that work with GE to manage turbines, condensers, boiler feed pumps, and more from iPads and iPhones.

That, GE says, will ensure “that real-time data is captured and shared with field workers and remote operations using iOS devices.”

As part of the program, GE has agreed to standardize iPhones and iPads as the primary work devices for its 330,000 employees. The industrial machinery company will also make Macs available to employees who prefer them, according to Reuters.

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Posted by Kyle Orland

Enlarge / Want to ave a cool sniper rifle like your Call of Duty partner? Authorize a charge of $4.99 RIGHT NOW!

In a US patent filed in 2015 and approved yesterday, Activision outlines an online matchmaking system designed to "drive microtransactions in multiplayer video games" and "influence game-related purchases."

Patent #9789406, for a "System and method for driving microtransactions in multiplayer video games," describes a number of matchmaking algorithms that a game could use to encourage players to purchase additional in-game items. "For instance, the system may match a more expert/marquee player with a junior player to encourage the junior player to make game-related purchases of items possessed/used by the marquee player," the patent reads. "A junior player may wish to emulate the marquee player by obtaining weapons or other items used by the marquee player."

An Activision representative told Glixel (which first unearthed the patent) that the filing was merely an "exploratory" effort from a disconnected R&D team and that such a system "has not been implemented in-game" yet. But the patent itself shows a decent amount of thought being put into various ways to maximize the chances of players purchasing in-game items based on their online gameplay partners.

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Posted by Samuel Axon

Enlarge (credit: Ron Amadeo)

Samsung's annual developer conference at Moscone West in San Francisco doesn't always get a lot of public attention; in past years it has often focused on things like Tizen app development. But at this year's conference, the company focused on launching a new platform for connected devices in the home, the car, and elsewhere—or at least, a collection of previously existent platforms that are getting updated and combined into a new one.

That new platform is called SmartThings Cloud, and it unites existing Samsung IoT services like SmartThings, Samsung Connect, ARTIK, and Harman Ignite. Frankly, Samsung's offerings have been a confusing mess of different platforms and services with overlapping functionality and purposes. It's a rebranding, which could mean little, but developers may be hopeful that it also means an actual restructuring of resources and products to unify what Samsung is doing across all of these.

Within that umbrella, you have a couple new products that are more interesting than just a rebranding. Consumers and developers alike are already familiar with Bixby, Samsung's virtual assistant answer to Siri, Google Assistant, and Alexa. It replaced S Voice, a lackluster offering on previous phones, when it launched this year. Unfortunately, Ars found Bixby to be frustrating and unfinished. It's telling, then, that Samsung has already moved on to announce Bixby 2.0 at the conference just a few months after the initial launch.

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Posted by Steve Benen

Donald Trump bragged that he's "called every family" of servicemen and women killed in action, unlike other recent presidents. That's not quite true.
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Posted by Peter Bright

Enlarge / Worry-free cloud storage, Adobe claims. (credit: Adobe)

At its Adobe MAX conference, Adobe announced a big shake-up for its Lightroom photo processing application. The current Lightroom CC is being renamed to Lightroom Classic CC, and a new product with an old name, Lightroom CC, will take its place.

The new Lightroom CC offers most of the photo processing features of Lightroom Classic but with some key differences. The interface is simpler, and it's shared between both the desktop versions (for Mac and PC), the mobile versions for Android and iOS, the Apple TV version, and Lightroom CC for the Web. It offers both a common look and feel and common capabilities across the range of platforms.

That cross-platform consistency ties in strongly with its other, likely contentious feature: it uploads all your photos to cloud storage. A $9.99-a-month Lightroom CC subscription—just as is already the case with Classic, the software is only offered on a subscription basis—comes with 1TB of cloud storage, with additional space available in 1, 5, and 10TB increments.

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Posted by Jon Brodkin

Enlarge / Fiber optic cables. (credit: Getty Images | gerenme)

Charter Communications last week sued a workers' union, alleging that its members have repeatedly sabotaged Charter's network in New York City during a strike that began in March.

"On over 125 occasions, Charter cables, including both coaxial and fiber optic cables in both secured and unsecured locations at sites throughout New York City, have been deliberately cut or damaged, thereby denying thousands of subscribers access to cable, Internet, and voice service and interfering with their ability to contact emergency services, and forcing Charter to devote hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours to investigating and repairing its property," Charter alleged in its complaint filed in the New York State Supreme Court.

It's no coincidence that these incidents happened during the strike, Charter further claimed. Charter blamed members of IBEW Local Union No. 3:

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Posted by Sean Gallagher

(credit: See-ming Lee)

As part of an ongoing legal battle to get the New York City Police Department to track money police have grabbed in cash forfeitures, an attorney for the city told a Manhattan judge on October 17 that part of the reason the NYPD can't comply with such requests is that the department's evidence database has no backup. If the database servers that power NYPD's Property and Evidence Tracking System (PETS)—designed and installed by Capgemini under a $25.5 million contract between 2009 and 2012—were to fail, all data on stored evidence would simply cease to exist.

Courthouse News reported that Manhattan Supreme Court judge Arlene Bluth responded repeatedly to the city's attorney with the same phrase: “That’s insane.”

Last year, NYPD’s Assistant Deputy Commissioner Robert Messner told the City Council's public safety committee that “attempts to perform the types of searches envisioned in the bill will lead to system crashes and significant delays during the intake and release process.” The claim was key to the department’s refusal to provide the data accounting for the approximately $6 million seized in cash and property every year. As of 2013, according to the nonprofit group Bronx Defenders, the NYPD was carrying a balance sheet of more than $68 million in cash seized.

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Posted by Dan Goodin

Enlarge (credit: portal gda)

Google has booted eight Android apps from its Play marketplace, even though the apps have been downloaded as many as 2.6 million times. The industry giant took action after researchers found that the apps add devices to a botnet and can perform denial-of-service attacks or other malicious actions.

The stated purpose of the apps is to provide a skin that can modify the look of characters in the popular Minecraft: Pocket Edition game. Under the hood, the apps contain highly camouflaged malware known as Android.Sockbot, which connects infected devices to developer-controlled servers. This is according to a blog post published Wednesday by researchers from Symantec. The malware mostly targets users in the US, but it also has a presence in Russia, Ukraine, Brazil, and Germany.

When the researchers ran an infected app in their laboratory, they found it establishing a persistent connection based on the Socket Secure (SOCKS) protocol to a server that delivers ads. The SOCKS proxy mechanism then directs the infected device to an ad server and causes it to request certain ads be displayed.

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Posted by Cathleen O'Grady

Enlarge (credit: Kelly Sue DeConnick / Flickr)

Theoretical biologist Philipp Mitteröcker is intrigued by the puzzle of dangerous human childbirth. Unlike other species, human babies are often too big for the birth canal, leading to dangerous—and possibly fatal—obstructed labor. Last year, Mitteröcker and his colleagues published a mathematical model that showed how the mixture of evolutionary pressures acting on humans would inevitably lead to an ongoing risk of obstructed labor in our species.

The model also suggested that C-sections are changing the rules of the game by increasing the likelihood that large babies and their mothers survive childbirth and pass on genes that promote this head/pelvis mismatch. The model predicted that we'd see an increasing risk of obstructed labor (and need for C-sections) over generations—but there was no real-world evidence of that happening.

Now, in a new paper, Mitteröcker and colleagues have published empirical evidence that this is indeed the case: women who were born by C-section seem to have a higher risk of needing a C-section themselves. And the real-world increase in risk is similar to what their model predicts.

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Posted by John Timmer

Enlarge (credit: DeepMind)

While artificial intelligence software has made huge strides recently, in many cases, it has only been automating things that humans already do well. If you want an AI to identify the Higgs boson in a spray of particles, for example, you have to train it on collisions that humans have already identified as containing a Higgs. If you want it to identify pictures of cats, you have to train it on a database of photos in which the cats have already been identified.

(If you want AI to name a paint color, well, we haven't quite figured that one out.)

But there are some situations where an AI can train itself: rules-based systems in which the computer can evaluate its own actions and determine if they were good ones. (Things like poker are good examples.) Now, a Google-owned AI developer has taken this approach to the game Go, in which AIs only recently became capable of consistently beating humans. Impressively, with only three days of playing against itself with no prior knowledge of the game, the new AI was able to trounce both humans and its AI-based predecessors.

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Science Fiction & Prediction

Oct. 18th, 2017 11:42 am
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Posted by David Brin

Let's take a breath and look longer term.  I am inspired after we watched the (mostly) very good "Bladerunner 2049" flick, last night.  More on that, below.

== Probing the territory in front of us ==

How does Science Fiction do at prediction? From Star Trek to 2001 and The Matrix, this article from The Guardian takes a look at how well -- or poorly -- science fiction films predicted and portrayed the next generation of computers, robots and technological innovation. 

In this essay - Why Science-Fiction Writers Couldn’t Imagine the Internet, Lawrence Krauss (author of the recently released The Greatest Story Ever Told -- So Far: Why Are We Here?) presents game-changing real world technologies that defied prediction -- and contemplates what science fiction is good at, and how it seldom actually forecasts the truly unexpected. Well, sure. Though it’s also important to be aware of anomalies...

Like E. E. Hale's The Brick Moon, published in 1866 which foretold navigation and communication satellites as well as humans living in orbit, or Bernal’s “The World, The Flesh and the Devil” in the 1920s scanning ahead at rotating cylinder space colonies, or Aldous Huxley’s genetic augmentation of humans, or H.G. Wells predicting nuclear weapons and war. 

American short story writer Edward Page Mitchell in the 1880s foresaw instant news transmission, pneumatic tube transport and equal rights for women, along with a steady decline of racism, till a Chinese-American is a major presidential candidate in the 1960s. 

San Francisco author Robert Duncan Milne had a run of fantastic tales from 1877-1899 about radio communications, image-based surveillance, photographic forensics, and surviving solar flares.  (More Brin news about Milne, in the course of time, I promise.)

Krauss kindly credits me with predicting some aspects of the World Wide Web, in my 1989 novel EARTH, along with William Gibson’s cyberpunk versions of the Internet, earlier. But he stops there, claiming that SF missed the super-linked world, for the most part. And, for the most part, he’s right! Still, other exceptions stand out. Take Frederik  Pohl's The Age of the Pussyfoot, which in 1967 or so portrayed not only a vast world-array of linked computers, but citizens carrying personal assistants in their pockets (“Joymakers”) that advised, got information, took pictures and – oh yes – made calls. 

John Brunner’s 1960s novels Stand on Zanzibar and The Shockwave Rider anticipated not just the internet but computer worms and viruses, as did Gregory Benford’s even-earlier story "The Scarred Man."  Even before that, Murray Leinster’s “A Logic Named Joe” had fun with what could go wrong, if we all got semi-intelligent personal AI helpers.

While we are on brilliant prescience, have another look at a Fred Pohl book that I have touted for 20 years, urging members of our intelligence, law and military communities to read, and be scared! Pohl’s The Cool War is mentioned in this article that openly adopts his terminology for a struggle between powers that has warmed up to a desperately dangerous kind of bitter peace. In that novel, nations wage a cryptic campaign of tit-for-tat sabotage, undermining each others’ infrastructure, banking systems and power, a ‘war’ that is never declared and never goes nuclear, but leaves us all spiraling ever downward into failure and poverty.

Cool War... The term has been updated and promulgated by David Rothkopf, editor at large at Foreign Affairs and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and I am glad it is getting wider play, since a Cool War is clearly what we’re in. (A little credit then, for my having pushed Pohl’s book -especially to the Protector Caste- for two decades? ;-)

The new anti-democratic axis that has been forged by Vladimir Putin -- now stretching from Ankara all the way to Manila and supported by another rising power – discusses openly its motive and intent to bring down the “decadent west” with its “fictitious” notions of freedom of citizen-rule.  The sabotage of our political processes has come far and probing feints have measured vulnerabilities in every area that Fred predicted, from the power grid to transport. 

And did you really think that North Korea’s nukes have no part in the overall plan? They allow for a possible EMP strike on North America aimed at knocking us down a bunch, while the larger powers retain “It wasn’t us!” plausible deniability. Read that again. And again while actually thinking about who really controls things, in North Korea.)

I’ve railed about this in both fiction and nonfiction (e.g. The Transparent Society) as well as many talks and consultations. 

Though it can be important to grasp the justifications of the other side! Let’s remember that Putin feels vexed that Obama and Hillary Clinton oversaw (he claims instigated) the revolution that removed the Ukraine from Russia’s orbit, sending that people racing toward union with the West. Putin did not want the masterminds of this setback to remain in power, and he brought out every gun to ensure they’d be replaced by his own favored man.

Yes, we live in a world that seems almost written as a science fiction tale!  Who on Earth would have imagined that Americans might be prodded and propagandized into turning away from our genius at pragmatic negotiation? That we’d let ourselves be talked into abandoning the high art of politics? That a third of our citizens could be distracted into waging all-out war on … science? On every single profession of fact-users who know stuff? And now the “deep state” officers of the FBI and intel agencies and military?

No, no. Let this be a cheap novel.

== The future is better than the past ==

Few of my postings have elicited as much fervent argument – and even hate-mail – as my recent blog about Robert A. Heinlein, an author log categorized as a right-winger by oversimplifying fools. That post reprinted directly from Heinlein’s afterword to Revolt in 2100, in which he expressed desperate worry about a merging of the American right with racism and the nastier tendencies in fundamentalism.

Yes, RAH was definitely a “libertarian” in the older sense that hearkens to Adam Smith and self-reliant individualism, though I doubt he’d find much in common with the version that has hijacked that movement, nowadays. On the other hand, he was vigorously pro-science and intellect and diversity/tolerance, and… well, read his own words, and see how chillingly close they came to predicting our awful, pre-theocracy politics, today. 

Here’s another passage, this time from the penultimate page of his finest time travel novel, The Door Into Summer:

"…the future is better than the past. Despite the crepehangers, romanticists, and anti-intellectuals, the world steadily grows better because the human mind, applying itself to environment, makes it better. With hands...with tools...with horse sense and science and engineering.
“Most of these long-haired belittlers can't drive a nail nor use a slide rule, I'd like to invite them into Dr. Twitchell's cage and ship them back to the twelfth century--then let them enjoy it.”

Yeah, sure. There are lefty flakes who qualify as “romantics” and “long hairs!” But look around at who is screaming hatred of science and every other fact profession. (Name one exception.) Look at the revival of fascism and confederatism, two of the most romanticmovements ever seen. And… aw, heck.  Let me paste back in here the pivotal paragraphs of Heinlein’s afterword to Revolt in 2100:

“Could it be otherwise here? Could any one sect obtain a working majority at the polls and take over the country? Perhaps not – but a combination of a dynamic evangelist, television, enough money, and modern techniques of advertising and propaganda might make Billy Sunday’s efforts look like a corner store compared to Sears Roebuck. 

"Throw in a Depression for good measure, promise a material heaven here on earth, add a dash of anti-Semitism, anti-Catholicism, anti-Negrosim, and a good large dose of anti-“furriners” in general and anti-intellectuals here at home, and the result might be something quite frightening – particularly when one recalls that our voting system is such that a minority distributed as pluralities in enough states can constitute a working majority in Washington."

Oh, yes. Science fiction authors can be off target.  But there can also be prescient.
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Posted by Cyrus Farivar

Enlarge (credit: Cyrus Farivar)

On Wednesday, Amazon sent out another installment of payments relating to its “Apple eBooks Antitrust Settlement”—except this time, it was to settle related lawsuits brought by a group of state-level attorneys general.

In 2014, Amazon paid out based on settlements with book publishers—including Harper Collins and Simon & Schuster—which allegedly conspired with Apple to fix e-book prices in 2012.

As Ars reported previously, the case began way back in 2012, when Apple and five publishers (Penguin, HarperCollins, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, and Macmillan) were sued by the Department of Justice and 33 states’ attorney general offices for conspiring to offer e-books at a higher price than Amazon’s loss-leading $9.99. The publishers all eventually settled for a total of $166 million to states and consumers, but Apple held out and eventually lost a judgement in Manhattan district court.

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Posted by Beth Mole

Enlarge (credit: Getty | JOHANNES EISELE )

Naturopaths and other gurus of “alternative medicine” love to tout the benefits of traditional herbal medicines. For instance, Aviva Romm—a Yale-educated doctor who publicly defended Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle site Goop then later called it a “caricature of everything alternative health for women”—sells her own line of unproven herbal remedies. Billionaire Susan Samueli—who donated $200 million dollars alongside her husband so the University of California, Irvine, could open an “integrative” medicine program—promotes homeopathy, naturopathy, and runs an active consulting practice versed in Chinese herbs.

Herbal remedies are often seen as harmless, soothing treatments that tap into the ancient wisdom of traditional healing. While that may be the case for some, there are also those that cause cancer—and sometimes it’s nearly impossible to tell one from the other.

According to a study published Wednesday in Science Translational Medicine, traditional components of herbal remedies used throughout Asia are widely implicated in liver cancers there. In Taiwan, for instance, 78 percent of 98 liver tumors sampled displayed a pattern of mutations consistent with exposure to herbs containing aristolochic acids (AAs). These are carcinogenic components found in a variety of centuries-old herbal remedies said to treat everything from snakebites to gout, asthma, and pain.

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Posted by Megan Geuss


The world’s first floating offshore wind farm began delivering electricity to the Scottish grid today.

The 30MW installation, situated 25km (15.5mi) from Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, will demonstrate that offshore wind energy can be harvested in deep waters, miles away from land, where installing giant turbines was once impractical or impossible. At peak capacity, the wind farm will produce enough electricity to power 20,000 Scottish homes.

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Posted by Cyrus Farivar

Enlarge / The Tesla Factory is an automobile manufacturing plant in Fremont, California, and the principal production facility of Tesla. The facility at the foot of the Fremont Hills manufactures the Model S and X. (credit: Corbis Unreleased / Getty Images News)

In a new lawsuit, three former Tesla workers claim that they were routinely harassed and subjected to racial epithets during their time at the Fremont, California, factory.

The men, who are all African-American, allege that shortly after they began work in 2015, their co-workers and superiors began taunting them and called them "n****r" on a regular basis.

The lawsuit, which was filed in Alameda County Superior Court on Tuesday, is the second such suit brought this year on behalf of former Tesla employees represented by Lawrence Organ, a local civil rights attorney. Organ did not respond to Ars’ request for comment.

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Posted by Greg David

From Bill Brioux of The Canadian Press: Link: ‘Frontier’ creators say ‘Game of Thrones’-style chaos coming By his own admission, former “Republic of Doyle” star Allan Hawco is, in terms of casting, not exactly front-tier on “Frontier” — and he wouldn’t have it any other way. The St. John’s-based series about fur trappers and colonial clashes … Continue reading Link: ‘Frontier’ creators say ‘Game of Thrones’-style chaos coming


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