The Beauty of Freezing Bubbles Is the Only Good Thing About These Nightmarish Temperatures

Did you for some reason think the grueling endurance march that was 2017 would end without one final ordeal? You fool. Right now the eastern and midwestern parts of the country are enduring record-breaking sub-zero temperatures, with the only silver lining being that it’s cold enough to instantly freeze soap bubbles, which it turns out is shockingly beautiful.

Alberta, Canada’s Chris Ratzlaff used a combination of water, dish soap, salt, and corn syrup to create resilient bubbles that don’t immediately pop when exposed to freezing temperatures that make it feel like your eyeballs could. Instead, the bubbles remain intact as they quickly turn into a patchwork of intricate frost patterns.

I’d be tempted to try filming a timelapse like this myself, but I have no plans to leave my warm house until sometime in March.

[Twitter – Chris Ratzlaff via Twitter – Alexandra Klasinski]

from Gizmodo

Netflix Freaks Out Users with Creepy Black Mirror Marketing Stunt

Users of Turkey’s equivalent to Reddit received an unsettling message late last night. Across the site, users began complaining that they’d received a mysterious DM from an account named “iamwaldo” that left many people feeling paranoid and anxious. It appears that was the intention of the message, which is actually a viral marketing ploy to promote the new season of Black Mirror.

As English-language Turkish outlet The Daily Sabah reported, the message read, “We know what you’re up to. Watch and see what we will do.” The “iamwaldo” username, the publication notes, appears to be a reference to “The Waldo Moment,” an episode from Black Mirror’s second season.

When we reached out to Netflix, a spokesperson declined the opportunity comment, but a source familiar with the matter confirmed to Gizmodo that the streaming service was behind the messages.

Multiple Turkish outlets reported the same story, and users have been discussing the incident on Ekşi Sözlük, a popular forum for user-generated content and discussion that’s similar to Reddit. Some users noticed the DM-sender’s username and put two-and-two together, saying that outraged reactions were overly dramatic and that the promotion was “funny.”

Others weren’t amused. One user on Twitter complained that “no one has a right to discomfort [get people anxious] for the sake of advertising.” Users on Ekşi Sözlük’s Netflix forum expressed similar sentiments, with one writing: “Whoever had the idea, it is not cool. We have authors who suffer from panic attacks and suffer from cardiac arrhythmia. No one has a right to frighten anyone, even for 10 minutes, whether they are trolls or advertisers.”

Many people wrote that they plan to report the incident to legal authorities.

One can imagine that this kind of promotion could be particularly distressing in Turkey where marshall law was declared last year following an attempted military coup, and government surveillance of citizens’ lives on and offline is common. But honestly, American redditors might find themselves alarmed as well, considering how many people use that site to indulge their worst instincts—not to mention a general distaste for self-promotion.

As a marketing stunt for Black Mirror—a show about all of the dystopian ways that technology, corporations, and governments could make our lives hell in the near future—this promo makes a certain amount of conceptual sense. At the same time, it also illustrates the precarious nature of a tech giant getting in on the dystopian themes that Black Mirror attempts to warn the public about. The show started out on the BBC, a publicly funded television network. It’s move to Netflix, a private media company with world domination on its mind, gives Black Mirror an extra hint of subversive mischief. Its creators can feel like they’re kind of getting away with something. But when the big corporate entity attempts to get in on the satire, it leaves a bad aftertaste.

Netflix came under fire for a similar attempt at being cool earlier this month when it tweeted, “To the 53 people who’ve watched A Christmas Prince every day for the past 18 days: Who hurt you?” Many people felt it was creepy to repurpose user data in order to make a joke. The tweet also seemed to highlight the Netflix addiction that’s best summarized by Netflix CEO Reed Hastings assertion that the streaming service’s biggest competitor is “sleep.” It’s the kind of thing that sounds good to shareholders but makes the average person question what they’re doing with their lives.

In a similar vein of lacking self-awareness, Mozilla pissed off users recently when it injected into its browser, without users’ permission, a sponsored plug-in promoting the USA series Mr. Robot. The stunt makes perfect sense in relation to the show’s premise about hackers trying to take down the powers that be; but from a user perspective, no one wants to be reminded of how much power their browser provider has over the experience.

Other Turkish users pleaded with everyone to calm down because they were just magnifying the intent of the campain—creating buzz for Black Mirror. It’s a pretty dystopian idea that a company can execute a promotion that many people find disturbing, and any criticism of it just amplifies its initial intent. As the show’s creator Charlie Brooker has said of Black Mirror’s premise, it’s “the way we live now—and the way we might be living in 10 minutes’ time if we’re clumsy.”

[Daily Sabah]

from Gizmodo

Kodi Lands on the Xbox One, Making It the Ultimate Set-Top Box

Image: Alex Cranz/Gizmodo

There are two things everyone should look for in a good set top box: ease of use and versatility. A set top box is terrible if the menus are a horror to navigate and you can’t just plunk down after dinner and watch a movie. But it’s also terrible if it can’t actually play the media you want it to play when you want it to play it. Thanks to Kodi’s arrival on the Xbox One this morning, the Xbox One X and Xbox One S are now the most versatile set-top boxes available. This is the box you want if you’re looking to play any kind of media from any kind of source.

It isn’t just the inclusion of Kodi that makes the Xbox One so versatile, but it’s the final piece of the puzzle. Kodi is a Swiss Army Knife-like media player that actually spun out of an open-source project on the original Xbox way back in 2002. Kodi, which was formerly called XBMC, allows you to access media on remote drives, making it useful for people with a huge library of old ripped DVDs and home movies. (It’s also great for torrenting pirates.) Yet Kodi’s real power is now found in its add-ons and enormous add-on repository.

These add-ons mean you can get important apps on systems they might not normally be found on, like Sony’s PS Vue on the Xbox One, or YouTube on the Amazon Fire. That’s useful for when big companies start slap-fighting, resulting in them arbitrarily removing service from a set-top box. Companies like Amazon and Google and Apple can have their fights while you can continue consuming your content how you want to consume it.

It’s the final piece the Xbox One X and Xbox One S needed to be the most powerful set top boxes currently available. That’s because, in addition to Kodi and the myriad of other apps like Netflix and Amazon Prime, the two newer Xbox One consoles are also capable of play Ultra HD Blu-Rays—something no other set-top box can do—and the Xbox One consoles are the only set-top boxes that can decode encrypted channels from your cable provider.

This means you can use the Xbox One in lieu of an actual cable box or DVR, dropping the obnoxious rental fee you normally have to pay to providers like Comcast and Charter.

Like Kodi, the Xbox One is now truly a Swiss Army Knife of content consumption. If you need to be able to play any type of media at any time, this is the only choice.

[Kodi, h/t Windows Central]

from Gizmodo

Samsung and LG say they do not slow down older phones

Apple has been under fire recently over the revelation that the company was intentionally slowing down older phones in order to balance performance and battery life. Now, LG and Samsung have both clarified to Phonearena that neither company engages in this kind of practice. HTC and Motorola made similar statements yesterday.

It’s important to make clear that this isn’t exactly a 1:1 comparison. Apple manufactures both the hardware and software, whereas Android (the software that these other handsets use) is made by Google. Still, the vehement denials these companies are making are telling: LG flat out stated to Phonearena that "We care what our customers think," implying that Apple does not.

Apple has since apologized for the confusion surrounding its performance-battery life decisions. While it’s good that Apple wants to extend the life of its handsets (especially as the company has come under fire that it intentionally slows down devices when new models are released), transparency is key here. People should be informed about issues like this, and perhaps it should be up to the user how the balance between battery life and performance is handled on a phone.

Source: Phonearena

from Engadget

How Hotmail changed Microsoft (and email) forever

Enlarge /

The many lives of Hotmail.

Sean Gallagher

Twenty years ago this week, on December 29, 1997, Bill Gates bought Microsoft a $450 million late Christmas present: a Sunnyvale-based outfit called Hotmail. With the buy—the largest all-cash Internet startup purchase of its day—Microsoft plunged into the nascent world of Web-based email.

Originally launched in 1996 by Jack Smith and Sabeer Bhatia as “HoTMaiL” (referencing HTML, the language of the World Wide Web), Hotmail was initially folded into Microsoft’s MSN online service. Mistakes were made. Many dollars were spent. Branding was changed. Spam became legion. Many, many horrendous email signatures were spawned.

But over the years that followed, Hotmail would set the course for all the Web-based email offerings that followed, launching the era of mass-consumer free email services. Along the way, Hotmail drove changes in Windows itself (particularly in what would become Windows Server) that would lay the groundwork for the operating system to make its push into the data center. And the email service would be Microsoft’s first step toward what is now the Azure cloud.

Former Microsoft executive Marco DeMello, now CEO of mobile security firm PSafe Technology, was handed the job of managing the integration of Hotmail as the lead program manager for MSN—Microsoft’s own answer to America Online. In an interview with Ars, DeMello—who would go on to be director of Windows security and product manager for Exchange before leaving Microsoft in 2006—recounted how, right after he was hired in October of 1996 to manage MSN, he was summoned to Redmond for a meeting with Bill Gates. “He gave me and my team the mission of basically finding or creating a system for free Web-based email for the whole world that Microsoft would offer,” DeMello said.

You’ve got mail

In 1996, the Web was still gaining traction. Almost all personal Internet access was over dial-up services such as AOL, MSN, CompuServe, and EarthLink. A lucky few had early “high-speed” Internet service over ISDN connections, but many companies hadn’t even connected their corporate email systems to the Internet yet. While there were a few Web-based mail offerings from ISPs integrated into Web hosting accounts, and Lotus had demonstrated a Web interface to cc:Mail in 1994, Hotmail and competitor Rocketmail (which would later become Yahoo Mail) were the first to offer free, Web-based email funded by advertising. By 1997, Hotmail already had 9 million users.

“I made the point, and it was obvious,” said DeMello, “that we could not build our own Web mail service in the time that Bill [Gates] had specified.” Buying an existing service was the only real choice—albeit an unpopular one among other Microsoft executives, who usually adhered to the policy of “eating our own dog food.”

But in the end, “Bill wrote a check for $450 million in cash,” DeMello recounted. “And I was given the responsibility of integrating that system and scaling it within Microsoft.”

Vendor lock-in

That responsibility would include the somewhat delicate task of incorporating software running on Unix—a mix of FreeBSD Web servers on the front end and Sun Solaris on SPARC on the back-end—into a Windows-only environment and migrating the service to Windows servers.

Windows NT Server was not up for that task in 1997. While DeMello’s team developed some interfaces to the Windows environment for the Hotmail platform, “we were a customer of Windows Server,” he said, “and at the beginning we were a not very happy customer.”

Despite pressure to immediately move the code to Windows, DeMello said, “There were a lot of things that we were poking at—from security to memory management, and all the way to the TCP networking stack itself—that we were comparing—’this is what we get from Unix, this is what we’re getting from NT and this is why we can’t migrate yet.’ It was always, ‘Nope, we can’t migrate yet.'”

At a time when Sun CEO Scott McNealy regularly made Microsoft’s server operating system the butt of jokes, this was likely salt in the wounds of Microsoft executives. To change that “nope” to a “yes” would take three years and the development of Windows 2000 Server. DeMello’s team “worked with [Windows NT architect Dave] Cutler and crew at the time,” DeMello recounted, “first on the scalability piece—we’re talking about Internet Information Server, and the networking stack, and the TCP stack and memory and how it was managed—and also the security of accessing local folders straight from the executable process. Eventually Cutler and his team were able to pull it off.”

That relationship between Microsoft’s server-development team and the Hotmail team would continue for years, especially for development of IIS, Windows’ Web and Internet services component. “We would have builds that were created to test IIS—Hotmail was always a test bed,” DeMello said. “The mantra was if it passes the Hotmail test, you can give it to anyone—it became a stress test for IIS.”

The operation of Hotmail gave Microsoft the ultimate “eat your own dog food” experience when it came to day-to-day operations of a global Web-based service—experience DeMello believes is reflected in how Microsoft runs the Azure Cloud today. “It was a sort of a bottomless wealth of information in terms of what to do and not to do—best practices, worst practices, what works and what doesn’t,” he said, “from the minute issues of response time on a login all the way to how you’d handle large data transfers.”

While the migration to Windows Web servers happened earlier, the backend system of Hotmail—the database servers and storage—didn’t even begin to move to Windows Server and SQL Server until 2004. The migration became an increasingly heavy lift as storage demands increased, because there were limits to how quickly accounts could be moved from one database to another and be propagated across data centers.

Hotmail also left a mark on the Office platform—aside from being the predecessor to The first release of Outlook came just a few weeks after the Hotmail acquisition, and the next version—Outlook ’98—had to be adapted to work with Hotmail—leading to a bit of a war of protocols. “[Outlook] was using MAPI [the default interface for Exchange] as a protocol,” DeMello said, and he described MAPI over TCP/IP as “one of the heaviest things ever invented, so we had to change that to straight WebDAV back then. So we had a few issues, let’s put it that way—which protocol had to win the protocol wars.”

The pain of experience

Oh, yeah, this happened.
Enlarge /

Oh, yeah, this happened.

The migration from Solaris to Windows took three years to complete. And while that migration went off largely without incident—DeMello said a “commandment from Bill Gates from above” was “‘Thou shalt not lose a single mailbox’—and we didn’t.” There was still some pain along the way.

Scaling up to serve millions of users meant scaling up datacenters that could handle the ever-mounting storage and compute demands of Hotmail. Storage was far from cheap. “We were dealing with effectively skyrocketing costs for hard drives,” said DeMello. “You have to remember we’re talking about 1997 into 2000… you were still paying through the nose per megabyte—forget about gigabytes. And so the infrastructure cost itself was a staggering bill.”

And those data centers were expensive and power-hungry. “I recall when we actually had finished the new data center, which was built in Bothell [Washington],” said DeMello. “We powered it up to test it—and the first day we tested Saturn, we caused a blackout in Bothell. I had to respond to a very angry city official the next morning. We did pull it off the second time—there was no blackout. The capacity had been upped, and everyone was ready for it and braced for it and expected the city to be licked with flames, but it didn’t happen.”

Then, in the summer of 1999, Hotmail had its first big security breach. Every single one of Hotmail’s accounts—which at the time numbered around 50 million—was potentially exposed by a bug in a script on Hotmail’s servers that gave access to any Hotmail account with the same password: “eh.”

Gateway websites sprang up that used the exploit to allow anyone to gain access to a mailbox by just entering the targeted account name. Some claimed to have access to accounts via the bug for nearly two months before Microsoft patched it. Some believed it was a backdoor left by a Hotmail developer.

DeMello would not comment on that breach. “I could tell you, but I would have to kill you,” he joked. But he contended that Hotmail had always put security and privacy first—at least, as much as was practical at the turn of the millennium. “We put a lot of energy and effort into security and privacy,” he said. “It wasn’t an afterthought. I think we built the system from the ground up focusing on security and privacy.”

For 1999, that meant doing two things especially, DeMello said. “We tried to protect credentials and enforced password policies. And we wanted to be very forthcoming to users about the need to protect their passwords and made it clear that email is not a secure medium. On FAQs, and in communications from the Hotmail team itself, we warned never to share or send any personal or financial information or security info over email.”

Hotmail used Secure HTTP (HTTPS) with SSL encryption to protect users’ login credentials, and Microsoft forced customers to use more complex passwords—but the rest of the service ran over unencrypted HTTP. “Just the authentication piece required us to run hardware accelerators at the time,” DeMello said. “And that had a very high cost—thousands of dollars per card, which you had to run whether you used Unix or Windows Server. You could not run the entire infrastructure at the time over SSL.”

That changed as the CPUs running servers evolved—and today, it’s “unfathomable to run something with straight HTTP,” DeMello said.

Password policies were set up to prevent customers from using passwords that were too short or (starting in 2011) too commonly used. However, Hotmail had a password length limit of 16 characters, so there was a ceiling on just how complex those passwords could get.

So while someone listening to the coffee shop Wi-Fi network might not necessarily be able to sniff passwords, there was still the possibility that someone could read your Hotmail messages by grabbing Web traffic after logging in.

The heartbreak of Hotmail stigma

Competition from Google’s Gmail and from Yahoo forced Hotmail to get better, but it also triggered some weird rebranding. As part of Microsoft’s attempt to make MSN more “live” around the time of the Windows Vista launch in 2005, Microsoft attempted to rebrand many of its services as “Windows Live.” Hotmail was renamed “Windows Live Mail.” But Hotmail users were apparently confused, so they changed it again—to Windows Live Hotmail. Along with the rebranding, Microsoft began a full rewrite of the front-end systems for Hotmail, which had previously been mostly ports of the original Solaris code in C++ and Perl. The rewrite, in C# and ASP.NET code, finally brought an end to Hotmail’s Unix legacy and, for better or worse, made the service a showcase for Microsoft’s own platforms—setting the company on a course toward the Office 365 platform and the Azure cloud.

While Hotmail was important to Microsoft as a testing ground for many things—and perhaps less important as a revenue generator—it also attained a reputation in some quarters of being the root of all that was bad on the Internet. Hotmail users were the butt of jokes and general hate for years. One management consultant openly suggested that companies should never hire people who use Hotmail.

Hotmail was the land of burner accounts for people setting up fake dating profiles. As a pioneer in HTML email, Hotmail users were a natural target for emerging phishing and drive-by download attacks. Its spam filtering capabilities were questionable at best. Ironically, Hotmail’s inability to block spam made Hotmail accounts more likely to be blocked as spam—in part because of all the bouncebacks caused by full mailboxes.

So, despite all the relatively good things we can credit Hotmail with helping along, there’s not a lot of reason to mourn its passing. makes forgetting the bad old days of webmail easier… and there are still thousands of people who were too lazy to opt out of keeping their address.

from Ars Technica

China bans 553 car models in fight against smog

Beijing may have turned a corner in its battle against the city’s notorious smog, according to Reuters calculations, and environmental consultants say the Chinese government deserves much of the credit. In China’s latest tough anti-pollution measure, it is halting sales of 553 models of vehicles that don’t meet fuel-consumption standards.

The halt in production of those 553 models will begin Jan. 1, the China Vehicle Technology Service Center said in a statement Thursday that was reported by Bloomberg News. On the list are models from Audi, Beijing Benz and Chevrolet.

China has tackled its chronic pollution problem by implementing curbs to steel production, restricting coal usage, and its multiyear plan to phase out vehicles powered by fossil fuels. But this is its first official ban of a specific list of polluting vehicles, said Wang Liusheng, a Shanghai-based analyst at China Merchants Securities.

“To emphasize a cut back on energy consumption, such documents will surface frequently in the future,” Wang said in an email to Bloomberg. “It’s an essential move to ensure the healthy development of the industry in the long run.”

It’s unclear how many distinct vehicles are produced in China, but the 553 models form a “very small” percentage said Cui Dongshu, secretary general of the China Passenger Car Association.

The Chinese capital is set to record its biggest improvement in air quality in at least nine years, with a nearly 20 percent change for the better this year, based on average concentration levels of hazardous breathable particles known as PM2.5.

The dramatic change, which has occurred across North China, is partly because of favorable weather conditions in the past three months but it also shows that the government’s strong-arm tactics have had an impact.

The Reuters’ estimates show that average levels of the pollutants in the capital have fallen by about 35 percent from 2012 numbers, with nearly half the improvement this year.

“The improvement in air quality is due both to long-term efforts by the government and short-term efforts this winter,” said Anders Hove, a Beijing-based energy consultant. “After 2013, the air in summers got much cleaner, but winter had not shown much improvement. This year is the first winter improvement we’ve seen during this war on pollution.”

Government officials this week signaled they were confident they were starting to get on top of the problem.

“The autumn and winter period is the most challenging part of the air pollution campaign. However, with the intensive efforts all departments have made, we believe the challenge is being successfully overcome,” Liu Youbin, spokesman for the Ministry of Environmental Protection, told reporters on Thursday.

But environmental experts say that while they are optimistic, it may be too early to celebrate.

“The turning point is here but we cannot rule out the possibility we can turn back,” said Ranping Song, developing country climate action manager for the World Resources Institute. “We need to be cautious about challenges and not relax now that there have been improvements. There are lots of issues to be solved.”

And while China has scored an initial victory over smog, it still has to reverse public opinion outside China on its air quality.

New York-based travel guidebook publisher Fodor’s advised tourists in mid-November in its ‘No List” for 2018 to shun Beijing until the city’s anti-pollution campaign had reduced the “overwhelming smog.” Fodor’s did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Beijing there is certainly plenty of room for further progress as average air quality is still significantly worse than the World Health Organization’s recommendations.

And the region still sees bouts of heavy smog. On Friday afternoon the U.S. embassy’s website said Beijing’s air was “very unhealthy” and the city issued a pollution alert on Thursday.

The Reuters calculations showing the improvement were based on average hourly readings of PM2.5 concentrations at the United States Embassy in Beijing from April 8, 2008 to Dec. 28, 2017. The data were compiled from figures from the U.S. embassy’s air monitoring website, as well as data provided by AirVisual, a Beijing company that analyses air quality data.

The data from the embassy, though not fully verified or validated, is the only set available for PM2.5 levels in the capital over that time period. AirVisual provided the hour-by-hour air pollution data from the embassy for recent months.

PM2.5 levels are the most closely monitored because they account for the majority of air pollutants in China and can be harmful to the body when breathed.

Beijing’s air was actually worse in the first nine months of this year than in the same period last year, but PM2.5 concentrations from October to Dec. 28 this year were nearly 60 percent lower than last year, the Reuters figures show.

Greenpeace climate and energy campaigner Huang Wei said that less than half of the improvement is due to favorable weather — particularly stronger northerly winds and low humidity — with the government’s policies behind most of the change.

The Chinese government launched a winter smog “battleplan” in October for 28 northern cities that called for strict rules on emissions during the winter heating months when pollution typically worsens.

The authorities also sought to make sure that Beijing wasn’t too polluted during October’s Communist Party congress, which is only held once every five years, at which Xi Jinping consolidated his power as the nation’s leader. Some of the more-polluting businesses in and around the capital were told to shut down for a period before and during the gathering.

The plan for the winter months included switching millions of households and some industrial users to natural gas from coal for their heating and some other needs. There were also mandated cuts in steel production by up to 50 percent in some of the areas surrounding the city.

Beijing’s improving air quality stands in stark contrast to India’s capital New Delhi, where pollution has steadily become worse over the past few years, and is now well above Beijing’s.

China’s improvement, and deterioration in some other countries, means China is now not among the ten worst countries for pollution in the world anymore, according to at least one measure.

“At the national level, India tops the index rankings, followed by Bangladesh and Thailand,” said Richard Hewston, global head of environment and climate change at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft, which measures 198 countries for air quality.

Reporting by Muyu Xu and Elias Glenn

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from Autoblog

Artist Transforms Toys Into Post-Apocalyptic Monstrosities [Pics + Videos]

Artist Transforms Toys Into Post-Apocalyptic Monstrosities [Pics + Videos]

Japanese artist Y. Nakajima takes regular toys and transforms them into post-apocalyptic monsters that would be just perfect to play te part of villains in a horror movie or video game. Be sure to check ’em all out below!


from [Geeks Are Sexy] Technology News