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Third-party apps didn't exist when the iPhone first launched in 2007. At that time, Apple offered its own set of built-in iOS apps, and users were relegated to Web apps if they wanted tools made by someone else. Luckily, things have changed since; we now have hundreds of thousands of apps to choose from for our iPhones, iPads, and iPod touches. Many of them even offer similar or better functionality than the default apps from Apple.
Users still can't delete Apple's default apps from iOS devices (grumble grumble…), but there are plenty of useful alternatives out there for people hoping to use something other than the default. Readers are always asking about which apps the Ars staff uses when they choose to ditch the Apple's camera, mapping, music, or other apps. I put out a call to our editors and writers to find out what the Ars staff uses for the major app categories (and why). Here's what we came up with:Maps Google Maps
I never upgraded my iPhone 4 from iOS 5 to iOS 6, so I can't say if the new Apple Maps are as bad as people claim. However, I rushed to download the new Google Maps when it hit the App Store and haven't been disappointed. The underlying map technology is the same as the one in my stock app, since iOS 5's pre-installed app also relies on Google. But the spoken turn-by-turn directions and traffic data make the new version of Google Maps far superior.
Add the Financial Times to the growing list of media companies whose websites or Twitter accounts were hijacked by a group calling itself the Syrian Electronic Army.
On Friday, both the paper's Tech Blog and several of its Twitter accounts were seized by the group. The SEA used its unauthorized access to publish 12 blog posts in four minutes and also sent tweets through the FT's Twitter feeds. One stated "Syrian Electronic Army Was Here." Another linked to a YouTube video which appeared to show bound and blindfolded individuals being executed, according to The Wall Street Journal.
The FT said the accounts were hijacked following a phishing attack targeting company e-mail accounts. That's the same method used two weeks ago to commandeer the Twitter account of parody news site The Onion. Other media companies that have been similarly hacked by the SEA in recent months include the Associated Press, The Guardian, The BBC, and Al Jazeera.
Warning: plot points of We Steal Secrets: the Story of WikiLeaks are discussed in this Q&A.
Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney doesn't shy away from controversy. In fact, he may gravitate towards it. His previous works cover the fall of Enron (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), the Elliot Spitzer saga (Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer), and torture during the war in Afghanistan (Taxi to the Dark Side).
For his latest documentary, Gibney focused on the story of WikiLeaks—from its successful beginnings in Iceland all the way through Julian Assange embracing Ecuador. The film itself is an extremely thorough look at a complicated tale that still hasn't finished, with both Assange and Bradley Manning currently existing in a sort of legal limbo. It challenged Gibney to craft an ever evolving narrative and inspired him to consider doing a dramatic film about Manning in the future ("We're working on it, I wouldn't say more than that," he told Ars).
Warning: potential spoilers in this film review.
Alex Gibney's new documentary hits select theaters on May 24.
All movies have heroes and villains, and Alex Gibney's documentary, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, felt like vintage silver screen. Two-thirds of the way through, the film established clear roles. Our protagonist is Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder and underdog hacker hero. His evil nemesis is actually information-silencing bureaucracy, but the US government largely plays this role (voiced often by Michael Hayden, former director of both the NSA and CIA). It's a classic conflict: a battle waged over censorship and the public's right to know.
We Steal Secrets begins with point-of-view shots from above the Earth, which could loosely be seen as the start of a hero's journey. The satellite Galileo is orbiting as Bryant Gumbel, Ted Brokaw, and other talking heads read news of the WANK digital attack on NASA. The film unofficially ties Assange to this Melbourne hacker collective, which penetrated 300,000 NASA computers during the incident. (WANK's slogan, "You talk of peace for all and then prepare for war," is a lyric from one of Assange's favorite songs.) So here is the talented but misguided young hacker, shown being charged in his home country for actions under his past Mendax moniker. WikiLeaks represents the realization of Assange's potential. One talking head comments that the hack is something he would have screwed up 20 years ago, but now the timing is perfect.
A website that accepts payment in exchange for knocking other sites offline is perfectly legal, the proprietor of the DDoS-for-hire service says. Oh, it also contains a backdoor that's actively monitored by the FBI.
Ragebooter.net is one of several sites that openly accepts requests to flood sites with huge amounts of junk traffic, KrebsonSecurity reporter Brian Krebs said in a recent profile of the service. The site, which accepts payment by PayPal, uses so-called DNS reflection attacks to amplify the torrents of junk traffic. The technique requires the attacker to spoof the IP address of lookup requests and bounce them off open domain name system servers. This can generate data floods directed at a target that are 50 times bigger than the original request.
Krebs did some sleuthing and discovered the site was operated by Justin Poland of Memphis, Tennessee. The reporter eventually got an interview and found Poland was unapologetic.
Invasive species have become a problem on nearly every continent. Native species that may have had millions of years to adapt to their environment are somehow trivially displaced by a species that originated somewhere else. How is it that the invaders can be so phenomenally successful against what should be well-entrenched competition?
A new study shows that in at least one case, some insect invaders engage in a bit of biological warfare, carrying a fungus that kills their competitors but which the host can tolerate. The fungus spreads because of a nasty habit the insects have—namely that they tend to eat each others' eggs. Somewhat ironically, all of this goes on in a species that tends to have a friendly reputation: the ladybug (or ladybird, for the anglophiles among us).
The invasive species in question is an Asian ladybug, the harlequin ladybird Harmonia axyridis. Because of its fondness for agricultural pests (fondness in the same sense that I have a fondness for lobster), Harmonia has been introduced to some countries where it wasn't native. When the invaders were introduced, the native ladybug species dropped like flies (pun intended) and was easily displaced by the new arrivals.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA—Earlier this week, Ars showed up at a demo day for the painful-to-read HAXLR8R (pronounced hack-celerator), a startup accelerator program that takes ten teams of entrepreneurs, gives them $25,000, and flies them between San Francisco and Shenzhen to work on a hardware-based product of their design.
Most of the products were still in progress, so many teams spent demo day courting VC funders or imploring the crowd to visit their Kickstarter campaign. But Foc.us, a company founded by mechanical engineers Michael Oxley and Martin Skinner, actually had its product launch that day. Its Foc.us headset is a device that is meant to shock your brain with electricity—and make you a better gamer because of it.
The headset is a red or black band that goes around the back of your head, with four disks that are placed on your forehead, just above your eyebrows. The disks contain electrodes beneath small circular sponges soaked in saline solution. When the headset turns on (via a physical button in the back or a companion iOS app), you get a shock to the prefrontal cortex that can range from 0.8 to 2.0 mA. For context, a hearing aid usually runs on about 0.7 mA—but you’re not directing that electricity into your head.
Without a doubt, Activision's original Pitfall! stands out as an icon of the early console gaming era. I devoted countless hours to it both on my Atari and on my best friend's Intellivision. This game suggested that there was always something new up ahead—if you just hung in long enough.
Sadly, over the years I've learned that sometimes hanging on does not pay off.