Tag Archive: ars technica


This Q&A is part of a weekly series of posts highlighting common questions encountered by technophiles and answered by users at Stack Exchange, a free, community-powered network of 80+ Q&A sites.

BenCole Asks:

I’ve spent the last year as a one-man team developing a rich-client application (35,000+ LoC, for what it’s worth). It’s currently stable and in production. However, I know that my skills were rusty at the beginning of the project, so without a doubt there are major issues in the code. At this point, most of the issues are in architecture, structure, and interactions—the easy problems, even architecture/design problems, have already been weeded out.

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Two smartphones, one dual-persona phone, or none of the above?

The rise of the smartphone has turned the workplace into a bring-your-own-device kind of world. In many cases, IT shops would like more control over the devices employees use for work, even if they are employee-owned. That’s why the idea of the dual-persona smartphone—two phones on one device, separating work and personal applications—has become popular. But while dual-persona phone technology is being driven by employer demand, it turns out users want them too.

We polled Ars readers earlier this week to find out if you would like a phone that completely separates work and personal applications from each other. To be honest, we figured dual-persona phones wouldn’t be that popular because of the inconvenience of putting work applications in an entirely separate part of one’s phone. The poll results show otherwise.

The question we posed was “Would you use a dual-persona smartphone?” With 3,710 votes in our unscientific poll, 33.56 percent of readers said, “Yes, sign me up. I want a phone for work and personal stuff, but with a wall of separation between.” Another 22.37 percent said, “Yes, but only if my employer paid for it.” A further 18.54 percent said, “I’d consider a dual-persona smartphone if it’s implemented in a more user-friendly way than current versions.”

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Cracking PGP, TrueCrypt and other strong encryption packages just got more affordable, with the release of a $300 package that can pluck decryption keys out of computer memory in certain cases.

Thursday’s release of the Elcomsoft Forensic Disk Decryptor poses the biggest threat to people who leave their Mac laptops or FireWire-equipped PCs in hibernate or sleep states while encrypted drives are mounted. It has long been possible to use the FireWire or Mac Thunderbolt interfaces to retrieve the contents of volatile memory on machines that are password-protected but not powered down. But until now, it has cost closer to $1,000 for an easy and reliable way to use that data against people using strong full-disk encryption programs.

The new product from Moscow-based ElcomSoft changes that. Like Passware, which Ars first chronicled in 2009, it’s able to comb through memory dumps and locate the cryptographic keys stored inside. But at a third the price, Forensic Disk Decryptor could bring that capability to a much larger customer base.

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Microsoft has quietly announced that its Expression suite of Web and design-oriented tools is being killed off and phased out.

Vector graphics drawing tool Expression Design 4 has been end-of-lifed. No new versions will be developed, and it’s no longer for sale. You can now download it for free, and it’ll continue to receive security patches as necessary until at least 2015. Microsoft is offering no replacement or alternative to users of the product.

The same has happened to HTML and CSS authoring tool Expression Web 4. It’s no longer for sale and no new versions will be released, and it’s now available as a free download. Instead of developing Expression Web, Microsoft will continue to extend and improve Visual Studio’s HTML, CSS, and JavaScript capabilities, with the IDE now being the company’s sole actively maintained Web development tool. The SuperPreview Remote service that allowed developers to view their pages in a range of browsers hosted on Microsoft’s servers will operate until the end of June 2013.

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Research In Motion executives announced the financial results of the company’s quarter ending December 1. The good news for fans of the Waterloo, Ontario-based maker of the BlackBerry and PlayBook is that the company continued to reduce its hemorrhaging. RIM actually saw a slight increase in the sale of its PlayBook tablet.

The bad news is the company did so on less revenue, while shipping even fewer products than the last quarter and less than half the number of BlackBerry phones it sold this time last year. But if the BlackBerry 10 is even a moderate hit, RIM’s improved financial performance could mean a return to profitability next year.

And there’s reason to hope. “More than 150 carriers are currently completing technical acceptance programs for the first BlackBerry 10 products,” RIM CEO Thorsten Heins said in a prepared statement. “And beta trials of BlackBerry Enterprise Service 10 are underway at more than 120 enterprises, including 64 Fortune 500 companies.” BlackBerry 10 launches on January 30.

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We’ve got a Web server. We’ve got SSL/TLS. We’ve got PHP. We’ve got a database. Now, finally, it’s time to do something with them: we’re going to set up self-hosted WordPress, one of the Internet’s most popular blogging platforms.

Certainly, WordPress isn’t the only choice. There are many blogging platforms out there, ranging from big and full-featured content management systems (like WordPress, Drupal, or Joomla) to static site generators like Jekyll (and its customized variant Octopress, which I use on my own blog). However, WordPress is extremely popular, and it also has a wealth of themes and plugins available with which you can customize its behavior. So, because it’s the platform that first comes to mind when people think of “blogging,” we’re going for it.

Disclosure, and a word on security

This isn’t the first time I’ve talked about setting up WordPress. Some parts of this article will be taken from my previous blog post on the subject, though the instructions here will contain a number of improvements.

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In a move that has raised eyebrows, Microsoft has submitted a patch to the WebKit project to extend the open source rendering engine with a prototype implementation of the Pointer Events specification thatthe company is also working on together with Google, Mozilla, and Opera. WebKit is the rendering engine used in Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome browsers, making Microsoft’s work a contribution to products that are in direct competition to its own.

The patch came from Microsoft Open Technologies, a subsidiary company that Microsoft created in April to serve as a home for all of Microsoft’s work and relationships with open source projects and development of open standards.

Pointer Events is a draft specification that provides a unified event model for multi-touch, pen, and mouse input. It’s the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C) second attempt at a standard for handling touch input. The first specification, Touch Events, has been essentially abandoned. Touch Events were modeled on the proprietary touch API that Apple added to Safari for the iPhone. However, the specification was written without Apple’s involvement, and the Cupertino company refuses to commit to disclosure and royalty-free licensing of any patented technology that might cover the Touch Events spec.

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A malicious Apache module found operating in the wild turns sites running the Internet’s most popular Web server into platforms that surreptitiously install malware on visitors’ computers.

The plugin, which was discovered by researchers from antivirus provider Eset, is an x64 Linux binary that streamlines the process of injecting malicious content into compromised websites. It was found running on an undisclosed website that exposed end users to a variety of exploits that installed the ZeuS banking trojan, also known as Win32/Zbot. It also pushed malware from Sweet Orange, a newer exploit kit hosted by servers in Lithuania that competes with ZeuS. When Eset discovered the plugin last month, it was connecting to command and control servers in Germany and was being used to target banking customers in Russia and elsewhere in Europe.

“This complicated case spreads across three different countries, targeting users from a fourth one, making it very hard for law enforcement agencies to investigate and mitigate,” Pierre-Marc Bureau, Eset’s security intelligence program manager, wrote in a blog post. “It is not clear at this point in time if the same group of people are behind the whole operation, or if multiple gangs collaborated, perhaps with one to drive traffic to the exploit pack and sell the infected computers to another gang operating a botnet based on Win32/Zbot.”

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On the Sunday after Thanksgiving, I rushed my wife to the emergency room at Baltimore’s Sinai Hospital. What she had thought was just whatever stomach bug was going around turned out to be a life-threatening condition that would take her to nearly every corner of Sinai. And three weeks later, I would find myself sitting in the surgical waiting room at Sinai as a rock-star surgeon operated on her robotically in front of a crowd of other doctors.

It wasn’t my first time wandering the halls of the hospital. Twelve years ago, my son was hospitalized at Sinai when he had appendicitis. A lot has changed in those twelve years. But what surprised me more is what hasn’t.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the hospital over the past few weeks, and have become all too well acquainted with the technology there. I’ve covered health IT in the past, but there’s a big difference between talking with people about what’s happening in the health industry with technology as a whole and experiencing it from the chair next to the hospital bed. What I found is that medical IT is a patchwork quilt of Star Trek and steampunk that seems to work despite itself.

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Amazon’s cloud division has rolled out a new feature that makes it easier to build applications that span the globe. Specifically, Elastic Block Store snapshots can now more easily be copied from one Amazon data center to another. In the future, Amazon will provide a similar feature for virtual machines. Ultimately, this will simplify the process developers use to expand the presence of their applications around the world, making it easier to recover from outages that hit specific Amazon data centers.

Amazon Web Services provides on-demand compute and storage capacity to developers who want to build applications without hosting the infrastructure themselves. Amazon’s data centers are spread across various regions of the world, including the east and west coasts of the US, Ireland, Singapore, Tokyo, Sydney, and São Paulo. Each region consists of multiple “Availability Zones,” allowing separation between the servers and storage hosting your applications. Yet Amazon cloud outages have occasionally taken down multiple availability zones, meaning that customers who demand greater than 99.95 percent uptime must find ways to spread their applications across Amazon regions.

This isn’t impossible, but it is difficult, so Amazon’s latest move is to make it easier. Yesterday’s announcements concern Amazon’s Elastic Block Store (EBS) service, which provides block-level storage volumes to be used in conjunction with the virtual machines that host applications. As explained in the Amazon Web Services Blog, EBS Snapshot Copy lets developers copy snapshots from one region to another through the management console or command line. The process isn’t completely automated, but in the graphical user interface it can be completed with a few clicks.

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