Far out! A new planet is thought to share Earth’s blue coloring. And it rains glass. Nina Strochlic investigates this newfound competitor.
There’s only room for one blue-and-white swirled planet in this solar system.
But it turns out that just 63 light years away, there lurks a similarly colored planet. A report in the upcoming Astrophysical Journal Letters reveals that analysis of data from the Hubble Space Telescope shows that a planet known as HD 189733b most likely shares Earth’s blue tone. But that's probably all these two planets have in common—it seems color doesn’t have much to do with livability or, frankly, any other defining features of our home planet.
An artist’s rendering of “Blue Planet” HD 189733b. (NASA, ESA, and G. Bacon)
Here’s the lowdown on the planet trying to knock us off our deep cobalt blue pedestal:
In a clumsy attempt to crack down on gambling, Florida has accidentally banned any machine that’s capable of playing games. Or so a new lawsuit claims. Eliza Shapiro reports.
Started final leg from Washington to New York.
It seems that the world is inching ever closer to being the setting of a hit sci-fi novel. The latest evidence? A solar-powered aircraft is set to complete a historic cross-country trip Saturday night. The craft, called the Solar Impulse, took flight May 3 in San Francisco and set off on the final leg at 5 a.m. Saturday from Washington, D.C.'s Dulles International Airport. It's set to land around 2 a.m. Sunday at JFK International Airport in New York City. OK, so it's not the quickest mode of transportation just yet. But they're working on it: a 'round-the-world trip for an upgraded version of the plane is already being planned for 2015.
Security flaw gives hackers “master key” to system.
Did you think your phone activity was safe from prying eyes of anyone (besides those of your closest friends at the NSA)? Well, the joke may be on you. Security researchers think they've found a major security flaw in Google's Android mobile operating system. The fun part? The flaw could affect up to 99 percent of phones with the operating system. The glitch, which reportedly gives hackers a "master key" to the system, is associated with the security verification process that has been used with the Google Play app store since version 1.6. For comparison, the latest version is numbered 4.2. Luckily for Android users, the research firm told Google about the problem in February, and fixes have been released for some phones already.
For companies that don't want association with controversy.
It looks like Facebook is trying to make up for falling behind on its "community standards." A month ago, several companies pulled their ads from the site after reports emerged of Facebook pages that promoted violence against women. And although the website has since stated that it needed to improve its system for flagging offensive content, the bigger news comes on the business side: Facebook said yesterday that it will no longer run ads on pages with sexual or violent content. The company made clear that this applies to pages that, though they meet community standards, may be controversial. So now no one who visits a page for sex toys will be distracted by pesky ads.
Getting in on the ground floor of space travel.
Everyone can finally stop stressing out about how we’ll be able to pay for things once space travel becomes a thing, because PayPal has a plan. The online payment service has created the PayPal Galactic project “to help make universal space payments a reality.” It might sound like PayPal is getting a little ahead of itself, but the first space hotel is in the works to begin orbiting the planet in the next few years, and it’s not like food and souvenirs are just going to become free once you exit Earth’s atmosphere. “Space tourism is opening up to all of us in the next decade or so, and we want to make sure that PayPal is the preferred way to pay from space and in space,” announced PayPal president David Marcus.
It’s not too late to restore confidence, writes “digital Cassandra” Lawrence Lessig, but we need to start by asking the right questions.
“The United States government spies on its citizens.” What does that mean?
Almost 15 years ago, as I was just finishing a book about the relationship between the Net (we called it “cyberspace” then) and civil liberties, a few ideas seemed so obvious as to be banal: First, life would move to the Net. Second, the Net would change as it did so. Gone would be simple privacy, the relatively anonymous default infrastructure for unmonitored communication; in its place would be a perpetually monitored, perfectly traceable system supporting both commerce and the government. That, at least, was the future that then seemed most likely, as business raced to make commerce possible and government scrambled to protect us (or our kids) from pornographers, and then pirates, and now terrorists.
But another future was also possible, and this was my third, and only important point: Recognizing these obvious trends, we just might get smart about how code (my shorthand for the technology of the Internet) regulates us, and just possibly might begin thinking smartly about how we could embed in that code the protections that the Constitution guarantees us. Because—and here was the punchline, the single slogan that all 724 people who read that book remember—code is law. And if code is law, then we need to be as smart about how code regulates us as we are about how the law does so.
The big day is here, when Apple announces everything new and cool for the coming year. Winston Ross reports on the 20 new developments that will have the fanboys weeping for joy.
Bye bye, kitty. Apple announced Monday morning that its next operating system will no longer be named after pussycats large and small but after iconic places in California: the big-wave surf spot Mavericks, for example, which is what the cult computer company is calling its next OS.
Phil Schiller, the senior vice president of worldwide marketing at Apple, introduces the new MacBook Air laptop at the keynote address of the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, June 10, 2013. (Eric Risberg/AP)
This, of course, was only the beginning of a sweep of updates the company announced at the Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco on Monday. The company unveiled major changes to its desktop and laptop operating systems, the platform for mobile devices, a new line of MacBook Airs, and a tantalizing peek at the next Mac Pro. If you’re already an Apple fanboy, go make some popcorn, invite all your friends over, and read this story aloud to them, so that you can all whoop and holler the way other people do when they watch football.
If you’re a PC/Android nonconformist and this round of innovation still doesn’t persuade you to lift your petty boycott of all things Apple, we’re giving up on you for good. If you haven’t figured out by now that this stuff just works better along with being prettier, more fun, and more expensive, maybe you never will.
The search giant has extended its investments in green power by buying a California startup that deploys robot-piloted kites to generate electricity from wind.
Google, going beyond its investments in clean energy, has bought an intriguing wind-power company called Makani Power and brought it into the fold of its mysterious Google X research program. Founded in 2006 by some entrepreneurial kite surfers, Makani makes flying wind turbines. They’re essentially giant robot-piloted kites that fly in circles, collecting energy using wing-mounted turbines and transferring it back to earth using a conductive tether. It’s a clean-energy drone.
Makani Power's robot-piloted kites fly in circles, collecting energy using wing-mounted turbines and transferring it back to earth using a conductive tether. (Makani Power)
Airborne wind power has a couple theoretical advantages over old-fashioned windmills. For one, wind is stronger and more consistent the higher up you go. The tallest windmills are about 600 feet tall, but the first generation of Makani planes will fly at heights between 800 and 1,950 feet.
Second, the autopilot finds the windiest spots and then flies in circles, so the whole wing moves at the speed of the tip of a windmill’s blade—its most productive part. Makani, based in Alameda, California, claims that this allows its planes to produce power more efficiently in low winds than conventional windmills, making them more reliable sources of energy. The planes also take far less material to make than a windmill, so the company says they’ll be faster to produce and deploy.
Scientists are raising funds on Kickstarter to develop genetically engineered plants that glow in the dark—thus eliminating the need for lightbulbs.
Sick of replacing broken lightbulbs? How about growing a bush instead? A group of scientists and entrepreneurs are working to engineer bioluminescence-laced indoor plants to take the place of traditional lighting.
Sascha Schuermann/AFP/Getty, file
The New York Times reported earlier this month that the small group of hobbyist scientists working on the project took bioluminescence from jellyfish or fireflies and incorporated it into seed DNA so that plants could glow in the dark. The group’s core team of three and their eight contributors used what is known as synthetic biology to try to create a glowing plant. Scientists are currently working with a flowering plant that is part of the mustard family. The organizers want to move onto a rose next.
If the DNA implementation is successful, glowing plants can lead the way in replacing common light fixtures and even outdoor units like street lamps. Plus, glowing plants are more sustainable than electric appliances and as they grow, the amount of light spreads.
New plug-in hybrid diesel bus could slash fuel consumption up to 80 percent.
When it comes to the electrification of motorized transport, cars like the Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, and Chevrolet Volt have received the most attention. But the same technologies are also being put to use in much larger vehicles.
The Volvo plug-in hybrid bus. (Volvo)
Volvo is testing a new plug-in electric hybrid diesel bus in Gothenburg, Sweden. The company says the vehicles can cut fuel consumption and carbon-dioxide emissions by 75 to 80 percent compared with conventional buses. And if the buses are fueled with biodiesel, carbon-dioxide emissions would be cut by 90 percent.
Increasing the fuel efficiency for buses and trucks is an easy way to cut fuel consumption and greenhouse-gas emissions, mostly because these vehicles get such terrible mileage to begin with. New York’s old diesel buses got about 2.75 miles per gallon. So even if the MTA’s new hybrid buses only get 4 mpg that’s almost a 50 percent improvement. (The MTA says is has about 800 hybrid buses on the road, with more to come.) When you’re dealing with mass transit, marginal gains in efficiency go a long way. And because cash-strapped transit agencies often keep old diesel buses running for years, those gains come relatively easily. Of course, the most effective way to lower emissions, per passenger mile, is to get more people on the bus. The average bus in the U.S. has only about a quarter of its seats full.
Google hasn’t been known for its must-have consumer products. But by parceling out a small number of units of its revolutionary new device to developers and fans in advance of next year’s launch, it is creating an Apple-like mania.
The future is here, folks. Google Glass has rolled into beta testing phase and for the past few weeks, some lucky early adopters have been strapping thin wire frames onto their faces and seeing what’s otherwise limited to that old-fashioned glass on the iPhone screen. Nearly 10,000 total pairs will be sent out to Google’s “explorers”: comprised of winners of the #ifihadglass contest and developers who signed up for the program at Google’s IO conference last year. The lucky recipients still have to shell out $1,500 for a pair.
A visitor at "NEXT Berlin," a digital industry conference, tries using Google Glass on April 24, 2013 in Berlin, Germany. (Ole Spata/AFP/Getty)
With a measured rollout and vibrant online community, the Google team has expertly crafted an anticipation level and comprehensive user experience previously reserved for Apple’s latest and greatest. “This is unlike what most folks are familiar with around traditional product launches,” says a Google spokesperson. “One of the things that makes it different is that we’re releasing this to developers first.”
Google has certainly fostered an ecosystem in preparation for the Glass’s debut. Eager recipients have been posting hardware stats, app (called Glassware) ideas, and experiences with the product on personal blogs and numerous Google Plus communities. The Society of Google Glass Enthusiasts has nearly a thousand members in its location-specific groups. Online, developers, techies, Google employees, and curious outsiders swap discussion and speculation.
Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield has tweeted photos and shot videos from the International Space Station, but now—as he prepares to return to Earth Monday evening—he's outdone himself, putting together his own music video for David Bowie's classic 'Space Oddity.'
A new device promises to send a social-media blast when an aid worker is in danger. But will it work?
Human-rights workers operate under incredibly dangerous circumstances. The last thing you’d expect to keep them out of harm’s way? A bracelet.
Courtesy of Natalia Project
Civil Rights Defenders, a Stockholm-based human-rights group with people on the ground in some of the world’s most dire areas, has launched the “Natalia Project,” with the idea of protecting its most endangered workers.
The project is focused on a single device: a black or orange bracelet of connecting squares, that features the Civil Rights Defenders logo in heavy type. With the touch of a button, the GPS-equipped accessory is programmed to send an alarm to law enforcement, five nearby colleagues, and, perhaps most innovatively, a social-media blast to the Internet. When the bracelet is triggered or forcibly removed, an alert is routed through the Civil Rights Defenders headquarters, which then sends it via email, SMS texts, and the organization’s social-media sites to followers who sign up to receive alerts. The blast, particularly shareable via Twitter and Facebook, allows people from across the world to react and spread news as a potentially threatening situation unfolds. Robert Hårdh, the group’s executive director, likens it to wearing “millions of people around the world on your wrist.”
Even the king of all search engines can be throttled up with a few simple tricks.
The photo app is social-media’s puberty: naughty or dorky fun without a permanent record. By Winston Ross.
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Around the world, unmanned aircraft are the hottest thing in food delivery. But don’t try it at home just yet.