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Matt’s Favorites: Alpena Tech, Climate Change Hurts Wine, GM <3 Facebook Again, Crunch Time For Mars Mission, And Much More

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Have you tried the Peking 2080?

Have you tried the Peking 2080?

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So what’s up in the constantly renewing and ever-growing world of high technology? Well, try these gems out for size…

* Target Alpena Development Corp. has received conditional approval by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to become a SmartZone. According to the Alpena News, the designation could help Alpena attract companies wishing to market, promote or build a business involving ground breaking technology. And by the way, did I mention that the WWJ Technology Report’s 10th annual Spring Tech Tour is visiting Alpena for the very first time later this month? Yeah, I’m excited. They’re excited. They say they’ve got a whole bunch of cool stuff to show me. Can’t wait to hit the Michigan road again!

* When General Motors pulled its $10 million advertising campaign from Facebook last year, it caused quite a commotion. Now, the carmaker seems to be having second thoughts. GM has confirmed that it will reignite its ad campaign on the social network, according to Ad Age. This is a major turnaround from last year, when it proclaimed that Facebook ads simply didn’t work.

* Well, maybe this will get the world’s attention: According to new research published by the National Academy of Sciences, 25 to 73 percent of the world’s land that is suitable for vineyards will be no longer be available by 2050. The researchers focused on climate change impact on the cultivation of grapevines, because there are almost no agricultural needs more sensitive to environment than that of producing grapes for wine. New areas that could become hotbeds for viticulture are Oregon or Montana, which would be moving north from California, or even parts of China where the elevation seems just right.

* For the food we eat, we depend on something most of us don’t think about — bees. Without them, the agriculture industry estimates that one-third of the food we eat would disappear. But right now, it’s the bees that are disappearing. Nationwide beekeepers say they’ve lost on average 40-50 percent of their hives. California beekeeper Larry Pender blames a new class of pesticide, neonicotinoids, based on nicotine, which went into wide use in 2005.

* Progress over the next year or so will determine whether a private manned Mars mission can get off the ground in 2018 as planned, its organizers say. The pressure is on the nonprofit Inspiration Mars Foundation, which intends to launch two astronauts on a flyby mission around the Red Planet in January 2018. If the team misses this window, the next one won’t open until 2031, when Earth and Mars are again suitably aligned for a fast roundtrip trek.

* Microsoft has released two critical security updates for Windows and Internet Explorer as part of its latest round of Patch Tuesday updates. Included in the patches are seven important updates for Office, SharePoint, and Windows Server products.

* A British computer hacker affiliated to the group Lulz Security pleaded guilty Tuesday to cyberattacks on institutions including Sony, Britain’s National Health Service and Rupert Murdoch’s News International. Ryan Ackroyd admitted one count of carrying out an unauthorized act to impair the operation of a computer.

* The blog TorrentFreak recently compiled a report alleging that computers located in Vatican City are downloading pornography. A recent tale of Irish priests enjoying first-run hits at their home movie nights piqued the blog’s interest to see what the residents of Vatican City have been downloading. TorrentFreak recruited the help of ScanEye, a Web site that tracks and analyzes this type of online activity. ScanEye’s data found that computers inside Vatican City were downloading films like “Love Actually” and TV shows like “The Americans.” Files with the names of adult film stars also appeared in the queue. While downloads are tracked back to Vatican City, it doesn’t mean that church officials are watching. Lay people who work for the Vatican have daily access to Vatican City.

* It’s official: Google and the city of Austin, Texas announced Tuesday that that the ultra-fast broadband program is expanding to the Lone Star State.

* Getting supplies to the International Space Station isn’t easy, and it’s not cheap. One of the ways NASA is working to combat this problem is by using the Commercial Orbital Transportation Services program. They are working with outside companies to develop specialized space transportation vehicles. Like the Antares, scheduled for launch April 17. Watch it roll out to the launch pad here.

* A group of companies led by Microsoft have called on European authorities to launch an antitrust investigation into Google’s dominance of mobile Internet usage on smartphones.

*  Cyber attacks against the United States from China are eroding the country’s credibility and scaring off potential foreign investors afraid of losing their intellectual property, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

* Unlike Google, which crawls the Web looking for websites, Shodan navigates the Internet’s back channels. It’s a kind of “dark” Google, looking for the servers, webcams, printers, routers and all the other stuff that is connected to and makes up the Internet. (Shodan’s site was slow to load Monday following the publication of a CNN story.)

* Electronic Arts has achieved the dubious distinction of defending its title as the worst corporation in America, according to the Web site Consumerist.

* Cult classic sci-fi series Blake’s 7 is to be remade for the Syfy network, it has been announced. FremantleMedia International said  in a statement, that Casino Royale and Goldeneye director Martin Campbell was on board. The original series, which ran on the BBC between 1978 and 1981, followed the exploits of a group of renegades and convicted criminals. Roj Blake, played by Welsh actor Gareth Thomas, was a political dissident arrested, tried and convicted on false charges by a brutal totalitarian government, and then deported from Earth to a prison planet. Stealing a spaceship, Blake and his team conducted a campaign against the ruling Terran Federation. Sounds like fun.

* Cloud service providers have previously drawn ire from environmentalists for not being transparent when it comes to the energy efficiency of their data centres. However, a new report (PDF) from the University of Melbourne says that the real sustainability threat comes not from the growing demand for data centers to house cloud-ready infrastructure, but from the rising use of cellular and Wi-Fi networks to access cloud services.

* Your home’s tunes controlled by a wave of the hand or a voice command? It could happen, and the big-thinking Swede believes his music service could be the soundtrack to that very plugged-in vision.

* Two of Apple’s communication networks, iMessage and FaceTime, were experiencing outages for some users Tuesday.

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