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Matt’s Favorites: ‘Plastic Island’ In Great Lakes Too, Hawking Urges Space Colonization, Frogs Threatened, PC Sales Plunge, And Much More

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So what’s the latest in the wild wild world of high tech? Sit back, relax and be our guest…

* Everyone knows not to be a litter bug in theory, but it doesn’t always make it into practice. A recent discovery in the Great Lakes is the latest example of previously unobserved trash in our ecosystem. According to new research coming out of the National Meeting of the American Chemical Society, floating plastic debris, similar to the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” has been found in the Great Lakes.

* Stephen Hawking, who spent his career decoding the universe and even experienced weightlessness, is urging the continuation of space exploration — for humanity’s sake. The 71-year-old Hawking said he did not think humans would survive another 1,000 years unless we find another planet to live on.

* Can you stand more scary enviro news? Scientists report that many types of amphibians, especially frogs, are in a steep global decline likely caused by a mix of habitat loss, climate change, pollution and a virulent fungus. The downward spiral is striking particularly hard in the Caribbean, where a majority of species are now losing a fragile hold in the ecosystem. Without new conservation measures, there could be a massive die-off of Caribbean frogs within 15 years.

* Personal computer sales plunged 14 percent in the first three months of the year, the biggest decline in two decades of keeping records, as tablets continue to gain in popularity and buyers appear to be avoiding Microsoft Corp.’s new Windows 8 system, according to a leading tech tracking firm.

* North Korea was responsible for a cyberattack that shut down tens of thousands of computers and servers at South Korean broadcasters and banks last month, officials in Seoul said Wednesday, noting that an initial investigation pointed to a military-run spy agency as the culprit.

* Talk about clearing your head: Stanford University scientists have found a way to make see-through mouse brains. You take the brain out of the mouse, soak it in chemicals for a couple of days, and voila: It becomes transparent. That lets scientists see both anatomical and chemical details in their natural, three-dimensional setting. And scientists say that’s a huge deal.

* Is Pling the next big thing? Tech columnist Virginia Heffernan says tha after you try it, you may never send another text message.

* Here’s a massively useful list of the five biggest technology ripoffs.

* As the wrangling over immigration reform intensifies in the Congress, the tech industry is lobbying hard to raise the limit on H-1B visas, which allow non-U.S. citizens with advanced skills and degrees in “specialty occupations” to work in the country for up to six years. Demand is so great that the annual cap of 65,000 was hit last week, just days after the application period opened. Technology companies support raising the H-1B quota almost five-fold, to 300,000, arguing universities are just not turning out enough American math and science graduates and they need to cast their net abroad to stay competitive. Yet some U.S. tech workers and academics say that the shortage of talent is exaggerated, that many of the jobs could go to out-of-work computer professionals in the United States, and that the program serves mainly as a
source of cheap labor.

* If you say something often enough, does it become true? For a little while, rumors that teens see Facebook in the same way they see their dads’ pale, baggy jeans have been wafting around the social biosphere. Earlier this year, a couple of slightly anecdotal studies suggested that Facebook was showing its laugh lines and that teens were moving toward exciting places like Tumblr. Now along comes a survey from Piper Jaffray that suggests teens are increasingly giving Facebook a “meh” rating. It’s a fascinating survey — offering moving gems such as the fact that teens spend 9 percent of their money on shoes. They do so love Olive Garden, too.

* In the 1966 science fiction classic “Fantastic Voyage,” a tiny submarine with a crew of five is miniaturized and injected into a comatose man to surgically laser a blood clot in his brain and save his life. At this week’s American Chemical Society meeting, nanoengineering expert Joseph Wang detailed his latest work in developing micromotors and microrockets that could bring new medical and industrial applications. Such machines could someday perform microsurgery, clean clogged arteries or transport drugs to the right place in the body. But there are also possible uses in cleaning up oil spills, monitoring industrial processes and in national security. (Or maybe making electricity not work, like in “Revolution.” Hmmmm.)

* A new study tracks the “rain” of charged water particles into the atmosphere of Saturn and finds there is more of it and it falls across larger areas of the planet than previously thought. The study, whose observations were funded by NASA and whose analysis was led by the University of Leicester, England, reveals that the rain influences the composition and temperature structure of parts of Saturn’s upper atmosphere.

* Should you play nice when you’re doing well? Or should you seek the jugular, machete in hand? It seems now that Samsung is in a confident position, it no longer needs to mock Apple. BlackBerry might be another matter, of course. That brand has a business which Samsung covets. But when it comes to launching the Galaxy S4, Samsung is steering a course very much down the middle of taste, the road and, who knows, America.

* Facebook is adding a new twist to status updates as of today. Any TV show, movie, or book that users mention in their status update will also contain an icon and link to the Facebook page of whatever’s mentioned. “For example, if you share that you’re watching a movie like ‘Jurassic Park,’ your post will contain the movie icon and a link to the movie’s page,” Facebook wrote in a blog post today. In other words, those TV shows, movies, or books that appear in status updates will also be kept on record in users’ timelines. Those people who don’t want this log kept on their timeline can tinker with their privacy settings to disable the feature.

* The next-generation iPad will follow its smaller counterpart in offering a thinner design, at least according to an image leaked by French Web site Nowhereelse.fr. The alleged image of the iPad 5 shows the front cover and the surrounding bezel with a much thinner design than that of the current iPad. The thinness of the case suggests that Apple is borrowing some design tips from the iPad Mini for its fifth-generation iPad.

* An alleged road map for Microsoft’s coming Gemini wave of Office updates, if accurate, indicates Microsoft’s Office for iOS and Android — as well as Outlook for Windows RT — might not happen as soon as many had hoped for and expected.

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