Matt’s Favorites: SpaceShipTwo Test, Path Grows, Siri Competition And Much More

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SpaceShipTwo

So what else is new and fun during Tech Tour week? Heck, plenty!

* A private spaceship designed to carry space tourists made its first rocket-powered test flight Monday, reaching supersonic speeds as it paved the way toward commercial flights in the near future. Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space plane fired its rocket engines for the first time during flight in a test from California’s Mojave Air and Spaceport. The vehicle was carried aloft by the mothership WhiteKnightTwo, and then released in midair at an altitude of about 46,000 feet. At that point, SpaceShipTwo test fired its rocket engine, reaching a maximum altitude of 56,000 feet and then flying back to Earth.

* The secret seems to be out about Path, which today announced that it has more than 10 million users of its private social-networking applications for iOS and Android. Path is a mobile-based social network that focuses on sharing photos, location check-ins and status updates. The San Francisco-based app focuses on smaller, intimate networks — limiting users to 150 total friends.

* Siri is getting a little competition from Google. The search giant is rolling out its digital personal assistant, Google Now, for iPhones and iPads. Like Apple’s Siri, Google Now offers voice search and location services to display answers to questions, weather and traffic alerts. Unlike Siri, the app is part of Google Search and can’t be launched by the touch of your phones home button on iOS devices. On Android devices, however, Google Now can be accessed right away, without launching an app.

* While warmer water might be better for swimmers and surfers, it’s not good for the wildlife in the ocean. According to the latest Ecosystem Advisory issued by NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (NEFSC), the temperatures in the sea surface waters of the Northeast Shelf Large Marine Ecosystem were the highest they have been in 150 years.

* The “comet of the century” is expected to fly by the Sun in November, and as a result, the formation could create a meteor shower months later. According to NASA, when its Swift spacecraft observed the comet in January, it was already releasing more than 112,000 pounds of dust every minute. Some scientists are predicting that the dust could impact the Earth’s atmosphere.

* Sprint Nextel Corp. on Monday said its merger partner, SoftBank Corp., has waived some terms of their agreement so that Sprint can seek more information from rival suitor Dish Network Corp. The exchange of information between Sprint and Dish indicates the companies are in conversations about the satellite broadcaster’s $25.5 billion takeover bid, even if Sprint for now is standing by its $20.1 billion pact with SoftBank.

* President Barack Obama expressed his unequivocal support for the science industry in a public address Monday, saying the nation cannot afford to make sweeping budget cuts that threaten to stall the depth and pace of research. Obama spoke before an audience of scientists, engineers and doctors this morning to mark the 150th anniversary of the National Academy of Sciences.

* The European Commission will restrict the use of neonicotinoid pesticides linked to bee deaths by researchers, despite a split among EU states on the issue.

* Since the early days of space travel, a consistent complaint has been bad coffee. Now a group of freshman engineering students at Rice University has developed a simple approach to alleviating this problem.

* There is a perception in some tech circles that older programmers aren’t able to keep pace with rapidly changing technology, and that they are discriminated against in the software field. But a new study from North Carolina State University indicates that the knowledge and skills of programmers actually improve over time – and that  older programmers knowas much (or more) than their younger peers when it comes to recent software platforms.

* Aiming to bring users more content, Yahoo is launching Web shows, starring Ed Helms, John Stamos, and Cheryl Hines, and debuting programming from WWE, ABC News, CNBC, and Conde Nast.

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