Matt’s Favorites: Weird Tech, Chinese Hacking, Twister Drones, And Much More

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What’s the latest, greatest, and disturbingest in the wonderful wild world of high technology? I’m ever so appreciative you came here to find out. Here we go, kids!

* Last week, Manhattanhenge stunned New Yorkers as though they hadn’t seen the sun for years, the United Nations called for a temporary freeze on producing “killer robots” in case they turned against their human masters and one Reddit user who suffered a burned finger after his Samsung Galaxy S III allegedly caught fire. As if that wasn’t enough, in this week’s round-up of off-beat stories, YouTube may have discovered the world’s fastest typist, and Grumpy Cat gets a movie deal — but hates it.

* Amid increased concerns that China is hacking the secrets of the U.S. government, military and private sector, officials have announced plans to hold regular, high-level meetings between the two countries to address the issue, according to a report. Officials hope the talks, scheduled to begin in July, set standards of behavior for cybersecurity and commercial espionage, the New York Times reports.

* When the film “Twister” came out in 1996, its plot included science fiction: Release probes into a storm in order to figure out which tornadoes could develop into killers. Well, it’s no longer science fiction. Oklahoma State University researchers are designing and building sleek, Kevlar-reinforced unmanned aircraft — or drones — to fly directly into the nation’s worst storms and send back real-time data to first responders and forecasters.

* Here’s a look at how you have to build data centers in Oklahoma — to withstand 310-mph winds. (Or you could just build ‘em in Michigan, and spend less on cooling, too.)

* And I’ve always thought it would be pretty cool to be a tornado chaser. Rethinking that now, now that one of them has died in a tornado.

* Apple struck a licensing deal Sunday with both Warner Music Group and its publishing arm, Warner Chappell, bringing Apple’s free Internet radio product that much closer to launching, according to sources familiar with the negotiations. The deal suggests that Apple is working hard to unveil what’s been dubbed iRadio at its Worldwide Developers Conference, which begins June 10.

* Commercial farming of genetically modified wheat is banned in the United States. The practice is primarily not allowed because about half of America’s wheat is sold overseas and many foreign countries prohibit the import of genetically modified foods. So when modified wheat was discovered recently on a small farm in Oregon, the response from U.S. trading partners was fierce. Japan, the number one buyer of U.S. wheat, suspended some imports, as did South Korea.

* The kind of world-ending events depicted in movies are frequently bullpuckey. But many scientists are worried about other perilous scenarios — some of which are even scarier than anything that’s been depicted on the silver screen. From pandemic fungus to robot insurrection, here are nine apocalyptic possibilities.

New York’s 1010 WINS reports that a 22-year-old man dropped his cell phone on the tracks at White Plains Road and East 241st St., in the Wakefield section of the Bronx, and jumped down to the tracks after it. He was promptly struck by the No. 2 train and killed. His identity has not been released.

*Another RIP for print journalism: The Chicago Sun-Times has let go its entire photography staff of 28 people. Now its reporters will start receiving “iPhone photography basics” training to start producing their own photos and videos.

* NASA wants to test out the 3-D printing technology onboard the International Space Station to find out if the technology could be used to manufacture parts in space.

* A Wyoming high school student who built a nuclear reactor in his dad’s garage was disqualified from the International Science and Engineering Fair this month on a technicality. His crime: competing in too many science fairs.

* Here’s an interesting column complaining that America’s best and brightest are increasingly chasing totally dumb business ideas (and also excoriating corporate America for writing off everyone over 50 unless they’re already a CEO). Favorite graph: Above all of this, the frosting on the cake,  the nec plus ultra of evolutionary corporate accomplishment: the Director of Social Media.  This is the 20-year old whose role it is to “leverage social media to deliver a seamless authentic experience across multiple digital streams to strategic partners and communities.”  In other words, this person gets paid six figures to send out tweets. 

* Imagine if there was a voice in your head that regularly threatened to harm you or your loved ones, or that even ordered you to do so yourself. Awful as that would be, such auditory hallucinations are one of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia, with approximately one in four sufferers continuing to experience them even once taking anti-psychotic drugs. Fortunately, scientists have recently helped some schizophrenics gain control of their condition, by turning those voices into interactive avatars.

* A federal judge has ruled that Google must comply with the FBI’s warrantless requests for confidential user data, despite the search company’s arguments that the secret demands are illegal. CNet has learned that U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in San Francisco rejected Google’s request to modify or throw out 19 so-called National Security Letters, a warrantless electronic data-gathering technique used by the FBI that does not need a judge’s approval.

* Scientists now have definitive proof that many of the landscapes seen on Mars were indeed cut by flowing water. The valleys, channels and deltas viewed from orbit have long been thought to be the work of water erosion, but it is NASA’s latest rover, Curiosity, that has provided the “ground truth”. Researchers report its observations of rounded pebbles on the floor of the Red Planet’s 150km-wide Gale Crater. Their smooth appearance is identical to gravels found in rivers on Earth.

* Tony Scott, who as chief information officer managed Microsoft’s internal IT operations for the past five years, is leaving the company. The departure of Scott, whose LinkedIn profile describes him as the “former CIO” at the software giant, was announced to staff in an internal memo late last week, according to GeekWire, which first reported the news.

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