So what’s the newest, wildest and weirdest in science and technology on this fine summery Monday morning? I’m so glad you asked, because your interest gives me the coolest job in journalism…
* That wildfire around California’s Yosemite has gotten so big that it’s creating its own weather pattern. (Sure hope it doesn’t do any permanent damage to that most American of places. We’re planning on vacationing out there in a couple years — an Eastern California road trip through the deserts and mountains between Vegas and Tahoe.) The fire is so big it even threatens power and water in San Francisco 200 miles away.
* And speaking of weather, the Farmers Almanac is predicting a bitterly cold winter for two-thirds of the country and heavy snowfall in the Midwest, Great Lakes and New England. It’s also predicting a winter storm during the first northern Super Bowl played in an outdoor stadium, at MetLife Stadium in the Meadowlands in New Jersey.
* And in case you missed it, Farmington Hills’ own Steve Ballmer announced Friday that he’ll be leaving as the software giant’s CEO within 12 months, when the process to find a successor is complete. Wall Street, which was never much in love with Ballmer, reacted by pumping up Microsoft stock. Given Microsoft’s recent product flops (Windows 8, Surface), some analysts wonder what a new CEO will have to do to right the ship.
* Speaking of Microsoft, they said they’d do it by the end of August. And as we head into the last stretch, it seems Microsoft has released to manufacturing (RTMed) Windows 8.1, its next release of Windows. Windows SuperSite editor Paul Thurrott tweeted on August 23 that Windows 8.1 had RTM’d. Thurrott said the final RTM build number is 9600.16384.130821-1623. More from News.com.
* And while admitting he’s not a tech expert, famed New York Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman says that Apple may be in even bigger trouble than Microsoft, because Apple relies on individual, whimsical purchasers, while Microsoft relies on conservative IT managers.
* The U.S. government’s efforts to determine which highly classified materials leaker Edward Snowden took from the National Security Agency have been frustrated by Snowden’s sophisticated efforts to cover his digital trail by deleting or bypassing electronic logs, government officials told The Associated Press. Such logs would have showed what information Snowden viewed or downloaded.
* Speaking of Snowden, the National Security Agency spied on the internal video conferencing system used by United Nations officials by decrypting it last year, according to German magazine Der Spiegel. The disclosure came from documents leaked by Snowden, the former NSA contractor who has provided a trove of materials to Britain’s The Guardian newspaper about heretofore secret details of the NSA’s surveillance program.
* Never mind about Baffman, this was the best geek news of last week: The new “Star Wars” movie, Episode VII, will be shot on good old-fashioned film, like the originals — not the digital cameras used in Episodes I-III.
* And Star Trek fans take note: There’s an Indiegogo campaign to fund a new series set in the original Star Trek canon (not the Vulcan-is-gone canon of the new movies), several decades after Voyager returns from the Delta Quadrant.
* The German auto supplier Continental, which has major operations in Auburn Hills, tells CNet that it expects its technology research will yield self-driving cars by 2020. The company has invested more than $130 million on self-driving car research so far, said spokesman Vincent Charles. It began participating in DARPA self-driving car challenges in 2007, is licensed to test autonomous vehicles in Nevada, and has 1,300 researchers working on technology to assist drivers and eventually take over altogether.
* Canada could be sending its first astronaut to the moon under an ambitious long-term plan being developed by a group of space agencies around the world. A return to the moon within the next two decades is part of the recently updated Global Exploration Roadmap — a far-reaching plan developed by more than a dozen space agencies.
* This has been a very bad summer for dolphins along the East Coast. More than 250 of them — dead or dying — have washed up on beaches over the past two months, and while no one is completely sure why, marine biologists believe the dolphins could be suffering from a bacterial or viral infection with symptoms that resemble measles.
* Since the first test-tube baby was born more than three decades ago, in vitro fertilization has evolved into a highly sophisticated lab procedure. Now, scientists are going back to basics and testing a simpler and cheaper method.
* As an old map collector I am lovin’ this: The oldest known globe to represent the New World has been discovered, researchers say. Dated to the early 1500s, the globe was likely crafted in Florence, Italy, from the lower halves of two ostrich eggs.
* Here’s a cool look at the 90th birthday of the technology that makes modern military aviation possible: midair refueling.
* Speaking of aircraft, Boeing said it has completed the first 787-9 Dreamliner, the second member of its touted family of commercial aircraft. This second member of Boeing’s 787 family is 20 feet longer than the Boeing 787-9 and can hold 40 more passengers. On the specifications front, the 787-9 is also an improvement over its predecessor, flying roughly 300 nautical miles longer while burning 20 percent less fuel. Boeing built the 787 with carbon-fiber composites instead of aluminum, which saves substantial weight.
* With the supposed release date of Apple’s supposed cheaper iPhone just around the corner, you can bet the Web will continue to fill up with supposed photos of the device. This latest shot, picked up by French site NowhereElse, supposedly shows the 5C being tested near the assembly line, for capacity and general operation.
* Dear Science, I’m writing to inform you that you have less than two years. If I’m flicking through the latest issue of a technology magazine or tech Web site in 2015 and don’t see a hoverboard, I’ll be mighty disappointed.
* So-called high-altitude, long-endurance (HALE) UAVs like the Global Hawk have been around for a while, but a New Mexico startup wants to launch gigantic drones that won’t have to land for years. Titan Aerospace recently showed off its designs for the Solara 50 and 60, solar-powered unmanned flyers that it calls “atmospheric satellites.” They’re designed to be a fraction of the cost of a satellite while delivering a range of functionality from forest fire and atmospheric monitoring to live mapping and narcotics tracking. Both would feature massive wings, more than 160 feet across and covered with thousands of solar cells drawing solar energy and storing it in lithium ion batteries for night flying. The Solaras would fly at tropopause altitudes of around 65,000 feet (more than 12 miles), where the winds are fairly weak, and stay aloft for up to five years.