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Matt’s Favorites: Hello Fellow Martians, Leaky Spacesuit, Skype At 10, And More

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Technology that will be utilized in NASA's mission to Mars. (File photo)

Technology that will be utilized in NASA’s mission to Mars. (File photo)

So what’s the latest and greatest from the ever more mindblowing world of science and high tech? Hey, it’s a Friday, relax…

* So when we finally get to Mars will we just be going home? Evidence is building that Earth life originated on Mars and was brought to this planet aboard a meteorite, said biochemist Steven Benner of The Westheimer Institute for Science and Technology in Florida.

* Closer to home, NASA astronauts sealed up the spacesuit made for Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano — the one that flooded Parmitano’s helmet with nearly 1.5 liters of water during a July 16 spacewalk, nearly drowning him in zero G — and found that it’s still leaking. Time to send that baby home for repairs.

* Skype is turning 10, and the online communications software has come a long way since it made its first connection over the Internet. Skype began as a voice over Internet protocal (VoIP) and instant messaging service, and later expanded into video chat. It now connects 300 million users. In a blog post to commemorate the milestone, Skype noted that over 1.4 trillion minutes of voice and video calls have been made using its service. The company also highlighted some of the most incredible moments captured by people using Skype, including the story of a solider witnessing the birth of his child from Iraq and call from the top of Mount Everest.

* Back to school time means back to FIRST Robotics time. And the New Hampshire-based competition that teaches crucial science and technology education was out Thursday with the 2013-14 game in its FIRST Lego League competition. This year the FLL competition is “Nature’s Fury.” It will ask teams of children 9 to 14 years old in the United States, Canada and Mexico (9-16 elsewhere) to research and present their own creative solutions to one of today’s most relevant topics. Teams will also build, test and program a Lego robot to solve a set of natural disaster missions, such as positioning an evacuation sign, clearing an airplane’s runway of debris, and delivering supplies. More than 230,000 children are expected to compete in First Lego League in more than 80 countries. Michigan has the second highest number of FIRST teams of any state, trailing only California. Segway inventor Dean Kamen founded FIRST, For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology, in 1988 to inspire young people’s interest and participation in science and technology. The organization now sponsors four levels of competition, including Junior FIRST Lego League, FIRST Lego League, FIRST Tech Challenge and the FIRST Robotics Competition. More at http://www.usfirst.com.

* From CNet’s Chris Matyszczyk: The course of a cell phone purchase doesn’t always run smoothly. The terms can be lengthy, the devices complex and the conclusion unsatisfying. Anger, though, can be expressed in many forms. One woman in Detroit needed to show that her anger was bottomless. Claiming that her son had been ripped off to the tune of “200 motherf***ing dollars,” she marched into a cell phone store and demanded restitution. Sadly, she lost her equilibrium. I would like to use the word “allegedly,” but the store clerk filmed much of the episode.

* Apple iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S owners can get their hands on a new iPhone for a pretty sweet price — $100 to $150 off — if they trade in an iPhone 4 or iPhone 4S in working condition between Friday and Monday.

* If you wonder why this recovery is jobless, you might want to consider blaming high tech rather than your least favorite politicians. Even self-driving cars have the potential of destroying jobs, it seems. (Think: No more truck drivers or taxi drivers.)

* Facebook is making changes to the two key documents that govern its service in part to settle a two-year legal battle around its practice of using member data in advertisements. The social network is proposing updates, some of which have been court-ordered, to its Statement of Rights and Responsibilities and Data Use Policy legal documents to better inform members on how their data is used for advertising purposes, and provide additional clarity on its data collection practices.

* When Elon Musk outlined his moon-shot idea to transport humans via electromagnetically powered tubes, dubbed the Hyperloop, he was adamant in expressing that he did not have the time between his commitments at SpaceX and Telsa to make it a reality. Now a collaborative platform for would-be startup ideas has put Hyperloop on the table so it can be torn apart, refined, and eventually funded by the crowd.

* BlackBerry’s Q10 smartphone was supposed to bring the old days of BlackBerry’s physical keyboard into today’s touch-screen-obsessed world. But according to a new report, few people actually cared. The BlackBerry Q10 has experienced abysmal sales since its time on store shelves, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday, citing people who claim to have knowledge of the situation.

* Among the NSA’s annual budget of $52.6 billion are requests to bankroll “groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities” that can beat cryptography and mine regular Internet traffic, new documents leaked by Edward Snowden to the Washington Post reveal. The document in question, the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget Justification — referred to as the “Black Budget” — states on page 4: “…we are investing in groundbreaking cryptanalytic capabilities to defeat adversarial cryptography and exploit Internet traffic.”

* The fast-growing transportation service Uber is poised to raise a monster funding round that values the company at $3.5 billion. But Uber may need that money, because it’s also facing a monster national class action lawsuit that accuses the company of illegally skimming tips and misclassifying its employees as contractors.

* Intellectual Ventures announced on Thursday that a company it helped grow and that has received investment from Bill Gates, among others, is going out on its own. Evolv Technologies has been spun off from Intellectual Ventures and is now under the leadership of security industry veteran Mike Ellenbogen. The move comes after Evolv raised $11.8 million in a funding round led by Microsoft founder Gates, Lux Capital, and other investors. Evolv Technologies aims to commercialize imaging and detection technology for airports.

* Lyft is now in 10 cities in the US with simultaneous launches in Indianapolis, St. Paul, Minn., and Atlanta on Thursday. It’s the first time the quirky car-sharing company has launched in three cities at once, which may indicate that it’s ramping up its expansion. Sadly, no Lyft yet for Michigan.

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