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Matt’s Favorites: Real Lightsabers, Fusion Power And Much More

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Light sabers

So what’s the latest from the wonderful, wild and wacky worlds of science and technology? Ever so glad you asked!

* First of all, my apologies to the folks who rolled out the M@dison Block Monday night. I was feeling a bit under the weather Monday and couldn’t attend. But WWJ Newsradio 950 covered the heck out of it!

* Also, here are links to your Tech Report home page, the Tech Report Page Two (trust me, it contains much fascinatin’ news), as well as our latest reports on event notices. (Of which there are a ton today, by the way, so you really ought to go look.)

* The moment “Star Wars” fans have been waiting for might finally be here: Lightsabers are no longer just a figment of George Lucas’ imagination. They could soon be more than a plastic Hollywood prop or a Halloween accessory. In the Sept. 25 edition of the journal Nature, a team of Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology physicists explain that they’ve discovered a molecule that behaves exactly like the weapon made famous by Luke Skywalker.

* Fusion energy has proven an elusive goal — a running joke is that humanity is 20 years away from a practical power plant, and has been for 60 years. That could be changing, said John Edwards, associate director for inertial confinement fusion and high-energy-density science of the National Ignition Facility. In a recent piece published in the journal Physics of Plasmas, Edwards said NIF scientists are getting closer to reactions that produce more energy than they need to get going, and added that the obstacles to realizing nuclear fusion involve engineering problems rather than basic physics.

* Google wants to replace annoying, blinking Flash ads on the Web with annoying, blinking HTML5 ads, and it’s built a new tool to help ad makers do just that. The free beta of Google Web Designer (download) lets ad makers build animated HTML5 ads with what Google calls “a robust yet intuitive set of design tools.” The tool works with DoubleClick and AdMob, and can be published to any generic environment.

* Cool, the International Space Station is getting its first 3D printer. It’s anticipated to be a much easier way of making spare parts for ISS systems.

* Millions of people tuned in to the final episode of “Breaking Bad” on Sunday night and chose to share their thoughts on Facebook. The social network said more than 3 million people generated more than 5.5 million interactions during the “Breaking Bad” series finale.

* And if you’re sick of your job and ready to quit, try to make a quitting video as cool as this one.

* In the battle of video game consoles, it appears that Sony’s PlayStation 4 is winning over Microsoft’s Xbox One. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll reveals that 26 percent of people surveyed say they are likely to buy a PS4 versus 15 percent who want to buy an Xbox One. Of those who are 40-years old and younger, 41 percent wanted a PS4 versus 27 percent who wanted an Xbox One.

* In 1963, famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau and a team of aquanauts lived undersea for 30 days in the Conshelf underwater living experiment. Now, his grandson is looking to beat that long-held record by staying below the surface for 31 days — in a 9 by 40 foot science lab.

* As he finished his Ph.D. thesis in 2007, Ben Dubin-Thaler took a risk: rather than accepting a full-time job offer, the Columbia University graduate set out to create a high-tech science lab. In some ways, it would be a typical lab, with microscopes and beakers, scientists and specimens. But there would be one key difference: the lab would be completely mobile.

* Airbnb says New York City has reversed a $2,400 fine for a man who rented out a room in his apartment through the vacation rentals site. Nigel Warren was fined in May, when a New York judge said he violated a state law that prohibits short-term rentals. He and his landlord had appealed the ruling. This week the city’s Environmental Control Board took their side, agreeing that short-term rentals are permitted as long as a permanent occupant is present. Warren was not in the apartment when the room was rented, but his roommate was. New York City is one of Airbnb’s largest markets, but its users face legal action because of a law that targets large companies that convert entire apartment buildings into illegal hotels.

* AT&T officially announced its pricing plan for the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 smartphone, which goes on sale this Friday at the carrier’s online and brick and mortar stores, and also at RadioShack. The carrier will sell the phablet, which also packs in high-end specs and an improved stylus for more multitasking than in previous versions, for $299 with a new, two-year service agreement. If that number’s a little too daunting up-front, AT&T’s Next program lets you pay in $35 monthly installments.

* In its most recent survey of US Internet adoption, the Pew Internet and American Life Project found that 85 percent of all American adults now use the Internet, up from 80 percent a year ago. While that is good news, that still leaves 15 percent, or 24 million adults, offline. Who are the holdouts? The US still has a “digital divide,” but it’s not the one most people would imagine. According to the survey, the most significant factor is age: Nearly half of non-users are age 65 or older. Education is the second-most important factor — more than 40 percent do not hold a high school diploma. Other factors, including sex, race, income level, and geographic location, are less significant, and continue to decrease.

* Facebook Graph Search, the social network’s natural language search engine, is maturing in a way that will help it live up to its original promise of freeing all past and present content from the confines of News Feed. Starting Monday, the engine will enable people — initially just a small group — to search for status updates, photo captions, check-ins, and comments on Facebook.com. Previously, Graph Search has only allowed users to query around people, places, photos, and interests.

* Verizon Wireless on Monday blamed a software glitch for allowing customers to upgrade to a subsidized handset while keeping their grandfathered unlimited data plans, despite a year-old policy change prohibiting that arrangement.

* Pinterest didn’t only become $7.2 million richer on Monday — it now also owns 100 domain names that bear a resemblance to Pinterest.com. The social network won a judgment against alleged serial Chinese cybersquatter Qian Jin in US District Court in San Francisco.

* An Oregon middle school educator tried to paint students mocking him with parody Facebook and Twitter sites as criminal hackers in order to bring a lawsuit against them under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Thankfully, a federal judge had a better sense of humor.

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