Matt’s Favorites: Mystery Barges, Missing Dark Matter, And Much More

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Mystery Barge

So what’s the coolest news from the wondrous worlds of science and tech for your Halloween? Nothing spooky or mysterious here, just the facts, and to several decimal places…

* First of all, here are links to the Tech Report home page and Tech Report Page Two, as well as a link to our latest reports on tech-related meetings and events in Michigan and news of staffing changes at Michigan’s tech-related companies and institutions.

Three mysterious structures that appeared on the water in California and Maine have the tech world abuzz. Each of the boxy structures sits atop a barge and looks like a four-story building made up of metal boxes. Little is known about them, but they appear to have been registered by someone familiar with geek speak — and with a sense of humor. The structures are registered with a Delaware corporation as BAL0001, BAL0010, BAL0011 and BAL0100. In binary code used in computing, the numbers spell out “one,” ”two,” ”three” and “four.” Currently, Nos. 1 and 2 are on the water in San Francisco and No. 3 is in Portland Harbor. Online speculation has focused on Google Inc. Also, the Delaware company to which they’re registered is called Buy and Large, a likely joking reference to “Buy N Large,” the fictional mega-corporation in the 2008 film “WALL-E.”

* With Google Glass being released into the wild in the coming months, Google has begun to partner with different companies to roll out accessories for its computer-enabled eyeglasses. On the Glass Explorers forum a new thread popped up Wednesday pointing to help pages that outline how the earbuds will work, who Google has partnered with for shades and shields, how Glass charging works, along with other material.

* Here’s more about Kepler 78b, the Earth-like planet so close to its star that it’s a hellish mess of lava. There’s only one big problem with it — it shouldn’t be there.

* Nearly a mile underground in an abandoned gold mine, one of the most important quests in physics has come up empty-handed in the search for the elusive substance known as dark matter, scientists announced Wednesday.

* As Twitter thrusts itself into the spotlight with a public offering, the company is finding its considerable assets have attracted a new type of audience: litigious parties looking for a piece of the action. Wednesday, Precedo Capital Group and Continental Advisors filed suit against the social network for fraud, alleging that Twitter manipulated the firms to “fix” an advantageous market value ahead of its IPO. The firms argue that Twitter blocked a carefully orchestrated stock sale — up to $278 million worth of Twitter stock — that cost them millions in expenses. Not pleased with the results of the failed sale, Precedo and Continental are seeking $124.2 million in damages.

* A savvy hacker created what many believe is the world’s largest family tree. With more than 13 million members, the tree is larger than the population of many small nations. It stretches back to the 15th century, when the Eastern Roman Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks, European explorers first discovered the “New World” and the Inca and Aztec empires were at their peak.

* If nothing else, “Grand Theft Auto V” will be remembered as a game that has defined what it means to show progress in the gaming industry — and within a game series. It’s not trying to redefine what we think of as video games or how we interact with them. But it demonstrates that, even as comfortable as we have grown with what we consider modern gaming contrivances, there is still plenty of room to evolve the experience on the current and next generation of consoles.

* The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, the Washington Post reported, citing documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

* But the US National Security Agency issued a statement late Wednesday saying that a report in an Italian news magazine that the agency has targeted the Vatican is false. “The National Security Agency does not target the Vatican. Assertions that NSA has targeted the Vatican, published in Italy’s Panorama magazine, are not true,” the NSA Public Affairs Office said in an e-mailed statement.

* Check this out — an insect inspired flying robot that takes collisions in stride.

* It might be possible to tell from looking at Facebook whether a relationship is going to last. And, researchers say, clues on Facebook may reveal whom you’re dating even if you don’t broadcast your relationship status.

Barnes & Noble Inc. is releasing a new $119 Nook e-book reader for the holidays, while it evaluates the future of tablet computers. Nook tablets haven’t sold well amid intense competition with Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle Fire and others. Barnes & Noble had a slim 2 percent share of the worldwide tablet market in the fourth quarter of 2012, but fell off IDC’s top 5 list this year.

* One of two oarfish found in Southern California waters earlier this month had a host of parasites living in its giant, serpent-like body. Scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara last week dissected the18-foot oarfish found off Catalina Island and found large, larval tapeworms in its intestine. An adult spiny-headed worm also was found embedded in the intestine.

* Sprint wants to get back into the network speed discussion badly. The company on Wednesday unveiled Sprint Spark, its brand for the ultra-fast LTE service that eventually will offer a wireless connection capable of delivering data at a blazing 1Gbps. But initially, Spark will be able to deliver peak speeds of 50 to 60 Mbps.

* Despite repeated assertions to the contrary, Facebook finally admitted Wednesday that its youngest users really are losing interest in the social network. In its third-quarter earnings call with analysts, CFO David Ebersman addressed the matter of Facebook’s teen appeal with the company’s most candid admission to date.

* Apple on Wednesday acknowledged an issue with some models of its newest MacBook Pro with Retina Display that would leave the keyboard and trackpad unresponsive. Those computers were released last week alongside the debut of new iPads. Some users have been complaining of the issue on their devices since then, though it’s been unclear just how widespread it is. In a new knowledge base page Wednesday afternoon, the company noted the issue and said a fix was coming

* Six grand for a high tech stove? Here’s what you get, according to CNet.

* A team of astrophysicists at the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft und- Raumfahrt; DLR), together with German and other European colleagues, has discovered the most extensive planetary system to date. Seven planets circle the star KOI-351 – more than in other known planetary systems. They are arranged in a similar fashion to the eight planets in the Solar System, with small rocky planets close to the parent star and gas giant planets at greater distances. Although the planetary system around KOI-351 is packed together more tightly, it provides an interesting comparison to our cosmic home.

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