What, you mean we have to work today and Friday? Jeez, I miss Thanksgiving week already. Nevertheless, there’s plenty of cool stuff from the wild worlds of science and technology to share, so it’s all good…
* First, here are links to the Tech Report home page and Tech Report Page Two, where you will find much worthwhile news. Not to mention our latest reports on tech-related HR notices and tech-related awards and certifications.
* How do parents set boundaries in the digital age? Well, imagine being Tiffany Shlain, the founder of the Webby Awards. Once a week, she and her family take a break from electronic devices. She calls it a “Technology Shabbat.” Modeled after the Jewish day of rest, the idea is that Shlain and her family turn off computers, mobile phones and TVs, so they can focus on being present.
* It’s that time of year, when Google helps little ones around the world track Santa. This year, instead of only tracking Kris Kringle on Christmas Eve, Google is giving you a different glimpse into what’s occurring at the North Pole every day leading up to Christmas. In addition, Microsoft has teamed up with NORAD this year, aiming to highlight Internet Explorer 11 while also helping you track Santa. Starting on Christmas Eve, as NORAD begins tracking Santa, those using IE11 on a touch device will be able to view his progress across the world in a 3D globe.
* Change those passwords, folks: More than two million of them have been stolen in a massive hack.
* And just how safe would a connected car be? Could somebody hack into it and order it to accelerate or cut the brakes? One U.S. Senator wants to know.
* Just days after he unveiled plans for a futuristic drone delivery system on CBS News’ 60 Minutes, Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos is announcing another aerial milestone. His private space flight company, Blue Origin, successfully test-fired a new rocket engine that could someday be used to launch spacecraft into orbit.
* Google is working on a humanoid robotics project that could completely change the way packages land at your door – and how they’re packaged in the first place. The project is part of the company’s new robotics group.
* The effort to get high-speed broadband in every school is getting a boost from the philanthropy of two technology gurus – Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg and Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates.
*Oh boy, can’t wait — scientists say this winter the Northern Lights should be visible much farther south than usual, maybe even in Detroit, because sun is at its sunspot peak (even though this peak is a relatively weak one). Only seen them three times in my life, and each time it was wonderful.
* Oh, cry me a freakin’ river: San Francisco’s techies are worried that the term has become so derogatory that it’s causing them pain. They would prefer “hacker” or, well, “maker.” For Pete’s sake, people, have some courage. Wear it with pride, like “nerd” or even “geek.”
* Yeah, this is what happens when you appoint a former cable lobbyist to the FCC: He starts arguing against Net neutrality, and says Internet service providers ought to be able to favor some traffic at the expense of other traffic. (And I’m sure it would never have anything to do with favoring traffic in which the ISP has a financial interest.)
* And here’s yet another example of police overreach — in Georgia, a father is arrested for plugging his electric car into a school outlet and taking at most 5 cents’ worth of electricity. So what’s next, me getting popped the next time I plug in a computer charger or a cell phone charger someplace where I’m covering a story?
* The oldest known human DNA found yet reveals human evolution was even more confusing than thought, researchers say. The DNA, which dates back some 400,000 years, may belong to an unknown human ancestor, say scientists. These new findings could shed light on a mysterious extinct branch of humanity known as Denisovans, who were close relatives of Neanderthals, scientists added.
* Here’s a Q&A with Broadcom’s CEO, who sees gigabit home connectivity in our future.
* A major revamp of the ports and cables of the ubiquitous connection technology USB will make connectors reversible, slimmer, and better at transmitting data and power.
* A bizarre, funnel-shaped cloud formation churning around Saturn’s north pole was first noticed in the 1980s in Voyager flybys. Eventually, this mass became known as “the hexagon.” Any images of this cloudy mass have been muted and blurry at best — until now. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has captured new images of the hexagon that show it off in all of its unearthly glory. The hexagon is a unique six-sided jet stream with a roiling rotating storm at its center. It spans roughly 20,000 miles and whips up 200 mph winds. According to NASA, no other weather feature like this has been detected in our solar system.
* You can add location tracking to the list of surveillance activities being carried out by the secretive US National Security Agency. Citing documents from the trove leaked by former agency contractor Edward Snowden, as well as statements from US intelligence officials, The Washington Post reports that the agency is sucking up “5 billion records a day on the whereabouts of cell phones around the world” and storing location info on “at least hundreds of millions of devices.” And though US citizens aren’t targeted by the program (according to the NSA, which also says the program is legal), location data on an unspecified number of Americans in the States does get captured, the Post reports.
* Apple has long been the most-desired brand for tablets, smartphones, MP3 players, and streaming media devices on US shoppers’ holiday lists. And, for the first time, the company also got ranked as the top brand for desktops this year, according to data from market researcher Parks Associates.
* Speaking of Apple, it has now reached a long-awaited deal with China Mobile to offer the iPhone on the world’s largest wireless carrier, according to the Wall Street Journal. The rollout of the iPhone on China Mobile, which has nearly 760 million customers, is expected around December 18, sources told the newspaper. While the iPhone is currently offered by China Unicom and China Telecom, Apple has been courting China Mobile for years, seeking the vast number of new customers such a deal would create.
* It wasn’t cheap to buy into the earliest round of Google Glass testing, but Google is now offering an unexpected benefit: a free hardware upgrade. In an e-mail sent to early Google Glass owners on Wednesday, the company offered to upgrade the $1,500 Explorer Edition headsets to a newer model for free. Google said that the newer model is faster, more durable, and compatible with upcoming prescription frames and the recently announced accessories such as the mono-earbud and the sunglasses attachment Shades.
* Speaking of Google Glass, a woman issued a ticket in California for wearing Google Glass while driving is fighting back. In a tweet, Cecilia Abadie said that she pleaded not guilty to the charge in court on Tuesday morning. The self-proclaimed geek and Google Glass pioneer has acknowledged that she was wearing the high-tech specs while driving but claimed they were powered off. As such, her contention is that simply wearing Glass behind the wheel is not against the law.
* It’s confirmed — the Federal Communications Commission has given approval to Verizon’s $130 billion buyout of Vodafone’s stake in Verizon Wireless. This makes the deal the third largest corporate acquisition ever and will give Verizon full ownership of Verizon Wireless.