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Matt’s Favorites: Cops Listening In On Cell Phones Too, Mars One Plans Unmanned Mission, And Much More

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So what’s the latest from science and technology at midweek? Well, let’s take a look around the Intertubes and see what’s what…

* First, here are links to the Tech Report home page and Tech Report Page Two, where you will find much worthwhile news. Also links to our latest reports on tech-related awards and certifications in Michigan.

* Also, join WWJ Technology Editor Matt Roush and panelists gathered by the Southfield accounting and business advisory firm Plante Moran for a webinar on a novel idea for getting innovation into your organization — buying it. The event takes place Thursday, Dec. 12 from 2 to 3 p.m. Eastern time online. The webinar  builds off the results of Plante Moran’s just-released 2013 Innovation Survey, which indicate that seven out of 10 organizations are convinced that they would be more successful with innovation if they collaborated.Register here.

* And a bit of a distant early warning: The final day of your WWJ Technology Report for 2013 will be Friday, Dec. 20. We will resume publication on Monday, Jan. 6. Yep, that’s right, I’m taking a two-week vacation — my first one since 2000. We’ll see how crazy I go being off work that long.

* Amid all the revelations about NSA surveillance of cell phone records, email traffic, and even online video games, police forces across the country have been quietly undertaking their own surveillance programs with very little public notice. An investigation by Gannett looked into the practices of 125 police agencies in 33 states. They discovered that at least 25 of the agencies own a portable device called a Stingray, which acts like a fake cell phone tower and can scoop up data from cell phones within about a mile-wide range without users’ knowledge.

* A privately funded unmanned Mars mission will launch in 2018, officials with the non-profit Mars One foundation announced Tuesday. The mission will include an orbiting communications relay station, a lander equipped with a robotic arm, water generating gear, experimental thin-film solar panels and student experiments.

* Baby, it’s cold outside. But if you think this is bad, picture spending your summer months in Antarctica: a new data set shows that the South Pole set a world record for low temperature in 2010, and came within fractions of a degree of the same temperature this July. According to new NASA satellite data, the mercury dipped to -135.8 degrees Fahrenheit in August 2010, and -135.3 degrees on July 31, 2013.

* Facebook’s new News Feed, unveiled with pomp and circumstance back in March, isn’t headed your way anytime soon, or even at all, according to a new report from AllThingsD. The now reportedly tabled News Feed design is defined by its larger presentation of content. Updates, photos, and even ads, are so big they’re impossible to miss. But apparently bigger is not better with Facebook users. Unnamed sources told Mike Isaac at AllThingsD that engagement with the new design has fizzled, which means that a majority of users won’t get the version we saw unveiled at the beginning of the year.

* The European Space Agency is planning to land a probe on a comet by this time next year. The Rosetta probe is already in space, where it has been in hibernation for more than two years. On Jan. 20, 2014, it will be roused back into action. Scientists are hoping it will wake up fit and ready for the final stage of its daring mission. There is little room for mistakes as the coming months involve a high-speed chase, a delicate dance around comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and finally the precision drop of a lander onto its icy surface — set for Nov. 11, 2014.

* Necropsies performed on the 11 pilot whales found dead in the Florida Keys show that they were emaciated and suffering from malnutrition, federal officials said Monday. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration stranding coordinator Blair Mase said the whales’ empty bellies could be a result of disease or of being out of the deep, cooler waters that form their natural habitat.

* Apple seems to have its eye on the curved display market, at least as evidenced by a newly awarded patent. Granted Tuesday by the US Patent and Trademark Office, a patent dubbed simply “Curved touch sensor” outlines a technical process to achieve higher-quality curved displays. Current sensor displays are typically very thin, so thin that their components can sometimes be damaged during the fabrication process. Apple has a way around that.

* AT&T’s top executive says the era of big subsidies for devices is coming to an end, as wireless operators can no longer afford to fund a constant smartphone upgrade cycle. Speaking at an investor conference in New York City on Tuesday, AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said that with smartphone penetration at over 75 percent and soon reaching 90 percent, wireless operators need to work harder to get customers to use more of the network rather than simply getting on the network.

* Which is better: Apple’s Siri or Google Now? Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster recently put them both to the test.

* Sprint CEO Dan Hesse believes that 2013 was Sprint’s rebuilding year, but he sees the company making a turnaround by mid-2014. Speaking at an investor conference in New York on Tuesday, Hesse told an audience of analysts and investors that it has been personally painful for him to watch the company lose customers as it rips out its old network infrastructure and replaces it with new gear as part of its Network Vision program and its new Spark enhanced LTE network upgrade.

* Bundle up and pray for a clear winter’s night — the year’s best meteor shower, the Gemenids, known for its massive fireballs and upwards of 100 meteors an hour, peaks Friday night.

* CBS CEO Les Moonves hinted to investors Tuesday that Amazon paid $700,000 an episode for “Under the Dome,” the summer sci-fi series that the online retailer streamed four days after CBS’ flagship broadcast network aired the shows. Speaking at a UBS investor conference, Moonves said flexibility is key to getting the most out of subscription video-on-demand opportunities such as Netflix or Amazon Prime Instant Video.

* Last week, Microsoft made it public that it planned to stop allowing its PC partners to sell machines with Windows 7 preloaded as of Oct. 30, 2014. The Redmondians are now saying that date was posted in error. The new official word is that Microsoft still has yet to determine when the Windows 7 preload cut-off date will be. (Neowin reported the change from October 30, 2014 to “TBD” over the weekend.)

* What if NASA’s Robonaut grew legs and indulged in steroids? The result might be close to what NASA has unveiled: Valkyrie is a humanoid machine billed as a “superhero robot.”  Developed at the Johnson Space Center, Valkyrie is a 6.2-foot, 275-pound hulk designed to compete in the DARPA Robotics Challenge (DRC).

* Looks like Yahoo is more dependent on Microsoft than it lets on. Both companies are steeped in a 10-year search partnership wherein Bing handles the Web crawling capabilities for Yahoo’s home page, while Microsoft gets to brand each Yahoo search results page as “Powered by Bing.” A US Securities and Exchange Commission filing recently made public showed that 31 percent of the company’s revenue last quarter was generated through its partnership with Microsoft, reported Bloomberg on Tuesday.

* The latest Mozilla Firefox updates debut an overhauled home page for the Android browser and heightened security on the desktop one. Firefox for Android 26 offers a new home page design that makes it easier to get at key browser features. When you open a new tab or tap on the location bar, the new page appears with a menu that you can swipe through to see your Top Sites, History, Bookmarks, and the Reading List of sites saved to read later.

* Looking for a low-cost keyboard for your Android tablet? One has just landed in North America. Previously available abroad, the LuxePad A110 is a wired keyboard made by the folks atTaiwan-based Genius. The $20 keyboard connects to your tablet via its Micro-USB port and offers dedicated keys for locking the screen, playing music, controlling the volume, and handling other tasks. Genius also throws in a stand so you can position your tablet at different angles while you type away.

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