Matt’s Favorites: Nerd’s-Eye View of the Auto Show, Virgin Galactic Near Space, CES Roundup, And Much More

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Virgin Galactic

We’re back again with a Monday morning’s worth of fun tech news for your edification and entertainment. Let’s get started!

* Well, press days of the North American International Auto Show start today, and I’ll get my butt down to Cobo Center to take a nerd’s eye view for you. Check out my coverage in Wednesday’s edition. We’ll see if driverless cars are as hot there as they were at International CES. I’m betting not.

* Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, a six-passenger, two-pilot spacecraft aiming to make the world’s first commercial suborbital spaceflights later this year, conducted its third rocket-powered test flight on Friday. With Virgin Galactic chief pilot David Mackay and co-pilot Mark Stucky at the controls, SpaceShipTwo soared to an altitude 71,000 feet above ground – about twice as high as commercial jetliners, Virgin Galactic said on Twitter. Also, Space.com reports that 2014 will be a breakout year for commerical spaceflight.

*A little higher up in space, a commercial cargo ship loaded with nearly 1.5 tons of supplies and equipment was captured by the International Space Station’s robot arm early Sunday and attached to a docking port, wrapping up a complex but problem-free rendezvous. The Orbital Sciences Cygnus cargo craft, launched Thursday from Wallops Island, Va., was captured by arm operator Mike Hopkins at 6:08 a.m. Eastern time as the two spacecraft sailed 260 miles above the Indian Ocean.

* And farther out still, on Mars, new photos by a sharp-eyed NASA Mars orbiter show the space agency’s Curiosity rover trundling across the red planet, on its way to the base of a huge and mysterious mountain. The 1-ton Curiosity rover and its tracks are visible in two new images taken by the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera aboard NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on Dec. 11, 2013.

* In this video, as International CES wound down on Friday, CNet’s Sumi Das rounds up some of the coolest tech from the Las Vegas showcase. And here’s another CES roundup on wearable technology, curved TVs, autonomous cars, connected appliances and more.

* And while it may be a little late for New Year’s resolutions, here’s a look at several fitness apps that can help take your workout to the next level.

* And jeez, a bunch more hacks, and more info on previously disclosed ones, of varying degrees of seriousness and risk — Neiman-Marcus and several smaller retailers, Microsoft’s Twitter account, and Yahoo’s malware attack.

* Oh, and speaking of hacks? How about gaping security holes in critical national infrastructure, discovered by Russian researchers and reported in Australia.

* Electricity prices across Europe dropped last month as mild temperatures, strong winds and stormy weather produced wind power records in Germany, France and the UK, according to data released by Platts.  Gosh, wish we had that problem here.

* Google apologized Friday after a Berlin intersection briefly regained its Nazi-era name, Adolf-Hitler-Platz, on the Google Maps service. Google spokeswoman Lena Wagner said the company quickly took down the name after the error was discovered. The intersection was relabeled with its proper name, Theodor-Heuss-Platz, after West Germany’s first post-World War II president.

Netflix says video streaming of its programming in ultra-high definition will work for buyers of new UHD sets from LG, Sony, Samsung, Vizio and others upon purchase.

* And here’s the latest on what I suppose you could call Windows 9.

* Fiber-optic broadband is becoming less of a rarity. Subscriptions to the high-speed networking service grew 13.9 percent from June 2012 to June 2013, according to newly released statistics from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which monitors economic trends in North America, Europe, Australia, Japan, South Korea, Turkey, and some other developed countries and regions. Of course, usage varies widely by country. Japan leads with 68.5 percent penetration of fiber-optic links, with South Korea close behind at 62.8 percent. Sweden is in third place at 35.9 percent; the US is in 14th place with an estimated 7.7 percent.

* For all the recruiting that colleges and tech companies do to try to diversify the tech worker base, new data shows tech’s gender and race gap starts earlier — in high school.

* And hey, look who’s brand new and big on social media – street gangs! Woohoo!

* If you’ve ever wondered why current cosmological theory pretty much inevitably leads to there being a bunch of different universes, well, here’s why, in pretty simple terms.

* Guess it really is all about the tablets and smartphones: PCs saw their biggest sales decline in history in 2013, according to new figures.

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