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Matt’s Favorites: Consumers Payment Scam, DTE Solar, Doomed Star, And Much More

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NASA says this massive star is about to go kaboom in a massive supernova. Good thing it's a safe 20,000 light years from Earth.

NASA says this massive star is about to go kaboom in a massive supernova. Good thing it’s a safe 20,000 light years from Earth.

So how’s everybody’s midweek coming along? Mine has been all about auto tech so far — see the nerd’s-eye view of the North American International Auto Show below. And also, enjoy these fine tech tidbits!

* Jackson-based Consumers Energy, the state’s largest utility, says you need to be alert to a scam involving someone calling your home and demanding that you pay a bill immediately or else face utility shutoff. Since Novembre, more than 100 such incidents have been reported, most commonly in the Flint, Lansing and Grand Rapids areas. A typical scenario involves the caller, who can speak English and Spanish, demanding payment for a Consumers Energy bill within an hour, and telling the customer to purchase a Green Dot prepaid credit card available at drug and food stores. People are then directed to call an 866 toll-free phone number to pay their bill with these cards. Consumers says don’t do it — you’re not paying Consumers, you’re paying a scammer. They say Consumers never demands payment in such a way. Residential or business customers who believe they may have been victims of this scam or who have related concerns should call Consumers at (800) 477-5050. Tips on avoiding utility fraud are available on the Michigan Public Service Commission at http://www.michigan.gov/documents/mpsc/mpsc-ca_utilityservicefraud_211946_7.pdf.

* DTE Energy is accepting applications for the third offering of its expanded SolarCurrents customer-owned pilot program, which offers customers a more affordable way to install solar photovoltaic systems on their homes and businesses. The expansion of the SolarCurrents program has added 2 megawatts (MW) of capacity in four offerings through 2014. A fifth offering in 2015 may take place for the capacity left over from the first four offerings. DTE Energy electric customers interested in participating in the third offering must submit heir applications online by 5 p.m. Feb. 13. If the number of applications exceeds the available capacity, a random selection process will be conducted Feb. 27 to determine which projects will be included in the program. The deadline for project completion is Jan. 5, 2015. Projects can range in size from 1 to 20 kilowatts. In this offering, a total of 1,000 kW are available — 750 kW for residential projects and 250 kW for non-residential projects. See dteenergy.com/solar for more information.

* The Kalamazoo-based economic development agency Southwest Michigan First, which does a lot of great work in tech-based economic development, has added three staffers. Alex Chung has joined the business acceleration team as the main contact at the agency’s location in Three Rivers (hello, ancestral homeland!). The acceleration division focuses on developing partnerships with existing companies in the region to spur job creation. This team is led by Jill Bland and supported by Joe Agostinelli and Cathy Knapp. Chung’s background includes both entrepreneurial start-up and legal experience for the U.S. Army, Business Intelligence Associates and, most recently, at Arkhym in Portage. Chung is a graduate of Alma College in Alma, Michigan and Santa Clara University School of Law in Santa Clara, Calif. Carla Winchester serves in the organization’s attraction division, which focuses efforts on attracting companies in targeted industry sectors to southwest Michigan. Winchester’s previous experience includes serving as assistant director of Kalamazoo-based Prevention Works. She is a life-long resident of Michigan and a graduate of Western Michigan University. Miranda Garside has joined Southwest Michigan First serving on the organization’s communications team. A graduate of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, Garside has experience in production editing and data management. More at http://www.southwestmichiganfirst.com.

And now, the national science and tech news…

* The Hubble Space Telescope has captured a striking new photo of a doomed star poised to explode in a devastating supernova event. The Hubble photo of the star, known as SBW1, more than 20,000 light-years from Earth, reveals the star surrounded by its own expelled gas to create what appears to be a “lidless purple eye, staring back at us through space,” NASA officials wrote in an image description. “But the star is not just any star; scientists say that it is destined to go supernova.”

* Speaking of space, sending humans to Mars by the 2030s is affordable, a group of experts finds, but some key changes are needed if it is going to happen. A workshop group of more than 60 individuals representing more than 30 government, industry, academic and other organizations has found that a NASA-led manned mission to Mars is feasible if the space agency’s budget is restored to pre-sequestration levels. Putting the first humans on the Red Planet would also require international cooperation and private industry support.

* And Christmas finally came for the International Space Station. The six space station astronauts finally got their Christmas presents with the arrival of a privately launched supply ship that took an extra month to soar. The crew opened the capsule a day early and started removing items, as soon as the Orbital Sciences Corp. vessel was moored safely at the International Space Station. Packed inside were 3,000 pounds of groceries, equipment and experiments, as well as eagerly awaited Christmas gifts from their families back home and some fresh fruit courtesy of NASA.

* Looks like we just lost Net neutrality. A federal appeals court in Washington on Tuesday struck down the Federal Communications Commission’s rules for Net neutrality. The 2-1 ruling upheld the FCC’s right to regulate broadband access, but the court called into question the FCC’s authority to impose rules that dictate how broadband providers manage traffic on their networks.

* Google announced that it is buying Nest Labs Inc. for $3.2 billion in cash. Nest’s products include a home thermostat that can be controlled wirelessly and learn a homeowner’s behavior and a smart smoke and carbon monoxide detector.

* Oh, jeez. Boeing says it is working with Japan Airlines to get yet another Boeing Dreamliner 787 up and running after maintenance crew members witnessed smoke coming from the battery Tuesday afternoon in Japan.

* According to a new study, some gamers may be prone to experiencing “altered visual perceptions” of reality, similar to hallucinations, after playing for hours at a time, reports CBS Atlanta.

* Anyone who’s ever owned a cat has probably wondered if their pet thinks of them as another cat. It turns out they do, albeit a clumsy, overgrown oaf of a cat, according to a British biologist, reports CBS Connecticut.

* A chemical spill that leaked into a river in Charleston, W.Va. last week, poisoning the water supply for hundreds of thousands of people, has shed light on a problem that is much bigger than just the one incident. An expert tells CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson that most big-city water treatment plants in this country are downstream from industrial facilities, and are vulnerable to contamination.

* Seven-year-old blogging network Tumblr is finally embracing user mentions, aka the “@” reply feature first popularized by Twitter and later copied by almost every other social network, Facebook included.

* The idea behind the Uber car service — use a smartphone app to easily summon a car, inform the driver about your destination, and pay — got its start in Paris. But resistance in from cab drivers in the French capital turned ugly Monday when an attack left an Uber car with slashed tires and a broken window.

India is scrambling to protect its beleaguered tiger population after several big cats tested positive for a virus common among dogs but deadly to other carnivores, experts said. In the last year, canine distemper virus has killed at least four tigers and several other animals across northern and eastern India, according to Rajesh Gopal of the government’s National Tiger Conservation Authority.

* The wireless wars are heating up, so it’s no wonder the claims of network superiority are flying out fast and furiously. The latest touch point comes from a study just released from wireless testing firm Root Metrics, which compiled its results after extensive testing in 125 markets during the second half of 2013. Depending on whom you ask, AT&T and Verizon Wireless both had something to brag about. AT&T touted that its overall performance topped more markets than its rivals, while Verizon insists that the results show it is the most reliable network.

* The New York Times reports that an argument over texting ended in a cellphone user’s death when a retired police officer in the audience shot him in a theater near Tampa, Florida on Monday. The report notes that ‘cinema executives acknowledged during a trade conference last year that they debated whether to accommodate younger viewers by allowing text messages during some movies.’

* How do you cope with an exploding world of YouTube video? Starting Tuesday, you can get help by visiting “YouTube Nation.” The video-sharing website has teamed with DreamWorks Animation to create this daily highlight reel of brand-new, trending and yet-to-be-discovered content.

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