Matt’s Favorites: More Mars Water Discoveries, Another Retail Data Breach, And Much More

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Mars Curiosity

So how’s everybody doing in the snow globe that is Michigan on this fine frigid Monday? Another polar vortex headed our way, so warm up with these fascinating bits of technology and science…

* NASA’s decade-old Mars rover, Opportunity, has found evidence that life-friendly fresh water once pooled on the red planet’s surface, reinforcing similar discoveries made by newcomer Curiosity on the other side of the planet, scientists said last week. Opportunity, along with its now-defunct twin, Spirit, landed 10 years ago for concurrent 90-day missions to look for clues of the past existence of water.

* If you plopped down the plastic at arts and crafts store Michaels recently, you might want to check your statement. The company said Saturday that it was investigating a potential payment-card security breach, a la those that affected Target and Neiman Marcus.

* The New Madrid fault zone in the nation’s midsection is active and could spawn future large earthquakes, scientists reported last week. It’s “not dead yet,” said U.S. Geological Survey seismologist Susan Hough, who was part of the study published online by the journal Science. (Although thankfully, it’s far enough from Michigan that the effects here probably wouldn’t be serious.)

* A man in Olathe, Kan. can’t bear the thought of living without his Xbox, so he risked his life to run back into his burning home to retrieve it.

* Apple already lets users buy music, books, and apps through an iTunes account. But the tech giant has plans to expand its mobile-payment efforts, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal. Citing anonymous sources, the report says Apple is exploring moving beyond the realm of digital goods and letting users pay for physical goods and services — such as clothes or a taxi ride — with an iTunes account.

* Gmail experienced a brief outage on Friday. Service for the social network Google+, including Hangouts, were also affected.  According to Reuters, the services were unavailable in India,  Britain and the United States. Users attempting to sign into Gmail were greeted with an error message.

* Also, Google has repaired a bug that automatically filled in an e-mail address in Gmail when accessed from the Google Search results page. The bug had been plaguing the unlucky e-mail account owners since at least Monday, when the bug was first reported.

* Kids who regularly plugged into social networking sites before bedtime reported sleeping nearly an hour less on school nights than those who rarely connected online, a new study shows. “Using technology in the bedroom may result in sleep loss, delays in initiating sleep, daytime sleepiness and more,” the study’s lead author, Teresa Arora, told Reuters Health in an email.

* Google and Samsung on Sunday unveiled a broad, long-term cross-licensing deal that will cover their existing patents as well as those filed over the next 10 years. The two companies provided essentially no details about the terms of the deal or what patents and technologies its covers, only saying that it’s “mutually beneficial.” However, they did take veiled shots at Apple, stressing how two big companies can work together to avoid litigation.

* Any negotiations with Edward Snowden regarding his return to the US would require guarantees of amnesty, his legal adviser said Sunday. Jesselyn Radack told NBC’s “Meet The Press” that the former NSA contractor would be willing to enter negotiations with Attorney General Eric Holder about returning to the US but would need assurances that he would not face prosecution for leaking confidential documents detailing the NSA’s surveillance programs. Holder said Thursday that the US would be open to negotiations but that granting amnesty “would be going too far.”

* A proposal from San Jose, Calif., City Councilman San Liccardo asks for citizens to donate their own home security systems for the greater good. As the San Jose Mercury News reports, all the citizens would have to do is to register their home security cameras with the local police. In the event of a local incident of any kind, the police would be able to remotely access the video feed and view everything the home security camera captured.

* Like the millions of people tuning in during the Super Bowl, Michele White will be glued to her monitor. But unlike everyone else, the big game won’t be on her screen. Instead, White, the head of network operations and engineering in the New York metropolitan region for Verizon Wireless, will be staring at and stressing over something else altogether: the status of her network’s ability to handle the estimated 82,000 people who will be in attendance at the game.

* During the recent cold snap, New England utilities turned to an unconventional fuel to generate electricity: jet fuel. Guess that means they were just sort of indirectly running the world’s largest kerosene heater?

* Here’s a look at some of the technology you can use to track flu season. Including the unfortunate fact that thousands of Americans each year indeed die of it.

* A team of researchers at Virginia Tech University have developed a battery with energy density an order of magnitude higher than lithium-ion batteries, while being almost endlessly rechargeable and biodegradable as well – because it’s made of sugar.

* Tell me again how great “free trade” with China is. The Tesla Model S just went on sale there, but at a price of $121,000, not the $79,000 it sells for in the United States, mostly because of duties China imposes on imported cars to protect its auto industry. Hmmmmm.

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