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Matt’s Favorites: Robotics Season, New Software, Monster Solar Flare, And Much More

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A NASA photo showing a monster solar flare in different wavelengths of light.

A NASA photo showing a monster solar flare in different wavelengths of light.

mattroush Matt Roush
Matt Roush joined WWJ Newsradio 950 in September 2001 to spearhead the...
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So here we are again at midweek in Polar Vortex Central. Who cares about record lows when there’s so much cool high tech? Read on…

* Michigan State University is hosting the Michigan VEX Robotics State School Championships Sunday, March 2. Fifty VEX Robotics teams from Belding, Bloomfield Hills, Detroit, DeWitt, Grandville, Haslett, Lansing, Pontiac, Traverse City, Utica, Webberville, and other Michigan cities will compete at the state challenge tournament that runs from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in Jenison Field House on the MSU campus. Winners vie for the right to advance to the 2014 VEX Robotics World Championship in April in Anaheim, Calif. Using the VEX Robotics Design System, students build innovative robots and then compete on a 12-foot by 12-foot playing field. The VEX Robotics Competition is designed to inspire students to pursue careers in the science, technology, engineering, and math fields. Students compete in multiple tournaments on their way to the state finals, providing opportunities for the teams to integrate changes and improve their troubleshooting skills. Michigan State University is the largest university sponsor of VEX Robotics in Michigan. MSU sponsors 34 teams from around the state, many of them from underrepresented schools, Watson explained. MSU students help VEX team members learn the principles of engineering as they design and build their robots for competition. Eleven of the MSU-sponsored teams qualified for the state tournament this year.

* The Troy-based solidThinking Inc. business unit of Altair Engineering announced the release of the latest version of its solidThinking Evolve software. An enhanced user interface and refined workflow controls in solidThinking Evolve 2014 allow industrial designers to develop forms faster than ever, in either Windows or Mac OS X. This latest release empowers users with new and enhanced productivity tools, enabling faster creation of complex products. More details are available at http://solidThinking.com/Evolve. The website features a large collection of new videos including an overview of what’s new in Evolve 2014, a tour of the user interface, and an overview of how Evolve fits into the product design process.

* Roush Industries has sold its Roush Life Sciences division in New Hampshire to an investor group that included the business unit’s current management team. Roush acquired the operations in 2008. The division produces more than 500 precision plastic products for the healthcare industry. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed, and no Michigan jobs were affected.

* What are the best-run businesses in Michigan? Students in the Eastern Michigan University College of Business will offer their answers to that question during an Academy Award-style event on Friday, March 14 at the Student Center. The EMU Business of the Year Awards Luncheon will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Student Center Ballroom. Those wishing to attend can register at http://www.emich.edu/cob/luncheon. The event’s distinctive flourish stems from the fact that EMU students nominated each of the 42 companies listed in each of the 14 categories of business type, along with selecting the winners. EMU business students will announce each category with its three nominees, then open the envelope announcing the winner. After that, a representative of the winning company will offer brief remarks, along with a slice of business advice.

And now the national and international stuff, courtesy of my colleagues at CBS News and CNet’s News.com.

* The sun fired off a major solar flare late Feb. 24, making it the most powerful sun eruption of the year so far and one of the strongest in recent years.  The massive X4.9-class solar flare erupted from an active sunspot, called AR1990, at 7:49 p.m. Eastern time. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory captured high-definition video of the monster solar flare. The spacecraft recorded amazing views the solar flare erupting with a giant burst of plasma, called a coronal mass ejection, or CME. The flare poses no threat to Earthly electronics because it shot off in another direction.

* Well, so much for Apple people being all smug that their systems are so much more secure than us lowly PC folk. Apple released a fix for its Mac OS X operating system on Tuesday, after revealing on Friday that a major security flaw had been found. The problem was initially believed to affect only mobile devices, and Apple released iOS 7.0.6 to patch the flaw in its phones on Friday. But over the weekend, it became clear that there was also a flaw with the OS X operating system, used on Macs. It’s become known as the “gotofail” bug.

* The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday it will spend millions of dollars to help farmers and ranchers improve pastures in five Midwestern states to provide food for the nation’s struggling honeybees. Since bees pollinate $15 billion in U.S. food crops, spending $3 million to help keep them alive seems reasonable.

* Google is lobbying officials in at least three U.S. states to stop proposed restrictions on driving with headsets such as Google Glass, marking some of the first clashes over the nascent wearable technology. Some eight U.S. states are considering regulation of Google Glass, a tiny computer screen mounted in the corner of an eyeglass frame. Law enforcement and other groups are concerned that drivers wearing the devices will pay more attention to their email than the road, causing serious accidents. Meanwhile, a woman says she was assaulted for wearing Google Glass in a bar in San Francisco.

* Mt. Gox, the biggest and perhaps best-known Bitcoin exchange, was expected to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, as media reports of a major theft heightened concerns about the viability of the electronic currency. According to the New York Times, a document “widely circulated in the Bitcoin world” indicated that Mt. Gox lost 744,000 Bitcoins, or about 6 percent of the pseudo currency that’s in circulation worldwide. The theft “had gone unnoticed for years,” according to the Times. Worries about the theft and other concerns have caused Bitcoin prices to fall below $500 a piece for the first time since November, when prices topped $1,200.

* Netflix (NFLX) is poking fun at rival Amazon.com (AMZN) in a mock commercial for drone-powered DVD home delivery service. Says Hank Breeggemann, general manager of Netflix’s DVD division, in the video, which was posted on YouTube, “Now we’re getting back to our creative roots with our groundbreaking, same-day home-delivery subscription service, Drone2Home.”

* Speaking of drones, when the Federal Aviation Administration finalizes the regulations on commercial drones, as it is expected to do by the end of 2015, an entirely new industry will develop. Experts say it could generate as much as $89 billion dollars over the next decade, as high-tech jobs are created in designing, manufacturing, operating and maintaining fleets of drones.

* And next, drone ships? Rolls-Royce is said to be developing them. Within a decade, unmanned freighters could be operating in regions like the Baltic Sea, and some think they could be safer, cheaper, and cleaner than manned cargo vessels. But regulatory and labor concerns remain.

* You’ll be seeing more revolutions like the one in Ukraine when another two billion people connect to the Internet in the next five years or so — that’s the view of Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Google. Schmidt and the head of the Google ideas office, Jared Cohen, traveled to 40 countries, including authoritarian regimes, such as China and North Korea. They concluded the Internet is a force for liberation that cannot be stopped.

* Would you pay $629 for a smartphone that advertises bulletproof security? Well, it’s on the market — we’ll see.

Samsung unveiled its new smartphone, the Galaxy S5, at a global tech show Monday. The phone features a better camera, a bigger screen, a fingerprint sensor, and even a built-in heart rate monitor to complement three upcoming fitness devices. And here’s a roundup of the rest of the news from Mobile World Congress Day Two in Barcelona, Spain.

* A newly discovered pink-nosed rodentlike marsupial gives its all for sex — really. Males of the species mate so intensely that they die before their young are born. (Well, that’s one way to get out of changing diapers.) The creature’s discoverers caught the little lothario in Australia’s Springbrook National Park with traps baited with peanut butter and oats. They’ve dubbed it the black-tailed antechinus.

* In his keynote address at Mobile World Congress Monday afternoon, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg discussed his vision for “connecting the world.” Focusing on his foundation, internet.org, Zuckerberg spoke about the potential economic and personal gains of bringing Internet access to people around the world. He cited a study that found that increased connectivity can create hundreds of millions of jobs and even decrease child mortality rates.

* Scientists using two different age-determining techniques have shown that a tiny zircon crystal found on a sheep ranch in western Australia dates back to 4.4 billion years ago. “This is the oldest reliably dated piece of the Earth that we have, that anyone knows of,” John Valley told CBS News. Valley, a University of Wisconsin geoscience professor, led the research team. Writing in the journal Nature Geoscience on Sunday, the team said the discovery indicates that Earth’s crust formed relatively soon after the planet formed and that the little gem was a remnant of it.

* Could the Google Barge be moving to ground zero of the recent national housing crisis? Last week, CNet found out that Google planned to move its famous barge, which now sits unfinished alongside Treasure Island in the San Francisco Bay, to a still-unidentified location. But Richmond, Calif., city council member Tom Butt told CNET on Tuesday that he’s heard the technology giant has decided to move the Google Barge to Stockton, Calif., a city of about 300,000, that’s located on the San Francisco Bay Delta. Stockton also was one of the hardest-hit cities in the country during the great recession.

* Oh, great. Researchers at the University of Liverpool have shown for the first time that WiFi networks can be infected with a virus that can move through densely populated areas as efficiently as the common cold spreads between humans.

* A meteorite as large as 4-1/2 feet in diameter smashed into the moon in September, producing “the brightest and longest confirmed impact flash” ever seen from Earth, astronomers said this week.

* News flash: Google buses (and other companies’ transportation systems that isolate their employees from the places they work) are bad news for cities.

* So, the Snowden documents also show intelligence agencies poisoning online debate with falsehoods and attempts to destroy the reputations of those deemed undesirable. As Lily Tomlin once said, no matter how cynical you get, it’s almost impossible to keep up.

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