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Pardon me while I say something that might not be entirely popular: Software updates are pretty awesome. Maybe not so much for game consoles, but, I digress because the Curiosity rover recently received a patch that improved the autofocus of its "ChemCam" telescope. Over the air. On Mars. Before the update, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory would take nine pictures of a subject (each at a different focus) to get one usable close-up image of any of the Red Planet's rocks and soils, and send them back home. Same goes for any sample analyses the laser was doing. The problem is that for those analyses to be anywhere remotely useful, the telescope projecting said laser needs to be in focus and the workaround in place wasn't very efficient.

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Firefox and iOS intertwined

It's been a long time coming, but Firefox for iOS is nearly here... in a manner of speaking. Mozilla has revealed that it's about to conduct a "limited" beta test of the web browser, and has already posted source code for early testers. The organization would like to have an open beta that gives everyone an early peek (à la Android), but that's not really possible with Apple's current testing mechanism. Still, a public release is likely close behind -- if you're not a fan of your iPhone's existing web surfing options, you'll have another major alternative before long.

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A satellite view of arctic ice

For most of the past two decades, a handful of climate change scientists have had the CIA's MEDEA (Measurement of Earth Data for Environmental Analysis) program as an ace in the hole: they could draw on classified info from spy satellites and subs to study global warming in extreme detail. However, they'll now have to make do with alternatives. The agency has shut down MEDEA, saying that its projects to study the security implications of climate change "have been completed." While the CIA says it'll still "engage external experts" on the subject, it won't be providing consistent access to its extremely accurate and rare data.

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Drone or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) used for photography / filming flying by canal de Caronte, Martigues, France

The Justice Department promises to keep a closer eye on how its agencies are using drones from now on -- after all, they can be useful in nabbing suspects, but they can also be used as a tool to abuse power. In its new five-page policy guidance, the department has listed when its agencies can and can't use drones, with a focus on people's right to privacy. For instance, they can't be deployed to monitor activities protected by the First Amendment, such as peaceful protests. Authorities will also have to secure warrants to use the machines in places where the subject of investigation has "reasonable expectation of privacy." Obviously, the drones can only be used for authorized investigations and never for engaging in discriminatory acts.

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Mercedes-Benz F 015 Luxury in Motion

Car companies aren't usually good at wireless tech, and wireless companies aren't great with cars -- if you want to make wireless-savvy vehicles, you'll probably need some teamwork. Accordingly, Daimler and Qualcomm have forged a partnership that should improve connected cars. The first phase of this collaboration will focus on bringing cellular data and wireless electric car charging to your ride. They're not saying when they expect to bring their combined efforts to market, or what comes next. With that said, it won't be shocking if you're one day driving an electric Mercedes that's always online and never needs to plug in.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Skully CEO Marcus Weller stood in front of an crowd of customers that shelled out $1,500 to be one of the first recipients of the company's helmet with a heads up display and rear-facing camera to answer their questions. A few weeks ago Weller sent those backers a video message explaining that their helmets would be delayed until the fall. Now he was about to talk to those people face to face to address their concerns and show off the helmet's companion app for the first time. It's a talk he's prepared to give in multiple cities around the world.

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In the early '90s, four odd-looking arcade games appeared at a rented-out store in my local mall. For about seven dollars, anyone could stop in and play three minutes of a new virtual reality game called Dactyl Nightmare. I paid up, put on the massive helmet... and then the game was over before I'd even figured out what I was doing in the blocky, chessboard-like environment. The whole experience left a lot to be desired and I never went back. It certainly wasn't the first VR experience (or the most advanced) made available for public consumption, but it sums up how many felt about the ill-fated, first wave of consumer-facing VR projects: all hype and not enough substance. The times and technology have changed, though, and it's finally time for round two. VR systems are being developed and promoted at a rate that outstrips the previous era, with better graphics and games (and far less queasiness) than ever before. VR, it seems, is just about ready for prime time. So to commemorate its second coming, let's take a look at virtual reality's bumpy road to mainstream recognition.

[Image: AP Photo/Mark Cowan]

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Recommended Reading highlights the best long-form writing on technology and more in print and on the web. Some weeks, you'll also find short reviews of books that we think are worth your time. We hope you enjoy the read.

Why VFX Is Being Vilified
by Raqi Syed & Sonya Teich
Motherboard

By now, you've heard someone complain about the prevalence of visual effects in movies. Perhaps you've groaned about it yourself. Sure, there are varying degrees of execution, and some of the results that made the final cut have been downright awful. Take Avengers: Age of Ultron for example. The film was a massive success at the box office, but critics griped about the role visual effects played in the bulk of the action. Is all the post-production to blame for ruining movies?

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Ecocapsule is a small, egg-shaped abode that could be the perfect home for someone who wants to let it all go like Elsa and live off the grid. Its roof is decked with 600W solar cells and a built-in 750W wind turbine that store the energy they harness into a high-power battery. The structure's shape also allows its inhabitant to collect rainwater by placing containers around it. Since it measures just 14.6 feet long by 7.4 feet wide by 8.4 feet tall, anyone who isn't into tiny houses (and we do mean tiny houses) might feel more than a bit claustrophobic inside. Its designers, Nice Architects from Slovakia, made good use of every inch of interior space, though, fitting in a folding bed, a small kitchen, a dining area, a shower and flushable toilet, and even some storage space.

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As depressing as it may be, selfie sticks are inescapable despite how many places ban them. It's a sad truth of the future we live in. But! An enterprising artist by the name of Pablo Garcia has figured out a way to "reduce vainglory and self-importance" by adding pixely emoji to the reviled smartphone accessory. It's a bit more difficult than it looks, though. Garcia says he employed elements of anamorphosis, a technique to distort an image so that it's only visible from a specific angle, to make sure the smiling pile of poop, thumbs up and party horn appear correctly when shot from the smartphone's extended perspective. Is there some bigger message or implication here? "Perhaps it's a sober reminder of your mortality in the midst of your vainglory, or simply a pile of poop with eyes," Garcia writes. There you have it folks: sometimes a rose really is just a (smelly) rose.

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