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Black hole ejects massive energy jet after devouring a star

For the first time, scientists have caught a glimpse of a black hole ejecting a hot "flare" of matter after devouring a star the size of our sun. The discovery was made thanks to the quick action of of scientists from John Hopkins University, who worked in conjunction with a team from the University of Oxford. Hubble fellow Sjoert van Velzen from Hopkins heard last year that Ohio State U researchers had spotted a transient star that was caught in the gravitational pull of a black hole some 300 million light years away. In theory, the event (dubbed ASASSN-14li) would result in a "tidal disruption" of the star, resulting in a hot flare burst energy jet emitted by the supermassive black hole.

BlackBerry is leaving Pakistan over demands for backdoor access

BlackBerry has announced it's formally shutting down shop in Pakistan over demands from the country's Telecommunications Authority that backdoor access be granted to the company's encrypted services. Back in July, local carriers were ordered to shut off BlackBerry Enterprise Service from the end of November, because "security reasons." While the order has been pushed back to the end of the year, Pakistan's government isn't budging, leaving BlackBerry no other option but to abandon the country. As the company explains, "remaining in Pakistan would have meant forfeiting our commitment to protect our users' privacy. That is a compromise we are not willing to make."

Swatch's payments watch is coming to the US

Swatch has announced that the mobile payments watch that it's sending to China will also make its way over here. The watchmaker has teamed up with Visa in order to offer the Swatch Bellamy in the US, Brazil and Switzerland. It's the third entry on that list that's the most eyebrow-raising, since Swatch CEO Nick Hayek very recently criticized his home nation's own banks for being slow to embrace new payments tech. It looks as if Visa has stepped in to make its relations in Switzerland look fusty and slow by comparison.

Must Reads

  • DARPA wants to protect critical infrastructures from cyber attacks

    Hackers have been breaking through a lot of government agency's defenses these past years, and DARPA thinks it's high time to do something about it. Pentagon's mad science division has launched a new program called Rapid Attack Detection, Isolation and Characterization (RADICS), which aims to develop...

  • FCC hires a privacy guru to help lead its telecom investigations

    If you want proof that the Federal Communications Commission is getting serious about privacy, you only need to look at its latest recruit. The agency has hired Jonathan Mayer, one of the masterminds behind Do Not Track browsing, as the chief technologist for its Enforcement Bureau. He'll help lead investigations...

Gates, Zuckerberg and Bezos invest in huge clean energy fund

After announcing the Mission Innovation program to convince nations to double their clean energy investment budgets, Bill Gates has launched another massive initiative at the United Nations Climate Change conference in Paris. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition is backed by a who's who of tech leaders, including Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Jack Ma and Richard Branson. The idea is to develop new green technology that will increase the world's energy output -- especially in poor countries -- without contributing to global warming. Such tech, however, poses a risk that regular investors might shy away from. "We need the basic research, but we need to pair that with people who are willing to fund high-risk, breakthrough energy companies," said Gates.

Virtual wound will teach medics how to treat soldiers

Field medics have ways to practice their craft before they're helping soldiers on the battlefield, but it's hard for them to understand how wounds work until they're involved in a life-or-death rescue. UCLA scientists may have the tool these medics need, however: they've developed the first detailed injury simulation to show medics what to expect. The virtual gash could make you a bit queasy (sorry!), but it's uncannily accurate. A mix of fluid dynamics and in-depth mechanics (such as bones, skin and vessels) makes sure that blood flows much as it would from a real person.

Kobe Bryant decides to announce his retirement online

Kobe Bryant announced his retirement at the end of the NBA season through the web and social media -- not by press conference. Sure, Twitter retirement announcements aren't a new thing: Shaq did so in 2011, not to mention David Ortiz and Steve Nash. It wasn't a completely Twitter-specific announcement. He linked to his farewell message / poem in full on The Players' Tribune (a site launched by fellow former-athlete Derek Jeter). The site, which allows pro athletes to self-publish (and say what they want to), meant Bryant gets to say his piece -- although it's not specific. That said, it's already been retweeted over 70,000 times, and half an hour later, the NBA followed up itself on Twitter. The response was so strong that Jeter's site crashed under the strain. It's back online now, so if you'd like to see a portrait of Bryant whispering his farewell sonnet into a basketball, here's where to go.

Turning sunlight into clean fuel is now cheap and simple

Scientists have already produced artificial photosynthesis, but it has been an exotic process until now. You aren't about to replace the oxygen-giving plants around your home, in other words. However, researchers at Florida State University researcher have found a way to make it practical. They've developed a single-layer manganese oxide material that efficiently traps sunlight and makes it easy to break down that energy into hydrogen and oxygen. Current light-gathering techniques, like solar cells, frequently need multiple layers just to work at all -- this would be far cheaper and simpler to make.

Scientists show that gene editing can 'turn off' human diseases

Gene editing has already been used to fight diseases, but there's now hope that it might eliminate the diseases altgether. Researchers have shown that it's possible to eliminate facial muscular dystrophy using a newer editing technique, CRISPR (Clusters of Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) to replace the offending gene and 'turn off' the condition. The approach sends a mix of protein and RNA to bind to a gene and give it an overhaul.

App turns your writing into trippy 3D images

It's easy to imagine a piece of art in your head, but making it real is another matter if you're not an artist. Wouldn't it be nice if you could simply describe what you wanted? WordsEye is trying just that. Its beta web app lets you describe a scene using natural-language text, and uses statistical parsing to translate that into a 3D image. You can name objects and their qualities using terms that are as fuzzy or exacting as you like, including relative concepts like position. It's easy to use, although the results can be more than a little surreal -- just look at the pictured rat on a cat on a Christmas cow if you need proof.

The Pirate Bay won't be blocked on its home turf

Numerous countries order their internet service providers block The Pirate Bay, but its home country of Sweden won't be one of them... at least, for now. A Stockholm court has ruled that Sweden can't make ISPs block the piracy site, since those companies aren't responsible for what their customers do. The networks aren't participating in any crimes, according to the ruling -- they're just the delivery medium.

Amazon and Jeremy Clarkson hint at the future of delivery drones

Former Top Gear co-host Jeremy Clarkson isn't just working on a new motoring show for Amazon... he's helping the internet giant pitch its vision for delivery drones, too. Amazon has unveiled a splashy new Prime Air ad where Clarkson shows off a new, more powerful drone design (with promises of a "whole family" of others) and outlines how these robots would ship a pair of running shoes. All you'd have to do is place your order and plunk down a marker to tell the drone where to land. From there, the robot would use its mix of horizontal and vertical propellers to ferry your cargo (up to 15 miles from its home base) in 30 minutes or less. You'd even get a heads-up when the drone is close, so you wouldn't have to worry about someone swiping your package the moment it arrives.

VW reportedly knew its fuel economy figures were wrong a year ago

If one report is accurate, Volkswagen execs didn't just know that their cars' emission estimates were fishy -- they knew the fuel efficiency figures were off, too. German newspaper Bild claims that top brass was aware of misleading fuel economy estimates about a year ago, or months before it became public. Former CEO Martin Winterkorn reportedly went so far as to yank one model off the market, the Polo TDI BlueMotion, because its fuel consumption was simply too far off the mark (18 percent above estimates).

The AfterMath: A week of excesses

Too much food? Too many bargains? With a handful of antacids nearby, we hope you've enjoyed this Thanksgiving week. Following in tradition of all that indulgence, we're all about size and excess here at TAM. Nuclear-powered data centers, puffy nuggets of gold, huge numbers of user names hacked... and a suggestion for next year's Thanksgiving dessert. We'd suggest you start making room now.

Inhabitat's Week in Green: Tesla Model S recall, and more!

When a problem comes along, you must fix it. This week Tesla noticed a defective seatbelt in one of its Model S sedans, so the automaker immediately issued a recall for all 90,000 vehicles on the road out of "an abundance of caution." In other transportation news, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin beat out Elon Musk's SpaceX in the race to develop a rocket that can return intact from space. Porsche announced plans to offer a hybrid version of one of the most-loved sports cars of all time. We also spotted several outlandish infrastructural hazards: a three-day traffic jam snared drivers in Kenya and a highway suddenly lifted towards the sky and splintered into pieces in California.

Professor saves home with smart sprinklers from 3,000km away

Deadly bushfires have swept across South Australia this week, destroying countless properties and natural spaces. One ingenious professor was able to save his rural home, however, by remotely activating sprinklers using a smartphone. Simon Maddocks, the President and Vice-Chancellor of Charles Darwin University, had been notified of the fires by friends and messages sent by the Country Fire Service (CFS). He was sitting comfortably in his Darwin office, far from danger, but knew his wheat farm on the other side of the country was at risk. Maddocks started tracking the flames from over 3,000 kilometers away using CFS maps on his phone before connecting to CCTV cameras at his house.

Amazon's new Fire TV can talk to your connected home

Amazon's Echo speaker and 4K Fire TV just got much better at handling around-the-house tasks. The Fire TV now controls smart home devices with a simple voice command -- you can ask it to dim the lights right before you start a movie. It'll search for local businesses and restaurants, too, in case you want to get some sushi when you're done watching. The Echo already has these features, but you can now ask it when a TV show starts to make sure you catch that big season premiere. Both the Echo and Fire TV upgrades are relatively straightforward, but they'll mean a lot if you're tired of bringing out your phone to ask simple questions.

This 'Super Mario Bros.' watch will cost you $18,950

How much of a Nintendo fan are you? Enough that you could spend as much as you would on a car, just to show the world where your allegiances lie? You'll want to talk to luxury watchmaker Romain Jerome, then. It just unveiled a limited edition Super Mario Bros. mechanical timepiece that marks the 30th anniversary of the plumber's adventures in style. And we do mean style: its 46mm case is made out of black titanium, and the three-layer dial is loaded with enamel-coated pixel figurines to remind you of Mario's early days. It's quite posh-looking, then, although the eye-watering $18,950 price will likely rule this out unless you're a high roller with some fond gaming memories. On the plus side, that ultra-rare Nintendo World Championship cartridge suddenly seems like a bargain.

E-paper sneakers change your style on the fly

If you're the sort to buy multiple pairs of sneakers just to make sure your footwear is always fashionable, you might soon have a way to save a lot of money. David Coelho is crowdfunding ShiftWear, or sneakers that have color e-paper displays in their sides. You only need a mobile app to change your look at a moment's notice (there are promises of a shoe design store), and you can even use animations if you're feeling ostentatious. The shoes are machine-washable, and the e-paper consumes virtually no power if you're using static imagery -- there's even talk of walk-to-charge tech that would save you from ever having to plug in or swap batteries.

Apple's next iPhone reportedly ditches the headphone jack

Apple's quest for ever-thinner, ever-smarter devices may produce another casualty: your iPhone's headphone jack. A rumor at MacOtakara claims that the next iPhone might drop the 3.5mm port and use the Lightning port for audio instead. The move would let Apple slim its phone even further (reportedly, over 1mm thinner than the iPhone 6s) and take advantage of Lightning's features, such as headphone-based DACs and app launching. You'd have to use an adapter for any conventional wired headphones, or else make the leap to Bluetooth.

The NSA's mass US phone surveillance ends tonight

The National Security Agency's long-running mass phone surveillance program is coming to an end. As promised, the USA Freedom Act will forbid the NSA from indiscriminately collecting Americans' call metadata at midnight on November 29th. Agents will have to get court orders to collect data from telecoms regarding specific people or groups, and then only for six months at a time -- they can't just scoop up everything in case something useful turns up. The NSA will still have access to five years' worth of legacy data through February 29th, but that's as far as its access will go.