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Alt-week 10.19.13: A bird's eye view of Grasshopper, cyber poaching and why you probably need more sleep


Alt-week takes a look at the best science and alternative tech stories from the last seven days.

Rockets. Just the word sounds exciting. Rock-et. SpaceX's vertical-take-off-and-landing Grasshopper is how many of us here at Engadget vicariously live our unfulfilled engineering dreams, so any chance to see it from more angles is welcome. There's also some less welcome news this week, and a new take on why you need more sleep. This is alt-week.

We know that sometimes the subject matter we cover in this feature can be a little, how shall we say... mind bending? But really, our goal is to bring you stuff that's just down right awesome. So, with that in mind let us share four words: Grasshopper rocket hexacopter video. The SpaceX VTOL rocket was captured on video from a mid-air copter-cam during a recent test launch, and frankly, if you're still reading these words, and not watching it -- we'd love to know why??

It's nothing new that to see technology that was meant for good, to be subverted and used for evil. What's a little more sinister, is when the technology in question is specifically designed to protect life -- endangered species. GPS tags and collars used for the benevolent tracking and monitoring Indian tigers have become targets for "cyber poachers." Worse, is that the criminals aren't even having to head out into the wild and seek out the devices; the poachers just need access to the email accounts that receive the location data. One specific case involves the Panna Tiger Reserve in India. Fortunately, the efforts of the hackers were thwarted by some server blocking, and GPS data encryption would have provided one last hurdle, but the attempt provided a chilling warning of how easily best intentions could go awry. Since the incident, the reserve has made sure officials stay near of the Tiger at all times, with even more technology -- drones -- being deployed in January as an extra precaution.

Sleep, if you never seem to get enough, it might be time to put one end of the candle out. Or... it could just be that you've been doing so much thinking, that your brain's not had chance to wash out the mental "trash" all that contemplation's left behind. That's according to new research at the University of Rochester Medical Centre, which suggests that sleep serves -- at least in part -- as a way for the brain to remove "waste" left from the taxes of being awake and alert. Once we've dozed off, some cells in the brain shrink, allowing more space for liquid to pass and flush out toxins. This is something that apparently can't be done while we're cognizant. The findings also chime with what's known about conditions such as Alzheimer's that typically show high levels of damaged proteins in the brain. At the very least it might explain why you don't always get quite as restful a sleep after a particularly mentally-taxing day. Wake up feeling sprightly and fresh every morning? We're saying nothing...

Seen any other far-out articles that you'd like considered for Alt-week? Working on a project or research that's too cool to keep to yourself? Drop us a line at alt [at] engadget [dot] com.

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