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A killer through your cat door

Sinister cat

(Copyright: Thinkstock)

Our pick of the week’s science and technology stories, from a call to kill the humble cat to the rise of the iPhone’s artificial helper Siri.

Cats are ruthless killers. Should they be killed?

Hannah Waters | Scientific American | 29 January 2013 

"Every year billions of birds and mammals are killed by free-ranging domestic house cats. And millions of reptiles and amphibians on top of that. If we are honest with ourselves the best solution to this problem is to kill cats. Kill them, with their cute little faces, their soft fur and their snuggles. Some of the cats need to be dead."

Interplanetary Cessna

Randall Munroe | What If? | 29 January 2013 

"What would happen if you tried to fly a normal Earth airplane above different Solar System bodies?" Most planets have no atmosphere. You'd fall to the ground. You could fly over Mars, but only at very high speed. Or over Venus, but your plane would catch fire. Best bet: Titan. Thick atmosphere, low gravity. Flying would be as easy as walking.

Why Apple is losing its aura

Bruce Nussbaum | Fast Company | 28 January 2013

An excellent essay on the huge part played by charisma and mystique in Apple's economic value. "Jobs had a business strategy that deliberately limited scale in favour of aura - great engagement, beautiful things, access to tools and content that let you create your own identity." Tim Cook's Apple is all about scale. The thrill is gone.

Quantum biology: Do weird physics effects abound in nature?

Jason Palmer and Alex Mansfield | BBC | 28 January 2013

Biologists find that quantum effects help to explain phenomena in the plant and animal world. Among them: photosynthesis, the navigation systems of birds - and sense of smell. "Electrons in the receptors in our noses disappear on one side of a smell molecule and reappear on the other, leaving a little bit of energy behind in the process."

Phreaking out Ma Bell

Phil Lapsley | IEEE Spectrum | 28 January 2013 · Edit

How an 18-year-old engineering student at Washington State read the Bell technical journal in 1960 and saw a way to hack the US long-distance telephone system, exploiting the principle that calls to directory inquires were free. Place such a call, then, with a few beeps, you could re-route it to a regular number, still free. The blue box was born.

Please feed the meters: The next parking revolution

Hunter Oatman-Stanford | Collector's Weekly | 25 January 2013

"What if you discovered an invention that could wean us from our vehicles, combat suburban sprawl and make city streets less dangerous, congested, and polluted? Well, that device has been around for nearly 80 years: It’s called the parking meter." But it's been fighting a losing battle against an American belief that drivers should park for free.

Facebook as a window into social media

Timothy Burke | Easily Distracted | 23 January 2013

http://b.rw/Wo4DzA

Facebook has made a bargain with investment capital which forces it to behave badly towards users. It will keep on wearing them down with lures and intrusions until they give up even more of their data. But is the data really worth that much? A lot of it merely tells you how people on Facebook behave on Facebook.

Siri rising

Bianca Bosker | Huffington Post | 22 January 2013

The back story on iPhone's voice-operated interface. Answering questions is just the beginning. Wait till it starts doing things. "Siri's history suggests a fantastical future of virtual assistants is coming; where we now see Siri as a footnote to the iPhone's legacy, some day soon the iPhone may be remembered as a footnote to Siri."

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