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IRL: Giving Firefox OS a second chance

When I reviewed the original ZTE Open last year, the Firefox OS experience was -- to put it modestly -- rough around the edges. The device was stripped down even by the standards of low-end phones, while the software was missing features other platforms have had for years. You didn't even get new email notifications, for crying out loud. Jump ahead a year and it's another story. The Open C is a much more powerful device, and Firefox OS has received a few vital upgrades. But does that mean Mozilla's web-based mobile software is finally ready for prime time? I spent two weeks with the Open C to find out if it can hold its own against budget rivals -- and to see if I'd be comfortable using it as my only phone.

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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.

Can Blossom's MIT-Enhanced Brew Win Over Skeptical Baristas?
by Danielle Sacks, Fast Company

The quest for the perfect cup o' joe has led to some rather amazing new brewers over the last few years, and the same goes for this MIT engineer's creation. The Blossom One Limited is a brewing unit that gives the barista complete control over all aspects of the process, except for the actual roasting of the beans. Water temperature, coffee dosage, grind, immersion time and more can be tweaked during the search for the best combination. Creator Jeremy Kuempel notes how coffee is more complex than wine on a genetic level, so he sought to make a unit that could showcase the unique properties of different varieties. Oh yeah, the ability to calculate perfection will cost your coffee shop $4,950.

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Microsoft might very well be gearing up to launch a Google Chromecast rival. While the tech giant hasn't announced anything official yet, one of its latest FCC filings details a device codenamed HD-10, which features WiFi, HDMI support and a USB connection. Those three will sound familiar if you know what the Chromecast is, but what really demystifies the device's nature is a separate document on the WiFi Alliance website. That filing, unearthed by Nokia Power User, called the HD-10 a "Miracast Dongle." Miracast, as you might know, is Microsoft's screen-sharing technology available on Windows 8.1, Windows RT and, most recently, Windows Phone 8.1, though it's also built into Android 4.2 (and later) and BlackBerry 10.2.1.

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Reno Weathers Economic Downturn

When it works, cloud streaming video games can feel like a magical experience. Think about it: some remote server is pushing high-quality gameplay directly to your TV -- through the internet! It's a crazy, impressive achievement, but it's still not ready for primetime. Cloud streamed games face latency and control delay issues far too often, and the easy solutions (moving servers nearby or increasing bandwidth) can be expensive. Microsoft proposes another fix: a system that predicts what the player is going to do before they do it. It's called DeLorean, and well, it's ambitious.

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Gas leaks are huge trouble. Leaky pipes are not only prone to exploding (which is already terrible, of course), they also spew out methane -- a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change. The bad news is, nobody's been monitoring gas leaks closely, so Google Earth Outreach and the Environmental Defense Fund teamed up to do the job back in July. Now, the results for the project's pilot tests are out, and they confirm what everyone suspects: old gas pipes do leak a lot more than new ones. In order to effectively survey large areas, the pair attached methane-detecting sensors to Google's famous roving vehicles: Street View cars. They then sent these dual-purpose vehicles to Boston, Indianapolis and Staten Island, whose results you can see in the images after the break.

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Close-up studio shot of woman applying nail polish

An experimental nail polish line called Undercover Colors can do more than color your nails to match those shoes: it can tell if your drink's been spiked by a dubious date. Just pretend to stir the drink with your finger, and the polish will change color the moment it detects GHB, Rohypnol or Xanax (aka date rape drugs or roofies) in the liquid. Pretty cool, right? And certainly useful, seeing as 1.) date rape drugs are typically odorless and tasteless, and 2.) a recent Washington Post report has revealed that sexual assault cases on college campuses continue to grow from year to year.

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Can you remember the last time you logged into PlayStation Home? Neither can anybody in Japan, apparently. According to a statement released on the Japanese website, the 3D social space will permanently close in March of next year. Sony didn't give a reason for the shuttering, but it's not too much of a surprise, the online hub -- an avatar-filled playground often compared to Second Life was never very popular, and seemingly fell short of the company's expectations. Sony's western divisions haven't announced if a similar shut-down is in store for Home's international versions. Oh, you say you do remember the last time you logged into Home? Well, take comfort in the knowledge that Sony is shutting down the service with a large-scale closing event.


Google regularly rolls out Chromecast updates that plug up previous root-friendly exploits, but there's a new method you can use if you want complete control over your streaming device. A group of hardware hackers (fail0verflow, Team Eureka and GTVHacker) have not only discovered a vulnerability in the latest Chromecast software, but also developed a way to exploit it and give you root access. This lets you tinker with the HDMI dongle, enable and disable stuff like software auto-updates and change any setting you wish, among other things. The team's calling it "HubCap," and it works on both newly updated and brand new, fresh-out-the-box Chromecasts. You'll need extra hardware to make it happen (a USB development board called Teensy used to root PS3s back in the day), but if you're dead set on rooting your Chromecast, head over to XDA Developers for the full set of instructions.

[Thanks, CJ]

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No one ever said rebooting spaceflight was going to be easy. The SpaceX team might know that better than anyone, especially on a night like this: one of the company's experimental F9R rockets malfunctioned in a test flight over McGregor, Texas and automatically aborted by self-destructing. Thankfully, the system kicked in before the rocket could veer off course, so there were no injuries (or near-injuries, as SpaceX was quick to point out) and no damage was inflicted. At time of writing there's no word on just what sort of anomaly prompted the F9R to terminate its flight, but SpaceX plans to dig into the flight data to figure out just what went south.

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