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September 30, 2011 / David Bleeker

Weekend Edition: Miracle Berry’s Sour-Sweet Mystery Cracked

Time to decompress from the week with a little Wired Science science news…

Popping a squishy red miracle berry into your mouth is almost like hacking your taste buds. For up to an hour, the juices coat your tongue and previously sour foods like lemon and vinegar magically taste deliciously sweet.

The berry and its plant (Richardella dulcifica) grows in West Africa. While the local population has been using its miraculous properties for centuries, it was only in 1968 that the all-important protein miraculin was extracted and sold in tablets. They’re now available the web and often feature in “taste tripping” parties where brave souls dine on pickles and limes.

However, the exact mechanism that miraculin uses on your taste receptors, allowing it to magically turn sour into sweet, has been a mystery to science for almost four decades. Until now, that is, as a team of researchers from the University of Tokyo — headed by Keiko Abe — has uncovered the miracle berry’s secrets. [read more]

September 30, 2011 / David Bleeker

Facebook Timeline: Important privacy settings to adjust now

If you care to keep your past in the past, Facebook’s new version of the profile, called Timeline, makes that a little more difficult.

With Timeline, every status update, wall post and photo ever posted since the day you joined Facebook becomes easily searchable to you and your friends. For many—early adopters especially—dredging up the past for all to see can be a privacy nightmare.

When your Facebook account is migrated to the new Timeline—which Facebook started rolling out Thursday—you’ll have one week to make any adjustments to your past posts and privacy settings before your Timeline will go live for everyone to see. You can publish it yourself anytime within the five-day waiting period. [read more]

September 29, 2011 / David Bleeker

JavaScript upgrade to feature modularization

ECMAScript 6, which will also provide developers with more convenience and security, is anticipated for release in 2013

The next major upgrade to the JavaScript platform, tentatively named ECMAScript 6, is set to feature modularization along with other improvements aimed at providing developers with more convenience and security.

Detailed this week in a presentation at the HTML5 Dev Conf event in San Francisco, the ECMAScript upgrade is being eyed for a 2013 release, said presenter David Herman, a senior researcher at Mozilla Research who has participated in the development of the specification at ECMA International. Focusing on JavaScript at an HTML5 technical conference makes perfect sense,  Herman explained. “[The two] are pretty much impossible to separate. HTML5 is really about the new APIs and capabilities of the Web platform and JavaScript is the language of the Web platform, so you can’t use HTML5 without JavaScript and JavaScript is useless without the Web APIs, so the two need each other.”

Modularization enables reuse of JavaScript code so that developers can share what they’ve written for reuse in other applications. “I think it’s safe to say that the module system is the most important feature in the next version of JavaScript,” Herman said. “Modules make it possible for people to share code.” [read more]

September 29, 2011 / David Bleeker

MagicJack for iPhone Provides Unlimited Free Calling Within the US and Canada

You’ve probably heard of the MagicJack phone service that lets you make unlimited free calls within the US and Canada for the price of the required hardware and your internet connection. The MagicJack iPhone app lets you do the same thing from your iOS device, only you don’t have to pay for it at all. [read more]

September 29, 2011 / David Bleeker

How Adobe Flash lost its way

Adobe has long dreamed of establishing Flash as a premier cross-device rich application development platform, but as the competition mounts, those hopes appear to be dwindling. This could be Adobe’s last chance.

As its annual Max developer conference approaches, Adobe has announced details of the forthcoming Flash Player 11, along with AIR 3, the latest iteration of the Adobe Integrated Runtime desktop app based on Flash technology. Among the top features of the new versions is hardware-based 2D and 3D graphics acceleration, which Adobe promises will make Flash content run “1,000 times faster.”

In addition, Adobe has hinted that the Max keynotes will unveil “a new company initiative that reimagines content authoring” and transform “the creative process across mobile devices, personal computers, and the cloud.” [read more]

September 29, 2011 / David Bleeker

Facebook Users Beware: Facebook’s New Feature Could Embarrass You

If you didn’t watch Mark Zuckerberg’s Facebook announcements last week — and of course the vast majority of Facebook users did not — you may be in for a surprise. Aside from the dramatically redesigned Facebook Timeline profile pages, which roll out in the coming weeks (and which I’ve grown to love), Facebook’s new system to auto-share what you do around the web may catch many Facebook addicts off guard.

In fact, even those people who know exactly how this new feature works may need to be on guard against sharing some seriously embarrassing updates. [read more]

September 28, 2011 / David Bleeker

Apple Wins a Patent for a Super Smart-Pen which Predates Livescribe

The US Patent and Trademark Office officially published a series of 18 newly granted patents for Apple Inc. today. One of the most important patents within this group is for a super smart-pen. In fact, it’s so smart that it’s described as being a portable computer. The smart-pen, which is noted as using an ARM processor, is also likely to incorporate recording capabilities and act as a pager, as the pen incorporates a tiny LCD. The patent notes that the device’s rechargeable battery may also incorporate pyroelectricity and a custom-built solar cell.
It should be noted that Apple has likely acquired this patent from a Great Britain inventor who originally filed the patent in 1998 or nine years prior to Livescribe coming to market. This is important – as a recent Apple patent application which reflects Livescribe-like capabilities is actually building on the foundation of this newly granted patent and advances the smart pen to include voice, face and object recognition modules and more. This is Apple’s thirteenth smart-pen related patent since 2009. The trend illustrates that Apple is attempting to develop a family of smart pens for future iOS devices that would appeal to both the artist and enterprise user. The depth of innovation illustrated in Apple’s string of smart-pen patents goes far beyond purely defensive measures. [read more]