Horizon highlights - Space elevators, smiling for Google Earth, and when science meets politics

Our regular roundup of sci-tech stories from across the Web includes: how a hacker cracked Sarah Palin’s e-mail account, 20 percent of companies check the Facebook profiles of applicants, and why Wall Street’s warning bells need calibrating. Let’s kick it off:

PoliticsWhen should scientists take sides?
"How political should campus academics get? Not in their private lives, but in their research agendas. Here in California the answer is often pretty ... political, as researchers take the side of the state in its continuing battle with Washington over the right to set local targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions." [via New Scientist]

Comfort gadgetsIn tough economic times, video games console
"During the Great Depression, Americans flocked to the movies to escape the harsh realities of their daily lives. As the stock market tumbled and loved ones went off to war, Americans disappeared into dark theaters, where Shirley Temple sang and tap danced her way into their heavy hearts. Now, as the nation faces arguably the worst financial crisis since the Depression, video games may be playing the role movies once filled in hard economic times." [via NPR]
From the Monitor's ArchivesVideo games start to shape classroom curriculum: "Attention parents: Don't be surprised this school year if you tell your kids to stop playing video games and they respond, 'But it’s homework.' "

SpaceJapan hopes to turn sci-fi into reality with elevator to the stars
"Now the finest scientific minds of Japan are devoting themselves to cracking the greatest sci-fi vision of all: the space elevator. Man has so far conquered space by painfully and inefficiently blasting himself out of the atmosphere but the 21st century should bring a more leisurely ride to the final frontier." [via Times Online]

PhysicsBig bang or big bounce?: New theory on the universe's birth
"Einstein’s general theory of relativity says that the universe began with the big bang singularity, a moment when all the matter we see was concentrated at a single point of infinite density. But the theory does not capture the fine, quantum structure of spacetime, which limits how tightly matter can be concentrated and how strong gravity can become. To figure out what really happened, physicists need a quantum theory of gravity." [via Scientific American]
From the Monitor's ArchivesScientists challenge General Relativity. And Mr. Einstein wins again.: "Physicists assume that the laws they discover on Earth hold true throughout the universe and throughout all time. Their faith is only as good as the facts that support it. That support now is a little stronger."

NoveltiesRussian town puts giant smiley on Google Maps
"Citizens of the Russian town Chelyabinsk calculated when the satellite, QuickBird, which takes images for Google Earth and Google Maps, would cross above their city and used people to make a giant smiley face." [via SlashDot]
What they did And how they did it. [via EnglishRussia]

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