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WIRED Awake August 28: Storm-hit Houston turns to Twitter as residents struggle to reach emergency services

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Your WIRED daily briefing. Today, people affected by Tropical Storm Harvey are coordinating rescue requests via Twitter as emergency service numbers are overwhelmed, Uber wants Expedia’s Dara Khosrowshahi as its new CEO, lost Turing letters found at Manchester University and more.

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1. Storm-hit Houston turns to Twitter as residents struggle to reach emergency services

As the city of Houston and surrounding areas of the state of Texas are ravaged by Tropical Storm Harvey, the US coast guard has requested that people contact it through standard emergency numbers, rather than using social media such as Twitter (TechCrunch). However, many caught in the storm say that all the numbers are busy and that limited phone battery life means they can’t keep calling. While there are good reasons for focussing on official emergency channels, a team of volunteers has set up an unofficial rescue request service allowing people in need of help to enter their data, which others will then communicate to the appropriate authorities. Meanwhile, Apple has opened a donation service so iTunes and iOS users can give aid to those affected by the the storm.

2. Expedia boss picked to take over Uber

The board of scandal-hit app-based taxi firm Uber has reportedly voted to offer the post of CEO to Expedia boss Dara Khosrowshahi (Recode). However, when the news reached press sources, the board had not yet contacted Khosrowshahi to ask if he would take the position. He’s regarded as a “truce” choice for the board, which has also considered HP Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman and ex-General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt in a process that has been said to be fraught with infighting following the forced resignation of controversial Uber founder Travis Kalanick.

3. Lost Turing letters found at Manchester University

A collection of 148 letters by codebreaker and father of modern computing Alan Turing have been found in a filing cabinet at Manchester University (The Guardian). The document file, “which potentially hasn’t seen the light of day for at least 30 years, dates from early 1949 until Turing’s death in June 1954”, the university says. It includes a letter from GCHQ referring to secret wartime codebreaking centre Bletchley Park, a draft script for a BBC radio programme about artificial intelligence and a curt response to a 1953 invitation to attend a conference in the USA, reading: “I would not like the journey, and I detest America”.

4. Samsung boss gets five years in South Korean corruption scandal

Days after a largely positive launch of the Galaxy Note 8, the head of Samsung has been sentenced to five years in jail (WIRED). Lee Jae-Yong, who has been in charge of the company since his father suffered a heart attack in 2014, was found guilty of bribing the South Korean government. The heir to the empire has been embroiled in the scandal, which saw the impeachment of the country’s president, since last year. His father remains in hospital, making Lee the de facto leader of the electronics giant. A court in South Korea agreed with prosecutors that Lee had offered to pay government officials during a time they were agreeing a merger between two Samsung-owned companies. The deal led to Lee taking a greater control of Samsung Electronics.

5. Anonymous comment app Sarahah wants your mobile contacts

Anonymous personal feedback service Sarahah has been a viral hit, with millions of people using it to solicit opinions from their friends and acquaintances, but while the service doesn’t reveal commenters’ identities, it might be collecting more information about users than they’re aware. The Intercept has noted that the permissions Sarahah requests for its iOS and Android apps include access to your mobile contacts. More significantly, while the app itself has no use for this data, your contacts are uploaded to Sarahah’s service. In response to reports of the finding, Sarahah creator Zain al-Abidin Tawfiq tweeted that: “Sarahah App asked for contacts for a planned ‘find your friends’ feature. It was delayed due to a technical issue. The database doesn’t currently host contacts and the data request will be removed on next update”.

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6. People who hear voices are better at picking out speech from garbled recordings

A small study has found that people with non-clinical auditory verbal hallucinations – those who hear voices, but not as a problematic symptom associated with psychosis or other negative mental health issues – are better at picking out heavily garbled human speech amid recordings of other noise (Ars Technica). Researchers from Durham University had both voice-hearers and non-voice-hearers listen to recordings of sounds that included sine-wave speech, which strips out large sections of the audio spectrum, leaving only clicks and whistles that can nonetheless be interpreted as signifying intelligible words if you know what you’re listening for. The voice-hearers were able to pick out the speech first and without additional training, and their fMRI scans showed additional brain region activation, indicating that they’re better at discriminating between intelligible and unintelligible sounds. Non-voice hearers were also able to pick up on the sine-wave speech after training, matching their voice-hearing counterparts, and neither group misidentified genuinely unintelligible sounds as speech.

7. Space photos of the week: Nasa takes the best eclipse photos

Millions stared up at the sky last Monday for a chance to watch the first total solar eclipse in the contiguous United States since 1979 (WIRED). And while countless photos were taken of the event, none are quite so impressive as those captured by Nasa. The astronauts aboard the International Space Station snapped an incredible shot, not of the eclipse, but the moon’s shadow cast on Earth, called an umbra. The International Space Station also photobombed an eclipse shot, its silhouette appearing several times in a multiple-exposure image. There were plenty of fantastic images made from Earth too, like a photo documenting the moment just before and just after totality, when sunlight burst from behind the moon.

8. A neural net has invented new My Little Ponies

AI researcher Janelle Shane‏ has trained a neural network to come up with new My Little Pony names, with results that range between the perfect, the deeply odd and the frankly unprintable (Boing Boing). Shane‏ writes: “I used a program called a character-level recurrent neural network (char-rnn), which looks at examples of text and learns to imitate them”. Her results, which follow neural net-developed paint colours and Star Wars planets, include the entirely plausible Sunshine Star and Amethyst Mist, as well as more entertaining suggestions like Barp Moon, Cheese Breeze and Parpy Stink.

9. This is how the Half-Life saga would have ended

Retired Half-Life lead writer Marc Laidlaw has published Epistle 3, a synopsis of how the much-requested but almost-certainly-never-to-be-released Half-Life 3 could have played out (Ars Technica). Writing in the form of a letter, Laidlaw has replaced the names of characters and places in the game – protagonist Gordon Freeman becomes ‘Gertie Fremont’, for example – although an enterprising PasteBin user has created a version with the correct names restored. While it’s not clear whether the epistle is based on internal development notes, or is simply how Laidlaw would have liked to see the series conclude, it may be the closest Half-Life fans will get to closure. Laidlaw tweeted: “I guess fanfic is popular, even a genderswapped snapshot of a dream I had many years ago”.

10. Darkwood dev torrents own game to foil dodgy key sellers

Acid Wizard Studio has released a full, clean torrent of its tense, stylish top-down survival horror game Darkwood in an attempt to prevent people from buying keys from resellers (Rock, Paper, Shotgun). Key resellers are a particular problem for indie studios, who are often bombarded by requests for free review and competition keys, which then appear for sale on dodgy sites, a practice that has lost some developers large numbers of sales. Acid Wizard writes: “if you like Darkwood and want us to continue making games, consider buying it in the future, maybe on a sale, through Steam, GOG or Humble Store. But please, please, don’t buy it through any key reselling site. By doing that, you’re just feeding the cancer that is leeching off this industry”. Darkwood is available now on Steam, GOG, the Humble Store and, um, The Pirate Bay, but if you can afford the game, we strongly recommend buying a legitimate copy.

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