"Dongle" jokes, Vatican Batman tweet: This week in off-beat tech stories

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 04: Chimpanzee (L) and a gibbon skeletons are displayed at The Grant Museum of Zoology on September 4, 2012 in London, England. Containing 67,000 specimens, the Grant Museum of Zoology is the only one of it's kind in London. Started as a teaching collection in 1828 the collection displays only about 5% of all the specimens it holds. (Photo by Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images) Peter Macdiarmid

This week, Twitter turned seven years old, South Korea suffered a massive cyberattack against banks and broadcasters, and NASA administrator Charles Bolden said that all we can do is "pray" should an asteroid hit a major U.S. city. How very optimistic.

In this weekly roundup of off-beat tech stories that made rounds this week, we discuss infantile jokes, headphones that can read your thoughts and what happens when Twitter "attacks."

"Donglegate" explodes onto the Web; 4chan, Anonymous, Reddit react with vengeance

An off-color joke sparked a firestorm on the Internet this week after reports surfaced that developer evangelist Adria Richards overheard two men at the programming conference PyCon allegedly making juvenile jokes about "dongles" and "forking" -- a dongle is a small piece of hardware that plugs into a computer. Richards then tweeted a picture of two attendees  to express her disapproval of their comments.

One of the men pictured was fired from his job, sparking anger from online communities, like 4chan, Reddit, Hacker News and the hacking group Anonymous. Richards was ultimately terminated from the company she was working for. SendGrid's chief executive Jim Franklin said the firm did not support "how she reported the conduct."

U.K. finance minister joins Twitter; probably wishes he hadn't

George Osborne MP may hold the keys to the U.K.'s coffers, but it hasn't stopped hundreds of thousands of British residents from exercising their right to fair speech when he joined the site this week. Ironically, the latest U.K. government budget report was leaked on the microblogging site hours before the official announcement.

Many of the tweets about Osborne are not fit to be republished. However, when London-based author March Chown tweeted: "[retweet] if you think this baby owl in a knitted hat would be better at running the U.K. economy than George Osborne," along with a rather adorable picture of the aforementioned baby owl, it was retweeted close to 1,100 times.

Image toaster "prints" Google images on your bread

"Photogenic toast," described by CNET, could be the best thing since -- well -- sliced bread, after Dutch designer Scott van Haastrecht invented a clever toasting contraption that "prints" images on toast.

The device searches Google Images and gently toasts a 6x6 pixel-likeness of that image onto the warming bread. While still in prototype, it requires a tethered Ethernet connection; although the final toast-printer will run on a Wi-Fi connection.

Vatican dismisses hack claims after posting Batman story

It is a bird? Is it a plane? It certainly is the Pope, but there's no sight of Batman. This week, the website of Pope Francis ran a story about the Gotham-based crime fighter with the headline, "Holy Switcheroo! Batman has grown bitter, more vengeful with the years." The Vatican communications account automatically tweeted the post, leading to concerns that the account had been breached.

Reports that the Vatican's account had been hacked were quickly dismissed -- only a day after the BBC Weather's Twitter account was thought to be hacked by pro-Assad forces in Syria.

According to reports, an "internal system failure" due to a non-native English speaker posting to the website was to blame, rather than the Joker or the Riddler playing one of their typical hilarious stunts.

Mind-reading headphones chooses music for you

It's bad enough when you can't find the right music track for the mood you're in, but that may be a thing of a past thanks to "mind-reading" headphones. (If you thought April Fools' Day was early this year, think again.)

Developed by Neurowear and first showcased at this year's SXSW festival, the technology relies on an electroencephalograph sensor that determines the mood of the music listener. And depending on the mood, the accompanying iPhone app will -- with a clever algorithm -- will play a selection of appropriate, mood-fitting songs. The trouble is, however, just 100 songs sit in the firm's music database, making it a somewhat limited selection of tunes to mind-choose from.

And just in case you were in a really foul mood, the LED censors on the headphones tell everyone around you to keep their distance -- just in case.

  • Zack Whittaker On Twitter»

    Zack Whittaker writes for ZDNet, CNET and CBS News. He is based in New York City.

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