Amazon Kindle fan fiction, 3D printing saves baby's life: This week in off-beat tech stories

Lightning flashes over Creston, Iowa, early Sunday, April 15, 2012. A powerful storm raked across Creston Saturday night, leaving a wake of overturned cars, downed power lines, property damage to homes, the hospital and Southwestern Community College.
AP Photo/The Des Moines Register, Bryon Houlgrave

This week, Chinese hackers resumed their U.S. hacking activities, Microsoft announced the Xbox One and a Senate subcommittee hearing on Apple's tax affairs turned into a scene reminiscent of a Genius Bar appointment.

In this week's round-up of off-beat stories, we explore how 3D printing can actually save lives, and what happens when someone gets hit by lightning?

Woman tweets hitting cyclist with car, outed by Twitter

Road rage can get the better of us. But when Emma Way of Norfolk, U.K. tweeted "bloody cyclists" after allegedly hitting one with her car, the microblogging site reacted with true citizen justice.

Way tweeted on Sunday morning: "Definitely knocked a cyclist off his bike earlier. I have right of way -- he doesn't even pay road tax!" Concerned followers alerted the police, which then asked her to "report [the incident] to a police station." Another fellow tweeter offered a photo that was in Way's timeline of her car speedometer at 95 m.p.h. The cyclist, Toby Hockley, told the BBC that Way didn't stop. In a world where nothing seems to exist unless it's published online, he took to Facebook to say: "Oh hi! That was me you hit..."

Police have been in contact with both, but no charges have been brought.

3D printed tracheal splint saves baby's life

Three-dimensional printing has taken a controversial turn in recent weeks following the release of blueprints that enabled the printing of a working firearm. But in most optimistic, upbeat news, a custom built 3D-printed tracheal splint was created by researchers at the University of Michigan to help save an infant born with a breathing disorder, known as tracheobronchomalacia. The baby's trachea was weakened from birth.

The splint was transplanted around the windpipe to give it strength. Once the baby grows older, the airway becomes stronger and the splint will become absorbed by the body, saving the child from further surgery.

Tech news staffer hit by lightning, reports to be "sore"

Some people say a bad day involves long hours at the office, or stuffed in meetings all day. Some get hit by lightning. That's exactly what happened to Ars Technica technical director Jason Marlin, who was struck on Wednesday by the full force of Zeus' mighty vengeance.

Sitting in his home office -- a converted garage -- he concluded a call with his colleagues, leaned back in his chair and stared out of the window, only for nature's defibrillator to strike him as he sat there. Describing his movements as he "paced the house like a coked-out fratboy," he said he avoided going to hospital, knowing that his grandmother had been struck by lightning twice in her life. "How bad can it be?"

"Sore," he concluded.

Burglars busted by butt-dialing bungle

Those who carry mobile phones in their back pocket have probably called someone by accident and had to face up to the embarrassment of knowing that they probably listened in -- even if they denied it. Which is exactly what one 911 emergency operator did when she received a call. The first thing she heard was that they "need weed."

NBC News reports that the dispatcher heard that the two hapless robbers plotting to break into a car and the actual robbery taking place. Police were called by the 911 operator and the two were busted by the cops when they arrived. Despite trying to play the innocent card, the two realized their mistake when they were told that the phone in their pocket had given them away.

Sell fan-fiction on Amazon

Everybody loves a good book, but not everyone enjoys the ending. For years, fan-fiction has allowed readers to derive someone else's work to create their own adaptation. From "Lord of the Rings" porn spin-offs, to "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," so many have made livings out of sculpting their own versions of already established characters and settings.

Amazon has finally embraced the modern phenomenon by paying authors to write their own fan-based variations. Dubbed Kindle Worlds, readers can now be paid to write their own fan fiction, so long as the original rights holder is willing to allow offshoots of their own work -- who will also receive a cut of each copy sold.

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