iFive: Microsoft’s Debt, Saudi Arabian Arms Deal, Apple iPad Rumors, E.U. Radio Whitespace, Jonas Brothers Redesign the Internet

Curious about the things that’ll be in the news today? Let us help.

As you struggle with the coffee machine and toaster this morning, spare a thought for NASA. It’s just finished struggling with one of the lowest tech setbacks ever to delay a Space Shuttle launch: A single nut. Part of the separation bolt assembly that’ll decouple Discovery from its tank in its November launch fell off last week and rattled away, as nuts do, inside the orbiter. Technicians have since found it and screwed it back in place.


1. Microsoft is about to do something pretty interesting, if you’re into economics. Rumors indicate the tech giant is about to sell off some of its debt. That will earn MSFT lots of cash, but the money won’t be used for emergency fiscal aid, or even to propel R&D forward: It’ll pay for higher share dividends (maybe as much as four times more), and allow MS to start a share repurchase scheme. This itself is an interesting financial maneuver, but in MS’s case the situation is odder. It’s to assuage worries that too much of MS’s value is held overseas, resulting in tricky taxation situations. More than anything else this confirms one thing: Despite its PR, MS isn’t in the business of serving consumers … it’s a money-making machine.

2. Meanwhile bigger sums of money are about to change hands elsewhere: Congress is tipped to hear of a high-value, high tech arms deal with Saudi Arabia. The nation seems happy to pay for top-spec F-15/SA fighter aircraft, 70 Apache gunship helicopters, 72 Black Hawks and 36 AH-6 Little Birds, along with bombs and missiles, including the super advanced satellite-guided JDAM bomb … even while it’s reticent to let its population use high-tech smartphones like the BlackBerry without spying on them. $60 billion of U.S. income is a big enough sum that human rights concerns are easily nudged into the corner.

3. With a wave of tablet PCs about to wash over the tech world, Apple is certainly looking at how to improve its successful iPad–and one rumor had indicated a quick’n’dirty refresh may even arrive before Christmas, adding in cameras for Apple’s FaceTime video calling system. Wired’s Charlie Sorrel has just tried his best to quash this, however, arguing that Apple wouldn’t anger its customers with such a tiny incremental change, nor break its usual annual cycle. Good point, but Charlie’s forgetting something: The almost credible 7-inch iPad Mini rumor, which could be the unit with cameras.

4. With rumors the U.S. is considering some radical changes to whitespace regulations, to push forward a bigger, better revolution in wireless tech, there’s now also news the E.U. is planning something similar. Sometime this week, expect regulators to free up radio space for a new pan-European wireless standard. The rumor’s credibility is boosted by its timing: Synergy with a U.S. standard would be great for global manufacturers.

5. Chalk this one up as weird: AOL has noted that it, along with the Jonas Brothers, plans to redesign the Internet. Yes. AOL. And the Jonas Brothers. The Internet. Hopefully you’ve cleaned up the coffee spilled as you just guffawed now … so brace yourself: They’re serious about it. They want to involve some of the creativity and perfection of the fashion world in website design. That other well-known, cutting edge, high-tech industry.

To keep up with this news, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter.

About the author

I'm covering the science/tech/generally-exciting-and-innovative beat for Fast Company. Follow me on Twitter, or Google+ and you'll hear tons of interesting stuff, I promise.