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September 2nd, 2014
07:06 PM ET

Cloud computing demystified

The FBI has entered the hunt for the hacker who stole dozens of private celebrity photos. The nude images may have been stored in the "cloud."

It's safe to say that many don't really understand cloud computing. The new Cameron Diaz film "Sex Tape" is based around the idea that nobody gets how it works.

But it's actually fairly simple.

cloud2The cloud is really just another word for servers on the Internet. Using the cloud means you're outsourcing tasks to those servers that might otherwise be performed by your local device. The most common one is to use the cloud for storage; so, instead of storing data on your computer, data is stored on remote servers that you access via the Internet.

Think of it like putting your money in a bank. You're putting your property in a dedicated storage space. Using a bank means you don't have to keep all your money in a piggy bank at home, while using the cloud means you don't have to have every photo you've ever taken taking up valuable space on your iPad. And when you do want to see your photos, storing them on the cloud allows you to access it on any device - similar to how banks allow you to withdraw money from any ATM.

And it's a safe bet that you're already using cloud services. If you've ever used Hotmail, Gmail, Yahoo! Mail or any web mail service, then you've been storing your email in the cloud.

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Filed under: Data • Technology
September 2nd, 2014
10:57 AM ET

China's propaganda war in Hong Kong

These are highly charged political times here in Hong Kong.

Beijing announced on Sunday there would be no open elections in Hong Kong, paving the way for China to remain the political power over the territory.

During this time of intense political discord, a gripping image from 1967 is a reminder of the fraught relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing.

It's a Chinese propaganda poster issued during the Leftist riots to stir people in Hong Kong rise up against British rule.

leftistriots

Recently on display at Hong Kong's Picture This Gallery, the poster depicts an angry, muscular crowd wielding placards and other objects as weapons.

In the bottom left-hand corner, weak cartoonish figures depicting the colonial government are being beaten and kicked out by the crowds.

"This was produced in China, probably smuggled into Hong Kong and used to try to rally support among patriotic Chinese living in Hong Kong," Bailey tells me.

The poster was part of an exhibition of Chinese propaganda that include a Norman Rockwell-esque public service announcement and a red balloon-strewn commemorative poster of Deng Xiaoping and the Hong Kong handover.

Bailey says the 1967 Hong Kong posters generated the most interest in his gallery and will find a new home in a museum.

Take a tour of these Chinese propaganda posters with the video above.

August 5th, 2014
01:58 PM ET

Shadows over U.S.-Africa summit

It is indeed an historic occasion.

U.S. President Barack Obama is hosting the first-ever U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington.

But the leaders of Sierra Leone and Liberia are not there. They have opted to stay at home to battle the worst Ebola outbreak on record.

"The timing is very unfortunate, and no one would have wished for this," author and academic Howard French tells me.

"Having high-level discussions between the U.S. and Africa on business and investment are infrequent. So to the extent that this distracts from that I think will be regretted all around."

The summit is a much-needed opportunity for the U.S. to reset relations and economically engage with Africa.

"Africa is in a very particular moment, economically speaking," says French. "The continent has been growing very fast. Demographically, there's a bulge in terms of its youth population. And Africa needs partnerships."

Africa's biggest trading partner is China. It has invested deeply into Africa as a source of customers, natural resources, and jobs.

Howard French refers to Africa as "China's Second Continent" as more than a million Chinese citizens have permanently moved there.

But will China's engagement with Africa lead to prosperity or exploitation?

Click on to hear more from our wide-ranging conversation on what's at stake for U.S.-Africa relations in light of the Ebola outbreak and China's head start in the region.

July 3rd, 2014
07:21 AM ET

China's last women with "lotus feet"

Since 2005, Hong Kong-based photographer Jo Farrell has been on a mission to document China's last women with bound feet.

It was a symbol of beauty and social status that began in the Song dynasty but officially banned over a hundred years ago. But the practice continued in rural areas for a few years after the ban.

Farrell has spent a decade traveling to China’s Shandong and Yunnan provinces to forge a close relationship with 50 of China’s last women with bound feet.

Those women are now in their 80s and 90s. In this video, we discuss the brutal practice of foot binding and Farrell's sense of urgency to share her portraits of their "lotus feet."

June 25th, 2014
12:48 PM ET

Drawing the line between porn and art

After years of pressure, Japan has passed a law banning the possession of child pornography. The move finally brings it in line with the rest of the developed world.

Child rights advocates say it is long overdue. But many say the law doesn’t go far enough, because it excludes sexually explicit depictions of children in anime and manga.

Campaigners say this is a loophole that needs to be closed.

Others worry that censoring drawings and animations could hurt creative industries and violate a constitutional right to free speech.

“When you try to become the ‘thought police’ and tell people what they can draw, what they can write, what they can dream – you go down a very slippery slope,” says Roland Kelts, an author on Japanese pop culture.

Kelts draws a clear line of distinction between actual children used in pornographic scenes and drawings depicting them.

He argues, “No child is exploited when an artist sits down to draw a picture.”

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Filed under: Art & Science
June 16th, 2014
03:08 PM ET

Virtual reality's new reality

There’s something a little strange that one of today’s hottest trends in technology is… virtual reality.

It’s an idea that seems past its time; sitting alongside household atomic generators and personal jetpacks as visions for the future that seem laughable today. But VR isn’t a joke anymore.

I had the chance to try on the headset that has almost single-handedly revived interest in virtual reality: the Oculus Rift.

For now, the Rift is only in the prototype stage and has some way to go before it’s ready for consumers. Still, even at this early stage the potential of the Rift is incredible.

It looks big and bulky, but once it was strapped to my head I couldn’t feel the weight of the Rift. The whole setup is slightly cumbersome; you have the headset, then you have to put on headphones and find your controller — without being able to see either, because your eyes are covered by the Rift.

My first impressions of the Rift? It’s a little unsettling. I was surprised by the low resolution of the screen, individual pixels reminding me that my eyes were millimeters away from them; I was acutely aware of the edges of the display; and basically, I could feel like I had a big plastic visor strapped to my face.

But then you move your head… and your view of the world shifts almost perfectly with your movement. Move your head to the left, and you’re looking left.

I played a 3D platforming game called Lucky’s Tale (from the creator of Words With Friends). To be brutally honest, it felt a little like a simple Mario clone: You make a cute little fox run and jump along a basic path running from left to right. Then the path turns back to the left… and you find yourself scoping out the way ahead simply by turning your head to look at it.

Video games have allowed you to move your view of the world for years through a controller. It’s not a new idea. But with the Rift, looking around a game’s world is as natural as looking around our own.

That’s when the Oculus Rift experience starts to click, and it all starts to work.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Gadgets • Games • Technology
June 12th, 2014
03:24 PM ET

Three standouts from E3 2014

E3 is one of video gaming's biggest events of the year; a three-day gathering in Los Angeles where almost all of the industry’s major players show off their newest titles.

Here are the three games that stood out most to me from E3 2014.

FULL POST

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Filed under: Games
June 12th, 2014
02:38 PM ET

Beijing to Hong Kong: We call the shots

Since the handover in 1997, Hong Kong has been ruled under the governing principle of "one country, two systems."

But a white paper issued this week by China's State Council Information office is trying to set the record straight, emphasizing Beijing's "comprehensive jurisdiction" over the territory.

The white paper puts forward the view that some Hong Kong residents are "confused or lopsided in their understanding" of the principle.

It says, "The high degree of autonomy of the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) is not full autonomy, nor a decentralized power. It is the power to run local affairs as authorized by the central leadership."

Political columnist and commentator Frank Ching calls the paper a clear warning to Hong Kong, pointing out a line about Beijing's right to declare a state of emergency in Hong Kong.

"If they declare a state of emergency, that means the People's Liberation Army can come in and take over the job of Hong Kong police."

He adds, "That would be the end of Hong Kong as we know it today."

Ching also makes an interesting observation about why the paper was released in seven languages.

"It's warning foreign countries not to use Hong Kong as a base for subversion."

June 10th, 2014
02:46 PM ET

One year of Edward Snowden's revelations

"If history tells us anything it's that whistle-blowers are usually treated kindly, and claims of national security much less so."

Here's my interview with Edward Snowden's legal adviser, Ben Wizner, one year after Snowden revealed himself as the NSA leaker.

June 6th, 2014
12:07 PM ET

Bullets in Beijing: Tiananmen leader Shen Tong looks back

Shen Tong is a Chinese dissident who helped lead the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.

Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the crackdown, I asked him about his experience during the demonstrations, and the chilling moment when he realized troops were not shooting rubber bullets.

We also talked about a lack of awareness in China about what happened back then.

"It seems like there is a collective amnesia not only due to the lack of information but also due to at least this tacit agreement between the post-'89 police state and the urban population," he tells me via satellite from New York.

"'Let’s forget about the past and why rock the boat' because there are several groups of elite populations, not just in China, that are making so much money so quickly."

But Shen is certain that the collective amnesia concerning Tiananmen will inevitably lift.

"There are plenty of indications that collective memory, so important to the national psyche, cannot be forgotten," says Shen.

"So even though a lot young people don’t know the details... those memories can come back very quickly as we’ve seen time and again in history."

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