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December 28th, 2010
07:42 AM ET

Found Out Via Facebook

On Monday’s News Stream, we told the tragic tale of Mario Ferri (aka ‘Il Falco’/’The Falcon’), a serial football pitch invader whose exploits across three continents were all but nullified by a single act of stupidity. When trying to evade the U.A.E. legal system as successfully as he evaded stadium security, Ferri made a fatal error. He told his Facebook friends exactly what he was up to.

"I hope they don't catch me, otherwise I will be in a heap of trouble,” The Falcon is said to have astutely remarked on the social networking site. Probably best not to announce it to the world then, is it Mario? Bird by name. Bird by brain.

The multi-game gatecrasher is not the first person to be found out via Facebook – and he’s unlikely to be the last.

Perhaps the most documented ‘victims’ of Facebook disclosure are the world’s philanderers. When making friends with people they held a torch for at school, many have a tendency to get overly friendly – and the results are all too predictable. 

Flirtation by Facebook is one thing – but it gets worse. An especially unpleasant uncovering involves the wife and mother who found wedding snaps revealing her husband’s bigamous attachment to another woman. Adding insult to injury, the nuptials took place at Disney World, with hubby dressed up as Prince Charming and Wife 2.0 as Sleeping Beauty. Ouch. 

But social network snooping isn’t limited to suspicious spouses. Those upholding the law of various lands are now using Facebook as a means to keep tabs on the populace.

Tax inspectors in the UK – despite being banned from using Facebook for personal use in the workplace – have found the site comes in handy for exposing benefits cheats. It seems the domestic framework outlined on claim forms can differ somewhat from the version depicted on applicants’ walls and photo albums. 

In Israel, young women are required to serve time in the military unless they are Orthodox Jews – who are exempt on religious grounds. When the number of exemptions started to skyrocket, the draft officers turned to Facebook. What they discovered was behavior among the excluded that would have seemed more orthodox on an episode of ‘Jersey Shore’.

For every individual exposed, there’s another who has been deceived – and who needs a place to vent his or her anger. Thankfully, Facebook offers such a sanctuary – but it comes with a health warning for anybody who values grammar. The so-called ‘Your not sorry, Your sorry I found out’ has 380,437 fans – and counting. Compare that to one of my own favorite pages – 'If you're going to create a group, at least check your grammar first' – which boasts a mind-blowing 92 members.

Yes, I admit it. I’m a pedant. I'm one of a dying minority. Consider me exposed.

December 24th, 2010
01:32 PM ET

Life Through a Lens

Is it an ECG monitor? Is it an especially spindly cantilever bridge? Is it one of those weird sea creatures that you can never remember the name of?

Well, no. It's none of the above. This image does in fact depict the heart of a mosquito, magnified 100 times over and aided by fluorescence technology. The shot – taken by Vanderbilt University's Jonas King - was awarded first prize in the 2010 Nikon Small World Photomicography Competition. And a worthy winner it is too.

By looking this closely into the biting beast's insides, King has aided life scientists in the study of malaria. As Nikon puts it, the photo "provides insight into how mosquitoes move blood to all regions of their bodies". So it's not just striking; it could be a lifesaver.

Fancy getting involved in the world of photomicography? Well, beware. Taking pictures of tiny things entails a mighty price-tag. But watch News Stream's segment on the Small World phenomenon, and we're sure you'll be inspired nonetheless.

December 24th, 2010
10:07 AM ET

Secret Santa – all about the giving?

Secret santa – love it or hate it (I'm the latter), you've probably taken part in one.
Personally I don't get the point.
I waste my time buying something cheap and shoddy, and probably unwanted for someone who'll never know it was from me, and in this year's instance, for someone I barely know.
In return someone wastes their time buying something cheap and shoddy, and usually unwanted, for me.
People say it's about the giving but we all know that's codswallop.
So when I heard thousands of people had signed up to an online secret santa, via redditgifts, I was bemused. Seriously, do these people have nothing better to do with their lives, than waste time thinking of, looking for, or even making, gifts to give to complete strangers? I mean, the chances of getting something worth having has got to be slim, right? None, in fact, surely.
So when I heard that someone got a 50 inch TV from their secret santa, it was time for me to reassess.
Maybe for some people, it really is about the giving. Now, for me, that's strange.
But perhaps next year I'll take part. In the hope I get an awesome present of course.
Whatever I send will be bought online, cost no more than the recommended US$15, and take 10 seconds to come up with. Less, in fact. Amazon vouchers to the value of $15. Done. Now I just need to sit back and wait for a whacking great big telly to turn up on my doorstep.
Incidentally, in the CNN Secret Santa I got a tin of chocolate sardines (I hate fish, so it must be from someone I know reasonably well) and a coffee voucher (I drink a lot of it). Thank you, secret santa, if you're reading this! The suggested spend was HK$100. I mulled over my purchase for all of a nano-second and spent $99.
Now this is done, I'm off home to see if my girlfriend's bought me that wakeboard I've been on about for months. I'll get her some chocolates or something from 7-Eleven.
December 21st, 2010
11:09 AM ET

TRON: Legacy - How to Look 28 Years Younger

From Disney Motion Pictures

When I first saw the graphic theme for News Stream, it took about 10 seconds for me to think 'TRON', so it's hardly surprising that the team have been eagerly awaiting the neon-lit cyber-sequel to the 1982 classic. It seems other people shared our sense of anticipation too - 'TRON: Legacy' powered up for a number one box-office opening weekend, pulling in $43.6 million at theaters across the U.S. and Canada.

I'm yet to see the movie myself - it hasn't hit cinema screens in Hong Kong yet - but even from the trailers and the clips I've seen there are plenty of water-cooler moments to talk about: the light-bikes, the killer frisbees...

But the thing that got our geek senses tingling the most: a Hollywood lesson in how to look 28 years younger. The idea of pitting a movie star against their younger self is nothing new, but 'TRON: Legacy' is the first to take the plunge. Thus Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges v.2010, is at war with Clu, played by Jeff Bridges v.1982, a digitally youthful chip off the old block.

Effects like that take a lot of work. According to 'TRON: Legacy' Animation Director Steve Preeg, Jeff Bridges started work with the animation team in mid-2008. They created a cast of his head, and digitally compared his face now with that in the original 1982 'TRON'. On set, Bridges had to shoot his scenes whilst wearing a helmet with four cameras mounted on it, and with hundreds of motion-capture dots attached to his face. As for the Clu you'll see on the silver screen, yes it's Jeff Bridges with a digital face-lift, but from the neck down, it's a younger body double.

Steve Preeg admits that following in the footsteps of 'TRON' was "very frightening".

"The entire industry that I work in owes its creation to 'TRON'", he told News Stream. "They were so cutting edge that they were disqualified from being nominated for Best Special Effects at the Oscars because using as computer was seen as cheating".

Check out more of our interview with Steve Preeg here:

As you might imagine, for some fans 'TRON: Legacy' is a must-see movie, and fans of the original film don't come much more devoted than Jay Maynard, otherwise known as internet sensation 'TRON guy'.

In a review for Wired.com, Maynard calls 'TRON: Legacy' "visually stunning, intellectually engaging, and emotionally exhausting". Apparently, it brought him to tears.

There's already talk of a third 'TRON' movie in the Disney pipeline. Who knows, maybe this one will feature Maynard.

 

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Filed under: General
December 17th, 2010
08:08 PM ET

Floppy disk fun

Please put your hand up if you still own a floppy disk. Anyone? Bueller...?

Before today I had no idea that they were still useful. Turns out, people have given this outdated mode of data storage new life in amazing ways.

Here are some of the things I found while searching for craft projects to make for our gift segment:
  * USB drive
  * Wallet
  * Greeting card
  * Messenger bag <– seriously!

In the end, I decided to make a notepad because it looked easy... and the pen holder matched nicely. I also saw earrings and a necklace that looked too cool not to attempt.

I was surprised by how much people like the pen holder. I actually made –and then remade– it at my desk (yes, it’s that simple).

There are several different instructions online. If you don't like using a drill then bang out some aggression with a hammer and nail instead. Just do not use any wire stronger than a twist tie to connect them or you'll have trouble getting it tight enough.

But I'll be honest... those are brand new floppy disks you see there. I tore my apartment apart looking for some to recycle and couldn't find a single one. 

They weren't easy to locate in stores either. More than one salesperson just laughed when I asked if they carried floppies. I felt the need to justify my inquiry by adding, "They're for an art project."

I think it was worth the small humiliation. That is one sweet pen holder.

What have you made out of floppy disks? Send us pictures if you have any!

And check out all of our geektastic gift ideas:

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Filed under: General
December 16th, 2010
03:15 PM ET

How To Hack a Cake

I consider myself a good cook. But baking is a whole different story. Still, when News Stream needed a “30 second chocolate cake” I jumped at the chance to make it. Cooking and calling it “work” sounded like the perfect day.

I didn’t have the nifty gadget needed to aerate the batter but was going to borrow one at work. I still wanted to try a microwave cake recipe before I got to the office, though. So I found this one from the “Cooking for Geeks” book club blog.

It was super easy. A few packets of hot chocolate, some flour and sugar, plus some oil, water and an egg. It didn’t look like much at first… but three minutes later, it seriously could’ve passed for soufflé.

The “30 second” recipe was a bit trickier. Instead of instant cocoa, I had to melt a dark chocolate bar. No oil or water in this one… but by the time I stirred in the flour, sugar and eggs, my batter was a bit lumpy.

Here’s what I learned: “strain mixture” is not a suggestion. I failed to plan for that step of the recipe and had to settle for what sort-of passed as a strainer, found in the office kitchen cabinet. But my batter still didn’t come out right. In fact, it wouldn’t come out of the whipped cream canister at all!

After much shaking (and swearing) a little dribbled out. I cooked it anyway, just to see what would happen. It's in that little red robot. Definitely not pretty enough for TV. The one in the white ramekin got air time instead.

If you watched News Stream on Thursday then you know what happened next. The beautiful “3 minute" cake had hardened into a brick. I tasted it after the show and it was kind of oily, too. Bummer.

But the “30 second cake” was delicious! It had a silky texture, like a flourless chocolate torte. Please give it a try and tell us how it turns out (recipe after the video). And for some help "hacking" the rest of your holiday feast, check out Kristie's interview with author Jeff Potter.

Jeff kindly let us share his recipe for 30 second chocolate cake. He also sent this bit of advice: Some whippers can only work with cream, so make sure you get one that's suitable for foams, espumas, etc. Not sure which kind I had... but now you know!

Ingredients

4 ounces (113 grams) bittersweet chocolate

4 large eggs

6 tablespoons (80 grans) sugar

3 tablespoons (25 grams) flour

Directions

1. Melt the chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl. Let cool.

2. Whisk in eggs, sugar and flour until smooth.

3. Pass the mixture through a strainer.

4. Transfer to a whipper; pressurize.

5. Spray mixture into a greased, microwave-safe ramekin, leaving at least the top third of the container empty.

6. Microwave until the foam has set, about 30 seconds.

To serve, flip onto a plate and dust with confectioners' sugar.

For better-tasting  results: Try adding Nutella or Marshmallow Fluff. Spray a thin layer of cake batter in the container; drop a spoonful of filling into the center. Spray more cake batter on top of and around the filling.

December 16th, 2010
08:00 AM ET

Tweeting about Facebook

Congratulations to U.S. satirist Stephen Colbert, author of the most retweeted message of the year. In the BP-bating summer of 2010, this was the definitive social media contribution:

Colbert was able to triumph over a plethora of pop stars, including News Stream's guilty obsession Justin Bieber (who had to settle for fourth place). That's not say young Justin didn't feature heavily in the top ten. Both Joe Jonas ("I cry because I love Justin Bieber!!!") and Rihanna ("Justin Bieber just flashed me his abs in the middle of a restaurant! Wow! He actually had a lil 6 pack! Sexy, lol!") offered belieber-themed nuggets that thousands saw fit to forward.

But Colbert is riding high. So influential are his outpourings that he was among the favorites to be named "Time"'s Person of the Year. And not content to lose out on the prize quietly, his thoughts on the actual recipient are now trending highly in America and around the world:

Stephen Colbert has apparently inspired countless skeptics to take to Twitter and vent their feelings on Mr. Facebook. Whether swayed by the less-than-flattering portrayal Zuckerberg received in "The Social Network" or merely objecting to the mighty scale of his cultural phenomenon, it appears Twitter fans aren't the biggest Facebook fans.

Here's a selection of the cleaner offerings:

Yes, the last of these is a lie. But just as we were outraged by Susan Boyle's snub in favor of Ben Bernanke last year, our small team would like to reach out to Mr. Bieber in his hour of isolation. Your "Time" will come, Justin. We, er, beliebe.

You can read more about the world's reaction to Time's decision on cnn.com.

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Filed under: General
December 15th, 2010
03:06 PM ET

Ready for Liftoff

Crew members on the International Space Station are getting ready for some company. Three flight engineers are set to blast off from the Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on Wednesday. Their total travel time, from launch to docking, will be 49 hours and 3 minutes.

Visiting a Cosmonaut museum (AFP/Getty Images)

It’s a long journey… especially when you consider the ISS is just about 320 kilometers (200 miles) above the Earth. That’s roughly the distance from London to Paris.  (It actually only takes several minutes to reach space.  It’s catching the ISS that’s the tricky part.)

The three new crew members of the ISS will include Russian cosmonaut Dmitry Kondratyev, Paolo Nespoli of the European Space Agency and NASA astronaut Catherine “Cady” Coleman.  They’ll spend the next five months there.

But of course, the preparation started long ago.  CNN’s John Zarrella has followed Cady Coleman's training for a whole year.

Zarrella will speak to Coleman live from the ISS on Wednesday, December 22.

A comment from Coleman's husband really struck me. He says, "I'm sustained through knowing this is what Cady wants to do. This is what she lives her life to do." Whether we're here on Earth, or hundreds of kilometers above it, that kind of passion is truly admirable.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Space
December 14th, 2010
02:47 PM ET

It's a Shanzhai Christmas!


Shanzhai (山寨) is such an awesome word.

It's Chinese slang to describe a range of pirated or imitation goods. But with a difference. Shanzhai products include cellphones, cameras, computers and laptops that try their darndest to look like the real deal.

But Chris Chang of MIC Gadget offers a more nuanced definition. He says, "if a device looks like the authentic iPhone at first sight, we call it an iPhone knockoff. If it doesn't, we just call it shanzhai."

In tech markets like Shenzhen's Huaqiangbei you can score shanzhai versions of everything from Sony PSP players to Nokia phones. But Apple's designs are the most copied, as they are the most coveted.

Chang, a 19-year-old student based in Hong Kong, came by the studio armed with a select array of charming and eyebrow-raising shanzhai gifts including the shanzhai iPad. At first glance, you can imediately tell it's smaller than the real thing. It also runs a rival operating system, Google's Android, and lacks a truly multi-touch screen. In fact, you have to use your fingernails to touch it. But the shanzhai version has a handy feature that Apple left out of its tablet - a micro SD card slot. It retails in China for $135.

Next up, the Magic Mouse Phone. It has absolutely no link to the iPhone and looks just like Apple's mouse. It's a $45 GSM-only handset styled after a much-loved peripheral. Consider it a charming nod to Apple's design savvy.  Shanzhai as geek tribute.

And then Chang revealed the very buzzy Apple Peel. It's a skin that turns an Apple iPod Touch into a GSM-only iPhone. When fully charged, it provides 4.5 hours of call time and 120 hours of standby time. Price tag? $45.

It may be a clever hack, but you have to extremely clever to put it together. It took Chang more than two hours to assemble at his first go, and that after jailbreaking his iPhone.

And yet Chang is a big fan, as the Apple Peel showcases Made-in-China tech not as a shameless rip-off or even shanzhai tribute... but as a "magical" example of innovation.

But there is one more thing...

The S-J "iDoll" is designed by MIC Gadget. With black turtleneck, glasses, and New Balance sneakers... it is a remakarable likeness. MIC had 300 figures made and, at just under $80 a pop, they quickly sold out. But then Apple told them to stop immediately, for violating Apple's copyrights and trademarks.

A bit ironic, considering the blog's content. It is after all a celebration of all things shamelessly shanzhai.

December 8th, 2010
02:58 PM ET

Is it war?

Some groups say they're out to defend the WikiLeaks website and its jailed founder, Julian Assange.  He has been denied bail as a UK court considers extraditing him to Sweden, where he’s wanted for questioning about alleged sex crimes. 

A hacker group called "Anonymous" has launched what it calls "Operation: Payback." Its latest target has been MasterCard, which suspended financial services to WikiLeaks… and it’s claiming success via Twitter.

 MasterCard says its site has experienced heavy traffic but did not confirm the cyber attack.  The company also says there’s no impact on cardholders.

“Operation: Payback” has previously claimed to hit other companies that stopped working with WikiLeaks, including PayPal and Swiss bank PostFinance.  The group shows no sign of letting up, and is asking for suggested targets on its website.

One member calls this “the first infowar.”  What do you think?

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Filed under: General • Social networking
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