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December 6th, 2010
03:06 PM ET

To Infinity and Beyond...

Something about space always sparks my imagination.  Maybe it’s because I grew up in Space City USA.  (That’s Houston, Texas, home of the Johnson Space Center… no matter what anyone from Cape Canaveral says.)

The idea of taking a trip to the outer limits of the atmosphere is thrilling.  But I’m starting to get a little impatient.  Spaceport America is still a ways from completion.  Its main occupant will be Virgin Galactic.  Tickets for just a few minutes in suborbit are going for $200,000!

I certainly don’t have that kind of cash lying around.  The Spaceport points out that the price of plane tickets have fallen in real terms over the decades.  But using its example of a 1950 Pan Am flight, that space jaunt would cost the equivalent of $21,000 by 2070.

Maybe I’ll be able to afford a jetpack?

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Filed under: Personal musings • Space
December 6th, 2010
02:59 PM ET

Wikileaks takes aim at China


Cables obtained by Wikileaks reveal anxiety among officials in Beijing about Google and its citizens accessing uncensored content online... two months before Google's servers were "virally infected" in July 2009, prompting the search giant to exit mainland China.

On the Wikileaks website, there are a series of wallpaper images to download including a snapshot of the Great Wall of China.

The tagline reads: "Big Brother is watching. So are we."

And scrawled on the Wall? "Wikileaks" as a graffiti tag.

December 3rd, 2010
12:35 PM ET

Can tiny Qatar handle one of the world's biggest sporting events?

I need to start with a disclaimer: I am not against the 2022 World Cup going to Qatar.

I just can't wrap my head around how it will work.

We've heard before how tiny Qatar is. How it's the smallest country ever to host the World Cup. But putting it into perspective makes it even more inconceivable.

Qatar is less than a third the size of the next smallest country to host the World Cup, Switzerland - and the Swiss hosted it in 1954. There were only 16 teams, 26 matches and a total attendance of 890,000 at the 1954 World Cup. Compare that to 2010: South Africa hosted 32 teams, 64 matches, with a total attendance of 3.2 million . And remember that Qatar has a population of just 1.7 million. How will all those visitors fit into one small country for a month of football?

If you're struggling to picture this, just take a look at the approximate size of Qatar superimposed over Switzerland in Google Earth:

And they will be clustered into a small part of Qatar: 10 of the 12 proposed stadiums are within a 30km radius. It's staggering to think that Doha wasn't considered suitable to host the Olympics in 2016... yet six years later, the city will take on the most of the burden of staging an event that normally takes an entire country to host.

On the pitch, Qatar's challenges are no less daunting. They have never qualified for the World Cup before. This is not unprecedented; Japan were awarded the 2002 World Cup before they'd ever reached the tournament, but Japan eventually did qualify in 1998. Leaving aside the first two tournaments for obvious reasons, no country has ever made their debut in the World Cup as hosts.

Can Qatar qualify? It's not impossible; they have come close on two occasions. But it's also fair to say that they are not very good. Qatar are ranked 113th in the world, below Haiti, Gambia and Iceland. They have failed to win any of their last 11 matches at the Asian Cup; their last victory was back in 1988. And in the wake of Qatar's successful bid, a video featuring an awful miss in front of an open goal by a Qatari player started trending high on social media.

On the bright side, Qatar have longer than most hosts to prepare: There are a full 12 years to go until the first Middle Eastern World Cup. But they also have more challenges to solve than most World Cup hosts.

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Filed under: General • Great graphics • Sport
December 1st, 2010
07:56 AM ET

Let it Snow... But Spare Me the Sheep

With not a little smugness I have sat in the hazy yet clement climes of Hong Kong, watching our esteemed colleagues at the CNN International Weather Center report on the unyielding snow that's dropping on the heads and homes of my friends and family back in Scotland.

But I have one teensy issue.

Why must our nation, birthplace of the Enlightenment and blessed with vibrant, cosmopolitan cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh, be represented by pictures like the one below?

Don't get me wrong. I appreciate that Scotland is largely rural and that sheep do exist in considerable numbers. But I often wish we could treat CNN's global audience to something a little more stirring.

Imagine my joy yesterday when I learned that the pictures used to portray the week's wintry weather had changed. I sat excitedly as Ivan Cabrera told us how the latest snowfall had left schools shut, homes cut off and cars stranded. (In retrospect, maybe 'excitedly'  is the wrong word to use. Sorry, Scotland.) But then I saw this:

No longer was my nation a land of fields and farm animals. It had become a place where clearly unhinged individuals frolic in their underwear while risking hypothermia. Another sublime depiction to transmit to the world.

I have trawled the CNN image library and – while horses and highland cattle are certainly more prevalent than modern metropolises – I wanted to find something to redress the balance. So here is a perfectly pretty shot devoid of sheep or simpletons, showing that Scotland – in addition to rural charm – has roads and electricity. Rant over. And Merry Christmas to one and all.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings
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