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March 15th, 2011
05:03 PM ET

Do more than #PrayForJapan

AFP/Getty Images

It seems the scale of the disaster in Japan grows each day. The official death toll has now passed 3,000. Police have doubled the number of people counted as missing to nearly 7,000. Rescuers and survivors are struggling with temperatures below freezing. And problems at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant threaten to make the situation much, much worse. 

A Red Cross spokesman says resources are stretched to the max. The aid agency is one of several accepting donations via text message. It is meant to make giving easier.

But there may be a downside to convenience. Some philanthropy analysts say a heavy reliance on digital donations is a factor behind the low dollar amount raised so far.

It is still early. Yet I wonder if a bit of slacktivism is also at play here. People all across the globe are showing they care by posting #PrayForJapan on Twitter. How many have done more than tweet?

FULL POST

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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Technology
March 11th, 2011
02:36 PM ET

Earthquake and Tsunami Hit Japan: Watching the Disaster Unfold

[cnn-video url="http://cnn.com/video/?/video/world/2011/03/11/sot.tsunami.hit.japan.cnn"%5D

There are some days in a TV newsroom you’ll never forget. Here in Hong Kong, I’d had an eye across the morning’s events as I sat at home, fully expecting further dramatic developments in Libya. Only upon my arrival in the office did I hear of the Japanese quake. 

Certain news stories are best told with astonishing pictures and minimal words. As we started to see ground-level shots of cars and boats being swept by a torrent of water, we sensed this was one such occasion. But when aerial footage from Miyagi Prefecture began to stream live, the entire newsroom was left in unusual conflict: trying to put this event across to millions of viewers, while unable to tear our eyes away from what we were watching. 

As the pictures kept coming (homes being ripped from their foundations, cars attempting in vain to evade the rushing wave, an oil refinery enveloped in smoke and fire), the realization dawned on us that it could take weeks before we knew the extent of the damage, both human and physical.

And then there was the other development: tsunami waves heading out into the ocean, with the entire Pacific Rim apparently at risk. How powerful would the waves be when they hit distant shores? Were we watching a premature echo of events in 2004? 

As we went to air, Hawaii was braced for a tsunami. Of several individuals we spoke to in the archipelago, one stood out. Ryan McGinnis told us he was just meters from the shore, as waves clearly began to build – and water lapped onto the streets. As we left him at the end of the hour, we could only wonder if we were watching the next chapter of a devastating story being written. 

And as we return to our desks (some of us over the weekend, some on Monday), we will truly begin to reflect on the scale of what could become the story of the year.

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Filed under: General
March 10th, 2011
03:52 PM ET

Discovery's next destination

The final countdown is under way for NASA's shuttle program. OK, the clock has been ticking for awhile. It just didn't feel real until Discovery came back down to Earth.

Getty Images

But Discovery still has one big trip left: a museum. Several institutions are hoping to land the shuttle permanently. My hometown of Houston estimates such an exhibit would bring in $45 million annually for the local economy.

Houston has an online pitch to "Bring the Shuttle Home." But I'm bracing for disappointment. Let's face it... Houston doesn't win a lot. Just ask any sports fan in the city. We won the NBA championships in 1994 and 1995... and no national titles since. (I'm not counting the MLS or WNBA.)

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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Space
March 9th, 2011
08:06 AM ET

Australia: Looking Beyond the Floods, Fires and Financial Fears

Had I purely followed the coverage of CNN (and other international news networks) in the run-up to my maiden voyage to Australia a couple of weeks ago, I'd have learned three things:

  • A lot of it has been flooded. Actually, that’s an understatement.  More than a lot of it. Areas reportedly the size of sizeable countries have been submerged. Many are inaccessible, and some require months – if not years – of recovery time;
  • A  few areas have remained dry, but that’s only made them susceptible to that other great Australian blight: bushfires, ripping through the countryside at a terrifying speed,  and taking homes and businesses with them;
  • Floods and fires cost people a lot of money. Thousands of Australians have been financially crippled by natural disasters in the past couple of months. But it gets worse. Tourists already put off by all the negative headlines out of Australia will feel financially crippled if they fight their fears and make the trip. The Aussie dollar is strong as an ox, and visitors from the UK, for example, can expect to get about half the value they received a few short years ago.

Now, I haven’t been sponsored by Tourism Australia to write this blog. If I had been, I’m pretty confident that everything written above would have been aggressively edited at best. But I’m going to say this: Australia, as you may be aware, is a big place. It’s also a diverse place. It’s a big, diverse place with a $34 billion tourism industry that deserves a little bit of support in the current meteorological and financial climate.

FULL POST

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Filed under: General • Personal musings
March 7th, 2011
02:07 PM ET

iPad 2: Time to tablet?

AFP/Getty Images

Apple's iPad 2 hits stores in the U.S. this Friday. It will be available in several more countries two weeks later... though not here in Hong Kong. Which is good for me. I need time to think.

Ever since Steve Jobs made his surprise appearance at the iPad 2 announcement, I've been struggling with a big decision. Should I finally try it out?

I'm talking about tablets in general here. Like many people, I consider myself neither a gadget geek nor a techno-phobe. My approach is simply practical. As in, if it's not broke don't, er,  replace it. FULL POST

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Filed under: Gadgets • General • Personal musings
March 7th, 2011
02:06 PM ET

What's next for Youku?

It's not just the YouTube of China. Nasdaq darling Youku.com also aspires to be a Netflix and Hulu as well. I recently talked to its CEO Victor Koo about about how the site manages up to 35 million visitors a day... and how to say the word "bubble" in Mandarin Chinese.


March 7th, 2011
10:30 AM ET

Google's Vince Cerf on the future of the web

After developing the Internet in the 1970s, Vint Cerf is preaching the word of Google as its V.P. and Chief Internet Evangelist. I recently talked with the tech pioneer about Google's role in Egypt's revolution, Larry Page's return as CEO and taking the Web to outer space. You heard right. According to Cerf, "Interplanetary Internet" is on the way!

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