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June 30th, 2011
11:00 PM ET

Space is kinda trashy

AFP/Getty Images

Our office recently started recycling glass. Most of the collection centers I've found in Hong Kong do not take glass. And while my apartment building has signs warning residents not to throw trash out of their windows, there are none urging them to save the Earth and recycle. It's definitely different from the U.S., where some cities collect plastic, paper and glass curbside. And it's a far cry from Japan, where recycling is a law.

Countries vary in their approaches to waste management on Earth. But when it comes to trash in space, there is international consensus that it's an important problem. A near miss between the International Space Station and an unknown piece of debris has drawn renewed attention to the growing danger.

Usually ISS can dodge orbiting space junk, but this was spotted too late. Instead, the six-member ISS crew had to seek shelter in the Soyuz capsules docked to the station. NASA estimates the object passed about 335 meters from ISS. That's believed to be the closest encounter ever.

This is only the second time that a space station crew has taken shelter in the Soyuz. The first was in March 2009, when a bit of satellite rocket motor flew close by.

That incident happened one month after a defunct Russian satellite accidentally collided with a U.S. satellite. NASA says that created more than 2,000 trackable bits of debris.

So just how much trash is up there? Take a look.

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Filed under: General • Science • Space
June 24th, 2011
02:25 PM ET

How to watch a shuttle launch

Fourteen days and counting! Space shuttle Atlantis is set to launch in exactly two weeks. The crew has completed a countdown rehearsal at Kennedy Space Center. Technicians are carrying out pre-flight tests.

(AFP/Getty Images)

And around the world, hundreds of thousands of people are finalizing their plans to watch Atlantis liftoff. I am one of them.

News Stream had the good luck of covering Discovery's launch live back in February. It was awesome. I just couldn't miss the chance to see the last-ever shuttle blast away from Launch Pad 39A.

Up to a million other people feel the same way. Yes, that could be how many astro-nuts turn up for NASA's ultimate shuttle send-off. And I'm betting more than a couple will be first-timers like me.

So I turned to the experts for advice: CNN's John Zarrella and Miami bureau supervising producer Kim Segal.

John has seen roughly 75 launches. (To put that in perspective, Atlantis is STS-135.) Though maybe I should say he has attended that many. John points out that while covering a launch, "I never get to really see one…!!! I’m facing the camera with launch pad behind me. But I do cheat and take a peak."

Which leads into what I consider his most important words of wisdom, "I would add…enjoy the moment. Look at it.  Forget about taking a picture.  You can buy better pictures of shuttles than you can take!!!"

Kim kindly indulged me even further and answered every question I could think of. Here they are:

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Filed under: General • Space
June 23rd, 2011
02:41 PM ET

Accio Pottermore!

Pottermore.com preview

Hold onto your wizard's hats Harry Potter fans, Hogwarts creator JK Rowling has unveiled a new project: Pottermore.

The author kept geeks like me guessing for a week what the website could hold, all the while taunting us with a countdown clock on YouTube populated by an increasing number of animated owls. Rumors were rampant across the web: could it be a new book? An encyclopedia of the wizarding world? A video game? The Pottermore teaser webpage - bearing nothing but a title, JK Rowling's signature and the words "Coming Soon" – racked up a million hits within 36 hours of its launch.

Then the countdown clock stopped, the website was revealed, and a video message from Rowling herself appeared. FULL POST

June 21st, 2011
02:29 PM ET

Wimbledon's Marathon Men

There is nothing quite like Wimbledon. The world's most famous tennis tournament is quintessentially British, aside from the sporting action, it is an excellent excuse for eating strawberries and cream, drinking Pimm's and having a picnic on Henman Hill/Murray Mount.

Last year, it also provided an unprecedented and unforgettable spectacle: an 11-hour, 5-minute marathon match between John Isner and Nicolas Mahut. The match stretched over three days before John Isner finally won 70-68 in a fifth set that lasted for 138 games and was longer in duration than any other complete match in the history of tennis. I'm exhausted just thinking about it.

If you have as much difficulty as I do in processing a match that long, let me help you out. The match lasted longer than:

  • A flight from London to Los Angeles (10 hours, 10 minutes)
  • The entire first season of Mad Men (10 hours, 19 minutes)
  • The time football World Cup Champions Spain spent playing in the entire 2010 tournament, minus injury time (11 hours)

Sadly, Isner and Mahut did not quite make it to our next milestone: the length of time it takes to watch the entire extended edition of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (11 hours, 48 minutes).

No wonder then, that the gruelling combat between two previously unheralded players had become a global phenomenon long before it had come to a close, making front-page news and trending on Twitter around the world.

Then came the re-match on the longest day of 2011. How appropriate...

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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Sport
June 21st, 2011
10:00 AM ET

Tenth Annual World Refugee Day

Running. Afraid. Unsure what the next day will bring.

AFP/Getty Images

It's the plight of millions of people around the world. Refugees. People who, for whatever reason, feel they have no other option but to flee their homelands. Whether forced out by persecution or ongoing violence, they often leave reluctantly - abandoning homes and livelihoods - and taking along only as much as they can carry. And if that isn't hard enough, there's usually the added pressure of escaping with the family unit intact, traveling long distances with small children and the elderly, all the while aware the next days may be more challenging than the last.

For many, it's a difficult scenario to imagine. But for the world's nearly 44 million refugees, it's a harsh reality.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings
June 17th, 2011
09:10 PM ET

Thailand deeply divided

My taxi driver is speaking rapidly and heatedly. I know exactly what set him off. But I'm still surprised by it.

I had asked my mom, who is from Bangkok, about some of the campaign posters for Thailand's upcoming general election. The roadsides are crammed full of them right now. Some are funny, like the one in the middle of this picture of an older man holding a baby. It's a riff on the Mark Twain quote, "Politicians are like diapers; they need to be changed often."

My mom's explanation of another poster also dropped a famous name: Thaksin. As soon as those two syllables left her mouth, I knew we had just steered into testy political territory. Our taxi driver immediately looked back at her in the rear-view mirror and launched into a fierce debate. I tried to change the subject... but could only come up with "The Hangover II."

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Filed under: General • Personal musings
June 14th, 2011
11:20 PM ET

Is 'Duke Nukem' worth the wait?

It took 14 long years, but gamers can finally get their hands on 'Duke Nukem Forever'.

For those born after 1996, it's the sequel to 'Duke Nukem 3D', a raunchy, violent, but critically acclaimed and popular first-person shooter. It followed 'Doom', but took the genre to another level; instead of a generic Martian base, it's set in Los Angeles. Instead of brown, dreary corridors, you could interact with everything from toilets to pool tables to strippers. And instead of a faceless, mute space marine, it starred Duke Nukem: A man who looked like the result of throwing every 80s action movie star into a blender, with a set of one-liners ripped from all of them.

So when developer 3D Realms announced in 1997 that a sequel was on the way, fans rejoiced and waited eagerly.

And waited.

And waited.

14 long years later, 'Duke Nukem Forever' is finally available. But is it worth the wait? FULL POST

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Filed under: Games • General • Personal musings
June 13th, 2011
11:20 AM ET

Looking out for China's rare pink dolphins

"Pink dolphin, two o'clock!"

It takes a moment to orient myself to the analog directive, but I manage to turn and spot it in time. A few yards ahead of me in the South China Sea is a flash of pink dorsal fin.

I have seen my first pink dolphin. FULL POST

June 10th, 2011
08:20 PM ET

Twitter and today's media

Get it first, but first get it right. It's the mantra of many a journalist. But it seems we now need to tag on, "And make sure it's real."

Here's a quick recap of the week that wasn't:

Officials were outside of this one-story house in Hardin, Texas, on Tuesday

1) Texas mass murder scene discovered (untrue)

2) Blogger goes missing in Syria (authenticity doubted)

3) Syrian ambassador to France resigns (apparent impersonation)

4) Woman tattoos 152 Facebook friends on arm (publicity stunt)

These stories illustrate the difficulties facing today's news gatherers and news consumers. Technology lets us all get information quickly... almost instantly. But sometimes, you just need to pause and think for a moment.

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June 9th, 2011
11:41 PM ET

Anthony Weiner proves innuendo is rarely below the belt

Like his near-namesake sausage, we’ve wolfed down Anthony Weiner’s sorry saga with relish. It’s puerile. But the story was like a gift from the fifth-grade gods.

Monday’s inevitable apology led some to suggest that the famously flashy Weiner was shrinking. Others strove to get the view of his staff on the view of his 'staff'. How we chortled when one tweeter bemoaned the fact that Boehner wouldn’t stand up for Weiner.

Should we be surprised at this outburst of adolescence, arguably belonging in the schoolyard but rife everywhere from news outlets to late night comedy shows? Probably not.

Innuendo is as old as the hills. While some human phenomena, such as cave painting, letter writing, cassette recording and Mel Gibson have fallen by the wayside, innuendo just keeps hitting our giggle spot. FULL POST

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