July 27th, 2011
11:02 AM ET

Ai Weiwei joins Google+, along with '100,000 Chinese netizens'

From Ai Weiwei's Google+ account

China's dissident artist Ai Weiwei was an avid social media user before his recent two-month detention by Chinese authorities. On Twitter, he frequently interacted with followers which now number more than 92,000 on his now-silent Twitter page.

It's been widely speculated that one of the conditions of Ai's release was a self-imposed ban on social media. So, this came as a big surprise.

The "online godfather of the Chinese art world" returned to the networked fold with a message on Google+. Posted on July 25, it simply reads: "I'm here, greetings."

That was followed by a photograph of himself, shirtless, with the caption: "Here's proof of life." (Consider it Ai's way of proving his authenticity since Google+, unlike Twitter, does not offer verified accounts.)

Ai has also a posted a gallery of black and white photographs from his time in New York as a young artist in the '80s and early '90s. Aside from a profile description of himself as a "suspected pornography enthusiast and tax evader" (a reference to the two charges against him), Ai Weiwei's Google+ page is not likely to stir controversy. For now, it seems his few updates are his way of reuniting with his online fans.

The Google+ community has quickly taken notice. As of today, more than 9,000 users have added Ai into their circles, including influential Chinese blogger Isaac Mao. Mao is also a fellow with the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, and a Google+ user in Ai Weiwei's inner G+ circle.

Mao calls the artist's digital return a "reincarnation."

"I have no idea on the details between Ai and authorities," Mao says, when asked about any social media conditions attached to the artist's release. "But I believe (Google+) is not part of the agreement. As one G+ user commented on his G+ stream, 'They don't allow Ai to speak on Twitter, but didn't expect there to be a newcomer.'"

Google+ has been mostly inaccessible from inside Mainland China since its launch. The site has been reported blocked from various locations and ISPs throughout the country. Chinese users of Google+ access the site with a variety of circumvention tools like Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) or tunneling protocols.

China is home to nearly half a billion Internet users. Mao believes there are over 100,000 Chinese netizens on Google+. "It's not a big number compared to the huge internet population in China," says Mao. "However, I see that those top G+ users are influential geeks, bloggers and Twitter users."

Mao believes the number of Google+ users in China already surpasses the number of active Chinese Twitter users (less than 20,000). "There are still millions of Google fans in China," says Mao. "So they rushed to try this new service as its accessibility dimmed."

The digitally reincarnated Ai may find that Google+ is not just a convenient Twitter alternative. Given its popularity in China and growth trajectory, it may offer him a more far-reaching and thus powerful platform for his message.

July 21st, 2011
11:21 PM ET

Color-coding China's hackers

When you think of the colors black, gray, red and white, what comes to mind?

Whatever your answer, it probably isn't "hackers." But that's precisely how people differentiate between the many types of hackers roaming the Internet in China. FULL POST

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Filed under: China • General • Technology
July 21st, 2011
09:00 PM ET

NASA's still looking up

AFP/Getty Images

Part of me had hoped the crew of space shuttle Atlantis would go rogue and refuse to return to Earth. Maybe just for a short joyride, a few extra orbits and the proud proclamation, "You'll never clip our wings!"

But the astronauts landed right on schedule. It marked a safe and successful close to NASA's 30-year shuttle program.

Space fans around the world are experiencing mixed emotions with this milestone. Some say it's a sad day for America, left without a way of lifting humans into orbit. They remark with irony that Russia has now won the space race, as U.S. astronauts will be forced to buy rides on  Soyuz. FULL POST

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Filed under: General • Space
July 20th, 2011
11:23 PM ET

China bids farewell to Yao Ming

If you browse through pictures of the Chinese national basketball team on their official website, you may notice a famous face missing.

Hours after announcing his retirement on Wednesday, Yao Ming was already consigned to history by China's basketball association. But netizens have fonder memories of the 7-foot-6 basketball giant who spiked China’s interest in the NBA. FULL POST

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Filed under: China • General • Sport
July 18th, 2011
09:17 AM ET

Flat faces can't fly

Listen up pugs. You're grounded!

In fact, all flat-faced animals can no longer fly on Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific airline starting Monday.

The ban on Brachycephalic (that's the technical term) dogs and cats stems from health concerns. Their short snouts and snub noses can cause difficulty breathing during air travel.

Cathay Pacific cites " increasing concern in the industry" as a reason for this move. British Airways reportedly has a similar policy in place.

As a pet owner, I can empathize for the problems this will create for many people. But as a proud beagle-lover, I have to wonder why you like such goofy looking animals!

July 13th, 2011
08:07 PM ET

Harry Potter’s heart’s in the Highlands

From Harry Potter's roots in Edinburgh's Old Town (where a young Joanne Rowling started scribbling her saga) right up to the climactic, cinematic Battle of Hogwarts, Scotland has cast its spell over the series. And just as Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy had viewers salivating over New Zealand, the Potter movie anthology has done a first-class branding job for my home country.

A quick admission before I proceed. I am a former employee of VisitScotland, the national tourism board. Indeed, I was working for the organization in London when the first Potter film was released. Times were hard. The motherland was still reeling from the double ignominy of the foot and mouth outbreak and Madonna’s Highland wedding to Guy Ritchie. We were grateful for small mercies, such as Madge’s decision to leave her leotard at home.

Then, with a wave of his little wizard wand, Harry Potter breathed new life into our industry. Hagrid’s hut sprung up on a Highland hillside. Small Scottish children hopped aboard the Hogwarts Express as it chugged its way west from Fort William. The national newspapers were full of it. The rest of the world would follow.

Much attention has focused on filming locations such as London’s Kings Cross Station (bearing a remarkable resemblance to its neighbor St Pancras) and Gloucester Cathedral (whose corridors are recognizable as the haunt of Nearly Headless Nick and Moaning Myrtle). But for me - and millions of Potterphiles - the majesty of the wizarding world is most potent in its landscapes. These made me homesick as a 21-year old in London, just as they do as a 31-year old in Hong Kong. And, as such, I offer you my five favorite Scottish Potter scene-stealers:


July 11th, 2011
10:13 AM ET

Yao Ming's lost legacy

He entered the NBA with a promise like few others. Yao Ming brought a rare combination of talent and the ability to unlock a massive new market for the sport. Nine years later, reports say Yao is set to retire. And despite his best efforts, the sad truth is his career wasn’t what it could have been.

Yao could have been the NBA’s next great center. The NBA has a long history of dominant big men leading their teams to the title, from George Mikan in the 50s, to Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Hakeem Olajuwon, and Shaquille O’Neal. Yao was drafted at the height of Shaq's dominance in 2002, but he had the tools to take him on.

Shaq’s strength and weight made him an unstoppable force in front of the basket. But Yao’s ability to shoot from further out forced Shaq to leave his comfort zone and chase him; physically moving a seven foot tall obstacle from the hoop. And Yao was a full four inches taller. In their eagerly awaited first meeting, Yao demonstrated his height advantage by blocking Shaq twice in the first few minutes. The Rockets won that game, and Yao had arrived.

But success didn’t quite follow.

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Filed under: China • General • Sport
July 9th, 2011
12:14 AM ET

Atlantis Adventure

AFP/Getty Images

Around T-5 minutes to the launch of shuttle Atlantis, I overhear a man say, "The uncertainty makes it exciting." Thousands of us have been sitting in the Rocket Garden of Kennedy Space Center for the last five hours. And in the last few minutes, butterflies started to flutter in my stomach. We were so close... but the blast off could still be called off at any second.

The odds seemed stacked against Atlantis lifting off on the first try. Clouds rolled in overnight Thursday and refused to blow over. NASA rated the weather as only 30% favorable for launch. "The Sunshine State" was not living up to its nickname... and was threatening to disappoint around one million space fans.

We had arrived at KSC shortly after 5 in the morning. The last thing I heard on the radio was an announcer saying, "You know that shuttle launch today? Not gonna happen. It's raining." The security guard at the front gate also joked, "The launch is cancelled." I didn't laugh.


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Filed under: General • Personal musings • Space
July 7th, 2011
10:16 PM ET

Harry Potter and the Decade-long Obsession

Before I have even written a word, there it is, laid out for all to see, in that picture: I am a huge Harry Potter geek.

I am one of those fans who pre-ordered the books and stayed up all night to finish them so no-one could spoil the ending for me. I have seen all of the films on their opening weekends, even taken days off work to see them on opening night, and I have seen most of the movies more than once in the cinema. But there is more. I have hung out in the crowd of not one, but two of the London premieres, snapping pictures of the stars. I own all the DVDs (including double copies of some) and yes, this weekend I am hosting a Potter viewing party.

So, as you may well imagine, this month's release of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2" is both a source of great excitement and gloom for me.

Why? Well, because to quote the tagline of that film for all you Muggles out there, "It all ends here." The final instalment of a film franchise that has clocked up more than a thousand minutes of screen time and over $6.3 billion at the box-office to date premieres on July 7th, and is released worldwide on July 15th. Four years have already passed since the last in JK Rowling's best-selling series of books was published, and with the author swearing she has no more books in the pipeline, this is the end of an era for fans of Harry, Ron, Hermione and Hogwarts.

But before regaling you with how the wizarding world has become nothing short of an obsession, I have a confession to make.


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Filed under: General • Personal musings
July 7th, 2011
11:13 AM ET

In China, censors on overdrive to stop Jiang Zemin rumor mill

Beijing is insisting that reports of the death of Jiang Zemin are "pure rumor." Xinhua issued a terse denial that the former Chinese President had passed away.  A ministry of foreign affairs spokesperson curtly refused to comment on the talk.

The rumors began on Friday when Jiang failed to attend the 90th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, and speculation has been swirling on Sina Weibo, the popular Chinese microblog.

Weibo is doing its part to quell the speculation.  As of 4:30pm HKT, the following words have been banned on the site:

• Names of Chinese leaders including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao
• The words "breaking news" in Chinese
• "Jia beng" – the honorific used by Chinese to describe the death of an emperor or king
• "Three represents" is also banned. The term refers to the political roadmap drafted by Jiang Zemin

When you search for any of the above terms, you get the following message: "According to the relevant laws, regulations and policies, the results of this search cannot be displayed."

Interestingly, a number of related terms are still searchable on other top Chinese Internet destinations like Baidu, the search engine giant.

On Baidu,  you can search for the following:

• "River" or "jiang" in Chinese, which sounds like Jiang Zemin's last name
•  "Jiang Zemin." Chinese Netizens can still search his name and information related to the former Chinese leader, even access reports about the rumors of his death.

In Hong Kong, broadcast ATV led last night's newscast  with a report that Jiang died citing unspecified sources.  The report did not mention key details like the time or cause of death.  ATV has since issued a statement apologizing to viewers and the Jiang family about the report.

The news is also leading today's local papers with The Standard saying "Jiang 'Critically Ill' and the Apple Daily showing, above the fold, a photo of both Jiang and current president Hu Jintao

Such speculation is unlikely to end anytime soon, unless Jiang Zemin makes a public appearance.

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