SciTechBlog
December 31, 2008

iReport: Paying it Forward

Posted: 11:13 AM ET

The holidays are over. Your credit cards are inching towards their limit. Layoffs are happening left and right. The weather is mostly gray.

If all this has you down, you may want to consider checking out one iReporter's blog for a little winter inspiration.

Adam Boalt’s blog kindactsblog.org is based on the idea of “paying it forward” and practicing random acts of kindness. You may have heard about people paying for a stranger's cup of coffee or gas, but there are so many other stories of kindness.

Boalt has found a way to connect all these random acts worldwide. In one posting, a kind soul bought a sleeping bag for the homeless man he passes every day.

Tell us how you practice random acts of kindness. Post your experiences and ideas here at iReport.com.

- Callie Carmichael, CNN.com

Filed under: Internet


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December 30, 2008

Web reveals both sides of Gaza conflict

Posted: 12:04 PM ET

We are now in the fourth day of the battle in Gaza. As expected, social networking sites like Twitter.com and video-sharing sites like Youtube.com are buzzing.

Bombed-out buildings in Gaza this week. Photo: Getty Images

Subscribers to Twitter's QassamCount are posting real-time reports of rocket attacks from Israel, as well as media reports and videos. Here's a sample:

QassamCount: Two Qassam rockets fired from north Gaza landed in an open areas within the Sha'ar Hanegev and Eshkol regional councils.

RT @dibau_naum_h: war stories: my train to work this morning was delayed due to rockets fired(..). rockets are expected to hit my town soon.

You can also go to search.twitter.com and enter #gaza for continuing debate and discussion on the Gaza situation.

As is always the case with open forums like Twitter, you'll find duplicate links to media reports, along with unsubstantiated rumors and inaccuracies.

The Israel Defense Force has even taken to Youtube.com to post videos of its offensive into Gaza. As of this writing, the IDF page had more than 800 subscribers and eight videos posted. Half of the videos show targets being destroyed, while others show things like Israelis loading up humanitarian supplies or the Israeli Air Force preparing for a nighttime operation.

What online resources are you using to keep up with the conflict in the Middle East? Post them here or at iReport.com.

- Stephen Walsh, CNN.com

Filed under: Internet


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December 29, 2008

Bright ideas for blackouts

Posted: 12:06 PM ET

It’s happened to almost everyone: The lights are off and you’re at home, where a power outage has rendered most devices in your house useless.

Blackouts don't have to leave you powerless.

Tens of thousands of people from the Pacific Northwest to the Northeast were reminded of those dark times this past week when winter storms caused massive power outages. CNN.com spoke with residents who spent days in the dark and asked them the question: “What are you doing to occupy your time?”

For the most part, people told us they were keeping busy and waiting for the power to come back on. For some, a day or two away from buzzing cell phones and ringing fax machines is a well-needed break.

But for others, a day without power is a day out of work. So what’s a technophile to do when the power’s out? Find a new energy source. Here are some suggestions:

Portable Chargers: It’s a new era in the battle to keep your battery charged, thanks to portable chargers available from companies like Energizer and Duracell. They’re travel sized battery packs that can recharge your cell phone, PDA and iPod. You simply slide two AA batteries into the pack and charge your wireless device. Once you’re re-charged you can get back to listening to music, writing e-mails or calling the power company to see when service will be restored.

DC/AC Inverters: This gadget may be familiar to RV users or those who make long road trips. Depending on your model, these boxes convert the power from your car into power you can use for things like charging up your laptop or watching TV. You plug one end into your cigarette lighter and plug your device into the outlet on the other end. They’re made by several different companies and can be found at most electronics stores starting around $20.

Hand Crank Devices: A low-tech power source for high-tech gadgets. Hand crank devices work just like normally powered ones, as long as you’re willing to work for the power. There are several different devices ranging from crank flashlights to crank radios. The best part is, you never have to worry about having batteries. A tip: many of the best hand crank gadgets can be found in the camping section at outdoor-supply stores.

Solar Panels: As solar power becomes more common, more homeowners are installing small-scale solar panels to power anything from outdoor lights to indoor water heaters. The panels can collect energy during the day to keep lights on even when the power is off at night. Some hardware stores are also jumping on the solar bandwagon and providing installation services.

There you have it - my tips and tricks for beating a blackout. Each idea has its advantages and drawbacks. Portable chargers can be expensive and hand cranks can be time consuming. Solar panels are great, but if you’re stuck in a snowstorm, you’ll have to keep the panels free of snow to keep them generating power.

The best way to determine what’s right for you is to plan ahead. Go ahead and try out the products before you need them. That way when you do, you’ll have the right gadget for the right time.

Here’s to beating that dreaded "low battery" message.

–Brandon Ancil, CNN.com

Filed under: technology


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December 24, 2008

The Water Bullet

Posted: 01:55 PM ET

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's Water Bullet!

iReporter Larren Unruh submitted video of a test drop of the MX-311 Water Bullet.

Larren Unruh sent iReport.com a cool video of the test drop of a device called the MX-311 Water Bullet, a high-impact safety harness. Watch the video here.

Inventor Maximus WillHammer has spent the last five years working on it, motivated by what he considers a lack of understanding in the safety industry of the needs of today's tradesmen.

The aircraft was designed around the idea of finding a safer way to bring data or humans back from space. The video shows WillHammer's unmanned test drop earlier this month at the Arrowrock Reservoir outside Boise, Idaho. Check out Willhammer's Web site for more on how it works.

Tell us about a technology breakthrough, and your video could be featured on this blog.

- Stephen Walsh, CNN.com

Filed under: Aviation • Physics • science


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December 22, 2008

RIAA axes file-sharing lawsuits

Posted: 10:35 AM ET

Those of you who regularly share music over the Internet, legally or illegally, have by now heard the news that the Recording Industry Association of America is shelving the practice of filing lawsuits against most individuals it suspects are pirating copyrighted music online.

As CD sales decline, more and more people get their music online.

I say most because the RIAA still reserves the right to sue heavy file sharers or those who ignore warnings to stop. Now, the RIAA has a new tactic. It’s made agreements with several Internet service providers in which the ISPs will help them police alleged law-breakers.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the RIAA will send a letter to an ISP when it thinks one of its customers is illegally sharing copyrighted music. The ISP will either forward the letter to the alleged offender or ask him to stop.

If the file-sharer ignores the warning, he risks having his Internet service terminated or his bandwidth squeezed to the point where it takes watching the entire “Lord of the Rings” trilogy before all 10 tracks of Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida” are illegally in his possession. Ouch.

So why the switch? The RIAA has sued some 30,000 people over the past five years, a tactic that's proved expensive and , critics argue, largely ineffective. I mean, have you stopped sharing your music library since the lawsuits began? I didn’t think so. And you’re not alone. While CD sales continue to decline, the number of folks sharing files online continues to increase.

This new deal makes me nervous because now, your ISP is poised to become an uptight hall monitor who narcs on every kid who smokes in the bathroom, instead of looking the other way even though it knows what you’re doing is against the rules. I think ISPs should remain neutral.

Nervous? Maybe you should be. Maybe you shouldn’t.

You could continue to share copyrighted songs online, hoping you’ll never be caught. At the very least, perhaps you should look to the Electronic Frontiers Foundation’s advice on how to avoid trouble.

There’s a decent chance you’ll never feel the RIAA’s tap on your shoulder. Plus, the way things are, I have no doubt word will spread quickly on how to cloak file-sharing so the ISPs and the RIAA can’t see what you’re up to.

The bottom line: Sharing copyrighted material online without the copyright holder’s permission is against the law. I quote Dirty Harry, “You've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?”

- Stephen Walsh, CNN.com

Filed under: computers • Internet


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December 19, 2008

Internet 2008: Thank you and good night

Posted: 01:14 PM ET

My love for technology began in 1988 when I enrolled in my high school’s radio production class. Yes, my high school had its own radio station. How perfect was it to be doing air guitar while listening to stacks and stacks of my favorite vinyl records –- and getting class credit? The science of radio hooked me from the start. It was accessible. It was fun. It was the coolest thing I’d ever seen. That is, until a few years later when the World Wide Web arrived.

What are your favorite Web sites of 2008?

Oh, Internet. How I love thee. You have given us so much this year. And I’m not just talking about that webcam of the puppies. But as those dogs in a box and so many other time-wasters sucked up so much of your life, there were so many other Web sites that you probably missed. Here are five of my favorites you should visit before the credits roll on 2008:

Grooveshark.com: Free streaming tunes. But here’s the kicker: You can buy any track you want and part of the proceeds goes to the artist, while part goes to the registered user who uploaded the track.

Instructables.com: The ultimate how-to on the Web. Fun, relatively easy instructions on making everything from gift bags from cereal boxes to animated LED snowflake window decorations.

Safesurfer.com: Teaches kids safe surfing habits while trying to keep things fun. Blogs, games, computer shortcuts. It’s all there. Parents will learn a lot, too.

Gasbuddy.com: Gas prices are pretty low now. But who are we kidding? They’ll be frustrating us sooner than we can say “fill 'er up.” Gasbuddy.com gives you real-time prices from some 750,000 volunteer price spotters.

Etsy.com: Handmade, one-of-a-kind items of all sorts. And if you’re hip to the DIY scene, you can sell your wares here, too.

Now it's your turn. What Web sites could you have not done without this year? Submit yours here!

- Stephen Walsh, CNN.com

Filed under: computers • Gasoline • Internet


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December 18, 2008

A Jobs-less Macworld - what's a fanboy to do?

Posted: 11:05 AM ET
Steve Jobs

Never again will Steve Jobs grace the stage at Macworld

Ahhhh, Macworld.  It's been like a post-Christmas Christmas for all us Appleholics out there.

Once upon a time, there were TWO Macworlds, and Steve Jobs' keynote could be seen live!  I remember calling feeds here at CNN to find out where I could see it, and there was usually a group of us sending IMs back and forth ooohing and ahhhing over our glorious Leader's every proclamation.  Then after the keynote ended we'd continue to IM back and forth about all the things we wanted (pizza box iMac!!) that we didn't see, and arguing about why (or why not) Jobs was a genius.

All that changed several years ago – Apple pulled out of the Boston/New York Macworld, and it died.  No more live keynotes – we fanboys glued ourselves to the live reports on various gadget blogs by people actually in attendance.

Now even that will end.  And I have to think it's going to be hard for Macworld to continue.  Which makes me wonder about trade shows in general.

Clearly Apple wants the stage to themselves, and I'm sure we'll be just as excited about whatever new gadget, feature or upgrade the Leader sees fit to dole out to his salivating minions, but I can't help but mourn Macworld's passage.

I've never been to the actual show, and now I doubt I'll ever get to go.  I'm a little sad at the end of this era, and wonder if the new era will have any of that Christmas-morning excitement I used to get before a Jobs keynote.

I wonder how January's Macworld will go down.  I picture the crowd of Apple fans, a few of them teary-eyed, holding their cell phones aloft and swaying back and forth while singing some ballad after the last Apple-hosted keynote.  More likely it will be a shuffling of chairs by people hurriedly going off to the next event.

- CodyMcCloy, CNN.com

Posted by: ,
Filed under: computers • consumer tech • Internet


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December 11, 2008

Videogame wrestling is back!

Posted: 06:30 PM ET

You've trained hard for years. Many champions have fallen from your devastating finisher. Now new challengers and obstacles stand in your way.

Kofi Kingston talked to CNN about his role in the new video game, "WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009."

Welcome to "WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009," the newest installment in the pro-wrestling video game series. Released last month, the popular game features more than 60 playable superstars and many new features that have never been offered in a WWE video game.

Players can select between such wrestlers as John Cena, HHH, Chris Jericho, CM Punk and the Undertaker and follow them on a story-driven path to the final showdown at WrestleMania 24. If the roster of 60-plus superstars doesn't satisfy your needs, game developer THQ will make new wrestlers available via download by January 31.

THQ also put a heavy emphasis on tag-team wrestling for this edition of the game. Thanks to several new tag-team moves, you can now make a hot tag to your partner who will come in and clean house.

CNN spoke with wrestler Kofi Kingston, one half of the World Tag Team Champions (with CM Punk), regarding his first-ever character in the game.

“It was one of my career goals to be in a video game,” said Kingston, who is pleased with the amount of detail shown to his character and his mannerisms. “I personally did not do my own motion capture of my moves, but they did do a body and facial scan."

Kingston has long been a fan of wrestling video games, and "WrestleMania 2000" was his favorite. “I would use the Create-a-Wrestler feature to make myself, and fight through career mode with it," he said.

One of Kingston's favorite new modes is the Inferno Match, in which wrestlers can throw your opponent onto a fire. Don’t worry, though - they don’t burn for long. Crews come by with fire extinguishers.

"WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009" also boasts two new customization features. With Highlight Reel, a player can record a match, edit it and then share it online. With Create a Finisher, a player strings several animations and moves together to create the ultimate finisher.

Kingston does have one suggested addition for next year's game: The Championship Scramble match that occurred at this September's 'Unforgiven' pay-per-view event. The Scramble is a 20-minute match involving five superstars; whoever scores the last pinfall or submission at the end of the 20 minutes is the champion.

Kingston says he isn’t the only videogamer in the WWE. “There are a handful of us that are hardcore gamers. We used to bring an X-Box 360 on the road with us. The hotels wouldn’t have the proper connections so we would go and buy a small LCD TV to play on. We would be up playing video games instead of sleeping."

All that practice may come in handy for Kingston as he competes in THQ’s 7th Annual Smackdown vs. Raw WrestleMania Weekend tournament in March. Last year he took second place.

–Christopher Piatt, CNN

Filed under: Uncategorized • video games


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December 4, 2008

YouTube symphony orchestra: A chance at Carnegie Hall

Posted: 07:04 PM ET

There's amateurs who post videos of their cats playing piano on YouTube, and then there's the London Symphony Orchestra. At first glance, the two have nothing in common.

Do you have what it takes to play in a real orchestra? Photo: Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

But now, the popular video site and the renowned orchestra are teaming up to search for musical talent through the YouTube Symphony Orchestra. The grand prize: performing in a live orchestra concert at Carnegie Hall in April 2009.

YouTube says anyone can audition for the project, which the site touts as the "first-ever collaborative online orchestra." In fact, Academy Award-winning composer Tan Dun, who wrote music for the film "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," has written a new piece specifically for you to play. Just submit a video of yourself playing his new song, and another video of yourself performing one of several public domain pieces that the site suggests.

The site will even help you learn the music. Simply select your instrument from a drop-down menu - violin, marimba, and vibraphone are among the many options - and play the sheet music provided while watching a video of a conductor.

YouTube says it's partnering with orchestras, music schools and organizations around the world for the initiative. Partners will do demonstrations and given classes, as well as provide recording spaces for the videos.

The chosen musicians will be determined by a combination of professionals and public voting. A judging panel will look for "interpretation of the music, musicianship, vitality of
performance, originality of performance and evaluation of the performance as
a whole," according to the official rules. The panel will choose the finalists by February 14, and then YouTube users can vote for the ones they like best. If you're a lucky winner, you will get a message through your YouTube account by February 24.

So, dust off that violin bow and set yourself up on youtube.com/symphony. Deadline for video submissions is January 28.

–Elizabeth Landau, Writer/Producer, CNN.com Health

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Filed under: Internet


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December 2, 2008

Melting glaciers vs. melting economy

Posted: 02:50 PM ET

Ten thousand delegates are gathering this week in Poznan, Poland to hammer out a successor to the less-than-successful Kyoto accord on climate change.  But with a dizzying array of world events, from an exploding economy and U.S. presidential handoff to terrorists, rebels, and pirates in Asia and the Middle East, the world's attentions are mightily distracted elsewhere.

As arguably the biggest of those stories, the financial meltdown may have the most profound effect on the Poznan meeting.  “The financial crisis will have an impact on climate change. You already are seeing around the world a number of wind-energy projects being pushed back,” said Yvo de Boer, head of the UN's Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  One of them is the high-profile U.S. effort from Oklahoma oilman T. Boone Pickens.   Pickens launched a massive media campaign calling on the U.S. to increase wind and natural gas production in place of oil imports this summer, then said last month that portions of the project were "on hold" due to the global economic turmoil.

Hosted by a nation with one of the most coal-intensive economies in the world, the Poznan meeting is the second of three global gatherings to hammer out a "shared vision" and agreement on reducing greenhouse gases to replace the less-than-spectacularly-successful Kyoto accord.   By design, Kyoto focused on industrialized nations, leaving developing-world giants like China and India on the sidelines.   The U.S. chose to sit it out as well.   Neither the Clinton nor Bush Administrations forwarded the Treaty to the U.S. Senate for approval.   China has insisted that developed nations not only need to take the first steps, but also need to provide financial and technological aid to the developing world before real climate gains can be achieved.    To date, the U.S. has been unwilling to jump in while little is asked of India, China, and others.

So, a stalemate between the biggest greenhouse culprits continues.   As scientist Mark Levine of the Lawrence Berkeley National Labs told Congress, the U.S. and China are trapped in “a vicious circle in which neither country will act boldly unless the other acts first, and neither appears willing to act first.”
 

A subsequent meeting in Copenhagen next summer will set the stage for a potential agreement.  The Bush Administration has endured global criticism for its resistance to setting targets for greenhouse gas reductions.   The Obama Adminstration has promised change: A target of 80 percent greenhouse-gas reductions by mid-century. 

But the questions remain:   

Will a melting economy stop the climate change effort in its tracks?

Can Obama and successive presidents deliver on what amounts to a wholesale change in our energy strategy?

And will China and India play along?   By some measures, China may have already passed the U.S. as the world's largest greenhouse emitter.

–Peter Dykstra, Executive Producer, CNN Science, Tech & Weather

Filed under: climate change • environment


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About this blog

Are you a gadgethead? Do you spend hours a day online? Or are you just curious about how technology impacts your life? In this digital age, it's increasingly important to be fluent, or at least familiar, with the big tech trends. From gadgets to Google, smartphones to social media, this blog will help keep you informed.

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