SciTechBlog
May 24, 2010

Britney passes Ashton atop Twitter

Posted: 11:07 AM ET
Mario takes on the Universe
Mario takes on the Universe

Alas, poor Ashton.

You may have beaten us to 1 million followers on Twitter, but that's so last year. Now, Twitter is Britney's world.

Over the weekend, the official Britney Spears Twitter account passed actor Ashton Kutcher's feed as the most popular on the microblogging site.

Both are closing in on a whopping 5 million followers - Britney had about 4,946,000 as of late Monday morning, compared to Kutcher's 4,942,000.

Her new place in the top spot comes despite the fact that Britney's feed, in contrast to Kutcher's ultra-personal musings, is largely filled by posts from her manager, Adam Leber, and other staffers.

She does chime in from time to time, though, with posts like "Happy mamas day ya'll!! -Brit," on May 9. The most recent Britney post on Twitter - where many popular users are always updating their status - is from last Wednesday.

There was no acknowledgement of the milestone on the feed.

On Kutcher's Twitter feed , he addressed the seismic shift in the Twitterverse by dismissing it.

He's been doing promotional interviews for his upcoming movie "Killers" and said that - behind "Are you having a baby?" - the most popular question from reporters has been about being passed by Britney.

"Answer 'I don't care. Aren't u suppose 2B a movie reporter?' " he wrote Sunday night.

Aside from the mind-boggling realization that Britney has at least 5 million fans, the most interesting aspect of the news may be what the numbers say about Twitter's growth - or at least the growth of its most popular users.

Just over a year ago, Kutcher and CNN's breaking news account, @CNNbrk, were publicly racing to become the first Twitter account with 1 million followers (that CNN account now has just over 3 million).

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Filed under: Internet • universe


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Geek Out!: Stars, Shadow & Iron Man (too)

Posted: 10:14 AM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to games and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Mario takes on the Universe
Mario takes on the Universe

Despite having some well-deserved time off that did not see any console gameplay time (except for "Picross 3D" on the handheld – I’m hooked), three games found their way into my consoles demanding play when I returned.

“Super Mario Galaxy 2” (Nintendo) is a fun, galactic ride for everyone’s favorite plumber in his never-ending quest to defeat Bowser and rescue Princess Peach. The game starts off typically enough with Bowser kidnapping the Princess apparently for her baking skills and Mario goes planet hopping on his effort to collect stars and save the fair damsel.

The graphics are colorful and whimsical and the gameplay on the Wii is very solid. The platforming action has moments of 2D and 3D movement, but does so without sacrificing camera angles. The Wii controller expertly keeps Mario and friends on their targets and the music didn’t detract from the action.

The planets and spaceships that Mario visits are varied in size and shape. First of all, his own spaceship looks like his head – no worries about losing it in a mall parking lot. The game progresses along a pretty linear path from planet to planet – some large planets that you can tunnel through and some small ones that seem to take two steps to get from one side to the next.

Mario collects power stars to fuel his ship, collects coins and star bits to power himself and specialty items to do different things. In all, this is a fun game for everyone and is a nice addition to the extensive library featuring Mario and friends.

The only drawback – and it feels like nitpicking – is the constant barrage of reminders by characters in the game how much more fun I could be having if there was another person playing along with me. If I’ve started the game as one player, I’m likely to be continuing as one player. I understand the Wii wants to be a console for the entire family, but there are some of us who just like solo missions. As I said, a little nitpicking but it was the only detraction I found.

If “Super Mario Galaxy 2” is all about fun and frivolity, then “Dead To Rights: Retribution” is the opposite.

“DTR: Retribution” (Volatile/Namco Bandai) features a tough, gritty cop named Jack Slate and his dog Shadow who are trying to clean up the city – one dead body at a time. This is a follow-up game (not really a sequel) to the original from 2002.

The gameplay starts by filling in the backstory on how Jack and Shadow began teaming up after the murder of Jack’s father. Different missions let you control Jack alone, Jack with Shadow as an NPC partner or missions where you are Shadow.

Playing as Jack, you battle the bad guys through some good hand-to-hand combat that feels intuitive. The end of the battle can sometimes get pretty brutal for the bad guys, but hey, they had it coming, right? Gunplay is a bit dodgier where lining up for a shot can be a bit tricky and it seems like the criminals never miss. But never fear, because eventually they come out of their hiding places and are exposed targets for the cop on a mission.

Playing as Shadow was a bit more fun. There are some laugh-out-loud funny achievements to get while acting as the dog and the controls are pretty straight forward. There was an excellent stealth mission that would have made Batman proud and Shadow can sense bad guys by listening to their heartbeats.

It is definitely an adult game and not very much fun to look at. Your opponents start looking very similar from mission to mission. Everything is relatively dark and foreboding and there were times it seemed like Shadow was walking on air. But the challenges were evenly paced with a couple of difficult situations that test your nerve and hiding skills.

Finally, “Iron Man 2” (Sega) is not just a movie, but a video game tie-in as well - in as much as “tie-in” means it has the same title and same characters, but not the same story.

Gamers get to play as Iron Man or War Machine – sometimes you have a choice and other times you don’t. Weapons are your standard repulsers, machine guns and missiles, but most of the time, it really doesn’t matter. Battles are often plagued by a bad targeting system that seems not to work at long distances or switches around erratically as enemies come into view. Even when the hero gets locked in, the shot misses because the bad guy moved and the targeting system doesn’t follow it. Enemies will swarm from all different angles and sometimes it is just better to let your fists do the destruction.

For a guy that (in the movies) zoomed into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, Iron Man moves extremely slow. There are moments when he can zoom along, but he can't fight at those speeds, which is very frustrating. In an escort mission, the helicopters he’s supposed to be protecting cruised along faster than Iron Man was flying.

The dialog is snappy and quick. There are some great exchanges between the characters and it helps move the story along. However, the characters themselves look like aging versions of their movie counterparts and you will be waiting for the suit's faceplate to close just so you don’t have to see Tony Stark in need of a facelift.

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Filed under: Games • Gaming • Geek Out! • video games


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May 21, 2010

Geek Out!: iReporters predict the end of 'Lost'

Posted: 02:14 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

iReporters shared their theories and predictions on how "Lost" would end. Check out the video above!

And if you would like to react to the finale, upload your video on Sunday night. In the meantime, you have one last chance to share your prediction about the finale below.

Filed under: Geek Out! • television


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Does Facebook know who you'll date next?

Posted: 01:29 PM ET

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg genuinely cares about your relationship status. Well, maybe not genuinely, but he may look into it if he’s bored.

One of Zuckerberg’s favorite pastimes is determining Facebook users’ relationship patterns, according to David Kilpatrick’s upcoming book, “The Facebook Effect: The Inside Story of the Company That Is Connecting the World.”

Are you constantly chatting with your girlfriend’s best friend? Do you spend more time on your crush’s Facebook page than your boyfriend’s?

You don’t have to be honest with us, but don’t bother lying to Zuckerberg.

A handful of tech blogs have published an excerpt from the book that says Zuckerberg uses certain factors to determine whether your relationship is on the outs and who you’ll likely be dating next.

All Facebook, a blog about the social-networking site, posted this passage:

“By examining friend relationships and communications patterns (Zuckerberg) could determine with about 33 percent accuracy who a user was going to be in a relationship with a week from now. To deduce this he studied who was looking which profiles, who your friends were friends with, and who was newly single, among other indicators.”

So what's your take on Zuckerberg as Cupid? Is his theory on this credible, or just creepy? If he offered you an insider's prediction on your significant other’s romantic future, would you take it?

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Filed under: Facebook


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Politician tries to out anonymous Twitter critics

Posted: 11:42 AM ET

Pennsylvania's attorney general recently subpoenaed Twitter for the real names of two anonymous bloggers who have been criticizing him. Twitter generally doesn't give out user identities, according to a statement issued to the blog TechCrunch. And the American Civil Liberties Union in Pennsylvania now says it will represent the online critics.

"Any subpoena seeking to unmask the identity of anonymous critics raises the specter of political retaliation," Witold Walczak, legal director for the ACLU of Pennsylvania, says in a prepared statement. "It's a prized American right to criticize government officials, and to do so anonymously."

The anonymous Twitter users in question - @CasablancaPA and @bfbarbie - continue to use their feeds to criticize Tom Corbett, the current Pennsylvania AG, who also is running for the governorship in that state as a Republican.

According to the subpoena, as posted by TechCrunch, Corbett wants the Twitter users' names, addresses, contact info, IP addresses. This isn't the first time a politician or celebrity has tried to out anonymous dissenters online. Last year, the New York Supreme Court ordered Blogger.com, which is owned by Google, to release the identity of an anonymous online writer who had been ranting about former cover girl Liskula Cohen.

The identity fight in Pennsylvania also comes as the Web in general is becoming less anonymous. Facebook is leading the charge against anonymity, as it encourages its 400 million users to use their Facebook profiles - with photos, real names and background information - to comment on online news stories, music, events and other web content.

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Filed under: 4chan • anonymity • Facebook • Internet • Twitter


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May 20, 2010

Google rolls out 'the future of television'

Posted: 12:48 PM ET

Saying it will "change the future of television," Google on Thursday rolled out Google TV - the internet giant's venture into web-TV integration.

The application, run by Google's Android operating system, lets users search for content from their television, DVR and the web.

Even as sites like Google-owned YouTube have increasingly emerged as viable entertainment options, the move is a nod to a basic truth of leisure time.

"There's still not a better medium to reach a wider and broader audience than television," said Google project director Rishi Chandra.

The platform will let users search for content, from the name of a TV show to the name of a network, in much the same way a Google search works. They'll get results from TV and the web and be able to watch either on their TV screen.

"Videos should be consumed on the biggest, best, brightest screen in your house," Chandra said. "That's your TV."

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Filed under: Google • television • YouTube


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Geek Out!: Leonard Nimoy's swan song

Posted: 12:27 PM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Tonight's episode of "Fringe" will be the final performance for "Star Trek" legend Leonard Nimoy. He was crystal clear on that when he spoke with reporters last week.

"I have announced my retirement," he said. "I will not be doing any more television or movie acting or directing. I can tell you that I feel very fulfilled with the work that was given to me to do in this final episode."

Since the end of last season, Nimoy has been playing the enigmatic character William Bell, the head of Massive Dynamic, a company that has been at the center of much of the plot threads going through the show. Last week, he approached Agent Dunham (Anna Torv) inside the parallel universe where he now lives, and he and the "Fringe" team appear to be headed to a confrontation with the parallel version of Walter, who recently kidnapped Peter.

Nimoy said he really enjoyed working on "Fringe" for his final performance: "I admire all of the people on this show: [actors] Anna Torv, Josh Jackson, and John Noble and all the rest. I had some wonderful scenes to play with John Noble, who I think is a wonderful actor."

Nimoy promises some very intense scenes between himself and Noble in tonight's season finale.

As for "Star Trek," don't expect him to be in any future films, either. "I have said that I think it’s time for me to get off the stage and make some room for Zachary Quinto, who is the new Spock and a wonderful actor, looks a lot like me," he told reporters. "And I’m very flattered that the character will be continued by an actor of that caliber. He’s very well trained and very talented."

Nimoy is ready to move on full time to his new passion, photography: "I’ve had 60 years of working in films and television. I’m very grateful for all the great opportunities that I’ve had and all and the people that I’ve met, the people I’ve worked with, the 'Fringe' company; I said on my final day of shooting was as good as any company I’ve ever worked within the 60 years of my experience."

Filed under: Geek Out!


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Facebookers respond to 'Draw Mohammed Day'

Posted: 11:59 AM ET

Thousands of users posted illustrations of Muslim prophet Mohammed to the web Thursday, responding to a controversial Facebook group that prompted Pakistan to block access to the social-networking site.

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day encourages people to flout the belief by devout Muslims that it is wrong to depict religious figures because it could lead to idol worship. The group has more than 81,000 fans on Facebook.

Creators of the group say they got the idea after recent controversies surrounding the belief. A series of cartoons of Mohammed published in a Danish newspaper in 2005 led to riots in countries around the world.

At least two European cartoonists live under police protection after drawing Mohammed and, most recently, Comedy Central edited part of the animated show "South Park" because it showed the prophet.

By mid-morning on Thursday, more than 7,300 images had been uploaded to the Facebook page, most of them drawings of Mohammed.

Some are silly. But a quick scan showed many that are crude, and some seemed to be intentionally offensive.

The creators of the page said that's not what they're after - that their message is about free speech, not attacking Islam.

"Enjoy the rest of the day and draw Mohammed however you may like," said a Thursday morning post. "We will of course encourage you to make a creative and humourous picture, instead of something hateful."

Predictably, the group has created backlash. Another Facebook group, called "AGAINST Everybody Draw Mohammed Day," actually had more members - about 96,000, as of Monday morning.

Recent posts on that page called on members to "keep protesting against those filthy pages" and report the Draw Mohammed page to Facebook as being objectionable.

But a Facebook spokesman said the page does not violate any of the site's terms. A glitch prevented some users from accessing the page briefly Monday morning, but he said that was technical and has been fixed.

"We want Facebook to be a place where people can openly discuss issues and express their views, while respecting the rights and feelings of others," he said Thursday.

"With now more than 400 million users from around the world, who have varying cultures and ideals, using Facebook as a place to discuss and share things that are important to them, we sometimes find people discussing and posting about topics that others may find controversial, inaccurate, or offensive."

He did, however, suggest Facebook is monitoring the situation closely.

"When these feelings, or any content reported to us becomes an attack on anyone, including Muslim people, it will be removed and further action may be taken against the person responsible," he said.

He said Facebook is disappointed with Pakistan's decision to block the site and is considering legal action.

Pakistan's government issued an order Wednesday blocking Facebook for an indefinite time because the site had not removed the page.

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Filed under: Facebook • Internet


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Geek Out!: Can anything replace 'Lost?'

Posted: 09:01 AM ET

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Where will the next "Lost" come from? Just as Jacob found his replacement in Jack, one has to wonder what, if anything, will replace this phenomenon. The Geek Out! team members have some very different opinions on this subject.

Henry Hanks:

Intriguing mysteries, parallel worlds, weird science and J.J. Abrams… yes, of course, I’m talking about “Fringe.”

Currently in its second season, this show is quickly becoming one of my favorites, and quickly grabbing a cult fan base. I think “Lost” fans looking for the next show to obsess about (or just watch for fun) could do no better than to check out “Fringe,” if they haven’t already, that is. John Noble’s performance as Walter is certainly on par with Michael Emerson or Terry O’Quinn.

And we actually know what it’s about now! That didn’t even take two years!

Christian DuChateau:

Viewers are much more likely to see the next “Lost” not on the major broadcast networks but on cable TV. Networks like AMC, FX and USA are attracting viewers with edgy, intelligent, character-driven dramas like “Mad Men,” “Justified” and “Burn Notice.”

Because they don’t have to attract as big an audience as the major networks, the cable nets can afford to take a risk on a new show with a complex mythology. AMC will put this to the test in the fall, with their new sci-fi drama, “The Walking Dead.”

The network has ordered six episodes of the series, based on the comic book of the same name. The story follows a small group of survivors stranded in an apocalyptic future overrun with zombies.

It’s a sci-fi premise, a story driven by interpersonal conflicts, and if you’ve read the comic you’re already aware, no character is safe. Hmmm, sounds familiar.

Doug Gross

George R.R. Martin's "Song of Ice and Fire" fantasy novel series is epic in scope and complexity in a way "Lost" fans should recognize and enjoy.

After years of turning down several movie offers, Martin - a fan of series like "Rome" and "Deadwood" - signed up with HBO to turn the books into a series. The show, "Game of Thrones," named for the first book in the series, is set to start up some time next spring.

Martin's characters are complex, with the line between good and evil often blurry at best. There are surprises aplenty in a fully realized high-fantasy world that rivals Tolkein's Middle Earth.

No seriously. It does.

If the series stays true to the books, there will be bloody medieval-style battles, alliances made and broken and just enough magic to keep things interesting.

Plus ... dragons.

Topher Kohan:

There will never be another “Lost” and we should stop trying to look for one. What made shows like “Lost,” “X-Files,” “Battlestar Galactica” - and, heck, even “24” - what they are is that they were, and are, cultural phenomena.

Let’s forget that fact that “Lost” is one of TV’s most expensive shows to produce, and let’s forget that TV is more and more going away from sci-fi-type shows. “Lost” is one of a kind, and if we keep looking for the next “Lost” we’ll will hate a bunch of good TV just because we thought it should be the “next” whatever.

I will miss “Lost” when it goes off the air. Then I will look for a the next show I will like and watch it for the show that it is, not try and compare it to the show it will never be.

Is “Lost” truly one of a kind, or is there something out there that can replace it for fans? Share your opinion below.

Filed under: Geek Out! • pop culture • television


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May 19, 2010

Geek Out!: Our conversation with 'Lost's' Francois Chau

Posted: 02:25 PM ET
'Lost's' Francois Chau
'Lost's' Francois Chau

Editor's note: Geek Out! posts feature the latest and most interesting in nerd-culture news. From sci-fi and fantasy to gadgets and science, if you can geek out over it, you can find it on Geek Out! Look for Geek Out! posts on CNN's SciTech blog.

Let me take you back to a simpler time: Early on in "Lost's" second season, to be exact, when the main mysteries on the island were: What's with that monster and that polar bear? And what's the deal with the hatch?

Well, inside the hatch, Locke, Mr. Eko and Michael watched an orientation videotape, which introduced viewers to the concept of the Dharma Initiative, hosted by one Dr. Marvin Candle. Dr. Candle would later show up in other tapes and films, revealing more mysteries of Dharma and the island, but with different names. Finally, his real name, Dr. Pierre Chang, was revealed, and we learned more about him. I recently spoke with Francois Chau, the actor who played Dr. Chang, and he shared his memories of working on "Lost."

CNN: What were your impressions on recording the first Dharma tape? Did you anticipate coming back? What did you think of this concept?
A: When I first got the job, it was just that one time to do that first orientation film, and once I was done, I figured that was it. When I got the job, I thought, "Here is my free trip to Hawaii." Then they called and said I would be filming at Burbank [Disney] studios. I did it and it was done, and I figured that was it. A few months later, they said we need to do more footage, and I said, sure. And then it started from then on, they kind of liked what they wanted to do with it. I started on the second season, so once those two were done, I did the next one at the end of the second season or beginning of the third. From then on, I went to Hawaii to do it. Since then, every time they call, I’m glad it’s still going on.

The only thing I was kind of worried about was it was a big, long, two or three pages of monologue that I had to memorize and I was just thankful that I got through it without stumbling. Then I would think, oh geez, what was all this information about the station? I hope there’s a lot of other stations with other orientation films that they would have me do. The show would give out a little bit, but there’s a lot that they don’t tell you and fill in the blanks. It’s the nature of the thing where people were filling in what they expect and what the writers want or what’s going to come. If you watch the film, it’s this guy giving out this dry information, and people were getting something out of it.

People would sometimes say, "Those films are so creepy and scary, and sometimes I have to go into the other room."

CNN: Had you seen much of "Lost" before getting this job?
A: I watched the pilot, and I didn’t have time and then I missed a few of them. I watched a few, I watched sporadically, I missed a lot of information. I got busy and hadn’t watched for a while, and once I kept doing the orientation films and people would ask me, "What’s going on? Can you tell me what’s happening?" and I would say, "Gee, I don’t know." So I thought I should watch it to understand the basic questions. And I started watching it, and I kind of got hooked at the end of season three when they started the flash-forward. I thought wow, that’s pretty good. After that I was hooked, and I’ve been watching.

CNN: How have the fans been to you?
A: Some will ask, "What’s going on, what does this mean, what does that mean?" There are two categories, the really avid fan who knows every detail of every episode, and who writes about it and does all this research. Those guys know 10 times more than I ever know, so when they ask me stuff, I say "You've got a lot more info than I do." The first couple of seasons I did them, I didn’t know the script, and I would get it and shoot it, and after that I was on my way home. I didn’t know what was going on except what I had to do. The other fans would watch and enjoy, but they’re not as avid as to what’s going on than the other people I meet. When people recognize me, it's usually, "Oh my God, I love you and your character."

CNN: What was your reaction on coming back in the fifth season and finally being able to interact with others, not just being on tape?
A: Up until season five, I never met anyone else from the cast. It was basically just me doing the little films, and I just flew in and didn’t see anybody. It would have been more fun to meet some other people and do a scene where I could talk to somebody else. It was great [in the fifth season] … some people in the cast I had worked with before on other projects but I had never had a chance to work with them on "Lost." I did a couple of episodes of "JAG" with Terry O’Quinn. I had known Yunjin Kim for many years. I did a play with Henry Ian Cusick about 15 years ago. All of these people I knew for many years but didn’t have a chance to see them. I didn’t see Ian until this last season, it’s been six years, but I never ran into him in all this.

One thing I kept thinking was how many of these orientation films are they gonna find? After two or three, it’s gonna be boring, like "Oh, here’s another one!" It was interesting to see what the writers would come up with, or if they would get anything at all. When I did the third one, I went to Hawaii, I looked at it and I thought wow, and that’s when they started using the different names. I’m glad they went back to the '70s.

CNN: Did you get the idea that you might be Miles' father before that was revealed?
A: I have friends who are avid viewers. As soon as the character of Miles showed up … my friends were like "oh my God" ... they were thinking of what’s going to happen. A couple of my friends jokingly said, "I think he could be your son." I mean come on, just because he’s another Asian guy, he’s not going to be my son. Sure enough, he was! I guess some of my fans were way ahead on that.

CNN: Did you enjoy your appearance in the "flash-sideways" this season?
After last season, I wasn’t even sure I was gonna come back because they had so much going on, to tie up and give answers to. … When I watched the opening of season six, I started seeing characters from the past who showed up in different jobs or different guises, I thought, hmm, I wonder if they have anything in store for me. I guess because the character is popular, I’m sure they had to do something. It was fun that they made me the head of the museum. I work with Charlotte. It was fun. I did get a couple of questions about why I wasn't in my 70s. … I should be older. "You didn’t look old." Dr. Chang looks good for his age!

CNN: Any favorite memories from the set?
A: There were days I was working where there were other cast members working the same time, and I had a chance to meet them. In filming, there’s a lot of waiting around, so there was a chance to socialize and talk to the other cast members, and those days were great.

CNN: What do you think of this season's "Lost Untangled" videos featuring your character as a Muppet?
A: I was asked, "Would you do 'Lost Untangled' with the Muppet?" and I said, "Sure." At first they did it with a no-money budget and would use these cut-out figures of the cast, and this year they got some money and started to do the Muppet of Pierre Chang, and it’s him explaining what’s happening, and I got to do one of them and it was a blast. It’s kind of weird standing talking to the Muppet. The puppeteer is sitting right there, but you can’t talk to him, you’re talking to the puppet. That was a first time to me, and it was a blast! They called and said, "Would you do another one?" I might do one more, I’m not sure.

Filed under: Geek Out!


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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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