SciTechBlog
May 20, 2010

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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Facebook says it will make privacy changes

Posted: 11:26 AM ET

After an online uproar about Facebook's privacy policy and some users threatening to leave the site en masse, the 400-million person online social network says it will simplify its privacy settings soon.

It's unclear how exactly the changes will be implemented. Or when. In a public radio interview posted Tuesday, Facebook's head of public policy, Tim Sparapani, said the settings will be updated in coming weeks.

"We've heard from our users that we're gotten a little bit complex. I think we're going to work on that. I think we're going to be providing options for people who want simplistic bands of privacy that they can choose from. And I think we'll see that in the next couple of weeks. Because we do listen to our users," he said in the interview (go to about 26:30 to hear the clip).

He added that Facebook has "built a privacy setting for every type of new communication and sharing that we have," and said that "Facebook should be getting credit here for giving tools in the first place."

Many sites don't have any privacy settings, he said.

Facebook's privacy settings have been widely criticized as complicated. According to a New York Times chart, the site's privacy policy is longer than the U.S. Constitution. Users must navigate through 170 specific options.

The bad press led Facebook's rival MySpace this week to announce simplified privacy controls with only three settings. It will be interesting to see if, in what would be an ironic turn, Facebook follows suit.

[via Wired / Mashable]

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Filed under: Facebook


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May 18, 2010

Crowdsourced effort seeks to save 4-year-old's life

Posted: 04:47 PM ET

Seeking help for a charity or cause via social networking isn't new.

But a current campaign to save the life of a 4-year-old boy has taken off in a big way, hoping to capitalize on crowdsourcing and social media to help him beat the odds.

And according to a note on the group's website, there's a chance that it's already worked.

Devan Tatlow, whose family lives in Washington, D.C., has a rare form of leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant. Complicating that is his mixed south Indian-northern European ancestry - which supporters say gives him a 1-in-200,000 chance of finding a match.

Doctors say they have less than 12 weeks.

Instead of trying to beat those odds the normal way, his family and their friends went online and turned their quest viral.

Rob Kenny, Devan's godfather, said hundreds of people have taken active roles drumming up support in what has become a global effort. While Devan lives in Washington, Kenny is in the United Kingdom, the Facebook campaign is being run out of Hong Kong and active recruitment drives are happening in Mexico, Singapore and other places.

Their message has been tweeted by the thousands on Twitter, and probably even more people have mentioned Devan's cause in their Facebook statuses.

Their efforts have been promoted throughout the online community through posts on the Huffington Post, tech blog Gizmodo and other sites.

The group is urging people to register at Be The Match, in hopes they'll be a match for Devan or someone else.

On Tuesday came some good news: there's a chance their efforts have paid off.

A message on the site's homepage said "a potential cord blood match" for Devan has been located. The group is awaiting confirmation that it truly is a match.

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Filed under: health • Internet • social-networking sites


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4 tools to help reclaim Facebook privacy

Posted: 03:22 PM ET

To some users and tech writers, it appears Facebook won’t let anything stand in the way of its quest for World Wide Web domination. Maybe not even its users’ privacy.

As most Facebook users already know, the social networking site has yet again updated its privacy settings. And the “guide to privacy on Facebook” can seem more like an encyclopedia than a guide. Some users have become so confused that they've chosen to leave the site entirely.

But, thanks to a few independent tools floating around in cyberspace, it's gotten a bit easier to navigate the maze of Facebook settings. Here are a few tools and websites that caught our attention:

ReclaimPrivacy, a donation-based project, recently launched a tool that scans your Facebook page’s privacy settings. It alerts users when their privacy settings have defaulted to public.

SaveFace, which is free to install, automatically sets users’ settings - contact information, search settings, friends, tags, connections, personal information and posts - to “friends only.”

TinEye is not specifically for privacy conscious Facebook users. However, the reverse image search engine can be useful when looking to see if an image posted on Facebook has made its way across the Web. Simply upload a photo and let TineEye search the Web to see if the image has been used elsewhere.

Finally, there's OpenBook (warning: potentially offensive language), a site that doesn't exactly help you manage your Facebook privacy settings, but it might scare you into wanting to keep your info private. The site lets you search through public status updates. Some really embarrassing stuff shows up.

Know of any tools we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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Filed under: Facebook


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Geek Out!: Getting 'Lost' in Hawaii

Posted: 02:47 PM ET
The cast of 'Lost'
The cast of 'Lost'

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.

Ah, Hawaii. Sun, sand, surf and... smoke monsters?

Okay, not exactly, but for six years, the TV series "Lost" made its home there, pumping approximately $400 million into the state's economy, according to Pacific Business News. Fans come from far and wide, not just to enjoy the usual Hawaiian R&R, but to spend as much as 10 hours in a day checking out locations where some of the show's most memorable scenes were filmed. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Geek Out!


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Facebook responds to privacy concerns

Posted: 11:27 AM ET

In an e-mail to CNN.com, Facebook spokesman Andrew Noyes responded to the growing rancor over the site's privacy settings and policies, which underwent some changes in April.

"With more and more people sharing content online, it’s important that Facebook and other sites provide them with clear control over what information they want to share, when they want to share it and with whom," he wrote in the e-mail. "We’re listening to feedback and evaluating the best way to respond to concerns. We understand that maintaining people’s privacy is of paramount importance, not just to them but to the eco-system of the Internet as a whole and we welcome innovative ideas in this space."

Noyes made the comment in reference to rival MySpace's decision this week to make its site more private.

Some people have deleted their Facebook accounts because of concerns over their online privacy. The online social network, which has 400 million members, allows fine-grained controls over privacy settings, but some people complain that the settings are too numerous and complicated to be useful.

And a project called Diaspora has been getting press as the privacy-minded "anti-Facebook." The project, started by four NYU students, so far has raised $180,000 through the crowd-funding site Kickstarter.

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Filed under: Facebook • privacy


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MySpace tries to stage a 'private' coup

Posted: 10:13 AM ET

MySpace is not aging well.

The site was the world's largest online social network until 2009, when Facebook whizzed by. Now, MySpace says it has 113 million users to Facebook's 400 million.

But maybe there's a comeback for MySpace yet. This week, as Facebook continues to weather bad press about its non-private privacy settings, MySpace announced its comeback plan: Privacy settings that make sense.

"We respect our users’ desires to balance sharing and privacy, and never push our users to an uncomfortable privacy position," company co-president Mike Jones said in a blog post on Monday.

In coming weeks, MySpace users will be able to choose from three settings that regulate the privacy of their profiles. They are:

"Friends only," meaning only people who you've agreed to be friends with can see your profile.

"Public," meaning anyone can search Google and find everything about you.

"Public to anyone 18 or older," which is pretty self-explanatory.

The default on MySpace will be "friends only." That sets it in stark contrast with Facebook, which describes its default privacy settings this way, in its 5,825-word privacy policy:  "The default privacy setting for certain types of information you post on Facebook is set to 'everyone.' You can review and change the default settings in your privacy settings. If you delete 'everyone' content that you posted on Facebook, we will remove it from your Facebook profile, but have no control over its use outside of Facebook."

Even before MySpace's announcement this week, some tech pundits were calling for Facebook to adopt simplified privacy settings. Farhad Manjoo, Slate's technology columnist, suggested 5-level privacy settings:

"You should be able to go to your privacy settings and see one big dial that lets you choose one of five levels between 'private' and 'public.' This setting would govern your entire profile; the more public you set the dial, the more you'll share with more people," he wrote on May 13. "By default, the dial would be somewhere in the middle, but you'd be able to shift it up or down at any time. You'd still be able to adjust more specific controls—you could set your profile to 'public' but allow only close friends to see pictures of your kid—but few of us would ever need to."

Facebook responded to some of these concerns in an e-mail to CNN.

It seems like three things could come of MySpace's new privacy controls. Facebook's faithful might give the site a second try. MySpace's privacy rethink could become contagious with other sites.

Or, maybe no one will notice.

Cast your vote for the most likely scenario in the comments. Also, does this make MySpace a more enticing social network?

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Filed under: Facebook • MySpace


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May 17, 2010

Geek Out!: Farewell (or good riddance) to 'Heroes'

Posted: 04:17 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.

Let's travel back to the year 2007. Back then, Marvel was working on a very risky movie version of "Iron Man" with Robert Downey, Jr., the idea of a musical TV series sounded preposterous, and viewers were excited about the season finale of a show called "Heroes," which had become a phenomenon.

The phrase "Save the cheerleader, save the world" had successfully entered the public lexicon, with no small help from the NBC promotions department, and Masi Oka was a breakout star for his portrayal of the lovable time-stopping, time-traveling Hiro. The next-to-last episode of the season had the villainous Sylar set on attacking New York City, with a bunch of ordinary people with extraordinary abilities preparing to come together to stop him.

Here was an exciting show with a continuing story arc that actually answered questions, unlike the then-floundering "Lost," and fans ate it up. Then a funny thing happened: the season finale was not that great. Nathan flew into outer space with his brother Peter, averting disaster before he exploded like a nuclear bomb. All in all, it was pretty anticlimactic.

Season two spent a lot of time in feudal Japan where Hiro ended up, and we were introduced to a few new characters who were about as interesting as watching paint dry (with the exception of Kristen Bell's electro-charged Elle). The second part of the season was scrapped due to the writers' strike, so the show made an attempt to get back in the good graces of fans by screening the season three premiere at the San Diego Comic-Con.

Season three was just a mess. It seemed as though the writers threw everything they could at the wall to see what stuck. New plot points were introduced and old ones forgotten on a regular basis.

If you want an example of how to handle time travel in an interesting way, check out the fifth season of "Lost." If you want to see an example of how to handle it badly, check out the third season of "Heroes." At one point, all of the characters lost their powers in a solar eclipse, a plotline which ultimately went nowhere. And then there was the time when Hiro literally regressed to being a child. The less said about that, the better.

It also looked like Sylar might redeem himself but that didn't take either. It seemed as though a solution had been found to get rid of Sylar, by making him believe he was Nathan, but eventually that was reversed in the increasingly confusing fourth season.

Sylar was a fascinating character, no doubt, and Zachary Quinto chewed the scenery whenever given a chance. But eventually the show seemed to be all about him, never mind the title.

So, at long last, "Heroes" is over, and that's probably for the best. There were some great moments no doubt (usually when Bryan Fuller was writing), but it was a slow death that was hard to watch.

It's a cautionary tale for other shows which capture the public's imagination early on. There are reports that the show might wrap up as a TV-movie in the coming season. Either way, I look forward to the new show "The Cape," which on the surface bears a lot of similarity to Batman, and hope that it can succeed where "Heroes" failed.

Filed under: Geek Out! • television


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YouTube exceeds 2 billion views a day

Posted: 01:31 PM ET

In honor of YouTube’s fifth birthday, the site announced it's now attracting more than two billion video views a day.

“That’s nearly double the prime-time audience of all three major U.S. television networks combined,” the YouTube team wrote in a blog post Sunday. “We certainly can’t imagine what the future will look like. But we do know there’s a lot more to be done ... We’re just getting started.”

To celebrate, the Google-owned site launched its YouTube Five Year Channel and a project called “My YouTube Story,” which features users talking about the ways in which the video site has affected their lives.

Among them are such high-profile users as CBS News' Katie Couric, Internet pioneer Vint Cerf and late-night jokester Conan O'Brien.

In Couric’s video, she says “YouTube is kind of like New York City. Millions and millions of people from all walks of life co-existing in one small space. When you turn the corner, you never know who or what you’ll see.”

Adds O'Brien, "If you're like me, America, you spend an inordinate amount of time watching YouTube - and it's probably why our country's economy is in the toilet."

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Filed under: YouTube


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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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