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Five ways Google could help start an apocalypse

January 29th, 2014 No comments

Atlas Google

The same company that has access to your calendar, e-mail, and search history also owns this. Sleep well.


(Credit:
DARPA/Boston Dynamics)

A decade ago, we used to hear a lot more about Google’s informal motto: “Don’t be evil.” It doesn’t come up as much anymore, but those three words still lead off Google’s corporate code of conduct. And given some of the company’s recent acquisitions that are heavy on robotics and artificial intelligence companies, that’s probably a good thing.

But still, with an Internet giant also buying up the know-how to make killer robots, it’s not too hard to imagine something like the classic science-fiction conceits of SkyNet turning on its creators taking root at the Googleplex in Mountain View, Calif. “Don’t be evil” is a great startup motto, but what’s the old truism about power corrupting? Sometimes, it seems like Google is heading toward absolute power in some areas.

To be fair, my whole premise here is about 99 percent tongue-in-cheek. I don’t actually go to bed at night worrying that the touchless control on my
Moto X is going to take touchless control of my life by the time I wake up. But there is that paranoid 1 percent or so of my brain that sees how the End Times could come from the seemingly innocent things Google is doing today. Let’s look at just a handful of these far-fetched scenarios:

1. Killer robots that know everything about us. In just the past 60 days, Google has bought a half dozen robotics companies and one that works in artificial intelligence. Among those companies is Boston Dynamics, which has designed robots for the military that can run like a cheetah and climb vertical walls. Did I mention they also have a humanoid “Atlas” robot that, although not specifically designed for any offensive military use, can withstand being hit by projectiles and looks an awful lot like a predecessor to what we’ve seen in the “Terminator” series? Connect Atlas up to Google Now and you’ve got a bulletproof robot with a pet robotic cheetah that knows where you live and travel and what your interests, plans, and even musical tastes are. Sleep tight,
Android fans.

2. Self-driving
cars pave the highway to hell.
Google’s autonomous cars still seem pretty far from mainstream implementation, but if the technology ever were to become a primary means of transportation, it would need to be operated through a shared network. If that network were ever compromised, or — just for dramatic purposes — became sentient, let’s say — then we have another possible SkyNet scenario on our hands. After all, this is a world where hackers were able to remotely mess with Iran’s uranium-enrichingcentrifuges until they broke. The notion that robot cars could be hijacked remotely and driven into the tiger habitat at the local zoo isn’t as science fiction as it once seemed. There’s also the worst-case scenario: that all those Scions become self-aware of just how strangely boxy and ugly they are and seek revenge on their creators.

Google car

Driving us to extinction?


(Credit:
Google)

3. Real-world Androids to fall in love with — until they destroy us. Spike Jonze’s Oscar-nominated flick “Her” imagines a world in which we can fall in love with an operating system with artificial intelligence baked in. Well, last year, Google bought a little company called DNNResearch and brought its founder Geoffrey Hinton on board. Both specialize in artificial neural networks and aim to help systems recognize things like speech and objects. Add to this Google’s more recently reported acquisition of artificial intelligence firm DeepMind, and suddenly it seems that Jonze’s vision of an intangible girlfriend seems within reach. Don’t forget that Google is also now the humanoid robot company, meaning we may not have to wait centuries for Cylons — and we all know how trustworthy they are.

4. Nest turns our castles into prisons. For years now, Google has been making noise about home automation and the Internet of Things with initiatives like Android @home, which still hasn’t made it to market. But then it went and bought an established innovator that people have actually heard of in Nest. So now we’ve got a leader in home automation under the umbrella of the leading search company pursuing the dream of the “conscious home.” We’re on our way to the world of the Jetsons with a life of leisure! Unless, well, you should probably just go read some Arthur C. Clarke and watch out for the character named HAL.

5. Gmail slips into a coma. We recently experienced a taste of a truly traumatic Googpocalypse when Gmail went down worldwide for a short period of time. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if the service vanished from our lives for an entire day, or week, or perhaps even permanently. Don’t laugh. It happened to Google Reader; it could happen to that Gmail account where you store all your photos, sensitive correspondence, passwords, manuscripts, love letters, financial records, and drafts of Justin Bieber fan letters you never had the guts to send on an account you share with your wife.

What other ways could the “Don’t be evil” company be hijacked for less-than-not-evil ends? Let us know in the comments and on Twitter @EricCMack and @Crave. Or just share your data-driven nightmares and we’ll work through them together.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/i69sd7AhUmM/

Grand Theft Auto in real life? Here you go

January 4th, 2014 No comments

He’s got a knife. And he’s about to fall off the roof.


(Credit:
Alexander Zhavoronkin/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

Some Russians, it might appear, tend to enjoy life at the sharp end.

Some bathe in a certain appreciation for drama, conflict, and intimidation (or at least a certain familiarity with it).

This may make them excellent video game players. It also offers an additional dimension to Russian dashcam footage.

The latest to emerge has more than a soupcon of Grand Theft Auto.
Cars speed maniacally. Side-swiping occurs with the minimum of conscience.

Then it all ends in a fight.

I am grateful to Metro UK for speeding this video to the world beyond Irkutsk.

It’s around the three-minute mark that action heats up and the protagonists begin to express the full range of their characters.

There has clearly been a disagreement between the driver of the Toyota and the person who happens to have a minivan.

Perhaps they are brothers who tossed a coin to see who would have which car, and the minivan driver lost. Or perhaps they are fighting over a woman, a stash of drugs, or some stolen tickets to a Vangelis concert.

Within seconds of the sideswipe, one man has a knife, the other has a shovel. What then unfolds is a peculiar mixture of menace and comedy, in which the shovel-waver manages to outmaneuver the knife-wielder, despite occupying the lower ground.

You might especially enjoy the brief time the knife-wielder spends on the roof of the minivan.

At one point, it seems as if we’re about to be treated to a balletic Russian version of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.” But then, instead of striking the knife-wielder with his shovel, the shoveler tosses snow at him.

This may be a common local ritual, for all I know.

I am, though, concerned about the man who filmed it. The movie stops at an awkward moment, suggesting that he might be Russia’s Quentin Tarantino and is saving the rest of the footage for a Part II.

But what if the shovel-waver and the knife-wielder now realize they were being filmed and join forces to eliminate him?

This is Russia. Anything could happen.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/OubcOBonBto/

Tweeting sharks forestall ‘Jaws’-like doom

January 3rd, 2014 No comments

Surf Life Saving WA even tweets pictures of sharks as they’re spotted.


(Credit:
Surf Life Saving WA)

Aquaphobes still traumatized by “Jaws” can now breathe a little easier.

Government researchers from Western Australia have tagged 338 sharks with acoustic transmitters on their bellies. These tagged sharks set off a computer alert when they’re about half a mile from the beach, which generates an automatic tweet on the Surf Life Saving Western Australia Twitter stream. Tweets include size, breed, and approximate location.

Despite the program’s impressive scale, marine biologist Kim Holland warns that swimmers shouldn’t throw caution to the seas just because sharks have gone high tech and gotten into social networking.

“It can, in fact, provide a false sense of security — that is, if there is no tweet, then there is no danger — and that simply is not a reasonable interpretation,” she tells Southern California radio station KPCC.

The reverse isn’t true either, she says. “Just because there’s a shark nearby doesn’t mean to say that there’s any danger. In Hawaii, tiger sharks are all around our coastlines all the time, and yet we have very, very few attacks.”

The program is an expansion of the Australian government’s ongoing efforts to keep its beaches safe, while helping scientists learn more about shark movements in Western Australia, which has witnessed six fatal attacks in the last two years.

It’s also a response to the November death of surfer Chris Boyd, who died following an attack in Western Australia by a shark believed to be a great white. The tragedy prompted the government to enact more aggressive methods to curb shark attacks, such as deploying vessels with professional fishermen to bait and kill any large shark spotted about half a mile from the beach. This measure has more than 100 scientists up in arms and advocating for adoption of non-lethal measures to protect beachgoers.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/axa2Y9qa_7o/

Golf to technology: Shove it

November 20th, 2013 No comments

He’ll be pleased.


(Credit:
PGATour/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET)

The people who run golf often seem like stuffy reactionaries trying to preserve ancient hegemony and its patrician ways.

Which, to a large extent, they are.

However, this can bring with it some welcome side effects.

One appears in a rule change that the game’s rulers hope will keep technology a club-length away.

Golf, you see, has some stickly rules. One states that your ball can’t move after you’ve addressed it or while you’re removing loose debris around it.

However, viewers at home would use their DVRs and HDTVs to call into major tournaments and complain that a ball had moved. This was especially unfair to the more famous players, as they’re more often on TV.

The PGA often also has many HD cameras covering the event.

These technologies might cause, as happened to Tiger Woods at this year’s BMW Championship at Conway Farms near Chicago, a two-shot penalty to be assessed after his round has been completed.

In Woods’ case, a PGA camera had caught his ball moving after he’d removed some loose stuff near it. (I have embedded the footage for your joy.)

In order not to endure such nonsense again, a change to the rules has been announced.

As USA Today reports, the new Rule 18.4 reads: “Where enhanced technological evidence shows that a ball has left its position and come to rest in another location, the ball will not be deemed to have moved if that movement was not reasonably discernible to the naked eye at the time.”

Yes, golf has waved its niblick and struck a shot for humanity.

This is an interesting contrast to sports like baseball, where pressure is being exerted to institute more instant replays because umpires get major decisions quite startlingly wrong.

Currently, the sight of all the umpires waddling from the field to stare at a TV screen is cumbersome. Some sports, like cricket, have successfully managed to use a remote video referee to adjudicate close calls.

But golf has always fancied itself bathing in integrity and a little humanity.

There is something uplifting about it asserting this humanity, just when technology keeps telling us that it always knows better.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/fmgCMf12Hl8/

My high school masters the lip dub, wins Katy Perry visit

October 23rd, 2013 No comments

Yes, that’s really a high school student. They grow ‘em bigger in Colorado.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Eric Mack/CNET)

In the fall of 1996, as a high school senior at Colorado’s Lakewood High School, I stripped off my shirt, donned a coconut bra and a hula skirt (for reasons that I can’t remember or have perhaps willfully forgotten), and helped lead a pep rally in the school’s gym. This week, pop star Katy Perry will take the stage in that same gymnasium — likely wearing something similar — and reward the Lakewood Tigers of 2013 for their mastery of the art of the lip dub.

So far as I — and Wikipedia — can tell, lip dubbing is about 6 years old, beginning with this rough video of Vimeo co-founder Jake Lodwick walking around mouthing the lyrics to a tune by Apes and Androids in 2006. Lodwick then pushed the genre further by initiating the full office lip dub meme with this take on Harvey Danger’s “Flagpole Sitta” that you probably saw at some point in 2007.

By 2010, the office lip dub tradition had reached NBC’s American version of the sitcom “The Office,” with one episode actually starting off with the employees of Dunder Mifflin attempting their own lip dub to post online. By this time, the phenomenon had already hit college campuses, with over 170 Montreal university students taking this lip dub of The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling” beyond 10 million views.

Today, that hit video looks a little sparse compared to the organized chaos that students and teachers from Lakewood managed to pull together using more than 2,000 human bodies, lots of silly string and banners, and just one practice run.

Lakewood High was selected by Perry from more than a thousand entries from schools around the country as the winner of a contest to produce the best massive group lip sync video to her song, “Roar.” The winning video, embedded below, went viral long before even being selected as a finalist for the competition and features a single continuous shot that runs through the high school and appearances by the entire school body of more than 2,000 students. The grand prize will be a private performance by Perry on her birthday, this Friday, October 25, in Lakewood High’s gym.

Things have changed a bit since I attended Lakewood in an era where lip dubs were still a decade away, and we were impressed by even un-animated GIFs. At that time the school was aging; enrollment was near an all-time low; and programs seemed to be getting cut all the time. It was just before the tech and real estate booms would literally bring millions of new residents and opportunities into Colorado in the span of just a few years. In the mid-1990s, Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” permeated the halls before home football games, which we usually lost.

But even then there was always a stronger supply of school spirit and optimism than cynicism and angst in the working-class neighborhood around LHS. The seeds of the turnaround had been planted even before I graduated — a new International Baccalaureate program was challenging students and opening new doors, just as Lakewood’s city center was undergoing major urban renewal.

Lesson to be learned?
Less than 15 years later, Lakewood High School had a beautiful new facility, thousands of students and was among the top-ranked high schools in the United States. They started winning football games, too. I remember an assistant coach my senior year in 1996 when we lost nine games in a row who would slap me on the back of my helmet every time he caught me hanging my head — “Your head should never be down! Not now, not ever!” he would scream at me with an intensity that even the biggest mistake on the field couldn’t provoke.

In 2011, that same coach — this time as head coach — would lead the Tigers to the state championship game for the first time in decades.

I could be going overboard waxing nostalgic here, but it seems to me there’s some sort of lesson to be learned about persistence and hard work from my alma mater that’s also hard to miss in the lip dub video for “Roar,” which represents a certain kind of triumph of organization and cooperation. Did I mention that this wasn’t Lakewood’s first attempt at such a huge creative group endeavor? LHS actually organized another Katy Perry lip dub two years earlier, apparently just for the heck of it.

Persistence gets tigers their lunch.

Watch for yourself below and let me know in the comments if I’m just being overly biased.

Lakewood High School Lip Dub 2013 – Roar from Lakewood High School on Vimeo.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/6DSqIX9ncGM/

National Zoo’s panda cam falls victim to government shutdown

October 1st, 2013 No comments

Giant Panda on cam

This screenshot was taken shortly before the shutdown.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

The cutest victims of the government shutdown may well be the giant pandas at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC. Don’t worry, the actual fuzzsters are just fine. It’s our vicarious enjoyment of them that has taken a blow. The live panda cam has gone dark until Congress can sort out its budget issues.

The panda cam has been a great pick-me-up at any time, but especially so now that mama panda Mei Xiang has a cute little cub on display. The baby was born on August 23. Cam-watchers have seen it grow from a nearly hairless little stub of a cutebug into a pint-sized critter with all the right panda markings.

The shutdown is coming down hard on agencies like NASA. You can’t even visit the NASA Web site. But the loss of the panda cam is putting a real damper on morale for those of us who count on the cute. We can pretty much guarantee that Mei Xiang and her little one are still just as adorable as always. We just can’t see it.

“All the animals will continue to be fed and cared for. A shutdown will not affect our commitment to the safety of our staff and standard of excellence in animal care,” the National Zoo posted on Facebook.

The panda cam isn’t the only casualty of the shutdown. The otter cam, cheetah cam, octopus cam, tiger cub cam and naked mole-rat cam (No, not the naked moles rats, too!) have also gone dark.

However long it takes the politicians to hammer out a new agreement and put the government back in gear is going to feel like years without the panda cam to distract us from the worries of the world. On a positive note, work productivity may rise without the panda cam to distract us from our jobs.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/nY3RthIrkeo/

National Zoo’s panda cam falls victim to government shutdown

October 1st, 2013 No comments

Giant Panda on cam

This screenshot was taken shortly before the shutdown.


(Credit:
Screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET)

The cutest victims of the government shutdown may well be the giant pandas at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo in Washington, DC. Don’t worry, the actual fuzzsters are just fine. It’s our vicarious enjoyment of them that has taken a blow. The live panda cam has gone dark until Congress can sort out its budget issues.

The panda cam has been a great pick-me-up at any time, but especially so now that mama panda Mei Xiang has a cute little cub on display. The baby was born on August 23. Cam-watchers have seen it grow from a nearly hairless little stub of a cutebug into a pint-sized critter with all the right panda markings.

The shutdown is coming down hard on agencies like NASA. You can’t even visit the NASA Web site. But the loss of the panda cam is putting a real damper on morale for those of us who count on the cute. We can pretty much guarantee that Mei Xiang and her little one are still just as adorable as always. We just can’t see it.

“All the animals will continue to be fed and cared for. A shutdown will not affect our commitment to the safety of our staff and standard of excellence in animal care,” the National Zoo posted on Facebook.

The panda cam isn’t the only casualty of the shutdown. The otter cam, cheetah cam, octopus cam, tiger cub cam and naked mole-rat cam (No, not the naked moles rats, too!) have also gone dark.

However long it takes the politicians to hammer out a new agreement and put the government back in gear is going to feel like years without the panda cam to distract us from the worries of the world. On a positive note, work productivity may rise without the panda cam to distract us from our jobs.

Article source: http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/cnet/pRza/~3/nY3RthIrkeo/

10 things the U.S. does best

September 27th, 2013 No comments


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Alaska's Denali National Park (pictured) is part of a system of 400-plus areas of buttes, badlands, volcanoes, glaciers, falls, fjords, geysers and gift shops.Alaska’s Denali National Park (pictured) is part of a system of 400-plus areas of buttes, badlands, volcanoes, glaciers, falls, fjords, geysers and gift shops.

Make all the fat jokes you want -- seriously, they're hilarious -- but no other nation offers the portions and varieties of culinary experimentation found in the U.S. Exhibit A: deep-fried butter. Make all the fat jokes you want — seriously, they’re hilarious — but no other nation offers the portions and varieties of culinary experimentation found in the U.S. Exhibit A: deep-fried butter.

Most countries have a national sport, the U.S. has four. OK, three; you can have hockey, Canada.Most countries have a national sport, the U.S. has four. OK, three; you can have hockey, Canada.

With all due respect to the English city, the U.S. is the home of the derby in all its forms, be it racing, smashing or bashing.With all due respect to the English city, the U.S. is the home of the derby in all its forms, be it racing, smashing or bashing.

Ahoy! Aloha! Hey! Hola! Howdy! Hiya! Ho there! Well, look who it is! What's happenin'?! 'Sup! Yo! Hello! The variety and vibrancy of the American greeting is unrivaled, upholding a threshold of friendliness Americans demand, Europeans find onerous and others find perplexing.“Ahoy!” “Aloha!” “Hey!” “Hola!” “Howdy!” “Hiya!” “Ho there!” “Well, look who it is!” “What’s happenin’?!” “‘Sup!” “Yo!” “Hello!” The variety and vibrancy of the American greeting is unrivaled, upholding a threshold of friendliness Americans demand, Europeans find onerous and others find perplexing.

Whether it's Portland, Oregon's Hopworks, Grand Rapids, Michigan's Founders, Asheville, North Carolina's Wicked Weed or these guys' pong tourney, no country has more fun with beer than the U.S.Whether it’s Portland, Oregon’s Hopworks, Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Founders, Asheville, North Carolina’s Wicked Weed or these guys’ pong tourney, no country has more fun with beer than the U.S.

Utah's Bryce Canyon (pictured) is the closest you can get to another planet without tickets on Virgin Galactic. Then there's Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Colorado), Palo Duro Canyon (Texas), Canyon de Chelly (Arizona), Sequioa and Kings Canyon (California), Waimea Canyon (Hawaii) and hundreds more to round out a list so deep and wide that it makes the U.S. the hands-down winner in this category even without mentioning the Grandest one of them all.Utah’s Bryce Canyon (pictured) is the closest you can get to another planet without tickets on Virgin Galactic. Then there’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Colorado), Palo Duro Canyon (Texas), Canyon de Chelly (Arizona), Sequioa and Kings Canyon (California), Waimea Canyon (Hawaii) and hundreds more to round out a list so deep and wide that it makes the U.S. the hands-down winner in this category even without mentioning the Grandest one of them all.

From internationally beloved TV shows like Breaking Bad to movies like Avatar and anything the Coen brothers do to viral videos like Harlem Shake and the Kardashian sex tape, America is the world's a href='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a1Y73sPHKxw' target='_blank'dramatic chipmunk/a. From internationally beloved TV shows like Breaking Bad to movies like Avatar and anything the Coen brothers do to viral videos like Harlem Shake and the Kardashian sex tape, America is the world’s dramatic chipmunk.

With roadside oddities like the world's largest ball of paint in Indiana, along with infamous rest areas dotting a majestic roadscape at uniform intervals, you're never far from the next adventure. And if you don't know why this photo accompanies a bit on road trips, you've never been on a proper one. With roadside oddities like the world’s largest ball of paint in Indiana, along with infamous rest areas dotting a majestic roadscape at uniform intervals, you’re never far from the next adventure. And if you don’t know why this photo accompanies a bit on road trips, you’ve never been on a proper one.

The U.S. is a microcosm of nearly every world culture, climate, landscape and category of wildlife. And whatever doesn't occur naturally gets recreated at Disney. The U.S. is a microcosm of nearly every world culture, climate, landscape and category of wildlife. And whatever doesn’t occur naturally gets recreated at Disney.

Did we say 10 things? Have one more. No one over-delivers, or does more with more, like this bunch. Did we say 10 things? Have one more. No one over-delivers, or does more with more, like this bunch.


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(CNN) — Even if it’s not the land of opportunity it once was, the Big Mobility Scooter still has a lot going for it.

In fact, there are at least 10 things by our count that you can’t find as good anywhere else on earth.

More: 10 things Italy does better than anywhere else

With the caveat that China is on a trajectory to take over at least six of these categories by 2016, we present them without further interruption.

Except for this last interruption (interrupting also being something Americans are fantastic at): Be sure to express your wholesale agreement with our list in the comments.

1. Effusive greetings

“Ahoy!” “Aloha!” “Hey!” “Hola!” “Howdy!” “Hiya!” “Ho there!” “Well, look who it is!” “What’s happenin’?!” “‘Sup!” “Yo!” “Hello!”

The variety and vibrancy of the American greeting is unrivaled, upholding a threshold of friendliness that Americans demand, Europeans find onerous and others find perplexing.

Want to slip through somewhere un-greeted?

Forget it.

Whether you’re leaving a hotel, shopping for a pair of jeans or just trying to get around a bystander, someone’s going to pop out from the shadows with a neighborly salutation, the enthusiasm of which may border on deranged.

More: Things Americans love/hate about returning to the U.S.

If life really was a highway, this is the one it'd be.

2. Road trips

If we’re talking about something that can be done while seated, Americans are probably going to excel at it.

Germany likes to lay claim to the world’s first road trip, but having come of age at the same time as the automobile, the United States was custom-built for it.

With roadside oddities like Carhenge in Nebraska and the world’s largest ball of paint in Indiana, along with infamous rest areas and national parks (more on those later) dotting America’s majestic roadscape at uniform intervals, you’re never far from the next adventure.

Unless you’re driving through Texas.

More: How to pretend you’re Canadian when you travel

3. Derbies

With all due respect to the English city, the U.S. is the home of the derby in all its forms, be it racing, smashing or haberdashing.

Originating in the county fairs of the nation’s 1950s backwoods, demolition derbies, like the one held annually in Delaware County, New York, pit hulking early-model autos against one another in contests of Americanly excessive ramming until only one remains functional.

On the oval track, Louisville’s Kentucky Derby is a spectacle of horseshoed pageantry, while roller derbies from Austin to Seattle are cataclysms of people-wheeled fury.

More: Doh! 20 biggest travel mistakes

4. Beer

Not to keep taking shots at Germany, but there’s only so much you can do with barley and hops.

Live a little, Üter!

By contrast, American brewers aren’t bound by purity restrictions on their craft, allowing them to push the pint glass with new additives, processes, styles and malt and hops strains moved through the largest number of breweries of any nation on earth.

Whether it’s Portland, Oregon’s Hopworks, Grand Rapids, Michigan’s Founders, or Asheville, North Carolina’s Wicked Weed breweries, in no country is beer more innovative.

More: 8 best beer towns in the U.S.A.

Saying

5. Diversity

The U.S. is a microcosm of nearly every world culture, climate, landscape and category of wildlife. (And whatever doesn’t occur naturally gets recreated at Disney.)

Beaches extend from Cape Cod to Kaanapali; bayous encircle the Gulf of Mexico; alpine mountains streak the Rockies and Appalachians; rain forests span the Pacific Northwest; deserts stretch across the Southwest.

Cougars, wolves, bear, bison and mustangs roam plains and forests; gators, crocs, whales, dolphins, turtles and snakes frequent the coasts; condors, eagles, falcons, flamingos, bats and pterodactyls — just making sure you’re still with us — inhabit the skies.

But of course the Melting Pot concept was built on ethnic diversity. Despite the politics of immigration, the U.S. has and will continue to welcome the world’s huddled (and also brilliant) masses, making it as heterogeneous as any nation on earth.

6. Canyons

Geo-diversity has pocked much of the landscape with vast gorges and canyons that create expansive pockets of pure emptiness ringed by the most stunning rock formations, vegetation and slack-jawed tourists imaginable.

Unbelievable until experienced, Utah’s Bryce Canyon is the closest you can get to another planet without tickets on Virgin Galactic.

Then there’s Black Canyon of the Gunnison (Colorado), Palo Duro Canyon (Texas), Canyon de Chelly (Arizona), Sequioa and Kings Canyon (California), Waimea Canyon (Hawaii) and hundreds more to round out a list so deep and wide that it makes the U.S. the hands-down winner in this category even without mentioning the Grandest one of them all.

More: 13 scary-but-awesome viewing platforms

7. National parks

Overlooked during the westward expansion of the American frontier in the 1800s, Yellowstone was made the world’s first national park the way you might give the last kid picked for kickball the top spot in the order.

Turns out it’s one of America’s great national treasures, a tradition extended to 400 more areas comprising more than 84 million acres of buttes, plateaus, rapids, coral reefs, caverns, badlands, volcanoes, glaciers, falls, fjords, swamplands, sandstone arches, mangroves, geysers, gift shops and excellent interpretive centers ranging from coast to coast.

More: How to get U.S.’s most crowded natural wonders to yourself

Relax, bud. The whipped cream is coming.

8. Eating

Make all the fat jokes you want — seriously, they’re hilarious — but no other nation offers the portions and varieties of culinary experimentation found in the U.S.

This year’s gastronomic breakthrough was the cronut, a croissant-donut hybrid introduced by Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City.

It’s just the latest in a litany of extreme foods that’s yielded curated cupcakes, ramen burgers, sushirritoes, Korean tacos — the only limit will be an eventual shortage of truffles.

There’s nothing the home of super-sizing won’t deep-fry, roll in bacon or drown with nacho cheese sauce, proving Americans eat like none other.

Just don’t ask them to do math.

More: 8 things you should know about your hotel pillow

Even this sport is ferocious. Just visit any junior high school.

9. Sports

Most countries have a national sport. The U.S. has four. (OK, three; you can have hockey, Canada.)

While the world’s most popular sport, soccer, has yet to gain critical traction in the U.S., it also has the burden of competing with the seasonal panoply of baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

That’s tough enough without NASCAR, golf and action sports like extreme death gliding and low-orbit cloudboarding or whatever else is nipping at soccer’s heels.

Some of the best places to catch a game in the U.S. are Wrigley Field (Chicago) and Fenway Park (Boston) for baseball; Tiger Stadium (Baton Rouge, Louisiana) and Lambeau Field (Green Bay, Wisconsin) for football; and Cameron Indoor Stadium (Durham, North Carolina) and Rupp Arena (Lexington, Kentucky) for college basketball.

More: 101 best sports bars in the U.S.

10. Moving pictures

From internationally beloved TV shows like Breaking Bad and The Daily Show to movies like Avatar and anything the Coen brothers do to viral videos like Harlem Shake and the Kardashian sex tape, America is the world’s dramatic chipmunk.

Coming in October: 10 things India does better than anywhere else

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Floods hit Winter Olympics host Sochi

September 26th, 2013 No comments


A woman braves the rain in Sochi as severe weather caused chaos in the Russian city.

(CNN) — Rain, floods, evacuations and power cuts may have hit Sochi — but an Olympic size effort is underway to ensure the city is ready to host the 2014 Winter Games.

Streets and homes were flooded Tuesday with Irina Rossius, the press secretary for Russia’s Emergencies Ministry, forced to admit that a state of emergency was still in effect, according to Russian state agency, RIA Novosti.

While the local Emergency Ministries branch had denied that a state of emergency had been imposed, “the negative outlook” for Tuesday night has led to a change in circumstances.

Read: A brief history of the Winter Olympics


Will Sochi be most connected Games?

The 2014 Winter Olympics are part of Vladimir Putin's sporting plans to bring Russia global prestige, along with the 2018 World Cup and a Formula One race, also in Sochi.The 2014 Winter Olympics are part of Vladimir Putin’s sporting plans to bring Russia global prestige, along with the 2018 World Cup and a Formula One race, also in Sochi.

However, Russia's new anti-gay laws have sparked worldwide protests, prompting fears that the Sochi Games will be overshadowed by the issue -- and social media is expected to play a key role in the February 7-23 competition.However, Russia’s new anti-gay laws have sparked worldwide protests, prompting fears that the Sochi Games will be overshadowed by the issue — and social media is expected to play a key role in the February 7-23 competition.

Sochi will be following in the footsteps of the London 2012 Olympics, which was heralded as the first social media Games. Here sprint star Usain Bolt is seen captured on a spectator's smartphone.
Sochi will be following in the footsteps of the London 2012 Olympics, which was heralded as the “first social media Games.” Here sprint star Usain Bolt is seen captured on a spectator’s smartphone.

London 2012 took a big step forward in terms of promotional innovation, such as this projection of swimming legend Michael Phelps on the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.London 2012 took a big step forward in terms of promotional innovation, such as this projection of swimming legend Michael Phelps on the Houses of Parliament at Westminster.

However, it also revealed some of the pitfalls of greater exposure on social media. British diver Tom Daley angrily responded on Twitter after being abused by trolls following a disappointing performance. A key learning point from London 2012 was that attending too closely to every minor social media moment is a mistake, says journalist Andy Miah.However, it also revealed some of the pitfalls of greater exposure on social media. British diver Tom Daley angrily responded on Twitter after being abused by trolls following a disappointing performance. “A key learning point from London 2012 was that attending too closely to every minor social media moment is a mistake,” says journalist Andy Miah.

British weightlifter Zoe Smith was also taunted online, but fought back against her abusers. An athlete really needs to focus on their competition and that means cutting out anything that could jeopardize this, says Miah. This is what they've trained all of their life for and nothing should affect that.British weightlifter Zoe Smith was also taunted online, but fought back against her abusers. “An athlete really needs to focus on their competition and that means cutting out anything that could jeopardize this,” says Miah. “This is what they’ve trained all of their life for and nothing should affect that.”

The Australian swim team was criticized for under-achieving in London -- Emily Seebohm blamed her overuse of social networking website Twitter for her failure to win gold despite being favorite in the women's 100m backstroke.The Australian swim team was criticized for under-achieving in London — Emily Seebohm blamed her overuse of social networking website Twitter for her failure to win gold despite being favorite in the women’s 100m backstroke.

Russia's anti-gay laws were denounced by American Nick Symmonds after he won silver at the 2013 world athletics championships in Moscow. The 800-meter runner later posted on Twitter a picture of himself with the Russian LGBT sports federation.Russia’s anti-gay laws were denounced by American Nick Symmonds after he won silver at the 2013 world athletics championships in Moscow. The 800-meter runner later posted on Twitter a picture of himself with the Russian LGBT sports federation.

Swedish high-jumper Emma Green Tregaro also showed her solidarity with the gay rights movement by wearing rainbow-colored fingernails and posting the proof on Instagram. Swedish high-jumper Emma Green Tregaro also showed her solidarity with the gay rights movement by wearing rainbow-colored fingernails and posting the proof on Instagram.

The Winter Olympics is smaller in scale and profile than the Summer Games, though it will have at least one globally recognized competitor in Lindsey Vonn. The U.S. skier, who is active on social media platforms, announced her relationship with golf star Tiger Woods on Facebook. The Winter Olympics is smaller in scale and profile than the Summer Games, though it will have at least one globally recognized competitor in Lindsey Vonn. The U.S. skier, who is active on social media platforms, announced her relationship with golf star Tiger Woods on Facebook.

The tech world has moved relentlessly forward since London 2012, and social media experts such as Miah are hoping innovations such as Google Glass may be trialed at Sochi. However, its video content would not be allowed under the International Olympic Committee's restrictive social media guidelines.The tech world has moved relentlessly forward since London 2012, and social media experts such as Miah are hoping innovations such as Google Glass may be trialed at Sochi. However, its video content would not be allowed under the International Olympic Committee’s restrictive social media guidelines.

Sochi will be a big deal for Russia's social media platforms such as VKontakte. Its founder Pavel Durov, pictured, has been described as Russia's Mark Zuckerberg.Sochi will be a big deal for Russia’s social media platforms such as VKontakte. Its founder Pavel Durov, pictured, has been described as “Russia’s Mark Zuckerberg.”


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How social will Sochi 2014 be?How social will Sochi 2014 be?

The main 40,000 all-seater Olympic Stadium, which has been nicknamed 'the fish' will host the opening and closing ceremonies.The main 40,000 all-seater Olympic Stadium, which has been nicknamed ‘the fish’ will host the opening and closing ceremonies.

The 12,000 Bolshoi Dome will host the highly-anticipated ice hockey final where the host nation will be hoping to challenge for the gold medal.The 12,000 Bolshoi Dome will host the highly-anticipated ice hockey final where the host nation will be hoping to challenge for the gold medal.

Located in the center of the Olympic Park, the Adler Arena will allow up to 8,000 spectators to watch the world's top speed skaters battle it out to claim sporting immortality.Located in the center of the Olympic Park, the Adler Arena will allow up to 8,000 spectators to watch the world’s top speed skaters battle it out to claim sporting immortality.

The snowboarding and freestyle competitions will take place at the Rosa Khutor Extreme Park in the Mountain Cluster. The venue has already been used for World Cup events and is considered one of the top facilities in the world.The snowboarding and freestyle competitions will take place at the “Rosa Khutor” Extreme Park in the Mountain Cluster. The venue has already been used for World Cup events and is considered one of the top facilities in the world.

Russian ice dancer, World and Olympic champion, Tatiana Navka, performed with her partner at a ceremony celebrating the one year countdown to the Winter Games.Russian ice dancer, World and Olympic champion, Tatiana Navka, performed with her partner at a ceremony celebrating the one year countdown to the Winter Games.

Australia's Heath Spence took part in a Men's Bobsleigh training run at the Sanki Sliding Centre, one of the 2014 Winter Olympics venues which is located at Rzhanaya Polyana, 60 kilometers northeast of Sochi.Australia’s Heath Spence took part in a Men’s Bobsleigh training run at the Sanki Sliding Centre, one of the 2014 Winter Olympics venues which is located at Rzhanaya Polyana, 60 kilometers northeast of Sochi.

Russia's President Vladimir Putin has taken a keen interest in the Games, visiting Sochi to ensure the project is finished in time. He visited the Olympic Village with Dmitry Chernyshenko, the CEO of the organizing committee.Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has taken a keen interest in the Games, visiting Sochi to ensure the project is finished in time. He visited the Olympic Village with Dmitry Chernyshenko, the CEO of the organizing committee.

With the Games set to start on February 7, the city faces a race against time to be ready. Workmen are up against tight deadlines with construction still to be completed.With the Games set to start on February 7, the city faces a race against time to be ready. Workmen are up against tight deadlines with construction still to be completed.

The world's top ski jumpers will be hoping to fly through the air and onto the podium at the RusSki Gork center.The world’s top ski jumpers will be hoping to fly through the air and onto the podium at the RusSki Gork center.

The view from 2,300 meters above sea level around Sochi. This photo was taken from Rosa Khutor resort, which will host the Alpine events.The view from 2,300 meters above sea level around Sochi. This photo was taken from Rosa Khutor resort, which will host the Alpine events.


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Sochi gets ready to put on a showSochi gets ready to put on a show

It is estimated that 1800 workers are currently undertaking work to clean the city following the evacuations of residents.

While 10 homes in the village of Mirny and some train stations in the Adler district are still flooded, the ministry stated on its website that rescue teams had made progress by pumping out water and allowing some trains to run.

The ministry also confirmed that all 30 residents who were moved from the village of Kepsha have since returned home after the water level drop from 45 centimeters to 5cm.

Flights at Sochi’s regional airports were canceled amidst severe weather, while traffic jams left the roads in turmoil.

Kubanenergo, the local power company, confirmed Tuesday that it had cut off the power in five regions to avoid risking power outages.

Read: Will social media foil Putin’s grand Winter Olympics plan?

The floods come at the worst possible time for Sochi with the International Olympic Committee coordination committee making its final visit to the city before the Games, which start on February 7.

The commission’s chairman, Jean-Claude Killy, will finish his visit on Thursday after holding meetings with organizers and visiting venues.

“The exceptional weather conditions in Sochi have not impacted the visit of the IOC coordination commission that is in Sochi from Sept 24 to Sept 26,” read a statement sent to CNN by the IOC.

“The Commission’s work is ongoing and they have just completed a successful visit to the mountain venues.”

When contacted by CNN Wednesday, the Olympstroy press office insisted none of the venues had been damaged by the adverse weather.

“None of the sports venues in Imeretinskaya lowland and in Krasnaya Polyana have been affected by heavy rainfall,” read a statement.

“All the new Olympic facilities have been built in accordance with strict seismic safety, weather protection and geological protection guidelines.

” All venues have proper mudslide and landslide protection. Service personnel in both mountain and coastal clusters are in place to ensure proper functioning of the facilities.”


Article source: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/25/sport/sochi-floods-olympic-games/index.html?eref=edition

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Bo Xilau: Justice or purge?

September 25th, 2013 No comments

Editor’s note: Yuhua Wang is an assistant professor in Political Science at the University of Pennsylvania. He is working on a book titled “Tying the Autocrat’s Hands: The Rise of Rule of Law in China” examining Chinese reforms.

(CNN) — Every non-democratic government faces the following problem: when they tell the truth, everyone thinks it is a lie.

Recently, the new leadership of the Chinese government has launched one of the most intense anti-corruption campaigns in decades to, as President Xi Jinping put it, fight both “flies” and “tigers.” Bo Xilai, a former Politburo member and the biggest “tiger” so far that has fallen from grace, was sentenced to life in prison on Sunday.

Yet very few outside observers believe that this marks a success in the anti-corruption campaign; many argue that this is a political purge against a potential rival to the new regime. It is difficult to know how many ordinary Chinese citizens feel the same way, but as the old Chinese saying goes, “every new sovereign brings his own courtiers.” That is to say, people understand how politics works.

Yuhua Wang

The suspicion among the masses of the true intention of the government poses a major challenge to China’s recent efforts to curb corruption. If the anti-graft drive was designed to create a better image of the Communist Party and make the Chinese people happy, what if the people don’t believe it is sincere? Considering the huge costs of the campaign, is it really worthwhile if people consider this as just another round of political reshuffling to consolidate the new leaders’ power?

Read more: China’s Bo Xilai appeals conviction

The costs are substantial: just imagine how much human and financial resources it took to investigate, arrest, adjudicate and imprison a high-ranking official, let alone the time it cost for the leadership to reach a consensus. The 18th National Party Congress, a key meeting that began the once-in-a-decade leadership change, was delayed for about a month in late 2012 in the wake of the Bo Xilai scandal.


Bo Xilai begins life sentence


The downfall of Bo Xilai


China’s trials of the century

However, the biggest cost comes from the fact that an intense campaign like this harms solidarity among the nation’s elite — the key to the survival of single-party regimes.

This presents the greatest dilemma of anti-corruption campaigns in any non-democratic regime. Should they fight against corruption sincerely to avoid being overthrown by the masses but risk being assassinated by a desperate comrade in a coup from the inside? Should they launch a seemingly strong campaign to selectively crack down on some politicians to maintain elite unity but irritate the public? The Chinese government seems to have chosen the second strategy because, first, they care more about elite solidarity and, second, people are cynical any way.

Historical evidence is supportive of this. Anti-corruption campaigns have arrived in waves: the late 1980s, early 1990s, early 2000s and today. Big “tigers” have been arrested in each wave: Chen Xitong (former Beijing Party chief) in 1995, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison but released in 2006 due to health concerns. Chen Liangyu, the former Shanghai Party chief, was suspended from the Party in 2006 and eventually sentenced to 18 years in prison on bribery and corruption charges. And now Bo Xilai, the former Chongqing Party chief — it is no coincidence that these waves occurred around leadership changes.

Bad policies are good politics. The Chinese Communist Party has had very few instances of elite split in the last 90 years since it was founded in 1921 because they figured that elite cohesion is far more important than public support in sustaining their rule.

However, this strategy will not solve the dilemma forever. An empowered and enlightened public has increasingly threatened non-democratic regimes, as the Arab Spring revealed. To have a long-term plan, the Chinese Communist Party needs to institute strong institutions such as The Independent Commission Against Corruption in Hong Kong or an independent judiciary to check the power of the Party and the government.

It might be a pain in the short-run, but it will bring longevity to the Party.


Article source: http://edition.cnn.com/2013/09/24/opinion/bo-xilai-china-corruption-yuhua-wang/index.html?eref=edition

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