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Friday, March 12, 2010

Paragliding the Himalayas With iPhones, So You Can Go Too


From jagged, snow-capped mountain peaks to peaceful villages adorned with colorful prayer flags, there are perhaps no more breathtaking views on earth than from high above the Himalayas. Five paragliders are right now flying and hiking the length of the Himalayas all the way through Nepal, and they’re sharing the once-in-a-lifetime experience with anyone who has a computer.

While paragliding in the Himalayas is a fairly common trip for experienced fliers, no team has gone all the way through Nepal. These guys are seasoned fliers and between them they have experience flying all over the world. But they’ve never tried anything like this before: hiking and flying more than 800 miles from Dharamsala to Sikkim, India.

“This journey has never been done by a team,” said Nick Greece of the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. “People have flown from Northern India to the Nepal border but never further. This team will fly across Nepal as well. For a team to do this live tracking is imperative, and it is only in the last year or two that it has become realistic and relatively reliable.”

The Himalayan Odyssey Team is carrying some impressive tech. It has the obligatory iPhones and three solar chargers to keep them going, variometers to track their rate of ascent and descent, two-way radios for staying in touch and GPS for staying on course. When they’ve got cellphone coverage, the team will upload track logs to their website, allowing those of us who prefer our feet on the ground to follow their adventure from our cubicles. SPOT GPS trackers also will update their route every 10 minutes.

“These will allow visitors to reply our flights on Google Maps, or Google Earth and visualize every circle, every zig, and every zag we make, and even what the terrain underneath us looks like while we’re zigging and zagging,” team member Eric Reed said. “It’s beautiful, but it will depend on GSM service.”

Hopefully they’ll have better coverage in the Himalayas (.pdf) than in Manhattan.

Reed, a member of the U.S. Paragliding Team who was laid off last year from a management position at Microsoft, says he’s already received e-mails of support and can’t wait to start offering live updates on his progress. He’s been through the Himalayas before with team leader Brad Sander, and at the end of last year’s trip they decided that this time they’d “take the line as far as we could.”

“All of the communication is great fun — both for the readers and the writers — and I think it does actually improve our safety level, but it also inevitably make the wilds just a little less wild,” he said. “That’s the way with technology. But I’m not complaining. There’s still plenty of wild in the world.”

In addition to letting the rest of the world come along for the journey, Reed says all that technology is essential for safety, helping keep the team connected even when they land in different locations. The Himalayas can be just as inhospitable as they are inspiring, and as they began their journey Wednesday, according to their blog, conditions were already far from ideal.

“We plan to fly and land together as a team, as much as possible, but inevitably there will be days when we get separated,” he said. “Once we’re all on the ground if we’re not all together, communication gets hard via cell or radio. The SPOTs will help us here as well — we’ll use them to send our position via SMS to everyone on our team once we’ve landed.”

Photos: Nick Greece



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Forget Avatar: Hubble 3D Is a Religious Experience

Posted by FredPasternack

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must confess at the outset a certain prejudice about Hubble 3D. I have known an astronaut who flew on shuttle missions STS-9 and STS-45. I have been at the Cape for several Shuttle launches and landings (including both the launch and tragic non-landing of STS-107, Columbia). I have sat in the shuttle simulator. I have heard Story Musgrave talk about his repair of Hubble in 1993. And, in a heartbeat, I would jump at an opportunity to be shot into space myself.

Also in the spirit of full disclosure, I have issues with what at times seems to be a gratuitous use of computer technology in the movies. Having been around for the old days of headache inducing 3-D, the current technological breakthrough is interesting. Avatar was interesting.

But, in IMAX 3-D, Hubble 3-D is a religious experience. It is hard to find fault with the 45-minute documentary that details the history of Hubble, its near abandonment, and its resurrection on more than one occasion. The IMAX format in conjunction with 3-D virtually places the viewer in the shuttle, thanks to the camera work of the astronauts and the guidance, from Earth, of director Toni Myers. Yet it’s not just the photographic technique. It’s the entire experience. It’s about being there.

The launch of STS-125 is shot from several vantage points. The visual impact of the flames and exhaust from the shuttle’s rocket engines has been photographed frequently. The experience of those images in IMAX 3-D in conjunction with the sound of those rockets captured by what the filmmakers have called ”sacrificial microphones” is, pardon the expression, awesome, as is the popping sound of the shuttle passing through maximum dynamic pressure.


After Hubble’s preventative maintenance by the crew of Atlantis, Leonardo DiCaprio takes the moviegoer for a tour of the Cosmos. Courtesy of Hubble, the telescope and virtual time machine, we get a view of the edge of the visual universe and celestial bodies whose visual emissions started their journey to Earth over 10 billion years ago, before Earth was formed. We peer through space dust to view both the destruction and creation of planets and stars. Courtesy of Hubble’s cameras – capable of rendering stars emitting light of various wavelengths that reflects their life-stages — we are presented with a far-reaching mosaic of the cosmos, an image threatening in its beauty to Van Gogh.

Hubble 3-D is a must see.

The film opens in IMAX and IMAX 3D theaters worldwide on March 19

New Site Unmasks Chatroulette Players

I have a confession to make. I’m addicted to Chatroulette, the buzz-generating Web site created by a Russian teenager that pairs anonymous strangers with each other in a video chat room.

For me, Chatroulette offers a welcome break from the daily digital footprints I leave across the Web on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Google Buzz, where every comment, tweet and “like” is tied back to my real-world identity. Chatroulette is intended to be comfortably anonymous, and it also has the sheen of nostalgia. It’s reminiscent of my earliest encounters with the Internet – firing off messages about schoolwork and television shows in AOL chat rooms and chattering with my World of Warcraft guildmates about their families, jobs and weekend plans.

But now a service called Chatroulette Map, a mash-up of the site with Google Maps, is peeling back some of the anonymity of the users cruising through the site.

Chatroulette Map,which first bubbled up on blogs like Laughing Squid, grabs screenshots of people using the service and, using their IP address and geolocation tools, plots their location on a global map. (Note: Some images may not be work-safe.)

On one hand, Chatroulette Map offers a riveting snapshot of the people who are trying out the service. But on the other, it strips away some of the voyeuristic appeal of being able to peer into a random stranger’s home and life without revealing much information about yourself.

Of course, playing Chatroulette is not without some risk. My colleague Nick Bilton aptly described it as “speed-dating tens of thousands of perfect strangers — some clothed, some not.” The upside to Chatroulette Map is that some of those users might think twice about getting unclothed, making the service more family friendly and less jarring for its users.

On the other hand, the service raises privacy concerns for people using Chatroulette. A recent update on Chatroulette Map reads: ”We’ve decided, at least for the time being, to hide I.P. and host information as some user-identifiable information was found in some entries.”

I’ve reached out to the creators of Chatroulette Map for comment and will update if they respond.

Don't breathe on it: Architect spends 44 days creating world's biggest house of cards

By Mail Foreign Service

An American architect has broken his own Guinness World Record by building the largest house of free-standing playing cards.

Bryan Berg used 218,792 cards to create a replica of the Venetian Macau, which is on display in its namesake luxury hotel and casino.

Berg took 44 days and 4,051 decks of cards to complete his model inside the Venetian, which sits at the heart of Macau's Cotai Strip, the China-ruled city's version of Las Vegas' neon alley.

US 'cardstacker' Bryan Berg poses for photographers after successfully making a new Guinness World Record for the largest house of free-standing playing cards

US 'cardstacker' Bryan Berg poses for photographers after successfully making a new Guinness World Record for the largest house of free-standing playing cards

The architect Berg used 218,792 cards to create a replica of the Venetian Macau, which is on display in its namesake luxury hotel and casino

The architect Berg used 218,792 cards to create a replica of the Venetian Macau, which is on display in its namesake luxury hotel and casino

Since Macau's casino sector liberalised in 2002, a spate of Las Vegas style gaming giants have transformed the once sleepy former Portuguese colony into the world's biggest gaming hub.

Weighing 44 stone and measuring 33 feet by just under 10 feet, the model which consisted of cards stacked without glue or tape, nearly collapsed several times.

The structure weighs 44 stone and measures 33 feet by just under 10 feet

The structure weighs 272 kg and measures 10 metres by 3 metres

'This has been the most ambitious project I have undertaken to date,' Berg said.

'It's really like a real construction project because you have to engineer every single adjacency and every support that's supporting everything above,' he added.

'I was inspired to stack cards by my card-playing grandfather; maybe I can inspire some visitors at The Venetian Macao to try their hand at building their own structures.

'There couldn’t be a more fitting place to build the world’s largest house of cards than at the world’s largest resort hotel,” he added.

Berg works on his masterpiece, which took 44 days to complete and nearly collapsed several times

Berg works on his masterpiece, which took 44 days to complete and nearly collapsed several times

The record breaker proudly accepts his certificate form the Guinness Book of World Records

The record breaker proudly accepts his certificate form the Guinness Book of World Records

Berg's creation is modelled on the Venetian, which sits at the heart of Macau's Cotai Strip, the China-ruled city's version of Las Vegas' neon alley

Berg's creation is modelled on the Venetian, which sits at the heart of Macau's Cotai Strip, the China-ruled city's version of Las Vegas' neon alley

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Top 10: Japanese Etiquette Mistakes

Japanese Etiquette

By Trevor Mogg

Click here for a good list of etiquette rules, this does apply to us Americans, not just the Orient:

Top 10: Japanese Etiquette Mistakes

Starbucks and McDonalds Internationally - INFOGRAPHIC (PIC)


Click to ENLARGE

Wizard of Oz set for 3-D remake

The Wizard of Oz is to be remade for the 21st century, with 3-D special effects and a very modern Dorothy.

Judy Garland, as Dorothy: Wizard of Oz set for 3-D remake
Judy Garland, as Dorothy Photo: AP

Inspired by the box office success of Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland, executives at Warner Bros are pressing ahead with an update of the childhood classic.

The studio is weighing up two rival projects which take Frank Baum's original story as their starting point, and will be very different from the 1939 film starring Judy Garland.

The first is Oz, produced by the team behind the Twilight franchise and aimed at the teen market.

The second, as-yet-untitled film has a darker tone and moves the action closer to the present day, with Dorothy's granddaughter returning to Oz to fight the forces of evil. The script has been written by Josh Olson, whose previous credits include David Cronenberg's A History of Violence.

Both projects have been in development for some time, but the surprise success of Alice in Wonderland has spurred Warner Bros into action, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Tim Burton's re-imagining of the Lewis Carroll tale has met with mixed review from critics but took an astonishing £210 million worldwide on its opening weekend, eclipsing Avatar.

The studio is keen to capitalise on the current vogue for 3-D movies, and believes a new Wizard of Oz film could spawn a franchise.

It has been remade before - The Wiz, released in 1978, featured an all-black cast including Diana Ross as Dorothy and Michael Jackson as the Scarecrow.

Other remakes of Hollywood classics in the offing include a new version of My Fair Lady, with Keira Knightley and Carey Mulligan frontrunners to take Audrey Hepburn's role of Eliza Doolittle, and Hugh Grant tipped to play Professor Henry Higgins.

Bridges Vs. Clooney: What Really Happened (GIFs)

Both George Clooney and Jeff Bridges acted like the Best Actor Oscar they were battling for last Sunday wasn’t a big deal. Bridges tried to appear stoic, but ended up looking smug. So undude. Meanwhile, Clooney acted like he was just there to drink and party. That strategy backfired. By night’s end he resembled a bitter, shitfaced ex-girlfriend. For once, that’s not a good look for you, George. Here’s an out-of-context parody of the night visual evidence that the award was indeed a ginormous effin’ deal for both actors (GIFs via a great Oscars wrap-up at FourFour).


Bridges struggles to act humble…


Clooney does the “whateva” eye roll/clap…


Bridges REALLY struggles to act humble not laugh maniacally…


Clooney: “Well, get your ass up there, Jeff.”


Bridges: “Far out! Eat that you wannabe Cary Grant!”


Clooney: “Yep. I just lost to the fucking Dude.”

GT5 “Nights” trailer hits the Web

By Drew Johnson

The Gran Turismo series is arguably the greatest driving simulator to ever grace the home gaming platform, but fans of the racing franchise have been left high and dry as Sony and Polyphony continually delay the launch of GT5.

Fans were promised the fifth iteration of the Gran Turismo series several times during 2009, including what appeared to be a very believable December launch — just in time for the Christmas holiday. However, none of those launch dates came to fruition, leaving driving fans to search out other racing titles.

While we still don’t have GT5 in our hands yet, it appears we are finally getting close. A new trailer for Gran Turismo 5 has hit the Web, highlighting what looks to be a nearly complete game. Unlike past GT games, the fifth installment will include visual damage as well as NASCAR racing. Here’s to hoping GT5 hits the market sometime before we have to upgrade to PS4.

Bhang Your Head! Hindu Holi Festival Celebrated With Marijuana Milk Shakes

By Steve Elliott
Monday, Mar. 8 2010 @ 12:14PM
Photo: AP/Gemunu Amarasinghe
"Dude... I am soooo high." (Or the local equivalent.) Men smear colored powder on each other's faces during celebrations of Holi, the Hindu spring festival of colo

They're getting that old time religion in northern India, as the annual Holi festival, an extravagant Hindu spring celebration of colors, is observed with potent marijuana milk shakes.

The festival, celebrated in March each year (the exact date depends on the lunar calendar), is an occasion during which men, women and children play wildly with water guns and colored powder, according to The Observers. And the fact that "bhang thandai," an almond-flavored milk shake blended with cannabis, is a prominent part of the celebration doesn't hurt the festive atmosphere one bit.

Bhang Shop.jpeg
Photo: Fractal Enlightenment
While technically "illegal," bhang is still sold in government-authorized shops in India.
​The marijuana milk shakes are widely served, from exclusive private gatherings to street parties. On this particular day, using bhang is considered completely acceptable for all adults, youths to grandparents.

Cannabis is technically illegal in India, since the nation is a signatory to Harry Anslinger's 1961 Single Convention narcotics treaty. But the substance has been a part of the country's cultural heritage for thousands of years, and a law that's been around less than half a century hasn't made much of an impact. Bhang is sold for consumption through government licensed outlets.

According to popular legend, bhang drinks were offered to the gods and were particularly loved by Lord Shiva. If that's a close enough connection for the revelers to get stoned, then it works for me, too. Praise Shiva and pass the bhang, homies!

​"At places, the revelry becomes rowdy and violent," said Percy Fernandez, a New Delhi-based consultant. "Not just bhang, Holi is also associated with heightened guzzling of alcohol. Marijuana is not legal in India, but the tradition of having bhang during Holi is that it has a religioius association."

"I know of shops selling bhang served with thandai (a combination of milk, almonds, and cardamom) and sweets among other eatables," Fernandez said. "Cannabis is traditionally smoked with tobacco or eaten in the form of pakkoras or even sweets."

"For me, Holi is all about being a kid again, shedding your inhibitions, getting colors all on you, generally having a good time," said Rahul Verghese, a Gurgaon-based entrepreneur.

Photo: Reuters/K.K. Arora
Women tear off the clothes of men as they play huranga, a game played between men and women a day after the Holi festival during which men drench women with liquid colors and women tear the men's clothes off.
​"In our little colony... we have a little celebration with food, drinks and bhang," Verghese said. "It tastes smooth, and doesn't hit you initially, but a little later you're knocked out."

The fun's not over on the day after the Holi festival. Huranga, a game played between men and women on the day after Holi, involves men drenching women with liquid colors and women tearing off the men's clothes. [Craig Ferguson voice] "I knooooow!"

Factor in that practically everybody involved is high as a freakin' kite, and got-DANG if that doesn't sound exactly like my kind of party.

Here's a bhang-up recipe, courtesy of Fractal Enlightenment:

Photo: Cannabis Culture

2 cups water
1 ounce marijuana (fresh leaves and flowers of a female plant preferred)
4 cups warm milk
2 tablespoons blanched and chopped almonds
1/8 teaspoon 'garam masala' (a mixture of cloves, cinnamon, and cardamon)
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger
1/2 to 1 teaspoon rosewater
3/4 to 1 cup sugar

Bring the water to a rapid boil and pour into a clean teapot. Remove any seeds or twigs from the marijuana, add it to the teapot and cover. Let this brew for about 7 minutes.
Now strain the water and marijuana through a piece of muslin cloth, collect the water and save.

Take the leaves and flowers and squeeze between your hands to extract any liquid that remains. Add this to the water. Place the leaves and flowers in a mortar and add 2 teaspoons warm milk. Slowly but firmly grind the milk and leaves together. Gather up the marijuana and squeeze out as much milk as you can.

Repeat this process until you have used about 1/2 cup of milk (about 4 to 5 times). Collect all the milk that has been extracted and place in a bowl. By this time the marijuana will have turned into a pulpy mass.

Add the chopped almonds and some more warm milk. Grind this in the mortar until a fine paste is formed. Squeeze this paste and collect the extract as before. Repeat a few more times until all that is left are some fibers and nut meal. Discard the residue.

Combine all the liquids that have been collected, including the water the marijuana was brewed in. Add to this the garam masala, dried ginger and rosewater. Add the sugar and remaining milk.

Chill, serve and enjoy.

Five Curious Food Inventions You've Never Heard Of

From a 3D food printer to growing plants suspended in mid-air, foods of the future have arrived.

Rachel Cernansky

By Rachel Cernansky
Boulder, CO, USA


food inventions photo


The chefs on Future Food are changing our relationship with food, but they're not the only ones working on crazy inventions in food technology. Here's a look at a few other ideas that are already becoming a reality.

3D food printer. A bit more of an unexpected way to deliver food, and a little mind-numbing, is "The Cornucopia," a machine developed by a team at MIT that literally prints food. The printer contains canisters with foods and flavors—think ink cartridges with edible ingredients—and uses a rapid heating and cooling chamber to create a unique combination of flavors and textures.

2009 AeroGrow International, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Space plants. You've probably heard of hydroponics—and more recently aquaponics—but aeroponics takes efficiency in food-growing to a whole new level by growing plants suspended in mid-air using only water and a nutrient-laden mist. Although it is less forgiving than hydroponics, since plants grown using aeroponics need a precise nutrient-water balance, it is far more efficient: the method uses up to 90 percent less water, 60 percent less fertilizer, and 100 percent less pesticides than conventional cultivation, and allows plants to capture carbon dioxide and oxygen more effectively.

H. Armstrong Roberts/Getty Images

The Automat, a closer-to-real-food equivalent of vending machines, reached its peak popularity in the 1940s and 1950s, which seems like it was kind of ahead of its time in terms of technology and the ever-growing demand for convenience in food that we tend to associate with the last two or three decades. The machine faded with the rise of fast food, but it's making a (small) comeback in New York City.

Courtesy of

Heatables: self-heating food packaging. It sounds pretty weird, and Tempra Technology, the company behind the product, hasn't released much information about how it works. But it exists: packaging that can heat food—of any sort, including soups, coffee/tea, pasta, snacks—to its ideal serving temperature in minutes, without a separate heating appliance. (Just hope it's not made of plastic.)

Courtesy of

The can that cools itself: also from Tempra Technology, the I.C. Can is designed with a self-cooling device to reduce the temperature of its contents by at least 30 degrees in three minutes. The can contains a vacuum, which houses a desiccant that when activated, draws heat from the beverage through the evaporator and into an insulated heat-sink container. That drops the temperature, and voila, your beer is chilled—no ice, no fridge, just a cold drink.

Stan Lee Reveals New Marvel Characters For Disney Movies

From: youtube
March 10 (Bloomberg) -- Comic book creator Stan Lee talks with Bloomberg's Jon Erlichman about comic-book characters that may be featured in future films. Walt-Disney Co. acquired a 10 percent stake in Lee's POW! Entertainment Inc. for $2.5 million late last year as it completed its acquisition of Marvel Entertainment Inc. (Source: Bloomberg)

Zamboni Takes A Dip In The Lake

Zamboni Takes A Dip In The Lake

"Skating on thin ice" is most often used as an idiomatic expression, but at Keystone Resort in Colorado, that was literally the case for one unlucky zamboni.

Performing its regular maintenance to the largest groomed skating pond in North America on Tuesday night, the 7000-pound ice cleaner was too much for the ice to handle, causing the surface beneath it to crack. With the cameras rolling, some visitors captured some great footage of the zamboni falling through the sheet of ice.

Skaters were removed from the skating surface, and the ice was expected to be examined before reopening. As for the zamboni, staff had to wait until the following day to dig it out, however, it is believed that any damages will be reparable.

Oh, and we should probably mention the fact that no one was injured during the incident. Not even the zamboni driver. Another zamboni disaster averted!

Hat Tip - [Denver Post]

Russia Is Making Flying Saucers. DUN-DUN-DUN!

by Aaron Saenz

russian flying saucer

Russian company Locomo Sky is in the process of building a fleet of cargo hauling aerostat aircraft that resemble UFOs. Conspiracy theorists everywhere are salivating with anticipation.

Russia’s latest endeavor to produce commercial grade lighter-than-air aircraft seems a little strange. The “aerostatic thermoballasted vehicle” from Locomo Sky looks like something straight out of a 1950s UFO movie. The flying saucer shape isn’t just for show though, it helps the aerostat travel through the air with a minimum loss of energy to air resistance. According to their press release, Locomo Sky has started building a construction facility in the Ulyanovsk region of Russia to create a fleet of the aircraft. These airships, more commonly called Locomoskayners, are already used in geographical surveys. That version of the craft has a 1000kg (2200 lbs) carrying capacity with a crew of 2-8. Locomo Sky is hoping to build a huge version of the Locomoskayner that would have a 600 metric ton capacity or even carry 11,000 people. The company presented this idea recently to President Dmitry Medvedev, reportedly with good results. With millions already invested, it seems possible that Russian skies may be filled with flying saucers hauling cargo very soon. It sounds too wacky to be true, but it is. Check out a simulation video of the large Locomoskayner in action after the break.

Thanks to for the video. Can’t say that the audio really helps me take this seriously though.

It’s not that I doubt the efficiency or very long and successful history of lighter-than-air flight. Balloons, dirigibles, blimps – these aircraft ruled the sky before planes and jets were ever built. Even now, they represent a interesting means of hauling cargo. They don’t need dedicated airfields, they can travel quickly across most terrain, and they are generally more fuel efficient. If you don’t fill an airship with hydrogen (RIP Hindenburg) they are very safe. All these facts make aerostats a great idea. However, there’s just something about the flying saucer shape of the Locomoskayner that cracks me up. I can’t stop shaking my head and chuckling. Is this really the future of freight hauling in Russia? In the world? I’ll believe it when I see it. Until then…


locomo skayner

Russians and flying saucers. The future of cargo transportation?

[image credit: Locomo Sky]
[video credit:]
[sources: Locomo Sky]

Incredible Melbourne Hail Storm Flash Flooding

Incredible flash flood in melbourne which saw a trickle turn into a hailstorm then a massive downpour. But that wasn't the end of it as the rain continued to pour and turn into a flash flood on the city streets!

You, Too, Could Own a Working Jetpack for $90,000


Near the top of the list of "unfulfilled science fiction concepts," you'll find the jetpack, a staple of future transportation that somehow hasn't arrived yet. (Well, we did get the Segway.)

Nonetheless, Martin Aircraft Company wants to change that with the Martin Jetpack, a $90,000 carbon fiber model that can generate 600 pounds of thrust. Wired reports that the jetpack is self-righting; you can let go of the controls and just hover.

The Martin Jetpack runs on gasoline, and burns through its five-gallon tank in about half an hour. It's classified as an ultralight aircraft, so you don't need a pilot's license, although the company enforces its own training program.

Anyone who wants one faces a 12-month wait; to get on the list, you'll need to put 10 percent down ($9,000).

Van Damme Friday - retro look..nice gun!!