At the beginning of this year, the Chinese presence in the Spratly Islands consisted of a handful of outposts, a collection of concrete blockhouses perched atop coral atolls.
Now it is building substantial new islands on five different reefs.
We are the first Western journalists to have seen some of this construction with our own eyes and to have documented it on camera.
On one of these new islands, perhaps Johnson South Reef, China seems to be preparing to build an air base with a concrete runway long enough for fighter jets to take off and land.
Plans published on the website of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation are thought to show the proposed design.
Chinaâ€™s island building is aimed at addressing a serious deficit.
Other countries that claim large chunks of the South China Sea – Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia – all control real islands.
But China came very late to this party and missed out on all the good real estate.
Beijing only took control of Johnson South Reef in 1988 after a bloody battle with Vietnam that left 70 Vietnamese sailors dead. Hanoi has never forgiven Beijing.
Since then China has shied away from direct military confrontation.
But now Beijing has decided it is time to move, to assert its claim and to back it up by creating new facts on the ground – a string of island bases and an unsinkable aircraft carrier, right in the middle of the South China Sea.
MSN Messenger was a hard-working internet visionary which taught a generation to touch-type and lol, writes BBC technology reporter Dave Lee.
It touched the lives of millions of teenagers who, in an age before real social networking, were just getting accustomed to what it was like to live on the internet.
MSN Messenger heralded a new era: a time when chatting up a classmate no longer meant the terrifying prospect of actually having to say something to them.
It meant no longer would young teens have to endure the torture of ringing the landline number of their newest crush – knowing there was a high probability that dad would pick up.
But after all the “ASL?”s and “u there?”s, Messenger’s loyal subjects became less dependent. “I’ll brb”, people said… but they never did.
Other sites, smarter and better looking, would see Messenger cast aside. In an age of exciting digital discovery, Messenger became the web’s wooden toy.
After a long career, it spent its final year enjoying a comfortable retirement in China. Its less well-regarded relative, Windows Messenger, still battles on on work computers the world over.
“It’s like MSN,” office workers say, “â€¦just not as fun.”
MSN Messenger is survived by Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Snapchat, Skype, Google+ and Instagram.
I gave Mark an Sony Xperia J last Christmas which he loved. Â He thought it was the greatest phone ever, even if it wasnâ€™t. Â The Sony Xperia J has a memory problem that means that it doesnâ€™t handle apps well. Â I am not sure why this version of Android on this phone acts so poorly but according to the tech forums, it does.
The phone broke this summer and all of a sudden Markâ€™s attitude changed for the better. Â So much that we had some very long talks about it. Â He told me he missed being able to talk to his friends and Wendy and I via text but he didnâ€™t really miss his phone very much. Â He was kind of glad that he didnâ€™t have it around. Â He was funnier, more laid back, and said he was sleeping better.
It wasnâ€™t the phone that was the problem, it was that he would find some time and play some games that would keep him on it for hours. Â He was like a lot of youth, addicted to their phone.
So we talked about the kind of phone that we would get. Â I decided on getting him a Blackberry Curve. It would let him text others and not be distracted by other stuff. Virgin Mobileâ€™s was $150 which I found a little steep. Â Telus had one for $100 so I decided to make the switch. Â He isnâ€™t under contract so I set off to Best Buy and get his phone. Â While I was there, I saw they had a Nokia Lumia 520 for Windows Phone for $110. Â I was torn over what phone to get but in the end it was the constant barrage of Windows Phone tweets by Darren Sproat that won me over. Â I havenâ€™t heard of anyone excited over a Blackberry since 2005.
I set it up with Telus who has far inferior pre-paid plans than Virgin Mobile and gave it to Mark. Â The next day the phone wasnâ€™t working. Â I called back and Telus said that they hadnâ€™t gotten paid. Â I had a receipt and a confirmation number from Mastercard and still that wasnâ€™t enough. Â It was kind of weird. Â
So I took Markâ€™s phone to Tech Box. Â I had never been in there and they unlocked the phone for $20. Â It took a couple of days more than they said (the first code was slow coming and then didnâ€™t work) but they told me that one of them would be in the office on a Sunday and to stop by. Â We did, they unlocked the doors, and the phone was working. Â He was thrilled.
So I set up Markâ€™s phone for him and I have really come to like it. Â It doesnâ€™t have all of the apps that the iPhone or Android does but I was able to get himâ€¦
- The Score
- A podcast app
- Weather app
He told me today that he misses having a StarPhoenix app but other than that, he is set. Â Internet Explorer isnâ€™t that bad on the phone either. Â I didnâ€™t install any games and he is fine with that. Â The phone is pretty snappy and the tiles feature of Windows 8 is designed for a phone (and not a computer screen). Â It works really well. Â I have told a couple of people that while I love my iPhone, I could switch to Windows Phone and be perfectly happy. Â Especially when I think that I spent $110 for the phone.
There are some other cool stuff installed for apps like a transit app (that doesnâ€™t work in Saskatoon because we donâ€™t make our route information available like most other cities). Â Bing Maps is no better or worse than Apple Maps (actually it is probably better).
So back to Mark. Â Heâ€™s happy with the phone. Â He likes not having a phone with the distractions of games and then frustrated over not getting other things done. Â Heâ€™s like a lot of 14 year olds but with this phone, he seems to have found a mix of being connected and not being too connected. Â We will see how it goes.
Three years on from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which devastated the Gulf Coast of the US, the residents of Grand Isle, Louisiana, are still living with the effects of the disaster.