JordonCooper Rotating Header Image


What is China Building in the South China Sea?

The BBC takes a look

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.

China’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 to end after 15 years

Here is the BBC Obit

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, “…just not as fun.”

MSN Messenger is survived by Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Snapchat, Skype, Google+ and Instagram.

Mark’s Cell Phone

I gave Mark an Sony Xperia J last Christmas which he loved.  He thought it was the greatest phone ever, even if it wasn’t.  The Sony Xperia J has a memory problem that means that it doesn’t handle apps well.  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 Mark’s attitude changed for the better.  So much that we had some very long talks about it.  He told me he missed being able to talk to his friends and Wendy and I via text but he didn’t really miss his phone very much.  He was kind of glad that he didn’t have it around.  He was funnier, more laid back, and said he was sleeping better.

It wasn’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.  He was like a lot of youth, addicted to their phone.

So we talked about the kind of phone that we would get.  I decided on getting him a Blackberry Curve. It would let him text others and not be distracted by other stuff. Virgin Mobile’s was $150 which I found a little steep.  Telus had one for $100 so I decided to make the switch.  He isn’t under contract so I set off to Best Buy and get his phone.  While I was there, I saw they had a Nokia Lumia 520 for Windows Phone for $110.  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.  I haven’t heard of anyone excited over a Blackberry since 2005.

Nokia Lumia 520

I set it up with Telus who has far inferior pre-paid plans than Virgin Mobile and gave it to Mark.  The next day the phone wasn’t working.  I called back and Telus said that they hadn’t gotten paid.  I had a receipt and a confirmation number from Mastercard and still that wasn’t enough.  It was kind of weird.  

So I took Mark’s phone to Tech Box.  I had never been in there and they unlocked the phone for $20.  It took a couple of days more than they said (the first code was slow coming and then didn’t work) but they told me that one of them would be in the office on a Sunday and to stop by.  We did, they unlocked the doors, and the phone was working.  He was thrilled.

So I set up Mark’s phone for him and I have really come to like it.  It doesn’t have all of the apps that the iPhone or Android does but I was able to get him…

  • Instagram
  • Vine
  • Twitter
  • The Score
  • BBC
  • CBC
  • CNN
  • Metro
  • TuneIn
  • A podcast app
  • Weather app
  • Photoshop

He told me today that he misses having a StarPhoenix app but other than that, he is set.  Internet Explorer isn’t that bad on the phone either.  I didn’t install any games and he is fine with that.  The phone is pretty snappy and the tiles feature of Windows 8 is designed for a phone (and not a computer screen).  It works really well.  I have told a couple of people that while I love my iPhone, I could switch to Windows Phone and be perfectly happy.   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 doesn’t work in Saskatoon because we don’t make our route information available like most other cities).  Bing Maps is no better or worse than Apple Maps (actually it is probably better).

So back to Mark.  He’s happy with the phone.  He likes not having a phone with the distractions of games and then frustrated over not getting other things done.  He’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.  We will see how it goes.

Documentary: A History of Syria

Deepwater Horizon: Surviving the oil spill

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.

200 countries, 200 years, 4 minutes

Close encounter with a polar bear


A Scottish filmmaker spent three seasons following a polar bear family in the wilds of the Svalbard Islands in the Arctic, but he never dreamed that this might happen. “The idea was to get close to polar bears and do it safely,” Gordon Buchanan told “BBC Breakfast.” “But because they are a dangerous animal, they do see us on occasion as food. I just wanted to be on the ice, by myself, and have a close encounter.” As it turned out, the encounter was a bit closer than he had hoped–terrifyingly close. 

Buchanan said the camera crew, which was shooting with a long-range lens from 273 yards away, was basically laughing at him.

“It was a strange mixture of terror and comedy because it just felt like a monumentally stupid thing to do,” he said. “But it was incredible.”

How cold is it in Saskatoon today?

Cold enough to do this.  Seriously.

Christmas Gift Guide: Gift Ideas for your Tween Boy | 2010 Edition

Mark is now ten which makes him officially impossible to buy Christmas gifts for.  He is too old for kids stuff and too young for adult things.  We have tossed around hundreds of ideas for Mark and here are a bunch of ideas that we thought could make your Christmas shopping a little easier this year.

I don’t know what is the right age to get your son a cell phone is.  If you think this is the year, check out this Samsung m330 through Virgin Mobile.  Virgin has a $10/month plan that offers 100 anytime minutes and for $5 more, you can get 100 texts.  It has a camera phone, takes videos and is small enough to slip into their pocket.  A tip from a friend of mine: To keep your kids from burning through their minutes, he made it mandatory that their phone was active if they wanted to go out.   With that rule, they rationed their minutes like it was a precious commodity.  $60-$70 (with no contract) at Best Buy / Future Shop / Virgin Mobile / Walmart.

A lot of gift guides this year will be touting a PS3, a XBox 360, a PSP, or a Wii and for good reason.  There are a lot of really good games out there for all of those systems.  They don’t get the same kind of attention but have you thought about giving a H0 Scale train set or a slot track race track.

Bachmann Trains Santa Fe Flyer Ready-to-Run H0 Scale Train Set | The Santa Fe railroad was famous for hauling freight across the deserts, mountains, and cities of the American landscape is the Santa Fe Flyer. Powered by a Santa Fe EMD FT diesel locomotive with its distinctive war bonnet paint scheme, this powerful train handled the ever-changing terrain of the Southwest United States.  The advantage of any train set that is H0 scale is that you can add more cars, engines, and track over time as you can afford it.  It makes a great gift now and for the future.  $50 from Amazon.

While we are talking about H0 scale trains, Model Power has a starter set (power unit, 36” circle of track, and four cars) for about $50.  The enjoyable part about a H0 scale train set is that there are thousands of accessories and different pieces that can be added for years to come.

If your kid is a reader (and even if he isn’t), you will want to check out the stories of Obi-Wan Kenobi / Darth Vader / Luke Skywalker by Ryder Windham.  With most boys being Star Wars fan (and who isn’t), you may want to check out these biographies of some of the main characters in the Star Wars saga.  While you are looking at books, don’t forget the classics.  I bought Mark a copy of The Hobbit this summer and he was enthralled by such an old school book.  Don’t forget  The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  In other words there were great books before J.K. Rowling invented Harry Potter.

Go Amp Gaming Amplifier | If the target of your affections is a gamer, here is a fun addition to his Sony PSP or Nintendo DS and is a good way to get some better sound out of your portable gaming system.  It’s a small portable amp that plugs into the headphone jack on your portable game system and does a good job of increasing the volume of any game system.  Since First Act knows it’s target audience is hard on batteries, it turns on & off automatically when headphone jack inserted or removed.  $3 at XS Cargo of you can purchase at $40 from Amazon.

Polaroid a200 Digital Camera | This camera is an entry level camera for first time photographers.  For years I have passed down my digital cameras to Mark and what I found is that he never used the zoom or any of the other advanced features.  That being said, neither did I which is why my Kodak point and click with it’s 110 film was so much fun.  It personified point and shoot.

The camera has 8MB of internal storage which allows you to store 120 images or video for $30.  The bad part of the camera is that it’s internal memory is wiped if the batteries run out and it doesn’t have a lens cover which means you will always be fighting smudges and dust on the lens.  Then again it is a $30 camera.  Pick it up at Amazon

Polaroid DVF-130RC Digital Camcorder | We gave Mark a compact digital video camcorder last Christmas and he has loved it.  Over the last year we have given several others out as gifts and the recipients have really liked them.  It’s a point and shoot camera that captures VGA quality video at 30 fps.  Yeah that isn’t HD quality but with most of us sharing digital video via Facebook and YouTube more and more often, the lack of HD isn’t as big of issue.  It’s got 16MB of built in memory so you will want to make sure to toss in a SD card in along with it.  In most places you can get anywhere from a 2GB to a 8GB card for under $10.

While I am not an avid golfer, I enjoy the game and so does Mark.  The City of Saskatoon makes it affordable for parents to go golfing at Silverwood Golf Course.  Now while Silverwood is a nice short golf course by itself, it is designed for beginner golfers and during the summer has several specials that make it even easier to take a younger golfer along with you.  Mark’s clubs were bought second hand but it’s fun to add a new putter, a package of golf balls, or even some golf gloves to the mix.  Now the best part about golfing with Mark is not the golf game but the two or three hours we have talking about life, cracking jokes, and enjoying a snack afterwards.

Speaking of sports, Wilson has a great junior sized football which is quite a bit easier to throw and catch then a full sized CFL, NCAA or NFL football.  not only is the ball a little lighter, it is designed for kid sized hands so when they through it, they can get a spiral with it.  Not only is it good for them, it is good for you as it makes it easier to through the deep post and look good while doing it.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra for Wii | I know GI Joe was cooler when I was a kid but this is the version that kids these days have now.  You can choose from twelve G.I. JOE characters, each with unique weapons and abilities, and unlock additional COBRA characters.  It’s a fun adventure game and will give him hours of fun in front of the Wii.

Mario Kart for Wii | While you can play Mario Kart by yourself, where it gets to be even more fun is when you have the entire family racing each other.  Of all of the video games we have as a family, none gets all of us playing together like this one.

iPod Shuffle | It has 2 GB capacity for about 2000 songs and you can play up to 15 hours on a single charge.  With a press of the VoiceOver button, you can hear the song’s title and artist, playlist menu, or battery status. Available from Amazon.  A far cheaper 2 GB option is this MP3 Player from Nextar.  It comes with a small clip on it making it perfect to hang off a lanyard for safe keeping.

Season 1 | Season 2 | Season 3 of Survivorman | Mark (and the rest of us) is a huge fan of the show and it’s a perfect way to spend a cool winter night watching Les Stroud spending seven days in some of the harshest climates known to man without food, water or shelter.  He’ll watch them again and again.

If he is already a fan of Surivorman, check out the Survivorman You Sweat You Die T-Shirt | The back of each t-shirt is printed with “You Sweat you Die” and Les Stroud’s autograph.  While I don’t generally notice tags on the inside of the shirt, this shirt features a great one with washing instructions that include the “will to live”.  I love it. So will the kid that you are shopping for.  The DVDs and shirt are available from Les Stroud Productions.

Settlers of Catan | The Settlers of Catan from Mayfair Games is a strategy game where players collect resources and use them to build roads, settlements and cities on their way to victory. The board itself is variable, making each game a little different from the next. Each round of The Settlers of Catan is intended to keep three or four players ages 10 and above engaged for up to 90 minutes.

Risk |Can you accomplish the military objectives before your opponents? With an updated map and all-new playing pieces, increased rewards for bold moves, and easy to learn rules, you’ll be ready to take on whatever lies ahead. Test your nerve with the Basic Training game–a quick and easy way to play. Or, see if you have what it takes to dominate in the fast-paced and strategic Command Room game. Finally prove your courage in World Contest-an updated edition of the classic Risk game. The decision is yours. The time is now. For 3 to 5 players ages 12 and up.

Tech Deck Display Case | Tech Deck’s all over the house?  Yeah our house too. Pick up a wall mounted display case so they can show off their Tech Decks and keep them from getting underfoot.  Toss in some new Tech Decks along with it$15 at Wal-Mart

If he is a skateboard fan, you may want to consider getting him a new skateboard .   While a skateboard is an expression of one’s self, toss in some money for him to get some stickers and accessories.  $25 at

Last year I recommended BBC’s epic documentary series Planet Earth.  Mark loved it, Wendy loved it, I am sure Oliver loved it.  It was great for the entire family.  This year BBC has come out with Life and it has the same kind of positive reviews that Planet Earth had.  $38 at

Air Hogs Remote Control Helicopter | With the world’s record for the smallest remote-controlled helicopter, the Air Hogs Havoc Heli goes where no other flying object can.  They can be safely flown inside the house where their small size and light weight mean that if your pilot in training does make a mistake, both the vase and the helicopter will survive. $30 at

The Wave Original Street Surfer is an inline action board that blends the sensations of surfing, snowboarding and skateboarding.  It has a fun design where no foot propulsion is required. Riders simply hop on, twists their hips back and forth in an S-shaped motion to achieve forward movement.  It gives riders the ability to perform all sorts of neat tricks because it runs on two wheels rather than four. $90 at

Magic Igloo Maker | This is only available in Canada and would make for a great Christmas gift anywhere in the country (sans Victoria).  It is a specially designed plastic mould that makes interlocking snow blocks to create big, strong, safe igloos easily and quickly!  According to the website, a large igloo takes anywhere from 2 to 6 hours to complete (depending on how hard you work.  After building it, both body heat and a small candle will cause the snow to melt and the inner surface to harden.  While there are not likely to be a lot of predators in your backyard, it will make is stronger an last longer into the spring. $39.99 for two molds.

If you can find what you are looking for, make sure you check out one of the other 2010 Christmas Gift Guides

In case you are looking, here are the 2009 Gift Guides

Christmas Gift Ideas and Gift GuidesIf I missed anything or if my suggestion made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.

Christmas Gift Guide: Gift Ideas for Tween Boys | 2009 Edition

Well I don’t have a lot of experience in buying for tweens but Mark is officially one and I have put together a series of gift ideas that a nine year old boy would like.  A lot of friends have asked me what I was getting Mark and the kind of things he likes which is partly what this list is based on.  As a rule we spend about $100 on Mark for Christmas (gifts from me, Wendy, Oliver, Maggi and Santa Claus) and Lee spends a little bit more than that from him and Hutch so don’t think he is getting anywhere close to everything that is on this list. Since there are a couple of video games listed here, I’ll disclose that Mark has a Nintendo DS and we have a PS2 in the house so I won’t discuss many Wii, Xbox, PSP, or PS3 only games here.  You can find them at the links provided.

  • Backyard Baseball :: We have this game for Mark and he loves it.  We have a couple of sports games which has historically ignored in favor of the backyard version of the games.  The games are enjoyable enough to play that Wendy and I join in as well.  All of the Backyard games have simplified controls which is great for playing as a family.  Much taunting comes after you hit a homerun 186,000 miles or throw a zig zag ball. It limits the game play a bit but it makes it evens out the game play a bit for epic family series.
  • Backyard Football ::  Backyard Football 2009 offers 7 on 7 teams with wild arcade style power moves and comes loaded with current NFL Superstars as kids (at least one from every team). The game features new Pro Bowl and tournament modes, season play or single games, custom teams and players, un-lockables, and multiple levels. Outrageous game play and awesome power ups are mixed with authentic NFL action.  The cool thing about this version when you compare it to Madden is that Mark doesn’t have to know the intricacies of the Tampa-2 defense to win a game.

While you can get the Backyard series from, we picked up some of them at Wal-Mart for $10.00 a title.

  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days :: If you kid is like Mark, he has read the earlier books in this series already.  Mark is also at the age where the books of Jim Kjelgaard come alive.  You can find his classic trilogy, Big Red, Irish Red, and Outlaw Red on or at your local bookstore.
  • The New Way Things Work :: This is a classic book that has been re-released in an updated version.  A few items (parking meters and bicycle brakes) have disappeared into obsolescence, a few new ones have appeared (camcorders and airbags).  Either way I think it will fascinate a lot of growing minds.
  • Namco Museum for Nintendo DS :: Wow.  Pac-Man is back.  The game that defined my childhood can be mocked for it’s horrible graphics and dumb game play by my son.  Of course the plus side is that when we are at the lake and he has taken over my PSP, I have a game of his that I can play.  It also has a cooler two player mode than what we had a kid and now other DS players can hunt you down as the ghosts.  Maybe if Atari would have thought of this in the 80s, things would have turned out better for them.   Then again, the more I read about Atari’s history, a couple better games would not have saved them.
  • Aquarium :: We had aquariums growing up and Mark has had a great time with his pet goldfish and a beta.  Eventually it’s time for an upgrade and several pet shops and Wal-Mart have had small full features aquariums for under $20.  Just make sure you it has a pump and light.
  • Telescope and Binoculars :: Over the years we have bought Mark a beginner telescope and some binoculars for use up at the cabin and he has had a lot of fun using them.  The binoculars we bought for Mark were about $10 from XS Cargo and have been a lot of fun for him.  We have three pairs up at the lake and they get used for on hikes and for some bird watching.  They aren’t kids binoculars but aren’t anything that spectacular.  They serve two purposes at the lake, they are used for viewing from and for teaching Mark the importance of taking care of something (he did a great job).  The telescope we have up there is a pretty cheap one and not for serious viewing at all but on nights with a full moon, it does provide for some dramatic views.  Over the years I have bought Mark some cheap spy gear but within a couple of days, he wants the real stuff around.  Next year I hope to get him a compass and will do some map reading together.  I tend to be biased towards gifts that feed kids curiosity.
  • True Heroes Black Hawk Helicopter :: What can I say, Mark watches a lot of history channel and is starting to read some military history.  Some of my liberal friends like to chide me about Mark’s growing interest in all things military but we have had some cool and interesting discussions on Afghanistan, Iraq, and the ethics of military might.
  • Nintendo DS Internet Browser :: The Nintendo DS Lite Browser was co-developed by Nintendo and Opera and provides web browsing on the Nintendo DS Lite. The Opera browser software is stored on the Nintendo DS Lite cartridge, a memory expansion you can insert into the GBA slot.
  • Mark has all of the balls, bats, and gloves that he needs so I didn’t list anything here but I find that the strangest variations have become favorite toys.  Mark and I were in London Drugs last summer and I bought a Nerf Howler for a couple of dollars.  While he had lots of other football, this is the one that gets the use up at the lake.  Another thing that surprised me was that I bought Mark a cheap set of lacrosse sticks that have also been used again and again despite the difficulty in mastering them.
  • Mark was given a copy of Planet Earth: The Complete Series by the Reimers for Christmas and he loves it.  Not only does Mark love it but so do Wendy and I.  Its a series we will watch again and again and harkens back to the days of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom where the entire family gathered around the television to take in the sites and sounds of animals we came to learn a lot about.

Christmas Gift Ideas and Gift GuidesIf I missed anything or if my suggestion made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.

Live coverage from your living room

CBC’s live coverage and play by play of the Olympics will be done from Toronto.

CBC-sports-logo It’s this: A good number of the on-air people covering the Games for the CBC, TSN, NBC, BBC and other international broadcasters will not be in Beijing or anywhere near the Olympic city. They will call events off a monitor from their home studios.

The CBC’s play by play for women’s soccer is being handled by Nigel Reed and Jason De Vos. But they’re not in Beijing. They’re announcing the games from Toronto by watching the games off a TV monitor.

The other events that the CBC will announce from Toronto are sailing, equestrian, weight lifting and Taekwondo.

In some cases, there are logistical reasons for calling these sports from a studio, but mainly it’s a money saver.   Joel Darling, the head of production for CBC Sports, said the fact the women’s soccer team will play games in four venues would have made travel difficult and expensive for a play by play team.

“There was the cost involved of moving (Reed and De Vos) around inside the country,” he said. “And there’s no point in sending them there and calling it off tube.”

Darling said the BBC announcers are calling the men’s soccer tournament off a monitor from London.

The CBC will use the BBC and TVNZ (New Zealand) feeds for men’s soccer — another money saver. NBC’s play by play teams for weightlifting, equestrian, softball, soccer, tennis, baseball, handball, table tennis, badminton, fencing, archery, shooting and field hockey will work out of New York.

This seems like a bad commercial for HD.  I can understand why they are doing this but having your game announcers at home rather than around the team they are covering (in the case of women’s soccer), you do lose a lot in terms of coverage, conversations, and the athlete’s perspective.  For me personally, it is just another way that this version of the games seems to be the worst in a long time. 

We talk about how China’s human rights record, links to the genocide in Darfur, and Tibet hurt the reputation of the IOC.  Doesn’t CBC being apart of the whole spectacle that is the Olympics hurt it’s reputation when covering Darfur or human rights issues?   Same with all of the media outlets and Olympic sponsors actually.  Doesn’t it say that we care about human rights unless there is a lot of money to be made.  Back when the announcement was made it was said that the games would change China but in the end, it seems as if the IOC itself made the concessions.