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.
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.Â
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.”
Cold enough to do this. Seriously.
Well I donâ€™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.Â 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.Â 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 donâ€™t think he is getting anywhere close to everything that is on this list. Since there are a couple of video games listed here, Iâ€™ll disclose that Mark has a Nintendo DS and we have a PS2 in the house so I wonâ€™t discuss many Wii, Xbox, PSP, or PS3 only games here.Â You can find them at the links provided.
- Backyard Baseball :: We have this game for Mark and he loves it.Â We have a couple of sports games which has historically ignored in favor of the backyard version of the games.Â The games are enjoyable enough to play that Wendy and I join in as well.Â All of the Backyard games have simplified controls which is great for playing as a family.Â 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 ::Â 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.Â The cool thing about this version when you compare it to Madden is that Mark doesnâ€™t have to know the intricacies of the Tampa-2 defense to win a game.
While you can get the Backyard series from Amazon.com, 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.Â Mark is also at the age where the books of Jim Kjelgaard come alive.Â You can find his classic trilogy, Big Red, Irish Red, and Outlaw Red on Amazon.com or at your local bookstore.
- The New Way Things Work :: This is a classic book that has been re-released in an updated version.Â A few items (parking meters and bicycle brakes) have disappeared into obsolescence, a few new ones have appeared (camcorders and airbags).Â Either way I think it will fascinate a lot of growing minds.
- Namco Museum for Nintendo DS :: Wow.Â Pac-Man is back.Â The game that defined my childhood can be mocked for itâ€™s horrible graphics and dumb game play by my son.Â 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.Â 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.Â Maybe if Atari would have thought of this in the 80s, things would have turned out better for them.Â Â Then again, the more I read about Atariâ€™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.Â Eventually itâ€™s time for an upgrade and several pet shops and Wal-Mart have had small full features aquariums for under $20.Â 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.Â The binoculars we bought for Mark were about $10 from XS Cargo and have been a lot of fun for him.Â We have three pairs up at the lake and they get used for on hikes and for some bird watching.Â They arenâ€™t kids binoculars but arenâ€™t anything that spectacular.Â 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).Â 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.Â Over the years I have bought Mark some cheap spy gear but within a couple of days, he wants the real stuff around.Â Next year I hope to get him a compass and will do some map reading together.Â 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.Â Some of my liberal friends like to chide me about Markâ€™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 didnâ€™t list anything here but I find that the strangest variations have become favorite toys.Â Mark and I were in London Drugs last summer and I bought a Nerf Howler for a couple of dollars.Â While he had lots of other football, this is the one that gets the use up at the lake.Â 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.Â Not only does Mark love it but so do Wendy and I.Â Its a series we will watch again and again and harkens back to the days of Mutual of Omahaâ€™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.
If 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 ofÂ Christmas gift guidesÂ here.
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.