Category Archives: Articles

Justin Bieber charged with drunk driving after drag racing in Florida

MIAMI BEACH, Florida Thu Jan 23, 2014 8:27am EST

Canadian singer Justin Bieber performs on stage during the ''I Believe Tour'' in Helsinki April 26, 2013. REUTERS/Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva

Canadian singer Justin Bieber performs on stage during the ”I Believe Tour” in Helsinki April 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mikko Stig/Lehtikuva

The 50-year-old Depp has proposed to the 27-year-old actress, People magazine reports.  Slideshow 

MIAMI BEACH, Florida (Reuters) – Teen pop star Justin Bieber was arrested in South Florida early on Thursday on charges of drunk driving and drag racing in a Lamborghini, the Miami Herald reported.

Full details of his arrest were not immediately available, but a Miami Beach police official told reporters the 19-year-old singer showed signs of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Police did not immediately return calls for comment.

The Miami Herald said the “Boyfriend” singer also made news earlier in his trip to South Florida, where he was reported to have spent tens of thousands of dollars at a strip club.

The police department in the Florida city of Opa-locka said it was investigating the actions of officers who gave Bieber and his entourage an unauthorized escort through traffic after they landed at a local airport.

The headlines about Bieber’s personal life are the latest in a string of incidents that have overshadowed his music career in the last year as the Canadian star who shot to fame at age 15 transitions to adulthood.

Earlier this month, detectives in California raided Bieber’s home after he was accused of pelting a neighbor’s house with eggs.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson; Writing by Colleen Jenkins; Editing by Scott Malone and Stephen Powell)

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Police raid Justin Bieber's home, arrest man for drugs

LOS ANGELES Tue Jan 14, 2014 7:45pm EST

Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber performs during his ''Believe'' concert at the Olimpic Stadium in Santo Domingo October 22, 2013. REUTERS/Ricardo Rojas

Canadian pop singer Justin Bieber performs during his ”Believe” concert at the Olimpic Stadium in Santo Domingo October 22, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Ricardo Rojas

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A police search of teen pop star Justin Bieber’s California home on Tuesday in a vandalism case linked to the singer, resulted in the arrest of a man after drugs were found in the house, the Los Angeles County Sheriff said.

Detectives raided Bieber’s home at about 8 a.m. after the “Boyfriend” singer was accused of pelting his neighbor’s home with eggs in an incident on January 9.

Bieber, 19, was detained at his Calabasas home, about 30 miles northwest of Los Angeles while a dozen deputies searched for evidence.

“He has not been arrested nor has been exonerated,” Sheriff’s Lt. David Thompson said at a news conference in nearby Malibu following the search.

“We were looking at things that would put him or anything else at the scene,” Thompson said, adding that Bieber’s attorneys were not present during the search and the singer was not questioned.

It was the latest in a string of incidents that have overshadowed Bieber’s music career in the last year as the Canadian star who shot to fame at age 15 transitions to adulthood.

Bieber’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The sheriff’s department said the investigation sought to collect any evidence in the alleged egg attack on the singer’s home video surveillance and other possible leads.

A unnamed person in Bieber’s home at the time of the search was arrested for narcotics possession when deputies found cocaine in plain view, Thompson said.


Celebrity news website identified the man as aspiring 20-year-old rapper Lil Za, who is often photographed with Bieber. The website published photos and video of Lil Za, whose real name Xavier Smith, handcuffed and being led to a deputy’s car.

The rapper is being held on $20,000 bond, according to county records.

The vandalism case is being treated as a felony because it caused $20,000 in damages according to the homeowner, the sheriff’s department said.

“We didn’t do this search warrant to send a message, that’s not what we do,” Thompson said. “This has nothing to do with him being a celebrity. This is a felony crime.”

Thompson said the cost of damages was high because the exterior of Bieber’s neighbor’s home was made of imported wood and brick.

It is not known what triggered the alleged incident between Bieber and his neighbor, but the Canadian-born pop star has had several publicized run-ins with neighbors.

Last year, Bieber was accused of speeding through the neighborhood in a Ferrari sports car and also spitting on his neighbor during a confrontation over parties at the singer’s home. Prosecutors did not bring charges against Bieber in either case.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; editing Mary Milliken and Gunna Dickson)

Gamers Have Ordered $1 Million In Pizza Hut Through Xbox 360

Screen shot of Pizza Hut's Xbox 360 app for ordering pizzaScreen shot of Pizza Hut's Xbox 360 app for ordering pizza
Pizza Hut’s Xbox 360 app: The dream is real.

Pizza Hut says that gamers bought more than $1 million worth of food from the chain last year between April and August, without picking up a phone, leaving the house, or even putting down their consoles. Instead, they ordered custom pizzas using the Pizza Hut app for Xbox 360.

Speaking with gaming news site Polygon, Pizza Hut public relations director Doug Terfehr described the the Xbox app as “a source of unbelieveable growth” for the chain. “When you talk about a sweet spot for the pizza category it’s definitely gamers and gaming,” Terfehr told the site.

Terfehr hinted that the Xbox app’s success has other video game console manufacturers clamoring for apps of their own, but didn’t suggest when fans of Nintendo or PlayStation might expect to enjoy the same seamless pizza ordering experience as Xbox users. “[C]onversations continue to be ongoing with us,” he told Polygon. “Wherever you are, we want to be.”


'Breaking Bad' contest winner arrested in Florida on drug charges

MIAMI Thu Jan 2, 2014 4:29pm EST

MIAMI (Reuters) – A Florida man who won a contest to watch the finale of the drug-themed TV show “Breaking Bad” with its cast has been arrested on charges he ran an underground synthetic marijuana distribution operation, police said on Thursday.

In a possible case of life imitating art, Ryan Lee Carroll, 28, was arrested on New Year’s Eve and charged with manufacturing and shipping a synthetic marijuana known as “Spice” to distribution points across the country from his home in Fort Myers, in southwest Florida.

Two other suspects were arrested and their homes served as additional manufacturing and storage facilities for the illicit drug operation, the Lee County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement.

“Ironically, Ryan Lee Carroll was a contest winner for the hit TV series ‘Breaking Bad'; a show about a chemistry teacher turned drug dealer,” the statement said.

It said more than 700 pounds (315 kg) of 79,000 individually packaged packets of synthetic marijuana were seized with an estimated street value of $1.25 million.

“The investigation has put a large dent in the availability of ‘Spice’ nationally,” the sheriff’s office said.

In addition to the synthetic marijuana and by-products of the substance seized at Carroll’s home, deputies said they had confiscated a souvenir Hazmat suit signed by “Breaking Bad” cast members.

A lawyer for Carroll could not immediately be reached for comment.

The suit was similar to the one worn by Walter White, the fictitious former high school teacher in the TV show who amasses a fortune by manufacturing a potent variety of meth or methamphetamine.

(Reporting by Tom Brown; Editing by Grant McCool)

A&E calls Phil Robertson back to 'Duck Dynasty' after anti-gay flap

LOS ANGELES Fri Dec 27, 2013 8:14pm EST

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Cable network A&E said on Friday it was bringing back family patriarch Phil Robertson to the hit reality show “Duck Dynasty” after fans protested his suspension over anti-gay remarks and big-name corporate sponsors stuck by the series.

Robertson’s remarks to GQ magazine and his subsequent suspension by A&E sparked a nationwide debate over tolerance and religion, with conservative politicians and fans saying that Robertson’s beliefs were consistent with the Bible.

“As a global media content company, A&E Networks’ core values are centered around creativity, inclusion and mutual respect,” A&E said in a statement released late Friday in the midst of the holiday season.

“We believe it is a privilege for our brands to be invited into people’s homes and we operate with a strong sense of integrity and deep commitment to these principles.”

It was a quick reversal for the network that is jointly owned by Walt Disney Co. and privately held Hearst Corp, but the move was not entirely surprising, given the financial commitment at stake. The controversy was also seen as a test for the entertainment industry’s appeal to audiences in the heartland of America.

“Duck Dynasty” ranks among the most-watched cable television programs and averages about 8 million viewers per episode. Its fifth season is slated to begin on January 15. The show’s fourth season debuted in August to 11.8 million viewers, a record for a cable nonfiction series, according to the network.

“Duck Dynasty” sponsors and retailers selling branded merchandise, such as Target and Walmart, also stuck with the show, although they did not pick sides in the public debate.

Restaurant chain Cracker Barrel notably bowed to customer pressure last weekend and restocked its Phil Robertson-themed merchandise after initially pulling it from shelves.

“Duck Dynasty” merchandise, which ranges from sporting goods and apparel to camouflage furniture, has brought in some $400 million in sales, according to Forbes magazine.

By lifting Robertson’s suspension after nine days, A&E assures that the 67-year-old will not miss production of the series’ sixth season and staves off any potential mutiny by the remainder of the family if he were to be kept off the show.

Robertson, the leader of the backwater Louisiana clan on the reality show about hunting, fishing and domestic squabbles, was put on indefinite “hiatus” on December 18 by A&E for his remarks to GQ characterizing homosexuality as sinful behavior.

“Start with homosexual behavior and just morph from there,” Robertson said when asked what is sinful. “Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.”


A&E said it would also air a national public service campaign “promoting unity, tolerance and acceptance among all people” on all its affiliated networks, which include the History Channel and Lifetime among others.

Although Robertson never apologized for his comments, his family did say they regretted his “coarse language,” which included graphic descriptions of male and female anatomy.

The family also said it would not continue with the show without its patriarch and was in talks with the network.

A&E said at the time it was disappointed after reading Robertson’s remarks, which it added were his personal views and did not reflect those of the network.

The network’s quick move to suspend Robertson hours after the GQ story appeared online also stood in contrast to fellow cable networks The Food Network and MSNBC, which both waited days before recently parting with Southern food doyen Paula Deen and actor Alec Baldwin, respectively, after they both admitted to using slurs.

Vocal opposition from “Duck Dynasty” fans was swift in coming and an online petition started by Faith Driven Consumer, a group that connects Christian shoppers with faith-compatible companies, gained more than 260,000 signatures since Robertson’s suspension began.

Robertson’s suspension also elicited strong reaction from across the political spectrum, with conservative politicians defending Robertson as a victim of political correctness.

Early in the controversy, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal lent his support to Robertson and his family, who turned their animal-call company Duck Commander into a hunting industry leader and helped boost tourism to the state.

“I’m glad to hear that A&E came to its senses & recognized that tolerance of religious views is more important than political correctness,” he said on Twitter.

“Back on,” Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz tweeted in reference to Robertson.

Gay equality group GLAAD condemned Robertson’s comments, saying he knows nothing about gay people.

“Phil’s decision to push vile and extreme stereotypes is a stain on A&E and his sponsors, who now need to reexamine their ties to someone with such public disdain for LGBT people and families,” GLAAD said in a statement at the time.

GLAAD could not be reached for comment on Friday.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Ken Wills)

'Smart' Windows Lighten And Darken On Cue

Apply: A reusable, semipermanent adhesive holds the liquid-crystal-based film in place. Plug: The system runs off standard power outlets.
Greg Maxson

Call it the curse of the picture window. Big panes may light up a home, but they also let in enough heat to drive up the temperature by several degrees, raising cooling costs. Self-tinting windows solve the problem, darkening or turning opaque on command, but they are expensive and require custom installation. California start-up SONTE has developed an alternate approach: an affordable after-market tinting treatment.

SONTE film works like an ultrathin LCD TV. It consists of a layer of conductive liquid-crystal polymer sandwiched between layers of PET plastic. Users trim the film to the size of the window and smooth it onto the glass. A semipermanent adhesive holds the film in place. Each kit comes with a quarter-size clip, which attaches to a corner of the film and plugs into a Wi-Fi–enabled electrical transformer. Once connected, users can control the panel with either an app or a traditional switch. When on, a current flows through the liquid-crystal layer, adjusting its polarity and turning the panel transparent. 

SONTE plans to upgrade the system’s transformer with additional wireless radios so it can sync with devices that use popular home-automation standards, such as ZigBee. Connected to a smart home, the windows could be programmed to tint or detint automatically based on the temperature.


UV Protection: 99 percent

Power: 4-5 watts/hour/meter2

Price: $290/meter2 (est.)


This article originally appeared in the January 2014 issue of Popular Science.


7 Cool Gifts For Music Nerds

Urbanears Re:Plattan
Claire Benoist

As scientists toil away to discover what draws humans to music, how it stimulates our brains, and why it’s so integral to our history, we’ve compiled a list of the coolest gifts for the music enthusiasts in your life. This guide is perfect for the aspiring hipster who wants to break out of the top-20 bubble, or the nerdy musician who hacks instruments and curates an extensive music collection.

Click here to enter the gallery


7 Gifts For The Gamer In Your Life

Game Boy Flask

You, statistically, have a gamer in your life. If you do, you, overwhelmingly likely, will have to buy some Christmas presents for him or her this year. Maybe, though, you don’t know anything about games. 

Solution No. 1: just absolutely lose it and buy the first thing you can find from a garage sale and you think maybe it’s some kind of sham hand-held Nintendo product that never left Japan but whatever it’s, like, December 22 and you’re out of ideas. Or, Solution No. 2: stick to smaller stuff you know they’ll like because, chances are, if they wanted it they’d already have it.

Here are some such alternatives. (If you still need more ideas, here’s last year’s list.)



Beyonce's surprise release of new album excites fans

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK Fri Dec 13, 2013 8:25pm EST

Singer Beyonce arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit celebrating the opening of the ''Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations'' exhibition in New York, May 7, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Singer Beyonce arrives at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit celebrating the opening of the ”Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations” exhibition in New York, May 7, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

LOS ANGELES/NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. pop singer Beyonce surprised fans and critics with the release of her fifth solo studio album on Friday, which features 14 new songs and 17 videos and caused a stir on Twitter, capping a year in which the singer made a carefully choreographed return to music.

The 32-year-old Grammy-winning performer said she wanted to release the music in a new way, in order to connect more directly with her fans.

After she announced the album, it was immediately available worldwide exclusively on iTunes, skipping the advance publicity, critics’ reviews and other marketing strategies that usually precede the release of a major musical artist’s new work.

Music trade publication Billboard, citing sources, said the album sold 80,000 copies within three hours of its iTunes release early on Friday.

“There’s so much that gets between the music, the artist and the fans,” Beyonce said in a statement. “I felt like I didn’t want anybody to give the message when my record is coming out.”

The move to release the album without fanfare was designed to let fans hear the music first and form their own opinions, something that Billboard editorial director Bill Werde said was rarely seen among music’s top performers.

“Being able to listen to an album without any sense of what to expect, and to experience the music and videos in an unspoiled sort of way, it was fantastic,” Werde said.

“What it does show in the age of the Internet is that artists can have a really strong direct relationship with core fans and present art to them in the way they want to,” he added.

Entitled “Beyonce,” the digital compilation is the singer’s first visual album and contains videos filmed in Houston, New York, Paris, Sydney and Rio de Janeiro, many of the shots filmed during her “Mrs. Carter Show World Tour.” Physical album copies in CD and DVD format will be available this month.

“When I’m connected to something, I immediately see a visual or a series of images that are tied to a feeling or an emotion, a memory from my childhood, thoughts about life, my dreams or my fantasies. And they are all connected to the music,” Beyonce said of the visual components of the album.

Beyonce returned to the musical spotlight this year after taking time out to give birth to her first child, daughter Blue Ivy, with rapper husband Jay Z.

“Beyonce” follows the singer’s June 2011 record, “4.” Collaborators on the new album include Jay Z, Timbaland, Pharrell Williams, Drake and Justin Timberlake.

The visual album sheds a glimpse into Beyonce’s personal and professional life that fans and the public do not usually see from the generally private couple.

The song “Blue” features vocals from baby Blue Ivy, who was born in January 2012. The accompanying music video, one of four co-directed by Beyonce, shows mother and daughter cuddling against the vibrant backdrops of Brazil’s beaches and towns.

On “Drunk in Love,” the singer cavorts on a beach at nighttime while Jay Z raps on the track, a follow-up to the couple’s 2003 duet on Beyonce’s “Crazy in Love.”


Beyonce kicked off 2013 by performing at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in January, headlined the Super Bowl halftime show in February, and embarked on “The Mrs. Carter Show” tour in April, performing more than 100 shows across the world.

The manner of the new album’s sudden release generated plenty of reaction from fans, including fellow musicians, on Twitter. The album release generated more than 1.2 million tweets in 12 hours, Twitter said on Friday, with a spike of 5,300 tweets a minute.

“How is anyone not tweeting about #Beyonce right now?!!” singer Demi Lovato said on the microblogging site, while rapper Snoop Dogg tweeted, “my girl @beyonce just changed d game !!”

Twitter said “Blue” was the most tweeted-about song.

Texas-born Beyonce Knowles is one of the most successful performers in the world, regularly selling out concert tours. The singer, who began her career as a member of R&B girl group Destiny’s Child, has become a solo artist powerhouse, famed for her energetic stage shows, hit songs including “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)” and her promotion of female empowerment.

Beyonce and Jay Z were named the highest-earning celebrity couple for the second consecutive year in September by Forbes magazine, with estimated combined earnings of $95 million for the year up to June 2013.

(Additional reporting by Michael Roddy in London; Editing by Kenneth Barry and Peter Cooney)

NBC climbs ratings mountain with live 'Sound of Music' special

LOS ANGELES Fri Dec 6, 2013 3:38pm EST

An NBC sign on the General Electric building which houses NBC studios in New York October 5, 2009. REUTERS/Mike Segar

An NBC sign on the General Electric building which houses NBC studios in New York October 5, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/Mike Segar

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – U.S. network NBC’s live telecast of the musical “The Sound of Music” played to the tune of 18.5 million viewers, the Comcast Corp-owned broadcaster said on Friday, helping NBC inject some momentum into its entertainment division.

The three-hour production on Thursday starring country singer Carrie Underwood as Maria, the would-be nun who falls in love with an anti-Nazi Austrian captain, was NBC’s best non-sports draw in the 18 to 49 age group most coveted by advertisers since the finale of hospital drama “ER” in 2009.

“The Sound of Music” telecast, which was based on the 1959 stage version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show rather than the Oscar-winning 1965 film starring Julie Andrews, was the top overall draw on U.S. prime-time TV on Thursday, according to Nielsen figures.

NBC has languished at the bottom or near it in overall viewers in recent years, dragged down by poorly rated entertainment offerings compared with rivals CBS, Fox and ABC.

But for the TV season that started in September, NBC ranks second among overall viewers and first among 18-to-49-year olds, according to Nielsen data through December 1. Its ratings hits include “Sunday Night Football” and singing competition “The Voice.”

Although critics commended NBC for taking a risk on an expensive production, which reportedly cost $9 million and required several sets and lavish costumes, they sounded a sour tone on the performances, particularly Underwood.

“As her multiple Grammys and her legion of country music fans will attest, the quality of Underwood’s singing voice is not the problem,” USA Today’s Robert Bianco wrote. “It’s that she doesn’t know how to use that voice to sing in character, or what to do with her face when she’s trying.”

The 30-year-old singer, who has become one of biggest country stars since winning the singing contest “American Idol” in 2005, has little experience acting compared to her co-star, “True Blood” actor Stephen Moyer as Captain von Trapp.

Veteran Broadway stars Audra McDonald (Mother Abbess), Laura Benanti (Elsa Schrader) and Christian Borle (Max Detweiler) rounded out the cast of the musical famous for hit songs “My Favorite Things” and “Edelweiss.”

“Underwood nails the look of a virginal almost-nun, but goes no deeper than that. Blank stares and placid smiles,” wrote Marc Bernardin of trade magazine the Hollywood Reporter.

Critics’ opinions also echoed the live reaction on Twitter from viewers, who were mixed on Underwood’s performance.

NBC’s “The Sound of Music” harked back to the early days of U.S. television when live musicals were often shown.

(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Patricia Reaney)

Genre-bending, 'unexpected' films top Sundance 2014 lineup

LOS ANGELES Wed Dec 4, 2013 10:12pm EST

Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper welcomes the audience before the opening night premiere of the documentary ''The Queen Of Versailles'' to begin the annual festival in Park City, Utah January 19, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Sundance Film Festival director John Cooper welcomes the audience before the opening night premiere of the documentary ”The Queen Of Versailles” to begin the annual festival in Park City, Utah January 19, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Genre-bending films dominated the 2014 lineup announced on Wednesday for the U.S. feature film competition at the Sundance Film Festival, the top U.S. festival for independent cinema.

The competition will showcase 16 films spanning serious and comedic efforts, with many fusing together the traditional cinematic conventions of different genres.

“They kind of struck us as surprising, a lot of the storylines this year, especially in competition. A lot of them were unexpected,” John Cooper, director of the Sundance film festival, told Reuters.

Examples of films that cross genres include the zombie romance “Life After Beth,” written and directed by Jeff Baena and starring Dane DeHaan and Aubrey Plaza, and “Jamie Marks is Dead,” a ghost comedy by writer-director Carter Smith.

“‘Life After Beth’ is a really innovative approach of using some of the conventions of a zombie film but putting it in an indie young love story,” said Trevor Groth, the director of programming for the film festival started by actor and director Robert Redford in 1978.

Some of the selected U.S. drama contenders also turn the spotlight on the plight of people in difficult jobs, like the a guard at Guantanamo Bay in “Camp X-Ray” starring Kristen Stewart, or a Somali fisherman turned pirate in filmmaker Cutter Hodierne’s “Fishing Without Nets.”

“These are stories that people know that are accessible. We always tell people to make the movies that they know, and there’s such diversity in what that is,” Cooper said.

Both Cooper and Groth also noted a rise in the use of comedy to lighten the drama, spurred by both the critical and commercial success of last year’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” which landed key Oscar nominations and a best actress Oscar win for lead star Jennifer Lawrence.

“(Dysfunctional family stories) are one of the stalwarts of independent films, but it’s done with a little more of a twist, a little more creativity than in the past, a little more comedy. There’s a lot of comedy intermixed here,” Cooper said.

Notable films fusing comedy into family stories include “Happy Christmas” starring Anna Kendrick as a young woman who moves in with her older brother and his family after a break-up, and “The Skeleton Twins,” starring Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig as estranged twins brought together after cheating death.


Now in its 30th edition, the Sundance Film Festival, backed by Redford’s Sundance Institute, is held in snow-covered Park City, Utah. The upcoming festival will begin on January 16, and run through January 27.

The festival will feature 117 feature-length films representing 37 countries, selected from more than 12,000 submissions. In addition to the 16 films in the U.S. drama competition, there will be 16 U.S. documentaries, 12 world cinema dramas and 12 world documentaries in competition.

The opening day films set a tone for the festival and include the U.S. drama “Whiplash” a story of a young drummer pursuing perfection in his craft played by actor Miles Teller.

Among the documentaries selected for the festival are “The Internet’s Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz,” following the journey of internet activist Swartz before he committed suicide this year, and “No No: A Dockumentary” about a 1970s baseball player who famously pitched a no-hitter while high on LSD.

In recent years, many indie films that have garnered critical success from the festival, have gone on to be major awards contenders, such as 2012’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” and 2013’s “Fruitvale Station,” which is a strong contender in Hollywood’s upcoming awards season.

The movies in the premiere section of Sundance, which do not compete and often feature more prominent directors, will be announced on December 9.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Lisa Shumaker)

Is China Spying On Russia Via Bugged Clothing Irons?

Device Found Inside Irons
The device pulled from the iron as revealed on Russian state TV.
Planet Events

There’s a new problem with some imported irons, according to Russian state media. As reported on the state-owned Rossiya television channel, some clothing irons from China have had microphones and wifi connections installed. It appears the devices attempt to connect to unsecured wireless networks within 650 feet, and from there spread viruses to any computers on the same network. The irons were detected by a weight difference of a few grams.

Of course, it’s unclear how much of this is worth taking at face value. The irons are imported, the news station is state-owned, and the whole story has a tinge of protectionism to it. Besides: individuals adding small virus-spreading devices to mass-produced consumer items? That’s a really weird and inefficient way to steal information. There’s a chance that such an iron could end up in an executive’s office, but it’s probably just easier to bribe someone and have them physically place the bug than it is to hope the targeted person buys a compromised iron.

On the off-chance that the bugged irons did find their way into any sensitive places, it seems they can be thwarted by simply adding password protection to the wireless network.

Watch the television clip (in Russian) below


How Technology Will Make Everyone A Great Photographer

Instagram Photojournalist
Paul Lachine

At the end of May, the Chicago Sun-Times laid off all its staff photographers. The paper would instead use newswires, freelancers, and reporters armed with iPhones. It was not the first time traditional media turned to untrained photojournalists—consider the Instagram photos NBC published after the Boston Marathon bombing or CNN’s iReport—but it was the first time any outlet made a policy of doing so. 

As one might expect, the Sun-Times’ decision has met with criticism. It’s been called “shortsighted” and “idiotic.” There’s even a Tumblr of head-to-head comparisons between the Sun-Times and the still-photo-staffed Chicago Tribune. But the change does have its logic. First, it’s cheap. And, in theory, it will give the Sun-Times even more reach, by leveraging the cameras already in place at news events. 

For the strategy to pay off, however, cameraphone technology needs to support it in ways it currently doesn’t. Cameraphones have improved dramatically in the last few years—the Nokia PureView sensor has 41 megapixels, and HTC’s newest sensor has larger pixels that grab more light—but they still suffer from one great shortfall: inadequate lenses. 

About a year ago, engineers began to address the issue by putting cellular radios inside cameras, rather than attempting to cram cameras inside phones. The 16.3-megapixel Samsung Galaxy Camera has a 4G radio and a 21-times zoom lens. And the newer 20.3-megapixel Galaxy NX has an interchangeable lens mount. The Sony QX100, the newest offering in the lot, is the most extreme example. The device is just a lens, sensor, and image processor, and users attach their smartphone as a viewfinder. 

Editors will need software that selects the best images—not just the ones from the right place at the right time. Connected cameras may improve the overall quality of crowdsourced images, but they will do little for the editors whose job it is to sort through them. Current services provide a temporary solution. With Scoopshot, a Helsinki software start-up, publishers can send photo assignments to the service’s network of 300,000-plus mobile users. Stringwire, which NBC acquired in August, lets video producers request an uplink from anyone who has tweeted near an event of interest. But to assure quality, editors will need software that automatically selects the best images—not just the ones taken in the right place at the right time. That type of computer vision already exists on a small scale. A recent update to Google+ analyzes groups of pictures for blurriness, aesthetics, landmarks, and exposure to pick out the most shareable ones. The Sun-Times to benefit from that type of machine vision, the software will need to process larger image batches from multiple sources. In time, those pieces may come together, proving that the Sun-Times decision wasn’t foolish—it was just a bit before its time. 

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of Popular Science.


Xbox One Review: I'm Sorry I Raised My Voice

Xbox One

I wouldn’t say a lost my temper with the Xbox One. Because I actually, for the most part, enjoyed the experience. But I did raise my voice. And for that I apologize. 

Everything about Microsoft’s new game console, its first in eight years, is designed to make you do as little as possible. That means running multiple apps at the same time, a “snap” function to plop stuff on-screen into a picture-in-picture style, and–eek–a reliance on voice controls. 

I share the blame, Xbox One. I do. I am a mumbler. I have difficulty expressing myself at times. I rushed too quickly to say Xbox One, get it together, to which you pulled up the “weather” option. (Ha! Defusing the situation. You are too funny, Xbox One.)


We should let it go. Because I liked you, Xbox One. We should talk more. Later, though. Now’s a bad time.

How It Looks

Oof. All right, then. Let’s just get the worst thing out of the way. The Xbox One is a not-particularly-attractive behemoth of a game console. It’s the size of a small suitcase and heavy as one stuffed with sheet-metal. The shape is hard to describe beyond “box”–very few ridges, curves, or any other shapes to variate the monolithic design. It’s like a VCR that’s metastasized in your living room. I thought I had reserved ample room for any console, since that had been the case for any other console I’ve put there. That was not the case. If you are planning to travel with the Xbox One, remove those plans from your itinerary. Actually, whatever table or surface you place it on, be prepared to keep it there forever. Actually, just be prepared to die in whatever home/apartment/cavern you currently reside in. The Xbox One isn’t going anywhere.

There’s also a new controller. There are a list of changes Microsoft has been touting–like a vibrate function on the triggers, and a redesigned, less bulky spot for the batteries–and, yeah, it’s a little better. But the truth is in practice it doesn’t feel all that different, at least when stacked up to the more drastic changes Sony made to its controller for the new PlayStation 4. If you were a huge fan of the Xbox 360 controller, then fine, you’ll be happy with this. Otherwise, if you’re looking for huge changes in the console, you’ll have to find something elsewhere. 

Booting Up

If you’ve set up any console in your life, the Xbox One set-up will be painless: connect the wire in back to the wall, the other wire to the TV, etc. There is one extra step, though, that I’d recommend taking the time to do: the new Xbox can also be wired through your cable-box through HDMI, allowing you to watch TV by selecting it on the Xbox’s main screen. (Same goes for the HDMI-friendly media streamer of your choice; I used a Roku.) More on that in a minute. 

Here I should mention: I think but can’t readily confirm that I had a glitch with my Xbox. When I first booted up the console, it took me straight to the Xbox’s home screen, without the usual registration process. There, the controller wouldn’t function properly. I don’t know who, if anyone, will have this issue, but it was solved after a quick reset. 

Here I should also mention: the reset process takes forever. You boot up, are brought to the big, green Xbox One load screen, and then you go grab a snack or take out the garbage or something while you wait it out. Unfortunate, since the Xbox One home screen actually looks pretty nice after it’s done loading. Microsoft’s tile system, which is now loaded on every one of its devices, is here again, and doesn’t look too different from the last Xbox incarnation. Things are little more organized, and the Xbox automatically moves the titles for apps and games you played most recently to the front of the screen, assuming that those are what you’ll most likely use again. Notifications pop up on the bottom of the screen in much the same way as last time around, and there are the same slots reserved for places where you can buy games, apps, and music. (An image of an angsty Eminem promoting some tunes has been permanently etched into my brain.) But there’s a greater focus on features besides games. Which brings us to…

Ryse: Son of Rome

Under The Hood

I said this in my PlayStation 4 review, but I’ll say it again: the specific technical details in a system aren’t as important as the functionality you get from those specs. That said, it has similar specs to the PlayStation 4: a combination of CPU and GPU processors meant to divide the work of processing graphics and other tasks. But the results are a little different: the biggest change behind the Xbox One–and the best one–is the ability to instantly stop playing a game with a single button and enter your home screen. No more save-and-quit, no more shutting off one thing to open up something else. The processors divert processing power to the game, and the rest goes to the ancillary apps. None of that affected the performance of either, in my experience. That’s a big deal. You can turn on a dime with the Xbox One, not feel stuck because you’re playing a game and suddenly realizing there was something else you wanted to do first. Then, once you’re done with your other task, you go back directly to the game, picking up exactly where you left off. 

Now I can simply run my Roku through the Xbox instead of going directly through the TV.

There’s also a new Kinect, Microsoft’s motion-capturing camera that comes bundled with the new Xbox One. And it’s better, with a wider range of vision and better resolution–enough to scan your face to sign you in. (I’ll go on record, again, saying this still gives me the heebie-jeebies. But it’s also undoubtedly cool tech.) As much as I disdain voice controls, the commands I sent to the Kinect worked okay. Not great, just fine. Although since certain functions, like the otherwise great “snap” function, which lets you pull up a separate window to multi-task, rely wholly on the technology, it should be flawless, even at a whisper. (Update for clarification: You can manually select the snap function with a controller on the homescreen, but, obviously, to switch between functions when you’re already doing something, you’ll need to use voice control.)

But I do love the option of routing my cable box or media streamer through my Xbox. Between multiple game consoles and a Roku, I’m already taking up a lot of wire and wall space. Now I can simply run my Roku through the Xbox instead of going directly through the TV. After that, just select the TV option on the Xbox home screen, and you’re directed to your TV. Maybe that’s not life-changing, but it frees up a wire and a little time if I want to multi-task between gaming and TV-watching. 


Here it is! Games! For the game console. The PlayStation 4 lineup turned out to be incredibly underwhelming, but the Xbox One lineup, oh man, let me tell you: it is also incredibly underwhelming.

I’ll start with the positive: Ryse: Son of Rome, a semi-melodramatic sword-and-sandals epic, probably takes too much glee in its eviscerations of barbarians, but looks like it could be one of the bright spots at launch, as one of the only truly original properties in the stable. 

Now the bad: a digital title called Crimson Dragon is one of the worst games I have played in recent memory. You ride a space dragon that shoots, like, missiles at other space dragons. There’s some kind of government conspiracy. Or aliens? No, wait, you’re the alien. Maybe. I don’t know. 

There’s another installment in the Forza racing game franchise that certainly looks nice on the new system, but doesn’t seem to offer much beyond the standard racing game fare. There are a few new sports games, the animal-management bureaucracy simulator Zoo Tycoon, and a slew of titles that have already appeared on the last system. As disappointing as Sony’s list of games turned out to be, you’re not going to find much on Microsoft’s end, either. 

Should You Buy This?

No. Wait. You don’t need something to hook up through your TV right now, unless it has games to accompany it, and the Xbox One, as cool as some of its features are, has a dearth of games. You can wait. How long? That’s up to you: whenever there’s a sum of games that make it worthwhile to you, go for it. (That could theoretically be right now, but I’ll venture to say it isn’t, even for even the most die-hard gamers.)

Now comes the point where I tell you whether the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 is the King of the Console Generation. But I’m not going to do that–especially this early. I might sound overly diplomatic here, but there are reasons to root for both. I wasn’t a huge fan of the PS4, but at $400, it’s $100 cheaper than the Xbox One. The interface isn’t as forward-thinking, but maybe you want something that puts more focus on games. Maybe, too, you want something more mobile. 

Regardless, though, the most important part of a system is still games. And it remains to be seen which console will make the biggest leaps in that field. You can wait to find out. 


PlayStation 4 Review: A Lot Of The Same

PlayStation 4

Remember: you don’t really love your PlayStation. You love the games, and the PlayStation–now on its fourth incarnation–is the boxy black vessel for those games. You don’t love the box any more than a toaster that plays Netflix. 

This is important to remember, since the PlayStation 4 as a system feels so, so much like the generation before it. Imagine staring at both as they sit below your TV, then imagine Tommy Lee Jones sauntering in and Men In Black-style brain-wiping the last console out of your skull. You will not be able to determine The Future of Gaming and the soon-to-be obsolete. 

If you’re reading and comprehending this, you’re likely old enough to remember the PlayStation 3. And I’d guess you’ve changed a lot more in the past seven years than Sony has.

How It Looks

The PlayStation 4 is actually a radical departure in a few ways–it’s just debatable whether all of those ways are positive. On top, it looks half matte, half almost-laminated. A crack along the front contains all of the stuff, like the two USB ports where your controller can charge. To play a game on a disc, you insert it into the PlayStation 4’s gaping maw, like a sacrifice to the gods. The crack glows blue while it’s on, and orange when it’s in standby mode, waiting for your next commands. The whole thing is slanted in front, like it got stuck in a wind tunnel for an hour. 

Here’s the weird part: there are no buttons on the console. Like, at all. Not even a fake power sign you put your thumb over. You touch the top half of the crack to turn it on, and the bottom to eject the game disc. This is fine when you figure it out, but isn’t immediately apparent. I spent the better part of 10 minutes poking it like a Space Odyssey chimp at the obelisk. 

There’s also a new controller. Stacked up to the last generation’s controller, it definitely looks sleeker–a little less angular than its predecessor, which, when viewed from the side, looks like an uncomfortable high-heeled shoe by comparison. There’s a “share” button on this generation, which, when pressed, lets players share a screenshot or video clip (the PlayStation 4 automatically records the last 15 minutes of play, just in case something happens that you have to show around). A lot of real estate in front is given to a touchpad. There’s a little mini-game loaded on to each PlayStation that uses this, but I haven’t quite figured out why it exists besides that.

Also: the controller-to-TV sensor on the front glows different colors. I like this. I do not understand why. 

Booting Up

After you’ve cracked the mystery of How to Turn on the PlayStation, Nancy Drew, and added all of your information–Wi-Fi password, email address, etc.–you will be directed to the home screen. (Sold separately: the PlayStation Camera, which scans your face and detects when you’re around, and can be used to identify you automatically. For those worried the era of constant surveillance we’re living in hasn’t gone quite far enough yet.) 

If you have a PlayStation 3, you will immediately understand almost everything about the navigation screen, because disappointingly little about it has changed, at least on the main screen. You click on the same cartoonish little icons to navigate: a smiling house-shaped box for your profile, two smiling squares to see the friends you’ve added. (The best one: a “messages” icon that features both an envelope and a speech bubble. Either would’ve done, but here you get two-for-one.) Tiles with real images on them also appear to take you to announcements about new games, info about games you’ve played, a web browser, and a feature where you can stream what you’re playing over the service Twitch and invite other people to watch.

You can also check out what your friends are doing, in a feature that, for better or worse, looks like a social network. See what your friends have been playing, what they’ve accomplished in their games, and so on. This isn’t a particularly beautiful interface, either: it’s a stream of faces and text-snippets floating down for as long as you feel like scrolling. (I’ve just previewed this last part–it wasn’t fully available for review.)

I was really hoping Sony would do away with the wavy blue background on the interface that makes you feel like you’re getting seasick on the digital ocean, but alas, it makes its return. 

All in all, you can’t help but feel that a regular-old-update to the PlayStation 3 could’ve given us nearly the same interface, which is a bummer.

Killzone: Shadow Fall
Guerrilla Games

Under The Hood

You’re probably either the type of person who cares about every spec in your machine, or you don’t care about them at all unless they translate into practical applications. Personally, I’m in the latter category. But in short: the PS4 is faster, able to render images better, and, yes, has some practical bonuses because of that.

In short, there’s a combination CPU/GPU system that splits up some of the work in the PS4. What does that mean? Mostly, that’s how we’ve got features like faster video processing. Also, the PlayStation 4 has an option for background downloads. Rather than sit and wait for a download to finish before you can start playing the game, you can hop right in after a certain percentage of it is finished. It’s like video buffering: you start watching before the entire video is really ready to be watched.

Also on board are two USB 3.0 ports. Here’s the biggie with those. The PlayStation 3, in some kind of egregious oversight, didn’t allow controllers to charge while the PlayStation 3 was turned off. Here that’s remedied. Even better: the battery life on the controller looks like it got an upgrade. I’m still waiting for mine to kick hours after a minimal charge. 

There’s also a voice-control option in the PlayStation Camera you can use to start games or other features. Say, “PlayStation,” then the name of the game or certain functions and it’ll pop up. I’m not sure I totally understand the point of features like this. The last thing I want to do is exercise my vocal cords to select a game, especially when it’s a mere push of the control stick away. But there it is.


Games! Games. The most important part of any game console. The selection of titles available at launch is… pretty sparse, honestly. They’re almost exclusively sequels or games that are also appearing on the PlayStation 3. 

The selection of titles available at launch is sparse.

Sony made a big deal at its announcement about the imminent arrival of the PlayStation 4-exclusive game Killzone: Shadow Fall, a new installment in the popular sci-fi shoot-’em-up franchise Killzone. Now it’s pretty apparent why: it’s the best representation right now of what the PS4 can do. The figures and landscapes on-screen are sharp, fully etched-out, even if it’s not as dramatic of a leap as PlayStation users saw between the PS2 and PS3. It just looks like a really lovely PS3 game. (I won’t go into too much depth on these, but especially not on this one, since the gameplay isn’t as breath-taking as the graphics. “Press R2 to kill him!”)

On the other end of the spectrum is a PS exclusive called Knack, which looks like something inspired by Pixar. You control a smart-mouthed monster called Knack. Knack punches out robots. It is fun. But also, definitely a game that could’ve easily appeared on the PS3 with very little lost. The characters and gameplay are like a high-quality animated movie, and no one would bat an eye seeing it on a past console.

Rounding out the launch-day lineup is the reliable B-list of gaming. You will find:

  • Madden 25: the 25th (!) installment in the football game franchise
  • Battlefield 4: the fourth installment in another shooty franchise
  • Need For Speed: Rivals: the umpteenth installment in the racing game franchise
  • And my personal favoriteJust Dance 2014, where people just dance to very recent pop hits, judged by the PlayStation’s Eye of Sauron. The newest songs include hits by Psy, of “Gangnam Style” fame, and Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines.” Send this game to Mars. For one, it will no longer return to haunt us, and two, it will give future Martian settlers an exact idea of what life was like today.

One great thing Sony is doing now, though, is selling all titles as digital downloads the same day they sell them as discs. The future!

Should You Buy This?

Unless you are desperately jonesing to play a game like the new Killzone, then no, or, at least, you should wait as long as you can. This doesn’t feel like a step forward; it feels like a step sideways. A nearly identical interface, a slew of sequels, and a design that’s not all there. (I was more fond of the Wii U, which turned out to be a complete commercial disaster, because it at least felt like something different.)

At some point, if you’re regular gamer, you’ll probably have to bite the bullet. A game will come out that you’ll have to play, and you’ll buy the console to play it. But remember: you’ll be doing it for the game, not the console.


How Software Will Make Computer Shopping Obsolete

Computer Shopping
Paul Lachine

Every new computer comes with one guarantee: There will be a faster, shinier, newer model in short order—and you will fawn over it. It’s hard not to. Processors double in power every 18 months, and other parts turn over even more quickly. Memory gets faster. Screens pack more pixels. Hard drives grow larger. And so on. Like it or not, the product cycle is also a cycle of dependency. We don’t just want the newest thing—we actually need it in order to run the latest programs. But there is a way out, and it starts with a return to computing’s roots.

The product cycle is also a cycle of dependency. We don’t just want the newest thing—we actually need it. The first commercial computers of the 1950s were mainframe systems. In a mainframe, a central terminal—sometimes as large as a room—houses processors, memory, and storage. Individual workstations connect to that central hub to tap into shared programs and databases. Over the decades, the systems grew increasingly powerful. Mainframes at large institutions or agencies can run multiple instances of an operating system at once. The everyday user, however, has no need for anything as large and expensive as a mainframe. At home, personal computers still rule.

But in the last decade, the cloud has started to change how people use their PCs. Connectivity is now just as important as hardware, which gives users ready access to software and backup services over the Internet. There’s Gaikai for videogames, Amazon Instant Video for movies and TV, and Spotify for music—just to name a few. And in 2011, Google introduced Chromebooks, the first laptops that rely almost entirely on the cloud to deliver software to users. As a result, the machines need only a bit of memory and a low-power processor.

Software improvements can push the Chromebook idea a step further by transforming the cloud into a portable personal mainframe. Neverware, a New York start-up, has developed software that can deliver complete instances of Windows to up to 100 computers over Ethernet or Wi-Fi. The system even works on machines with as little as 128 MB of RAM and 500mHz processors. More than 30 public schools have installed the central server, dubbed the Juicebox 100. And as broadband access improves, Neverware hopes to deliver the entire service through the cloud.

The mainframe model could expand beyond PCs. Intel Labs’s Clone Cloud project, for example, could do for old smartphones what Neverware does for old computers. When a phone’s performance starts to lag, users would load a clone of their system to Intel’s server and assign it tasks that the processor can no longer handle (say, graphics rendering). The service would deliver data over a cellular or Wi-Fi connection. And it won’t stop there; wherever there’s a screen—be it a tablet or television—and Internet access, there could also be a functioning computer. Every videogame, every website, every piece of software will work everywhere. And hardware will never be out-of-date again.

This article originally appeared in the October 2013 issue of Popular Science.


Turkeys take flight and time travel in Thanksgiving comedy 'Free Birds'

Children wear promotional turkey hats at the world premiere of the animated film ''Free Birds'' in Los Angeles, October 13, 2013. REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Children wear promotional turkey hats at the world premiere of the animated film ”Free Birds” in Los Angeles, October 13, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Danny Moloshok

LOS ANGELES | Sat Nov 2, 2013 12:07pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – As the United States whets its appetite for a big tasty feast on this month’s Thanksgiving holiday, two turkeys are on a mission to save their kind from slaughter in a new animated adventure, where they travel back in time to get the birds off the menu.

“Free Birds,” out in U.S. theaters on Friday, follows the tale of Reggie (voiced by Owen Wilson), a lone turkey pardoned by the U.S. president and saved from becoming Thanksgiving dinner. Reggie, accustomed to being alone, is forced into a time-traveling adventure by another turkey named Jake (Woody Harrelson).

Together, the pair go back in time to the first Thanksgiving to try and stop turkeys from becoming part of the feast, and Reggie learns how to become a part of a team.

“I think that every kid goes through that pressure to fit in,” Wilson said. “I think that the way this movie addresses that in thinking about your kind of fellow man, that’s kind of a nice message in helping other people and not always putting yourself first.”

The film comes ahead of the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday on November 28, and according to the film’s writer-director Jimmy Hayward, “Free Birds” fills a gap in the holiday film market.

“There are no Thanksgiving movies. Maybe that’s for a reason, but it really struck me as that was missing,” he said.

As Reggie and Jake travel back in time to the 1600s, they come across a flock of agile, fast turkeys already staying one step ahead of the human settlers looking to hunt them.

Comedienne Amy Poehler, best known as smart and goofy city council member Leslie Knope on NBC sitcom “Parks and Recreation,” voices a similarly smart and endearing turkey named Jenny, who Reggie falls in love with.

“She’s kind of a fun character to play in animation, one that I hadn’t really played before. She’s a very serious, steadfast, natural leader, no-nonsense kind of turkey. One that is certainly the smartest one of the bunch,” Poehler said.


While “Free Birds” touches on the origins of the U.S. Thanksgiving tradition, Hayward said he didn’t want the film to become a historical lesson for the film’s intended young audience.

“Kids go to school all week, and when they come to the pictures, I didn’t want to turn it into a school lesson,” the director said.

“There’s a lot of stuff about Thanksgiving that’s not that nice, there’s a lot about the settling of the United States that I couldn’t show,” he added.

Capitalizing on a slow month for children’s animated comedies, “Free Birds,” made for $55 million, is projected by box office forecasters to collect between $14 million and $22 million at the North American box office in its opening weekend. Relativity Media is distributing the film.

Hayward said he hoped the movie would appeal to children and adults, and that they would take away a moral message to reflect on for the festive holiday season.

“My agenda for this movie was to make an emotionally fulfilling, very funny buddy movie that had a great message to it, and the message has nothing to do with food. The message is that you’re part of something bigger than yourself,” he said.

But if you’re looking for any trademark turkey ‘gobbles,’ the cast said they didn’t have to learn how to make the gurgling turkey sound because the turkey characters communicate through talking.

“If you’re looking for gobbles, you’re not going to get that here, okay? If you’re looking for cheap gobbles, then keep walking. This is not the movie for you,” Poehler quipped.

(Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

Measure Your Heart Rate Using Headphones

Listen Up
Fletcher6 via Wikimedia Commons

At a medical device exhibition in Yokohama, Japan last week, researchers from the Kaiteki Institute Inc. and Bifrostec Inc. demonstrated a prototype technology that can turn $8 earbuds into a heart rate monitor.

The microphones in a pair of earbuds transmit data about the pressure changes in the ear canal as the eardrum moves, which can be analyzed to determine the wearer’s heart rate. According to its creators, the system doesn’t require tweaking anything about commercially-available earphones, just using a program to process the signals.

Headphone Heart Rate
via Tech-On

Since the headphones can still be used to listen to music, this could be an easy way to monitor your heart rate at the gym by adding an app to enable your phone or music player to turn the signals from the earphones into a readable heart rate. Motorola has previously offered a line of headphones featuring heart rate monitors, but they will run you a whole lot more than $8. 



Rocker Lou Reed of Velvet Underground dies at 71

U.S. musician Lou Reed plays the guitar during his concert in Santiago de Compostela in this July 16, 2004 file photograph. REUTERS/Miguel Vidal/Files

U.S. musician Lou Reed plays the guitar during his concert in Santiago de Compostela in this July 16, 2004 file photograph.

Credit: Reuters/Miguel Vidal/Files

NEW YORK | Tue Oct 29, 2013 3:30pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lou Reed, the pioneering musician who fronted influential rock band The Velvet Underground in the 1960s and won mainstream acclaim with solo songs “Walk on the Wild Side” and “Perfect Day”, died on Sunday aged 71.

Reed, whose band fused music and art in collaboration with its early benefactor, pop artist Andy Warhol, died at the Long Island home he shared with his wife, Laurie Anderson, following complications from a liver transplant earlier this year, his literary agent Andrew Wylie said.

“I think Lou was as great an artist as it was possible to be,” Wylie said. “It’s a great loss.”

Formed by Reed and classically trained Welsh-born musician John Cale in the mid-1960s as an experiment in avant-garde rock, The Velvet Underground gained Warhol’s notice soon after hitting the New York club scene.

While the band never achieved great commercial success, it revolutionized rock in the 1960s and ’70s with a mixture of thrashing guitar licks and smooth melodies sung by Reed or the German model Nico.

The Velvet Underground has long been recognized as a major musical inspiration for punk art and rock, as reflected in an oft-repeated quote by musician and producer Brian Eno, who told music journalist Kristine McKenna the first Velvet Underground album only sold 30,000 copies but that “I think everyone who bought one of those 30,000 copies started a band.”

Neil Portnow, president the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, which bestows the Grammys, credited Reed with “introducing avant-garde rock to the mainstream.”

“His uniquely stripped-down style of guitar playing and poetic lyrics have had a massive influence across many rock genres, including punk and alternatives,” Portnow said.

Fellow avant-garde rocker David Bowie, who helped produce Reed’s second solo album and is often cited as one of his greatest musical heirs, posted a picture of the two recording stars together on his Facebook page, saying of his old friend: “He was a master.”

Cale, who played bass, organ and viola in the Velvets and had an often-fractious relationship with Reed, said on his Facebook page: “The world has lost a fine songwriter and poet … I’ve lost my ‘school-yard buddy,'” he said.

Reed and Cale put aside their differences to release a tribute album to Warhol in 1990 called “Songs for Drella.” That album led to a handful of reunion performances by members of The Velvet Underground’s original line-up – rounded out by guitarist Sterling Morrison and drummer Maureen Tucker – in the early 1990s.

Musician Iggy Pop’s official Twitter account called news of Reed’s death “devastating,” while musician Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth tweeted: “So sorry to hear of Lou Reed’s passing this is a huge shock!”

An admitted hard drinker and drug user for many years, Reed underwent a liver transplant earlier this year in Cleveland, his wife revealed, after he had canceled a series of California concert dates in April.

“I am a triumph of modern medicine,” Reed posted on his website on June 1, 2013, without directly acknowledging the transplant. “I look forward to being on stage performing, and writing more songs to connect with your hearts and spirits and the universe well into the future.”


Reed has been widely credited with expanding the lexicon of rock ‘n’ roll with provocative lyrics that chronicled androgyny, illicit sex, and drug abuse, notably in the song “Heroin,” in which he declares, “It’s my wife, and it’s my life.”

“Walk on the Wild Side,” a catchy tune from his second solo album, “Transformer,” co-produced by Bowie, became Reed’s only top-20 hit single, though it contained lyrical references to transexuality, drugs and male prostitution.

“Sister Ray” – a 17-minute blast of guitar distortions – likewise combined stories of sailors, oral sex, murder, intravenous drug use and the mysterious title character.

“I never in a million years thought people would be outraged by what I was doing,” Reed said in a 1989 interview with Rolling Stone magazine. “You could go to your neighborhood bookstore and get any of that.”

One of his signature songs, first performed by The Velvet Underground and later a staple of his solo act, was simply titled “Rock & Roll,” a semi-autobiographical story of how music saved the life of a young fan listening on the radio.

His stage persona, sometimes appearing in a dog collar and eye makeup, opened the door for Bowie and other artists to take sexually ambivalent styles into the mainstream.

It was personified in the landmark live album “Rock N Roll Animal,” released in 1974. That record closely followed the studio-record rock opera album “Berlin,” which he brought to life again with a 2006 concert that was made into a 2007 film directed by Julian Schnabel.

Inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996 as a member of The Velvet Underground, Reed grew into something of an elder statesman of rock, a towering figure in a club with fellow legends such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young.

Reed always placed great importance on song-writing. One of his first jobs out of college was as a staff writer for Pickwick Records. He dedicated the 1966 song “European Son” to the late poet, Delmore Schwartz, under whom he studied at Syracuse University.

Reed was married three times, the latest to recording and performance artist Laurie Anderson in 2008, and in recent years took an interest in photography, staging exhibitions of his work.

(Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Daniel Trotta; Additional reporting by Chris Michaud; Editing by Steve Gorman, Diane Craft and Sandra Maler)

(This Oct. 27 story was refiled to correct the text of Brian Eno quote in the sixth paragraph)

Black American history gets 500-year rewind in PBS series

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey and professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. (R) arrive for Harvard University's 362nd Commencement Exercises in Cambridge, Massachusetts in this May 30, 2013, file photo. REUTERS/Brian Snyder/Files

Media mogul Oprah Winfrey and professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. (R) arrive for Harvard University’s 362nd Commencement Exercises in Cambridge, Massachusetts in this May 30, 2013, file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder/Files

LOS ANGELES | Mon Oct 21, 2013 5:02pm EDT

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – A new U.S. television documentary series reaches back 500 years to demonstrate how America’s black history contained some unsettling nuances and uncomfortable truths from the start.

The six-part series, “The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross,” which premieres on PBS on Tuesday, opens with Juan Garrido, a free black man who was among the Spanish conquistadors who arrived in Florida in 1513. He is followed by the first known slave, named Esteban, 13 years later.

For Henry Louis Gates Jr., the Harvard scholar who conceived and presents the documentary, Garrido and Esteban set the tone for the series.

“We are showing that there never was one black experience, that even from the beginning there was a free black experience and a slave black experience,” said Gates.

The series, two years in the making, covers the 500 years from Garrido to Barack Obama, the nation’s first black president, in 2013.

It coincides with a year of intense debate over what it means to be black in America, sparked by historical and current events.

This year saw the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery.

But it also saw George Zimmerman acquitted of murder for the shooting of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, and a U.S. Supreme Court decision invalidating part of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.


Gates, who has produced previous series for PBS like “Finding Your Roots” and “Black in Latin America,” said the conversation on blacks in America is oversimplified, with people talking “about the black community as if it were a village.”

He said that the series aims to show the layers and differences among blacks in America and underline that “probably since the first slaves came in 1526, black people have been arguing with each other about how the hell to get out of here.”

Gates goes to Africa in the first episode to illustrate that the overwhelming majority of slaves shipped to the New World were captured and sold by African kingdoms, not Europeans.

He finds a village in Sierra Leone where people acknowledge that their ancestors made fortunes selling slaves.

Of the 11 million slaves who came from Africa to the New World, just 388,000 ended up in what is now the United States. Their descendants number 42 million today.

Throughout the series, he highlights the stories of some 70 blacks, like Priscilla, a 10-year-old slave who arrived orphaned from Africa to work in the rice plantations of South Carolina, and Harry Washington, a slave who worked in General George Washington’s stables but then fought with the British because he saw little hope of freedom in the founding fathers.

Later the series visits notable blacks like former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Ruby Bridges, who at age 6 attended an otherwise all-white elementary school in New Orleans in 1960. That event was commemorated in Norman Rockwell’s painting of a girl in a white dress walking with her marshal escorts.

Bridges spent a year in class alone with her teacher and did not know about the famous painting until she was in her late teens.

“Seeing that painting made me realize it was an event that changed the face of education across the country,” Bridges said.

(Editing by Piya Sinha-Roy and Xavier Briand)

FAA Panel Recommends Lifting Ban On Gadget Use During Flights

Gadgets On An Airplane

After receiving countless complaints, abuse towards flight attendants who are only doing their jobs, and standup bits, the FAA finally set about determining whether electronic gadgets actually are dangerous during a flight’s takeoff and landing. A 28-person advisory panel just concluded its study and, says the AP, will recommend that the FAA lift or at least loosen its restrictions.

The panel does not recommend the use of cellular networks like 3G and 4G LTE; you won’t be streaming Netflix while taking off, if the panel has its way. (Not that you probably could; the airplane’s speed means that you’ll be switching from tower to tower faster than your phone or tablet can reasonably hope to connect to each one in turn.) Instead, devices in “airplane mode,” meaning devices with all their radios (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular) turned off, would be just fine to use. So you can’t stream your favorite TV show, but if you’ve downloaded it and flipped your gadget to airplane mode, watch away.

Gadget manufacturers have been campaigning for years for a change in the FAA’s policy (which currently bans any electronic use when the plane is below 10,000 feet). Amazon, especially, is annoyed, as its Kindle ebook reader suffers a distinct weakness compared with physical books, given that you aren’t currently allowed to use a Kindle during part of your flight. Amazon has previously tested interference on its own by “testing an airplane packed full of Kindles,” as an Amazon representative told the AP. 

The advisory panel’s decision is likely to be implemented by the FAA; the FAA not only created the panel but also had a hand in selecting some of the members, so it would be surprising if the agency chose to ignore the panel’s conclusions. The AP says that the decision could be implemented as soon as early 2014.


Azerbaijani Election App Reveals Vote Rigging

Central Election Commission App

The top name is current President of Azerbaijan Ilham Aliyev. Right below his name is opposition candidate Jamil Hasanli. The upside-down “e” seen in the names above is a unique feature of the Azerbaijan alphabet.

Azerbaijan, a former Soviet republic on the Caspian Sea, does not really have an open political system. Although it is nominally a republic, following a coup in 1993 only one family has held the presidency. Heydar Aliyev ruled from 1993 until his death in 2003. His son, Ilham Aliyev, has ruled since 2003, and is expected to win a third presidential term in today’s election. In fact, he’s so expected to win that the Central Election Commission of Azerbaijan released an app for iOS and Android yesterday that, oops, accidentally had the election results preloaded.

Spotted by Meydan TV, an online alternative television station for Azerbaijan that’s based in Berlin, the app had incumbent Aliyev winning the election with 72.76 percent of the vote, while opposition candidate Jamil Hasanli only managed 7.4 percent. By contrast, even landslide presidential elections in the United States are rarely won with more than 60 percent of the popular vote, and a primary opposition party has never scored as low a total as 7.4. The tally has since been removed from the app. 

Even without a rigged app, all signs point to victory for Aliyev, through legitimate means or otherwise. Exit polls already suggest a Aliyev victory. We’ll have to wait for the full results to see just how closely the recorded results resemble the app’s predetermined results.



Ashton Kutcher, Jon Cryer highest paid actors on U.S. television

Cast member Ashton Kutcher poses at the premiere of ''Jobs'' in Los Angeles, California August 13, 2013. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

Cast member Ashton Kutcher poses at the premiere of ”Jobs” in Los Angeles, California August 13, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

NEW YORK | Tue Oct 15, 2013 5:50pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer, the stars of the CBS comedy “Two and a Half Men,” are the highest paid actors on U.S. television with estimated earnings topping $20 million each, Forbes magazine said on Tuesday.

Kutcher, the 35-year-old actor who replaced Charlie Sheen after his ouster from the hit TV show in 2011, topped the list for the second consecutive year with $24 million, but Cryer was not far behind with $21 million.

Their 19-year-old co-star on the show, Angus T. Jones, came in seventh place on the annual list that estimates earnings for the 12 months from June 2012-2013. Jones made about $11 million.

“TV’s highest-paid actor is laughing all the way to the bank since replacing Sheen on ‘Two and a Half Men’ after the troubled star’s 2011 flameout,” said Forbes, adding that Kutcher is also an investor in technology companies.

Comedian Ray Romano, whose show “Everybody Loves Raymond” ended eight years ago, placed third on the list with $16 million, most of which comes from syndication of the CBS comedy series.

Neil Patrick Harris of CBS comedy “How I Met Your Mother” debuted on the list, sharing the No. 4 spot with Mark Harmon of CBS crime drama “NCIS” at $15 million. Patrick Dempsey of ABC comedy “Grey’s Anatomy” rounded out the top five with income of $13 million.

Sheen, once the top male earner on TV who now appears in the FX network sitcom “Anger Management,” captured the No. 10 spot with earnings of $10 million.

Forbes compiled the list by talking to producers, agents, managers and other insiders to estimate earnings from entertainment-related sources before taxes and expenses.

The full list can be found at

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Eric Kelsey and Stacey Joyce)

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Paul McCartney plays surprise concert in N.Y.'s Times Square

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Singer Paul McCartney gestures as he plays a surprise mini-concert in New York's Times Square, October 10, 2013. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

Singer Paul McCartney gestures as he plays a surprise mini-concert in New York’s Times Square, October 10, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

NEW YORK | Sun Oct 13, 2013 12:51pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former Beatle Paul McCartney performed a surprise mini-concert in New York’s Times Square on Thursday to the delight of throngs of workers, tourists and fans.

McCartney, 71, and his band sang tracks from his upcoming album, “New,” which is due to be released in the United States on October 15.

“Wow! Really excited to be playing New York Times Square at 1 p.m. this afternoon!” McCartney tweeted about an hour before the packed mini-concert.

“Come on down to Times Square. It’s all going to be happening there!” he added.

Security guards at the site said the 15-minute, lunch-time concert was kept a secret until shortly before its start.

“I loved it. It is hard not to like this band. They have been playing together for so long; they just make perfect music every time they hit a stage,” Said Hamdan, 51, a teacher in New York who learned about the concert through Twitter, said.

Tawanna Flowers, a 25-year-old security guard working at the event, described the mini-concert as “awesome.”

“New,” which features 12 tracks including “New” and “Queenie Eye” is McCartney’s first album of new material in six years.

“A lot of the tracks are quite varied and not necessarily in a style you’d recognize as mine,” the singer and bassist said on his website. “But I didn’t want it to all sound the same. We had a lot of fun.”

On Wednesday, the singer did a special show and master class for 400 teenagers at the Frank Sinatra School of the Arts in the New York borough of Queens. The school was founded by singer Tony Bennett, who attended the performance.

McCartney and drummer Ringo Starr are the only surviving members of the British rock group the Beatles that also included guitarists John Lennon and George Harrison.

(Reporting by Patricia Reaney; Editing by Eric Kelsey and Cynthia Osterman)

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The New Chromebook Is Your New Supercheap Laptop

HP Chromebook 11

Chromebook is one of the most underrated members of Google’s hardware lineup (which also includes the Nexus line of tablets/smartphones and the Chromecast). The original pitch–a laptop that can only run the Chrome browser, no other programs at all–is not all that enticing, but in practice it’s an excellent low-cost laptop solution. And now Google has updated its best, cheapest model of Chromebook.

Chromebooks look like regular laptops, but run an operating system called Chrome OS. It is, confusingly, not related to Android, Google’s better-known operating system, at all; ChromeOS is basically a glorified web browser, along with a few niceties like a file browser and some settings that affect the hardware (turning on Wi-Fi, screen brightness, that kind of thing). But ChromeOS is surprisingly capable: there are “web apps” (like, super fancy web pages) that let you do pretty much everything you’d need to do on a low-end laptop. There are great Twitter apps, word processing apps, image editors, chat apps, note-taking apps, games, and all kinds of other stuff. I’ve used one for awhile, and found it a great portable machine, much more capable than a tablet.

The newest Chromebook is made by HP. It’s an 11-inch, magnesium-reinforced plastic laptop that’s available in black or white (with the four Google colors as optional accents). It has a fairly nice screen, at 1366 x 768 resolution, and Google claims it’s 50 percent brighter than “most laptops on the market,” which is hard to prove, but it certainly does look nice. The speakers are underneath the keys of the keyboard, which Google says will help sound from being muffled when the laptop is sitting on a surface (the Samsung Chromebook’s speakers are on its bottom). The internals are more like a tablet than a laptop; it uses a Samsung Exynos processor (very fast for a tablet, but low-power for a laptop), has 16GB of storage, and 2GB of memory.

HP Chromebook’s Colors

Yeah, it’s a laptop with only 16GB of storage space, so if you’re the type to haul around your entire, multi-hundred-GB music and movie collection at all times, maybe look elsewhere. But if you use Rdio, Spotify, Netflix, and/or Hulu? No need for storage. (Google is also giving 100GB of free cloud storage for two years with the purchase of the Chromebook, though that only works when you have a Wi-Fi connection. Oh, and unrelated, Google’s throwing in 12 free vouchers for in-flight Wi-Fi with GoGo.) 

One of my favorite additions is the charging port. Instead of a typical laptop charger, the Chromebook uses a microUSB port, just like your Android phone or Kindle. This is a great idea! Now you don’t have to bring an extra charger with you–or at least you can be fairly assured that wherever you’re going, you’ll be able to pick a charger up that’ll fit your laptop. That’s far from certain with most laptops, and even if you can find a new cord to charge your Lenovo or Apple or Acer, they’re often exceedingly expensive. (MicroUSB cables cost about five bucks.)

The Chromebook is available today for $279–ridiculously cheap for a laptop. See Google’s fancy purchase page here.