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Deceptive sandwiches, employees and online girlfriends in this week’s Staff picks

Digital Trends Staff Picks

andrew coutsAndrew Couts: Remembering Aaron Swartz

One year ago, Google, Wikipedia, Reddit, thousands of other websites, and millions of Web users told Washington politicians exactly what we thought of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) with a mass online blackout. Our message was heard. SOPA was shelved. And the outcry was so strong, it has changed the way Washington addresses Internet-related legislation for the foreseeable future. It was, in other words, a true victory for the Internet and the companies and people who rely on it.

We owe this victory to Aaron Swartz, the Internet freedom pioneer and computer programmer who devoted his life to keeping the Web open, to keeping information free – a life that Swartz, himself, ended on January 11, exactly two years after he was arrested for downloading too many academic articles from JSTOR.

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As we reflect on the lessons we can learn from Swartz’s life and death, take a moment to watch this speech Swartz gave in May 2012. It not only provides a glimpse into the inner workings of the anti-SOPA movement, but allows you to see exactly why our connected world is worse off without Swartz to lead the way.

natt garunNatt Garun: Outsourcing means more time for lolcats

This is the smartest man in the world. Instead of doing his job (i.e. snoozing and watching for data breaches at Verizon), he pays a cut of his six-figure income to outsource the work to a few randos in China. News surfaced this week that the Los Angeles man delegated the work to his Far East minions while he spent the 9-to-5 grind watching cat videos, surfing Reddit, checking Facebook, and shopping on eBay. Before the scandal, he would repeatedly get great remarks on his annual review. Of course, until he was let go.

Why wasn’t I cool enough to pull this off? To be fair, I guess I can’t afford Amazon Mechanical Turk, nor get away with a robotic writing style, but I do paid to occasionally surf Facebook and play with apps. And the idea that there could be some lady in China pretending to do my job is a little creepy. Still, this takes outsourcing to a whole new, personal level and I can’t fault the guy for an oddly ingenious move.

Chinese computer

Jennifer BergenJen Bergen: The watch the world wants

From the Pebble to the Martian, watches were a popular niche category at CES 2013. One watch we’re sorry we didn’t get our hands on is the 0.8-millimeter thick CST-01 Watch, which the company, Central Standard Timing, claims is “the world’s thinnest.” Though it doesn’t connect to your phone or show you when you have a new DM on Twitter, the CST-01 is one attractive watch.

It’s safe to say that the CST-01 is the watch for the person who doesn’t want to look like they’re wearing a watch. Other than the E-Ink numbers, the CST-01 can pass as a piece of jewelry – there are no buttons or knobs to get in your way. And though it may look heavy, it actually only weighs 12 grams, or the equivalent of five pennies. The watch takes a mere 10 minutes to charge, then runs for a month.

Still a project on Kickstarter, the CST-01 has more than doubled its $200,000 goal. Currently, the watch has raised over $491,000 and delivery is slated for March. Though we think smart watches are awesome, sometimes it’s nice to go with a more minimalist option – especially when it’s going to be sitting on your wrist all day, every day.


molly-mchughMolly McHugh: Manti Te’o gets catfished (or did he?!)

Well my favorite thing ever happened this week! Turns out inspirational story subject Manti Te’o is a big fat liar – but let’s start at the beginning, shall we?

I’m at a football game watching my alma mater, University of Oregon, play Stanford. We’ve been absolutely unstoppable all season; as in, zero losses unstoppable. As in our starters had barely played a second half unstoppable. As in our true freshman quarterback was receiving Heisman buzz unstoppable. And then the unthinkable happened: We lost in overtime, largely due to missed field goals. Heartbreaking. No amount of drinks in the world would ease my pain. My beloved University of Oregon Ducks would not be going to the BCS Championship.

To add insult to injury, it was starting to look more and more like Notre Dame would be going. Anybody who follows college football knows how much of a joke this was; how undeserving that team was of this spot – and how soul crushingly boring as hell that game would be. And guess what: We were all right! Go ‘Bama. Not like you needed it.

Of course, at the center of Notre Dame’s “rise” to the championship game was Manti Te’o, the all-around good guy with a heart of gold whose grandma and girlfriend died on the same day. Wait, what’s that now? Girlfriend didn’t exist? Yes, it turns out, Manti Te’o was “catfished,” or duped into an online relationship with someone who doesn’t exist. Let’s be real, in all likelihood, he catfished himself… I’m sorry, you don’t know what year the “love of your life” graduated from college or what she majored in? Did you or did you not meet her at a game versus Stanford? How is there so much confusion over the timeline in which she died? Liar, liar, pants on fire.

I cannot wait for the Manti Te’o 30 for 30.

Teo Catfish

caleb denisonCaleb Denison: Lunch-sacked by Stephen Colbert: This sandwich goes to 11

Oh man, how I was looking forward to hopping on this Subway sandwich train. I have a notepad filled with all kinds of clever quips. Scamwhich? Had that. Clowning the New York Post? All over it. Five dollar footwronged? Ok, I didn’t think of that one. Touché, Stephen Colbert’s writing staff.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to catch you up: An Australian man was so upset to find that the foot-long Subway sandwich he had just purchased measured only 11 inches, he posted a picture of it on Facebook. Since the posting, the photo went viral, and a storm of controversy has surrounded Subway and its poor sandwich artists. The New York Post even jumped on board, making it the cover story on its January 13 edition. In the story, a pair of journalists show that 4 out of 7 Subway foot-longs measured in at 11.5-inches or less. Oh, the horror.

I was all set to tear the western world a new one when, lo and behold, it had already done it for me – and by one of my favorite satirists, no less. So rather than hypocritically read you the riot act, I give you: Stephen Colbert.

Les Shu: The Talented Mister Winslow

As a kid, I must have watched the “Police Academy” movies more times than I can count on my hand, but if you ask me to describe to you my favorite scenes, I’ll just respond with a blank stare. Perhaps it’s my getting old or that the movies just weren’t memorable, but one thing that nobody ever forgets is Sergeant Larvelle “Motor Mouth” Jones and his sound effects.

The man behind the character is actor and comedian Michael Winslow, who calls himself the “Man of 10,000 Sound Effects.” Using purely his voice, Winslow creates uncanny, realistic sounds that truly mimic the real thing. You don’t forget something like that.

Since his “Police Academy” days, Winslow seems to have moved away from the big screen, but you can find videos of him all over the Web, doing the thing he does best. (He’s also released an iPhone game app in which he supplies all the sound effects.) In this appearance on a Norwegian talk show, for example, he performs a rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” handling electric guitar, beatboxing, and Robert Plant-esque vocals.

But my favorite video of Winslow to this day is his “History of the Typewriter,” a 21-minute-long film in which he impersonates the typing sounds of various typewriters throughout history, beginning with a Barlock Mod.4 from 1895, to an Olympia Monika Deluxe from 1983. The video pans around Winslow in a studio, showing you how he manipulates his mouth to create the effects. For anyone who grew up writing on typewriters and loves the sounds they make, this is a fun nostalgic treat.

History of the typewriter recited by Michael Winslow from SansGil—Gil Cocker on Vimeo.

Editors' Recommendations

Optical illusions could help us build the next generation of AI
Artificial intelligence digital eye closeup.

You look at an image of a black circle on a grid of circular dots. It resembles a hole burned into a piece of white mesh material, although it’s actually a flat, stationary image on a screen or piece of paper. But your brain doesn’t comprehend it like that. Like some low-level hallucinatory experience, your mind trips out; perceiving the static image as the mouth of a black tunnel that’s moving towards you.

Responding to the verisimilitude of the effect, the body starts to unconsciously react: the eye’s pupils dilate to let more light in, just as they would adjust if you were about to be plunged into darkness to ensure the best possible vision.

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Meta wants to supercharge Wikipedia with an AI upgrade
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Wikipedia has a problem. And Meta, the not-too-long-ago rebranded Facebook, may just have the answer.

Let’s back up. Wikipedia is one of the largest-scale collaborative projects in human history, with more than 100,000 volunteer human editors contributing to the construction and maintenance of a mind-bogglingly large, multi-language encyclopedia consisting of millions of articles. Upward of 17,000 new articles are added to Wikipedia each month, while tweaks and modifications are continuously made to its existing corpus of articles. The most popular Wiki articles have been edited thousands of times, reflecting the very latest research, insights, and up-to-the-minute information.

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The next big thing in science is already in your pocket
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Supercomputers are an essential part of modern science. By crunching numbers and performing calculations that would take eons for us humans to complete by ourselves, they help us do things that would otherwise be impossible, like predicting hurricane flight paths, simulating nuclear disasters, or modeling how experimental drugs might effect human cells. But that computing power comes at a price -- literally. Supercomputer-dependent research is notoriously expensive. It's not uncommon for research institutions to pay upward of $1,000 for a single hour of supercomputer use, and sometimes more, depending on the hardware that's required.

But lately, rather than relying on big, expensive supercomputers, more and more scientists are turning to a different method for their number-crunching needs: distributed supercomputing. You've probably heard of this before. Instead of relying on a single, centralized computer to perform a given task, this crowdsourced style of computing draws computational power from a distributed network of volunteers, typically by running special software on home PCs or smartphones. Individually, these volunteer computers aren't particularly powerful, but if you string enough of them together, their collective power can easily eclipse that of any centralized supercomputer -- and often for a fraction of the cost.

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