Internet secrecy, swirling supercells and more in this week’s Staff Picks

Staff Picks 06_15_2013 header

Andrew CoutsAndrew Couts: You may have nothing to hide – but you should

By this point, you are likely sick of hearing about the NSA spying scandal that has ripped through the U.S. over the past week. But, please, bear with it for just another moment. Despite its saturation in the news, few commentators have offered truly poignant insight into what it means to live in a state of surveillance. One of the people who have is computer-security researcher Moxie Marlinspike, who presents on his blog the most convincing argument for why “we should all have something to hide” – a direct refutation of the all-too-common anti-privacy argument, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

“If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations,” writes Marlinspike. “You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.”

Furthermore, he argues, the ability to have “100 percent effective” policing, greatly reduces the ability for people to act in ways that may be illegal, but maybe shouldn’t be, thus eliminating the ability of society to change and evolve over time without widespread consequences. Marlinspike’s ideas are something all Americans, no matter your opinion on Edward Snowden, would benefit from taking seriously.

Edward Snowden NSA

natt garunNatt Garun: Airbnb’s neighborhood guide features has me homesick

Last November, Airbnb released a neat little feature called Neighborhoods. It’s essentially a travel guide that breaks popular cities into hyperlocal neighborhoods and provide useful information like noise and traffic level, what the neighborhood is known for, tourist testimonials, and of course, Airbnb listings in that area. This week, Neighborhoods expanded into Asia and started off with my motherland – Bangkok. Born and raised in Thailand, I was pretty impressed with how authentic the information was to the history and current conditions of these neighborhoods. The photography is also visually stunning, and does an amazing job capturing the local scenes and lifestyle. With Bangkok as one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, I’m not surprised Airbnb decided to debut the feature here… but it does make me miss home. In case you’re wondering, I’m originally from the border between northwest Pathumwan and southwest Ratchathewi – and yes, I’ll give you extra travel tips if you’re nice.


amir iliafarAmir Iliaifar: Bringing new meeting to “Light ‘em up!”

I’ve said time and again that I’m a huge sucker for LED lights on cars. In my opinion, they just look so damn cool. Some of you might disagree (it’s OK , we all have opinions even if they’re wrong ones), but to me, there is something truly stunning and majestic every time I see an Audi A5 drive past with those vibrant, glowing LEDs staring back at me.

Of course, when it comes to harmonizing LED lighting and car design, Audi is still the top dog. But now it appears German rival Mercedes-Benz is looking to break some ground of its own.

As the video below demonstrates, Mercedes is now offering illuminated three-pointed star emblems as a dealer-installed option on the 2014 E-Class, 2012+ M-Class, and 2006+ CLS-Class, with more models said to be offered soon.

LEDs light up the outline of its iconic logo, and can be activated from the vehicle’s key fob. It’s important to point out, though – and it’s kind of a bummer to be honest – that the emblem doesn’t illuminate while the vehicle is in motion.

I imagine some of you out there may find it a bit silly, maybe even a little tacky, but mark my words this will become a growing automotive trend.

Now light ‘em up like the Fourth of July while the car is actually in motion, Mercedes!

caleb-denisonCaleb: Daft Punk gets luckier

I confess: I’ve never been a Daft Punk fan. I know. I feel so not cool right now. Until last Monday, I don’t think I’d ever knowingly listened to a Daft Punk cut. Then came “Get Lucky.”

Since its release last April, the buzz around the hit single has been inescapable. Everywhere I go – Facebook, Twitter, pretty much anywhere on the Internet – everyone’s talking about it. So, I finally caved and checked it out. My reaction? Ehhhhhh…yeah…sure. It’s pretty good. A little disco funk is great for the pop scene. But, what’s with all the hub-bub?

Then it happened. After just one listen, the song wedged itself in my brain. I heard it in my head non-stop for – I’m not exaggerating – nearly 36 hours straight. Total earworm. But, why? Sure, it’s catchy. But for me, it’s missing something. And the more I heard it, the more I realized it had gobs of untapped potential. Convinced I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, I turned to YouTube, and that’s when I discovered that everybody and their uncle’s hamster had already produced a cover.

Just as Gotye was outdone when musicians on YouTube put their special twist on “Somebody That I Used To Know” last year, so too is the case with Daft Punk’s latest. Below, is my favorite cover of “Get Lucky” by the duo KNOWER. In their version, the band lends a harmonic reimagining to the song while mixing live instruments in with electronics. Especially cool is Louis Cole’s use of the Novation Launchpad, a 64-button music controller that triggers sounds, loops and effects. Be sure to put on your headphones for this one.

jennifer-bergenJen Bergen: Time-lapse video of an otherworldly-looking supercell

Growing up in Colorado, tornadoes were something we encountered from time to time – and they scared the hell out of me, resulting in a rather irrational fear of temperamental weather that would last the rest of my life. I even tried to rid this fear by taking a yearlong weather and atmosphere course in college. Nope! It just scared the crap out of me even more. So, when I watched storm chaser Mike Olbinski’s amazing video of a supercell he caught in Booker, Texas, I was both terrified and amazed.

The less-than-two-minute-long video took Olbinski four years to capture. A rotating supercell like this is not an easy thing to come across. According to Olblinski’s Vimeo post, he’d been visiting the Central Plains since 2010, but it was on his fourth attempt that he found the supercell in the video below.

Although it might look like a tornado, this isn’t one – and a tornado wasn’t what Olbinski was after, anyway. Olbinski, who’s from Arizona, said they don’t get structures like this. Structures like what, you might ask? “Clouds that rotate and look like alien spacecraft hanging over Earth,” Olbinski wrote. If you look closely, you’ll notice in the beginning that the rain is coming down on the right and being sucked back into the rotation. “Amazing,” Olbinski said. Check out the video below.

Smart Home

Drinkworks and Keurig have created a pod-based cocktail machine

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Don't know what to do with all your old DVDs? Here's how to convert them to MP4

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Turn your desk into a command center with the best ultrawide monitors

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Movies & TV

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Google honors Veterans Day by highlighting military service stories

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Emerging Tech

Alibaba’s Singles’ Day sale smashes online shopping records

The annual online shopping frenzy that is Singles' Day this year raked in $30.8 billion, up from $25 billion last time around. The Alibaba-organized event generates more in sales than Black Friday and Cyber Monday combined.

Apple to boost its Amazon presence with listings for iPhones, iPads, and more

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If you've lost a software key, these handy tools can find it for you

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Will Chrome remain our favorite web browser with the arrival of newest version?

Choosing a web browser for surfing the web can be tough with all the great options available. Here we pit the latest versions of Chrome, Opera, Firefox, Edge, and Vivaldi against one another to find the best browsers for most users.

Zoom in on famous works through the Art Institute of Chicago’s new website

Art lovers, listen up. The Art Institute of Chicago has given its website a serious makeover with new features that let you get up close and personal with more than 50,000 artworks by famous (and not so famous) artists.

Over a million veterans now eligible for Comcast’s Internet Essentials program

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