The Casio Secret Sender JD-6000 was the *original* messaging gadget

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Poor ’90s tweens! They never used Facebook Messenger. They couldn’t text people from their iPhones, they couldn’t add GIFs to their WhatsApp messages, and they were far too young for any Twitter DMs. 

Somehow, they survived. And a lucky few of them even had access to one of the most sophisticated pieces of messaging technology to come out of the mid-’90s: The Casio Secret Sender JD-6000.

This tiny purple toy, marketed to tween girls, is the messaging app’s true digital ancestor.

If you’re an Xennial like me, you might remember  Casio My Magic Diary, an “electronic organizer” that premiered in 1993. At the time of its release, the Magic Diary was the height of technology. It had software that could store phone numbers and addresses, report local times from across the world, function as a calculator, record friends’ birthdays, log diary entries, give users their horoscopes, and even allow them to “design” digital faces — ideally of their crushes <3 <3 <3.

Take a look at the original commercial, which I could only find in Spanish:

Here’s how the Washington Post described the gadget at the time: “Once girls even sent each other notes on scraps of paper, and were then sent off to the principal’s office for doing it. No more … Childhood has gone digital.”

We’ve seen ledes like this dozens, maybe hundreds, of times. But there was actual truth to it back in the early ’90s. This was long before Blackberry became so popular. A wicked cool teen girl who owned a Casio My Magic Diary probably had access to more sophisticated technology than her parents did.

Just one year later, Casio introduced the Casio Secret Sender JD-6000,  shaking up the whole electronic diary world. Using Infrared technology, Secret Sender gave users the opportunity to send each other text messages from across the room. The messages couldn’t travel farther than 25 feet and couldn’t be longer than four lines, each 16 characters long. 

Users could choose from either a pre-written message “Meet you at [ ]” one read, or they could compose an original message.

You could even turn the television on and off by using the same infrared technology. 

The Casio Secret Sender JD-6000 was the vanguard of the digital diary community. You could tell how advanced it was by its string of futuristic numbers (six thousand!) and the random letters in its brand name. Remember, this is the pre-Live Journal era. Kaybee Casio products were all my generation had.

“Kid communication has come a long way from two cans and a string,” New York Magazine wrote at the time.

The Sender and its subsequent iteration, the Super Magic Diary, also had its competitors, though they’re long since forgotten. There was Zender from Electronic Arts, which retailed for $47 and had a similar messaging function with an even wider range of 500 feet. Tiger Electronics had a product called Super Data Blasters, which had similar messaging technology and a uniquely horrific name (who but total nerds would think the term “Data Blasters” was cool?”).

Just look at the uh, relative sophistication of the Super Magic Diary ad: 

Now compare it to Super Data Blasters:

Even though Casio Secret Sender initially retailed for $119, it had what its competitors lacked: excellent branding. It had the word “secret” in the title! It had a modern (i.e., not entirely pink) palette, which catered well to the feminist-lite delia*s demographic.

And let’s be honest: The Casio Secret Sender never reached a saturation in which multiple people could text. That $119.95 went way beyond what most Xennial tweens held in their smiley-face coin purses. If you had one, you were lucky; if you met someone else who also did — and who wanted to text you back — you were the exception. This was pen pal culture taken to the max.

How many tweens at the time even had friends?

What made the Secret Sender powerful was its promise: an entire digital universe, contained privately in your sweaty, hormonal hands. When you’re a teen girl, privacy matters more than anything (I can’t tell you the number of times tween me shouted at my parents to “Leave me alone!” even though I was just … isolated in my room, eating Cheez-Its and watching Cheers reruns). Everything feels so exposed at that age: your gross, pubescent body, your secret crushes, your dumbest, most vulnerable feelings.

The idea that you could message anyone you wanted, whenever you wanted to, without anyone looking, was revolutionary. There was no paper trail. The Casio Secret Sender belonged to you and you alone.

Alas, the Sender slowly petered out, never quite getting the respect it deserved. Cell phones and PDAs picked up the credit for messaging technology. The poor JD-6000 was left to the dustbin of history and Reddit nostalgia pages.

Apparently, people wanted to text people from more than 25 feet away. Nerds.

We shouldn’t be surprised that Casio Secret Sender has been forgotten. Look at Snapchat. Technology created for teens never quite gets the credit it’s owed until it’s discovered and claimed by adults. Lil’ ol’ Secret Sender just couldn’t compete when it came to the older demographic.

But let’s all pay the Casio Secret Sender JD-6000 some respect for incorporating personal messaging technology before most of us knew what that was. 

Janky ’90s tween toys deserve so much more than what we’ve given them. 

 

 

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Throwbacks and thank yous on our 20th birthday

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On Google’s 20th birthday, Thursday is not just for throwbacks. It’s also for thank yous.

Google wouldn’t be what it is today if it weren’t for you: a curious crowd that comes to Search with all of life’s questions. Today’s birthday Doodle is dedicated to you, and the 20 years of searches that represent the inquisitiveness of people everywhere.

In today’s Doodle and hidden in Search for a limited time, you’ll be thrown back to (and flashed forward from) the days when “what is Y2K?” was your most burning tech question, Pluto was still a planet, and clip art was a critical part of visual communication.

Google Doodle Searches

The days when the music format du jour was the MP3 file and it was cutting-edge to watch a DVD. When you had to choose a screen name before hopping into a chat room.

All the kids had to have a digital pet, and girls were rocking the latest butterfly clip styles in their hair. Everyone was keepin’ it real and gettin’ jiggy wit it on the dance floor. And googol was just a really big number.

You can also peer back into the last two decades through the lens of trends by visiting 20years.withgoogle.com and seeing many of the people, pop culture and pizza (yes, pizza) that inspired your searches from 1998 to now.

We hope this jaunt down memory lane reminds you of your own magical moments when you found just what you were looking for with Google. For the next 20 years and beyond: Search on.

from Official Google Blog http://bit.ly/2xJyO02
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JBL’s L100 revives a true classic!

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Originally debuted in the 70s, the classic, cuboidal, candybar-patterned L100 is still considered one of JBL’s most popular speakers. For the time, it was quite different, and featured a highly tactile 3D foam front-face with a candybar texture in the company’s signature orange hue.

Now, 38 years later, JBL decided its most popular speaker needed a modern revamp. Keeping the exterior looking just the way you’d expect, the L100 Classic pays homage to the L100 visually, but is a completely advanced 3-way speaker on the inside. The speaker comes with an incredibly large 12-inch subwoofer driver and a 5.25 inch mid-frequency transducer. There’s even a 1-inch tweeter made out of titanium with soft-surround, giving the speaker a sound that is much more defined than the original L100. I sure know what to put on my wishlist this Christmas…

Designer: JBL

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jbl_l100_3

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jbl_l100_5

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This light sculpture plays like an instrument, escaped from Tron

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Espills is a “solid light dynamic sculpture,” made of laser beams, laser scanners, and robotic mirrors. And it makes a real-life effect that would make Tron proud.

The work, made public this month but part of ongoing research, is the creation of multidisciplinary Barcelona-based AV team Playmodes. And while large-scale laser projects are becoming more frequent in audiovisual performance and installation, this one is unique both in that it’s especially expressive and a heavily DIY project. So while dedicated vendors make sophisticated, expensive off-the-shelf solutions, the Playmodes crew went a bit more punk and designed and built many of their own components. That includes robotic mirrors, light drawing tools, synths, scenery, and even the laser modules. They hacked into existing DMX light fixtures, swapping mirrors for lamps. They constructed their own microcontroller solutions for controlling the laser diodes via Artnet and DMX.

And, oh yeah, they have their own visual programming framework, OceaNode, a kind of home-brewed solution for imagining banks of modulation as oscillators, a visual motion synth of sorts.

It’s in-progress, so this is not a Touch Designer rival so much as an interesting homebrew project, but you can toy around with the open source software. (Looks like you might need to do some work to get it to build on your OS of choice.)

https://github.com/playmodesStudio/ofxoceanode

Typically, too, visual teams work separately from music artists. But adding to the synesthesia you feel as a result, they coupled laser motion directly to sound, modding their own synth engine with Reaktor. (OceaNode sends control signal to Reaktor via the now-superior OSC implementation in the latter.)

They hacked that synth engine together from Santiago Vilanova’s PolyComb – a beautiful-sounding set of resonating tuned oscillators (didn’t know this one, now playing!):

https://www.native-instruments.com/es/reaktor-community/reaktor-user-library/entry/show/9717/

Oh yeah, and they made a VST plug-in to send OSC from Reaper, so they can automate OSC envelopes using the Reaper timeline.

OceaNode, visual programming software, also a DIY effort by the team.

… and the DIY OSC VST plug-in, to allow easy automation from a DAW (Reaper, in this case).

It’s really beautiful work. You have to notice that the artists making best use of laser tech – see also Robert Henke and Christopher Bauder here in Berlin – are writing some of their own code, in order to gain full control over how the laser behaves.

I think we’ll definitely want to follow this work as it evolves. And if you’re working in similar directions, let us know.

from Create Digital Music http://bit.ly/2IieQOh
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6 Life-Changing Productivity Tips So You Can Work Smarter, Not Harder

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Working harder doesn’t necessarily mean that you will experience better results at work or in life. However, working smarter will cause your productivity to skyrocket. We collected the six best productivity tips, strategies, shortcuts, tricks, and hacks that will enable you to achieve the best version of you that is possible.

TACKLE YOUR TOUGHEST TASKS FIRST
You march into the office in the morning you are (ideally) well-rested, fully fueled with a hearty breakfast, and maybe even did a pre-work workout. This is the best time to attack the biggest challenge of the day. You should tackle the toughest task while you’re bubbling over with energy, there are fewer distractions, and hopefully no disasters that need to be fixed.

It’s extremely easy to procrastinate and wait to do something you really don’t want to take on. But if you want to be more effective at your job then you should handle the toughest order of business first thing in the day. Once you complete your most difficult responsibility you’ll not only have a sense of achievement and satisfaction, but your remaining duties will seem like a piece of cake.

STAY ORGANIZED
Mess creates stress. If your work space or your computer is unorganized you are adding anxiety to your already burdensome day. Time wasted on you searching for a document on your desk or an important file you can’t find on your computer is lost time that you can’t get back. Organizing your files will equate to greater productivity.

Clear your desk of clutter and organize your work area at the end of every day. Don’t be a hoarder and make sure to discard unnecessary items. Develop a filing system for physical and digital items. Try to create a personal filing system that appeals to you so that you are more inclined to maintain the organizational method. Create folders that Keep folders for “urgent” documents as well as one for priority files that you use daily or regularly. Name the folders with names that you’ll remember and not lose track of.

STOP MULTITASKING
You were supposed to submit a proposal, respond to an important client’s email, and complete your TPS reports yesterday. Now you’re feverishly jumping from task to task in an effort to complete them all. Don’t do that. Multitasking is detrimental to your productivity.

While you might believe that you’re getting more done by multitasking, in actuality you’re losing focus on one task. Your concentration suffers when you’re going back and forth between projects. While you may feel like you’re being more efficient splitting time working on multiple responsibilities, you’re slashing your productivity.

ELIMINATE DISTRACTIONS
With the internet temptingly beckoning you to look at everything BUT your work, staying focused on your job can feel downright impossible at times. Not to mention that you have a second mini distraction device on you at all times with your smartphone. You’ll be firing on all cylinders with work and then your phone will *ding* with a text message and completely derail your laser focus on work.

Perhaps, you may need to self-block websites on your work computer that may cause you to stray away from your work. Another productivity hack is to disable notifications on your smartphone. And if you find yourself regularly taking peeks at your phone to see if anyone liked your latest Instagram photo, maybe it’s best that you turn off your smartphone during work hours.

TAKE BREAKS
Do you get into ruts some days at the office? Those times when no amount of coffee will spark your brain? There’s a chance that you didn’t give your brain enough time off. Working more doesn’t necessarily mean you’re getting more work done. If you’re staring blankly at your screen while the gears in your head grind to a halt then you’re not helping yourself or your employer.

Work fatigues your brain and breaks, even for 5-10 minutes, can rejuvenate your mind and bring you back to life. Not to mention the health benefits of taking a walk during your break and avoiding sitting the entire workday.

The Draugiem Group, a social networking company, found that workers who put in more hours did not have the most productivity. The company conducted an experiment that found the most productive workers took 17-minute breaks for every 52 minutes of work. You might not be able to step away for 17 minutes nearly every single hour, but every couple of hours it is healthy to walk away from your work area.

WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING
You may think your brain is a steel trap that captures every brilliant idea that you devise, but you’re only human. We are bombarded daily with so much pertinent and unnecessary information. Like a computer, our short-term memory can get overwhelmed. This is why you need to record ideas, thoughts, and reminders.

Taking notes not only keeps a record of your thoughts, but it also reinforces what’s important to you. Plus, you won’t be distracted that you need to remember an extra piece of information. Writing things down allows you to prioritize goals and maximize your time thus making you more productive.

Every meeting, commitment, and deadline should be written down in a checklist, calendar or whatever is most appealing to you. Whether you write it down in a notepad or you store it electronically in a file on your computer or an app on your smartphone, document everything. Then when you do complete something on your to-do list you can check it off and you’ll have an immediate feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction.

This is a sponsored post for Dropbox. All opinions are my own.

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Scientists Made An Amazing Discovery After Giving Octopuses MDMA In A Study That Needed More Glow Sticks

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octopus mdma study

Pixabay

I was in college during the Golden Age of EDM, a time when you couldn’t put together a party playlist unless it contained a steady stream of songs by the likes of Skrillex, Diplo, and the gone-too-soon Avicii.

Wow. Just typing that sentence was a blast from the past.

If you happened to go to any shows or festivals back in the day, there was a very good chance you’d encounter at least a few people who were more entranced with their glow sticks than any normal person should be thanks to the blast of serotonin that comes with doing MDMA.

Even if you’ve never rolled on Molly, you’re probably well aware of its effects, which usually involve people getting a little too handsy while unconsciously grinding their teeth.

I’ve come across a number of weird scientific studies in my day but I’m not sure if I’ve come across one I’ve enjoyed more than a recently published article concerning what happens when you give an octopus ecstasy in the name of research.

A group of scientists turned to the drug to see if it would have any impact on California two-spot octopuses, which are apparently some of the most antisocial creatures in the sea.

To conduct the experiment, the researchers pumped the drug into a tank and observed how the water animal would react.

It turns out MDMA has a similar impact on the octopus as it does on people, as the creatures became far more sociable when introduced to other members of their species.

In recent years, a number of studies have examined the psychological benefits of illicit drugs and have found ketamine and magic mushrooms can also have a major impact when it comes to treating things like anxiety and depression.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little jealous of these subjects.

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Lie Detector Tests Are Mind Games. Here’s How to Beat Them

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How To Beat A Lie Detector Test

iStockphotoAnyone who has ever been a suspect in a serious crime understands that part of the police interrogation process always seems to gravitate toward a polygraph test at some point. This is where the impending doom sets in. It doesn’t matter if a person-of-interest is guilty or not, the idea of submitting to something more commonly referred to as a lie detector can spark a remarkable level of anxiety and fear, convincing even the purest specimen of humankind that, once those needles start dancing around, they will be exposed for one or more despicable truths for which there is no salvation.Politician Sam Erwin, who was part of the Watergate investigation that eventually brought down Nixon, said once that, “polygraph tests are 20th century witchcraft.” At the same time, CIA officials have revered the test as “the single most effective tool available to ferret out spies.”But does it actually tell when someone is lying?The polygraph, which was invented in Berkeley, California in 1921, has been proven ineffective countless times – the reason the results are inadmissible in a court of law. Still, whether the machine, which works by measuring heart rate, breathing and electrodermal activity, can truly determine whether a person is feeding a line of bullshit has been the subject of much controversy since the machine was created nearly 100 years ago.In fact, scientific reviews of the polygraph have consistently shown that “there is no lie detectors, neither man nor machine.” A 2015 study published in the Crime Psychology Review found that “when individuals actively attempt to detect deception, their accuracy levels are barely above chance.”iStockphoto

This is an interesting revelation considering that law enforcement at the state and federal level continue to strap this machine to people in hopes of identifying or discounting suspects.

So, if the machine is useless, why is it still being used?

It turns out that the reason police and national security agents continue to employ the polygraph is because it is a solid “misdirect” and can useful in cracking a suspect when used by master interrogators.

The polygraph is still considered a successful shakedown tool because it creates a psychological placebo effect, according to a recent article from Popular Science. It sort of mind fucks a guilty person into making the kind of mistakes that police can use to further their case.

But in no way is reading someone’s cardiovascular or respiratory response the same as tapping into their mind. Not even close. Still, this doesn’t mean that the polygraph doesn’t work, says John Synnott, an expert in investigative and forensic psychology at the University of Huddersfield.

“When people say the polygraph doesn’t work, I’d call [them] on that,” he said. “The polygraph always works, because all the polygraph does is measure physiological output.”

Yet,  on the flipside, this does not mean a polygraph can detect lies, he added.

After all these years, the scientific community still has not embraced the polygraph. Because sometimes the test can be cheated.

It has been shown that serial killers, like Gary Ridgeway and Ted Bundy, have been able to foil the polygraph because their anxiety levels are lower than someone with a conscience. Psychopaths do not feel empathy or experience other emotions in the same way as most people, so connecting them to one of these machines can turn out mixed results.

Some argue that polygraphs have no scientific basis because they were created by law enforcement, not scientists.

“It’s dangerous and irresponsible to place any reliance on polygraph outcomes,” George Maschke, a former US Army intelligence officer and co-founder of AntiPolygraph.org, told the BBC. “Polygraphy has not advanced in the way a scientific field would, and that is because it’s not a science, it’s an interrogation technique. It can be useful in getting confessions, but it is not reliable in and of itself.”

Nation Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Russell Tice, who was responsible for exposing the U.S government’s warrantless wiretaps on American citizens following 9/11, says beating a polygraph is easy.

All a person has to do, he says, is bite down on their tongue hard when answering the pretest questions. The tester will gauge what a lie looks like for a particular person by asking them things like, “Have you ever stolen money?” or “Have you ever cheated on a test?” Biting the tongue while telling a lie will set off myriad physiological reactions that will help skew the test. Then when the tester comes at the suspect with the real questions, Tice says they should just sink in to calm thoughts, like “drinking a beer” on a summer night. Although the needle will react when they lie, it will not be significant because of how the pre-test questions were answered.


Mike Adams is a freelance writer for High Times, Cannabis Now, and Forbes. You can follow him on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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How to make char siu like the Chinese barbecue masters

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Photo: ina_xy (iStock)

My Cantonese in-laws were in town last weekend to spoil our toddler and make us tasty Chinese food. The talk turned to the latest restaurant dish they’re attempting to faithfully replicate at home: Hong Kong-style char siu, the sweet-and-salty staple of barbecue shops known colloquially as “barbecued pork.”

If you’re lucky enough to live near a Chinatown, I’m sure you’ve seen it. Through the windows of Chinese barbecue shops, golden and crimson slabs of meat and whole duck, lacquered in a shiny sticky glaze, hang from hooks that tempt passersby. There’s char siu, whole roasted ducks, soy sauce chicken, five-spiced roast pork with the crunchiest skin imaginable. The food served at these take-out meat counters are known as siu mei 燒味, and they’re served over rice, noodles, or wonton soup as the go-to lunch of choice for the Cantonese.

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Naively, I never knew char siu was such a huge thing to Chinese food culture—probably because of my own relative meh-ness about it. At many stateside Chinese barbecue shops, I’ve found char siu to be too dry, too leathery and lean, boring to be honest, with a suspiciously pink hue. In truth, left to my own devices, I’d skip it. But as my husband and in-laws keep telling me, it’s because I’ve never truly experienced a superlative version. After hearing my father-in-law describe his recipe, I offered to try it myself.

Photo: sfe-co2 (Getty Images)

Fair warning: This recipe is not intended to be a casual, quick-dinner option assembled from what’s available in your pantry. This is real deal char siu, using obscure Chinese ingredients that you’ll buy once and may possibly use only once, from grocers where the shop owner may not understand you (fret not, we’ll run the Chinese name of ingredients alongside). But it is a faithful recipe, exactly as siu mei masters in Hong Kong would employ at their roasteries.

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As intimidating as the ingredient list may seem, there’s really only four ingredients that require a special trip to your Chinatown grocer:

1) Jarred fermented brown bean sauce, not to be confused with a number of other bean sauces in the Chinese cooking canon. What’s more confusing is it’s typically marked on bottles as simply “bean sauce.” The only assurance you’re getting the right kind is if it’s marked 原晒豉. Koon Chun is the most popular brand, and available at most Chinese grocers.

2) Red fermented bean curd cubes (南乳) are often used in long braised dishes, such as pork belly and spareribs. They’re tangy, salty, and extremely pungent—think marinated Chinese Roquefort. Elsewhere in China, notably Shanghai, these cubes are consumed on their own as pungent funky snacks. If you can’t find the jarred cubes, you may substitute fermented bean curd paste.

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3) Rose cooking wine (玫瑰露酒) is distilled from sorghum and infused with the flavor of rose. A decent bottle will run around $25—and you can treat this spirit as you would vodka. It’s soft, heady, almost jasmine-like. Its flavor is a whisper in the final dish, but its inclusion is a nod to its significance in Chinese barbecue culture.

4) Maltose is a very thick sugar that’s the reason Peking duck looks super shiny. You can substitute honey, but it’ll add a slight floral note to the more neutrally flavored maltose.

All the jarred items should be refrigerated after opening, and will keep practically forever in your fridge.

Photo: Kevin Pang

In order to achieve the red tint in the char siu, the natural and authentic way is to soak sappan (East Indian red wood) chips in water to release their crimson dye, which you then incorporate into your marinade. Sappan is available at well-stocked Chinese herbalist shop. Or… you could use red food coloring, like I did. Why red? Chinese people equate red with good fortune, my in-laws told me.

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While my in-laws would have preferred I construct some hanging metal skewer mechanism in my oven so the vertical pork shoulder chunks baste themselves with maltose glaze (“char siu” literally translates to skewer-roast), our oven—and likely yours, unless you’re filthy rich—doesn’t have the capacity for vertical roasting. So instead, our compromise is a baking rack to elevate the pork—even though it will leave indentations on the bottom of the pork which no self-respecting barbecue shop would tolerate. I, however, did not mind them.

Char siu has many delicious applications. Hack it into Wrigley gum pack-sized hunks and enjoy as is. Eat it with white rice with accompanying ginger-scallion sauce. Throw it atop noodles. Stir fry with rice, scallions, eggs, and quick-cooking vegetables to make Cantonese fried rice. Serve warm or cold, with hot mustard or hoisin. It’s all good.


Photo: Kevin Pang

Char Siu (Cantonese barbecue pork)

  • 2 lbs. boneless pork shoulder on the fattier side, cut to 3-4 inch chunks
  • 1 Tbsp. ginger juice (squeeze diced ginger in a garlic press, or chop finely and press with back of spoon to release juices)
  • 2 Tbsp. hoisin sauce
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. bean sauce (look for Koon Chun brand) 原晒豉
  • 1 cube or 1 Tbsp. fermented red bean curd 南乳
  • 2 Tbsp. sesame paste or tahini
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. rose cooking wine (Mei Kuei Lu Chien 玫瑰露酒)
  • 1 Tbsp. light soy sauce
  • A few drops red food coloring
  • 2 Tbsp. maltose or honey, loosened with hot water, for brushing over the pork

In a large bowl, mix all marinade ingredients together, breaking up fermented bean curd cube, and stir to a smooth consistency. Mix red food coloring with a little water to make a bright red tint. Stir into marinade. Take the pork chunks and poke all over with a fork so marinade can soak in. Add pork and all marinade into a zip top bag, massage thoroughly, and let marinate in the fridge overnight.

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When ready to cook the pork, heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, and place pork on a rimmed baking sheet on an elevated rack. Bake for 20 minutes, flip pieces over and glaze with the maltose or honey and bake for an additional five minutes. Flip pieces again, glaze the other side with maltose or honey and again bake for five minutes. If the pork pieces do not look glossy and golden brown, turn the broiler on and broil briefly.

Remove pork pieces to a cutting board, and brush with any juices and glaze that has accumulated on the bottom of the pan, avoiding any burned bits. When cool enough to touch, slice pork pieces into 1/4-inch thick slices.

Photo: Kevin Pang

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Scientists have moved one step closer to RNA editing, which could be the next stage of CRISPR

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Researchers at the prestigious Salk Institute are reporting that they have managed to map the molecular structure of a CRISPR enzyme that could allow scientists to more precisely manipulate functions within cells.

Over the past several years, CRISPR-Cas9 has seized the public imagination for its ability to edit genetic code in a way that may correct defects inside individual cells — potentially healing mutations and preventing the advent of many illnesses.

Specifically, Cas9 enzymes act sort of like scissors, snipping away pieces of genetic code and swapping them out with a replacement. But these enzymes target DNA, which is the fundamental building block for the development of an organism, and there are growing concerns that using the enzyme to essentially reprogram the DNA of a cell may cause more harm than good.

As this report in Scientific American illustrates:

Research published on Monday suggests that’s only the tip of a Titanic-sized iceberg: CRISPR-Cas9 can cause significantly greater genetic havoc than experts thought, the study concludes, perhaps enough to threaten the health of patients who would one day receive CRISPR-based therapy.

The results come hard on the heels of two studies that identified a related issue: Some CRISPR’d cells might be missing a key anti-cancer mechanism and therefore be able to initiate tumors.

CRISPR-CAS9 gene editing complex from Streptococcus pyogenes. The Cas9 nuclease protein uses a guide RNA sequence to cut DNA at a complementary site. Cas9 protein: white surface model. DNA fragments: blue ladder cartoon. RNA: red ladder cartoon. Photo courtesy Getty Images

The new findings from the Salk Institute, published in the journal Cell, provide the detailed molecular structure of CRISPR-Cas13d, an enzyme that can target RNA instead of DNA.

Once thought to just be the delivery mechanism for instructions encoded in DNA for cell operations, RNA is now known to carry out biochemical reactions like enzymes, and serve their own regulatory functions in cells. By identifying an enzyme that can target the mechanisms by which cells operate, rather than the overall plan for cellular function, scientists should be able to come up with even more highly refined treatments with fewer risks.

Put more simply, having editing tools can allow scientists to modify a gene’s activity without making permanent — and potentially dangerous — changes to the gene itself seems like a good option to explore.

“DNA is constant, but what’s always changing are the RNA messages that are copied from the DNA,” says Salk Research Associate Silvana Konermann, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Hanna Gray Fellow and one of the study’s first authors, in a statement. “Being able to modulate those messages by directly controlling the RNA has important implications for influencing a cell’s fate.”

Researchers at Salk first identified the family of enzymes they’re calling CRISPR-Cas13d earlier this year and suggested that this alternate system could recognize and cut RNA. Their first work was around dementia treatment, and the team showed that the tool could be used to correct protein imbalances in cells of dementia patients.

“In our previous paper, we discovered a new CRISPR family that can be used to engineer RNA directly inside of human cells,” said Helmsley-Salk Fellow Patrick Hsu, who is the other corresponding author of the new work. “Now that we’ve been able to visualize the structure of Cas13d, we can see in more detail how the enzyme is guided to the RNA and how it is able to cut the RNA. These insights are allowing us to improve the system and make the process more effective, paving the way for new strategies to treat RNA-based diseases.”

The paper’s other authors were Nicholas J. Brideau and Peter Lotfy of Salk; Xuebing Wu of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research; and Scott J. Novick, Timothy Strutzenberg and Patrick R. Griffin of The Scripps Research Institute, according to a statement.

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5 Pieces of Gear that an Aspiring Portrait Photographer Needs (And Why)

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Making people come to life in images can be tricky, but portrait photographers know how to get the best out of their models.

No matter how good we are with people though, we can all benefit from the help of accessories in our line of work. If you are an aspiring portrait photographer, your charm and whit will serve you well, but being prepared from an equipment standpoint will do you well too. You don’t need to break the bank to be ready, but there are some key items that will help make you a successful portrait photographer.

Portrait photographers can benefit so much by having quality accessories at their disposal. Everything from flashes to light modifiers, and bags to tripods can all make a difference when it comes to nailing the shot every single time. If you are an aspiring portrait photographer, check out the items listed below as they will all help you on your way to becoming the portrait photographer you know you can be.

50mm F1.8 Lens (For Any Camera System)

 

There is one lens that is absolutely loved by portrait photographers, and that is the 50mm f1.8. It doesn’t matter what brand of camera you shoot with, in terms of best bang for your buck, the nifty fifty reigns supreme. The 50mm f1.8 is usually very cheap, it has a small footprint which makes it lightweight and easy to use, and images are sharp from corner to corner.

In our review of the Canon 50mm f1.8 we said:

“Of all the cheap 50mm lenses made, Canon’s nifty 50 has always reigned supreme as the niftiest thanks to both image quality and affordability.” 

In our review of the Nikon 50mm f1.8 G we said:

“This lens is for the elder states man photographer or the newbies. It can tackle pretty much every situation on any Nikon digital camera, especially the newer cameras”

In our review of the Sony 50mm f1.8 we said:

“Generally speaking in terms of nifty 50 lenses, you can’t really get much better here. Sony’s 50mm f1.8 is right up there with the Canon 50mm f1.8 in terms of image quality. It’s got great color output, is very sharp, very little chromatic aberration (and even then you’ve really got to look for it) and bokeh that isn’t bad overall.”

The 50mm focal range is perfect for portrait work, and the maximum aperture of f1.8 means that not only can you shoot in low light situations, but it will also produce nice separation between your subject and the background. While the bokeh might not be the absolute best, the effects from these lenses are not to be sneezed at. The 50mm is a must have for portrait photographers.

Buy now Canon ($115.77): Amazon,

Buy now Nikon ($196.95): Amazon,

Buy now Sony ($248)Amazon,

Buy now, Pentax ($169.99): Amazon

Pro Tip: Be sure to leave 15-20 feet of open space behind your subject to achieve beautiful bokeh. Subject separation is key to really making your model the center of attention.

 

Yongnuo 560 III Radio Flash

 

 

If you really want to up your portrait game, and set yourself apart from other portrait photographers you need to add a speed light to your arsenal of gear, and the Yongnuo 560 III is one of the best places to start. Adding flash into your work can open up so many doors when it comes to portrait photography. From filling shadows on your subject, to adding catch lights to their eyes, flash can turn otherwise flat images into works of art.

In our review we said:

“The Yongnuo 560 III should dispel a lot of myths. Not only is it affordable and well built, but it also is a killer deal overall. For significantly less than what all the big players offer, you’re getting a flash with radio transmission built in.”

The Yonguo is a fully manual flash, meaning you will need to set the power output and the flash range to match your focal length, but don’t let that put you off. While automatic flash systems such as E-TTL are great, being able to fully control and manipulate light will elevate your work. The Yonguo 560 is easy to use, offers great light output, has fantastic build quality, a large easy to read digital display is on the back, and it has a built in radio transmitter. If you want to use this flash off camera in a soft box just purchase the wireless flash controller to add a whole different level to your flash game. Flash and off camera flash are a game changer, and it really should be something that all portrait photographers consider.

Buy Now ($55.47): Amazon.

Wireless Flash Controller Buy Now ($38.00): Amazon

Pro Tip: Make sure that when shooting wide open at your lenses maximum aperture that your focus on the eye closest to the camera. Many new cameras have face detection and eye tracking, so use these features to your advantage.

 

Rogue Photographic Design FlashBender 2 XL

 

Adding flash into your game is one thing, but being able to control the light to do what you want it to do is another. Fortunately there are accessories on the market that will help you get the results you want and need. The Rogue Photographic Flashbender 2XL is an easy to use light modifier that simply attaches to your speed light with velcro. Light from your flash will be hard unless you can modify it in some way, and this is where soft boxes and accessories like the Flashbender come in to play.

In our review we said:

“The XL Pro Soft Silver can deliver lots of soft light right where you need it while also maintaining some sort of specularity due to its silver areas. It’s very effective and is now probably one of my favorite quick portrait light modifiers.”

By offering more surface area to bounce your light off of, the Flashbender will produce much softer light than if you just shot with a unmodified flash. The Flashbender 2XL is also bendable which means you have lots of control over where your light will fall on your subject. If you want a flash modifier, but don’t like the idea of carrying around soft boxes and light stands then the Rogue Photographic Flashbender is for you. It’s affordable, small, lightweight, it packs flat, and can ready to use in just a few seconds. This is another essential item for portrait photographers

Buy now ($59.95): Amazon

Pro Tip: A quick easy way to get your flash off camera is to use a flash L bracket. Use a flash L bracket for results that will surpass those where the flash is mounted to the cameras hot shoe.

 

Manfrotto BeFree Compact Tripod

 

 

Tripods don’t get a whole lot of love, I mean lets face it, they aren’t the most glamorous items that we can buy, but they can be an essential tool for portrait photographers. If you plan on shooting your portraits, or headshots in a studio setting, a tripod is a must have. When your subject is static and remains a constant distance from the camera you are free to mount the body to the tripod and move around the studio to help direct your model, you can then fire the camera with a remote shutter release.

In our review we said:

“There’s a whole lot of praise to be given to the Manfrotto BeFree Compact Travel Aluminum Alloy Tripod. It’s sturdy, well built, nice to the touch, lightweight for travel, and gives photographers a whole lot of what they need at a fair price.” 

The Manfrotto BeFree Compact is a light weight tripod that is suited for both the traveling photographer, and for portrait photographers who practice in studio. Manfrotto’s build quality is excellent, so there is no need to worry about how secure your gear will be. The BeFree compact can hold up to 8.8lbs of equipment, and it offers all the control that any photographer could wish for. For portrait photographers who don’t want to break the bank, but still want quality equipment, this is one tripod you cannot overlook.

Buy now ($142.93): Amazon

Pro Tip: Using a remote shutter release will allow you to get the sharpest images possible, especially when paired with a tripod.  This one is available for Canon, Fuji, and Nikon.

 

Tenba Cooper 13″ Slim Camera Bag

 

Getting all of your gear from point A to point B securely, and comfortably is a high priority for all photographers. There are so many bags on the market now that is can be hard to choose one that both looks good, and is secure and comfortable. The Tenba Cooper 13″ Slim Camera Bag might just be the perfect messenger style bag for portrait photographers.

In our review we said:

“When it comes to a messenger style camera bag designed for the working pro using mirrorless camera gear, this is the only camera bag that you’ll ever need.”

The Tenba Cooper is the perfect size for a DSLR body with a couple of lenses, or for a Mirrorless camera with a few lenses. No matter what camera format you use the Tenba Cooper will hold your gear securely, and you’ll look good doing it. Perhaps the biggest advantage of this bag is that it doesn’t scream “I’m a photographer” to passers by. The last thing we want to do is draw attention to ourselves when we are carrying valuable gear. The Tenba Cooper 13″ Slim camera bag is made from soft materials that are resistant to the elements, it’s incredibly comfortable, uses quiet velcro, and offers quick access to your gear. Perfect for when you need to do a quick lens change. The Tenba Cooper is definitely a great bag for portrait photographers and it deserves a closer look.

Buy now ($249.95): Amazon

Pro Tip: As portrait photographers we need to be behind the camera, and not in front of a computer. Speed up your processing time by using awesome presets as part of your Lightroom workflow. You’ll be able to provide images with a consistent look and feel to your clients.

 

When you started out as a portrait photographer what accessories did you use to help you? Let us know in the comment section below.

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