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March Madness Contest Guide, With a Little Coaching from Bracketologist Brad Wachtel

final four in houstonMarch Madness serves as the ultimate sports equalizer. The seemingly infinite number of outcomes, and the requisite unforeseen upsets, annually level the bracket playing field. Even the most uncoordinated and uninformed Tournament rookies can -- and frequently do -- conquer the cocky braggarts who spend months poring over trends and statistics. And with myriad options of tracking the tournament online -- from Hooters to ESPN -- anyone with a Web connection suddenly becomes a powerful March Madness maven.

But, ambitious participants with lofty hoop dreams should certainly rely on more than just blind luck. And no one, in terms of accuracy and enduring reliability, provides guidance like the preeminent bracketologist Brad Wachtel. Wachtel joined the Rutgers coaching staff this year, so "a conflict of interest" prevents him from providing his full, round-by-round bracketology breakdown. However, he was generous enough to bestow our readers with his remarkable insight, and -- most graciously -- his essential tips for filling out a competitive, successful bracket on some of the great Web options out there.

Take his advice, and take ours: we've rounded up the ten best free bracket sites, so once you've gotten your Wachtel-approved strategy, you can hit the courts. Digitally, of course.

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Online Romance Scam Suckers Bereft Man Out of $200,000

online romance scamA 48-year-old Illinois man recently learned, the hard way, that '419' scams involve more than just distressed bankers, contrite hitmen and forlorn princes. The unnamed victim reportedly discovered the agonizing truth when his online love interest -- of more than two years -- turned out to be a complete fabrication.

The heart- (and bank account-) breaking scam cost the man more than $200,000, but he did ignore a variety of sketchy signifiers. Perhaps the most glaring sign was that he'd never actually met the "woman." And, the jet-setting (although mysteriously destitute) girlfriend also requested that he wire his monetary gifts to exotic locations, including Nigeria, Malaysia, England and the United States.

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REM Debuts New Record on Spotify

Two years ago, collapse into now on spotifyREM unveiled its "Accelerate" album one week early online. Today, the band embarks on a similar strategy with its new record, "Collapse Into Now" by debuting on Spotify. The music-streaming service still isn't available in the U.S., so European listeners will have exclusive access to the early action before the album officially lands on March 7th.

Toyota 'Partner' Bots Show Off Their Violin and Trumpet Skills

Thanks to the engineering impresarios at Toyota, those unguided hordes of boogying robot dancers finally have mechanical musicians to move them. The company's updated 'Partner' 'bots recently demonstrated their automated violin and trumpet skills, both solo and with human accompaniment, at the Robot & Human Concert in Tokyo. Despite its impressive skills, the violin-'bot will still require years of dedicated training programming before its can rival this technological violin master.

'Legend of Zelda' Turns 25

Last year, the seminal 'Super Mario' commemorated its 25th birthday, and today, another Nintendo superstar is celebrating the same milestone. 'The Legend of Zelda,' and its gleaming gold cartridge, first arrived in Japanese stores 25 years ago today. While it may not be a grand gesture like Mario's avenue honor, 1up pulled together the very best in theme songs, ridiculous Hyrule merchandise and 25...

'Breakup Notifier' Facebook App Feeds the Obsession and Infatuation

breakup notifier
Programmer Dan Loewenherz has created a new app that could stimulate several Facebook groups, particularly lotharios, lovesick stalkers and appreciators of schadenfreude. According to Gawker, Loewenherz's 'Breakup Notifier' allows users to compile lists of their "taken" friends, so that "whenever those friends change their relationship statuses, the app will e-mail" the snooping stalker. Unfortunately, the app's release is a little too late for the Valentine's Day scavengers, but prime breakup season is right around the corner -- so get stalking, Spring Breakers.

Worldwide Graffiti Captured With 'Street Art View'

blu on street art view
Last Spring, the street artist Gaia began archiving his graffiti exploits with Google Maps. Now, courtesy of Red Bull and the Loducca advertising agency, Gaia has an illustrious -- and expanding -- crew of Google graffiti compatriots. Composed entirely of graffiti art, Red Bull's new Street Art View project aspires to become "the biggest art collection in the world" by incorporating various aspects of Google Street View and the Google Art Project.

The site, which allows users to pinpoint street pieces on a Google Map, catalogs individual artworks and their creators. Viewers can sort by chronology and views, or even by individual artists. Given the fleeting impermanence of graffiti art, the service provides an overdue method of collecting and appreciating an extremely undervalued art form. (Ahh, if only the Web had been around for the apex of Berlin's Mauerkunst movement.) Although some graffiti fans may relish the thrill of the hunt (for new pieces), a permanent exhibition that chronicles the daring exploits of sneaky, elusive masters like Banksy should prove to be invaluable.

Whiny Teacher Blogs About 'Whiny' Students, Gets Suspended

natlie munroe
A Pennsylvania teacher has proven that educators aren't so different (or more mature) than their supposedly petulant pupils. Thirty-year-old Natalie Munroe has reportedly been suspended with pay, and could possibly be terminated from Central Bucks East High School, because of repeated blog posts that labeled her students as "lazy whiners" and "disrespectful oafs." She also posted a "pithy joke," saying that a few harsh assessments, such as "simpering grade grubber with an unrealistically high perception of own ability level," should be standardized report card comments.

Munroe issued perhaps the most interesting statements outside of her blog, though. She apparently told the Bucks County Courier Times that upset students "have a problem within themselves," and that parents, students and school systems "take teachers who enter the education field full of life and hope and a desire to change the world and positively impact kids, and beat the life out of them and villainize [Umm, "vilify," maybe?] them and blame them for everything." So, she was excited about a job and then grew disillusioned? Wah. It seems like someone needs a lesson in hubris and hypocrisy.

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Hi-Tech, Auto-Focus Eyeglasses Appearing in Stores This Spring

emPower glasses
While much of the tech world's attention to eyewear has focused on creating non-dorky 3-D glasses, Dr. Ronald Blum has been developing an astounding -- and potentially revolutionary -- set of hi-tech specs. Now, after more than a decade of research and advancement, Dr. Blum's PixelOptics firm appears set to release emPower, "the world's first electronic focusing eyewear."

These loaded, enhanced bifocals house microchips, accelerometers and rechargeable batteries. The emPower's lenses feature liquid crystal displays that enable effortless perspective shifts, merely by touching the side of the frame. According to the New York Times, that simple touch triggers an electronic current that "changes the orientation of molecules in the crystals," which appropriately alters how the lenses refract light. The embedded accelerometers can even automatically activate the lenses' "reading power" based on certain movements, such as looking down at a book.

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Hacker Blackmails Nintendo With Personal Data From 4,000 Gamers

nintendo 3dsEarlier this month, an unnamed hacker reportedly infiltrated a Nintendo 3DS promotional site and uncovered the names, e-mail addresses and postal codes of 4,000 Nintendo members. The assailant then allegedly blackmailed Nintendo because he believed "the firm had shown negligence in not securing the information more effectively."

According to Naked Security, Nintendo alerted the Spanish Data Protection agency, but -- after the agency failed to respond -- the hacker apparently posted some of the information to an online gaming forum and threatened to divulge more. Well, the authorities certainly weren't negligent after that data exposure; Spanish police located and arrested the perpetrator in Malaga, Spain. Because of legal protocol, Nintendo and Spanish authorities have remained vague concerning the specific victims and where the personal information was posted.

So, just to be safe, gamers may want to reset the passwords for their Nintendo accounts, and any associated email addresses. Vigilantly monitoring that e-mail account for any suspicious activity or messages would also be a wise precautionary measure.

Motion Gaming May Lift Spirits, Restore Self-Worth for Senior Citizens

Scientists have already discovered a variety of health benefits that video games offer to elderly gamers, including heightened mental acuity and vision restoration. After performing a 10-week observational study, Dr. Patricia Kahlbaugh of Southern Connecticut State University now believes that motion control gaming alleviates other afflictions that commonly plague senior citizens, including... Read more »

Radiohead Eliminates Freebies With New 'Newspaper' Album

For their next record, the technologically driven members of Radiohead apparently want to pay homage to a noticeable victim of the Internet Age -- the newspaper. According to Wired, Radiohead has labeled its upcoming record 'The King of Limbs' as "the world's first newspaper album," and will fittingly release it in a variety of editions. You'll be able to purchase digital copies online (for a... Read more »

Let's Get Ready to Ruminate! Man Vs. Machine on 'Jeopardy' This Week

After almost two years of steady hype (including a fascinating recent preview on 'Nova'), the 'Jeopardy' battle between mankind and machine finally goes down this week. Beginning tonight, the three-day war for trivia supremacy pits Watson, the IBM supercomputer, against 'Jeopardy' heroes Ken Jennings and Brad Rutter. Watson actually vanquished the two humans in a recent practice round, so... Read more »

'Seed Drawings' Crowd-Source Project Evolves as Living Artwork

Writers and directors sometimes implore the public to submit brief, incremental elements in order to build a larger story or movie. Brooklyn artist Clement Valla recently embarked on a similar crowd-sourcing project, called 'Seed Drawings,' but her goal was to construct living, evolving artworks. Valla initially created artistic building blocks, and then asked the public -- via Amazon Mechanical... Read more »

Obama Reveals Wireless Internet Expansion Plan, Targets Rural Areas

Last June, the Obama administration outlined an auction plan that could help double the U.S. broadband spectrum. According to Reuters, the White House has finally revealed the specific financial details concerning that strategy. As part of the overall plan, Obama will propose an additional $5 billion investment to bring wireless Internet to rural areas of the country. But, the spectrum auction... Read more »
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