Friday, December 28, 2012

The Ultimate List of Failed End of the World Predictions

 
As everyone now realizes, the end of the Long Count did not mean the end of the world. So, with some free time on my hand, I decided that it would be fun to compile an ultimate list of failed doomsday predictions just for the purpose of showing the fallibility of such prophets of doom which, to this point, have all been wrong.

Fortunately, someone else has already taken the trouble to do this. Go here for a link to what is, without doubt, the ultimate online list of failed Doomsdays, hundreds of predictions long. The best part: a lot of these predictions have references for them, going to show that they are for real.

Needless to say, by looking at past predictions, it is easy to see that no one knows when the end of the world will be coming as, so far, the prophets of doom are 0 for several hundred. So, with this glittering track record behind them, don't worry next time some loon appears on TV or late-night radio claiming, without a shred of physical evidence, that the end is near.

Enjoy and laugh!



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Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Day After 'Doomsday'



Today is December 22, 2012, the day after (for some) the world was going to end. Well, guess what, we're still here. If that weren't enough, everything seems normal, too. So, how could this have happened?

Short answer: the Maya didn't know jack squat.

First of all, the Maya believed that time was not linear but cyclical (wrong) and thus that the universe had been created and destroyed multiple times (wrong again). Two dead wrong ideas going for them, the Maya weren't done because, when it came to their belief in the world ending, the Maya believed that this did not happen at random, but at specific points in time, namely when their calendar cycle (which they created) ended and a new began.

Okay, let's think about it: the Maya got the whole notion of time wrong and then worried themselves sick into believing that the universe could end when the calendar, which they created, could end. Wonderful logic, indeed!

Now, already believing that the universe bent to the will of man (and his calendar), some ancient genius got the idea that, if the destructions of the world coincided with the running out of the 52-year calendar round, why not create a longer cycle to put off Doomsday? The number-loving Maya then got to work and developed the 5,125.25 year Long Count (which ran out yesterday) so that they wouldn't have to worry about the world ending in their lifetimes ever again.

Brilliant!

So, here's to hoping (in vain) than no one blew their life savings, killed that unspecial someone, or generally acted stupid in the belief that there would be no world and no consequences to answer to



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Friday, December 21, 2012

The End of the World is Today



For anyone living in a cave, today is December 21, 2012 and the end of the world for those who believe that the Maya Long Count running out signals the end of time itself and thus Doomsday. The problem here: the world isn't going to end, plain and simple.

In fact, it's truly hard to believe that anyone can actually believe this nonsense at all, especially if one knows a little about the Maya and their belief systems.

First of all, the Maya believed that time was not linear but cyclical (wrong) and that the universe had been created and destroyed multiple times (wrong again). So, two false beliefs under our belt, let's see where else the Maya had it all wrong. When it came to their belief in the world ending, the Maya believed that this was not random, but at specific points in time, namely when the calendar (and thus time) ran out.

Before the Maya, people in Mesoamerica had been using a system of two calendars: a 260 day ritual year for religious purposes and a 360 day solar year for everyday things (note how these great timekeepers just conveniently left out 5 days of the year that were inconvenient for their timekeeping system). How did they work? Simple: start the calendars at the same time on month 1, day 1 and run them side-by-side and, after 52 solar years (the 360-day variety) they would once again match dates at month 1, day 1. This was called the calendar round and when this ran out, it meant that the world was more likely to end as time literally ran out. Solution: worry, pray, and sacrifice human beings in the hope that the gods would be nice and decide not to destroy the world.

Well, the priests must have done a good job as we're all still here but having to go through this stressful time every 52 years must have sucked for the Maya. Solution: come up with longer spans of time and thus put off the end of the world, as if the universe could be influenced by a man-made calendar (pretty stupid, huh?).

Well, the number and pattern-loving Maya got to work and eventually came up with a 5,125.25 year cycle (along with other, shorter, perfectly interlocking cycles) called the Long Count, which runs out today. In the end, this is what they came up with:

1 day = 1 K'in
20 days = 20 K'ins = 1 Winal
360 days = 18 Winals = 1 Tun
7200 days = 20 Tuns = 1 K'atun
144,000 days = 20 K'atun = 1 B'ak'tun
1,872,000 days = 13 B'ak'tuns = 1 Great Cycle (completion of Long Count)

Obviously, with the 5,125.25 year Long Count complete, the Maya must have felt more than secure in the knowledge that they would never have to worry about the world coming to an end in their lifetimes ever again, as if the gods somehow had to obey the will of man now that a longer time cycle had been created. Pretty funny, isn't it?

Bottom line: the universe isn't going anywhere anytime soon.


Final thought: just for fun, if you know any true believers in the December 21 end of the world scenario, bet them a good chunk of change that the world won't end today. If you win, you just may actually get some money, if something happens, at least you won't have to worry about paying!





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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks Tonight, Watch Live Online!

Tonight, December 13/14, marks the peak of the Geminid meteor shower for 2012. While we would all have a Moonless night and clear skies in a perfect world, the world isn't perfect, which means that some of us will be clouded out for the night (though the Moon will be out of the way, though). Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, anyone with an Internet connection will be able to watch the Shower thanks to live video feeds being hosted by NASA and the NASA Marshall Center.
For anyone who's looking to have clear skies tonight, here are some viewing tips:

1. Plan to stay out a while, as it takes the human eye about 15 minutes to get optimal night vision capability. The bad news is that, even one bright flash of white light will wipe out night vision, requiring you to start the process all over again.

2. Grab a lawn chair or, even better, a lounge-type chair. Trying to lean back with a straight-back lawn chair can be a pain in the neck, literally! Eyes ready for dark and with something to sit/lay on, settle in for a night of hopeful meteor watching (or at the very least, stargazing), just try not to fall asleep and don't forget to dress warmly and bring the bug spray!

3. Don't forget to bring a coat as this is winter and, chances are, things will be pretty cool in most locations tonight.

Besides meteors, tonight can be a great time for binocular viewing, owing to your use of a chair. Under suburban (maybe) or rural skies (definitely), a pair of medium power (10x50) binoculars can yield some stunning wide-angle sights. For someone truly dedicated, why not try and keep a tally of how many meteors you see for every complete hour? For the record, the Leonids typically spawn around 20-30 meteors per hour on peak night.


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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

One Month Until 'Doomsday'

Today is November 21, 2012, which means that, in exactly one month, the Maya Long Count calendar will run out which, for many people, means only one thing: the end is nigh.

Well, maybe.

The brief fact of the matter is that nothing is going to happen on December 21. Why? Calendars are man-made creations and it is nothing short of asinine to assume that the natural world is going to bend to the will of man and his little time keeping device. Heck, Y2K (remember that?) had a higher probability of becoming reality than this whole 2012 Long Count thing does as there was at least a very (can't emphasize the 'very' enough) remote chance that computers could go crazy.

Yes, the world could end at any time and if something does happen on December 21 to end all life on Earth, it will just be a coincidence. After all, if the Maya were so good at seeing the future, why on Earth didn't they see the downfall of their own civilization and do something to avert it?

Anyway, for history buffs, the story of how the whole 2012 doomsday thing could have gotten its start as a combination of science and religion is quite interesting, so why not take take a look?


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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Watch the Leonid Meteor Shower Live Online Tonight!



Today, November 17, marks the peak of the Leonid meteor shower for 2012. While we would all have a Moonless night and clear skies in a perfect world, the world isn't perfect, which means that some of us will be clouded out for the night (though the Moon will be out of the way, though). Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, anyone with an Internet connection will be able to watch the Leonid meteor Shower thanks to live video feeds being hosted by NASA, space.com, and the Marshall Center.

For anyone who's looking to have clear skies tonight, here are some viewing tips:

1. Plan to stay out a while, as it takes the human eye about 15 minutes to get optimal night vision capability. The bad news is that, even one bright flash of white light will wipe out night vision, requiring you to start the process all over again.

2. Grab a lawn chair or, even better, a lounge-type chair. Trying to lean back with a straight-back lawn chair can be a pain in the neck, literally! Eyes ready for dark and with something to sit/lay on, settle in for a night of hopeful meteor watching (or at the very least, stargazing), just try not to fall asleep and don't forget to dress warmly and bring the bug spray!

3. Don't forget to bring a coat as this is winter and, chances are, things will be pretty cool in most locations tonight.

Besides meteors, tonight can be a great time for binocular viewing, owing to your use of a chair. Under suburban (maybe) or rural skies (definitely), a pair of medium power (10x50) binoculars can yield some stunning wide-angle sights. For someone truly dedicated, why not try and keep a tally of how many meteors you see for every complete hour? For the record, the Leonids typically spawn around 20-30 meteors per hour on peak night.


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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Complete List of Future Solar Eclipses Visible in the United States


Today is going to feature a total solar eclipse, but not for us in the United States. So, for the convenience of my fellow Americans, I decided to sift through long lists of future eclipses, weeding out all of those not viewable from American shores in order to make for a concise, relevant eclipse list for anyone living in the United States who does not wish to travel overseas to see this most spectacular of all celestial phenomenon running through the rest of the 21st century.

*October 23, 2014: partial eclipse visible in the Eastern North America
*August 21, 2017: total eclipse, path of totality is from Oregon to Georgia
*January 6, 2019: partial eclipse visible in Alaska
*October 14, 2023: annular eclipse in Western U.S., partial for rest of North America
*April 8, 2024: total eclipse, path of totality is from Mexico through Newfoundland
*January 14, 2029: partial eclipse for most of North America
*June 12, 2029: partial eclipse in Alaska
*November 14, 2031: partial eclipse for Southern United States
*March 30, 2033: total eclipse for Alaska, partial for rest of North America
*August 21, 2036: partial eclipse for Alaska
*January 5, 2038: partial for Eastern North America
*July 2, 2038: partial eclipse for North America
*June 21, 2039: annular eclipse for Alaska, partial for North America
*November 4, 2040: partial eclipse for North America
*August 23, 2044: total eclipse for Montana and N. Dakota, partial for rest of North America
*August 12, 2045: total eclipse for California through Florida, partial for rest of continent
*February 5, 2046: annular from Hawaii through Idaho, partial for Western U.S. *

*January 26, 2047: partial eclipse for Alaska
*June 11, 2048: annular for Oklahoma through Michigan, partial for N. America
*May 31, 2049: partial eclipse for Southeastern United States
*November 14, 2050: partial eclipse for Northeastern United States
*April 11, 2051: partial eclipse for Alaska
*March 30, 2052, total for Mexico through South Carolina, partial for rest of U.S.
*September 2, 2054: partial eclipse for most of North America
*January 27, 2055: partial eclipse for most of North America
*January 16, 2056: partial eclipse for Western United States
*July 1, 2057: annular for Alaska, partial for most of North America
*May 11, 2059: partial eclipse for North America
*April 20, 2061: partial for North America
*August 12, 2064: partial for North America
*February 5, 2065: partial for North America
*June 22, 2066: partial for North America
*June 11, 2067: partial for North America
*December 6, 2067: partial for North America
*November 24, 2068: partial for North America
*April 21, 2069: partial for North America
*April 11, 2070: partial for Alaska
*September 23, 2071: partial for North America
*February 7, 2073: partial for Alaska
*July 13, 2075: partial for North America
*July 1, 2076: partial for North America
*November 15, 2077: annular from Oregon through Texas, partial for rest of North America
*May 11, 2078: total for Mexico through Virginia, partial for rest of North America
*November 4, 2078: partial for North America
*May 1, 2079: total from Pennsylvania through Newfoundland, partial for Eastern U.S.
*September 13, 2080: partial for North America
*February 27, 2082: partial for North America
*February 16, 2083: partial for North America
*July 3, 2084: annular for Washington through Utah, partial for Western United States
*December 16, 2085: partial for North America
*May 2, 2087: partial for North America
*April 21, 2088: partial for North America
*April 10, 2089: partial for North America
*September 23, 2090: partial for North America
*February 7, 2092: partial for North America
*July 23, 2093: annular from Illinois through Newfoundland, partial for Eastern North America
*July 12, 2094: partial for North America
*December 7, 2094: partial for North America
*May 11, 2097: total for Alaska, partial for North America
*September 24, 2098: partial for North America
*March 21, 2099: partial for North America
*September 14, 2099: total from Montana through Virginia, partial for North America
*March 10, 2100: annular from California to North Dakota, partial for Western North America


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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Nikon's New D5200 is no D7000 Killer, Just Another Box of Gimmicks



Nikon has just announced its new D5200, which employs a 24Mp APS-C chip and inheerits a lot of features from the Nikon D7000 rather than the comparatively amateurish D5100 that it replaces. Unfortunately, as of this writing, pricing is TBA on the D5200. However, with the new D3200 selling for $600 and the old D7000 going for around $1100, I'd bewilling to bet that the D5200 will go fotr about $900, which begs a question: should I get a D5200 and skip the D7000?

Hardly.

First of all, 24Mp is a lot of resolution, far more than most people will ever need. Personally, I get great 8x11" prints with 3Mp. Want to hear something even funnier? Back in high school, we were using 1Mp cameras and printing full page pictures with them for the yearbook. Oh, guess what? They looked great. Simply put, megapixels are one of many gimmicks
designed to trick people into buying a camera based on a feature that they will never use.

Another problem here, small pixels, which smart people are not all that crazy about to begin with. It doesn't take a college degree to figure out that, if two camera sensors are the same size but with different pixel counts, the one with more pixels must also have smaller pixels, too. Technically speaking, this is known as pixel density. The problem: all sensors have background noise and small pixels capture less signal than big ones and are thus less capable of drowning out the noise. Result: cameras with small pixels produce noisier images than cameras with large pixels. Go here for a detailed explanation of pixel density and here for photographic tests that prove the same point. Simply put: if it is 24Mp, the D5200 probably won't be able to touch (let alone better) the high ISO performance of Nikon's current, 16Mp D7000. Bottom line: all's equal here.

Another headline feature of the D5200: a 39-point AF system. While this is a huge upgrade from the D5100, this is exactly the same AF system that is on the D7000. Once again: both are equal.

As for what the D7000 offers that the D5200 doesn't, here's a list:

Weather sealed magnesium alloy body
100% viewfinder coverage
Dual memory card slots (SD)
Built-in intervalometer (fancy word for programmable remote)
Full compatibility with mechanical drive Nikkor lenses
Lots of direct-access control buttons

As for what the D5200 can do that the D7000 can't, here we go. First of all, the D5200 has wi-fi capability. So what? Wi-fi has absolutely nothing to to with making pictures. Instead, it serves as a great conversation piece for technophiles who now have the ability to say "look what my camera can do" to their Facebook "friends" (who they can now share pictures with in high-resolution an instant after snapping them thanks to this wonderful technological innovation) because they are too absorbed in virtual reality to develop meaningful friendships with people in real life. Great, another reason for Nikon to charge us more money for a camera. Another feature Nikon is raving about: GPS, how stupid, why on Earth does a real photographer need to have their exact global positioning in their EXIF data? Another great innovation: an articulating LCD screen, woo-hoo!

Yes, the D7000 doesn't have 24Mp, wi-fi, GPS, or a flapping LCD screen, but it can do a lot of things that the D5200 almost certainly won't be able to do when, in contrast, the D5200 only clearly beats the D7000 on the non-photographic front. Personally, I'd buy the D7000 just for its ability to use the old, cheaper, virtually indestructible mechanical drive Nikkor lenses and for all of those direct access control buttons. Heck, if you want a lot of camera but can't afford anything over $1000, you'd be better off snagging a used D200 (or even D300 by now if you're lucky), provided you're a photographer and not a techno geek.


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Sunday, November 4, 2012

Standard Time Returns and Time Change Trivia

Love it or hate it, we've just had to fall back and return to Standard Time. So, rather than complain, have fun with the time change and baffle your friends with these interesting DST trivia facts. Enjoy!


*Many ancient civilizations divided their days into 24 hours just like us, but adjusted the 'hours’ lengths so that there would always be 12 hours of day and 12 of night (this had to make setting up a date really suck).

*While he did not propose DST, Benjamin Franklin, while serving as envoy to France, anonymously published a letter suggesting people rise early (and thus go to bed earlier) to economize on candles and make use of natural sunlight. so no, don't blame Ben Franklin for our having to change the clocks (and you being an hour early for church this morning!)

* The catalyst for starting DST: saving energy during World War I, after which it was dropped until, you guessed it, WWII. Funny how wars spur things to get done.

*While we shift by an hour today, twenty and thirty minute shifts, and also two hour shifts, have been used in the past anda re currently used in different places over the world.

* The Uniform Time Act of 1966 standardized DST start/stop dates for the United States even though it doesn't require states to observe DST (Ariziona and Hawaii don't).

*Even now, start/end dates aren’t standard around the world

*Switch dates are reversed in the Southern Hemisphere

*In some areas, voters have rejected use of DST altogether while in other areas, there are pushes to eliminate Standard Time and have DST all year long (thus making DST the new Standard Time).

*'Standard' Time only lasts 3 months of the year (hardly standard if you ask, me, how about calling it Daylight Losing Time?)



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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Haunted History: Spirit Photography

The most famous 'spirit' photograph of them all: Abraham Lincoln with wife Mary Todd.

What happens to us after we die? Do we go on to exist in some non-physical form or is death truly the end? Well, the answer to that question will probably never be found but the uncertainty created by death and longing for lost loved ones created a booming industry for photographers in the later part of the 19th century.

Enter spirit photography.


Almost as soon as the camera had been invented, some people started thinking that the almost magical photographic medium could be just the thing to prove the existence of spirits, and thus life after death. So far as we know, the first photograph of a supposed spirit was taken in 1860. However, while ghost photos started to appear sporadically in the years after, one event alone produced an onslaught of ghost photos: the Civil War.


The Civil War, which raged from 1861 to 1865 was the bloodiest war in American history, leaving over 625,000 Americans dead, more than were killed in every other American war combined. Needless to say, with so much sudden death, America in the late 1860s was not a happy country as it would probably have been impossible for any one family not to have been touched by the war. In this nationwide grief, some enterprising photographers saw the potential for big money.


While no one knows who made the discovery, by the 1860s, the double exposure was common knowledge among photographers. In doing a double exposure, the photographer would take a picture of someone against a black background and then reuse the plate for another shot. Result: an eerie, transparent figure of a person would be superimposed on the final picture. At the time, portraits would often need to be exposed for a few seconds so, by cutting the exposure short, the photographer could further muddle the 'ghost' and make it much harder for a clear image that could be identified by grieving relatives as their lost loved one.


In the wake of the Civil War, some photographers of questionable morals seized on this opportunity and public ignorance to make big, big money.

Of all the supposed spirit photographers, William Mumler of Boston, then New York was the most famous. At the time, getting one's picture taken was a big, and expensive, event. Mumler and other photographers, being careful to guard the double exposure secret, would then advertise that they had the ability to photograph spirits. Needless to say, with all the sudden death wrought by the war, people lined up for photos in the hope that their dead relatives would join them, paying far in excess of the normal portrait price and making the spirit photographers rich in the process.

With the general public ignorance about photography, it seemed as though this fraud could go on indefinitely. Unfortunately for the fraudulent photographers, the good times did not last.

In 1869, William Mumler was put on trial for fraud, with his accusers, among them, P.T. Barnum, stating that he was using double exposures to fake spirit photographs. While Mumler himself was acquitted of the charges as there was no hard evidence against him, his trial let the big secret of spirit photographers, double exposure, out into the open. Result: once everyone knew about trick photography, people were less inclined to line up for photos when they knew that they were, more than likely, being swindled.


By the turn of the 20th century, spirit photography as well as the whole spiritualism movement was consigned to the pages of history. However, while the spirit photographs of the 1800s have been essentially proven as fakes, the interest in catching ghosts on camera has not waned in the least. Just Google something to the effect of 'ghost pictures' for proof of this fact.


Some'ghost' photos from the 1800s











And now. . . the best for last. . .
                           Ghost snot! Eeeeeeeeewwwwwwwwww!!!!!

 

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Scientific Literacy (or Illiteracy) in the United States


Are Americans good or bad at science? Are we scientifically literate (or illiterate)? Just yesterday, a new study conducted by the University of Michigan revealed that only 43% of respondents knew that we live in the Milky Way galaxy, which is a rather frightening finding considering that I remember being taught this information in early grade school.

Needless to say, this is not the first study about scientific literacy in the United States and will surely not be the last. Digging around for more examples of easy science questions that adults get wrong, I came across a study from the National Science Foundation, which has, as far as I can find, the most examples of questions and beliefs regarding science in the United States. Go here for the full report, continue here for the nuts and bolts.

Needless to say, the results of this survey were quite interesting. Below is the summary of the findings with question, answer, and approximate percentage (my estimate by looking at the chart) of people who got it right.

How long does it take Earth to go around the Sun? (a year) 55%
Does the Earth go around the Sun? (yes) 75%
Radioactive milk can be made safe by boiling. (no) 65%
Early humans and dinosaurs lived at the same time. (no) 50%
Humans evolved from earlier species. (yes) 50%
Continental drift is is happening and will continue. (yes) 80%
Antibiotics kill viruses as well as bacteria. (no, bacteria only) 50%
Electrons are smaller than atoms. (yes) 50%
Lasers focus sound waves. (no) 45%
A father's gene determines a baby's gender. (yes) 65%
Oxygen comes from plants. (yes) 90%
Radioactivity is purely man-made. (no) 75%
Earth's center is hot. (yes) 80%


Another interesting survey conducted by the NSF dealt wit the belief in pseudoscience. The troubling finding here: except for demonic possession, belief in every area grew in every area from 1990 to 2001. So, here we go here, the various pseudosciences and approximate percentages of the population who believe in them.

Psychic healing: 55%
ESP: 50%
Hauntings: 45%
Demonic possession: 40%
Ghosts: 40%
Telepathy: 35%
Alien visitation: 35
Clairvoyance: 30%
Communicating with the dead: 30%
Astrology: 30%
Witches: 25%
Reincarnation: 25%
Channeling: 15%


By looking at the statistics, for me, anyway, one thing is clear: in America, science and pseudoscience are not really exclusive to each other with the general public. For the most part, at least 2/3 of the population (not good, but not great) got most of the science questions right (those dealing with human history and evolution being not so surprising exceptions), yet a strong belief in things that have no scientific basis whatsoever remains (at least half the population believes in psychic healing and ESP) and appears to be growing. Weird.

Anyway, these types of studies, at least for the scientifically-minded, bring up some interesting points to ponder. For some fun, why not quiz your family and friends with the science questions above and see how they do?


 

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Watch the Orionid Meteor Shower Live Online Tonight

 
Tonight, October 20/21, 2012, marks the peak of the Orionid meteor shower for 2012. While we would all have a Moonless night and clear skies in a perfect world, the world isn't perfect, which means that some of us will be clouded out for the night (though the Moon will be out of the way, though). Fortunately, thanks to modern technology, anyone with an Internet connection will be able to watch the Orionid meteor Shower thanks to live video feeds, one from NASA and the other from the Slooh Space Cam.

For anyone who's looking to have clear skies tonight, here are some viewing tips:

1. P
lan to stay out a while, as it takes the human eye about 15 minutes to get optimal night vision capability. The bad news is that, even one bright flash of white light will wipe out night vision, requiring you to start the process all over again.

2. Grab a lawn chair or, even better, a lounge-type chair. Trying to lean back with a straight-back lawn chair can be a pain in the neck, literally! Eyes ready for dark and with something to sit/lay on, settle in for a night of hopeful meteor watching (or at the very least, stargazing), just try not to fall asleep and don't forget to dress warmly and bring the bug spray!

3. Don't forget to bring a coat as this is winter and, chances are, things will be pretty cool in most locations tonight.

Besides meteors, tonight can be a great time for binocular viewing, owing to your use of a chair. Under suburban (maybe) or rural skies (definitely), a pair of medium power (10x50) binoculars can yield some stunning wide-angle sights. For someone truly dedicated, why not try and keep a tally of how many meteors you see for every complete hour? For the record, the Orionids typically spawn around 20 meteors per hour on peak night.


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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

New Comet ISON Could be as Bright as Full Moon, No Kidding!


Comet ISON could be far brighter than Comet McNaught ever was.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has just done some calculations in regards to newly-discovered Comet ISON. Result: the Sun-grazing comet, due in November 2013, could reach magnitude -11.6, which would make it about as bright as the Full Moon! The best news: this will be a Northern Hemisphere event. Still, with it being over a year away, don't go getting too excited just yet as comets are notoriously unpredictable but, on the other hand, this is one story to keep your eye on.

For more info:The full story



 
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Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Nikon D700 to Rise in Price


Buy a Nikon D700 now before the price goes up, seriously! With the release of the Nikon D600 last week, Nikon made it perfectly clear that the D700 was a mistake and that there was not going to be a successor model. Why say mistake? Well, back in 2008, Nikon was neck-in-neck with Canon and needed some hot product to take itself into the lead. That camera was the D700. As for why it was a mistake, now ahead of Canon, Nikon has no need to launch a camera that is 95% of a D4 for half the price like the D700 was to the D3 for risk of cannibalizing flagship model sales.

Result: no D700 update is in the offing.

By looking at Nikon's current lineup, one sees that it is trying to clearly situate its new products into their own, specific niches. First up, the D4 and upcoming D4x, which are the top bananas of Nikon and armed with every bit of technology that the company can muster. Taking a step down, there's the D800/D800E, lightweight pro models that take many cues from the D4 line but are missing just enough so as to make them completely different animals, but with enough resolution to challenge medium format cameras, which cost several times as much. Stepping down another notch and crossing the proverbial line in the sand, one is now in amateur territory with the D600, which takes a lot of its design, and vastly inferior user interface, from the DX D7000. Below the D600, there's the rest of the DX line consisting of the old D7000 and D5100 as well as the new D3200.

Clearly, there's no room for a low-Mp, D4 lite, as the D700 was to the D3, which makes the D700 the first and last of its kind an an instantly hot item for serious photographers on a budget.

In the age of technology, it is uncommon for anything that is considered obsolete to appreciate in price, but it is not unheard of, even for digital cameras. Back in 2005, Canon announced the EOS 20Da, with the 'a' standing for 'astro' as the camera was specifically designed for astronomical photography of deep space objects through telescopes. New, the camera sold for around $1600. However, citing poor sales, Canon discontinued the camera the following year, at which point used 20Das started selling on Ebay for $3000, or more! Why? There was simply nothing else like it anywhere else.

Come 2012, the same could be true of the Nikon D700 as Nikon has a pair of current choices, bboth of which may be undesirable for many. First up, the D800. Loaded with a 36Mp sensor, the D800's files are so big that they will quickly clog the workflow of anyone who likes to process his or her pictures, especially if one is shooting in NEF (RAW) mode. Along with the camera one had better invest in a high-powered computer, too! In addition, thanks to having to process such a huge amount of data, the D800 is a bit of a slow poke, only able to manage 4 fps. The D600, well, it's a great imaging machine but its user interface just plain sucks.

Together, these drawbacks of both the D800s and D600 go to make the D700 all the more attractive as the D700 has the pro-grade control system, files that are small enough to manage (though plenty big for most people), a lot of speed (it can do 8fps with the battery grip), and a price tag under $2500. Oh, yes, the D700 has better noise performance than the D600, too.

So, what' s going to happen? My take: after the D700, which is selling for around $2300 new right now becomes unavailable as factory new, look for scalpers who have been hoarding D700s and showing up on Ebay and other online auction sites with the cameras, along with the idiots who will be willing to pay upwards of $3000 for them. Bottom line: if you want to pick up a D700, don't wait around as they're not going to be sticking around for long anymore. If you can't find a new D700, don't hesitate to buy a factory refurb as they're the same as new, perhaps even better since you know the camera's been given an extensive going-over by a Nikon tech.

Any way you slice it, the D700 is the end of the line, so get yours now before they're gone-forever.





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Thursday, September 20, 2012

In-Hand Feel: Nikon D600 vs. D800


Which should I buy? D600 or D800? For many current and prospective Nikon shooters, the company has created quite a dilemma in that it now offers two full-frame cameras in the sub-$3000 market: the $3000 D800 and the $2100 D600. Now, both cameras have clear-cut differences both in body and under the hood, if you will. The big question: am I willing to forgo the advantages of the D800 in order to save $900?

Well, let's examine the question.

The key issue for current Nikon shooters is that the D600 is different in user interface than the D800. For people not familiar with the D600, Nikon has essentially stuffed a 24Mp FX sensor into a D7000 body and called it the D600. As for the D800, it is essentially an old D700 with a monster 36Mp chip in it. The big difference here: the two cameras are laid out completely different in terms of controls, which could go a long way in helping one decide which to buy depending on current equipment and future aspirations. .


So, how big are the differences?
Starting at the upper left, on both the D7000 and D300s, the two buttons (enter playback mode and delete) are absolutely identical, no differences (or learning curve) here.



The backs of the cameras

Looking at the left side of the camera, one notices that both cameras have 5 buttons. On the D600, all of them are dual in function while on the D800, only 1 is dual. First off, the easy part, the 'ok' button on the D800 (bottom on the left row) has moved to the center of the multi-selector on the D600, which is a good thing in that this button is used to confirm menu settings, which means that the operation of changing menu selections on the D600 is a one-thumb operation. On the D800, there is some redundancy as there is both the 'ok' button and another unmarked one in the center of the multi-selector. In place of the 'ok' button, the D600 gains direct access to picture style color modes (the paintbrush button). Now, onto the remaining buttons, they're identical in their playback functions on both cameras. Unfortunately, the bottom 3 on the D600 are dual function and have different functions in shooting mode. On the D600, these buttons, when in shooting mode, control ISO, white balance, and file quality, all 3 of which are controlled by single function buttons on the top left of the D800. Now, this is better than Canon where what dual function buttons do is dependent on which wheel you spin, but not as good on the higher-level Nikons where there are no dual functions at all. Also, the enter playback and delete buttons are the same on both cameras, too.

Looking at the right side of the camera and working from the top down, one notices that the 'AF-ON' button on the D800 is missing on the D600. In my opinion, good riddance, why would anyone use the rear button to focus when the same thing can be done by half pressing the shutter button? In terms of functionality, it's a mixed bag with the 'AE-L/AF-L' button. Both D600 and D800 have this function. Unfortunately, the D600 loses the control over metering that the D800 allows by turning this same switch. On the D600, metering is controlled by a button on the top right of the camera, which means having to look at the top side LCD display when changing metering modes. Moving down, everything else is the same.




The tops of the cameras.

Moving to the top right of the camera, things are almost the same here, save the button located closest to the LCD screen, which controls metering on the D600 and mode on the D800.
Coming to the top left of the camera, we see some other differences. First, the similarity is that both D600 and the D800 share the drive mode dial, which includes functions like frame rate, self- timer, quiet mode, and mirror lock up. The only real difference here is in how the dial is unlocked, which is done by a button in front of the dial on the D800 and by a button in the middle of the shooting mode dial on the D600. Personally, the D800 feels a lot less cramped (especially if you have big hands). However, on top of the drive mode dial, things get different. The D800 has single-function buttons for ISO, white balance, bracketing, and file quality while the D600 has a more amateurish mode dial as the ISO, WB, and quality functions are moved to the rear of the camera via dual function buttons on the left of the LCD and the bracketing button to the front of the camera where it is impossible to see at all. The good news is that the D600 has user-defined settings where you can save all your shooting parameters to the camera's built-in memory, essentially making your defined settings a shooting mode! This is a feature completely missing on the D800.
Finally, onto the front of the camera. Both cameras share a flash pop-up button in the same location. However, the new D600 adds an exposure bracketing button below the pop-up button. On the D800, this control is located on the top left with the ISO, WB, and quality buttons. Both cameras also feature the new style of AF/MF button, which can control AF mode and area via the cameras' control dials. Selections are displayed on the top side LCD screen. On the right side of the camera, both models are virtually identical in that they both have 2 buttons which can be assigned various functions. Unfortunately, unlike on the D800, these buttons cannot be used to control aperture during video recording, which means that aperture must be set (and the results lived with) on the D600 before shooting. Lastly, the D600 has all of its ports on the left side of the camera while the D800 retains a pair on the front.


So, after reading all of this, where do we get clear-cut advantages one way or the other?

Pros for D600
No pointless AF button on back of camera
Direct access to picture styles
All connection ports are in the same place

Pros for D800
Buttons are single function
Metering control is on rear of camera, no need to look at LCD screen
Bracketing button is on top left
Multi-purpose buttons on right front can control aperture in video mode


So, which to buy: D600 or D800?

For starters, there's no doubt about it: the $900 more expensive D800 is far and away the better camera in terms of user interface thanks to all of those single function buttons. On the other hand, for $900 less, the D600 is no clunker as it offers about 90% the functionality of the D800, albeit in a very differently-wrapped package. As for which to buy, it boils down to where you're coming from and where you plan on going.

If you own a D700 or D300/D300s, just get the D800. Yes, the cameras have a few different controls on them but are, for the most part, virtually identical in layout, which means a minimal learning curve when just starting to use the new one. As someone who owns a D700 and who has played with a D7000, believe me, you'll hate the D600's control scheme as all of those dual function buttons are a real pain in the neck after being spoiled by single function ones. If you own a D3 or a D4 and are looking for a second body (especially if you're a pro/semi-pro), just get the D800 as the story's the same here, too as the D3/D4's controls are virtually identical to those on the D800, which means that you can transition from one body to the other without having to stop and ask yourself what you're doing..

Now, if you own a D7000 and are looking to upgrade to FF, get the D600 as, as was the case for D700, D300, D3/4 owners with the D800, the same is true here as, while a few things are different, the D7000 and D600 share a virtually identical user interface, which means that there will be virtually no feeling-out process when stepping up to the D600. The catch here: as is always the case for some people, upgrading to better gear will only satisfy one's appetite for so long, which would mean buying an even higher-end camera, namely a D800 or D4. If you think that you may be wanting to upgrade from the D600 at some point in the future, just do yourself a favor and buy the D800 now as, in addition to eliminating the learning curve that will come with a D600 to D800 transition, you're saving at least $2000 in the process by buying nice, not twice.

Either way, in terms of imaging, both are great cameras, with the issue really boiling down to the in-hand feel, so be sure to play around with both before buying if you're on the fence.



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Friday, September 14, 2012

The D600: Proof Nikon is Asleep at the Wheel (or at Least Way too Complacent)



Yesterday, Nikon announced the D600, the world's smallest, lightest, and most affordable full frame dSLR. Unfortunately, the camera also signals the fact that Nikon has lost hold of its title as the leading photographer-orientated company to Canon as the D600 is really nothing more than a glorified D7000, which is clearly an amateur camera.

Long story short as to why the D600 is a disappointment: the control layout. By looking at the D600, one sees that ity is merely a D7000 with a larger sensor packed into a slightly larger body, clearly not the direct successor to the D700 many people were hoping for. As to why the D600 is is an amateur camera, just look at all of the dual function buttons on it vs. the layout on the D300s and up models, which all feature single function buttons, which are a lot more user-friendly. For a visual comparison, go to my D300s vs. D7000 comparison, which could very well be D800 vs. D600 today as the user interfaces are virtually the same.

As for why the D600 signifies that Nikon has lost its way or, at the very least, grown complacent, it is virtually the same story a was the case with Canon 5-6 years ago.

Once upon a time at the start of the digital a decade ago, Canon had the best sensors in the dSLR market, bar none. Result: Canon could sell cameras on image quality alone. At the time, Nikon had superior feature sets and ergonomics but it didn't matter because, at anything over ISO 400 (this was 10 years ago), the pictures were a noisy mess. Canon? Smooth as silk.

By 2005 and in order to try and close the gap, Nikon was cranking out what was essentially a pro-grade APS-C camera, the D200, and selling it for $1800 despite the fact that it was 95% of the $5000 D2 models. Canon? Still the undisputed leader in image quality, it was resting on its laurels, making only minor updates to its dSLR line while touting “a proven formula,” creating a FF Digital Rebel (the 5D), and keeping all the best technology and features in the top-tier 1D line so as to avoid cannibalizing sales of its flagship models.

Then came 2007 and the 1-2 punch of the D3 and D300.

Overnight, Nikon bested Canon on the image quality front. That, combined with Nikon's generosity in letting pro-grade features trickle down to sub $2000 models made Canon's anything but 1D offerings suddenly look like junk. Since then, Canon has had to play catch-up and has only now, as of 2012 and the 1Dx and 5D Mark III (which is the baby 1D many had been hoping for back in 2008), finally been able to be the equal of Nikon again.

Problem for Nikon was that they were asleep at the wheel.

Instead of continuing the generous feature trickle-down that had kept so many Nikonians loyal through the dark days of before the D3 and D300s, Nikon has apparently stopped this wise strategy with the D600. Before, Nikon's $1800 model has always taken design cues from the top of the line D# line. Now, instead, the D600 essentially becomes a FF D7000, a clear devolution in capability that now forces anyone wanting a serious current Nikon to pay at least $3000 for a D800.

Long story short: Canon and Nikon have flipped design strategies in that Canon is now being generous with letting high-end features trickle down to lower-priced models while Nikon is apparently looking to protect its top-tier lines by crippling an otherwise great D600 with lousy, amateur controls.

Now that each company has shown its hand in the FF war, it will be interesting to see what they do in regards to high-end FF (think D300 s and 7D replacements).

My bet: the edge is now with Canon for this generation of cameras.



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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Remembering Neil Armstrong: an American Legend and Ideal Role Model


Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) in 1969.

Yesterday, the world lost Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on another world, thus achieving the, to this date, greatest feat of exploration in human history. While the tale of Armstrong the astronaut has been told over and over again and needs no repeating, it is the story of Armstrong the man that should serve as the real inspiration to the youth of American today.

From childhood, Neil Armstrong was fascinated with planes, taking his first ride in an airplane at age 6, which would have been in 1936, scarcely a generation after the Wright Brothers made the first heavier than air flight. At the time, aviation was hardly the routine, take it for granted practice that it is today. How much did Armstrong love to fly? So much so that he became a licensed pilot at age 16, which was before he even got his driver's license.

After finishing high school, Armstrong enrolled in college to study aeronautical engineering. However, come 1949, Armstrong was called to military duty with the Navy, where he served as a test pilot and later fighter pilot in the Korean War. In all, Armstrong flew 78 combat missions. After the war, Armstrong returned to college and eventually completed a master's degree, which was quite a rarity for the time. After college, Armstrong returned to the Navy as a test pilot before being selected to NASA's astronaut class of 1962.

During the middle 1960s, America was locked in what appeared to be a losing race to the Moon with the Soviet Union, which had already accomplished three important firsts: first satellite (1957), first man in orbit (1961), and first spacewalk (1965). After 4 years of training, Armstrong was selected to command Gemini 8. During the mission, which launched in March, 1966, Armstrong got America its first big victory in the space race: the successful docking of two space vehicles. However, the mission nearly ended in disaster when a rocket booster misfired late in the mission, with only Armstrong's cool head and flying skills preventing a tragedy.

As for Apollo 11, the tale has been told an almost infinite number of times and needs no repeating, but it is what happened afterward that merits some real attention, especially in today's world of instant celebrities and egocentricity.
Neil Armstrong, along with fellow crew mates Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins returned to Earth as heroes not just to America, but the world. Even the Russians offered congratulations (though probably grudgingly). Now world famous, Neil Armstrong could play his celebrity status to the hilt for personal gain.

He chose not to.

After flying to the Moon, Armstrong retired from spaceflight, staying with NASA until 1971, when he accepted a position as a professor at the University on Cincinatti. Armstrong would stay on there until 1979, when he decided to do something that seemed completely unexpected: return to his roots as a farmer. In the following years, Armstrong kept a low profile, refusing repeated urgings to run for political office and, after learning that signed memorabilia was being sold for profit, he stopped signing autographs altogether (think of how many current celebrities have signed stuff for sale on their websites). Armstrong was also careful with his name and image, refusing repeated offers (and probably handsome payments) from companies wanting to use either, even going so far as to sue when someone went on to ignore his wishes. In victory, Armstrong never kept any of the winnings, preferring to donate to charity instead.

For a life and career that could have served as the inspiration for many books and movies, Armstrong never wrote an autobiography nor signed any movie deals, either. It was only late in life that he finally agreed to work with author James R. Hansen, who wanted to write an Armstrong biography. Needless to say, by refusing such deals, Armstrong left a lot of money on the table, preferring to live the quiet life, instead.

After his death yesterday,
Armstrong's family released a statement that read, in part "[he was a] reluctant American hero [and had] served his nation proudly, as a navy fighter pilot, test pilot, and astronaut. While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves."

For today's youth, such a concept seems almost foreign. Between self-worth being measured by the number of Facebook friends (and thus attention) one has, the instant celebrities who often do nothing of value yet serve as ideas of how to become famous (thing Kardashians and cast of “Jersey Shore” among others here), the idea that success should come easy (Neil Armstrong had to do a lot more than ace an interview to get to the Moon), and the all-important idea of “me first,” the current college-age and younger generation can learn a lot from Neil Armstrong the man, an American hero who set foot on the Moon yet never let the drive for fame and profit get the better of him.

RIP, Neil, we'll miss you.



For more coverage:
Examiner.com
NASA biography

Neil Armstrong tributes
Interview with John Glenn