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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