Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Astronomy vs. Astrology: Do People Even Know the Difference?

Do you know the difference between astronomy and astrology? A new study, which was prompted by the surprising findings of another study, has indicated that some Americans may not know the difference between the science that is astronomy and the superstition that is astrology.

Recently, the National Science Foundation (NSF) released the updated result of an ongoing study about peoples' continuing beliefs in astrology and whether it has scientific merit. The finding that caused some surprise when the results were tallied: the percentage (55%) of people who believe that astrology “is not at all scientific.” Taking the numbers farther, that means that 45% of the population believes that astrology has some scientific merit. As another point, the survey found that 58% of respondents aged 18-24 believe that astrology has scientific merit. So, are Americans really that ignorant?

Well, they might be ignorant in another way, which is exactly what psychologist Richard Landers postulated when he saw the NSF's findings. The questions that came to Landers: (1) do people even know the astronomy/astrology difference and (2) how could the ability to differentiate between the two impact the NSF findings?

In his study, Landers asked 3 questions of respondents:
Define 'astrology' in 25 words or less
Do you believe astrology to be scientific?
What is your highest level of education?

As for the overall results, Landers found that about 30% of respondents believed astrology to be scientific. However, upon delving more deeply into the data, Landers found an indication into why so many people believe astrology to be scientific: they can't correctly define 'astrology.' For people who correctly defined 'astrology,' there was widespread belief that it was not scientific at all or only slightly scientific. For those who couldn't define 'astrology' (and who probably confused it with astronomy), there was a vast majority belief that astrology was somewhat to very scientific.

Implication: the NSF may want to reconsider how it does its future studies on astrological beliefs, making sure that people can differentiate astronomy and astrology because, as Landers has shown, failure to do so can skew the findings so as to make it look like more people believe astrology to be a science than who really do.

Still, the fact that in 2014 people still have a hard time differentiating astronomy and astrology is a bit disturbing.

Or more info:
The Full Study

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Friday, February 14, 2014

CP+ 2014 is Open, What's New This Year?

The CP+ photo trade show is up and running in Japan. Like the ore famous PMA and Photokina, CP+ serves as a venue for manufacturers to show off their new toys and a place for the press and public to get a first look. The show will run through Sunday but there are already a lot of new toys on display.

So, what are the different companies offering?

ELPH 135/ELPH 140/ELPH 150-entry-level, all to cost under $200
Powershot D30-waterproof to 82 feet, freezeproof to 14F, shock proof to 6.5 feet
Powershot SX700 HS-compact size, 30x zoom, manual exposure control
Rebel T5 (1200D)-rehashed Rebel T3 with a 18Mp chip
G1X Mark II-large-sensor compact with 24-120mm equivalent f2-3.9 lens
MR-14X II-Macro photography ring light

X-T1-SLR-like X-mount camera, fully weather-sealed

Coolpix AW120-waterproof to 59ft, freezeproof to 14F, shock proof to 6.6ft
Coolpix S32-waterproof to 33ft, shockproof to 5ft
Coolpix S9700/P600/P530-superzooms with 30-60x zoom, priced from $350-$500
Coolpix P340-pocket compact with 24-120mm equivalent f1.8-5.6 lens

M.ZUIKO 7-14 f2.8 PRO-dust and splash-proof
M.ZUIKO 300 f4 PRO-dust and splash-proof
Tough TG-850-5x zoom, waterproof to 33ft, 180 degree flip-up LCD
Stylus SP-100-50x zoom (24-1200mm equivalent), dot sight
OM-D E-M10-entry-level Digital OM interchangeable lens camera
M.ZUIKO 25mm f1.8
M.ZUIKO 14-42 f3.5-5.6 Compact
M.ZUIKO 9mm f8 fisheye

Lumix DMC-GH4-4k video capable, price rumored to be around $2000

WG-20-waterproof to 33ft, freezeproof to 14F, shock resistant to 5ft drop
WG-4- waterproof to 45ft, freezeproof to 14F, shock resistant to 7ft drop
WG-4 GPS-same as above, adds built-in GPS, front LCD display

dp2 Quattro-New-style body from old DP cameras, new Foveon-style sensor

DSC-WX350-small body travel zoom with a 20x lens
DSC-H400/H300/HV400-superzooms with 35-63x zoom, priced from $220-$500
FE 70-200 f4 OSS-made for full-frame mirrorless, weather-sealed
A6000-successor to the NEX 6, claimed to have world's fastest AF

16-300 f3.5-6.3 VC-largest zoom for any SLR lens

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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Canon G1X vs. G1X Mark II: Don't Buy the New Camera

Canon has just launched its Powershot G1X Mark II, which comes almost exactly 2 years after the debut of the original which, at the time, was the only large-sensor compact camera in the world to feature a zoom lens. Though widely praised for its on-paper innovation, the G1X was not without room for improvement, according to most reviewers.

With the “II,” Canon sought to correct these shortcomings and did so by improving a number of the original's pitfalls. These improvements include: a faster optic with expanded range, closer minimum focus distance, a second control ring, a 31-point AF grid, full wi-fi and NFC connectivity, and the ability to be remotely controlled, among other things.

Unfortunately, there's an Achilles Heel on the G1 X Mark II: no optical viewfinder.

The lack of an optical viewfinder (as was seen on the original G1 X) is a huge handicap in the picture-taking experience. Why? There is simply no way that any electronic viewfinder can replicate what is seen by the human eye. Adding to this disadvantage is the fact that Canon chose not to use a shielded OLED viewfinder in what would have been the optical viewfinder chamber, either. Result: one will be forced to rely on the Sun-exposed (and thus glare-prone) rear LCD screen. Yes, while the tilting can help reduce the flare problem, in bright enough Sun, many people will be wishing for a shielded viewfinder, whether of the optical or even OLED variety.

However, Canon has developed a hot-shoe mounted 2,360k dot external viewfinder for the G1 X Mark II, which it will be selling for $300, meaning that, in order to get a fully-functional camera, you'll be shelling out $1100, which could buy a entry-level dSLR or mirrorless interchangeable lens camera kit plus an additional lens! End result: the G1 X Mark II is a waste of money as the only way it becomes usable is via buying a $300 “accessory” that takes up the hot shoe and thus further limits the camera's functionality.

Come on, Canon!

My advice: skip the G1X Mark II and get the original (which is now going for around $550) if you must shoot Canon. If you're brand loyal, it's also worth looking at the other, similar models on the market from other manufacturers, too.

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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Specs: Canon G1 X vs. Canon G1 X Mark II

Canon has just launched the G1 X Mark II, which comes as an upgrade to the original G1 X, launched back in early 2012. The original version was, at the time of launch, the only large-sensor point and shoot camera on the market to feature a zoom lens. In the time since, other manufacturers have followed Canon's lead in developing such cameras which, undoubtedly, prompted Canon to develop a successor in an effort to stay ahead of the competition.

So, how does the new camera compare to the old? Well, let's have a look!

G1 X Mark II: metal
G1 X: metal

G1 X Mark II: 13Mp
G1 X: 14Mp
More pixels are good, but how will new do at high ISO?

Aspect ratios:
G1 X Mark II: 4G1 X: 5
Old wins again

G1 X Mark II: DIGIC 6
New wins here

Shutter Speed:
G1 X Mark II: 60-1/4000th sec
G1 X: 60-1/4000
th sec
Dead heat

Max. ISO
G1 X Mark II: 12,800
G1 X: 12,800
Tied here

G1 X Mark II: 24-120 f2.0-3.9
G1 X: 28-112 f2.8-5.8
New is better

Aperture Blades:
G1 X Mark II: 9
G1 X: 6
New wins

AF Points:
G1 X Mark II: 31
G1 X: 9
New obliterates old

G1 X Mark II: noneG1 X: Optical
Optical always wins

G1 X Mark II: 1,040k dot tiltingG1 X: 920k dot fully articulating
Old wins

Touch-Screen Capable:
G1 X Mark II: yes
G1 X: no
New wins here

Built-in flash:
G1 X Mark II: yes
G1 X: yes
Tied here

Continuous drive:
G1 X Mark II: 5.2fps
G1 X: 1.9fps

New obliterates old

Exposure Compensation:
G1 X Mark II: +/- 3 stops in 1/3EV steps
G1 X: +/- 3 stops in 1/3EV steps
It's a draw

G1 X Mark II: 1080p at 30fps
G1 X: 1080p at 24fps

Old loses here

Wireless control:
G1 X Mark II: yes
G1 X: no
New bests old

G1 X Mark II: wi-fi, NFC
G1 X: none

Old loses

Built-in GPS:
G1 X Mark II: no
G1 X: no

Same here

G1 X Mark II: 19.5ozG1 X: 18.8 oz
Old edges new

Needless to say, there's a lot of give and take here, with neither camera having a decided edge over the other. Expect analysis to be forthcoming tomorrow!

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Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Ancient American Astronomy Part 2: The Southwest

The American Southwest: a land that, at first glance, seems completely incapable of supporting life. However, not only did life take root in the desert, but so did civilization well-versed in astronomy.
Like anywhere else in North America, tracing the history of the Southwestern Native American civilizations is very difficult due to a lack of writing. Instead, modern historians must rely on the accounts of the first European explorers to the area, the oral legends told by these people's descendant Indian tribes, and the ruins left by the long-vanished people themselves. Needless to say, this task is not easy.

What we do know is this: in the early 1000s A.D., there flourished a short-lived complex civilization known as the Anasazi in the Four Corners area of the American Southwest. These people, at least for a few centuries, managed to eek out an existence in an area so geographically hostile that e are still left pondering the “hows” even today. Fortunately, the region's arid climate, while making life hard for the people living there was a double-edged sword in that it preserved traces of this civilization that would have been long lost to history in a wetter climate.    

Ancient ruins at Chaco.

Of all the astronomical sites in the desert Southwest, the most interesting in Chaco Canyon, located New Mexico. The a site was occupied by the Anasazi people from around 900-1250 A.D. and is interesting for both historical and scientific reasons. First up, there is evidence in the form of pearls, feathers, and semiprecious stones that the Anasazi were in contact with the civilizations of Central America. While the strength of the connection is not known, this contact could possibly be at the root of the Anasazi's high level of astronomical achievement.

Today, the Crab Nebula is a small supernova remnant in Taurus that has one very major distinction from many of the other nebulae in the sky: the explosion that created the gas cloud we see today was seen and recorded in historic times. On July 4, 1054, astronomers in the Middle East, China, and Korea recorded the sudden appearance of a 'new star' that was bright enough to be seen during the day. In America, it is possible, and actually very probable, that the same event witnessed on the other side of the world was documented in the form of a petroglyph located in Chaco Canyon.
The Supernova Petroglyph.
Called the 'supernova pteroglyph,' the millennium-old, yet still distinct markings depict a star and a crescent Moon right next to each other. Okay, so what? The pigment used to make the drawing included organic material, which allows for radio carbon dating. Now, any connection to the 1054 supernova would be pure speculation if it weren't for the fact that the pigments dated to between the 10th and 12th centuries A.D. As further evidence, using computers and running the sky back to July 5, 1054, one sees that the Moon's proximity to the supernova is the same is what is represented on the rock wall.  

The Sun dagger in summer (top) and winter (bottom)

Another astronomical wonder in Chaco Canyon was (a rock slide altered the perfect alignment in the late 80s) the Sun Dagger, a wonderfully elegant play of light and shadow created by the careful placement of rocks. Used to mark the solstices and equinoxes, the illusion was created by carving a spiral petroglyph on a rock wall and then carefully laying rock slabs in front of it, leaving only narrow slits for the Sun's rays to shine through. On the Summer Solstice, the Sun shone through the rocks and formed a light dagger that drove itself down through the center of the spiral. The Winter Solstice was the same except that two daggers bracket the spiral. For the equinoxes, a dagger of light would bisect a snake petroglyph carved right next to the spiral.   

The Big Horn medicine wheel.
As a last bit of the American Southwest's astronomical legacy, we come to the Big Horn Medicine Wheel, a circular formation with 'spokes' made of pebbles and small rocks. Outside the wheel, there are 7 stone cairns. Again, through use of computer software, scientists/historians can trace back the sky through precession to see exactly what these spokes pointed at in the time of supposed construction. Not surprisingly, the henge-like wheels do offer many astronomical alignment but, unlike the obviously deliberate creations like the Sun Dagger, there is always the possibility that some of the alignments boil down to chance. 
In the end, for reasons that are still unknown today, the settled Anasazi civilization disappeared as quickly as it came into being. The reasons why these people left are still up for speculation, but current theory holds that a shift to a drier climate doomed the settled lifestyle of the people, who were forced to take to the more nomadic lifestyle that characterized the Southwest's Indian tribes encountered by the early European explorers in the 1500s, which was centuries after the Anasazi civilization had disappeared from the region

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Saturday, February 8, 2014

Ignore Jay Carney and Work Hard if You Want to Follow Your Dreams

I don't normally talk about politics here as, so far as I can remember, this idiotic waste of tax dollars was the only politically-aimed thing I've ever posted here, until now.

Last week in a press conference, White House press secretary Jay Carney
said something so stupid and contrary to the traditional American ethic of hard work and self-made success that it first had me standing agape in disbelief and then, after the shock wore off, my blood boiling. Th
e quote: “opportunity created by affordable quality health insurance allows families in America to make a decision about how they will work, and if they will work.”

If they will work? Really? Since when did working to earn a living become optional?

If that wasn't enough, Carney went on to spew this lunacy about the Affordable Care Act: namely that Americans would no longer be trapped in a job just to provide coverage for their families, and would have the opportunity to pursue their dreams.”

Is this clown for real because, according to the White House press secretary, working is now optional and people should be able to quit their jobs in order to pursue dreams.
Question: who's going to be able to pursue dreams and raise a family with no money?

Answer: nobody, unless of course the government rushes to the rescue with your tax dollars!

For anyone who continues to deny that this administration has no socialist agenda, there's a clear choice: wake up or keep drinking the Kool Aid as there is no way one can have a good life without having a job because work brings money, which empowers people to have the means to raise a family, follow one's dreams, and generally have a good life provided dumb personal choices don't screw it up.

But what about all the whiners crying that “life isn't fair?”

Well, consider the following: people who put the most effort into their work get the raises and promotions, which means more money to be made and spent on things like houses, cars, telescopes, cameras, and whatever else floats one's boat. Want to have nice stuff, the same stuff that makes you green with envy (or red hot with jealousy)? Well, work a little harder! Bosses recognize hard workers and, sooner or later, that hard work pays off. Yes, being the better worker can mean more work for you now but, in time, it will be you, not that slacker whose job you have to do all the time, who gets the promotion, the raise, and all the perks that go along with moving up in the workplace.

The American Dream is, contrary to popular belief, not dead in the least. The dream is alive and well, but only for those people who are wanting to work for it. The problem in America: a lot of people are increasingly willing to just “get by” in their lives because they don't want to go that extra mile and work a little harder than the next guy, or girl. After all, most jobs pay by the hour, so why work any harder than you have to, right?

Wrong! See two paragraphs up for why.

As for those who are content to milk the time clock and be happy with mediocrity, don't go whining about not being able to have nice stuff or any of the perks that those who have made it enjoy and then being hateful toward these successful people. Bottom line: if you work hard, you'll move up in your profession, get paid more, and able to do things other people can't all thanks to your extra effort. Bottom line: stop whining about what is/isn't “fair,” get to work, and make something of yourself instead.

For anyone ho still wishes to not work in favor of living off the hard labor of others, consider this: if no one ever aspired for a better life for themselves and/or their families, we'd all be living in caves and trees, running around naked, picking berries, and killing whatever animals we could get our hands on in order to eat. Basically, we'd be nothing more than hairless animals running around living from hand to mouth on a day-to-day basis for our entire lives, however short those might be without the wonders of technology, which were brought upon by a dream for a better life, the accumulated knowledge to make a plan, and, you guessed it, the hard work to make it happen.

Needless to say, the lunacy coming from the White House not only goes against traditional American values of hard work, but against everything that has made human civilization itself. 

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Curiosity Rover Takes Photo of Earth From Mars (Full Size Picture)

Ever wonder what Earth looks like from the surface of Mars? Well, wonder no more as NASA's Curiosity rover has just snapped such a picture. In the image (click for a full-size version), Earth is seen as a tiny speck (and the Moon as an even smaller one) against the blackness of space.

If this doesn't make you feel insignificant, nothing will.

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Renaissance Astronomy: Gaining Understanding

Recently, I wrote about the four major players in Renaissance astronomy, Copernicus, Brahe, Kepler, and Galileo, their discoveries, and how they impacted our perception of the universe. However, for all their brilliance, none of these four great men could explain why the universe behaved as it did. This task would fall to the final great thinker of Renaissance-era astronomy. Issac Newton, ironically born in the year Galileo died.
As written about last time, Galileo dd a lot of pioneering work in early physics after the theological storm created by the Starry Messenger. In his experiments, Galileo worked with rolling balls on inclined planes and found that the distance traveled is always proportional to time, no matter the ball's weight or ramp's angle of descent. Also (and it's surprising that no one did this before), Galileo made the discovery that light and heavy objects fall at the same speed (Galileo would have been thrilled to see his experiment repeated on the Moon during Apollo 15). Another important finding: objects only stop when acted upon by an outside force.

As an after note, Galileo never dropped objects off the Leaning Tower of Pisa

Rene Descartes
In France, a contemporary of Galileo, Rene Descartes, was also thinking about the way things moved. Thinking about the root causes of motion, Descartes believed that all motions were caused by invisible particles colliding with objects and thus, if there were no collisions, there was no motion. Now, while that idea may seem funny to us today, Descartes did get two of his fundamental ideas correct when he noted that all motion tends toward being in a straight line and, to get curved motion, some force must be acting on an object.

Robert Hooke
Living after Galileo and Descartes, Englishman Robert Hooke further refined ideas of motion, who moved beyond motion on Earth into thoughts about motion in the heavens. Before Hooke, Kepler described the way planets moved. As for the 'why,' Kepler could not explain this, with his best idea being that the motion of the planets was caused by a combination of magnetism pulling them toward the Sun and some unknown force in the Sun pushing them out. In contrast, Hooke believed that there was some central force in the Sun that caused the planets to orbit it rather than fly off into space. Hooke also believed that this same force caused objects to fall on Earth and that the strength of this fore decreased as distance to the center of a body increased. In fact, Hooke had just unknowingly described gravity, but he could not give the specifics in mathematical terms. His task would fall to one of the greatest minds in history: Issac Newton.

Issac Newton
The story of Issac Newton is both a story of outright genius and pure luck. His intelligence recognized from an early age, Newton was sent to Cambridge University in order to get a college education, then in itself a rarity. In 1665, one of history's great ironies struck: the Plague arrived in London and Cambridge was shut down for the year, thus interrupting Newton's studies. Returning home, Newton allowed him mind to roam free. It was during this unplanned vacation that Newton invented calculus, discovered the laws of motion, and made fundamental discoveries in optics, all of which may have never happened had the Plague not struck and Newton had remained preoccupied with his formal studies. When Newton returned and got his degree, one of his impressed professors actually resigned so that the intellectually superior Newton could have the position.
In his Principia (Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy), Newton laid out his three laws of motion that explained all motions in the universe. The laws are as follows:
Inertia: objects at rest remain at rest and objects in motion remain in motion unless acted upon by an outside force.
Force: forces act on an object, cause chances in acceleration (here used to denote any change in speed) and direction, force = mass x acceleration
Reaction: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction
Also, the law of universal gravitation was shown for the first time.
Now, unlike the story of Galileo on the Leaning Tower, the story of Newton and the apple is actually true, as Newton himself attested to its validity. As a thought experiment, Newton started thinking about objects falling to the ground after seeing the apple fall from the tree. In his mind, Newton thought about cannons, then state of the art. Cannonballs, no matter how powerful the cannon, always fall back to Earth. Now, in theory, could there be a cannon so powerful that it shot the ball so far that it would not fall back to Earth, but rather fall around the Earth? Employing his mathematical genius, Newton discovered that the answer was 'yes.' In thinking about apples and cannons, Newton just explained lunar motion.
Now, if this example of gravity in action was applicable to the Moon and Earth, why not the Sun and planets? Again, doing the calculations, Newton found that his laws of motion perfectly explained the motion of the planets that Kepler so accurately described, but could not explain, decades ago. It was only now with Newton's laws of motion that the heliocentric solar system proposed by Aristarchus of Samos in the 200s B.C. and rediscovered by Copernicus was proven to be true.
In conclusion, Newton would be the final word on physics for 300 years. Now, that is not to say that discoveries stopped with Newton. Rather, far to the contrary, advances in optics would allow for much to be learned and far more accurate measurements to be made. However, it was not until Einstein and modern technology that astronomy, now becoming the much bigger science of cosmology, would undergo a revision as grand as that created by the Renaissance.

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