National Geographic Photo Contest 2014

December 18th, 2014

National Geographic has always had a reputation for great photography – its staff photographers are among the world’s best. So it should be no surprise that it numbers many talented photographers among its readers, as the results from its 2014  Photo Contest show. There are three categories: people, places, and nature. It’s definitely worth the time to browse through all of it.

Why do people believe in conspiracy theories?

December 17th, 2014

I have friends and relatives who are convinced that the 9/11 attack was the result of a US government conspiracy – something that I think is patently absurd. We avoid discussing the topic because there’s no point in trying to convince someone who’s view of reality is so different. This Scientific American article looks at research into some of the reasons people believe in conspiracy theories.

President Barack Obama has been a busy man while in office: he concocted a fake birth certificate to hide his true identity as a foreigner, created “death panels” to determine who would live and who would die under his health care plan, conspired to destroy religious liberty by mandating contraceptives for religious institutions, blew up the Deepwater Horizon offshore drilling rig to garner support for his environmental agenda, masterminded Syrian gas attacks as a pretext to war, orchestrated the shooting of a tsa agent to strengthen that agency’s powers, ordered the Sandy Hook school massacre to push through gun-control legislation, and built concentration camps in which to place Americans who resist.

Do people really believe such conspiracy theories? They do, and in disturbingly high numbers, according to recent empirical research collected by University of Miami political scientists Joseph E. Uscinski and Joseph M. Parent and presented in their 2014 book American Conspiracy Theories (Oxford University Press). About a third of Americans, for example, believe the “birther” conspiracy theory that Obama is a foreigner. About as many believe that 9/11 was an “inside job” by the Bush administration.

How Chris Hadfield got those incredible pictures

December 16th, 2014

During the six months he was in orbit on the International Space Station, Chris Hadfield took thousands of pictures of the Earth. I followed him on Twitter and was blown away by many of his shots, which were both technically accomplished and beautiful. Many of his best pictures are collected in a book, You Are Here. a  copy of which I was lucky enough to get signed by him a couple of weeks ago.

In the video linked in this post, he explains how he and the other astronauts are able to shoot long exposures hand held with long zoom lenses – not something you can do on Earth but which weightlessness makes possible.

The coming extinction of salt-water fish

December 15th, 2014

This is not good news for the human race. According to a recent study, salt-water fish could be extinct by 2048. Aside from the obvious effect that loss of ocean fishing would likely cause many people to starve, the effect on the ecology of the oceans would be horrible, possibly leading to the extinction of most oceanic life.

The apocalypse has a new date: 2048.

That’s when the world’s oceans will be empty of fish, predicts an international team of ecologists and economists. The cause: the disappearance of species due to overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and climate change.

The study by Boris Worm, PhD, of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, — with colleagues in the U.K., U.S., Sweden, and Panama — was an effort to understand what this loss of ocean species might mean to the world.

The researchers analyzed several different kinds of data. Even to these ecology-minded scientists, the results were an unpleasant surprise.

“I was shocked and disturbed by how consistent these trends are — beyond anything we suspected,” Worm says in a news release.

“This isn’t predicted to happen. This is happening now,” study researcher Nicola Beaumont, PhD, of the Plymouth Marine Laboratory, U.K., says in a news release

The Earth from space 2014

December 10th, 2014

Digital Globe has launched several earth observation satellites, one with a resolution of 30 cm. (about a foot for you Americans). They’ve collected some of the most interesting and striking images taken from the last year into this 25 image gallery. Each image has a brief explanation of its significance. If you like, you can vote on your five favourite images.

From a purely artistic point of view, this one of the Glastonbury Festival is my favourite.

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Android Studio 1.0 is released

December 10th, 2014

Google has released Android Studio 1.0, a full development IDE for Android. Having learned a bit of Java a few years ago, I’m almost tempted to try to build something simple – almost. Right now I’m satisfying my programming itch with some VBA at work – I might even get a blog post out of it.

First released in beta at Google I/O 2013 as a de facto replacement for Eclipse, Studio has grown from an attractive but feature-poor client to one that is practically on par with its predecessor.

Android Studio is built on the open-source IntelliJ IDEA (Community Edition) Java IDE, and features multi-screen and multi-APK build support, which aligns with Google’s approach to Android development. It’s able to generate various APKs that can be uploaded to the Play Store with a limited set of features based on device type, performance and size.