December 2010

Posted by Ellen

On Mars, the sun just isn't that big a deal. NASA's Mars rover Opportunity schedules regular photoshoots of the sunset, however, to calibrate the level and distribution of atmospheric dust. The series of sunset pictures taken in November has been gussied up and turned into a video, complete with a soundtrack of Christmas music: "I'm dreaming of a blue sunset."

Posted by Ellen

On December 29, 2010, sunrise in Reykjavik, Iceland, will be at 11:23 a.m., and sunset will come just a little over four hours later, at 3:36 p.m.  So if this road into the mountains outside of town is the route recommended by the GPS . . . well, maybe try again in a few months, when the daylight last a little longer?

The Icelandic word on the warning sign translates into English as unable, more or less.

Posted by Ellen

 

We tossed crumbs out onto the snow in our little backyard, but the birds--with the possible exception of this one fellow--didn't really seem interested.

Posted by Ellen

Five hundred million people have Facebook accounts. They have Facebook friends. Some Facebook friends live in the same city as one another; others may be separated by thousands of miles. Here we see the world as reflected in pairs of Facebook friends: brightly lit where many friends are linked via Facebook, and dark--as in Russia and China--where people use other social media or rely on pre-digital forms of friendship.

Two things I like about this picture: one, it's a map of much of the world made without drawing any coastlines or national boundaries or any other geographic features. Instead, all the lines we see here portray human relationships. "Each line," notes Paul Butler, who created the image while working as a Facebook intern, "might represent a friendship made while traveling, a family member abroad, or an old college friend pulled away by the various forces of life."

A second cool thing about this map: it was rendered in a very clever way. From all the friend data in Facebook's repository, Butler selected a random sample of 10 million "friend pairs." He noted the latitude and longitude of the current city location of both members of each friend pair. Each pair was to be represented by a line connecting the two friends--not a straight line, but a "great circle" curve, trigonometrically adjusted to account for the roundness of the earth.

Those of us who've fiddled with mapping large datasets can easily predict what happened next, when Butler told the computer to plot his 10 million friendship lines: he got a big, incomprehensible shaggy-looking blob. There is too much overlapping data. Butler reduced the number of lines in his diagram by adding together all the friend pairs in the same cities--for example, all the friend pairs with one member in Honolulu and another in Los Angeles. All the Honolulu-Los Angeles friend pairs would be represented by a single line--a very faint line if there were very few such pairs, or a bright, bold line if there were many.

A second factor used to weight the friend-lines was distance. Friend pairs within a single city or in nearby cities are obviously numerous and would tend to clog up the map. So short lines were set to be relatively more transparent than long lines. The result is a dramatic display, easily understandable, of millions of data points--an exercise in statistical visualization that became, of course, a Facebook page.

In Facebook, 2,097 users gave Butler's map a thumbs-up, and hundreds submitted comments. The most common comment was: I want a map like that showing me and my friends.

It can't be long before there's an app for that.

Posted by Ellen

Posted by Ellen

Near Cape Town, South Africa.

Posted by Ellen

 

These men were up on the roof working with the crane last Saturday. The guy in the black hat really wanted his picture taken and kept posing dramatically, which the guy in the red hat thought was pretty funny.

Posted by Ellen

 

Last Saturday, they closed off a block of South Street around the corner from our house so a crane could pull old equipment up through a hole in the roof of a long-abandoned building. Some people must know why this job required such a tall crane, but I'm not among them.

The rumor is that the building is being refurbished to house a restaurant called Honey Sit n Eat.

Posted by Ellen

 

The sun was shining brightly on April 10, 2010, when a hillslide suddenly slumped down onto this highway near Keelong City in northern Taiwan.

The soil was dry. There was no seismic activity in the area. It was just one of those things.

Posted by Ellen

His nose isn't red, and he's not really a reindeer--I understand that. But that's not the problem. I have met this deer, this near-reindeer, and he is no Rudolph; in fact, he's probably one of those "other reindeer" who mocked poor Rudolph, who used to laugh and call him names.

This deer bully--an ordinary mule deer--spent the summer of 1997 in the campground of northeastern Oregon's Wallowa Lake State Park, stealing food from off the picnic tables. He didn't wait for people to leave a table unattended; he just bullied his way in to where a family was setting up for dinner, shoved the family aside, and stole their dinner.

He got a loaf of bread from us before I grabbed a pint of ketchup and chased him away, yelling and swinging my ketchup, hoping that the bottle looked like a weapon to a deer. I'm sure I looked like an idiot to the campers, and I knew even then that it's not smart to act so aggressively around unusually aggressive wildlife. But I remember the thrill of playing the hero, running him off into the woods, protecting my family from the beast.

Something else I knew even then: this animal's bad behavior had been caused by humans and would certainly shorten its life span.

I don't know the details of what happened next. In fact, for all I know, this picture might record an unfortunate deer's very last supper.