31 7 / 2013
28 7 / 2013
Spectacular Sprites - Ashcraft captures a large sprite hanging over West Kansas. Photos by Thomas Ashcraft
In the blink of an eye, an enormous bright red light flashes above a thundercloud, spreading energetic branches that extend five times taller than Mount Everest and look like jellyfish tendrils and angel’s wings.
These mysterious phenomena are known as Transient Luminous Events (TLEs), and are usually invisible to the naked eye because they happen on millisecond timescales, too fast to be seen. They occur between 50 to 100 kilometers above the ground, a long-ignored area of the atmosphere that is too high for aircraft but too low for satellites to investigate. There, the thin air interacts with strong electrical fields to ionize molecules and create arcing plasmas.
These spectacles are relatively new to science. Pilots had reported enigmatic bright flashes throughout the 20th century, but their anecdotal evidence didn’t amount to proof. The first image of a TLE was captured accidentally in 1989 when a University of Minnesota professor aimed a low-light TV camera at the sky to film a rocket launch. Replaying the tape later on, Professor John R. Winckler saw brilliant columns of light extending from the tops of storm clouds. Hearing of the finding, NASA officials immediately ordered a review of video tapes taken from the space shuttle that looked at lightning events on Earth. They found dozens more examples of TLEs, and later scientists have been recording them ever since.
"One of the neatest things about TLEs is that first image in 1989 was just a serendipitous capture," said amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft, who has been photographing the events for several years.
Using a relatively simple camera and radio dish, Ashcraft has seen a whole bestiary of odd TLE phenomena. The most common are sprites, tall and highly structured bursts of light that appear above thunderstorms. They ionize the nitrogen in our atmosphere, causing a red glow. Often, they happen in conjunction with “Emissions of Light and Very Low Frequency Perturbations due to Electromagnetic Pulse Sources,” also known as ELVES, which are enormous halos of light that shoot outward to cover up to 500 kilometers in a millisecond. Though they are too short-lived to see, ELVES can produce bright afterglows that some people have mistaken for UFOs. Other TLEs have names like blue jets and trolls.
Above: Close-Up Sprite - The firework details of a sprite emerge in this image, captured looking over Taos, New Mexico in 2012.
To deliver great TLE shots, Ashcraft first checks radar maps of the local area around his observatory in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Red spots on such maps indicate strong lightning cells, which increases the probability of sprite activity. Because the phenomena are mostly visible in near infrared wavelengths, he uses a modified off-the-shelf DLSR camera from which he removed the clear glass filter covering the CCD that blocks infrared light.
By taking continuous three-second exposures, Ashcraft records thousands of pictures each night. He then goes through the catalog looking for a sprite to appear. If he spots something, he can check a video camera that he has running during the night to see if captured more detail there. He shares his most interesting findings with other sprite observers, who may chime in with their own pictures from other positions.
From Santa Fe, Ashcraft says he can usually catch sprites up to 1,000 kilometers away. “I can see big storms out over the Great Plains, usually beyond Oklahoma City and into Nebraska,” he said. “After that, the curvature of the Earth gets in the way.”
Using a radio dish, Ashcraft also captures extremely low frequency emissions that the TLEs give off. He converts these into sound files, which can be heard in his videos, and can help researchers pick out details they might otherwise miss.
A lot of research regarding TLEs is still cutting-edge science, said Ashcraft. Only in recent years have scientists aimed high-speed cameras capable of capturing thousands of frames per second to study the spectacles in detail. While researchers had originally hypothesized that the phenomena were starting at the tops of thunderclouds, fast-motion videos prove that TLEs start as luminous spheres and then shoot upwards and downwards at the same time.
To read the rest of the story and look at more photos, click here.
27 7 / 2013
Information Is Beautiful is changing the way data is presented and consumed.
The website is dedicated to sorting world data, information and knowledge. Taking data and turning it into colourful, interesting, useful and beautiful infographics.
The infographics cover a variety of topics from health, economics, and security. It even has an inforgraphic showing what every country was shown to be the best at after gathering data from The CIA World Factbook, Wikipedia, FAQ @ The UN, nationmaster.com and press reporsts.
The site was started by David McCandless who describes himself as an independent data journalist and information designer with a passion for visualizing information.
(Images via Information Is Beautiful)
27 7 / 2013
Photography by Tod Seelie
Part art project, part utopian experiment, a street artist by the name of Swoon, as well as a band of artists, DIYers, and other free-spirits, has built a collection of ramshackle yet visually striking rafts to float down rivers and canals with a loosely defined purpose. Tod Seelie, a friend of Swoon’s, has been on all the trips so far as a crew member and brought his camera to document the creativity and chaos.
“I can only really speak for me,” Seelie says, “And really it’s a combination of things, but I’d say the main point [of the trips] is inspiration. It’s the inspiration we feel and the inspiration other people feel when they come across us.”
The group have organized three different trips so far. The first two were down the Mississippi. The plan was to take the rafts from Minneapolis to New Orleans, but the farthest the group ever made it was St. Louis because the river proved to be too strong. The third trip went down the Hudson from Troy, New York to Queens. The fourth trip went from Slovenia to Venice and was meant to coincide with the Venice Biennale. All these trips took place several years ago, but there is a new one in Oregon planned for mid-August.
The rafts are the brain child of Swoon (her real name is Caledonia “Callie” Curry), who is probably most famous for her life-size wheatpastes. Most of the rafts are made from recycled materials and are essentially artfully made-up pontoon boats (their pontoons are wood with styrofoam inside instead of metal). The motors are old car engines that have been hacked to run propellers. Each trip featured a different number of boats, but sometimes there were up to five or six different vessels.
On some of the trips, the boats were designed to not only move through water and house a crew but also host live theater and music performances. On the Mississippi trip, whenever the boats would dock near a town, the crew would invite locals to the boat and teach them trades like silk screening or costume making.
“Many of us had hitchhiked before, or toured with bands. But we were all swept up by being on the boat, It was by far the most amazing thing I’d done,” says Seelie.
Seelie says the flotillas are different from other cross-country adventures because it’s not just about making it down or across some specified route. It’s also about meeting people along the way.
“We are moving as this giant group and intentionally trying to engage people,” he says. “We constantly heard people say, ‘I really wish I had done something like this when I was younger.’”
Along with photos that document the boats and the adventure, Seelie also made portraits of crew members in order to put a face on these crazy adventures.
Seelie’s first book, which is about New York City, where he lives, will be released in October, and a couple of the photos from the Hudson trip are included. For years he’s shot punk bands, artists and other people living their own lives around that city, and he sees the raft crew as directly related to these other alternative, or counter-cultured, communities.
“I think a lot of the people who I photographed for the book are trying to make the city the city they want to live in,” he says. When it comes to the flotillas, that idea “is taken to an even bigger level. There it’s about making the world that they want to live in.”
To see more of Seelie’s work, please check out his blog.
27 7 / 2013
The McLobster, considered a Maritime delicacy by some, has made its way to Ontario.
The sandwich has been sold in Atlantic Canada for more than a decade, as one of McDonald’s many regional specials around the world.
On a toasted roll, the chain combines “100 per cent Atlantic” lobster meat with celery, green onions, shredded lettuce and a “lemon mayonnaise-style sauce” for $6.79 plus tax. The combo, advertised with fries and a Sprite at some locations, is $8.99 plus tax.
“Ontarians have been asking us to serve the McLobster for years,” Anne Parks, director of menu management, said in a statement on Thursday. It will be available until Aug. 23.
Monica Vaswani, who first tried the McLobster when she travelled out east years ago, was so excited to see the sandwich in Ontario that she immediately got one in Markham.
“It’s not much different from there. It’s not bad for the price,” said Vaswani, 25, adding it was a “little bit watery.”
“Anybody who would normally eat lobster, you’ll know it’s always going to have a little bit of a wet consistency because it’s coming out of the ocean… because you’re eating it in a sandwich it gets a little bit soggy.”
Vaswani, a big lobster fan, said she’d get the fast-food version again in Ontario, even though she thought it was a little better on the east coast. Others were put off by their first experiences.
“It was very plain,” said Wendy Kwan, a Ryerson University student, who tried the McLobster on Wednesday for the first time. She said she wouldn’t be trying it again.
“It was horrible, all the lobster was pushed to one side,” she said. “It was fishy but it wasn’t a lobster taste.”
When Alex Davies looked at his McLobster he noticed the bun-filling ratio “wasn’t particularly good” and the filling wasn’t as chunky as in the pictures. He still tried it.
“The taste was disappointing, because the lobster was completely overpowered,” he said. “It basically tasted like tuna salad, but I wouldn’t say it was bad, just that it wasn’t the blast of lobster flavour that I was hoping for.”
Selling lobster through the chain is a good way to boost sales of the meat, said Geoff Irvine, executive director of the Lobster Council of Canada.
“If we had our choice, we’d rather be selling lobster in different forms than McLobster,” Irvine said from Halifax. “But we don’t have that choice and it is a good way for lobster meat to be sold and it does introduce lobster to more consumers.”
Earlier this year, the Canadian Press reported lobster prices had fallen to about $4 per pound in Nova Scotia and as low as $3.25 on Prince Edward Island. Last year, the association said, prices were around $4.50 to $5 per pound.
McDonald’s spokeswoman Stephanie Sorensen said the McLobster wasn’t introduced in Ontario because of increased Lobster supply. “It was something we planned well in advance based on the popularity of the McLobster in Atlantic Canada and the popularity of fish sandwiches in Ontario,” she said.
Even if it’s their first try, Irvine said most consumers would know that higher-quality lobster is available for more money, comparing different dishes to beef burgers and sirloin.
For several years lobster supply has increased and the industry has had to find more channels to sell the meat, Irvine said.
“That’s one of the reasons it’s being sold in the fast-food segment today,” he said, adding lacking predators and warmer water have contributed to a boost in the crustaceans.
26 7 / 2013
Images via Imager
It’s so obvious/amazing, it’s hard to believe no one had thought of it before, particularly in the world of memes, where every major media property seems to get mashed up with … every other major media property. Now we’ve got Star Wars crossed with Game of Thrones, and it might be the funniest thing on Reddit (at least in the last couple days).
Basically, folks on the Wars vs. Thrones subreddit are taking the franchises’ similar overarching themes—awful dictators, betrayal, uncomfortable brother-sister relationships, maimings—and lining them up side-by-side to see which one is more badass and which set of circumstances is more hardcore. That’s it. Throw in the popular internet rejoinder “That’s Cute,” and the hits just keep on coming.
(Spoiler alert: Some of these images contain mild spoilers for the most recent season of Game of Thrones and the Star Wars movies.)
For example, Princess Leia kissed her brother once. You know what Cersei Lannister has to say about that? “That’s cute.” Anakin Skywalker complaining about losing a hand? Varys says, “Sith, please.” (Ok, not in those words, but you get the idea.) Chewbacca gives his trademark bellow, and Hodor responds—naturally—with “Hodor.”
“Well, some random person wanted it and here it is, a subreddit for all your SW vs. GoT references,” moderator l5ll5ll5l wrote in a post setting up the thread yesterday.
Thank you, Random Person. We all owe you a debt of gratitude right now for this amazing trove of images combining two of the best properties of all time, and helping us bide our time for the next season of Game of Thrones and Star Wars: Episode VII. Click through the gallery above for some of the best posts in Wars vs. Thrones so far.
25 7 / 2013
A pilot project using remote camera technology is capturing spectacular and enlightening views of the unique wildlife in one of Canada’s northernmost national parks.
Ivvavik National Park, located at the northern tip of the Yukon, is home to a large and diverse population of Arctic wildlife, but with 10,000 square kilometres of park to cover, naturalists can’t hope to effectively monitor the park and its fauna.
Starting last year, Parks Canada installed five motion-sensing cameras in the park to help track indigenous species like wolverines, grizzly bears, grey wolves and the unique porcupine caribou.
The rugged outdoor cameras are affixed to stakes, since the park is mostly tundra with few trees. They were left to operate all through the region’s harsh winter. When researchers retrieved them in the spring, they were surprised to find how well the cameras had worked, despite the dark conditions and temperatures that fell below -40 C.
The small-scale project was so effective that the program has now more than doubled, using 17 cameras to study the park’s wildlife.
In the past year, the cameras have captured 444 shots of caribou and another 600 of the park’s carnivores.
"We can derive a lot of potential information like behaviour, occupancy modeling, habitat use and diurnal pattern, inter-species interaction … there’s a lot of information we can derive, but it’s still a work in progress," said Jean-François Bisaillon, Parks Canada’s lead ecologist for the wildlife camera project.
One primary focus of the project is the porcupine caribou herd. Ivvavik, which means “birthplace” in the Inuvialuktun tongue, is a vital breeding ground for the species.
Each year, the herd migrates over 2,000 kilometres from central Yukon to its calving ground on the Beaufort Sea, one of the longest land migrations on Earth. Concerns are simmering over possible oil drilling in Alaska’s neighbouring Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and what impact it might have on the caribou.
To read the rest of the article click here.
24 7 / 2013
At first glance, Kimberly Witham’s photos in her Domestic Arrangements series are pleasant to look at, just like the idealized designs they’re meant to critique. They’re bright, colorful and nicely arranged. Then you see the roadkill.
“I’m trying to create images which are simultaneously seductively beautiful and completely disturbing,” says Witham, who lives in New Jersey.
A couple years back, Witham bought a 100-year-old house that needed a lot of work. Browsing through magazines like Martha Stewart Living and Dwell, she was struck by how the photos showed domestic spaces that were “so pristine and perfect.” She knew her house might never look as good. She wanted to examine the attraction to what she calls an “idealized notion of American suburbia.”
Around the same time, Witham started commuting to work along a road where she often saw roadkill. All the dead animals made her think about how Americans’ relationship to nature changes when animals cross into the human world.
“Deer are lovely in the woods and fields but not when they eat the tulips. Bird feeders are great as long as birds eat the food. When a squirrel intrudes, it’s considered a nuisance. Raccoons are very cute until they get into the trash cans, etc.,” she says.
Witham’s photos are in conversation with the long still life tradition. She thinks 16th century European still life paintings and natural history dioramas are also about “man’s attempt to categorize, comprehend and ultimately control the natural world.”
Some viewers assume the animals are taxidermy, but Witham says they’re all freshly dead specimens she picks off the highway or finds during her runs. Once she’s made the photos, she buries the animals in a sort of cemetery in the woods behind her house.
“It seems like a fitting place, and I try to give them a respectful end,” she says.
Photos from Domestic Arrangements will be at The Lightroom Gallery in Philadelphia from July 18 through September 21.
24 7 / 2013
“In Pursuit of Willy” based on The Goonies
If you are both a movie buff and a map addict, this is going to be fun.
These wonderfully detailed maps show character journeys and iconic locations in some classic adventure movies. Can you guess which movie each map represents? The map above is relatively easy to decipher, but some on the following pages are more challenging. We’ve got all the answers below, hidden by our anti-spoiler redaction machine. Highlight each answer to reveal it, or uncover them all at once with the toggle.
Illustrator Andrew DeGraff created these maps using a palette of two to 15 premixed colors of gouache with color blocking and line on top to make each map look almost like a vintage treasure map, embellished with colored accents and lines to bring specific locations to life, and to map out the paths of famous characters.
However, unlike a treasure map, you’re not looking for one X to mark the spot of the movie’s finished story. Half the fun is following each colored line and tracing the paths of the characters at your own pace, feeling like you are on the same journey they took. The other half could come from a combination of challenging your friends to a location-based movie trivia showdown, and noticing all the little details DeGraff included from each movie.
DeGraff says he originally envisioned the maps as infographics for each movie, but as he developed the idea and worked out kinks along the way, he found them to be more like playful representations. “I’ve always been a little obsessed with scale models, and I think that feeling of a precious, complete, little recreation is what the maps embody,” he said.
“Taking these big sweeping stories and packaging them into these paintings allows them to be absorbed in a flash, but also to be explored over time. Rather than being like infographics, they end up being much more like toys made from the plot of the films.”
He’s got plans to make more maps for movies, including The Princess Bride, The Wrath of Kahn, and The Shining, and he has a Lord of the Rings map in the works (see DeGraff’s initial sketch below) but for now, we’ll be consumed with these… at least for the next few days.
To see more of DeGraff’s work, click here.
23 7 / 2013
A swimmer approaches a statue depicting actor Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” at the Serpentine Lake, Hyde Park, London, Monday, July 8, 2013.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice may have just turned 200, but the beloved story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy still looms large. Especially so in London’s Hyde Park, where a new 12-foot tall statue of Mr. Darcy — as played by Colin Firth — has just been erected in Serpentine lake.
The statue shows the top half of Mr. Darcy emerging soaking wet from an afternoon swim, moments before he and Ms. Bennet share an awkward encounter. The scene is one of the most memorable in the canon of Austen adaptations – as no such meeting appears in the book. Writing in The Guardian, critic and Austen expert John Mullan commented, “I suppose it is inevitable that Pride and Prejudice be best known for a scene that Austen never wrote.”
The giant fiberglass likeness is modeled on Firth, who famously played Darcy (alongside Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet) in the 1995 BBC miniseries version of the Austen romance. The scene turned Firth into a romantic hero and international sex symbol.
The statue was crafted by three sculptors over the course of two months, but it’s not just art for art’s sake. In fact, the statue is an eye-popping bit of promotion for Drama, a new digital TV channel dedicated to British programs (like Pride and Prejudice). The scene was chosen by U.K. television viewers — in a recent survey, they voted it the most memorable moment in a British TV drama.
To read the full article click here.