"Magnified" lunar eclipse? I don't think so

The BBC last week ran a story on Saturday's partial lunar eclipse. I have no objections to the BBC coverage lunar eclipses, but I do have problems with non-science writers covering them.

Just a bit of background, for viewers in Asia and the Americas this lunar eclipse would have appeared while the Moon was near the horizon. The Moon is bigger near the horizon right? Kinda.

The article of the title was "Lunar eclipse 'magnified' in US". A pathetic attempt at trying to make it seem more interesting. The article went on to say:

A partial lunar eclipse taking place on 26 June will appear magnified in the US by an effect known as the "moon illusion". [...] According to Nasa, low-hanging Moons look "unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects". The reason for this is not understood.

NASA huh, well you could have just asked your local amateur astronomer and got an answer. The reason for the effect is NOT unknown.

The Moon, or the Sun for that matter (please don't look directly at the Sun), do look larger when they're near the horizon compared to high in the sky. However you can take a simple measurement to show they're the same size regardless of where they are in the sky, about half a degree across.

The effect is an optical illusion created by our brains. Our brains use other objects to estimate the size of things. Trees and houses, things you'd see on the horizon are pretty big. The Moon looks like it's close to them and about the same size or bigger, so hmmm the Moon must be big too. When the Moon is off by itself high up in the sky we have nothing else to compare it to.

Effect not unknown.

Windows Live Essentials Wave 4 beta up

It's not yet appearing on all of Microsoft's websites yet, but here's the URL: http://explore.live.com/windows-live-essentials-beta.


First impressions, setup is much better. Glad I don't have to see that woman grinning into her coffee anymore like with Wave 3!

Update: replaced direct download link with the official webpage.

Clearing up storage confusion with Live Mesh and Live Sync

Last week Microsoft formally announced Windows Live Sync, the new version of which is based on Live Mesh. Live Mesh gave users 5GB of cloud storage to which they could sync data to. As well as near-unlimited data transfer between PCs.

The new Windows Live Sync, based on Mesh continues to offer most of the functionality that Live Mesh provided, bar the Live Desktop which mimicked the PC desktop as a way to offer data currently stored in the cloud which was removed as well as a few other little things here and there.

Since Live Mesh was introduced back in 2008, it sat competing with the then primitive Live Sync which only offered PC to PC synchronisation. Live Mesh was no question the better of the two so it's no surprise it is being used as the basis for the next version of Live Sync. Through Windows Live, people get 25GB of cloud storage on SkyDrive. An obvious move going forward would be to unify the Mesh and SkyDrive storage. That's basically what they've done in this release.

But you can only store 2GB of synchronised data to SkyDrive. Why?

Microsoft cites cost. Everyone shouts bogus, saying they're giving people 25GB anyway. What people aren't getting is it's really hard to fill up 25GB of space when you upload through a website or through Office, with a maximum file size of 50MB. I keep a copy of my entire picture library up there and I'm only using 6GB of it and I'm probably the top 1% of SkyDrive users.

Yet if you had folders on your computer that are set to automatically synchronise in the background to SkyDrive, that 25GB would start filling up really fast. And that would be dramatically more expensive than the current state where I'd guess the average SkyDrive account has a few megabytes of storage being used.

Give it time and no doubt Microsoft will increase the amount of synchronised storage. Sure it's a bit of a bummer that Mesh users have to downgrade to 2GB. But this isn't some geeky toy like Live Mesh was. This is a consumer product that will be installed on hundreds of millions of machines. That equals a lot of hard drives in the cloud, and that isn't cheap.

iPhone 4 can't keep up, looks dated compared to WP7

So Apple announced the iPhone 4 earlier this week. Jobs proclaimed it was the biggest upgrade since the iPhone came out. To which the Apple fanboys cheered. Perhaps somewhat exposing how disappointed they had been by the iPhone 3G, which added 3G support bringing the iPhone up to the same level as smartphones that had been shipping for years prior. And showing how lacklustre the iPhone 3GS was which was the same thing, only a bit faster.

Essentially the form factor is the same. The huge ugly bezel is still present, and with the design of the sides being a bit more chunky it is only going to feel more like a brick. They've finally added a front facing camera - again a feature that shipped on original 3G phones back 5 or so years.

Most importantly they have increased the screen resolution. Anyone who had used any Windows Mobile phone back when the iPhone first came out saw instantly how low resolution the screen on the iPhone was. They've finally caught up with the old Sony Ericsson Xperia X1 in having a display over 300 DPI. So that at least puts them up with 2008-era screens.

However the screen is the same size, 3.5 inches is pretty average nowadays. Most high-end smartphones today offer larger screens without making the handset larger by having a smaller bezel and having more of the phone taken up with screen. Also disappointingly it is the same old 4:3 aspect ratio, when other smartphones have been shipping with widescreen displays for a couple of years now as the standard.

Here's the iPhone next to the HD2. The HD2's screen is almost an inch bigger, yet the device is only slightly larger. You can really see how much space is wasted on the iPhone. Look at all that black empty nothingness top and bottom of the screen.

iPhone vs HD2

The HD2, or the Nexus One or the Desire etc show how a smartphone should be done. The front surface of the phone should be as much screen as possible.

The other much touted new feature is video calling. Yes, apparently the old iPhone didn't support that along with dozens of other features that other phones support. Worse yet it only does video calling with other iPhone 4s and you need a Wi-Fi connection. Apple blame this on mobile providers. Despite the fact the first generation of 3G phones supported video calling. Apple of course in their attempt to get mindshare give this feature a hip name FaceTime. Amazing. Once again Apple are attempting to re-write history, and too many people are letting it pass.

More importantly as Microsoft showed some newer builds of Windows Phone 7 at TechEd this week and announced that some developers (on a case by case basis) would be getting their hands on Windows Phone 7 devices next month for free. It is becoming painfully obvious just how out of date the iPhone is looking compared with WP7.

Here's the AP application running on an iPhone, and underneath an AP application running on WP7.

AP Mobile on iPhone
AP Mobile on Windows Phone 7

The screens really don't do it justice so here's the video:

In my opinion the iPhone definitely looks dated in comparison. Steve Jobs' little features here and there aren't going to make up for it. iPhone applications just look stale.

Questions for "evolutionists" - chickens, eggs, protein and Everest

Continuing the long series on questions for "evolutionists" is a few questions from a reader I got. I assume they think their questions are compelling. They are not.

First up:

What came first, the chicken or the egg? If the egg; what came first, the embryo or the shell?

The egg came first. Let me explain why. At some point in the chicken’s evolutionary past, it was a different species. Scientists categorise modern domesticated chickens as Gallus gallus domesticus. Their domestication is estimated to have started around 10,000 years ago in East Asia. If we for the sake of argument define chickens or red junglefowl (Gallus gallus) as a different species at a point around 10,000 years ago when they started to become domesticated, there would have been a a time where a chicken's parents were just those wild red junglefowls. Of course from individual generations the differences are only slight. But differences do occur. Broadening the concept further, all birds are descended from dinosaurs, so at some point dinosaurs did lay eggs with birds in them. Obviously it's not as such fine a line and species change gradually, but if you have to draw a razor sharp line somewhere, it will fall between two generations.

A quick point on what came first out of shell or an embryo. An embryo, which is critical to a species reproducing, would have come first. You can reproduce without a shell, as many species do and have done in the past. If you evolve a shell and it helps you survive, bonus. But it's certainly not the first step.

What came first DNA or the proteins that make up DNA? Since DNA itself contains the code or instructions on how to make more DNA?

First up DNA is not made from proteins, DNA codes for proteins, you can think of proteins as carrying out all the jobs that need to be done in a cell, and DNA as what tells the proteins what to do. Proteins would have *probably* been around before DNA; however this is obviously cutting edge science, and without a time machine it will be difficult to determine. It's probably fair to say RNA and proteins co-evolved. Although the first life on Earth would probably have been a simple self-replicated module, similar to RNA.

Try these simple steps:

1. Google: "how old is mount everest"
2. Google: "how many inches does mount everest grow in one year".
3. 70 million x 2.4 = 168 million
4. Divide by a mile: 168 million / 5,280 = 31,818
5. Mount everest should be 31,818 miles high?

Very nice. But the Earth cannot be understood by such simple arithmetic. You also need to consider the different rates Mt Everest and the Himalayas would have been growing, or shrinking over the course of the last 70 million years. You also need to take into account the amount of erosion that would have been happening over the course of those 70 million or so years, and take into account its variability also. Lastly, you also need to take into account that mountains cannot get much bigger than Mt Everest because gravity will pull them down, essentially they'll shrink under their own weight. An asteroid can have a huge lump or mountain out of one side, but an object as massive as the Earth has a lot of gravity and it will tend to smooth itself out.

Internet Explorer 9 offers the best HTML5 and CSS3 support

A few years ago, the Firefox fanboys were arguing for Internet Explorer to drop its own Trident rendering engine, and adopt Firefox's Gecko engine. More recently people have argued for Internet Explorer to use Webkit. Looking at these results, shouldn't we be asking Firefox and Chrome to use Trident? Well no, but it's the thought that counts.

As we can see above the Platform Preview of Internet Explorer 9 passed all 192 of the tests co-developed with the W3C, no other browsers came close. Other browsers like to claim to be standards compliant, but which standards and what does that really mean? It means not using proprietary tags (like Firefox and Webkit browsers) and not trying to roll out standards before they're finalised (like everyone did with CSS2).

So not only is Internet Explorer 9 really fast thanks to being GPU accelerated, its HTML5 and CSS3 support is shaping up nicely for when the time comes and they are finalised.

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