Category: Web/Tech

The Photopic Sky Survey: One man captures the cosmos

A zoomed-in detail from the Sky Survey. Image credit: Nick Risinger,, click for full-size.

Ever wonder what drives someone to undertake an enormous challenge? I sure do. I wonder what drives people to climb mountains, run across deserts or swim vast tracts of ocean. Frankly, most of the time I’m suspicious of their level of sanity. That’s because the only way you’ll ever get me to run any distance is to set a pack of wild dogs on me.

I’ll never really understand what pushes them – these incredible feats of physical endurance can only be accomplished through a personal determination that few of us can relate to.

And as impressed – and often awed – as I am by these exploits, I’m also somewhat saddened that there are only two products of these kinds of monumental endeavours: a deep sense of personal achievement for the person who completed the effort (and anyone who helped them) and – not to be underestimated – the inspiration their success provides others.

But sometimes, a monumental effort can lead to an enduring legacy that can be shared by all. The Photopic Sky Survey is a great example.

The Survey is a 5,000 megapixel photo of the entire night sky and the largest, all-sky, true-colour survey of the visible universe ever created. It exists online and can be viewed from any angle, with or without an overlay of constellations and major stars and nebulae.  And it was done by one man – with a little help from his dad.

Go ahead, check out Nick Risinger’s work, I’ll wait.

Prepping the cameras for a night of shooting in Colorado. Image credit Nick Risinger,, click for full-size.

The Survey was brought to my attention by a colleague, who simply sent me an email with a link to the interactive page. He didn’t give me any background or other info. Just the link.

My immediate thought was, wow, I just love that organizations like NASA or the European Space Agency pull together images from the Hubble Space Telescope or other multi-million dollar observation platforms and compile it in such a way that we can zoom all over the starry skies with nothing more than our laptops. Ain’t science awesome?

But shortly after that I clicked the “about” link, and that’s when my jaw dropped.

This gorgeous and humbling experience wasn’t created by any government-funded scientific organization, or even by a well-endowed private think-tank. It was assembled, as a labour of love, by a single person with a personal determination that few of us can relate to.

The hundreds (thousands?) of hours it took Mr. Risinger to complete his task, the endless nights he spent monitoring the progress of his equipment as the custom-built camera rig traced the passage of stars across the sky, capturing photons that had been travelling billions of years before reaching earth – you can read about all of this on his site. It’s nothing short of amazing.

Thanks Nick Risinger. Your incredible effort has left an enduring legacy that can be shared by all.

Now, Nick I hate to sound ungrateful, but any chance you could make it iPad compatible? It was meant for that device. :-)


E-mail is dead. Long live email.

image (c) Getty ImagesThough it may not always be apparent from my occasionally incoherent ravings on this blog, I am an English major.

And like many English majors, I tend to be a bit of (a) stickler when it comes to the evolution of our language. I wrinkle my nose at terms like “mixtape”, “staycation” and “frenemy.” I resent it when people use words that have had long-held meanings in a new context e.g. “voluptuous” now means “overweight” in certain circles.

And for a very long time I insisted that it was “e-mail”, not “email.” We even debated the word here in the office with most of the twenty-somethings doing a very poor job of hiding their amusement that us we old-timers could cling so firmly to our precious hyphen.

For years however, I had the power of the press behind me. Every traditional publication at least, was consistently using “e-mail” so I certainly wasn’t going to abandon it.

Today however, the hook that I had been hanging my e-mail hat on, was unexpectedly taken away in the form – of all things – a tweet.

Not just any tweet. An official tweet from the folks who run the AP Style Book twitter account, in which they said:

Language evolves. Today we change AP style from e-mail to email, no hyphen.There we have it. Not that the Associated Press is necessarily the last word on spelling, but if they have now moved to a world of hyphen-less emails, it’s only a matter of time before it makes its way into more official records such as the Oxford English Dictionary.

So long e-mail. We had a good ride, but I think our time to part ways has come. I’ll miss you old friend. I’ll always remember with great fondness the time you entered my life and all of the promise and excitement that you brought with you. I will especially miss your hyphen. It suited you.

Updated: Yahoo *isn't* shutting down… yet.

Delicious isn't dead... yet.

Delicious isn't dead... yet.

It’s a sad day for the many people who have come to rely on, a very popular social bookmarking site. Yahoo, which bought the site in 2005, is now in the midst of shutting it down after deeming it an “off-strategy product.” This news comes to us via TechCrunch who verified the story with a WSJ reporter as well as with Yahoo itself, mere days after announcing it had layed off 4% of its staff in a recent downsizing exercise. Some people will remember delicious as one of the sites that kicked web 2.0 into high gear back when it launched in 2003.

And while this will certainly be disruptive, there are alternatives for people now forced to seek a new home for their bookmarks. Andrew has written several times about the excellent Xmarks site which not only organizes your bookmarks, but synchronizes them across multiple browsers, platforms and devices. Xmarks is the tool I have come to depend on for bookmarking as it lets me keep my personal and professional sites all neatly organized in one place.

Lifehacker has assembled a few other options to consider. To begin the process of migrating your bookmarks out of delicious, start with their import/export page here.

So Sync readers, will this announcement change things for you or were you never big users of delicious to begin with?

Update: According to Delicious’s blog, the service is not being shuttered, with Yahoo opting instead to find another home (owner) for the product. So it seems Delicious has a stay of execution at the least and possibly new masters in the longer term. However, with no buyer immediately on the horizon, Delicious’s future is far from certain.

Uploaders rejoice: "Fibe" is here

FTTNFor the last 10 years (or more) most consumers and frankly most ISPs have been exclusively focused on the performance of their high speed Internet connection’s ability to offer fast downloads. And for good reason. Fast downloads enable virtually all web-based content to be enjoyed smoothly including streaming audio and video and graphics-heavy Flash animations.

But what about upload speeds?

With the vast number of devices that let people create their own digital content being snapped up at retail every day (has anyone else noticed the explosion of Flip Video-style camcorders?) having to wait while your clips of the kids’ birthday parties upload has become a real drag. Same thing goes for photos. I have a Flickr Pro account which lets me upload tons of full-res photos to share with friends and family. I typically upload these as a batch of 50 or so images at once. That means starting the upload and then walking away for up to an hour while it completes.

Faster uploads would be a welcome option.

To address the growing need for faster uploads, Bell has just announced the availability of a new product they’re calling “Fibe”. It’s available in the Montréal and the Greater Toronto Area and offers uploads speeds of up to 7Mbps – the fastest of any current residential options. Downloads are of course pretty speedy too at up to 25Mbps.

The name Fibe was clearly inspired by the technology and infrastructure that delivers the service, known as VDSL2 (Very High Speed Digital Subscriber Line) over FTTN (Fibre To The Node). The combination of fibre-optic cabling and the enhanced data-delivery protocols of VDSL2 is a significant improvement over traditional DSL arrangements.

You can find out more about Fibe here.

However, if you live in Quebec City, or some of the new home developments in Quebec and the GTA, there’s an even better service that will soon be available to you. Known as FTTH(Fibre To The Home), this fully fibre-optic based network can deliver download speeds of at least 100Mbps and download speeds of at least 20Mbps.

How fast is that? At 100Mbps, you could download the entire contents of a DVD (approx 4.3GB) in 7 minutes.

Full Disclosure: Sync is owned and operated by Bell Canada.