This giant hole is the result of water flowing into a salt mine in Russia. When the soil started shifting in 2005, the government shut off power to the area to encourage residents to leave.
On Tuesday, the mines were evacuated due to shifting earth, and the hole opened up on Tuesday evening. Russian authorities are studying the scene and performing air quality tests to determine whether noxious gasses are being released.
A farm in Ronchi di Termeno, Italy, was nearly squashed by titanic boulders that rumbled off nearby mountains in a landslide. One of them destroyed the barn, while another stopped a whisker shy of the farmhouse itself. The furrows the boulders cut through the fields are straight out of a golden age DC comic.
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
(Images: downsized, cropped thumbnails of photos from the Associated Press) Read the rest
This is a photo of the Chernobyl "Elephant's Foot", a solid mass made of a little melted nuclear fuel mixed with lots and lots of concrete, sand, and core sealing material that the fuel had melted through. The photo was taken in 1996. At that point, the Elephant's Foot had cooled enough that a human being could stand directly in front of it for an hour before receiving a lethal dose of radiation. When the Foot was first discovered, shortly after the 1986 accident at the Chernobyl power plant, it delivered a lethal dose in just five minutes. You can read Kyle Hill's interesting history of the Elephant's Foot at Nautilus. And be sure to check out this 1991 video that shows how people were able to rig up robotic camera systems to safely take photos of the thing (though, as Hill points out, not all the photos of Elephant's Foot were taken safely). Read the rest
This is an older piece, but given that we're into hurricane season, I expect it will come up again. How do you tell if the photo you've been forwarded, showing sharks swimming through flooded urban landscapes, is real or fake? Marine biologist (and shark expert) David Shiffman has a simple 5-step process. In fact, it's so simple that I'm sure many of you will already be familiar with these tricks. But, here's the thing, it's helpful to be reminded that the tricks are necessary. They're very easy to forget when a hurricane is crashing into shore and social media is blowing up. Besides which, this will make a handy link to forward to friends and family passing questionable photos of all sorts. Read the rest
When bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon on Monday, my Facebook feed was immediately filled with urgent messages. I watched as my friends and family implored their friends and family in Boston to check in, and lamented the fact that nobody could seem to get a solid cell phone connection. Calls were made, but they got dropped. More often, they were never connected to begin with. There was even a rumor circulating that all cell phone service to the city had been switched off at the request of law enforcement.
That rumor turns out to not be true. But it is a fact that, whenever disaster strikes, it becomes difficult to reach the people you care about. Right at the moment when you really need to hear a familiar voice, you often can't. So what gives?
To find out why it's frequently so difficult to successfully place a call during emergencies, I spoke with Brough Turner, an entrepreneur, engineer, and writer who has been been working with phone systems (both wired and wireless) for 25 years. Turner helped me understand how the behind-the-scenes infrastructure of cell phones works, and why that infrastructure gets bogged down when lots of people are suddenly trying to make calls all at once from a single place. He says there are some things that can be done to fix this issue, but, ultimately, it's more complicated than just asking what the technology can and cannot do. In some ways, service failures like this are a price we pay for having a choice and not being subject to a total monopoly. Read the rest
Now this is how you do multimedia.
At The New York Times, John Branch tells the amazing, terrifying story of 16 backcountry skiers and snowboarders caught in an avalanche in the Cascade mountains in February 2012. The article, by itself, is a must-read. But you should also take a look at the absolutely fantastic way that Branch and his editors put the online medium to good use — embedding interactive maps, photos that move like something out of Harry Potter, and more standard videos into a lovely, fluid design.
Alissa Walker, who pointed me toward this piece, said that she felt cold just reading it. And you really do get that feeling. All the elements of Branch's article are brought together in a way that enhances the urgency and amplifies your sense of experiencing somebody else's story. It's really, really, really fantastic.
We have this idea that physical crowds are stupid herds. Give them half a chance, and they'll form a stampeding riot mob driven by emotion. Look at history, though, and you'll see many examples of large groups of people being perfectly well-behaved. In fact, in disaster situations, like on 9/11, crowds can even organize themselves in practical ways to help others to safety.
Meanwhile, we tend to talk about virtual crowds — the kind that form online, or between physically distant members of a professional community — as smart. But if that's always true, why do these groups get caught up in financial bubbles and why isn't Twitter a more reliable place to pick up breaking news?
Physical crowds and virtual crowds are different things. But our stereotypes about them stem from a common problem. In both cases, we tend to treat "the crowd" as if it's a distinct entity — as if, at some point, individuals in a group stop being themselves and start to become limbs of a crowd creature. In my latest column for The New York Times magazine, I learned that that's not the way people work in real life. As Clark McPhail, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told me, "Crowds don't have a central nervous system."
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Gustave Le Bon was one of the first people to write about crowds as entities separate from the people in them. His 1895 book, “The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind,” shaped academic discussions of human gatherings for half a century and encouraged 20th-century fascist dictators, including Benito Mussolini, to treat crowds as emotional organisms — something to be manipulated and controlled.
This image, made using a laser mapping technology called LIDAR, was taken on September 17, 2001. It shows a 3-D model of the rubble left behind in lower Manhattan following the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Minnesota Public Radio's Paul Tosto has a really interesting peek into the way mapping techniques like LIDAR were used to help rescuers and clean-up crew understand the extent of the damage, look for survivors, and rehabilitate the area around the disaster zone.
The Library of Congress work also includes data from a a thermal sensor flown at 5,000 feet over Ground Zero that provided images to track underground fires that burned for weeks at the site.
It's worth remembering that Google Earth didn't exist back then. The ancient science of cartography has been reborn with the technology of the last decade. Let's hope it's not called on again to map destruction.