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Is Yellowstone Park sitting on a supervolcano that’s about to blow?

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 19:06 by John Sinteur in category: News


A supervolcano is one that explodes in (natch) supereruptions. Definitions vary, but usually we’re talking a magnitude-eight (M8) eruption: one trillion metric tons of ash and other debris filling at least 100 cubic miles, typically upchucked over the course of about a week. Picture 1,000 Mount Saint Helenses, or 8 Tamboras. Besides causing regional devastation, supereruptions affect global climate. An Indonesian super 74,000 years ago kicked off a thousand-year drought that some contend caused a human population crash. One shudders to think what a similar blow would do now.

Yellowstone is both a supervolcano and a hotspot; the two don’t always go together. A hotspot is the business end of what’s known as a mantle plume, a stream of magma that rises hundreds of miles through a channel in the earth’s crust like the blob in a lava lamp. The Yellowstone plume head, 50 miles underground, is several hundred miles wide. Over time, the hot head melts the overlying crust, forming a smaller magma chamber. Yellowstone’s magma chamber is just a few miles down and contains partially melted granite viscous enough to trap gas, allowing pressure to build. Periodically the pressure cracks the surface, explosively ejecting gas and disintegrated rock into the surface world. After about a tenth of the chamber’s contents have erupted, pressure falls and the show’s over. Reheat and repeat.

The Yellowstone hotspot has produced dozens of large eruptions over the past 16 million years, the last three within the Yellowstone volcanic field: two supers and one M7.4 lightweight that created 68 cubic miles of debris. They left overlapping giant calderas, or craters, each 10 to 50 miles wide. Since filled with lava and eroded, the calderas are inconspicuous and went unrecognized till the 1960s.

These three big eruptions were 640,000 years ago, 660,000 years earlier, and 800,000 years before that. See a pattern? Lurid reports suggest we’re almost due, even overdue, but the pattern is illusory. Over the past 4.5 million years, large Yellowstone eruptions have come at irregular intervals of 300,000 to 2.4 million years. Furthermore, a series of smaller eruptions (relatively; one was Krakatoa-esque in magnitude) between 170,000 and 70,000 years ago ejected as much material as a super — perhaps enough to relieve the pressure, and danger, for a while.

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Pride, Fury, Fire

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 18:35 by John Sinteur in category: News


Israelis don’t see the effects of the siege in Gaza, or the way it was maintained during the six-month “calm.” Israeli journalists have a far easier time covering Mumbai than covering Gaza. What Israelis saw during the “calm” were Palestinian violations. Israel claimed that Hamas wasn’t keeping the agreement. That was true. It was also true that the Israeli government continued hoping, against all evidence, that the siege would provoke popular uprising against Hamas rule. Hamas regarded the calm as a failure in relieving siege conditions.

When the six months ended, Hamas decided that those Israelis would only understand force. To a man with a hammer, as the saying goes, everything looks like a nail – especially to an angry man. With a little careful thinking, anyone on the Hamas side could have figured out that no Israeli politician wanted to agree to reduce the siege in response to rocket fire. That would be giving in.

So brinkmanship led to both sides rushing over the brink into the abyss. Olmert, Livni, Barak and the collected generals apparently think that Hamas will agree to reduce violence as a result of the onslaught. A ten-second exercise in trying to imagine how Hamas leaders – or Gaza residents – see the situation leads to the opposite conclusion.

It is possible that the new offensive will shatter the Hamas government. In that case we’ll have a collapsed state in Gaza, where there is absolutely no one interested in stopping rocket fire. Will Israel occupy the Strip again then? Does our triumvurate think that NATO will want the job? Outside of showing that we have a bigger hammer, what will the operation accomplish?

Outside of the hammer, actually, Hamas did have some delicate tools in its tool chest. It could, for instance, have proposed indirect negotiations aimed at a two-state solution.That would have caught Israel’s leaders totally off guard, and undermined the political rationale for the siege. I guess that no one in the Gaza leadership considered this for 10 seconds.

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  1. Problem is, that Hamas has one goal: delete Israel.
    Keeping it in mind, you can see that there is no way a negotiation will have results, ever.

    Offering a two-state solution would mean that Hamas gave up it’s declared goal: destroying Israel.
    And actually it’s a two state solution right now. One state attacked another state, and the other responded accordingly.

Kamikaze ballooning Brazilian soars to Darwin Award

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 18:17 by John Sinteur in category: ¿ʞɔnɟ ǝɥʇ ʇɐɥʍ


The voting has not yet closed, but kamikaze ballooning Brazilian priest Antonio de Carli looks a dead cert to secure the 2008 Darwin Awards crown for the most impressive contribution to improving the gene pool by removing himself from it.

The Roman Catholic daredevil decided back in April it was a really bright idea to attempt to break the record for the most time spent dangling under a load of helium balloons (19 hours), to “raise money for a spiritual rest-stop for truckers” in the coastal city of Paranagua.

Despite being an experienced skydiver and packing a GPS, mobile phone and parachute, he was quickly blown out to sea and, although subsequently able to call for help, was apparently unable to provide his position because he couldn’t work the GPS unit. His body was recovered three months later off the south-east coast of Brazil.

The full list of 2008 nominations is right here

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  1. Awarding a Darwin to a priest is moronic, No It’s DARWINIAN.

    HELLO people He was out of the Pool.

    Birds of a feather flock together, strike a bell with any of you.

    It’s a shame all those that voted for him can’t be removed from the Gene pool.

  2. You may want to read a bit more on the darwin site – it’s called a “double-darwin”. He removed himself from the gene pool twice…

  3. I don’t think a catholic priest can get the Darwin award.
    They are not in the gene pool after all, they do not pass on their genes anyway. 🙂

  4. And I know that you said that too, but I don’t think the double darwin should be valid.
    I just hate touchpads…

Iz one of doz days

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 15:15 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture


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Google Streetview Catches Porsche Engineers With Their Pants Down

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 15:02 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture



What do you do if you’re high altitude testing and you see one of Google’s Streetview cars coming? “Hans, run for the tarps!”

The boys at Garage419 were doing a little research on Colorado’s Mount Evans Scenic Byway using Google’s Streetview and something interesting caught their attention. The Mount Evans Scenic Byway climbs 7,000 feet in just 28 miles reaching a 14,264-foot summit, making this the highest paved road in America and one frequently used by manufacturers for high-altitude testing. It’s obvious now why they were checking it out.

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Big mamma hippo shows off adorable new calf Paula by taking her for a swim

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 14:57 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture



It is the ultimate in swimming lessons as Paula the baby hippo struggles to keep up with her mother Kathi.

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The aXXo files

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 14:49 by John Sinteur in category: Intellectual Property


If you already know his name, chances are you’ve been doing something illegal.

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  1. I’d like to add another quote from the article to that:

    “When you have six million people breaking the law, it’s the law that needs changing, not the people.”

When you can’t trust drug companies, who can you trust?

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 13:52 by John Sinteur in category: News


In 2002, four intrepid researchers filed a Freedom of Information Act. But they weren’t looking for information on Guantanamo or revelations from Cheney’s lair. All they wanted was the FDA’s drug analysis data. Taxpayer funded research. They got it. The studies examined were conducted between 1987 and 1999 andcovered Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Serzone, and Effexor. They found, on average, that placebos were 80 percent as effective as the drugs.

Put aside the surprising results: Why didn’t the public know about these studies? Why wasn’t the medical community informed? The answer, as Marcia Angell argues in an important New York Review of Books article, is that our system of clinical evaluation is so riddled with conflicts of interests that “it is simply no longer possible to believe much of the clinical research that is published, or to rely on the judgment of trusted physicians or authoritative medical guidelines.”

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Flawed accounting method hides true scale of pension fund losses

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 13:50 by John Sinteur in category: News


Many of Britain’s biggest companies are preparing year-end accounts that show their pension schemes moved into surplus last year despite the collapse in world markets, which wiped hundreds of billions from their assets.

The latest figures from the pensions advisers Aon Consulting show that a steep decline in the FTSE 100 over last year and a sharp drop in commercial property values has sent most final-salary schemes into crisis and pushed fund deficits to new lows. According to government figures, company pension fund deficits rose in the 12 months to November from £58bn to £155bn.

Aon Consulting warned that the figures underestimated the problem and pension funds had suffered a £226bn loss on their investments in the year to October.

However, accounting rules – which critics argue distort company pension scheme fund values – will show a rise in assets. For the top 200 companies in Britain, that will mean a £13bn surplus at the end of 2008. Aon says the top 100 firms have seen a £5bn improvement over the last year, based on current accounting rules.

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2008 in review

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 13:18 by John Sinteur in category: Funny!

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‘Wow, the jets are right next to my window.’

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 12:45 by John Sinteur in category: ¿ʞɔnɟ ǝɥʇ ʇɐɥʍ


Officials ordered nine Muslim passengers, including three young children, off an AirTran flight headed to Orlando from Reagan National Airport yesterday afternoon after two other passengers overheard what they thought was a suspicious remark.

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  1. Hmmmm, I really want that window seat, so… Stewardess?

  2. So if you’re on a plane with your mother-in-law, here is an easy way to get her thrown off!

Unusual disk latency

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 12:12 by John Sinteur in category: Software


I found this when investigating an intermittent latency issue caused by vibration on disk missing a drive bracket screw (which Adam found once before). After reinserting the disk, I enabled additional Analytics to get a good trace of the effect – but it wasn’t reproducing. I was trying to figure out why, and wondering how close the disk was to the vibration point – when I shouted at it to give it some extra vibration. This worked better than expected, and caused issues in all the disks I was shouting at, not just the missing screw one. I was using the Analytics by-disk breakdown to map where I was shouting at (although in the video I shouted a bit too loud, and vibrated most disks in both JBODs). If I can get the missing screw issue to reproduce, I’ll post a blog entry with the screenshots.

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Why do you need a divorce?

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 11:25 by John Sinteur in category: Joke

A judge was interviewing a woman regarding her pending divorce, and asked, “What are the grounds for your divorce?”

She replied, “About four acres and a nice little home in the middle of the property with a stream running by.”

“No,” he said, “I mean what is the foundation of this case?”

“It is made of concrete, brick and mortar,” she responded.

“I mean,” he continued, “What are your relations like?”

“I have an aunt and uncle living here in town, and so do my husband’s parents.”

He said, “Do you have a real grudge?”

“No,” she replied, “We have a two-car carport and have never really needed one.”

“Please,” he tried again, “is there any infidelity in your marriage?”

“Yes, both my son and daughter have stereo sets. We don’t necessarily like the music, but the answer to your questions is yes.”

“Ma’am, does your husband ever beat you up?”

“Yes,” she responded, “about twice a week he gets up earlier than I do.”

Finally, in frustration, the judge asked, “Lady, why do you want a divorce?”

“Oh, I don’t want a divorce,” she replied. “I’ve never wanted a divorce. My husband does. He said he can’t communicate with me!”

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Why Not Start Your Weekend on Wednesday?

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 11:21 by John Sinteur in category: News


Were an alien to pick up our news channels, it would conclude that human civilization depended on the production and purchase of cheap plastic rubbish. First came the concern that we might talk ourselves into not spending enough, then the fear that the banks wouldn’t lend us the money to spend even if we wanted to. In November, our governments borrowed money and gave it to us in the hope that we’d catch on. Are we really so dependent on consumption?

In the short run, yes. Economists worry about a sharp fall in consumer spending, because when demand for goods falls, so does demand for labor. Our desire to spend less is quickly revealed as a desire to spend less hiring each other (and our friends in China) to make things. Result: economic collapse, unemployment, misery.

In the long run, the picture is completely different. We earn—this is a very rough average—twice what our parents did when they were our age. When today’s teenagers are in their 40s, there is no reason why they shouldn’t decide to enjoy their increased prosperity by working less instead of earning more. Rather than being twice as rich as their parents, they could be no richer but start their weekends on Wednesday afternoon.

If this were a gradual process, mass unemployment would not result. People would simply earn less, spend less, wear a few more secondhand clothes, and spend more time reading or going for walks.

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We can’t stop train, our satnav is down

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 11:15 by John Sinteur in category: ¿ʞɔnɟ ǝɥʇ ʇɐɥʍ


“It’s absolutely bizarre. We now have trains that can’t let the passengers out because they fail to pick up signals from outer space.”

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The Iraq War Is Now Illegal

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 10:29 by John Sinteur in category: Mess O'Potamia


The Bush administration’s infatuation with presidential power has finally pushed the country over a constitutional precipice. As of New Year’s Day, ongoing combat in Iraq is illegal under US law.

In authorizing an invasion in 2002, Congress did not give President Bush a blank check. It explicitly limited the use of force to two purposes: to “defend the national security of the US from the threat posed by Iraq” and “enforce all relevant UN Security Council resolutions.”

Five years after the fall of Saddam Hussein, the government of Iraq no longer poses a threat. Our continuing intervention has been based on the second clause of Congress’ grant of war-making power. Coalition troops have been acting under a series of Security Council resolutions authorizing the continuing occupation of Iraq. But this year, Bush allowed the UN mandate to expire on December 31 without requesting a renewal. At precisely one second after midnight, Congress’ authorization of the war expired along with this mandate.

Bush is trying to fill the legal vacuum with the new Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) he signed with the Iraqis. But the president’s agreement is unconstitutional, since it lacks the approval of Congress. Bush even refused to allow Congress access to the terms of the deal.

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Gonzales Defends Role in Antiterror Policies

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 10:28 by John Sinteur in category: Boo hoo poor you

He’s still out of a job, and can’t find a publisher for his book.


Alberto Gonzales, who has kept a low profile since resigning as attorney general nearly 16 months ago, said he is writing a book to set the record straight about his controversial tenure as a senior official in the Bush administration.

Mr. Gonzales has been portrayed by critics both as unqualified for his position and instrumental in laying the groundwork for the administration’s “war on terror.” He was pilloried by Congress in a manner not usually directed toward cabinet officials.

“What is it that I did that is so fundamentally wrong, that deserves this kind of response to my service?” he said during an interview Tuesday, offering his most extensive comments since leaving government.


Uhm, let’s see.

There is the politicalization of the Justice Department, including widespread employment discrimination, and the infamous US Attorney scandal. There was his racing to the hospital bed of an extremely ill John Ashcroft to get the man, still recovering from major surgery, to sign a re-authorization of secret wire tapping that the AG’s temporary fill-in, James Comey, wouldn’t sign. He signed torture memos. He destroyed the DoJ’s Civil Rights Division. Things were so bad, Justice’s own Inspector General investigated him on charges of perjury and obstruction, not exactly exonerating Gonzales.

We can add warrantless-searches, the Military Commissions Act, GITMO torture, abandoning the Geneva Conventions and shocking tolerance for corruption of a department that, for the benefit of the nation and the rule of law, must maintain its independence, to the list.

Add in almost no redeeming qualities. As Adam Cohen, chief legal analyst for CBS News wrote not long ago, “He brought shame and disgrace to the Department because of his lack of independent judgment on some of the most vital legal issues of our time. And he brought chaos and confusion to the department because of his lack of respectable leadership over a cabinet-level department among the most important in the nation.

“He neither served the longstanding role as “the people’s attorney” nor fully met and tamed his duties and responsibilities to the constitution. He was a man who got the job not because he was supremely qualified or notably well-respected among the leading legal lights of our time, but because he had faithfully and with blind obedience served President George W. Bush for years in Texas (where he botched clemency memos in death penalty cases) and then as White House counsel (where he botched the nation’s legal policy on torture).”

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GMAC: 0% Financing for Subprime FICO Scores

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 10:22 by John Sinteur in category: ¿ʞɔnɟ ǝɥʇ ʇɐɥʍ, Robber Barons


“We would like to sputter in shock and disbelief. General Motors Acceptance Corp. (GMAC) lost $5B in the 9 months ending September 2008 (on an operating basis). It has $100B in subprime and nonconforming mortgages through its ResCap subsidiary, and the government just lent them $5B at an 8% interest rate.

In addition, General Motors (GM) just announced a 0% financing option to car buyers.

So it turns out that we are now subsidizing a globally uncompetitive carmaker that does not understand what qualifies as a subprime FICO score and is offering 0% loans financed by a government (taxpayer) investment that costs 8%.

We guess they are hoping to make it up on volume.”

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Was whole economy a Ponzi scheme?

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 10:18 by John Sinteur in category: News


One point, highlighted by Tim Lee of the consultancy pi Economics in Stamford, Connecticut, is that the $50 billion headline figure is about as inflated as California real estate prices were a year ago. That $50 billion is likely to turn out to be not the amount lost but the amount people wrongly thought they had. It is likely that the actual strategy followed by Madoff could return little more than Treasury notes minus fees; in other words he could make for you what you could get for yourself with no help but then pay himself handsomely for the gymnastics.

That implies that a lot – for long-time investors, the vast majority – of the “money” invested and now “lost” with Madoff was about as notional as a credit default swap contract with a man you met outside the bus station downtown. Much of the money never existed, other than on the attractive and no-doubt glossy statements sent by Madoff.

It was simply what people would have had if he had been a genie.

And it is in this way that we are all Ponzi limited partners: We too thought our retirement funds and houses were growing miraculously, though ours was an illusion fueled by debt rather than fraud, and we too made plans based on those asset values that now stand in ruins.

“The financial system as a whole has had the characteristics of a Ponzi scheme if we look at it fundamentally,” said Lee, who was very early in warning about deflation.

Back in 1998, when the small company I worked for was about to be bought by Cap Gemini, there was talk about getting all the contracts “in line” with what was standard within Cap, and we would be required to sign new contracts. On of the advantages of signing the new contract was, as I was told, the pension fund. I asked how they were going to compensate me for the losses I would suffer. They didn’t understand my question, so I expanded: “you’re going to take money out of my paycheck and put it in a fund where I will never see it again. Thus, I lose money. How are you going to compensate for that loss?”

All I got was “but, but…. it’s a pension fund, you’re going to get paid when you retire!”. I told them I didn’t believe I ever would, unless they could guarantee me with their personal wealth that, for example, tax laws would never change. I must admit I never mentioned ponzi schemes, and I didn’t expect to be right about all this before at least 2020, but I’d really like to ask the same people if they’re finally beginning to understand what I’m talking about – although I don’t expect much progress on their part.

It soon became clear that they were just after the customers of the company, didn’t give a shit about the employees and were willing to say anything to get us to sign. So I soon allowed myself to be lured away (Hi, Jan-Mark!) to another company.

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  1. I heard a brilliant joke about this whole financial crisis.

    What happened? Bank lent money they did not have to people, who did not to give it back.

    Shameless self promotion: The fundamentals of the market a post I wrote back in September. It is just sad that it seems nothing will ever change.

Austria to Take Over Bank Medici Management

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 10:08 by John Sinteur in category: Robber Barons


Austria’s government said Wednesday it will take over management of Bank Medici but will not supply it with funds, after the Vienna-based bank suffered large losses on investments with the alleged New York Ponzi scheme run by Bernard Madoff.

Austrian authorities began investigating Bank Medici earlier this month, following reports it had placed about $2.1 billion in funds controlled by Mr. Madoff, according to people familiar with the matter. On Dec 11, prosecutors announced Mr. Madoff’s arrest on charges he defrauded investors of up to $50 billion in a Ponzi scheme.


Bank Medici focused almost entirely on achieving commissions from customers investing in two funds that in turn invested heavily with Mr. Madoff, Mr. Grubelnik said. “This is a business model without a future,” he said.


A spokesman for the Austrian National Bank said it expects only minimal fallout from the trouble at Bank Medici, because the bank wasn’t involved in traditional banking operations. Government officials concluded turbulent discussions with Bank Medici that led to the resignation of the small bank’s entire board of directors, the spokesman said.

So they did no “traditional banking operations” and only dealt with two Madoff funds. Yet they were allowed to call themselves “bank”.

Sounds like the only reason for this company to be a “bank” is to get the 100k EUR coverage of each account by the government.

In other words, they’re just thieves.

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I’m Still Tortured by What I Saw in Iraq

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 9:49 by John Sinteur in category: Mess O'Potamia


I learned in Iraq that the No. 1 reason foreign fighters flocked there to fight were the abuses carried out at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. Our policy of torture was directly and swiftly recruiting fighters for al-Qaeda in Iraq. The large majority of suicide bombings in Iraq are still carried out by these foreigners. They are also involved in most of the attacks on U.S. and coalition forces in Iraq. It’s no exaggeration to say that at least half of our losses and casualties in that country have come at the hands of foreigners who joined the fray because of our program of detainee abuse. The number of U.S. soldiers who have died because of our torture policy will never be definitively known, but it is fair to say that it is close to the number of lives lost on Sept. 11, 2001. How anyone can say that torture keeps Americans safe is beyond me — unless you don’t count American soldiers as Americans.


In Iraq, we lived the “ticking time bomb” scenario every day. Numerous Al Qaeda members that we captured and interrogated were directly involved in coordinating suicide bombing attacks. I remember one distinct case of a Sunni imam who was caught just after having blessed suicide bombers to go on a mission. Had we gotten there just an hour earlier, we could have saved lives. Still, we knew that if we resorted to torture the short term gains would be outweighed by the long term losses. I listened time and time again to foreign fighters, and Sunni Iraqis, state that the number one reason they had decided to pick up arms and join Al Qaeda was the abuses at Abu Ghraib and the authorized torture and abuse at Guantánamo Bay. My team of interrogators knew that we would become Al Qaeda’s best recruiters if we resorted to torture. Torture is counterproductive to keeping America safe and it doesn’t matter if we do it or if we pass it off to another government. The result is the same. And morally, I believe, there is an even stronger argument. Torture is simply incompatible with American principles. George Washington and Abraham Lincoln both forbade their troops from torturing prisoners of war. They realized, as the recent bipartisan Senate report echoes, that this is about who we are. We cannot become our enemy in trying to defeat him.

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Pascal’s wager for the paranoid prankster

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 9:08 by John Sinteur in category: Cartoon


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Free High Res Images of Earth

Posted on January 2nd, 2009 at 7:05 by John Sinteur in category: Great Picture


If you desire high-resolution images of the Earth, the good folks at Unearthed Outdoors have made available the 250m True Marble image set for a free download with a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license. It’s a map of the Earth made up of 32 tiles, where each tile is a 21,000 pixel square, available in png and tif formats. There’s also a series of smaller files that may be more useful — in case you don’t need a map of the Earth that ends up being 84,000 pixels tall and 168,000 pixels across. Printed at 600 dpi, that’s about 12 feet by 24 feet!

Unearthed Outdoors True Marble Imagery

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