Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Vadim Lavrusik: What Facebook’s latest updates mean for journalists

Facebook’s Journalist Program Manager explains the changes and how journos can take advantage of them.

Editor’s NoteVadim Lavrusik, Facebook’s Journalist Program Manager, is responsible for building and managing programs that help journalists, in various ways, make use of Facebook in their work. Below, he explains Facebook’s recent design changes.
Facebook has released several updates in the last month that will affect how journalists use the platform for reporting and storytelling. Many of these new features will make it easier for journalists to distribute their content and keep up with sources of information.
Some of the relevant changes for journalists include Subscribe, which enables readers to subscribe to journalists’ public updates, and a redesigned News Feed — complete with a newly introduced Ticker for real-time updates that makes it easier to keep up with the news that’s most important to you. The new lists also make it easier for you to target updates to a specific group of people, and to see a customized stream of news from them.
The updates also include Timeline, which showcases not only the most recent stories from a single user, but also contextualizes who that user is through a historic timeline. Timeline has the potential to create a “face book” that truly serves as a digital representation of a the self: an authentic identity that has been molded over time through life experiences, personal interests, and the people we share our lives with — the people for whom we aren’t afraid to reveal our authentic identity.
With all that in mind, we wanted to provide a breakdown of what these new updates mean for journalists and how journalists can use some of the new features in their reporting.
Subscribe: Subscribe enables journalists to update their broader community of readers and sources, while reserving personal updates for friends only. It also allows journalists to keep up with sources without having to friend them, which can often give rise to conflicts of interest. Because the feature is opt-in, journalists who want to enable readers to subscribe to them have to turn on the feature.
Since its launch, the feature has been adopted by journalists from around the world and includes the likes of NBC’s Ann Curry and Lydia Polgreen, The New York Times’ South Asia correspondent.
Subscribe enables journalists to separate their personal updates and connections from their professional without having to create a professional Page. You’re able to use your profile to do everything from contacting sources you want to interview, to distributing content to subscribers, to keeping up with personal friends. And your audience, for their part, can connect with you and keep up with your content without having to add you as a friend. They can simply subscribe.
You can also have an unlimited number of subscribers, and easily update them on-the-go (from your mobile phone or from the web) simply by setting the update to “public.”
Subscribe is also an easy way for journalists to keep up with sources by subscribing to their updates. After you subscribe to particular sources, you will start getting their updates in your News Feed. Also, you can customize what kind of updates you get from each individual source within your News Feed.
Timeline: Timeline, which is going to be phased in as the new profile, enables users to access their historical content and to fill in their life experiences retroactively, on a digital timeline. People now have the opportunity to share their stories not only with those who are in their lives now, but also with the generations to come — by creating a digital and historical footprint. This means that journalists who are trying to locate sources on Facebook will be able to learn more about those people through the historical context depicted on their timeline of public posts.
Aside from that historical information and the fuller picture of sources that comes with it, journalists will also be able to use the timeline feature to access their own archived content that they’ve shared. Up until Timeline, it was difficult to go back and find a story you’ve shared in the past — one that you may want to, for example, reference in an article you’re writing. The feature will serve as a better bookmarking tool.
News Feed & the Real-Time Ticker: The new layout puts top news and most recent stories into one stream. The idea is to simplify how users keep track of the news that’s important to them. If you haven’t visited Facebook for a few days, for example, you’re probably interested in the top news. If you’ve already looked at your News Feed recently, on the other hand, you probably want to see only recent stories. The News Feed now functions more like your own personalized newspaper with a real-time twist. The top news stories first show up at the top of the feed; after you’ve seen them, you’ll be able to see recent stories based on what your connections are sharing and doing on Facebook.
The content within the main feed is still filtered for quality, and the overall amount of top stories that are being shown to visitors hasn’t decreased. For news organizations and journalists sharing their content, this means that their quality content is still showcased, front and center.
The biggest change in how users consume journalists’ content will come with the Ticker, which shows you activity in real-time. This means that breaking news is more likely to be seen, and more quickly, by users. When a user hovers over something in their ticker, they can interact with the story and share it with their friends. Because the ticker is real-time, news organizations may have to reconsider how often they publish content.
The bottom line: The News Feed continues to reward quality content by surfacing it as a top story within the main News Feed, but it also provides greater exposure to timely and breaking stories.
New Character Limit for Status Updates: The new 5,000-character limit for status updates enables journalists to post more in-depth and detailed micro stories as they report on-the-go. Though journalists have used the Notes feature to write longer posts in the past (and sometimes as a blogging tool, as well), the new character limit enables journalists to write in-depth updates when rich formatting is unnecessary.
Friend Lists: The newly re-launched lists enable journalists to better organize their sources on Facebook and to have better control of whom they publish to. Lists enable you to better categorize your connections, which includes your friends, those you’re subscribed to, and Pages you have liked.
For example, a journalist could create a list for his local politics beat and add any sources he’s subscribed to as well as any relevant Pages. After he creates it, he’ll see the list as a tab in his left-hand navigation under “lists.” When he clicks on the list he’s created, he’ll see a stream of updates from those in the list. This makes it easy to keep up with content from a specific group of sources.
After you create a list, as well, it also becomes a publishing option, which means that you can choose to publish something that only a select list of people will see. (You can do that by selecting the list in your publishing composer or by going to the list and create a status update there.) Anyone who is also subscribed to your updates will get the post in their News Feeds. Journalists can always add and remove people and pages from the list, and only the creator of the custom list can see it. (Smart lists, which are created for you, work differently.)

NASA: Satellite fell in south Pacific, not Canada

WASHINGTON (AP) — The dead NASA satellite fell into what might be the ideal spot — part of the southern Pacific Ocean about as far from large land masses as you can get, U.S. space officials said Tuesday.
New U.S. Air Force calculations put the 6-ton (5.4-metric ton) satellite's death plunge early Saturday thousands of miles (kilometers) from northwestern North America, where there were reports of sightings. Instead, it plunged into areas where remote islands dot a vast ocean.
NASA says those new calculations show the 20-year-old satellite entered Earth's atmosphere generally above American Samoa. But falling debris as it broke apart did not start hitting the water for another 300 miles (480 kilometers) to the northeast, southwest of Christmas Island, just after midnight EDT Saturday.
Experts believe about two dozen metal pieces from the bus-sized satellite fell over a 500-mile (800 kilometer) span.
"It's a relatively uninhabited portion of the world, very remote," NASA orbital debris scientist Mark Matney said. "This is certainly a good spot in terms of risk."
Scientists who track space junk couldn't be happier with the result.
"That's the way it should be. I think that's perfect," said Bill Ailor, director of the Center for Orbital and Reentry Debris Studies at the Aerospace Corp. "It's just as good as it gets."
On Saturday, scientists said it was possible some pieces could have reached northwestern Canada and claims of sightings in Canada spread on the Internet. But NASA said Tuesday that new calculations show it landed several minutes earlier than they thought, changing the debris field to an entirely different hemisphere.
"It just shows you the difference that 10 or 15 minutes can make," said Harvard University astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell, who tracks man-made space objects. On Saturday, he noted, "We were talking about, 'Wow, did it hit Seattle?'"
NASA won't say how it knows the climate research satellite came in earlier, referring questions to the U.S. Air Force space operations center. Air Force spokeswoman Julie Ziegenhorn said better computer model reconstruction after the satellite fell helped pinpoint where the satellite — called theUpper Atmosphere Research Satellite returned to Earth — returned to Earth
After UARS was launched in 1991, NASA and other space agencies adopted new procedures to lessen space junk and satellites falling back to Earth. So NASA has no more satellites as large as this one that will fall back to Earth uncontrolled in the next 25 years, according to NASA orbital debris chief scientist Nicholas Johnson.
But other satellites will continue to fall. Late in October, or early in November, a German astronomy satellite is set to plunge uncontrolled back to Earth. While slightly smaller than UARS, the German satellite is expected to have more pieces survive re-entry, said McDowell, who worked on one of the instruments for it.
The German ROSAT satellite was launched in 1990, died in 1998 and weighs 2 ½ tons (1.8 metric tons). The German space agency figures 30 pieces weighing less than 2 tons will survive re-entry. Debris may include sharp mirror shards.
The German space agency puts the odds of somebody somewhere on Earth being hurt by its satellite at 1-in-2,000 — a slightly higher level of risk than was calculated for the NASA satellite. But any one individual's odds of being struck are 1-in-14 trillion, given there are 7 billion people on the planet.
NASA's UARS site:
The German space agency on ROSAT:

Monday, 26 September 2011

Comet Elenin Spinning in the Galactic Rumor Mill

By Islam Soliman
Assistant Editor -
Monday, 26 September 2011 10:17
Difference between Elenin & a Brown Dwarf
Elenin is a small 3 to 5 km wide space debris made of ice and a rocky core.
For the past two weeks the official Facebook group of the Astronomical Society of Mahmoud Mosque (ASMM) has been bombarded with questions about comet Elenin.
“Please, tell me what will happen to the World on Sept. 26,” asked one frightened subscriber.
“I don't know what to believe. NASA knows a lot of truth out there in the sky and they hide it from us. Be safe and go away from high buildings and beaches,” commented another, ascribing to the conspiracy theory and hoax being propagated on the internet.
The rumors spreading across the internet claiming a major natural catastrophe happening on September 26, 2011, has left many people disconcerted. Many of the sources point to the idea that there is a relationship between planetary alignments, comet C/2010 X1 (popularly known as Elenin) and seismic activity and earthquakes on Earth. They claim that such celestial alignments could be the real reason behind earthquakes and natural disasters, rather than tectonic plate movements as mainstream scientists believe. 
Different arguments have also emerged to explain why that would be possible. For example, one talks about the plasma and electric cosmology model to try and explain the impact of electric interactions between electrically charged celestial bodies. Positive and negatively charged celestial objects interact through plasma thanks to plasma’s superconductive nature, they reason, leading to discharging of Earth by Elenin.
The Space-Time model of layered universe could also be pointed out which considers space not an empty vacuum but a fabric made of 4-dimentional sub-atomic particles filling every single point in the universe around our bodies and around celestial objects, which might hypothesize a shockwave resulting from Elenin’s orbit. Others ideas rationalizing eminent disaster relate to the interaction between the currently active solar winds and the comet.
Yet, all these models can’t be feasible with Elenin, a small 3 to 5 km wide space debris made of ice, which is just like billions of its kind. Its distant orbit, which will take it only as close as 35 million km (21 million miles) from Earth (90 times the distance between Earth and the Moon) also makes it too far away to exert an impact. In fact, even the magnetic field of the largest planet in the solar system, Jupiter, can only affect particles 7 million km away from it.
Not Even a Brown Dwarf
Other extreme claims about the nature of Elinin say that it is really a Brown Dwarf. But a Brown Dwarf would take far longer than what Elenin needs to change its direction by 90 degrees while passing by our Sun, which is two months and a few days. Just like a bicycle can take a narrower U-turn than a train because of its smaller size and slower speed.
A Brown Dwarf is a failed star who’s mass falls between the largest gaseous giant planets and the smallest stars. Despite the fact that they don’t illuminate themselves like stars or share other characteristics with active stars, they could have companions in binary systems, poly-systems or even satellite planets just like normal stars.
So how could a celestial body of such a size, mass and light reflection properties be at that relatively close distance from us while we can barely detect it except so faintly? If Elenin was indeed a Brown Dwarf, it would have been easily detected by even Infra-red telescopes while it was still as far as away as Neptune, the outermost planet in our solar system.
This not to mention that a Brown Dwarf would have affected the orbit of the outer planets of the solar system such as Saturn before reaching the inner regions of the four terrestrial planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth & Mars,) something that didn’t occur.
A Brown Dwarf is a failed star who’s mass falls between the largest gaseous giant planets and the smallest stars. Comet Elenin, on the other hand, is small and quickly disintegrating as it passed by close to the Sun on Sept. 10, 2011.
One thing that might be misleading people when hearing about Elenin is the use of astronomical units to explain its distance as it approaches Earth. Some of the warning messages say, “The comet is passing VERY close to Earth at a distance of 0.23 AU.” Lay readers who are not familiar with astronomy might feel that the fraction indicates a small distance, while 0.23 AU really translates to 35 million km.
Another misguiding claim says that Elenin will occult the Sun leaving our Earth in full darkness for three days. For the comet to occult the Sun, it has to move in as close to the Earth as 400 km (about the same distance the International Space Station orbits our planet), which is a far cry from 35 million km.
“As far as Comet Elenin goes, the only chance of impending doom is for the comet itself: it is disintegrating and quickly fading away,” said Nancy Atkinson of “Australian amateur astronomer Michael Mattiazzo has been monitoring this comet’s trip toward perihelion (closest point in its orbit to the Sun), which occurred on September 10, 2011, and he says Comet Elenin has likely has not survived.” Mattiazzo has observed that the comet is already facing solar flares and is melting and fading away.
It is worth mentioning that our Sun, like any other star, has a periodic cycle called “Solar Magnetic Activity Cycle” which is repeated every 11 years, whereby higher rates of solar radiations occur. Solar phenomena such as Solar Flares, Solar Winds, Coronal Holes, Coronal Loops, Coronal Mass Ejection, Prominences, Helmet Streamer, Sunspots, Supergranulation, Granule, Faculae, Plage, Spicules and Moreton Waves are also seen during that period. The year 2011 marks the 3rd most active year in the ongoing Solar Cycle, with the cycle peaking in 2013.
It seems that the only important thing we could benefit from Comet C/2010 X1 is trying to know more about the Oort Cloud, the outermost border of our solar system and the source of long-period comets. Understanding the Oort Cloud is a major goal for astronomers because it is the least known region of our solar system.
Earth is a sizable planet orbited by thousands of NEOs (Near-Earth Objects), some of which are classified as PHOs (Potentially Hazardous Objects) which lie just about 0.05 AU (7 million km) from Earth. So if rumor followers want to find something to be concerned about they can give more attention to those PHOs rather than Comet Elenin.
Atkinson, Nancy (1). Comet Elenin is Now Fading Away. September 14, 2011. Last accessed September 25, 2011.
Atkinson, Nancy (2). Worried About Comet Elenin? FAQs from Ian Musgrave. July 20, 2011. Last accessed September 25, 2011.
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