Monday, June 27, 2011

Modern engineering marvels

You've read about or (if you're lucky enough) seen the Great Wall of China, the pyramids of Egypt and Machu Picchu. Let’s shift our attention from the classic depictions of man-made marvels to more modern engineering feats. You can experience two of these marvels—the Channel Tunnel and National Stadium—on a journey with Discovery Student Adventures. Come explore!

The Channel Tunnel
Also called the Chunnel, this massive throughway connects Folkestone, England, with Conquelles, France, via 31.4 miles of undersea rail. At its lowest point, it is 250 feet deep. The Channel Tunnel possesses the longest undersea portion of any tunnel in the world, although the Seikan Tunnel in Japan is both longer overall at 33.46 mles and deeper at 790 feet below sea level.

National Stadium
This modern architectural feat was designed as a football (soccer, to Americans) and track & field venue for the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. Dubbed the "Bird's Nest" for its likeness, the stadium can seat a whopping 91,000 spectators. The design for the stadium was based on Chinese ceramics.

Oasis of the Seas
Oasis of the Seas is the largest passenger ship in the world. At 1,181 feet, Oasis is 69 feet longer than the prior largest passenger ship, the Independence of the Seas and classmates. Oasis also is 28 feet wider, and with a gross tonnage of 225,286, is almost 45% larger. The ship cost $1.24 billion to build.

Akashi Kaikyo Suspension Bridge
The longest suspension bridge in the world, Akashi Kaikyo isn't just massive; it's also visually stunning. Also known as the Pearl Bridge, it has the longest central span of any suspension bridge, at 6,532 feet. The bridge links the city of Kobe on the mainland of Honshū to Iwaya on Awaji Island by crossing the busy Akashi Strait. It carries part of the Honshū-Shikoku Highway.

San Alofonso del Mar
San Alfonso del Mar is a private resort located in Algarrobo, Chile, about 60 miles west of the capital Santiago. It is notable for having the Guinness world record for the largest and deepest swimming pool in the world. The pool covers nearly 20 acres and has as much water as 6,000 regular swimming pools.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

America's most endangered historic places

A Civil War fort, a Colonial-era farm and a 1,000-square-mile swath of northwestern New Mexico. What could such disparate destinations have in common? Sadly, their one shared characteristic is that they all made the latest edition of America’s Most Endangered Places.

This year’s Endangered Historic Places include:

Bear Butte, Meade County, S.D.: Considered sacred ground by as many as 17 Native American tribes, this 4,426-foot mountain is threatened by proposed energy-development projects that officials say “will negatively impact the sacred site and further degrade the cultural landscape.”
Belmead-on-the-James, Powhatan County, Va.: This one-time slave-holding plantation became a school for African-American boys in 1893. Closed in 1970, the Gothic Revival manor house and other buildings are in need of emergency repair.
China Alley, Hanford, Calif.: Brick facades and Asian detailing create a unique atmosphere in this once-bustling Chinatown, which dates back to 1877. Today, it suffers from disuse, deterioration and insensitive development.
Fort Gaines, Dauphin Island, Ala.: Established in 1821, this fort played a major role in the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. Today, it’s under siege by tides and currents, which are eroding its shoreline by as much as 50 feet per year.
Greater Chaco Landscape, N.M.: This 1,000-square-mile swath of northwestern New Mexico is home to hundreds of Native American cultural and archeological sites. It’s threatened by increased oil and gas exploration in the area.

Is there any place in America that would make your endangered historic places list?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Green travel really taking off

Travelers around the world are increasingly taking "eco-friendliness" into consideration when they hit the road or take to the skies. A recent survey of 1,000 U.S. hoteliers showed that 70% plan to reduce their impact on the environment this year as a way to attract travelers. Another study found that 47% of travelers now take eco-friendly factors into account when making travel plans.

A study in the U.K. showed travelers place the highest priorities on these green factors:

1. Separating and reducing waste 77.9%
2. Saving water and energy 77.5%
3. Increased use of public transport 66.7%
4. Booking of environmentally friendly accommodation 53.6%
5. Traveling via the most eco-friendly mode of transport 45.3%

Do you "Think Green" when you travel?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ahhhh ... Australia welcomes nation's first home-born Galapagos tortoise

This little guy's got a lot of growing up to do! Galapagos tortoises are known for their massive size. Males can grow up to six feet long from head to tail and weigh more than 500 pounds. At one month old, this hatchling is a mere three inches long and weighs just three ounces.

It takes between 20 and 25 years for the species to reach full size and sexual maturity. Adult tortoises have been known to live more than 150 years, according to the San Diego Zoo.

Galapagos tortoises rose to fame through Charles Darwin, who identified that each subspecies of Galapagos tortoise has unique physical traits that helps it thrive, depending on the climate and conditions on the different Galapagos Islands.

The giant, slow-moving tortoises were food for early explorers and sailors to the islands. This custom combined with the introduction of non-native species, such as dogs and cats, that prey on turtle eggs contributed to a decline in population, according to the San Diego Zoo, which has one of the largest breeding programs in the world for the Galapagos tortoise.

There are between 10,000 to 15,000 Galapagos tortoises living in the wild. Thanks to recent conservation efforts, there has been an increase in the population. They are listed as a "vulnerable species" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Name game: What do you think is the perfect name for this baby tortoise?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

10 top inventions for 2011

Year after year, we see a lot of remarkable things come out of people’s garages. Some are designed to treat the sick or save the planet. Others are simply fun to play with. But no matter what the purpose, the brilliance of the inventions and the dedication of the individuals behind them are always inspiring. Read on for a look at this year’s coolest inventions.

The Stark Hand
Created by Mark Stark, The Stark Hand prototype provides an ingenious, comfortable, and very inexpensive alternative to the hook his friend Dave Vogt had worn all his life. With the new hand, Dave can now catch balls and grip wine glasses.

The BodyGuard
David Brown designed The BodyGuard, a crime-fighting armored glove, as built-in self protection. The demo model has a camera, a wrist mounted stunner and lots of room for future improvements. The idea came to David while talking to his friend, Kevin Costner.

The PrintBrush
Weighing in at less than a pound, Alex Breton's PrintBrush easily fits in a laptop bag and prints on any flat surface, from wood to fabric to plastic. Alex worked on the project for 11 years, but a version with a bonus built-in camera comes out early next year.

The Katal Landing Pad
Aaron Coret and his friend Stephen Slen came up with the Katal Landing Pad after Aaron had a nasty snowboarding accident. The board, which was used during the 2010 Winter Olympics, provides a giant cushioned landing for snowboarders and helps make the sport safer.

Dynamic Eye Sunglasses
Unlike regular sunglasses, Chris Mullin's glasses block glare instantly with liquid crystal lenses that darken the most where the sun's light is the brightest. A particularly sunny commute inspired Mullin's invention.

The Bed Bug Detective Science Built to imitate a dog's nose, the Bed Bug Detective sniffs out bedbugs quickly. Chris Goggin plans to create a model that can detect other pests, too, including mice and cockroaches.

A Prenatal Marker to Screen for Pregnancy Complications
Designed by a college student and his classmates, the Prenatal Screening Kit, or safety pen, helps detect complications in pregnancies at an early stage. The pen will be quite cheap, costing only a third of a cent per use, making it a perfect tool for hospitals in developing nations.

The Zero Liquid Discharge
With a pleasant name for a gross procedure, the Zero Liquid Discharge, or ZLD, completely oxidizes and evaporates sewage from boats, airplanes and RVs. After flash evaporation, the waste leaves as a harmless, odorless aerosol.

Kymera Motorized Body Board
The lightweight Kymera Body Board is Jason Woods's solution for a timeless problem (for lucky people): how to have fun at the lake without the hassle of lugging a boat around. The latest version of his motorized body board hits speeds of 25 mph.

The Medical Mirror
While it can't tell you if you're the fairest of them all, the Medical Mirror can tell you your heart rate, which is probably more valuable in the long run anyway. A webcam behind the mirror captures variations in reflected light on your face, and an algorithm translates that into heartbeats.

What do you think is the coolest invention ever?

Friday, June 3, 2011

10 most photographed places on Earth

There’s truth to the old adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. But when you’re talking about the world’s most scenic hot spots to shoot, how can you put a new twist on an iconic subject? Read on for a list of the most photographed spots on Earth, and tips on what you can do as a picture-taker to breathe new life into an age-old subject.

No. 10: Amsterdam
Landmark: Dam Square

Created in the 13th century as a dam around the Amstel River, this expansive plaza is now flooded with street performers and tourists (and pigeons). It's hard to capture the frenzied feeling in a wide shot.

Standard shot: Wide, with buildings and lots of space

Tip: Try keeping other people in the frame. There's a natural temptation to shy away from shooting photos of strangers, but including people can give viewers a contextual clue about the relative size of the subject you're photographing. Plus families and groups of travelers can make a space seem more alive.

No. 9: Rome
Landmark: Colosseum

This ancient site is filled with the ghosts of dueling gladiators, tormented prisoners, and slaughtered animals, contained, centuries after the fact, within a stunning framework of Corinthian, Doric, and Ionic columns. It's a gorgeous dichotomy indeed, and it's hard to not want to capture it all.

Standard shot: The structure, in its entirety.

Tip: Take advantage of a natural "frame." The archways at Rome's Colosseum give shape to the photo. Shooting through windows, courtyards, doorways, and other openings can create an appealing inside/outside dynamic.

No. 8: Seattle
Landmark: Space Needle

What began as the symbol of the World's Fair in 1962 has now become the symbol of this supercool city. The 360-degree view from the top is expansive, taking in sights from the Puget Sound to Mount Rainier.

Standard shot: From directly below.

Tip: Create a mirror image. Reflective surfaces are common in urban areas. For a unique take on a classic monument, look around for how an object might be mirrored in a car window, a building's glass front, or the surface of a fountain.

No. 7: Washington, D.C.
Landmark: Lincoln Memorial

This marble memorial to the 16th president—featuring Ionic columns, oil-paint murals, and a 120-ton statue of Abe himself—is a striking part of the National Mall.

Standard shot: The full building, from a distance.

Tip: Put things in "perspective." A straight-on shot is the most obvious one to take of the Lincoln Memorial, as it puts the main subject front and center. But including other objects in the picture, like this $5 bill, adds a creative element of whimsy to what might otherwise be a dime-a-dozen postcard image.

No. 6: Chicago
Landmark: Cloud Gate sculpture

Anish Kapoor's 110-ton bean of stainless steel is the shiny centerpiece of Millennium Park's AT&T Plaza and makes for a striking photo in just about any composition.

Standard shot: A direct shot of the bean, taken from the side.

Tip: Avoid the obvious. Whether it's a sculpture, a person, or a building, you can always walk around your subject to get a different view. In this case, the photographer went underneath the bean sculpture—made of highly polished steel and inspired by liquid mercury—and shot upward for a truly unique view.

No. 5: Los Angeles
Landmark: Hollywood Walk of Fame

Begun in 1960 as a Hollywood marketing tool (with filmmaker Stanley Kramer the first honoree), the series of coral-colored stars was at 2,441 in May 2011 and continues to grow.

Standard shot: One star, shot from above.

Tip: Use distance as a frame of reference. Rather than rush in and snap away, pre-visualize your image, thinking about how to photograph a subject from different directions.

No. 4: Paris
Landmark: Eiffel Tower

Gustave Eiffel's 1889 masterpiece, constructed in celebration of the French Revolution's 100th anniversary, is magnificent at any angle; but why choose one that you can easily find on a postcard?

Standard shot: Full-on, from far away.

Tip: Keep an eye out for unexpected patterns. Most pictures of the Eiffel Tower are taken from a distance. But its detailed iron latticework also captures attention. In general, close-up shots of patterns in architecture help a viewer see iconic attractions with fresh eyes.

No. 3: San Francisco
Landmark: Union Square
The main downtown plaza—used as a rallying site to support troops during the Civil War—is now a mecca for hardcore shopping and people-watching. It's also a great place to hop aboard a cable car.

Standard shot: A wide-angle view of Union Square from the Macy's Building.

Tip: Less is more. A close-up photo can sometimes be as powerful as a wide-angle one. As Belgian fashion designer Dries Van Noten once said: "It's more interesting to have just a picture of a small detail. Then you can dream all the rest around it." Here, a tight shot of a sculpture in the square takes that advice to heart.

No. 2: London
Landmark: Trafalgar Square

John Nash designed and developed this former palace courtyard into a public space in the early 1800s; it has since been further transformed with sculptures, fountains, and staircases, and has become a local hotspot for protests—all worthy subjects for your lens.

Standard shot: A wide-angle shot of the National Gallery and St. Martin-in-the-Fields church.

Tip: Shift direction. Tilt your lens down to get some surprising texture in the foreground of your shot. Here, the photographer juxtaposed an urban icon, St. Martin-in-the-Fields church, with the surface of a Trafalgar Square fountain.

No. 1: New York
Landmark: Empire State Building

Built in one year and 45 days in the midst of the Great Depression, this iconic skyscraper draws about 3.5 million visitors a year to its observatories. On a clear day, you can see as far as Massachusetts, but backward glances at the soaring architecture are pretty seductive, too.

Standard shot: The view of the Empire State Building from the street below.

Tip: Broaden your perspective. Photographing an expected sight from an unexpected place can add a lot to your photo. To get this shot, head 16 blocks north and up 70 floors to the Top of the Rock Observation Deck in Rockefeller Center, where you'll get the best view of the Empire State Building—along with a 360-degree panorama of the city.

What on Earth would be your favorite subject to photograph?

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