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Autodesk's founder reports gross errors by Limbaugh, CNN, Snopes (Remember "Columbia's Last Photo?")
Interesting-people.org | March 29, 2003 | John Walker

Posted on 03/30/2003 12:44:05 AM PST by Dont Mention the War

Date: Sat, 29 Mar 2003 10:24:29 -0800
From: Jim Warren
Subject: Autodesk's founder reports gross errors by Limbaugh, CNN, Snopes
Cc: [Snopes and a whole bunch of CNN circular file email addresses; Mr. Warren doesn't seem to know the news biz very well --DMTW]

[If you know John, you know him to be a most ardent stickler for facts. Here, John is not reporting hearsay; he's reporting about what's happened on his own server, and images he provides thereon. --jim]

At 12:34 AM +0100 3/29/03, John Walker wrote:

Subject: Sniping at Snopes.com

Almost everybody's experienced the phenomenon of encountering a description in news media of something they know from first-hand experience and discovering discrepancies that make them wonder about all the stories they *can't* independently verify.

The last couple of weeks or so have been interesting at Fourmilab. First of all, some idiot took an image off Earth and Moon Viewer (a *flat map* image, mind you, *not* a synthetic view from above) and circulated it as the "last image taken from Columbia". This was picked up by that noted spaceflight authority Rush Limbaugh, and rattled around the Net for a while until it was promptly identified as what it was; Limbaugh removed it from his Web site within 24 hours.

But of course, once the worms are out of the can, it's notoriously difficult to get them back in, especially in this brave New Media world. So, the image has kept popping up and being batted down regularly ever since.

All was more or less serene with Earth and Moon Viewer until the war started. Apparently, some bottom-feeders got the idea they could watch the bombs fall and tanks roll across Iraq by repeatedly viewing Earth Viewer images which, of course, are actually generated from a static database assembled from satellite imagery dating from 1995-1996. It didn't help that CNN started broadcasting zooms into Baghdad from Keyhole's "earthviewer.com" site; if somebody types "earthviewer" into Google, Keyhole comes up number one, but guess who's number three?

Anyway, the hit rate on www.fourmilab.ch, which had been hovering around 500,000 per day for the last two years suddenly blew the top off, resulting in four of the last ten days registering more than a million hits. When this wave first broke over the server, it was not pretty--CPU load, which normally runs about 2-3 on this 4 CPU Sun E3500, was running about 290 and all 256 Apache server processes were blocked waiting for rendered images, causing response time to drop into the minute range...which causes more re-clicks, more hits, more image rendering requests, greater load, longer delays...ugly.

I've restricted the maximum rendered image size, added a big ugly red disclaimer to the results to remind folks they're looking at a static image, and limited the number of requests from a given site. This, for the moment, has brought things under control and made million hit days survivable. If it takes off again from *this* level, I think I'll just bag it and hide out in an armed compound in Switzerland. Damn...already did that!

But let's get back to the bogus "Columbia" image. Just after I'd finished implementing the first round of "war emergency" fixes to Earth Viewer, what should happen but that image, and its provenance, popped up as NASA's Astronomy Picture of the Day for 2003-03-24:

http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap030324.html
Well, of course, that launched another wave of hits, and another round of countermeasures. NASA correctly identified the image, credited the source, and provided appropriate links. I can't complain and, if Earth Viewer didn't have its back to the wall with war hits, I'd actually be rather flattered.

Then I happened to visit the:

http://www.snopes.com/
urban legend site, and what should be the number 4 top search, but the very same "Sunset from space" picture! The hits just keep on coming.

I've visited the Snopes site several times over the last few years, generally from links in mail and news discussions and, while there's nothing explicitly bogus about the site, there's something about the tone which I've found consistently off-putting. It's reminiscent of the too-smug, overly-glib style of the Skeptical Inquirer which caused me to let my subscription lapse in the early 80's and, perhaps, set in motion my long migration from CSICOP to Psi-perp.

The Snopes analysis of the "Columbia picture":

http://www.snopes.com/photos/sunset.asp
is typical of this. Unlike NASA, they did not identify the source (although it had been identified on newsgroups long before Snopes posted this article), and the Snopes commentary itself contains two or three factual errors, depending on how you read it, and misses three of the most obvious things which identify the picture as not taken from Columbia. Here is a copy of the comments I sent to Snopes:
* * *

The image you show on the "Sunset from Space" page:

http://www.snopes.com/photos/sunset.asp
was generated by the Earth and Moon Viewer on my Web site:
http://www.fourmilab.ch/earthview/
You can almost precisely reproduce the image shown on your page with the following (very long--it may need to be unwrapped) URL:
http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/uncgi/Earth?imgsize20&img=learth.evif&opt=-z&lat6&ns=North&lon=6&ew=West&altr&date=1&utc 03-04-12+19:00
The image shown on your page looks like it was originally generated with a larger image size, then scaled to the 320x320 pixel size shown on your page, accounting for the blurring which is particularly evident in the lights on the night side of the terminator.

There are several factual inaccuracies in your discussion of this image:

"...this image can't have been both 'taken by the crew on board the Columbia' and 'taken via satellite.'"
Okay, this is a quibble, but as Columbia was, during its mission, an Earth satellite, the two statements are not, in fact, contradictory.
"Although this images does accurately depict the landforms described..."
Incorrect. This picture is a rectangular excerpt from a map image in a cylindrical projection. There is no viewpoint in orbit around the Earth from which the Earth would look like this. The distortion toward the poles is especially apparent in the shape of Iceland and the eastern part of Greenland toward the top. You can see the entire rectangular projection map with the URL:
http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/uncgi/Earth/action?opt=-p&date=1&utc 03-04-12+19:00
Further, the field of view is ridiculously too wide to be seen from the altitude at which shuttles fly. The Columbia STS-107 mission flew at an altitude of about 150 nautical miles, or 278 kilometres. A horizon to horizon view from that altitude centred at the centre of the rectangular image you show may be viewed with:
http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/uncgi/Earth?imgsize20&img=learth.evif&opt=-l&lat6&ns=North&lon=6&ew=West&alt'8&date=1&utc 03-04-12+19:00
"...the positioning of lighted cities to the right of the day-night terminator line..."
Well, subject to the comments above, the lights may be in the correct positions for the *projection*, but the *shape of the terminator* is dead wrong for a picture which purports to have been taken around the start of February. Note that in the images above, I specified a date around mid-April when the terminator looks like the one in the image you show. In fact, an image generated with the same parameters except using the illumination for February 1 appears as the following URL displays:
http://www.fourmilab.ch/cgi-bin/uncgi/Earth?imgsize20&img=learth.evif&opt=-z&lat6&ns=North&lon=6&ew=West&altr&date=1&utc 03-02-01+17:20
Think about it--in northern hemisphere winter, the north pole is in constant darkness--hence the picture you show could not possibly represent a date during the last flight of Columbia.

Finally, the cloudless day and night Earth image database used to create this rendering by the Earth and Moon Viewer on my site is © 1996 The Living Earth® Inc., All Rights Reserved.

I am not affiliated with The Living Earth; they grant my site permission to use their database to prepare free rendered images in return for identifying the data source and providing back-links. Images created from their database by Earth and Moon Viewer should be re-used only with permission from The Living Earth (http://livingearth.com/), and with identification and a back link. The Living Earth routinely grants this permission for non-commercial use of their images.

Note that when this image appeared as the NASA Astronomy Picture of the Day for 2003-03-24:

http://antwrp.gsfc.nasa.gov/apod/ap030324.html
it was identified correctly.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Extended News; News/Current Events; Technical
KEYWORDS: cablenewsnetwork; ccrm; cnn; columbia; columbiatragedy; feb12003; lamestreammedia; limbaugh; nasa; nyfd; realscience; rush; rushlimbaugh; shuttle; shuttletragedy; snopes; snopesbias; snopessnobs; snopessucks; space; sts107; urbanlegends
Personally, I think this entire post is the ultimate in nitpicking (none of it - zero - is relevant to Snopes' actual point, which is that the photo is NOT from Columbia's final mission), and Mr. Warren's added potshots at Rush and CNN say more about Mr. Warren than about Rush or CNN, but given the Astro-geek lovers on FR, I thought you might find it interesting.

For the record, John Walker's site is http://www.fourmilab.ch/ and is fun to dig through.

1 posted on 03/30/2003 12:44:05 AM PST by Dont Mention the War
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To: *RealScience; *Limbaugh; *CCRM; *Lamestream Media; MEDIANEWS; *Space; *Urban_Legends
bump list bumps
2 posted on 03/30/2003 12:48:00 AM PST by Dont Mention the War
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To: Pokey78; MEG33; 1rudeboy; Slyfox; Henk; MHGinTN; trussell; petuniasevan; paul51; TheOtherOne; ...
Bump to everyone that posted to the original Super Cool Shuttle Photo thread.
3 posted on 03/30/2003 12:58:42 AM PST by Dont Mention the War
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To: Dont Mention the War
I think FR shot that picture down really well if I recall. I hate vultures.
4 posted on 03/30/2003 1:06:20 AM PST by MEG33
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Rush made a mistake which he later quietly removed and didn't bother to recount? I'm shocked!!
5 posted on 03/30/2003 1:16:32 AM PST by KneelBeforeZod (Deus Lo Volt!)
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To: Dont Mention the War
I think Boo Radley said it much better by saying nothing at all...

Liberty
6 posted on 03/30/2003 1:37:27 AM PST by Liberty Valance (Keep our Soldiers in your prayers.)
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To: Dont Mention the War
I'm an astro-geek. But I despise people like this man Warren in the high tech industry.

Why? Because they are bleeding-heart weeny LIBS who don't use their ability to analyze facts when it comes to national policy issues.

7 posted on 03/30/2003 1:56:29 AM PST by goody2shooz
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To: MEG33
Vultures?
8 posted on 03/30/2003 2:01:01 AM PST by Dont Mention the War
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To: Dont Mention the War
The person who posted this fake took advantage of the deaths of the crew. I call it vultures feeding on tragedy.
9 posted on 03/30/2003 2:04:09 AM PST by MEG33
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To: MEG33
The person who posted this fake took advantage of the deaths of the crew. I call it vultures feeding on tragedy.

Ah, I see what you mean. And I can agree with you on it.

10 posted on 03/30/2003 2:12:15 AM PST by Dont Mention the War
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To: Dont Mention the War
I also call the "how do you feel" press parked out in some poor soul's front yard after they've been hit with tragedy Vultures.
11 posted on 03/30/2003 2:17:52 AM PST by MEG33
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To: goody2shooz
Why? Because they are bleeding-heart weeny LIBS who don't use their ability to analyze facts when it comes to national policy issues.

I've wondered about that. Don't most scientists rely on grant money supplied by We the People to perform their work? I'm sure that accounts for much of their mentality. Facts in the lab, perform lib' dance for dollars outside the lab.

12 posted on 03/30/2003 9:18:20 AM PST by BradyLS
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To: Dont Mention the War
I tend to agree about John Walker's penchant for nit picking. He needed an almost Clintonesque facility in verbal slight of hand to mask the fact that he is not the original author of that thing that has made him his millions, AutoCAD. I doubt if anyone cares anymore, but the original code, and the concept of a CAD program that can run on a microcomputer was written and originated by a former employer of mine, a gentleman by the nam of Michael Riddle. This is just for any FR CAD people's information.
13 posted on 03/30/2003 9:22:31 AM PST by Richard Axtell
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To: MEG33
It was shot down/debunked weeks ago - what's the point? Rush bashing?
14 posted on 03/30/2003 9:31:13 AM PST by Let's Roll (And those that cried Appease! Appease! are hanged by those they tried to please!")
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To: Dont Mention the War
Hooray! Hooray! Trashes properly those PC jakes at Snopes!
I've visited the Snopes site several times over the last few years, generally from links in mail and news discussions and, while there's nothing explicitly bogus about the site, there's something about the tone which I've found consistently off-putting. It's reminiscent of the too-smug, overly-glib style of the Skeptical Inquirer which caused me to let my subscription lapse in the early 80's and, perhaps, set in motion my long migration from CSICOP to Psi-perp.

Unlike NASA, [SNOPES] did not identify the source (although it had been identified on newsgroups long before Snopes posted this article), and the Snopes commentary itself contains two or three factual errors, depending on how you read it, and misses three of the most obvious things which identify the picture as not taken from Columbia.

Snopes posts 17 truths to shove an 18th lie in the mix. (IN MY OPINION!)

15 posted on 03/30/2003 9:39:58 AM PST by bvw
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To: Let's Roll
That's what I'm wondering. Rush was skeptical that is was from the last glight but figured it was a good pic so he posted it.
16 posted on 03/30/2003 11:08:46 AM PST by Bogey78O (check it out... http://freepers.zill.net/users/bogey78o_fr/puppet.swf)
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To: KneelBeforeZod
Rush mentioned the error at the top of the hour.
17 posted on 03/30/2003 11:26:05 AM PST by gitmo ("The course of this conflict is not known, yet its outcome is certain." GWB)
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To: Dont Mention the War
thanks
18 posted on 03/30/2003 11:54:06 AM PST by LiteKeeper
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To: MEG33
I am in 100% agreement. It is disgusting to see these 'journalists' line up to stick a camera in some grieving family member's face. They are scum, pure and simple.

Michael Mooron is a prime example, when he did those things he was such a rebel, so avant-garde. When an ex-employee of his did the same thing, he slapped a restraining order on him. (Courtesy of an excellent article posted on FR.)
19 posted on 03/30/2003 11:59:23 AM PST by Lx (So it's now, Duct tape and cover?)
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To: BradyLS; Physicist
I've wondered about that. Don't most scientists rely on grant money supplied by We the People to perform their work? I'm sure that accounts for much of their mentality. Facts in the lab, perform lib' dance for dollars outside the lab.

This is not even close to the truth. Where do you think we would be without the scientists and the laboratories?

20 posted on 03/30/2003 6:50:03 PM PST by RadioAstronomer
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To: Dont Mention the War
Still a neat image, much like those with Janet Reno's head grafted to a Mr. America torso.
21 posted on 03/31/2003 8:39:34 AM PST by Middle Man
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To: Dont Mention the War
Autodesk's founder reports gross errors by Limbaugh, CNN, Snopes (Remember "Columbia's Last Photo?")

Someone who thinks this a "gross error" is the same kind of person who thinks his hangnail will be the death of him. He needs to get a little perspective.
22 posted on 03/31/2003 8:41:22 AM PST by aruanan
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To: BradyLS
Don't most scientists rely on grant money supplied by We the People to perform their work?

That's "...by Us the People...."
23 posted on 03/31/2003 8:42:48 AM PST by aruanan
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To: 75thOVI; AndrewC; Avoiding_Sulla; BenLurkin; Berosus; CGVet58; chilepepper; ckilmer; Eastbound; ...
Note -- this topic is from nearly three years ago.
I've visited the Snopes site several times over the last few years, generally from links in mail and news discussions and, while there's nothing explicitly bogus about the site, there's something about the tone which I've found consistently off-putting. It's reminiscent of the too-smug, overly-glib style of the Skeptical Inquirer which caused me to let my subscription lapse in the early 80's and, perhaps, set in motion my long migration from CSICOP to Psi-perp... Unlike NASA, they did not identify the source (although it had been identified on newsgroups long before Snopes posted this article), and the Snopes commentary itself contains two or three factual errors, depending on how you read it, and misses three of the most obvious things which identify the picture as not taken from Columbia.
[rimshot!]
24 posted on 03/09/2006 9:01:05 AM PST by SunkenCiv (Yes indeed, Civ updated his profile and links pages again, on Monday, March 6, 2006.)
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