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Do Cameras Really Add 10 Pounds?

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For everyone who’s ever been unhappy with the way they look in a picture or on video, there’s almost always someone there to try and comfort them by pointing out that the camera “adds ten pounds” to its subjects.

Sometimes this just excuses actual flabbiness, but some people swear up and down that the phenomenon is real and cameras actually fatten us up. What’s going on?

Flash Problems

A few different things, one simply being the way the subject is shot. Strong, flat light directed straight at a person—like from a bad lighting setup or the camera’s flash—flatten the features of a subject by killing shadows. Those head-on shots of you at the family reunion look bad, in part, because your cousin’s camera flash flattened and fattened you.

The camera itself also shoulders some of the blame. Telephoto and wide angle lenses each distort an image in their own ways. No matter the type lens, though, there’s also the problem of a camera having just one of them.

Seeing in Stereo

Most of us look at the world through two eyes, and our brains take what we see with each one and fuse it into a single image, which allows us to perceive depth. With only one eye—its lens—a camera lacks our accurate depth perception. Unless the photographer creates some illusion of depth by using distance cues, light, and shadow, or by composing their shots in certain ways, the lack of it makes their photos and subjects come out looking flatter than they really are, which also makes them seem wider.

Another difference between a two-eyed view of the world and a one-eyed view that factors in is the way they capture the background behind the subject. Background features hidden from one eye can be seen by its partner, and together they capture overlapping views that a single eye or camera can’t. This means that a single eye has a different perception of the width of the subject relative to the background than two eyes working together.

Michael Richmond, a physics professor at the Rochester Institute of Technology, illustrates this effect with a few photos of a coffee mug against a patterned background sheet. He took one photo straight on like the lone eye of a camera would see it, one photo four centimeters to the left of center the way your left eye would see it if your nose was directly at the center and one photo four centimeters to the right of center the way your right eye would see it. He then merged the perspectives of the latter two “eyes” by cutting both those pictures through the center of the mug and fusing the right side of the right eye's picture with the left side of the left eye's picture to get something like what the brain would create.

In both pictures, the mug is the same number of pixels across, but there’s a huge difference in the way the camera view and the combined “two-eyed” view capture the background. In the camera view, background appears narrower, and the mug looks much “fatter” against it.

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Big Questions
Why Do They Build Oil Rigs in the Middle of the Ocean?
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Ryan Carlyle:

We put the rigs where the oil is!

There aren’t any rigs in the “middle” of the ocean, but it is fairly common to find major oilfields over 150 km off the coast. This happens because:

  • Shallow seas often had the correct conditions for oil formation millions of years ago. Specifically, something like an algae bloom has to die and sink into oxygen-free conditions on the sea floor, then that organic material gets buried and converted to rock over geologic time.
  • The continental shelf downstream of a major river delta is a great place for deposition of loose, sandy sediments that make good oil reservoir rocks.

These two types of rock—organic-rich source rock and permeable reservoir rock—must be deposited in the correct order in the same place for there to be economically viable oil reservoirs. Sometimes, we find ancient shallow seas (or lakes) on dry land. Sometimes, we find them underneath modern seas. In that latter case, you get underwater oil and offshore oil rigs.

In the “middle” of the ocean, the seafloor is primarily basaltic crust generated by volcanic activity at the mid-ocean ridge. There’s no source of sufficient organic material for oil source rock or high-permeability sandstone for reservoir rock. So there is no oil. Which is fine, because the water is too deep to be very practical to drill on the sea floor anyway. (Possible, but not practical.)

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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Big Questions
Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?
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Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia, a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki.

According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.

WHY FRIDAY?

Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Some street addresses also skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

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