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9th Annual Nature’s Colors Contest Winners

Congratulations to the winners and all of the finalists of our 9th Annual Nature’s Colors Photo Contest. Featured here are the Grand Prize, Second Place and Third Place winners.

Click here to see all of the finalists.

Grand Prize

“Morning At The Elk Rut—Cataloochee Valley” by John Mariana

The Cataloochee Valley is a portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park located in North Carolina between Knoxville and Ashville. Once a farming community, it was acquired by the National Park Service, and historic frame buildings from the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been preserved, surrounded by 6000-foot peaks. Elk were released in Cataloochee Valley in 2001 as part of an experimental program to reintroduce elk to the park. The herd can be seen regularly in the fields of the valley, especially during the Elk Rut from mid-September to mid-October in the early morning and evening hours.

Early on an October morning, I drove along the valley road and was struck by the sun rising over the nearby mountain and casting rays. The tree on the left was lit from behind, making it stand out from the background. As this bull elk roamed the field, I kept shooting and waiting for a strong composition and back light. The final image is a three-image panorama. The panorama provides the scale and the breadth of the scene that was just awesome.

Nikon D600, AF-S NIKKOR 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6G ED VR at 170mm. Exposure: 1/640 sec., ƒ/14, ISO 640.

Second Place

“Latourell Falls” by Brian Waddell

When I took this late-autumn photo of Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge, I wanted to get off the main trail and away from people, so decided to walk along the old Columbia River Highway to look for a way up. I found a small game trail and started hiking it, being careful not to disturb the fragile moss and ferns that are part of the beauty of the Gorge. I hiked as far as I could until I got to a cliff wall. I then traversed over a couple hundred yards of slippery rocks at the bottom of the cliff until I found this perfect vantage point.

Nikon D7100, Tokina AT-X 11-16mm F2.8 PRO DX at 11mm, Singh-Ray polarizer. Exposure: 1/13 sec., ƒ/8, ISO 400.

Third Place

“Painted Sunset” by Arif Abdullah

Living in the San Francisco Bay area, I have the privilege of enjoying California’s Pacific coast quite often. No matter how many times I visit this majestic stretch, it never ceases to amaze me. The rugged beauty of Big Sur’s McWay Falls overlook at Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park always takes my breath away irrespective of time and season. But surely, the magical sunset in autumn of 2016 that I tried to capture in this shot was unforgettable. The golden-yellow shades of the sky, the translucent turquoise waves, the shimmering waterfall and the evening mist juxtaposed so perfectly as if painted on an artist’s canvas. This image is composed of two exposures blended manually to bring out the wide dynamic range of the actual scene.

Sony a7R, Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM at 19mm, Metabones adapter, Breakthrough Photography X4 polarizer, Vanguard Alta Pro 254CT tripod. Exposure (sky): 0.6 sec., ƒ/20, ISO 100. Exposure (foreground): 5 sec., ƒ/20, ISO 100.

 

The post 9th Annual Nature’s Colors Contest Winners appeared first on Outdoor Photographer.

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Why a Bitcoin future will always end up in centralization


Let’s imagine Bitcoin has accomplished the unthinkable — it’s become the one true currency used for peer-to-peer payments around the world. In this Bitcoin Valhalla, let’s imagine that all non-cash payments are conducted with Bitcoin. Instead of credit cards, people whip out theifavoritete Bitcoin hardware or mobile wallets in coffee shops and hair salons across the world. Just how many of these non-cash payments would there be in this perfect world? Today, non-cash payments account for approximately 522 billion transactions per year worldwide, and that number seems to be increasing in quadratic fashion, meaning it’ll be a lot bigger by the…

This story continues at The Next Web

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Decentralization 2.0: Beyond the semi-monopolies of Uber and Airbnb


Four years ago, on Christmas Eve in my small hometown of Yakutsk, the temperature fell down to freezing -45°C and all the local taxi services simultaneously doubled their prices — leaving loads of people stranded in the Siberian winter. Angry and frustrated, a bunch of students formed a public group on VK.com, a popular Russian social network, where anyone could submit a request for a ride, and those who owned cars could accept their calls for help. A year later the group had 50,000 subscribers. A little later on, I gathered a lean team and transformed the group into a…

This story continues at The Next Web

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6 things you should negotiate for as a freelancer (that aren’t money)


When business professionals do well at their jobs, they get to negotiate for a higher salary at their next review.  When we freelancers do well at our jobs, we usually don’t get that kind of adjustment option. Worse yet, many freelancers get sucked into working for free. Recent research from Approve.io found that 70 percent of freelancers were propositioned to work for free in 2016. And, out of all the creative freelancers studied in this research, photographers and graphic designers were the most likely to be asked to do free work. In the past, other surveys have found that the amount…

This story continues at The Next Web

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These are the best apps you’ve probably never heard of


Have you ever wondered what products or apps you’re missing out on? It’s easy to find the most popular ones in a particular category—but what about the hidden gems? One of Product Hunt’s community members David Spinks has the same question. So, he asked other users: What’s one app you use a lot that most people don’t know about? The community responded with over 220 product recommendations. Here are 27 of our favorites—from a plug-in that helps you write better, to a Mac volume booster, to an automated website that tracks just about everything in your life. Read on for more…but be ready to…

This story continues at The Next Web

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Trulia picks 3 cities for Amazon HQ2, based on housing affordability data

Amazon construction
Amazon’s growth in the South lake Union neighborhood is a big factor in the squeeze on available homes and condos in Seattle. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

In Amazon’s hometown, Seattle, the growth-hungry e-commerce juggernaut has had a measurable impact on housing costs. That doesn’t always sit well with Seattleites who lived in the city before the Amazon boom. High housing costs can also be a recruiting issue, though Seattle is still far more affordable than the Bay Area where many other tech titans are located.

Related: Amazon narrows HQ2 search to 20 cities, moving to next phase in contest for $5B economic prize

Still, Amazon’s experience in Seattle and desire to attract top talent could make housing affordability a factor as the company decides which where it will locate HQ2, the $5 billion second headquarters announced last Fall. If Amazon is looking closely at housing costs, Chicago, Pittsburgh, and Columbus are the best bets, according to a new analysis from Trulia.

Trulia, a real estate website under the Zillow Group umbrella, looked at housing affordability, housing inventory, and “Amazon’s own prerequisites” to come up with those three cities. Trulia’s chief economist, Ralf McLaughlin, analyzed affordability and price data from the site’s inventory and looked at the quality of each city’s graduate-level computer science and economics programs.

“While it wasn’t explicitly included in their list of preferences, Amazon did include guidance in the application process that they were looking for ‘diversity of housing options, availability of housing near potential sites for HQ2, and pricing’ as well as cost-of-living data,” McLaughlin said in an email. “These criteria are tightly correlated with housing affordability.”

A new study by Apartment List predicts that smaller metros, like Pittsburgh and Columbus, would experience higher rent increases than bigger cities, like Chicago, if Amazon HQ2 located there. In Columbus, Apartment List predicts a rent increase of 1.3-1.7 percent, on top of ordinary rent growth, if the city landed the second headquarters. Pittsburgh rents would jump between 1.2-1.6 percent, according to the analysis.

(Apartment List Image)

The city that is chosen will have the advantage of knowing Amazon — and 50,000 high-paying jobs — are on the way, something Seattle never had. That city will have the opportunity to grow its housing inventory before Amazon arrives, though an influx of that many well-paid tech workers will likely impact the housing market anyway.

On Thursday, Amazon announced 20 cities that will move on to the next phase of its HQ2 contest, narrowing the field from 238.

“There seems to be two distinct sets of finalists, from the very expensive, cosmopolitan markets, such as Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Toronto, to the more affordable markets with a growing tech sector, such as Austin, Denver, and Pittsburgh,” said Trulia’s McLaughlin. “My bet is that the latter have a better shot at landing Amazon HQ2 than the former.”

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Football trumps the shutdown: Pentagon TV network cleared to air NFL playoffs

AFN management
Staff Sgt. Modesto Alcana manages air times on the American Forces Network at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany, as seen in a photo from 2011. (USAF Photo / Nick Wilson)

News Brief: When it comes to the U.S. military, football trumps the government shutdown, even without Boeing’s help. The American Forces Network essentially went off the air once this weekend’s shutdown took effect, which suggested that it wouldn’t be airing NFL football playoffs for overseas military families. That sparked an outcry, and an offer from Boeing to “do whatever needed” to get the games on the air. In the end, the Department of Defense gave the go-ahead to revive two channels, AFN News and AFN Sports, and broadcast today’s conference championships. Boeing, meanwhile, got a nice tweet-out from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

This is an updated version of an item that was first published at 9:17 p.m. PT Jan. 20.

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Amazon Go is finally a go: Sensor-infused store opens to the public Monday, with no checkout lines

Dilip Kumar, Amazon Go vice president of technology, scans the QR code on his Amazon Go app to gain entry to the store. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The first Amazon Go grocery and convenience store will open to the public Monday in Seattle — letting any person with an Amazon account, the Amazon Go app and a willingness to give up more of their personal privacy than usual simply grab anything they want and walk out, without going through a checkout line.

Emerging from internal testing a year later than originally expected, Amazon Go is the online retail pioneer’s attempt to reinvent the physical store with the same mindset that brought one-click shopping to the internet. After shoppers check in by scanning their unique QR code, overhead cameras work with weight sensors in the shelves to precisely track which items they pick up and take with them.

When they leave, they just leave. Amazon Go’s systems automatically debit their accounts for the items they take, sending the receipt to the app.

In my first test of Amazon Go this past week, my elapsed time in the store was exactly 23 seconds — from scanning the QR code at the entrance to exiting with my chosen item. Most of that time was spent choosing my preferred flavor of Odwalla juice.

[RELATED: Hands-on with Amazon Go: We tried the tech giant’s experiment in checkout-free retail]

Of course, customers can also linger and fill up a shopping bag, and that’s where Amazon Go gets really interesting, or disturbing, depending on your perspective.

A combination of color cameras and depth cameras in the ceiling track the activity in the Amazon Go store. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

The company says the tracking is precise enough to distinguish between multiple people standing side-by-side at a shelf, detecting which one picked up a yogurt or cupcake, for example, and which one was merely browsing. The system also knows when people pick up items and put them back, ensuring that Amazon doesn’t dock anyone’s account for milk or chips when they simply wanted to read the label.

The idea is to “push the boundaries of computer vision and machine learning” to create an “effortless experience for customers,” said Dilip Kumar, Amazon Go vice president of technology, after taking GeekWire through the store this past week.

So what does this store say about the future of jobs?

It may be common for a convenience store to be sparsely staffed, but if taken to the scale of a grocery store, it’s easy to see how Amazon Go’s automated approach could translate into less need for retail workers, at least at checkout.

Apart from the kitchen staff preparing fresh food at the back, we saw only two workers in the 1,800-square-foot Amazon Go store during our visit: one at the beer and wine section to check IDs, and another just inside the entrance to greet customers. Workers are also needed to restock shelves and help customers.

Originally announced in December 2016 as a private beta for Amazon employees, the Amazon Go store was initially slated to open to the public in early 2017. But that public opening didn’t happen as expected. The delay came amid reports that the technology was encountering problems when too many people were in the store, and that the system struggled to track some items when they were moved.

However, when asked about those reports, Kumar said the delay wasn’t a result of the technology not working as expected. “Not at all. We’ve been operational from day one, and it has performed flawlessly,” he said.

Skeptical, I pressed him later during our visit. Has the system ever misidentified something that someone has pulled off the shelf? “Very rarely. The system is very, very accurate,” Kumar said, adding that it has been that way since the store started operating. Amazon says it has been developing the Amazon Go concept and its “Just Walk Out” technology for a total of five years now.

Then why the delay in the public opening?

“When we first opened (to employees), we knew that we needed a lot of traffic in order to be able to train the algorithms, to be able to learn from customer feedback, from customer behavior,” he said. “We thought we had to open to the public to get that traffic. But we had a significant amount — well beyond our expectations — of demand from just the Amazon population itself, which allowed us to learn everything that we needed.”

Dilip Kumar, Amazon Go vice president of technology. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

As evidence of that, we saw a steady stream of Amazon employees walking with orange Amazon Go bags through the company’s Day One building lobby while waiting for our tour of the Amazon Go store this past week.

Because of that demand, Kumar said, there was no need to rush the public debut. “We were able to take our time, learn, and now we’re ready.”

The learning wasn’t just technical. For example, Amazon stopped mixing dressing in with prepared salads for people who were watching their calories. Other feedback included requests for smaller portion sizes in Amazon Meal Kits, and clearer labeling of vegetarian food.

Amazon Go’s merchandising mix includes some non-food items such as batteries (Amazon Basics, of course), Band-Aids, Tylenol, Advil, and cold medicine. But the majority of the store is dedicated to food and beverage items.

That includes one section of Whole Foods 365 brand products. Amazon Go was unveiled before the tech giant’s $13.7 billion acquisition of the upscale grocery chain. Kumar said Amazon has no plans to roll out the Amazon Go technology in Whole Foods stores. He declined to say whether the company plans to open additional standalone Amazon Go locations. (A job posting last year hinted at the possibility of additional Amazon Go stores.)

Amazon Go is part of a broader push by Amazon into physical retail, including its Amazon Books stores and Amazon Fresh Pickup locations, in addition to the company’s massive bet on Whole Foods Market. More than any of those other initiatives, Amazon Go has the feel of a retail store created by a company with roots in e-commerce. Online, of course, it’s status quo to log in and leave virtual footprints as you shop.

But given that this is the physical world, privacy concerns were raised almost as soon as Amazon Go was announced.

Amazon’s experiment is likely to attract people comfortable giving up some privacy to experience something new. But if this is the future of physical retail, what does the company say to people who are uneasy about having their activities in the real world tracked so closely by a computer system?

First of all, Kumar emphasized that the focus of the Amazon Go system is on customer interactions with products at the shelves. Beyond that, he pointed to the sheer convenience of the setup.

“People are rushed. They’re in a hurry,” Kumar said, reciting Amazon’s mantra of starting with the customer and working backward. “People don’t like waiting in lines.” That’s the premise of the store, he said — “to be respectful of your time as a customer.”

The reality is, with loyalty programs and in-store accounts, purchases are already being tracked at many grocery stores, and of course security cameras are already ubiquitous in stores and other public places. But Amazon Go takes that to a new level by tying all of it together.

For now, at least, Amazon isn’t linking Amazon Go with Amazon.com online. For example, if you pull an item off a shelf and replace it because it isn’t quite what you were looking for, Amazon won’t show you an ad for a related product the next time you’re online. Kumar declined to speculate on whether that type of physical-to-online retargeting might be something Amazon does with Amazon Go data in the future.

The Amazon Go app provides a unique QR code for checking into the store. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Update, 9 a.m.: The Amazon Go apps for iOS and Android are already out, a day ahead of the opening.

Customers can use their existing Amazon credentials to log in to the Amazon Go app. In addition to providing a QR code to scan at the entrance to the store, the Amazon Go app is where the receipt shows up after customers leave the store carrying their chosen items.

Amazon Go, at 2131 7th Ave. in Seattle, will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. While there will be no checkout lines inside, the concept is novel enough that it wouldn’t be a surprise to see lines of people outside waiting to check it out.

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Hands-on with Amazon Go: We tested the tech giant’s experiment in checkout-free retail

GeekWire’s Todd Bishop checking out the Amazon Go high-tech retail store in Seattle this past week. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Smartphone in hand, I stood inside the Amazon Go store and turned the screen over to scan a unique QR code into the top of the waist-high interior gateway. With a cheerful three-toned beep, the system logged me in, the glass doors opened, and green lights beckoned me into the future of retail.

Twenty-three seconds later, I was done shopping, standing back outside the gateway with my $2.99 bottle of Odwalla Strawberry C Monster Smoothie. It all happened so quickly I barely had time to think. I had simply grabbed the item and walked out, without standing in line or going through a traditional checkout. If anyone had been watching without knowing what was going on, it would have looked like I was shoplifting.

A short time later, the receipt appeared in the Amazon Go app, showing the amount debited for the purchase.

[RELATED: Amazon Go is finally a go: Sensor-infused store opens to the public Monday, with no checkout lines]

This is Amazon’s biggest experiment yet in high-tech retail — redefining the concept of grab-and-go grocery using a vast array of overhead cameras and weight sensors in the shelves to automatically track what people pick up and take from the store. By logging shoppers in at the entrance, then tracking their actions in the store, the system eliminates the need for traditional checkout registers and checkout workers along with them.

The system worked flawlessly during GeekWire’s very brief hands-on experience this past week. But the real test will come Monday, when the first Amazon Go store is scheduled to open to the public at the base of Amazon’s Day One tower on the northern edge of downtown Seattle.

It will be fascinating to see what happens, in at least two ways.

  • First, there were reports last year that Amazon Go was struggling to accurately track items when too many people were in the store. Not true, company representatives told us, saying that the system worked during the internal employee testing phase even when the 1,800-square-foot store was at fire marshal capacity of more than 90 people including shoppers and workers. That’s what makes the public opening such a significant test for the technology.
  • Second, how will people react to the notion of having their actions tracked inside the store? Sure, people will enter the store willingly, and the store is essentially a physical manifestation of the type of tracking that already takes place online. But to the extent that this concept represents the future of physical retail, where will the average person draw the line on personal privacy in the real world? The system includes both depth cameras and color cameras, and Amazon doesn’t hide them, leaving them clearly visible overhead in the rafters of the store.
Overhead cameras inside the Amazon Go store. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Although there are some non-food items in the store, such as batteries and cold medication, the vast majority of the shelf space is dedicated to food and beverage, making Amazon Go feel more like a small grocery store than a traditional convenience store. We didn’t conduct a full price survey, but the limited prices we did check, including the Odwalla juice, were the same or comparable to what we’d find at our local grocery store.

In a bit of a surprise twist, Amazon Go doesn’t require an Amazon Prime membership to use. Customers will need to download the Amazon Go app, available Monday for iPhone and Android, and log in to the app with their normal Amazon accounts to gain access.

Amazon Go, at 2131 7th Ave. in Seattle, will be open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. See this story about the opening for more details.

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