July 2008

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I’ll be at Blogworld Expo in Las Vegas in September. Gotta say that I wouldn’t be going if it didn’t coincide with another obligation in town. But since I’ll be there, I’m interested in seeing if a sharper distinction can be made between blogging and flogging. You can see the split by looking Blogworld’s own promotional jive. On the one hand there’s this…

  …if you want to influence decision makers, sell a product or service, if you want to promote yourself as an industry expert, or build your brand using new media…

And on the other hand there’s the Citizen Journalism Workshop, with a program developed by David Perlmutter, Ph.D. In addition to being the Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research at Kansas University’s School of Journalism with a distinguished adacemic pedigree — and a blogger — David is busy doing research on a grant from Knight Foundation to “study the relationship between reading blogs and newspapers”.

Generally speaking, I’ll be a lot more interested in the latter than the former.

Looking forward to seeing some of ya’ll there.

[Later...] I just learned that I might be on a panel. You can guess what I’ll be saying. Though I’ll be listening too.

A unit of what?

A knol, Knol says, is a “unit of knowledge”. I don’t think so. But I do think Knol is already becoming a den of spam.

My cursory research, at that link, suggests that the answer is yes. “Anemia“? No results. “Hair“? 12, including several (supposedly) by the top guy at the Beauty Network. “Cancer“? 38, so far, inncluding three in the first page of results for the biggest spam giveaway, Mesothelioma. Search for anything. Watch the results.

If this is about a fight with Wikipedia, I’d say it’s no contest. But it’s not. It’s about the corrupting influence of pure scammy ambition. Even if Google doesn’t have that, it plays host to plenty. And Knol (born on 23 July) was barely out of the womb before it got infected with it.

The only antidote, perhaps, is more knols like Bernie DeKoven‘s one on Pointless Games. That’s how I found Knol, by the way. News of its birth had escpaped me.

Bonus link.

Dan Gillmor:

  Newspapers have at least two more huge opportunities.

  First is to open the archives, with permalinks on every story in the database. Newspapers hold more of their communities’ histories and all other media put together, yet they hoard it behind a paywall that produces pathetic revenues and keeps people in the communities from using it — as they would all the time — as part of their current lives. The revenues would go up with targeted search and keyword-specific ads on those pages, I’m absolutely convinced. But an equally important result would be to strengthen local ties.

  Second, expand the conversation with the community in the one place where it’s already taking place: the editorial pages. Invert them. Make the printed pages the best-of and guide to a conversation the community can and should be having with itself. The paper can’t set the agenda, at least not by itself (nor should it), but it can highlight what people care about and help the community have a conversation that is civil and useful.

Those aren’t just opportunities. They’re advantages that papers still have. Even if they’re not using them.

Do any of ya’ll have an HD radio? If so, whaddaya think?

If not, what are the chances you’ll ever get one?

Bonus link.

I woke up with the song “Sixteen Candles” running through my mind. I didn’t get the dyslexic pun until I realized that I turn sixty-one today. Technically, I’ve got several more hours at sixty, since I’m writing this at 6:22, and I was born at about 11am (at Christ Hospital in Jersey City).

In an unrelated matter, last night I attended an Obama gathering in Boston that was enjoyable except to the degree that three followers of Lyndon LaRouche kept bending conversation sideways toward their own ideological vectors.

When the evening was ending, I stood outside talking with one of the three (who had been told to leave by one of the meeting’s organizers). At first I thought we could have a conversation, but it wasn’t possible. The guy was not only convinced absolutely of his own (and presumably LaRouche’s) rightness, but resolutely paranoid. (Later he gave me a small pile of LaRouche literature. Not surprisingly, it was thick with paranoia.)

Aside from the nature of his opinions, I found it sad that a mind so young was so completely closed.

I remember realizing, at about age sixteen or younger, that I would never know everything, and that I should always stay curious about the world and open to facts that challenge my opinions. One might think that this would get harder as one gets older, but it doesn’t. It gets easier.

We need our opinions, our certitudes, our belief systems. Can’t get along without them. But even belief systems need new information. Being right is overrated. Being open is essential if we wish to grow as human beings. At any age.

What Google Does (and needs to keep doing).

It’s about domain name registration, and how Google does that right — or closer to right than anything else I’ve found. An excerpt:

  Did I use Google just because it’s a “trusted brand”? No. In fact, there are no “brands” that I trust. Sorry, marketers, “branding” is a term borrowed from the cattle industry, and I’m done being impressed that way. (And trust me, it’s a taint that the trade isn’t going to shake.)

  I used Google because I trust them not to treat me like cattle — or worse, as a potential sucker.

  This is not to say that Google’s domain registration process is perfect, or that Google is being not-evil or anything fancy like that. My point is that Google offers a straightforward and uncomplicated service in the midst of a business that has needed one for the duration.

Just some credit where due.

This shot here (and above) has found a home here as well.

Opening the Cellwaves.

Big Business Idea

I like the hotel we’re staying in. The wi-fi signal is strong, fast and free. The bed is firm and the sheets are fine cotton, topped by a soft comforter. The AC works well and isn’t too noisy. I have no complaints except for the lack of a good desk and chair for working on my laptop.

This is standard. Very few hotels have desks with surfaces low enough to allow comfortable work. And few have chairs that aren’t uncomfortable for sitting at a laptop for more than half an hour or so.

My point: I would gladly pay more to stay in a hotel with a good desk and office chair. In fact I think an office-standard desk & chair should be listed among amenities at hotel sites and in services such as Orbitz and Travelocity.

Of course, no industry changes overnight. But it’s never too late to start. Meanwhile, consider this a primitive Personal RFP.

A few dozen million years ago, in the Eocene — not far back, as geology goes — a large lake covered much of what’s now western Colorado and eastern Utah. A lot of organic muck fell to the bottom, and now that muck is oil. Problem is, it’s locked in shale, and extracting it is no bargain… yet.

If and when it ever gets to be a bargain, look to see some of The West’s prettiest landscape ripped up.

Edge-on, the old lake bed presents itself as the Book Cliffs*, which overlook I-70 for a hundred miles. I took some shots of the region when we drove past them last year. And one of those shots now illustrates this post by Brandon Keim in his Wired blog.

[* My geography and my geology were corrected below in the comments by Ron Schott, a genuine geologist. Brandon Keim wrote about oil shales using my photo. There are oil shales, but not in these Book Cliffs deposits, which are older. The oil shales are in strata above the ones exposed here. Apologies for the errors.]

What we’re presented with here is a set of costs that can only be rationalized in terms that regard the extraction of all the world’s oil as an economic necessity — and nothing else.

I hear arguments for mining oil from places like this and a few memorable lines from the Doors’ “When the music’s over” come to mind:

What have they done to the Earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her.
Stuck her with knives in the
Side of the dawn and
Tied her with fences and
Dragged her down.

Great song, by the way. Also the one that foreshadowed the demise of Tony Soprano on the penultimate episode of Tony’s show.

Is there foreshadowing here too?

I’m in Mystic Seaport with family, looking at boats and learning history. It’s a great place that I remember well, even though I’m pretty sure the last time I came here was in the 5th grade, which would have been a little more than 50 years ago. Most of the antique boats currently on display here are younger than that. Perspective.

Anyway, earlier today I dropped my main camera, a Canon EOS 30D, and it no longer takes accurate light readings. It works, but I have to use another camera to read light, or guess at exposures and use trial-and-error. So I need to send it in for repairs. Any recommendations on that? The unit is long since out of warranty.

By the way, the shot above was taken not with the 30D, but with a little PowerShot SD 850IS, through one lens of my polarized sunglasses. The lens of the camera is small enough to do that. Other shots in that same series were taken with the 30D, but lacked the polarizing filter. They are much sharper and less grainy, but also less colorful.

I should be adding many more before the weekend is out, even with the 30D limping along.

Mark Finnern has scheduled one of my heroes, John Taylor Gatto, for a talk at SAP’s HQ in Palo Alto, on August 21. I’ll be in Santa Barbara around that time and will do my best to make the 600-mile round trip. Believe me, it’s worth it.

I’ve never heard Gatto speak, but his essays and books have all knocked me out. I’ve talked about that here, here, here, and many other places. In any case, see him if you can. And read him if you can’t.

Bonus link.

Checking out Polymeme, a new brainservice of Evgeny Morozov. One purpose is to “push you to discover news from areas that you may not otherwise discover”, it says here.

JP Rangaswami points to This is Zimbabwe as proof that the blogosphere isn’t just “an echo-chamber, full of shallow and superficial like-minded people who couldn’t write an accurate and in-depth story about anything to save their lives”.

So, I’ll see that one and raise him one Baby Kamba.

Absolute reform for radio

The new business of free radio.

Rohit Bhargava calls it “egommunication”, and defines that as a form of communication where you can share a message or piece of content with someone based on their own consistent habit of checking mentions of themselves and their content online.

It’s an insightful post about how to reach the otherwise unreachable. But I think we move off an important base when we label a form of listening with “ego” or “vanity”. Listening for one’s name is something we all do naturally, all the time. It’s the way our brains are wired, by necessity. Online we have to do it manually, by setting up a feed of searches for our names, along with other subjects that interest us.

This is not to say that ego and vanity play no role in communications of all kinds. Just that listening to hear one’s name dropped, or called, is not by nature an egotistical activity.

Speaking of dropping (or its opposite), that’s Rohit on the left in this photo, with the big camera. I’m there on the right, farther back, also floating in the air of a 727 treating its occupants to zero G-force. I think by this time my own little camera had floated away.

Getting around

I shot some Puffins the other day, from an old lobster boat piloted by my cousin George, who is a local on Maine’s Muscongus Bay. We skirted just past the surf surrounding Eastern Egg Rock, from which puffins disappeared in the 1800s after settlers ate all their eggs. The birds have been re-established there with great help from Project Puffin and the Audubon Society. There was a nice story in the Boston Globe yesterday about puffin restoration at the small, rocky island. I was there a few days earlier, and I’ve got the pictures. Fun combo.

Puffins are smallish birds with large colorful bills. Except when they’re laying eggs or fresh from hatching between hard rocks, they spend their whole lives on the open sea. The Globe story mentions one bird that’s 35 years old. That’s a long time on Earth for a sea creature that lives mostly on or above the surface.

Anyway, travel. I do a lot of it, along with plenty of photography. For those and related reasons I am on the board of PlanetEye, a new company that just launched on the Web. Check ‘em out. Give’m feedback, too. They have a link for it, and I know they listen.

Sheila Lennon on improvements inside the Projo (Providence Journal online) blog mill:

  The most interesting new feature, to me, is the MultiBlog: Whenever a new post, photo or comment publishes to any projo blog, it will simultaneously publish in realtime to Multiblog. You get an eagle’s-eye view of all today’s news there in one chronological stream.

  This was inspired by Dave Winer‘s River of News aggregator…

I still think the news river is one of the most underutilized Great Ideas.

But give it time. It’ll hit.

Somewhere back there I said that local TV evening news would be toasted by the inevitable end of subsidies for local TV dealership advertising. Then I was just pointing at the wall. Here’s the writing that’s starting to appear. Hat tip to Terry Heaton for that one.

Also for this, which points in another direction:

  After years of careful planning, Media General’s NBC affiliate in Raleigh, WNCN-TV, has quietly launched what is one of the most creative and exciting approaches to relevant and hyperlocal information anywhere on the Web. MyNC.com is a highly organized portal featuring user and staff-generated content from even the smallest communities in the area. The site launched earlier this spring with just one neighborhood but has expanded since to include a big chunk of the overall market. There’s no reason it can’t eventually cover the entire state of North Carolina.

  The brainchild of WNCN President and General Manager Barry Leffler, the pioneering idea was funded by Media General in hopes of discovering new business opportunities. It’s one of the few new enterprises I’ve seen coming from a local media company that really hits a business development home run. The site aggregates content from the entire region and isn’t branded as a part of the TV station.

  Content is king when it comes to hyperlocal, and Leffler’s approach was to assign staffers to deal directly with each community to prime the pump and find contributors. These employees are called “Community Content Liaisons,” and they are a key to the success of the entire project.

Bonus clue: they need to make that a news river, for mobile devices.

Who new?

Digging Baby Name Guesser. Says here, “It’s a girl! Based on popular usage, it is 4.373 times more common for Doc to be a girl’s name.” Hm. I can think of Rivers, Holliday, Watson and the Dwarf. But not one girl. Yet.

Check the results for Festus.

Hat tip to Leonard Lin.

Getting up and tripping

Since last Wednesday I’ve been on the road, mostly hanging out at my aunt’s house in Maine. She’s way back in the woods, with a satellite Net connection that features a minimum of 7% packet loss (and >1 sec latencies), plus cell service that’s spotty at best. I was there to do other things anyway, mainly enjoying visits with the extended family and celebrating my father’s 100th birthday. (Much enjoyable time was spent there scanning very old photos of my father and his ancestors’ family members.)

Anyway, I’m back in Cambridge now, getting back to work on many things at once.

On the health front, it’s important to report that I’m fine now. Fifteen pounds lighter and feeling better than I’ve felt in a long time. People keep asking, so I thought blogging about it would help.

The dude above is my grandfather, George W. Searls. He was born during the Civil War, in 1863, and died in 1935 at age 72, twelve years before I was born. This shot was taken when he was about 40, I’d guess. It’s from a group photo of a bunch of workers, some holding wrenches and posing one way or another. But there is nothing posed about this guy.

Even my aunt, George’s daughter Grace, never saw this shot — at least not this way, enlarged by the miracle of scanning. She also told me she never knew her father at this age, since the old guy was already 49 when she was born in 1912. It’s one among many I scanned these last few days at Grace’s house in Maine. Connectivity there is by satellite. It beats the alternatives, but it’s poor for uploads. So now I’m home and catching up.

I wish I’d had more time to go through and scan more of the many shots Grace pulled out of boxes in her basement. Two I was glad to catch are these here: shots of the original Cyclone roller coaster at Palisades Park in New Jersey. My grandfather helped build it. (He can be seen in one of the two pictures.) Perhaps my father too. We were told for many years that Grandpa was a master carpenter on the job. It’s plausable. He was an accomplished carpenter who had worked on many varied jobs over the years, including building railroad bridges, working on the Panama Canal, and constructing sets for Universal Studios when Hollywood was still in Fort Lee. He would have been turning 65 when these pictures were taken.

More background: George was born in Syracuse, New York, to Allen and Esther Bixby Searls, the youngest of seven children. The first five were girls, the next two were George and Charles. Grace told me that George left home at 14 after tiring of being “henpecked” and went off to make a life for himself. He did stay close to he family, however. So did some of his sibs. I still remember his older sister, Eva Quackenbush. Aunt Eva was born in 1852 and was 12 or 13 years old when Lincoln was shot. I’m sure she told that story often because I recalled it when JFK was shot in 1963, ten years after Eva’s last visit not long before she died, a couple weeks shy of 100. She said it changed everything.

Anyway, this shot of Grandpa is one of my favorite of all time.

You can see the whole (growing) series at this photoset celebrating my father’s 100th birthday.

Polar Xtreme

J. Dana Hrubes has been reporting on his work and life at the North and South Pole for the last few years, but I just discovered his site this morning via the 12 July Aurora Gallery at SpaceWeather.com.

Here’s his report on 2007-2008. Here is the June page, with some amazing pictures of the aurora australis in the midst of stars. Plus this paragraph:

  June is the month when we celebrate the midwinter solstice. It means that we have lived through 3 months without the sun and there are 3 months until sunrise on September 21st. As for me, I get sad when the sun starts to rise because it means that the magic of walking miles each day to work and back under the beautiful skies of the South Pole will be over. But for now, we still have plenty of darkness left and the two coldest months are just beginning, July and August. I hope to beat my record low of -110.7 F (almost -80 C) which was in early August, 2005. I personally would like to experience -118 F and break the all time record since records at the Pole began in 1957. That also happens to be the temperature that carbon dioxide freezes at this altitude (over 10,000 ft equivalent). By the way, these are actual static temperatures, not any of that wind chill nonsense. Even at temperatures below -100 F, we still hike out to the telescope every day. I haven’t missed one day at South Pole Telescope since I got here on December 8, 2007.

His weather widget says it’s -89°F right now, or -65°C. Still, good to be there, if only vicariously.

Happy Birthday, Pop

Today is the 100th birthday of my father, Allen H. Searls. He only lived about 71 of those years, but they were all good ones, and I miss him still.

I’m writing this from Portland, Maine, on our way up to his sister Grace’s place near Booth Bay, where the family will gather to reminisce and otherwise enjoy the world we all occupy for too short a time.

Here is a photo gallery of shots from Pop’s life, including some amazing ones from his job working as a cable rigger on the George Washington Bridge — a structure that went up, almost literally, in his front yard. (A few decades later, when the lower deck of the bridge went in, the house he grew up in was demolished to make room for more roadwork.)

I’ll be adding more to this collection over the next few days as we scan and upload more shots from this collection and Grace’s as well.

Here’s my report (with links to as much as I could gather in a short time) on the VRM Workshop, over at the ProjectVRM blog.

It was an outstanding event. Lots of projects and subjects were not only vetted with the whole group, but moved forward very effectively. Thanks to everybody who came, or participated over the Web.

And thanks to the Berkman Center for hosting the event, and to Harvard Law School for providing excellent facilities. Well done.

National Public Radio has announced a new API. The gist:

  …almost everything that you can find on NPR.org that we have the rights to redistribute is available through the API. This includes audio, images, full text, etc. That said, there are elements, series and programs that we could not offer due to rights restrictions.

Archives go back to ’95. Hat tip to Andy Carvin.

Still waiting for Riverbend to show up again.

It’s an old question, not asked recently.

Here’s one. Another. Another. Odd how a blogger with such a high profile, once awol, seems forgotten by all but a few. But not by all.

I find myself among the “top ideators” on this list here. Flattered, but why no links? I can see a lot of names and sites on that page I’d like to follow.

Hey, what’s a hierarchy without links to subvert them?

Here’s the FISA bill that Barack Obama voted for after saying he wouldn’t. It’s hugely complicated.

Here’s a Volokh post that says coverage of it has been misleading.

What isn’t misleading is that he voted for a bill that he said earlier that he would oppose. (TPM has a timeline.) In his last statement he said that the bill had changed.

How, exactly? What was the tipping point, and why?

Did he do it to get votes? Surely he should have known that it would cost him the grace and support of his base. And slow his money river as well.

Did he do it on principle? Obviously two principles were involved. The civil liberties one he espoused last January and the security one that drove his vote six months later. One is a left principle, the other a right. The right one won. No pun intended.

Obama’s campaign is about getting past partisanship, at least in part. But this vote hardly did that. Instead it pissed off his most fervent partisans.

I’m also not sure the bill made the country safer, either. But I dunno. As I said, it’s a complicated bill. Maybe one or more of the rest of ya’ll can figger it out.

Meanwhile, it hurt him, bad. That helps McCain.

Mars needs code

Missing Code Challenge is my latest at Linux Journal. One excerpt:

  We each need to be independent variables, not dependent ones. What makes me trustworthy to a service like Blogger shouldn’t be code that lives entirely on Blogger’s side, while all I’ve got is one among a zillion ID/password combinations, most of which I don’t remember. I need to be trusted when I show up. Automatically.

  Maybe the means for making this happen will live out in the cloud somewhere. Or in many places. (I can see a lot of potential business here, actually.) But none of it will work unless it starts with the individual. Each of us operating in the digital world needs tools for engagement that belong to us, are operated by us, and give us autonomy, capability and control.

This is so pathetic…


That was my first, and perhaps only, successful video embed. Not my style, but I had to give it a try.

Less is mobile

This is my blog.

This is my blog on mofuse. Suddenly, cell-friendly.

Interesting. What do ya’ll think?

Freeman Dyson in the New York Review of Books, via Kevin Kelly:

There is a worldwide secular religion which we may call environmentalism, holding that we are stewards of the earth, that despoiling the planet with waste products of our luxurious living is a sin, and that the path of righteousness is to live as frugally as possible. The ethics of environmentalism are being taught to children in kindergartens, schools, and colleges all over the world. Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion. And the ethics of environmentalism are fundamentally sound. Scientists and economists can agree with Buddhist monks and Christian activists that ruthless destruction of natural habitats is evil and careful preservation of birds and butterflies is good. The worldwide community of environmentalists–most of whom are not scientists–holds the moral high ground, and is guiding human societies toward a hopeful future. Environmentalism, as a religion of hope and respect for nature, is here to stay. This is a religion that we can all share, whether or not we believe that global warming is harmful.

Kevin, continues, riffing off other Freeman insights from the same piece:

But while progress runs on exponential curves, our individual lives proceed in a linear fashion. We live day by day by day. While we might think time flies as we age, it really trickles out steadily. Today will always be more valuable than some day in the future, in large part because we have no guarantee we’ll get that extra day. Ditto for civilizations. In linear time, the future is a loss. But because human minds and societies can improve things over time, and compound that improvement in virtuous circles, the future in this dimension is a gain. Therefore long-term thinking entails the confluence of the linear and the exponential. The linear march of our time intersects the cascading rise and fall of numerous self-amplifying exponential forces. Generations, too, proceed in a linear sequence. They advance steadily one after another while pushed by the compounding cycles of exponential change.
Balancing that point where the linear crosses the exponential is what long-term thinking should be about.

His bottom line:

A timeline of where we expect these cost/benefit/risk-thresholds to fall in each sector of our civilization, or a field map of places we can see where our linear lives cross exponential change — either would be very handy to have

After reading this, I wonder whether caring and generosity come into play here. Becuase those are not reckoned with the logic of exchange and transaction employed by most economic arguments. What we do for love tends not to involve exchange. The purest forms of love are what we do without expectation or desire for payback. This is the kind of love we give our spouses, our children, our good friends. As St. Paul said (and says again and again at countless weddings), love does not “seek its own interests”. It does not boast. It is “patient and kind”.

There is a morality to exhange, to cost/benefit/risk-threshold economics. This is the morality of accounting, by which we repay debts and owe favors. It is the morality of fairness, of rules in sports and business contract. It is the morality of Lady Justice, holding her scales.

But the morality of accounting is different than the morality of love, which is found most abundantly in relationship. Wise teachers, religious and otherwise, have been inveighing for the duration on behalf of a larger kind of love, in which we give to strangers, or even enemies, what we give to those we know and care about. It is embodied in Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, in the atheist Kurt Vonegut‘s “You’ve got to be kind!” — and, most appropriately to the topic a hand, Hafez’ famous passage:

Even after all this time
The sun never says to the earth “you owe me”.
Look what happens with a Love like that!
— It lights the whole Sky.

Urgings to extend selfless love to the world — to extend one’s relationship beyond the scope of the familiar and the desired — have fallen on deaf ears for the whole of human existence.

Though not entirely, or we wouldn’t have religion. It’s there in the “compassion and mercy” of karuna, the “universal love” of Mohism, the “giving without expecting to take” (via Rabbi Dressler) of Judaism. And, as Freeman points out, in environmentalism.

Is selfless love by definition religious? That might be one reason Freeman assigns environmentalism to the “high moral ground”.

Either way, we need it. The environment itself provides a long and endless record of vast changes and stunning catastrophes. Twenty thousand years ago, the northern ice cap sat like a large white hat on the Earth. Snow dumped on its middle pressed its bulk edgeward, like dough spreading under a roller. The ice picked up and crushed mountains, scraping the shattered remains across landscapes, carving grooves and lakes and fjords. At its edges were dumped the rocks and soil that today bear the names Long Island, Nantucket, Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod. The hills of Boston and the islands in its bay are mostly drumlins left by the glacier. Likewise all the inland ponds began as melted landlocked icebergs.

The Great Lakes are puddles left by the same ice cap, revealed as that cap shrank, between 14,000 and 9,000 years ago. The cap is still shrinking, revealing more of Canada every year. While what’s left of it may be melting faster than expected, we’re dealing with a trend that’s been going on for longer than humans have been walking on the Americas, which began in what is essentially the geologic present.

Human despoilation of the planet is a catastrophe that happens to coincide with the end of an ice age. Regardless of what or whom we blame, Antactica will continue to shrink, Greenland will continue to melt, and the seas will continue to rise. Compared to what’s coming, Katrina was just a hint.

As the police chief said to the captain in Jaws, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat”.

Fires, cont’d

The Gap Fire is now 55% contained, and making less news, although the latest InciWeb report has this among its remarks: “Critical communication infrastructure such as Broadcast Peak are being assessed for fire protection.

Broadcast Peak is next to Santa Ynez peak, and the highest point on the possible westward path of the fire. Many TV and FM stations are up there. Much of the green country in the first picture here has recently burned.

Meanwhile, the fires up in Big Sur also continue. For more on that check out the SurFire2008 blog.

Firefighter Blog is another very good source.

I also recommend this podcast of Michael Krasny’s Forum on KQED yesterday. Lots of great stuff about Big Sur and its fire, from people who live and work there — at Esalen, Nepenthe, the Henry Miller Library, among other places.

That’s the question I get around to visiting near the end of Saving the Net III: Understanding its Frames, over in Linux Journal. It’s the long and unpacked version of Framing the Net, which ran recently at Publius.cc.

It’s the third in what’s now a series. Here’s the first and here’s the second. The second one got a lot of buzz going when it ran. This third one expands on points made at the end of the second one, almost three years ago. Unfortunatley, the points it makes are academic and likely to be dull for many. But trust me: they’re important.

Ahh, cool.

This morning we finally got the air conditioning going at our apartment here in Boston. One window unit is next to my desk here in my attic office, which had been an oven up until today. We had another one put in at the far end of the attic as well, so that space can now serve as a useful guest room. The third one went in the “master” bedroom (which isn’t much bigger than a closet). This means I might be able to sleep under covers tonight, rather than laying spread out in the path of a window fan.

The rest of the house will continue to suffer, with summer misery lightened by cheap window fans in every room.

It’s amazing to me that most of my life has been lived without much benefit of AC. We didn’t have it in any of the three houses where I grew up in New Jersey. (Well, my parents put in a unit for the dining room about the time I was shipped off to high school. Before that the home was cooled by an exhaust fan.) We didn’t have it in any of the public schools I attended, or in the high school where I lived for three years. We didn’t have it in my college dorm, or in most of the classrooms. Or in any of the places I lived off-campus. This was in Greensboro, NC, where it gets plenty hot in up to four seasons of the year.

I didn’t have AC that worked in any of the cars I drove, until I finally bought the first and only new car I ever had: a 1985 Camry.

With the single exception of a double-wide back in the woods that we lived in for a year north of Chapel Hill, there was no AC worthy of the label at any of the houses and appartments I occupied during my 20 years in North Carolina. Nor in the additional 5 years I spent in New Jersey before moving south.

Among all the houses I’ve occupied in California, I think only one had AC that was worth a damn. Our house in Santa Barbara has none and doesn’t need any. The climate there does the job.

Anyway, I’m enjoying the luxury, even if it’s noisy and environmentally unfriendly. (Though I’m told that window units are more efficient than central ones. We can always use good rationalizations.)

I catch up on some VRM postings at VRM linkage and thinkage in the ProjectVRM blog. Meanwhile we’re busy getting ready for the first VRM Workshop, hosted by the Berkman Center at Harvard Law School, on Monday and Tuesday of next week. It’s free, but we’ll want you to pitch in and help work on one or more of the many VRM projects that are getting underway. Hope to see some of ya’ll there. Tag: VRM2008.

Last laff

Nobody parodies TV news better than The Onion. They’re just wicked.

Anyway, just caught Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency on a podcast here on the plane (still boarding), and laughed so hard I just had to pass it along. It’s almost up there with this one, which still wins for truthiness.

Okay, they’re making me turn this off. See ya on the East Side.

My plane to Boston may or may not be delayed, depending on weather. Meanwhile, I forgot my laptop charger in Santa Barbara. So much for getting much done here and in the plane.

Some airports have places where you can buy laptop chargers, but not this corner of LAX. “International has a place”, says a United person behind a counter. But I’m not going to go there and come back through Security again. Too much time, too big a hassle.

Anyway, just a grr in the midst.

Noah Brier has an interesting post titled Metcalfe’s Plateau, which he describes as –

a place where the value of the network no longer increases with each additional node. In fact, thanks to spam (as deemed by me), the value of the network had started to decline, I was looking for other places to spend my time online.

In it he cites a variety of sourses, including quotage from Bob Metcalfe, Paul Saffo and Clay Shirky’s A Group is its Own Worst Enemy. Here’s that excerpt:

You have to find a way to spare the group from scale. Scale alone kills conversations, because conversations require dense two-way conversations. In conversational contexts, Metcalfe’s law is a drag. The fact that the amount of two-way connections you have to support goes up with the square of the users means that the density of conversation falls off very fast as the system scales even a little bit. You have to have some way to let users hang onto the less is more pattern, in order to keep associated with one another.

Good stuff. I responded with a comment that is currently in moderation, while Noah (we hope) figures out it’s not spam. (And he’s right: having to do that is a big value-subtract.) Meanwhile, I thought I’d go ahead and post my comment here. It goes –

Metcalfe is right about networks, while Clay and Paul are right about groups.
I submit that groups are also different than “social networks,” a term that used to be synonymous with groups but now means two things: personally collected associations, also called “social graphs,” and online habitats such as Linkedin and Facebook. Both of the latter prove Clay’s point.
For what it’s worth, Linkedin has no conversation density for me because I do no conversation there. It’s just a CV viewer, and it’s good enough at that. Facebook also has no conversation density for me because keeping up with it takes too much work. This might be my fault, for somehow allowing myself to have 396 “friends,” when the number of my actual friends is far lower than that — and most of them aren’t on Facebook. Add “2 friend suggestions, 187 friend requests, 2 event invitations, 1 u-netted nations invitation, 1 blog ownership request, 180 other requests” and “23 new notifications” … plus more “pokes” than I’ll bother to count, and Facebook compounds what it already is: a gridlock of obligations in an environment architected, blatantly, to drag my eyeballs across advertising, most of which is irrelevant beyond the verge of absurdity. (On my entry page is an ad for dresses by American Apparel. It replaces one for singles. I’m male and married. You’d think Facebook could at least get *that* much right.)
The only way we can immunize ourselves from overly “scaled” services — or improve them in ways that are useful for us and not just their clueproof “business models” — is by equipping ourselves as individuals with tools by which each of us controls our ends of relationships. That means we assert rules of engagement, terms of service, preferences, additional service requests and the rest of it. This is what we are working on with ProjectVRM.
While it’s hard to imagine a world where a free market is not “your choice of silo” or “your choice of walled garden”, imagining one is necessary if we wish to fulfill the original promise of the Net and the Web.

And with that I’m outa here. Should be landing at Logan around midnight, and in Cambridge for most of the rest of the month.

Since I lack a car here, I haven’t gotten out much, and not at all to any place that gave me a vantage on the fire. Until today, that is, when we went to Goleta and I had a chance to pause on Hollister Street by the airport where the Forest Service runs P3 Orion air tankers up to the fire sites to dump bright fire retardant on the landscape. (It’s not bad, by the way. Essentially, it’s fertilizer.) Here’s the photo set. (Also added more maps to this photo set.)

Tag: sbgapfire.

Closing the Gap

This is my last full day in Santa Barbara this month (I fly tomorrow, and will be back for most of August), and I’m pleased to see the Gap Fire in what appears to be retreat. The warnings at InciWeb are less dire, evacuation orders have been reduced to warnings, and the latest MODIS Active Fire Map in the series shows new flare-ups only on the northern edge of the burn area, and away from the densely populated areas. Lots of work left to do, but I think this one is on its way to ending.

Tag: sbgapfire.

What happens after TV’s mainframe era ends next February? That’s the question I pose in a long essay by that title (and at that link) in Linux Journal.

It’s makes a case that runs counter to all the propaganda you’re hearing about the “digital switchover” scheduled for television next February 17.

TV as we know it will end then. It’s worse than it appears. For TV, at least. For those already liberated, a growing new world awaits. For those still hanging on the old transmitter-based teat, it’ll be an unpleasant weaning.

InciWeb just updated 8 minutes ago, with this report:

Fire continued creeping to the north, east, and west with limited movement due to competing wind that kept the fire from making any significant runs. On the south flank significant containment was gained due to the diminishing down canyon winds.

Fire progression continues on the northeast and northwest perimeters. The west perimeter of the fire has progressed into Tecolote Canyon.

Just added a bunch more maps to this photo set.

Tag: sbgapfire.

I’d put more on Twitter, except it isn’t working for me when I go there. :-(

First, kudos again to Edhat‘s news list for not only gathering info from many sources, but for giving equal weight to both professional and amateur sources — and for hosting a great many comments on some of the postings. As an interactive local news service, “Ed” does a fine job. When surfing for the latest on the fire, it’s a good place to start. Others among these are good as well:

Second, I have been somewhat remiss by not including GeoMAC among sources for following the fire. You can follow maps from multiple sources, as I make screen shots and upload them, here. The latest from MODIS shows new fire activity (red dots, meaning in the last 0 to 12 hours) near highway 154 and on the uphill (north) and west sides of the fire perimeter. Highway 154 (San Marcos Pass) remains open.

The LA Times this morning has ‘Critical day’ dawns for Goleta fire, enlarged by overnight wind gusts, with a dramatic photo of an air tanker (see last paragraph below) dropping red fire retardant near a house. The summary:

The blaze, while 24% contained, grew to 8,357 acres. Firefighters plan to concentrate on protecting homes to the east before another night of ‘sundowners.’ At least 2,663 homes have been evacuated.

Note that there are 97 comments so far to that story.

KEYT has a summary of evacuation areas as of 5pm yesterday. That story also has a map.

Note that chapparal wildfires, especially in steep rocky country like this, do not only spread from their edges. They also spread by dropping burning material at distances from source flames, which can have powerful updrafts. This makes fighting these fires very hard on the ground.

Inciweb’s page for the Gap Fire currently gives its size as 54oo acres, with 1072 personnel working on the fire. Under Fire Behavior, it says,

Down canyon winds continued through the night pushing the fire front into the north side of Goleta and widening the flanks east and west. Fire also continued to the north into the wind overnight with limited movement.

Planned actions:

Structure protection, create safety zones and establish contingency lines In the Goleta foothills. Construct control lines when conditions permit. Damage assessment from last night will be conducted.


Firefighters are from several agencies including the United States Forest Service and Santa Barbara County Fire Department and several local cooperators including the San Marcos Volunteer Fire Department. The California Highway Patrol, Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, and the American Red Cross are assisting. ICP has been established at Earl Warren Showgrounds. Dos Pueblos High School will remain a staging area.

Current wind is gusting at 30mph from the north (down the mountains, toward Goleta). The temperature is 75° and the humidity is 25%.

InciWeb has no maps for the fire, but does suggest visiting these sources:

It’s sad that InciWeb remains both slow (often overwhelmed) and behind its own curve. I’ve had a number of email exchanges with folks working on InciWeb, and have great respect for the hard work they do within what is essentially a bureaucratic morass. I think the lesson here is that we have to do our best with many sources, and the messiness that involves.

Somewhere among the sources above I read that an aggressive aerial attack was planned to start at dawn this morning. I’m too far east (~5 miles) of the fire to see that; but it helps that Santa Barbara’s airport is in Goleta itself, almost next to the fire, and is home to one of the main Air Attack Bases for the U.S. Forest Service. Here is a photoset I shot of that base, and the P3 Orions used for bombing fires with supressant. I am sure these are in use right now.

Finally (at least for now), I want to say that I’m optimistic about this fire, even though I must disclaim any qualifications for that other than as an amateur observer. I feel a need to do that because I’ve also shot photographs that could easily be seen as scary. These two sets, for example. Please note that I shot those with a long telephoto lens to maximize the apparent size of the sun — reducing the apparent distance between subjects in the photo (such as Mission Santa Barbara, the fire and the Sun). Also because, hey, I wanted to take good photos.

Speaking of which, I also shot the fireworks from up in the hills last night, where there was also a pretty rocking party. Life goes on.

Tag: sbgapfire.

I’ve loaded too many pictures onto this blog, so for this round I’m going to just point to shots elsewhere: in this case to a photo set of  maps built with .kml files from the MODIS Active Fire Program and Google Earth.

The latest one, from about 6pm this evening, has fewer active hot spots than the previous one from 4am this morning, or the one before that from yesterday afternoon. Not sure how to interpret that, but whatever. It’s data.

This afternoon we took a walk along the beach, where hundreds of families and other social groups had set up homes and kitchens and play areas along the beach and in the park, in preparation for the fireworks tonight. It’s an annual festival, and a lot of fun. There was hardly a sign of the fire, since the wind was mostly onshore.

But this evening the wind shifted, and now we’re getting orange clouds of low smoke and ash fall.

The fire hasn’t stopped the fireworks though. Going next door now for a party. Watch for pictures of that show too.

Tag: sbgapfire.

Here is a Fox News video* that tours the Gap Fire area from the air. It’s clearly submitted by an amateur using a helicopter, judging from the monolog, flavored with casual explitives. To those (like me) familiar with the landscape, the video does an excellent job of showing how “perimeter” is a mileading notion. The fire is in many places at once. Wish that Fox or the shooter gave us a time/date for the footage. (Maybe they do and I miss it.) Seems to be from yesterday morning.

A lot of commenters on Edhat take exception to Santa Barbara’s decision to go ahead with the city’s fireworks on the waterfront. I don’t. It looks right now like the fire’s moving away from the city, which means plenty of work for firefighters keeping the rest of us safe to enjoy the holiday. Huge kudos to them for some of the hardest and most dangerous work that humans can do.

* I lost the direct link. The link to the video was in a narrow banner atop this story on Fox News, which I found via an Edhat comment. The banner is gone, and I can’t find anything through searches on the Fox site. I can still see the video, which comes up in a separate window, but copying the URL doesn’t seem to work. The URL I see is not what copies. Instead it’s the story that no longer has the banner with the link in it. (I hate this too-clever video crap on sites like this. Not to mention the lame search as well.) If anybody else has luck, let us know in the comments below. It really is an interesting video.

Jesse’s gone

Among the most amazing things to me, during my many years as a North Carolinian, was the eagerness with which a majority of voters there elected, and kept re-electing, Jesse Helms to the U.S. Senate. Hal Crowther did the best job, I thought, of summarizing Helms’ politics, even if Hal went over the top in some ways. (I can’t find my favorite Jesse piece by Hal, alas. It was written too long before the Internet, I’m sure. Meanwhile here are a few among Hal’s more recent and all-too-rare columns.)

I met Jesse Helms once. He seemed — as he was to all acounts — a nice guy. And he did save Internet radio from obliteration before retiring from the Senate. I appreciated that much.

He died early this morning, at age 86.

The above is the latest from http://activefiremaps.fs.fed.us/wms.php. These are updated every hour. Download the .kmz and you’ll have what I show above on Google Earth. Details:

The data links below provide access to MODIS MOD14 fire and thermal anomaly data in both a Web Mapping Service (WMS) and Keyhole Markup Language (KML) format for each specified geographic area. Both the WMSes and KMLs are updated hourly.

What’s new here, and very consistent with Ray Ford’s report below, are the red spots spreading in all directions from the fire’s origins and earlier dimensions (other colors). Note the new red ones on the right, or east. They are very close to Painted Cave, which is on the east side of highway 154. Painted Cave is currently under mandatory evacuation orders.

Bear in mind that winds are currently from the northwest, and quite gusty. The conditions are very much like those that prevailed during the Painted Cave fire, almost exactly eighteen years ago.Read the story at that link. We had friends over to the house last night. They barely escaped the Painted Cave fire, and said that the look of the smoke last night was nearly identical to what they saw during Painted Cave.

More than six hundred homes were lost in that one.

[Later...] at 7:50am the skies look clear to the west. Between this picture and story at Noozhawk (using this among other pictures by Tim Burgess) and this story at the Independent — and nothing so far on the radio (that I can find) — it looks like the winds blew the fire in a westward direction overnight, which is good for Santa Barbara, though not for the houses and ranches to the west.

Click on the shot above to see the sunset I witnessed on Upper State Street in Santa Barbara last evening. I had gone to Radio Shack for supplies, and paid cash in a dark store, since the power was out. Stopped on the way back, stepped out of the car and shot this series.

Tag: sbgapfire.

Ray Ford has an excellent report on the fire in the Independent. A sample:

Rather than forcing the fire downhill into the ranch lands where it could be dealt with by the forces that were massing along Cathedral Oaks, the flames followed lateral channels east and west along saddles formed by erosion of softer rock materials, turning what was a half mile wide fire into one with a three-to-four mile wide. By 8pm, in the Ellwood area, rancher Ken Doty, his son, and son-in-law were busy spending the night building dozer lines to protect his property from the advancing flames.

On the other end, at the top of the Fairview area, neighbors were out in the street, dumb-struck by the huge flames they could see on the hills immediately above them. The questions were mounting.

Here is Ray’s photo gallery. Also excellent. And as scary as the text.

It is significant that Painted Cave is now under mandatory evacuation orders. If the fire jumps 154 and moves into the Painted Cave area, then winds blow down toward the city from the ridge, that would be extra bad.

[Later...] 9am. Looks like the wind is blowing the fire to the west now. Except for the firefighters, it looks like this will be a nice 4th in Santa Barbara.

Tag: sbgapfire.

 [Note.. Somehow I killed this post, but managed to find the HTML in cache somewhere and restore it. I can't get the comments over, but I can point to them here and here. Meanwhile, my apologies. — Doc]

Here’s the latest MODIS-based map of the fire, which you can obtain as well, staring on this page:

Here is the latest Google Earth image, with .kmz data from ActiveFireMaps.fs.fed.us:

To their credit, KTMS/990am and 1490am are covering the Gap Fire live, between national Fox newscasts. (Though they just broke into one to cover a press conference live. They’re talking about maps and other resources, but with no references to where those might be on the Web. Also Edison “had a harrowing time” getting power back up.)

Other items from the press conference:

  • The Gap Fire is the top priority fire in California, because of its threats to populated areas.
  • West Camino Cielo (which runs along the ridge) is a workable fire break, should the fire start heading North. The fire so far has been on the south, or city, side of the ridge. If it jumps the ridge, it will be bad on the north side, where the Santa Ynez valley spreads below. This is the valley that starred in the movie “Sideways”.
  • Goleta 4th of July fireworks and other events canceled for tomorrow. Can’t find the city website, but the guy on the press conference says it refers to other sites anyway. He also said that the city’s new Reverse 911 system is ready, though new and untried. He’s also begging people to stay away from viewing the fire from Cathedral Oaks Road (the main drag below the mountains where the fire is burning).

Now KTMS is breaking away. Says 2400 acres have burned so far. KTMS has no live stream, far as I can tell.

The News-Press‘ radio station, KZSB/1290, can be heard via Windows Media from a link on the home page of the newspaper. But while KTMS and KCSB were covering the fire live, KZSB was airing an interview with a guy who’s pushing for offshore oil drilling. For what it’s worth, it was a major oil spill from an offshore platform here in Santa Barbara in 1969 that gave birth to lots of protective legislation, as well as Earth Day and much of the environmental protection movement that has peristed ever since. Odd choice, odd timing. KZSB may be the only news station in the whole country lacking a website. Sad.

For up-to-date fire maps from a national perspective, with satellite coverage by MODIS, go here. More:

Tag: sbgapfire.

Click on the above to dig one of the best photosets I’ve shot in a while. I was driving to a Radio Shack to pick up a volt-ohm meter, so we could monitor the browning out of electrical service, when I saw the sun setting through the smoke from the fire, and knew instantly that I could get a good angle on that through the Mission in silhouette. So I turned the corner, and sure enough. Got it.

Any blogger or news service that wants to use any of those shots should feel free to grab any of them. Give me photo credit if you like, but it’s not necessary. Just here to help.

(tag: sbgapfire. Hashtag: #sbgapfire)

Here’s the latest MODIS-based map of the fire, which you can obtain as well, staring on this page:

Here is the latest Google Earth image, with .kmz data from ActiveFireMaps.fs.fed.us:

To their credit, KTMS/990am and 1490am are covering the Gap Fire live, between national Fox newscasts. (Though they just broke into one to cover a press conference live. They’re talking about maps and other resources, but with no references to where those might be on the Web. Also Edison “had a harrowing time” getting power back up.)

Other items from the press conference:

  • The Gap Fire is the top priority fire in California, because of its threats to populated areas.
  • West Camino Cielo (which runs along the ridge) is a workable fire break, should the fire start heading North. The fire so far has been on the south, or city, side of the ridge. If it jumps the ridge, it will be bad on the north side, where the Santa Ynez valley spreads below. This is the valley that starred in the movie “Sideways”.
  • Goleta 4th of July fireworks and other events canceled for tomorrow. Can’t find the city website, but the guy on the press conference says it refers to other sites anyway. He also said that the city’s new Reverse 911 system is ready, though new and untried. He’s also begging people to stay away from viewing the fire from Cathedral Oaks Road (the main drag below the mountains where the fire is burning).

Now KTMS is breaking away. Says 2400 acres have burned so far. KTMS has no live stream, far as I can tell.

The News-Press‘ radio station, KZSB/1290, can be heard via Windows Media from a link on the home page of the newspaper. But while KTMS and KCSB were covering the fire live, KZSB was airing an interview with a guy who’s pushing for offshore oil drilling. For what it’s worth, it was a major oil spill from an offshore platform here in Santa Barbara in 1969 that gave birth to lots of protective legislation, as well as Earth Day and much of the environmental protection movement that has peristed ever since. Odd choice, odd timing. KZSB may be the only news station in the whole country lacking a website. Sad.

For up-to-date fire maps from a national perspective, with satellite coverage by MODIS, go here. More:

Tag: sbgapfire.

Inciweb’s latest on the Gap Fire (tag: sbgapfire. Hashtag: #sbgapfire) is 10 hours old, it says (as of 12:17am Thursday morning). Most of KEYT‘s 11pm newscast was devoted to the fire. Currently they’re reporting 1200 acres burned, 5% containment. The winds are not Santa Ana grade, but do come down from the NNW, flowing SSE over the Santa Ynez mountains (where the fire burns, above Santa Barbara and Goleta), directly toward town (and also in to the path of areas already burned by backfires, one hopes). KEYT also reported 10-13mph winds, with possible gusts up to 35. But the reporter on site said winds below, where houses are threatened, were calm.

Meanwhile ash is falling and the smell of smoke is strong. It’s stuffy, but we have all our windows shut here.

We also had a power outage. KEYT reported that nearly all of Santa Barbara and Goleta were knocked out by smoke affecting the main power lines into town, which come over the mountains from the North. (The other main power lines come over the mountains near Gibraltar Peak.) We came back on, but around 70,000 homes are still without power. The County of Santa Barbara has more on the front page of its website (that last link), but no direct link to any single report.

I’ll put up some pictures shortly, taken from our neighborhood close to the center of Santa Barbara itself, about 10 miles by air from the fire center. [Later: It wasn't easy, since the Net's speed has been way down... no doubt Cox is affected by this... but I got at least one picture up: the one above.]

Tuning around the radio dial, I only hear fire news right now on KCSB/91.9 from UCSB, alternating between English and Spanish. The station’s many Web streams are here.

More from The Independent (also on its fire page), Noozhawk, Edhat

Here is a very deep history of wildfires around Santa Barbara. Scary and important. And here is my post about them, from the last time a fire threatened. I also had some ideas last year about public radio filling the hole left by departed news and “full service” commercial stations (all of which are gone from Santa Barbara). It was on my old blog here, but seems to be gone right now.

[Later...] The Net from Cox, our cable Internet provider, is down. The borrowed Sprint EvDO card, however, works perfectly. I even managed to upload the rest of my fire smoke photo set to Flickr.

Free as in markets

My latest in Linux Journal: Time to school the FCC on what “free” really means. One excerpt:

  The easy take here is to say “On the one hand, it’s free; on the other hand, it’s filtered.” But there are more than two hands here. FCC rulemaking is octopus farming, often resulting in a tangle of tentacles that suck in more ways than you can count.

As a Free Range Customer, I’m following Uncle Dave’s lead and starting up at Identi.ca. Follow me there as dsearls, same as my Twitter handle. We’ll see how it goes.

There are orange clouds to the West. Turns out this is the Gap Wildland Fire. (Tag: . Hashtag: #sbgapfire) It’s only 35 acres so far, but it’s very close to civilization. Here’s an LA Times story that shows the fire itself, near Lizard’s Mouth, a favorite local hiking site off West Camino Cielo. (Here are some pictures I took a couple years ago.) It started late yesterday afternoon and evacuation orders stand for Glen Annie and La Patera canyons.  There is also an evacuation warning for residents above Cathedral Oaks Road, between Glen Annie Road and Fairview Avenue. Here’s a Google Map with the evacuation order marked. Lizard’s mouth is the bare area above that on the map.

Cool: Kevin Marks just turned me on to the user-created Maps search for Glen Annie Canyon. (Tried to embed it, but that didn’t work. Not sure one can embed stuff in Harvard blogs.)

If you are among the hundred thousand or so in the potential line of fire (pun intended), here are some links:

I’d include the Santa Barbara News-Press, our local newspaper, on that list, but the website is down right now. Of course the News-Press itself has been one long sad story over the past three years.

I’ve also just set up an experimental Twitter source, sbgapfire. If it works it should serve the same purpose that sandiegofire did last year. If any of ya’ll want to help me set it up right, or to set up something else that’s better, please do. (As of 10:02am PDST, Twitter is “down for maintenance.” Grrr.) Thanks.

Sky show

Since moving to the Boston area for the school year, we have done appoximately zero astronomy. Now that we’re back in Santa Barbara, it’s fun to pick up where we left off.

Last night I sat outside with The Kid, just like we did for most evenings of his first ten years on Earth and re-acquianted ourselves with the ranking stars and constellations. Boötes, Hercules and Corona were high overhead. The Big Dipper was about as high as it gets at our vantage at 34° north. It was a bit hazy and lights from the city blanked out the Milky Way, but objects brighter than the third magnitude were visible, and two of those were the TRMM and Genesis II. We’d seen TRMM (NASA’s Tropical Rainforest Measuring Mission) many times before, but the Genesis was new to us. Turns out it’s a commercial venture by Bigelow Aerospace, and was launched only recently, in June 2007. Among its payloads are “Fly your stuff” and a bingo game you can play from the ground. Really. More here.

In case we forget

There are aparent connections between forms of cholesterol and memory.

In The right to blog: freedom’s next frontier , Evgeny Morozov came away from Global Voices Online‘s Citizens Media Summit in Budapest with a perspective on blogging that is refreshingly free of U.S.-centric tech and political preoccupations, and grounded in truly serious social and political concerns elsewhere. Some excerpts:

  …these idealistic people did not talk much about gadgets, fashion, or campaign-financing; nor rush to praise or scorn Barack Obama or John McCain; nor fret over the latest celebrity-hunt or political trick in the style of Gawker or the Huffington Post. Instead, they got into heated discussions (often in heavily accented English) over a different set of topics: internet filtering, human-rights violations, and the future of freedom of expression.

  This, then, was a different kind of blogger and a different order of reality. The background of many of the participants told the story: for in their countries of origin many at the Budapest gathering sustain their blogs in face of the threat or reality of arrest, intimidation and beating from the authorities. Their enemies are real, not imaginary. Their blogs are exercises in courage.

  …Even in places with low internet penetration, blogs can still have a significant impact in creating channels to voice dissent and influence wider media networks. Kenyan bloggers, for example, have built synergistic relationships with the country’s radio journalists, who have come to rely on blogs for materials for their programmes, thus making blogs accessible (albeit indirectly) to virtually anyone in the country.

  …The Budapest experience suggests that the movement slowly emerging on the margins of the blogosphere shares much in common with an older generation of those who sought to “speak truth to power”.

  …The ubiquity of the internet – accessible via computers or mobile-phones in almost any corner of the planet – is being matched by the growth in explicit and implicit restrictions on free speech.

  …The long-term balance of forces in this contest is poised. If not all governments have the time, money, or patience for systematic censorship, they may resort to an easier and cheaper way to collect a person’s email password: imprisonment and, eventually, torture. Today, the greatest threat to freedom of expression online is not web censorship but mistreatment of bloggers.

And finally,

  The Citizen Media Summit raised the idea that the equivalent of the Reporters without Borders group – a “Bloggers without Borders” – might be created to lobby for bloggers’ release from jail and right to speak freely. But would bloggers get the same protection as journalists and political prisoners; could traditional groups expand their role and make such a new organisation unnecessary? Such are the questions that western governments and many traditional human-rights organisations – as well as bloggers themselves – must answer as soon as possible.

Blogs are journals (as I’ve said many times). As we saw at this summit, blogs in many places are about as serious as journals can get — and among the most essential of emerging institutions in civic life. So, rather than start a new borderless organization just for bloggers, how about expanding Reporters Without Borders to include bloggers as well? I’d say more about it, but I can’t get the Reporters Without Borders site  rsf.org, for reporters sans frontieres) to load. Here’s the Wikipedia page. That’s where I discover that to some degree it’s already happening. Reporters sans frontières – Handbook for bloggers and cyber-dissidents is an RSF publication with sections contributed by Dan Gillmor, Jay Rosen and Ethan Zuckerman, a co-founder of Global Voices Online.

In any case, blogging matters for the same reason journalism has always mattered. Discussions at the Citizen Media Summit highlight that fact.