Photography

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Kiglapait Mountains

Yesterday I posted some shots of the crater-shaped Kiglapait Mountains on the frozen coast of Labrador, including the one above. Here’s how views of those shots, and many others, looked in Flickr’s stats:

Flickr stats

It got 90 views. Not a lot. But a lot of other shots got a bunch of views too, and they add up to, on average, a little over 5,000 per day, and over 5 million all time. For a blog that’s not bad — and I’m beginning to think that, in a way, a blog is what Flickr is for me. I’m not crazy about how Flickr works. (It’s gotten more slick and complicated over time.) But it’s where I’ve been posting photos since 2006, it does have a lot of upsides, and I’m reasonably confident (though I’ve had my doubts) that it will stay in business.

I don’t post my photos to sell, or to show off. If I were doing either, you’d only see the ones that look best. What I’m doing instead is a form of photojournalism: providing source photos of subjects to journalists, a class of people that now includes everybody. Journalism at its best is a form of documentation, and I provide fodder for that.

Including the three other Flickr sites I contribute to (Linux Journal, Berkman Center and Infrastructure), I’ve put about 50,000 photos up so far. All of them carry permissive Creative Commons licenses. As a result, 425 of my shots have showed up on Wikimedia Commons, which is Wikipedia’s source image library. I put none of them there. Other people went looking for photos of topics that came with Creative Commons licenses that are friendly to low-friction re-use, found some of mine, and brought them over. Some haven’t been used anywhere (that I know of), and others have seen lots of use. For example, this shot of the roofline at Denver International Airport is in 27 different Wikipedia articles. This one of San Gorgonio Mountain is in three. The one at that last link is a different shot of mine.

Hardly a week goes by that a shot of mine doesn’t find its way from Flickr or Wikimedia Commons into a newspaper, a magazine or a blog post somewhere. Here’s one that ran in the NYTimes Bits blog on the 19th. Sometimes they even turn up on TV. For example, NBC’s wallpaper for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver came from some shots of ice crystals on poorly insulated windows I took at my apartment in Massachusetts a few months earlier. (No, NBC didn’t pay for them, and I was glad to give them away. NBC would have been glad to give me tickets, it turned out, but I didn’t even ask until it was too late, which was dumb on my part. And they did give me credit.)

To me the world is a fascinating place, whether I’m down in a subway or gliding through the stratosphere. Often I don’t know what I’m looking at, but discover and dig into it later. Examples:

In every case, however, I see these shots, and what I add to them, as accessories to others’ fascinations, which in sum will range far more deeply and widely than mine. And for longer as well, I hope. So: enjoy.

 

Ash tray snowbank

butt bank

Spent some time this morning wondering whether the butts in the melting snow by the A Train station at Dyckman Street migrated there from elsewhere, or if the former snowbank served as an ashtray for smoking passengers. Either way, it’s an impressive collection.

Weekend Linkings

Photography

Humans vs. Nature

Tech

The Regulatorium

Politics

Surveillance vs. Privacy

Well, it’s not all reading, because I’m starting with photography, notably the latest from Stephen Lewis, whose prose runs as deep and broad as the soul in his work. — DS

Photography

Personal

Surveillance vs. Privacy

The Internet, Communications and Tech

Science, especially geology

Fort Lee has been in the news lately. Seems traffic access to the George Washington Bridge from Fort Lee was sphinctered for political purposes, at the spot marked “B” on this map here:

The spot marked “A” is the site of my first home: 2063 Hoyt Avenue. Here’s how it looked in 1920:

My grandfather, George W. Searls, built it in 1900 or so. He and grandma, Ethel F. (née Englert) Searls, raised thee children there: Ethel M. Searls, born in 1905, Allen H. Searls (my father), born in 1908, and Grace (née Searls) Apgar, born in 1912. Grandpa died in 1935, but Grandma and Aunt Ethel lived here until 1955, when I was eight years old.

It was in a fine old neighborhood of similar mansard-roofed homes, most of which were built before the George Washington Bridge showed up and became the town’s landmark feature. Pop, who grew up climbing the Palisades and had no fear of heights, helped build the bridge, mostly by rigging cables.

Not long after finding a place to stay in New York in Fall of 2012, my wife and I took a walk across the bridge to visit the old neighborhood. I knew the old house was gone, the land under it paved over by Bruce Reynolds Boulevard. What I didn’t expect was finding that the entire neighborhood had been erased. See the brown area on the map above, between the highway and Main Street? That was it. Palisade Avenue, behind Hoyt, is now a house-less strip of rotting pavement flanked and veined by wild grass. The only animal life we spotted was a large groundhog that ran to an old storm drain when we approached.

Little of the Fort Lee I knew as a kid is still there. The only familiar sights on Main Street are City Hall and the old fire station. Dig this: City Hall also shows up in the background of this shot of Mom with my cousin Paul and I, when we were both a few months old, in April 1948. This street too has been obliterated: replaced by stores and parking lots, with no trace of its old self.

When I was a kid in the ’50s, my grandparents’ generation — all born in the second half of the 19th Century — was still going strong. One relative I remember well was great-aunt Eva Quackenbush, Grandpa Searls’ older sister. Here she is with Mom, and the baby me. Eva was born in 1853, and was twelve years old when President Lincoln was shot — and event she talked about. She visited often from her home in St. Louis, and died just a few days short of 100 years old, in 1953. Living long is a Searls family trait. Grandma made it to 107 and Aunt Grace to 101 (she passed just last month, fun and lucid to the end).

So to me the world before cars, electricity and other modern graces was a familiar one, because I heard so many stories about it. Grandma grew up in The Bronx, at 742 East 142nd Street, when it looked like this:

Today, according to Google’s StreetView, it looks like this:

The red A marks 732. On the left, behind that wall, is a “towed car” lot. It sits atop a mound of rubble that was once “old Lincoln Hospital”:

According to the Wikipedia article on Lincoln Hospital, “In 1895, after more than half a century of occupying various sites in Manhattan, the Board of Trustees purchased a large lot in the South Bronx—then a semi-rural area of the city—at the corner of 141st Street and Southern Boulevard.” This is a morning view, lit from the southeast, looking north across 141st Street. Grandma’s place was on the back side of the hospital. Amazing to think that this scene came and went between the two shots above it.

Grandma’s father, Henry Roman Englert, was the head of the Steel and Copper Plate Engravers Union in the city. His trade was also destroyed by industrial progress, but was an art in its time. Here he is, as a sharp young man with a waxed mustache:

Henry was a fastidious dude who, on arriving home from work, would summon his four daughters to appear and stand in a row. He would then run his white glove over some horizontal surface and wipe it on a white shoulder of a daughter’s dress, expecting no dust to leave a mark on either glove or girl. Or so the story went. Henry was the son of German immigrants: Christian Englert and Jacobina Rung, both of Alsace, now part of France. They were brewers, and had a tavern on the east side of Manhattan on 110th Street. Jacobina was a Third Order Carmelite nun, and was buried in its brown robes. Both were born in 1825. Christian died in 1886 while picking hops in Utica. Jacobina died in 1904.

Grandma met Grandpa in 1903, when she was twenty and he was forty. She was working as a cleaning woman in the Fort Lee boarding house where Grandpa lived while he worked as a carpenter. One day she saw him laying asleep, and bent down to kiss him. He woke, reached up, and kissed her back. Romance commenced.

Grandma didn’t like to admit having done cleaning work, insisting always that she was “lace curtain Irish,” to distinguish her family from “shanty Irish.” When ethnic matters came up in conversation over dinner, she would often say “All for the Irish stand up,” and everybody would rise. In fact she was only half Irish. Her mother, Catherine “Kitty” Trainor, died in her thirties. Henry later married an Italian woman and produced more progeny, only one of which was ever mentioned by Grandma. That was Harry, who died at age five. The largest framed photograph in Grandma’s house was one of Harry, looking up and holding a toy.

Kitty’s dad was Thomas Trainor, who came over from Ireland in 1825 at age 15 to escape England’s harsh penal laws. (He shipped out of Letterkenny with an uncle, but the Trainors were from south of there. Trainor was anglicized from the Gaelic Tréinfhir, meaning “strong man.”) Thomas worked as an indentured servant in the carriage trade, and married Catherine McLaughlin, the daughter of his boss. Thomas then prospered in the same business, building and fixing carriages at his shop at the south end of Broadway. His two daughters were Kitty and “Aunt Mag” Meyer, whom Grandma often quoted. The line I best remember is, “You’ve got it in your hand. Now put it away.” Mag taught Grandma how to walk quietly while large numbers of other people in the house were sleeping. Grandma passed the same advice to her grandkids, including me: “Walk on the balls of your feet, toes first.” The Trainors also had a son, who ran away to fight in the Civil War. When the war ended and the boy didn’t come home, Thomas went down to Washington and found his son in a hospital there, recovering from a wound. The doctors said the boy would be home by Christmas. And, when Christmas came, the boy indeed arrived, in a coffin. Or so the story went.

An interesting fact about Fort Lee: it was the original Hollywood. The Searls family, like most of the town, was involved. Grandpa was D.W. Griffith’s head carpenter, building film sets such as this one here. Here he is (bottom right) with his crew. Here’s a link for the Fort Lee Film Commission, featuring samples of the silent movies made there. Among the extras are family members. Lillian Gish and Lon Chaney both boarded upstairs at 2063 Hoyt. So did the dad of the late Elliot Richardson, a cabinet member in the Nixon and Ford administrations.

Time flies, and so do people, places and memories. My parents’ generation is now gone, and family members of my own generation are starting to move on. I can count ten places I used to live that are now gone as well, including my high school. Kevin Kelly told me a couple years ago that none of us, even the famous, will be remembered in a thousand years. I’m sure he’s right.

But I still feel the urge to pour as much as I can of what I know into the public domain, which is what you’re witnessing now, if you’re still with me at the bottom of a long post. I believe it helps to see what was, as well as what is.

For example, this view up Hoyt Avenue from the site of the old Searls place, in 2012, is now filled with a high-rise that is almost complete. The little bridge-less town where my grandparents met and my father and his sisters grew up is now a henge of high-rises. Fort Lee itself is now also known as Fort Lee Koreatown. In this constantly shifting urban context the current scandal seems a drop in the bucket of time.

 

I last visited Barcelona more than twenty years ago. Back then the Sagrada Família was already impressive, but also incomplete.  All that stood were the nativity façade and some small number (four? eight?) of the Sagrada’s eventual eighteen towers. I recall nothing of the interior, perhaps because there was none. In many ways, in fact, it resembled a ruin: something not all there.

This time was different. The church, our guide told us, was about a third complete the last time we were there, and is a bit more than two thirds complete now. Still remaining are some new towers and detail work on the exterior, a proper floor for the interior (it’s mostly temporary marble now), and the final entrance: the glory façade at the south end, or the foot of the church’s cross.

Impressive and iconic as the exterior is, the interior achieves a magnificence which, to me, exceeds not only every other church I’ve seen, but every building, period. The forest of columns, which really do resemble trees, spread above oval “knots” into branches that hold up the roof the way spread out fingers might hold up a dish from below. In fact they do far more than that: they are also made to carry the weight of the Jesus tower, which will rise to five hundred and sixty feet above the ground, ranking the Sagrada as the tallest church on Earth.

And, rather than leaves, the ceiling features beautiful pores — the navels of hyperbolas — that suggest portals toward the infinite. That’s one view, above. More can be found in this photo set. The captions aren’t right yet, but the connection at our B&B here is awful, so writing — even a blog post like this — is a bit of an ordeal. So I won’t be in a position to fix things up until I get back stateside next week. Meanwhile, enjoy a visit vicariously.

To an window-sitter accustomed to flying over the American West, Catalonia from altitude looks like Utah. On the northern horizon the Pyrenees, like the Uintahs, run east-west above a dry landscape of settled alluvium, much of it reddish as the San Rafael desert. While the shapes of the ancient towns below are clearly old world in shape and style (for example, red tile roofed), and no doubt receives a greater dousing of rain, the resemblance is still striking.

As always when flying over new places, i found myself wondering about geological provenance. And that was the reverie blown straight out of my mind when a singular landform slid into view. Shaped like the upper half of an elongated football, a half-buried zeppelin, the spine of a humpback, it was deeply eroded into bulbous hoodoo shapes, like those of Utah’s arches and goblins. Yet in a more significant way it also reminded me instantly of the equally anomalous church we were sure to visit in Barcelona, to which we were on approach: Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Família, which I last visited twenty years ago, and would visit again two days hence, on New Years Day, 2014. (Here are some interior shots I took there.)

Was the landform an inspiration for the church? Digging around later, I found the answer was yes. Same goes for the cuevas of Majorca, which I gathered the instant I saw those as well, when I visited the island in 1998.

The landform is the Holy Mountain of Montserrat, which means “serrated mountain” in Catalan.

I’d say more, but Net connection at our Barcelona B&B is iffy at best. Evidence: I wrote this several days ago and am only getting it up today, 2 January. So the rest will just have to wait, probably until I’m back in the States next week.

Cities aren’t simple, especially mature ones. They are deep and complicated places that require equally deep attention to appreciate fully.  That’s what I get from Stephen Lewis‘ insights about the particulars of present and past urban scenes and characters in Sofia, New York, Istanbul and other cities he knows well. His latest post, titled  The Women’s Market, Sofia, Bulgaria: The Endurance of the 19th Century, Layers of Unwarranted Blame, and the Virtues of Slow Lenses, goes even deeper than most — accompanied, as always, by first-rate photography that speaks far more than words in any sum can tell. A sample passage:

The endurance of the 19th century

In a lifetime of working in and observing cities throughout the world, I’ve noticed that late-nineteenth century neighborhoods are amongst the last to be regenerated.  This is due in part to the resilient endurance of their economic and social functions throughout the twentieth century and into the early-twenty-first.  In such neighborhoods, cheap rents and high vacancy rates in storefront occupancy enable the provision of inexpensive goods to those whose budgets constrict their choices.  The same interstice of factors offers opportunities for marginal entrepreneurship and a shot at mobility to those who might otherwise fall outside of the economy.  The low profit-margins inherent to such entrepreneurship, however, can make for dubious goods and equally dubious practices.  Thus, shopping in the Women’s Market calls for a taste for sharp-tongued banter and a quick eye ever on the lookout for rigged scales and for good looking produce on display but underweight and damaged goods placed in one’s shopping bag.  Still, where else can one buy, for example, persimmons or grapes, albeit on the last legs of their shelf-lives, for a third of the price of elsewhere and serviceable tomatoes for even less?

To live is to change — and eventually to die. Yet cities are comprised of many lives. They are always an us and never just a me, even if we don’t get along. Who we are changes as well, and that too is a subject of Steve’s attention. For example:

Layers of unwarranted blame

There is a fine ethnic division of work and functions at the Women’s Market.  Meat, cheese, and fish  kiosks, and stands offering wild herbs and mushrooms, are run by Bulgarians. Fruit and vegetable stands and peripatetic bootleg cigarette operations are run by Roma (Gypsies).  Storefronts in adjacent streets include honey and bee keeping supply stores run by Bulgarians and rows of “Arab” shops — halal butchers, spice stores, barbers, and low-cost international telephone services — run by and catering to increasing numbers of legal and illegal immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Many Bulgarians, their weak self esteem shakily bolstered by contempt for “others,” blame the shoddier commercial practices of this wonderfully vibrant marginal neighborhood on the presence and “inferiority” of such outsiders.

Blaming others may be among our most human of tendencies. I have often thought that the human diaspora, wandering out of Africa and across oceans and forbidding landscapes, was caused by disaffection between tribes — the dislike, subjugation or dehumanizing of others, and the construction of specious narratives that rationalize a simple urge to blame. In known history there have been countless migrations, some for opportunistic reasons, but many more simply to escape misery. (Or, in the case of slavery, in states of misery dismissed by traders who regarded their captives as mere property.)

Yet cities, perhaps alone among human institutions, invite and thrive on human diversity. What hope I have for our species I get more from living in cities than from being anywhere else, no matter how pleasant. Steve’s photos and essays don’t always give me more hope, but they always give me more understanding, which is the better deal.

Bonus postings:

 

With Comet Ison on the horizon (but out of sight until it finishes looping around the Sun), I thought it might be fun to re-run what I wrote here in 1997 (in my blog-before-there-were-blogs), about the last great comet to grace Earth’s skies. — Doc


 

Ordinary Miracles:
Start Your Day With Comet Hale-Bopp

Hale-Bopp

Graphic by Dr. Dale Ireland, whose excellent comet page is here.


By Doc Searls
March 6, 1997

It’s 5:15AM as I write this. A few minutes ago, after the kid woke us for his breakfast, I walked to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. When I arrived at the sink, I looked up and saw the most amazing thing: Hale-Bopp, the comet, brighter than any star, hanging from the Northeast sky over San Francisco Bay.

I’ve seen five comets in my life. None have been more spectacular than this one is, right now. It’s astonishing. Trust me: this one is a Star of Bethlehem-grade mother of a comet.

Considering the comet’s quality, publicity has been kind of weak. Which makes sense, since I have noticed an inverse relationship between comet quality and notoriety.

KahoutekThe most promoted comet in recent history was Kahoutek, in 1971. Kahoutek was supposed to be the biggest comet since Halley last appeared in 1910. But after all the hype, Kahoutek was nearly invisible. I can’t even say I saw it. At least I can say Ilooked and that maybe I saw something. (But hey, I lived in Jersey at the time. Whaddaya ‘spect?)

Comet WEstIn fact, Kahoutek was such a big no-show that when Comet West appeared in 1975, it received almost no publicity at all. But it was a wonderful comet. First it appeared as a morning star with a bright little tail about one moon long, above the Eastern horizon. Then, after it whipped around the Sun and flew back out toward its own tail, the comet spread into a wide V that graced the evening sky like God’s own logo. At the time I lived in a rural enclave outside Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and every night for several weeks a few of us would wander out and marvel at the show.

HalleyThe next comet was Halley, in 1986. Astronomers had rightly mixed feelings about Halley. On the one hand, they knew this would be one of Halley’s least visible visits. On the other hand, they knew it would raise interest in astronomy. Well, Halley was nearly as big a bust as Kahoutek. At best the “Great Comet” was a tiny smudge in the sky. Can you see it in this picture? Right. My friend Jerry Solfvin and I had about the same luck when we joined a 3AM traffic jam of about 10,000 people who went to the far side of Mt. Diablo to look at this. By the way, this picture is from the Hyuktuke Gallery at the NEFAS (Northeast Florida Astronomical Society) site.

Comet Hyuktake showed up about a year ago, and enough time had passed since the Halley disappointment to allow the new comet a fair measure of publicity. And Hyuktake was a beauty. When it skirted the North Star, the comet’s tail stretched across a sixth of the sky. The best image I’ve found is this cool 3-D number by Dave Crum. Click on it to visit a larger version at the NEFAS site.

And now we have Hale-Bopp. Although Hale-Bopp won’t come nearly as close to Earth as Hyuktake did, it’s putting on a bigger show, mostly because it’s a bigger comet. lot bigger. This thing is more than 200 times larger than Halley: about 40km across. You can actually see some shape to it, even with the naked eye. To spot it, look to the Northeast in the early morning, when it’s still dark. You’ll see it below and to the left of Cygnus (the Northern Cross), pointing straignt down toward the horizon. It’ll be brighter than any other star in the sky, and with a tail that stretches across the Milky Way. On the 6th you’ll also see the last sliver of moon down to the East, and on succeeding days the moon will move out of the way long enough for a great view.

Finally, let’s not forget the kid, who was born between Hyuktake and Hale-Bopp. In this context the miracle of his arrival (to parents our age) seems almost ordinary.

Anyway, it might be fun to find the publicity coefficient of modern comets that at least get a little press. If the relationship is inverse, as I suspect, consider this modest page a bit of publicity prosthesis.

And don’t miss it. This may be the last comet you ever see.


Bonus links from the present:

In Google sets out future for Maps — Lays down gauntlet to Nokia with plans for personalized, context-aware and ‘emotional’ maps in future, in Rethink Wireless, Caroline Gabriel begins this way:

Google may be feeling the heat from an unlikely source, Nokia, at least in its critical Maps business. The search giant has put location awareness at the heart of its business model, but Nokia has overtaken it in several respects with its cloud-based Here offering – based on the acquisition of Navteq in 2007 – and has also licensed its mapping platform to some powerful partners such as Microsoft, Amazon and a range of car makers.

Google is promising dramatic changes to its own maps to help fend off the Nokia/Microsoft alliance and also, in the Android segment at least, the challenge from Amazon to a Google-centric experience.

As usual with stories like this, the issue is framed in terms of vendor sports: big companies doing battle over some market category. Lost, also as usual, is what the individual user, or customer, might actually want.

That’s what I’m here for.

So let me start by saying I don’t want a “Google-centric experience,” whatever that is. Nor do I want Google’s (or anybody’s) Matrix-like approach to satisfying what its robotic systems think I might need. Here’s how Caroline explains that ambition:

Bernhard Seefeld, product management director for Google Maps, told the GigaOM Roadmap conference this week that future software will “build a whole new map for every context and every person”, incorporating all kinds of information about the individual and updating this constantly. He added: “It’s a specific map nobody has seen before, and it’s just there for that moment to visualize the data.”

Pushing a major theme at Google this year, Seefeld talks about applications creating emotional connections for users – “emotional maps that reflect our real life connections and peek into the future and possibly travel there”. This will involve context-aware maps that combine location and personal data, some of that taken from other Google apps, particularly its Google Now personal digital assistant – mainly seen as a response to Apple Siri, but in fact far broader in scope, and with a powerful artificial intelligence engine.

Context-aware is fine, provided I provide the context, and the context is as simple as, for example, “I am here” and “I want to go to this other place.” I don’t want guesswork about my emotions, or anything else that isn’t on the vector of what I alone know and want. Paper maps didn’t do that, and the best electronic ones shouldn’t either — not beyond what still feels as hard and useful as paper maps always did.

See, maps are fact-based descriptions of the world. Their first and most essential context is that world, and not the person seeking facts about that world. Yes, map makers have always made speculative assumptions about what a map reader might like to know. But those assumptions have always been about populations of readers: drivers, aviators, hikers, bike riders, sailors, geologists, etc. That they don’t get personal is a feature, not a bug.

A brief story that should tell you a bit about me and maps.

In October 1987, on the way back to Palo Alto after visiting my daughter at UC-Irvine, my son and I noticed it was an unusually clear day. So we decided to drive to the top of Mt. Wilson, overlooking Los Angeles. On the way we stopped at a fast food place and ate our burgers while I studied various AAA maps of Southern California and its cities. When we arrived at the top, and stood there overlooking a vista that stretched from the San Bernardino mountains to the Channel Islands, four guys from New Jersey in plaid pants, fresh from golfing somewhere, asked me to point out landmarks below, since I already was doing that for my son. The dialog went something like this:

“Where’s the Rose Bowl?”

“Over there on the right is Verdugo Mountain. See that green stretch below? In there is the Rose Bowl.”

“Oh yeah.”

“On the other side of Verdogo is the San Fernando Valley. South of that are the Hollywood Hills.”

“Is that where the Hollywood sign is?”

“Yes, on the south side, facing Hollywood. Mulholland Drive runs down the spine of the hills on the far side of the Sepulveda Pass, where the 405 passes through. The Malibu Hills are beyond that. You can see the buildings downtown to the left of that. Long Beach and San Pedro, Los Angeles’ port cities, are to the left of the Palos Verdes peninsula, which are the hills over there. You can see Santa Catalina Island off beyond that.”

“Where was the Whittier Earthquake?”

“Over there in the Puente Hills. See that low ridge?”

“Yeah. Wow. How long have you lived here?”

“I don’t. This is only my second trip through. I live up north.”

“Where are you from?”

“New Jersey, like you.”

“How do you know so much about all this around here?”

“I study maps.”

Of which I have many, now mostly mothballed in drawers. Maps collection on my iphoneI have topo maps from the U.S. Geological Survey, sectional charts from the FAA, maps atlases from the Ordnance Survey in the U.K., and many more. When I fly in planes, I follow the scene below on my laptop using Garmin Road Trip (an app that is sorely in need of an update, btw.) That’s how I can identify, literally on the fly, what I see out the window and later detail in my aerial photo collections on Flickr.

So, having presented those credentials, I rate Google’s Maps mobile app at the top of the current list. Google’s search is great, but substitutable. So are many other fine Google services. But I have become highly dependent on Google’s Maps app because nothing else comes close for providing fully useful facts-on-the-ground. Here are a few:

  • Transit options, and arrival times. Here in New York one quickly becomes dependent on them, and they are right a remarkable percentage of the time, given how uneven subway service tends to be. Hell, even in Santa Barbara, which is far from the center of the public transportation world, Google’s Maps app is able to tell me, to the minute, when the busses will arrive at a given stop. It’s freaking amazing at it.
  • Route options. Even while I’m on one route, two others are still available.
  • Re-routing around traffic. It doesn’t always work right, but when it does, it can be a huge time/hassle saver.
  • Timeliness. It couldn’t be more now, and a living embodiment of the Live Web at work.

I also like Here, from Nokia. (As you can see from my collection of maps apps, above. Note the second dot at the bottom, indicating that there’s a second page of them.) I also have enormous respect NAVTEQ, which Nokia bought a few years back. NAVTEQ has been at the map game a lot longer than Google, and is at the heart of Here. But so far Here hasn’t been as useful to me as Google Maps. For example, if I want to get from where I am now to the meeting at NYU I’ll be going to shortly, Google Maps gives me three options with clear walking and riding directions. Here gives me one route, and I can’t figure how to get the directions for taking it. (Both are on my iPhone, btw.)

So here is a message for both of them, and for everybody else in the mapping game: Don’t subordinate pure mapping functions to a lot of “emotional” and other guesswork-based variables that advertisers want more than map readers do.

This might also help: I’m willing to pay for the maps, and services around them. Not just to avoid advertising, but to make those services accountable to me, as a customer, and not as a mere “user.”

As advertising gets more and more personal, and more creepy in the process — without any direct accountability to the persons being “delivered” a “personalized experience” — a market for paid services is bound to emerge. I’ll enjoy being in the front of it.

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I shot the sunset above a couple days ago in New Hampshire. Here’s another from the same set:

And another:

And another:

And another:

And another:

Which are best? Are any really good? Or all of them? Or none?

Some are obviously enhanced with digital tools: adjusted in brightness, contrast, exposure, color balance, vibrance, detail, saturation, white and black levels, temperature and other variables. But didn’t we do the same thing with dodges, pushes and other tricks in darkrooms? I did, back in the decade. There’s art to all that too.

I wonder, because — almost invariably — the shots other people call favorites are not often my own.  Some of the above were labeled favorites by the great Thomas Hawk, which is a badge of honor. So I do assume that at least those are good. But the rest? You tell me, if you’re up for it. If not, I’ll still shoot and publish away, favoring more rather than less, because that’s what I do. :-)

Here’s the full sunset gallery.

And the sunrise.

I orient by landmarks. When I was growing up in New Jersey, the skyline of New York raked the eastern sky. To the west were the Watchung “Mountains“: hills roughly half the height of Manhattan’s ranking skyscrapers. But they gave me practice for my favorite indulgence here in Los Angeles: multi-angulating my ass in respect to seriously huge mountains.

What stands out about these things aren’t just their elevations…

  1. San Gorgonio, 11,503′*
  2. San Jacinto, 10,834
  3. San Antonio (Old Baldy), 10,068*

It’s their relief. These mothers are almost two miles high: alps above low plains and hills that slope under city and suburbs to the sea. One day when I went skiing at Mt. Baldy (same mountain as I shot above, on approach to LAX), I met guys who had gone surfing that very morning, not far away.

That’s right: skiing. In Los Angeles County.

All these mountains are crumples along a seam in the earth called the San Andreas Fault. The 40-quadrillion-ton Pacific Plate is crunching up against the also-huge North American plate at a high rate of geologic speed and force. The core rock inside these mountains is about 1.7 billion years of age, but the mountains themselves are, geologically speaking, as new and temporary as waves of surf. Note the catch basins at the base of San Antonio Canyon in the shot above. Their purpose is to catch rocks rolling off the slopes, as well as rain-saturated “debris flows”: Southern California’s version  of lava.

Speaking of which, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of John McPhee’s The Control of Nature (here’s an LA Times review), which features a long chapter titled “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains.” That anybody would build a damn thing on or below the slopes of these virtual volcanoes speaks volumes about humanity’s capacity for denial.

Well, I was gonna drive up to the top of Mt. Wilson this morning to catch the sunrise over the layer of marine fog just over my head here in Pasadena, but I’ve got too much work to do. So I’ll just enjoy orienting toward it as I drive to Peet’s for coffee, and let ya’ll derive whatever vicarious pleasures might follow along. Cheers.

[Later...] Beautiful clouds atop the mountains all day today, with showers scattered here and there, and even a bit of snow. Tonight the snow level will be about 5000 feet, I heard. Should be pretty in the morning. Alas, I’ll be arriving at Newark then.


* The photos in Wikipedia for both are ones I shot from airplanes. They are among more than 400 now in Wikimedia Commons. I love feeding shots into the public domain, to find helpful uses such as these.

Hart Island

As Halloween approaches (and death itself, for all of us, eventually), I find myself thinking, Do zombies always have to be bad? And, What if zombies were good? And, Hey, maybe good zombies are what we call ‘angels’.

Then I find myself wondering where one would recruit armies of zombie angels (let’s call them “zangels”), besides your basic headstone-studded cemeteries. Then it comes to me: Hart Island, New York’s potters field, and home to a million or more of New York’s unclaimed dead, off the coast of The Bronx. What a great name and place for a movie starring zombie angels!

I see it opening on the plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty, with that familiar passage from Emma Lazarus‘ sonnet The New Collosus:

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The camera sweeps upward, past Liberty’s lifted lamp, to the lifting lid of a plain wooden coffin, topmost of a stack among many in a trench on Hart Island, where the City accumulates boxed bodies by the dozen before a bulldozer, operated by inmates from the Department of Corrections, mass-buries them.

Correction is the theme. The zangels, wretched refuse all, teeming on a shore forgotten by all but the forsaken living, stir awake on a holy mission: to warn the living that the gap between rich and poor is stretching to a breaking point more dangerous than any terrorist plot.*

The zangels aren’t decayed, but appear in their living form, absent the infirmities and temporal concerns that put them in the ground. And they have a plan.

First they confront the very inmates whose work on the island is burial. These they recruit to spread the word. But they do this selectively, starting with just one or two of the inmates, met by one or two of the zangels. The inmates, convinced (after first disbelieving, of course — gotta have that stage), plot next steps with the zangels, who then swim over to City Island, steal some fresh clothes off some clotheslines and head for meetings with a few of the zangels’ surviving friends, co-workers and loved ones. These too are shocked and disbelieving at first, but become disciples of the zangels, who are expert at disappearing and reappearing when necessary.

A code line — “Take liberty to Hart” — is used by the secretive but growing cohort of zangel disciples to organize meetings and start spreading the word.

Not sure what the big conflict with bad guys should be. Gotta have that too. Maybe the bad guys are Gordon Gecko types living in penthouses, working in high-floor offices, making money with work that creates wealth only for themselves. That’s a bit too Hollywood and pat, but I’m just thinking out loud right now, and need to get back to Real Work. But there are plenty of movie-making folk among readers here. I’m hoping those folks pick this up and run with it. I think it’s a hell of a good idea (puns intended).

Meanwhile, here’s a key resource that’s also the main cause:  The Hart Island Project, which seeks to de-shroud Hart Island, bring full respect to those buried there, open access to the public, and unearth and organize good records for those buried there. The project’s founder, Melinda Hunt (@hartisland), owns HartIsland.com as well as HartIsland.net and HartIsland.org. I’m sure she’d let the movie (provided it’s a good one) use HartIsland.com. (She also has a documentary on the island you can sample and buy here.)

Anyway, with Halloween front and center at the moment, I can’t think of a better way to organize and bring attention to a good cause by focusing on a Real Issue.

* Three good sources on this: Chris Hedges, writing about societal collapse and the seductions of warJoseph Stiglitz, whose latest book is The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future; and Stephen Lewis, a New York native and an authority on many relevant topics, blogging at Bubkes.com.

It’s interesting to see where photos end up (or start out, or re-start out) when one puts them in position to be used and re-used with minimized friction. The one above, of a coal-fired power plant in Utah that supplies electricity to Los Angeles, and which I shot from a flight overhead in January 2009, appears in at least these three places, so far:

At this point 391 photos of mine have found their way into Wikimedia Commons. I put none of them there. I just post them in Flickr and license them permissively.

I just noticed that mining and power generation figure prominently in that collection. Maybe that’s because I like to shoot pictures of infrastructure, geology and both at once. Or maybe it’s because the subject is interesting enough for Wikimedians to put the shots in there. Dunno.

Oddly, I don’t see the Utah power plant shot in the midst, but maybe I missed it. More likely people using the shots have done a search-by-license on Flickr, such as this one for coal.

A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization. — Samuel Johnson

Hart Island

Visitors to New York’s Orchard Beach (at the top of the photo above) probably don’t know that the low wooded island offshore will, at the current rate, contain a million buried human bodies, if it doesn’t already.

The site is Hart Island (aka Hart’s Island), and it is New York’s Potter’s Field: where the city’s “unclaimed and indigent” dead are buried by inmates of the Department of Corrections, which also controls the island. Visitors are not welcome.

I knew nothing about Hart Island until I found myself looking at the picture I shot of the place, above, while seeking information about something else. Though bleak, the stories of the place are fascinating — and, it seemed to me, far too important to leave as far out on the margins of consciousness as they are of the City. So I compiled a list in a Fargo outline, which I’ve arranged below.

One item I’ll pull out of the list to start with is The Hart Island Project, by Melinda Hunt (@hartisland) and a team of collaborators. Melinda has been leading a steady effort to open up the island to visitors and to humanize and modernize the records kept of persons buried there. Her constituency includes all who reside in what we might call the Mass Grave of the Barely-Known Outcasts — and too few of the living, so far. So dig:

In fact Hart Island is New York’s ninth Potter’s Field. Writes Melinda Hunt,

A few of these early potters fields remain in the public domain as smaller parcels of land now known as Madison Square Park (1794), Washington Square Park (1797), Bryant Park and the Public Library (1823). Except for the last potter’s field in Manhattan, located at the current Waldorf Astoria Hotel (1836), no records exist of the bodies being moved elsewhere. At all other sites, parks were created after the cemeteries, parade grounds, and the reservoir closed. Once the city expanded beyond 50th Street, the East River became a more convenient route for transporting the bodies. Potter’s fields opened briefly on Randalls Island (1843) and Wards Island (1846) before moving much further out to Hart Island.

It’s a haunting history. Another excerpt:

  The burial records show an ever-changing pool of immigrants, diseases and disabilities administered to by a range of institutions. It remains too mixed and varied to become the darling of any special interest group. Genealogists that I have spoken with claim that most families with immigrant roots in New York City probably have lost relatives buried on Hart Island. As one recently told me: “People come to me hoping to discover ‘nobility’ in their ancestry, but the missing people usually turn out to have had alcohol problems or mental illness and were buried in Potter’s Field.”

In New York City, the combined nine potter’s fields have close to one million burials. An immense amount of history is associated with these places. Yet, there is almost no academic or institutional interest in the public cemeteries. Most of the writing about Hart Island takes the form of journalism documenting specific events. Distinctive in these accounts is the unanswered question of why such a place continues to exist. Most other American cities cremate the unclaimed and unwanted. If burials are provided they are in more accessible places. Chicago has a potter’s field with mass graves as part of a private cemetery. New York City offers burial assistance to families who organize an application. Nonetheless, the burials continue to number two to three thousand a year. Even with the twenty-five year time limit, the northern 45 acres of Hart Island named Cemetery Hill is full. Current burials have moved to the shallow grounds south of the workhouses.

New York City has a long-standing policy of respecting diverse religious practices. Many religions do not permit cremation. Until recently Catholics buried on Hart Island were placed in separate “consecrated ground.” In 1913, “baby trenches” were separated from “adult trenches.” Starting in 1935, “catholic babies” had separate trenches from “regular babies.”

Incredible care and expense goes into conducting the burials. In 1990 the cost of flowers, tools, heavy equipment, parts to repair equipment, general maintenance equipment, fuel and inmate labor, at thirty-five cents per hour, drove the cost of each burial to $346. In addition, the city provides for free exhumation if family members claim a body within seven years of burial.

During the first fifty years of Hart Island burials, “unclaimed” people were buried in single graves. Only the “unwanted” whose relatives assigned them to a public burial were in mass graves. Today, all bodies are carefully organized into a grid. The ends of trenches are marked by a number pressed into a concrete block. Re-excavations require locating the designated body within this numbered scheme.

Perhaps it is the abstraction of human lives into trench numbers and statistics that is most disturbing about the potter’s field. I was impressed by the fact that the burial records from the nineteenth century contain full names, causes of death and countries of origin. In this century the names of babies up until 1940 are strictly female; each child’s identity is linked exclusively to the mother. She is the person forever associated with the potter’s field. After 1940, only surnames are listed. By 1955, the causes of death for children are uniformly listed as “confidential.” By 1970, the category “cause of death” is left blank. That the island is prohibitively difficult to visit adds another level of removal.

Then there is this, from Thomas Badhe, in a Common Place essay,” The Common Dust of Potter’s Field: New York City and its bodies politic, 1800-1860″:

The first Potter’s Field burial ground in New York City was located at the site of what would become the militia parade ground and city park at Washington Square. On this nine-and-a-half-acre plot, at the city’s pastoral northern edge, lay the densely packed corpses of about 125,000 “strangers,” many of whom had died during two separate yellow-fever epidemics between 1795 and 1803. Not surprisingly, local residents who had fled crowded lower Manhattan for country estates in the region came to find in Potter’s Field an intense nuisance. Whatever sympathy anyone had for the anonymous dead did not supersede wealthy New Yorkers’ sense of entitlement when it came to their comfortable insulation from the city’s darker side. In a letter to the Common Council, they wrote, “From the rapid Increase of Building that is daily taking place both in the suburbs of the City and the Grounds surrounding the field alluded to, it is certain that in the course of a few years the aforementioned field will be drawn within a precinct of the City.” Within the first two decades of the nineteenth century, their prediction had been realized, and the Potter’s Field began a lengthy series of migrations in a vain effort to stay a step ahead of the city’s relentless growth.

In 1823, the city moved Potter’s Field to an empty lot at the corner of Forty-ninth Street and Fourth Avenue—what would then have been the far northern reaches of the metropolis. This place served as the Potter’s Field until the 1840s when, as the city grew northward, it was relocated once again to Randall’s Island in the East River. Cast off the Island of Manhattan like so many family farms, Potter’s Field would no longer clash with the New Yorkers’ Victorian sensibilities or inhibit the Manhattan real-estate boom.

Just south of Randall’s Island, separated by a treacherous, narrow channel known as Little Hell’s Gate, was Ward’s Island, the site of another Potter’s Field in the mid-1850s. Both Randall’s and Ward’s Islands already housed other city institutions for the indigent, including the Emigrant Refuge and Hospital, the State Inebriate Asylum, the juvenile branch of the Almshouse Department, and the headquarters for the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents. As one guide to New York and its benevolent institutions observed, “multitudes of persons went from the dram-shop to the police-station, and from the police courts to the Workhouse from whence, after a short stay, they returned to the dram shop . . . until they at length died on their hands as paupers or criminals, and were laid in the Potter’s Field.” For most of New York’s institutionalized underclass, there was literally a direct path from the door of the asylum or workhouse to the Potter’s Field.

Relocating the city’s cemetery from Manhattan’s urban grid to an island in the East River did not put an end to the city’s problem with the indigent dead. In 1849, the Daily Tribune reported on the political and legal wrangling between the governors of the Almshouse and the Common Council (the nineteenth-century name for the City Council), the former seeking to wrest authority over Potter’s Field from the latter. The governors cited the poor management of the paupers’ burial ground, which the Tribune referred to as “that den of abominations,” as evidence that the Common Council was unable to manage the Potter’s Field. “We do sincerely trust somebody will shoulder the responsibility of the Potter’s Field,” the Tribune pleaded, “and rid the Island of the abomination before the advent of another warm and perhaps an epidemic season.”

The Common Council and the Governors of the Almshouse traded letters, pleas, and vitriol for the better part of a decade. In May of 1851, the Governors warned the Common Council that, “the land now appropriated [for the Potter’s Field] is now nearly full, and the small space left for further interment (which now average upwards of one hundred per week), renders prompt action necessary.” Four years later, it was still unclear who had control over the Potter’s Field, and conditions were worsening. By this time, there were two burial grounds for paupers: the primary site on Randall’s Island and a smaller one on Ward’s Island to the south. The Board of Governors proposed to expand the Ward’s Island site in 1854, and the Times supported the proposition, suggesting that “it is time that the remains of paupers were interred in some quarter better fitted for their last resting-place than the one now used on Randall’s Island.” In their reports to the Board of Health and the Common Council, the Governors of the Almshouse urged that, “humanity, a due regard for the living, and a sense of proper respect for the dead” be part of any effort “to remedy the existing and impending evils.”

In the meantime, the disinterment of bodies at the old site on Fourth Avenue aroused its own controversy. In 1851, a plan was adopted by the Common Council to expand Forty-ninth Street through the old Potter’s Field, which required the disinterment of thousands of bodies. This project stretched on for nearly the entire decade, accompanied by foot-dragging and corrupt contractors. Commenting on the enormity of the project, the Times reported in the spring of 1853 that “the City Authorities are cutting a street through the old Potter’s Field . . . where so many victims of the Cholera were hurriedly interred in 1832. The coffins were then, in many instances, stacked one upon another; and now, in digging through the hill, the remains of twenty coffins may be seen thus piled together.”

As with the active Potter’s Field, the old paupers’ burial ground aroused no small amount of controversy. In the summer of 1858, the Timesagain reported on the work, claiming that “within three weeks past about 3,000 skeletons have been exhumed from the old Potter’s Field . . . and removed to Ward’s Island.” The winter of 1858-59 passed without any further exhumation, and “meantime the thin layer of earth which covered some hundred half-decayed coffins has fallen away, and . . . crowds of urchins assemble there daily and play with the bones of the dead; troops of hungry dogs prowl about the grounds and carry off skulls and detached parts of human bodies.”

Many of the old potter’s fields became parks. Washington Square is said to have twenty thousand bodies beneath it. Yet today it seems no more haunted than is Paris by its Catacombes, which I visited and wrote about three years ago, and which contains a population of dead that outnumber the city’s live citizens. The real haunting, I believe, is within our culture and its institutions. On that I’ll give Thomas Badhe the last words:

Having strolled through the rural cemeteries, we can better appreciate why the piles of moldering coffins exposed to the public in the 1850s caused New Yorkers to question their city’s claims to “civilization.” But the Potter’s Field was not only the antithesis of the rural-cemetery ideal (as well as a failure of municipal administration); it was also a site of spiritual death, obliterated social identity, and the graveyard of vice. If, as one proponent of rural cemeteries claimed in 1831, “the grave hath a voice of eloquence,” the Potter’s Field spoke in a dark chorus about the failures of democracy and civilization, the stark and messy exigencies of urban inequality, and thousands of individual lives wrecked on the shores of the great metropolis.

Cool

Personal data and independence

  • The Independent Purchase Decision Support Test, by Adrian Gropper, M.D. Pull quote: “ What I need is an Agent that’s independent of my ‘provider’ institution EHR and communicates with that EHR using the Stage 2 guidelines without any interference from the EHR vendor or the ‘provider’. It’s my choice who gets the Direct messages, it’s my choice if I want to ask my doctor about the alternatives and it’s my doctor’s choice to open up or ignore the Direct messages I send.” (EHR is Electronic Health Record.)
  • Your data is your interface. By Jarno Mikael Koponen in Pando Daily. Pull quote: “Before solving the ‘Big Data’ we should figure out the ‘small’ personal part. Algorithms alone can’t make me whole. Different services need my continuous contribution to understand who I really am and what I want. And I believe that apps and services that openly share their data to provide me a better user experience are not far off.”
  • Jarno is also the father of Futureful (@futureful) which Zak Stone of Co.Exist (in Fast Company) in says “hopes to bring serendipitous browsing back to the web experience by providing a design-heavy platform for content discovery.” Just downloaded it.

Media

  • The rebirth of OMNI — and its vibe. Subhead: Glenn Fleishman on the imminent reboot of the legendary science and science fiction magazine. In BoingBoing. Two bonus links on the OMNI topic:
  • Jeff Bezos buys the Washington Post. This is either wonderful for journalism or horrifying. By Sarah Lacy in Pando Daily. Pull quote: “John Doerr…described an entrepreneur with uncommon focus and discipline around what the customer wants. I guess the future of the Post will ride on who Bezos sees as ‘the customer’ and what’s in his best interest.”
  • Donald Graham’s Choice, by David Remmick in The New Yorker.
  • Here’s Why I Think Jeff Bezos Bought The Washington Post. By Henry Blodget in Business Insider. Pull-quote:
    • First, I’d guess that Jeff Bezos thinks that owning the Washington Post will be fun, interesting, and cool. And my guess is that, if that is all it ever turns out to be, Jeff Bezos will be fine with that. This is a man who invests in rockets and atomic clocks, after all. He doesn’t necessarily make these investments for the money. Or bragging rights. Or strategic synergies.
    • Second, I’d guess that Jeff Bezos thinks that there are some similarities between the digital news business and his business (ecommerce) that no one in the news business has really capitalized on yet.
  • The Natives Are Feckless: Part One Of Three. By Bob Garfield in MediaPost. Pull-quotage:
    • Well done, media institutions. You have whored yourselves to a hustler. Your good name, such that it remains, is diminished accordingly, along with your trustworthiness, integrity and any serious claim to be serving the public. Indeed, by bending over for commercially motivated third parties who masquerade as bona fide editorial contributors, you evince almost as little respect for the public as you do for yourself.
    • There’s your native advertising for you. There’s the revenue savior being embraced by Forbes, the Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Business Insider and each week more and more of the publishing world.
    • According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, sponsored content of various kinds was a $1.56 billion category in 2012 and growing fast.
  • Future of TV might not include TV. By Shalini Ramachandran and Martin Peers in The Wall Street Journal. It begins, “Predicting that transmission of TV will move to the Internet eventually, Cablevision Systems Corp Chief Executive James Dolan says ‘there could come a day’ when his company stops offering television service, making broadband its primary offering.” And wow:
    • In a 90-minute interview on Friday, the usually media-shy 58-year-old executive also talked about his marriage, his relationship with his father Chuck and his after-hours role as a singer and songwriter. He said his rock band, JD & the Straight Shot, toured with the Eagles last month.
    • Mr. Dolan said that on the rare occasions he watches TV, it is often with his young children, who prefer to watch online video service Netflix, using Cablevision broadband.
    • He added that the cable-TV industry is in a ‘bubble’ with its emphasis on packages of channels that people are required to pay for, predicting it will mature ‘badly’ as young people opt to watch online video rather than pay for traditional TV services.
  • Making TVs smart: why Google and Netflix want to reinvent the remote control. By Janko Roettgers in Gigaom.
  • Hulu, HBO, Pandora coming to Chromecast. By Steve Smith in MediaPost. Pull-quote: “A battle over content clearly is brewing between Google and Apple. Apple TV has recently expanded its offerings of content providers to include HBO Go, Sky TV, ESPN and others. The two companies are pursuing different delivery models as they try to edge their way onto the TV. Apple TV is a set-top box with apps, while Chromecast relies on apps that are present on mobile devices to which the dongle connects.”
  • Setting TV Free. By yours truly in Linux Journal.

Tech

Retail

Legal

Handbaskets to hell

@BlakeHunskicer has a kickstarter project, Fleeing the War at Home: An interactive documentary introducing the crisis in Syria through the personal histories and dreams of Syrian refugees, with a few days and a few thousand dollars left to go.

Blake is one of the graduate students I got to know this last year as a visiting scholar in @JayRosen_NYU‘s Studio20 (@Studio20NYU) class at NYU. He’s a terrific journalist and photographer already, and will put both skills to good use for a good cause. Join me in helping him make it happen.

In Bubkes, Stephen Lewis has lately been blogging with depth and insight on many topics — music, architecture, culture, infrastructure and events historic and current — in two cities with which he is intimately familiar: Istanbul and Sofia.

In Taksim Underpass: Ask Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Jane Jacobs, and Robert Moses, he writes,

By itself, the Turkish government’s plan to shunt traffic under and past Taksim Square might indeed lessen vehicular congestion, thus freeing this iconic location from dominance by motor vehicle traffic. In conjunction with the plan to replace all of Taksim Square and Gezi Park with a massive complex of shopping mall, mosque, and fantasy reconstruction of a 19th-century military barracks, however, the underpass will instead deliver more automobile traffic into the urban core, a further step toward transforming a vital, unplanned, dense, “legacy” urban agglomeration into just another suburb.

In Istanbul Conflicts From Afar: Issues and Aspersions, Headscarves and Rambo, he visits specious tales by the Turkish Prime Minister and his sympathizers, of protestors “harassing pious Muslim women and tearing off their headscarves” (among other offenses for which there is no confirming hard evidence), and compares them to equally wrong tales from the Vietnam War era. That was when “US antiwar activists were stigmatized — and crocodile tears poured forth — over reports that US soldiers returning from tours duty in Vietnam were being spit upon by opponents of the war.  Not a single person, however — neither spitter, spat upon, nor witness thereto — ever stepped forward to confirm any such attack.” In support of this he recalls an On the Media program confirming the purely propogandized nature of the claim. I just did some digging and found the program transcript. Here it is.

In Sofia, Bulgaria: From Protest to Protest to Protest, Steve visits “the Balkan blurring of what is said and what is, and what is and what could or should be” and how in Bulgaria “nothing is what is seems to be at first glance, and words, no matter how clear, often refer to alternate realities (click here for my long-ago online discourse on the wisdom and convenience of the oft-heard Bulgarian-language phrase po printsip, tr. ‘in principle‘).” His next post, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 1997: Musicians Marching in Protest, recalls an earlier protest, again accompanied by an excellent photo.

In Istanbul: Water, Fountains, Taksim, and Infrastructural Tourism, Steve reports on joining a colleague in visiting “the layers of infrastructure — including Ottoman-era fountains — that have served Istanbul over centuries past and during its ten-fold growth in population during the twentieth.” I share with Steve a passion for what he and his colleague call “infrastructural tourism” — a practice which, he adds, “appears already to be underway, albeit searching for its own content and method, as per this report at Design Observer.” Wonderful link, that one. Go read that too.

In From the Archives: Fading Fragments of Legacy Infrastructure, he begins,

Two decades ago, I began to photograph the historic water fountains (çeșme) and water kiosks (sebil) of Istanbul.  I began, not with the grand and monumental, but with obscure and abandoned — those in backstreets, alleyways, and courtyards, functioning and non-functioning fragments of legacy urban infrastructure, overlooked by scholars,  their features surrendered to the elements, decay, and neglect. The forgotten origins and gradual disappearance of many of these structures seemed symbolic of larger urban processes of decline and abandonment — processes that are as central to the functioning and continuity of cities as are restoration and (re)development.

I’ve been doing something similar in New York and New Jersey, where I grew up. A few days ago, driving back to Manhattan from a meeting in Edgewater, New Jersey, I found myself following Google Maps’ navigation to the George Washington Bridge, turning onto Bruce Reynolds Boulevard before bearing right onto a ramp leading into the toll lanes. Paused at a light,  I saw on the right an old street sign marking the late Hoyt Avenue, and realized I was exactly where my parents lived when I was born: at 2063 Hoyt. Ninety-three years earlier, this was the view from that very same spot. (And here’s the larger photo set, with shots old and new. Credit for the old ones goes to my late father and to his little sister Grace, now 101 years old and doing fine.) I hope, when Steve next returns to New York (his home town), we can do some infrastructural touring together, cameras in hand.

Bonus link: Steve’s latest, Further to “Istanbul Conflicts From Afar:” Kudos, Mentions, and “Great Expectorations”, which cites this post as well.

The title of this post, Rebuilding the Future, is one I came up with back when I read Steve’s Taksim Underpass piece, and I wanted to post thoughts about the ironies that always surround the civic graces — especially infrastructure — that we choose to keep using (often for new purposes), or just to preserve, for generations to come. I didn’t go there, because I’ve already said enough and I’d rather that readers get into what Steve is writing and sharing. But I still kinda like the headline, so I’m letting it stand.

Hot Death from Above

Driving from New York to Boston today, I heard “Summer ‘Heat Tourists’ Sweat With Smiles In Death Valley” — a four-minute feature on NPR, aired on the 100th anniversary of the hottest temperature ever recorded outdoors on Earth, which happened in Death Valley: 134° Fahrenheit, which is around 57° Celsius. The report says Death Valley routinely draws a hearty Summer crowd of tourists from colder and damper parts of the world: Belgium and New Zealand, for example.

As it happens I was just in New Zealand and Australia, where it’s Winter now. And, on the way back, on a leg between Los Angeles and Newark, I got a nice look up Death Valley from about 40,000 feet up. So I shot it, of course. And I’ve put those shots up on Flickr. If you click on the one above, you’ll see it comes with notes identifying some of the sites in the shot. Two of the most remarkable are Dumont Dunes and the Tonopah and Tidewater Railroad, aka T&T. The Dunes link goes to the Wikipedia article on the dunes, which is accompanied by a shot I took a few years back from overhead, using a camera I wish I still had (a Nikon Coolpix p7000), which was much better than my Canon 5D SLR at shooting stuff below the window. (Got much better sunsets and sunrises too.) The railroad was built in 1905 and abandoned in 1940. Here are some additional links:

West Fork Fire

On my way back to New York from Sydney on Wednesday, while flying east over the San Juan National Forest and the Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado, I shot what at first I though was a controlled burn, but later realized was the West Fork Fire. I knew it was a big one when I watched the smoke fan out to the east, starting with the San Luis Valley, where some of it pooled over the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and against the Sagre de Cristo Mountains. (Here are pictures of those in clearer conditions.)

But it went far beyond there, coloring the skies over Kansas and beyond. (More when I put up the rest of the photos from the trip.) Here is a story on the fire’s visibility from space. And here’s a link to a search for “West Fork Fire”.

Flickr has updated its service. I knew it was coming and I had a few hopes for it:

  1. Better multiple account management
  2. Personal service, by human beings using their real voices
  3. Ability to make changes (e.g. of permissions or licensing) for thousands of shots in one move
  4. Finer distinctions than friends/family/private

The updates, from what I can tell, offer none of that. What I got, as a Pro customer, appeared in the form of index page copy that began,

Dear Doc, as a Pro member continue to enjoy the benefits of unlimited space, an ad free experience and stats.

For non-paying users, there was this, from the index page as it appeared on a browser that didn’t know I’m a Pro member:

Smile.

Everyone gets a free terabyte.

Biggr. That’s right, a terabyte.

Spectaculr. Share in full resolution.

Wherevr. Available anywhere you go.

Then there was this, from an email from Flickr to one of my several selves who have a Flickr Pro account:

As a Pro Member, your subscription remains the same. You’ll enjoy unlimited space for your photos and videos, detailed stats and an ad-free experience. However, you can switch to a Free account before August 20, 2013.

Why offer an opportunity to switch? I wondered.

So I clicked on a “learn more” link that went to this:

Next question: Why a down-sell to Free rather than an up-sell to Pro?

I guess they’d rather have me looking at ads than paying for a service — to be a consumer rather than a customer.

Yet Flickr is still relatively free of the load-slowing spyware typical of most commercial websites. (There’s just ScoreCard Research Beacon and Yahoo Analytics. I have the former turned off, but I leave the latter on. Seems harmless enough.)

Anyway, I’m not sure what’s up with Pro accounts. Nothing, I guess.

But the problems remain. From The Intention Economy:

A similar problem comes up when you have multiple accounts with one site or service, and therefore multiple namespaces, each with its own login and password. For example, I use four different Flickr accounts, each with its own photo directory:

  1. Doc Searls
  2. Linux Journal
  3. Berkman Center
  4. Infrastructure/

The first is mine alone. The second I share with other people at Linux Journal. The third I share with other people at the Berkman Center. The fourth I share with other people who also write for the same blog.

Flickr in each case calls me by the second person singular “you,” and does not federate the four. To them I am four different individuals: one cow, four calves. (Never mind that three of those sites have many people uploading pictures, each pretending to be the same calf.) My only choice for dealing with this absurdity is deciding which kind of four-headed calf I wish to be. Either I use one browser with four different logins and passwords, or I use four different browsers, each with its own jar of cookies. Both choices are awful, but I have to choose one. So I take the second option, and use one browser per account—on just one laptop. When I use other laptops, or my iPhone, my Android, or the family Nokia N900, iPod Touch or iPad, I’m usually the first kind of calf, using one browser to login and logout every time I post pictures to a different account. Which I mostly don’t do at all, because it’s one big pain in my many asses.

As it happens I’m having a problem with the Infrastructure account: I’ve lost the login and password. At this point the account is mine alone:  I’m the only one paying for it, and the only one using it. But I haven’t been able to raise a human being, so far, at Flickr. I could share my email exchange with the automated process there, but there’s no point. I’d rather just have the problem fixed.

So here’s a request, if anybody from Flickr is reading this: please contact me, and let’s fix this thing. Thanks.

Los Angeles at nightFirst, time.

Earth became habitable for primitive life forms some 3.X billion years ago. It will cease to be habitable in another 1 billion years or less, given the rate at which the Sun continues to get hotter, which it has been doing for the duration.

Species last, on average, a couple million years. Depending on where you mark our own species start, we are either early or late in that time span.

If you mark our start from the dawn of the Anthropocene — now being vetted as a name for the geological epoch in which human agency is as obvious as that of other natural agents in Earth’s story, such as asteroid collisions, volcanic outpourings and radical weather changes — we’re about ten thousand years into this thing. We’ve done a lot in not very long.

From a pained perspective, the Anthropocene is a time of pestilence by a single species — one with an insatiable hunger for what that species calls “natural resources.” To test that pain, give a listen to “When the music’s over,” on the Strange Days album by The Doors. In it Jim Morrison sings,

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.

From a disinterested perspective, dig Robinson JeffersThe Eye, written during World War II from Tor House, his home in Carmel overlooking the Pacific:

The Atlantic is a stormy moat; and the Mediterranean,
The blue pool in the old garden,
More than five thousand years has drunk sacrifice
Of ships and blood, and shines in the sun; but here the Pacific–
Our ships, planes, wars are perfectly irrelevant.
Neither our present blood-feud with the brave dwarfs
Nor any future world-quarrel of westering
And eastering man, the bloody migrations, greed of power, clash of
faiths–
Is a speck of dust on the great scale-pan.
Here from this mountain shore, headland beyond stormy headland
plunging like dolphins through the blue sea-smoke
Into pale sea–look west at the hill of water: it is half the
planet:
this dome, this half-globe, this bulging
Eyeball of water, arched over to Asia,
Australia and white Antartica: those are the eyelids that never
close;
this is the staring unsleeping
Eye of the earth; and what it watches is not our wars.

There is also this, from Jeffers’ “The Bloody Sire” :

Stark violence is still the sire of all the world’s values.

What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine
The fleet limbs of the antelope?
What but fear winged the birds, and hunger
Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?

Our teeth, right now, wing limbs and jewell eyes we will never see.

And the life here will end, perhaps in less time than has passed since the planet made half the rocks in the Grand Canyon‘s layer cake.

Now, space.

Astronauts speak of the “Overview_effect” that leaves them changed by seeing Earth from space.

I’ve made do with what I can see from the stratosphere while flying in commercial aircraft. It was from that perspective, for example, that I’ve documented effects of strip mining in the Anthropocene.

Ironies abound. My photo series on coal mining in the Powder River basin has been used both for pro-environmental causes and to promote business in Wyoming.

I’ve got more on this, but neither time nor space for it now.

Bonus link.

And more on the Anthropocene:

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artifacty HD[Later (7 April)... The issue has been resolved, at least for now. We never did figure out what caused the poor video resolution in this case, but it looks better now. Still, it seems that compression artifacts are a mix of feature and bug for both cable and satellite television. One of these weeks or months I'll study it in more depth. My plan now is just to enjoy watching the national championship game tomorrow night, between Louisville and Michigan.]

What teams are playing here? Can you read the school names? Recognize any faces?  Is that a crowd in the stands or a vegetable garden? Is the floor made of wood or ice?

You should be able to tell at least some of those things on an HD picture from a broadcast network. But it ain’t easy. Not any more. At least not for me.

Used to be I could tell, at least on Dish Network, which is one reason I got it for our house in Santa Barbara. I compared Dish’s picture on HD channels with those of Cox, our cable company, and it was no contest. DirectTV was about the equal, but had a more complicated remote control and cost a bit more. So we went with Dish. Now I can’t imagine Cox — or anybody — delivering a worse HD picture.

The picture isn’t bad just on CBS, or just during games like this one. It sucks on pretty much all the HD channels. The quality varies, but generally speaking it has gone down hill since we first got our Sony Bravia 1080p “Full HD” screen in 2006. It was the top of the line model then and I suppose still looks good, even though it’s hard to tell, since Dish is our only TV source.

Over-the-air (OTA) TV looks better when we can get it; but hardly perfect. Here’s what the Rose Bowl looked like from KGTV in San Diego when I shot photos of it on New Years Day of 2007. Same screen. You can see some compression artifacts in this close-up here and this one here; but neither is as bad as what we see now. (Since I shot those, KGTV and the CBS affiliate in San Diego, KFMB, moved down from the UHF to the VHF band, so my UHF antenna no longer gets them. Other San Diego stations with UHF signals still come in sometimes and look much better than anything from Dish.)

So why does the picture look so bad? My assumption is that Dish, to compete with cable and DirectTV, maximizes the number of channels it carries by compressing away the image quality of each. But I could be wrong, so I invite readers (and Dish as well) to give me the real skinny on what’s up with this.

And, because I’m guessing some of you will ask: No, this isn’t standard-def that I’m mistaking for high-def. This really is the HD stream from the station.

[Later...] I heard right away from @Dish_Answers. That was quick. We’ll see how it goes.

Echo Cliffs

I say that because I didn’t find those entries when I went looking for them yesterday, when I was putting up and annotating this photo set here.

If I get a chance later I’ll put some links here.

[Later...] And now there is a Wikipedia entry, thanks to Phllip Stewart, @pmsyyz, who improves Wikipedia as http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Pmsyy. I just made a few additional edits myself as well.

It’s raining here now, in Manhattan. It was snowing earlier, but then came the sleet, and now the rain, and the slush. Here’s what I shot with my phone a few minutes ago, on my way back from the subway:

Blcch on broadway

And here’s what this kind of thing looks looks like on Intellicast‘s radar:

Blcch map

The red X marks where I grew up, on Woodland Ave in Maywood, New Jersey, about 5 miles from the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan. Woodland Avenue was (and still is) a hill. Not a big one; just one ideal for sledding. It had a nice steep slope at the top, and a long flat stretch at the bottom, so you could get up some good speed and glide a long way. Sometimes the town would designate Woodland Ave as the sledding hill, and block off the top and the bottom except for residential traffic. If the snow was deep enough, cars would pack it down and make sledding better.

Terrace Ave, one street over, was good for sledding too: steeper at the top, with a shorter glide path at the bottom. So was the back yard of the Borg house on Summit Ave in Hackensack, which was a short walk through Borg’s Woods, also owned by the family. (It’s now a nature preserve.) The Borg family owned the Bergen Evening Record (now just The Record).

This was back in the 1950s, which were simpler times. There was no cable, no Weather Channel. Almost nobody in our social stratum went skiing. Few civilians had four-wheel (or even front-wheel) drive vehicles. For kids, sledding was the favored recreational activity in snow, and the best sleds were Flexible Flyers. The family had a big old heavy one, good for seating two or three people. It looked like the one on the right (from 1936), but a bit longer. It may have been that old too. We also had a smaller one, good for solo flights.

If snowy weather threatened, as it does now, we’d be glued to our radios, eager to hear a forecast that did not include the dreaded word “rain.” The most disappointing forecast was this one: “Snow mixed with and then changing to rain.” It was also the most typical for New York. An inch or few of snow would fall, and then it would turn to sleet, or drizzle, and then rain, and the street would turn to slush. These days they call snow/rain combo “wintry mix.” That’s the pink on the map. Almost always the forecast would say something like “significant accumulations in the outlying suburbs.” Those are the areas in blue already.

So my heart’s is back in Maywood today, while my ass is in Manhattan, watching the blizzard fail to happen — at least here. On the iPad is the Weather Channel, tuned in to our Dish Network box in Santa Barbara. The forecast, as always with TWC, is breathless and dire. They (or somebody) have named the storm “Nemo.” Oy.

In a slightly more ideal world, we would have already rented a four-wheel drive, thrown a suitcase and ski clothes in the back, and have driven up to Hunter Mountain, or some place in Vermont. I’ll bet the skiing up there will be perfect for the next few days. But we’re busy, and not in a position to indulge.

TWC says it’s still going to snow later, with accumulations even as close as Maywood. So, for the sake of the kids out there, I hope the pink turns blue.

NYC

I want to plug something I am very much looking forward to, and encourage you strongly to attend. It’s called The Overview Effect, and it’s the premiere of a film by that title. Here are the details:

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 5:30pm - 7:00pm
Askwith Lecture Hall
Longfellow Hall
13 Appian Way
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

The world-premiere of the short documentary film Overview, directed by Guy Reid, edited by Steve Kennedy and photographed by Christoph Ferstad. The film details the cognitive shift in awareness reported by astronauts during spaceflight, when viewing the Earth from space.

Following the film screening, there will be a panel discussion with two NASA astronauts, Ronald J. Garan Jr. and Jeffrey A. Hoffman, discussing their experience with the filmmakers and with Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects producer on films such as 2001: A Space OdysseyClose Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The event will be moderated by Harvard Extension School instructor Frank White, author of the book The Overview Effect, which first looked at this phenomenon experienced by astronauts.

This event will take place on the 40th anniversary of the Blue Marble, one of the most famous pictures of Earth, which was taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft on December 7, 1972.

Seating is limited and will be assigned on a first-come first-serve basis. The event will also be streamed live at http://alumni.extension.harvard.edu/.

The Overview Effect is something I experience every time I fly, and why I take so many photos to share the experience (and license them permissively so they can be re-shared).

The effect is one of perspective that transcends humanity’s ground-based boundaries. When I look at the picture above, of the south end of Manhattan, flanked by the Hudson and East Rivers, with Brooklyn below and New Jersey above, I see more than buildings and streets and bridges. I see the varying competence of the geology below, of piers and ports active and abandoned. I see the palisades: a 200-million year old slab of rock that formed when North America and Africa were pulling apart, as Utah and California are doing now, stretching Nevada between them. I see what humans do to landscapes covering them with roads and buildings, and celebrating them with parks and greenways. I see the the glories of civilization, the race between construction and mortality, the certain risks of structures to tides and quakes. I see the Anthropocene — the geological age defined by human influence on the world — in full bloom, and the certainty that other ages will follow, as hundreds have in the past. I see in the work of a species that has been from its start the most creative in the 4.65 billion year history of the planet, and a pestilence determined to raid the planet’s cupboards of all the irreplaceable goods that took millions or billions of years to produce. And when I consider how for dozens of years this scene was at the crosshairs of Soviet and terrorist weapons (with the effects of one attack still evident at the southern tip of Manhattan), I begin to see what the great poet Robinson Jeffers describes in The Eye, which he saw from his home in Carmel during WWII.

But it is astronauts who see it best, and this film is theirs. Hope it can help make their view all of ours.

Strays Amid Rome Set Off a Culture Clash says The New York Times. On one side, archaeologists who wish to save ruins from occupation by cats. On the other side, the cats’ lovers, including tourists who marvel more at the abundance of serene kittehs, lounging atop walls and columns than at the historic site itself:  a place called Largo di Torre Argentina, or just “Argentina” to the locals.

It looks like Rome’s exposed basement, excavated down to one floor below street level. The broken-down walls and columns of Argentina contain no less than four Republican Roman temples and a corner of Pompey’s Theatre, beside which Julius Caesar was assassinated — perhaps within this very space. The whole thing lies within the Campus Martius, of which the main surviving structure is the nearby Pantheon.

I was there with the family two summers ago, and shot some kitteh pictures. To help anybody who wants pix for their own kitteh-vs-whomever stories, I’ve put those shots in a photo set here. All are Creative Commons licensed for attribution only (the least restrictive license available on Flickr).

Hurricane flag

7:30am Tuesday morning: I can tell the storm is over by tuning in to the Weather Channel and finding it back to the normally heavy load of ads, program promotions and breathless sensationalism. So I’ll turn ya’ll back over to your irregularly scheduled programs. Rock on.

11:14pm The Weather Channel just said 4.1 million homes are without power now. The numbers bounce around. For a good list of outages, check with Edward Vielmetti’s blog.

11:07pm Bitly stats for this page  http://hvrd.me/YerGzj). Interesting: 442 clicks, 30 shares. Below, two comments other than my only one. Life in the vast lane, I guess. FWIW, I can’t see stats for this site, and generally don’t care about them; but I put some work into this post and the list over at Trunk Line, so some feedback is helpful.

10:48pm When you look up “Sandy” on Bing images, shouldn’t you see at least one hurricane picture? Instead, a sea of pretty faces. Here’s Sandy + hurricane. Credit where due: I can figure a way to shorten the tracking cruft out of the URL with Bing. Not so with Google’s Sandy search, which looks like … well, I killed it, because it f’d up this page royally. Please, Google, have mercy. Make the search URL’s sensible again.

10:42pm Glad I stayed in Boston, with power running and a solid Verizon FiOS fiber connection (25mbps upstream and down), right through the storm. Looks like the New York place is powerless right now, and the Verizon DSL connection there is awful even in good weather. Got lots of stuff to do here too, through Thursday.

9:54pm TV stations with live streams online:

In a city-by-city rundown, Hartford wins with four stations, Washington and New York is second with three each, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia come in third with one station each, and Providence loses, with no live stations online at all. (Thanks for the corrections, which I keep adding.)

All the CBSlocal.com stations have “listen live.” C’mon, guys. You’re TV stations.

Some TV stations, e.g. WFXT in Boston, have pages so complicated that they don’t load (again, for me). On the whole, everybody’s site is waaay too complicated. At times like this they need three things:

  1. Live video
  2. Rivers of news
  3. Links to files of stories already run

Better yet, they should just have an emergency page they bring up for crises, since it’s obviously too hard for many of them to tweak their complicated (often crap-filled) CMSes (Content Management Systems) to become truly useful when real news hits the fan.

9:50pm When you go to bed tonight in #Sandy territory, take the good advice of Ready.gov, with one additional point I picked up in California for earthquake prep: have shoes nearby, and upside down, so they don’t take glass if any breaks nearby.

9:46pm What’s the ad load right now on the Weather Channel? Usually it seems like it has more ads than programming. Clearly there is less advertising now. How much less? Are the advertisers paying more? Anybody know the answers?

9:37pm A moment of calm. Rain slowing. intellicast map

The current weather map, via Intellicast, on the right. Note the snow and ice in West Virginia. Eye-less, #Sandy is currently spinning around the juncture of Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. BTW, this is Intellicast’s “old” map, which I like better.

9:29pm A friend runs outage totals from many sources:

  • Total out 3,0639,62:
  • Maine 65,817
  • New Hampshire 120,687
  • Vermont 14,482
  • Massachusetts 378,034
  • Connecticut 254643
  • New York 836,931
  • New Jersey 929,507
  • Pennsylvania
  • Delaware
  • Maryland 279,396
  • Virginia 118,766
  • DC 16,608
  • West Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio 49,091
  • Michigan
  • Illinois

With so many blank TBDs, the numbers must be higher.

9:18pm Please, radio stations, stop streaming in highly proprietary formats (e.g. Silverlight and Windows Media) that require annoying user installs (which won’t work on some platforms, e.g. Linux). Right now I’d like to listen to WOND in Atlantic City, but it wants me to get Silverlight. Not happening.

9:12 Via @WhoaNancyLynn, boardwalklooks like the Boardwalk is without boards in Atlantic City. Bonus link from Philly.com.

9:06 Water covering the runway at LaGuardia, says the Weather Channel. (Which I’m still watching here in Boston over our Dish TV connection in Santa Barbara. Amazing how solid it has been.)

8:54 Added newspapers to the list of sources at Trunk Line.

8:49 Courant: More than 500,000 without power in Connecticut. Boston Globe: 350,ooo out in Mass. Weather Channel: “More than 3 million without power.” Kind of amazed our house isn’t among those. Winds have been just as big in gusts as the microburst from last summer, which caused this damage here. One big difference: leaves. Fall was post-peak to begin with, and remaining color has mostly been blown away. In the summer, trees weren’t ready to give up their leaves, and many got blown over or torn up.

8:03 Just heard Con Edison has shut down the power in lower Manhattan. Con Ed outage map“Completely dark down toward Wall Street.” No specific reports on the Con Ed site. But here’s an outage map (on the right).

7:56 Listening to WCAI (Cape and Islands radio), on which I hear locals saying that things aren’t as bad as had been expected.

7:54 The Christian Science Monitor has a story on the sinking of the Bounty off Cape Hatteras. Two crew are still missing. What was it doing out in that storm? The story says they left Connecticut last week for Florida and was in touch with the National Hurricane Center; but Sandy was already on the radar then, wasn’t it? Maybe not. Dunno. In any case, bad timing.

7:38 Heard a loud pop across the street, followed by a flickering orange light between the houses, and reflected on the windows. Wondering if a fire had started I went out in the wind and rain, found it was nothing and got thoroughly soaked — and almost hit by a car. This is a quiet street that should have no traffic under the conditions, but there it was. Fortunately, we spotted each other just in time.

7:33 Curious: what’s up with JFK, LGA,EWR, BOS. If the seas rise enough, some runways may be under water. But… haven’t heard anything yet.

7:31 Water continues to rise, etc. Yet… Not seeing or hearing about any Big Disasters. The Weather Channel is reporting lots of storm surge levels, all-time records… but no unusual damage reports yet.  Their reporters are still standing on dunes, walking on sea-walls. In a real big-time storm surge, they’d be long gone, along with geology and structures. You can almost hear a bit of disappointment for lack of devastation to show. “We still have hours and hours and hours left…” Translation: “and time to fill.”

7:28 @TWCbreaking: “The water level at the Battery in #NYC has reached 11.25 feet, surpassing the all-time record of 11.2 feet set in 1821.#Sandy

7:25 Big winds, long ping times over my FiOS connection.

7:21 List of mainstream live media covering #Sandy.

7:17 I wonder if the main effects of #Sandy will be like #Irene‘s: while most of the media attention was on the coast, Vermont was quietly destroyed.

7:12pm The Weather Channel just said that #Sandy has lost her (or is it his?) hurricane status, and is now just a “superstorm.” I also notice that Crane 9 quit reporting winds at 4pm. :-( Meanwhile Huffpo says on Twitter than #Sandy has it down.

6:41pm Here’s a “before” shot of the crane on 57th Street that’s now broken. (@DaveWiner has a closer shot here.) I took it on 27 August. Between staying in hotels (e.g. the Salisbury, twice), going to meetings, shopping and other stuff, I’ve gone back and forth in front of this construction site more times than I can count. So, naturally, I shot some pictures of it. Fun fodder: the OUT and IN liquid concrete vats that the crane hauled up and down for many months. These shots are Creative Commons licensed for attribution only, so feel free to re-use them.

6:22pm Just heard on the Weather Channel that up to 10 million people may be without power soon. This “will take a big bite out of retail in November.”

5:59pm Dark now. Just in time for the biggest winds yet. Whoa. House is shaking. Tree pieces flying by.

5:46pm More evidence that station-based radio is declining: the great WBZ, which still carries three of the most august call letters in radio history, is http://cbsboston.com on the Web and @cbsboston on Twitter. Same goes for CBS stations in Washington, New York and elsewhere. Clear Channel meanwhile is blurring all its station brands behind iHeartRadio.

5:43pm @WNYC reports that many of New York’s major bridges are soon to close. Earlier I heard on WBZ that toll booths are abandoned, so feel free to ride through without paying if you’re busy disobeying advice to stay off the roads.

5:22pm Five “creative newsjacks” of #Sandy by “savvy marketers”. At Hubspot. Explanation: “Newsjacking is the practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing efforts. The term was popularized thanks to David Meerman Scott’s book Newsjacking.” All are, in the larger scheme, trivial, if not in bad taste. For that, nothing beats The Onion:

5:12pm Crane 9 in New Jersey (see the graphic below) now reports steady winds of 46mph from the northeast with peak gusts of 63mph.

4:45pm I have some “before” shots of the crane that broke on 57th Street. I’ll put those up soon.

4:40pm Right now we have the highest winds since a microburst in July took out hundreds of trees in a matter of seconds across East Arlington, Mass. Here’s a photo tour of the damage that I took at the time. In fact I have a lot more shots that I haven’t put up yet. I might do that when I get a break.

4:38pm A gust just peeled back some siding on the house across the street. Watched some pieces of trees across the street break off and fall.  The trees taking it hardest are the ones with leaves, which increases the wind loading. Interesting to see how the red maples give up their colored leaves while the black oaks do not. Same with the silver and norway maples. The leaves on those seem to resist detachment.

2:55pm Given the direction of the storm, it will continue longer in New England than elsewhere, even though the hit is not direct.

2:52pm Just heard a crane on W. 57th Street went down. That’s the site next to the Salisbury Hotel, I believe. Across from the Russian Tea Room.

2:45pm Now it’s getting scary here near Boston. Very high wind gusts, shaking the house, along with heavy rain. Check out the increasing peak winds at Crane 9 at the New York Container Terminal in New Jersey, on the right.

2:21pm Thinking about fluid dynamics and looking at a map of the New Jersey and Long Island coasts, which in two dimensions comprise a funnel, with Raritan Bay and New York Harbor at the narrow end. High tide will hit about 8pm tonight there. Given the direction of the storm, and the concentrating effects of the coastlines toward their convergence point, I would be very surprised if this doesn’t put some or all of the following under at least some water:

  • All three major airports: JFK, LaGuardia and Newark.
  • The New York Container Terminal.
  • The tower bases of New York’s AM radio stations. Most of them transmit from the New Jersey Meadows, because AM transmission works best on the most conductive ground, which is salt water. On AM, the whole tower radiates. That’s why a station with its base under water won’t stay on the air. At risk: WMCA/570, WSNR/620,  WOR/710, WNYC-AM/820,  WINS/1010, WEPN/1050, WBBR/1130, WLIB/1190, WADO/1280 and several others farther up the band. WFAN/660 and WCBS/880 share a tower on High Island in Long Island Sound by City Island, and I think are far enough above sea level. WMCA and WNYC share a three-tower rig standing in water next to Belleville Pike by the  New Jersey Turnpike and will be the first at risk.
  • [Later... According to this story, WINS was knocked off the air.]
  • [Later still... Scott Fybush's Northeast Radio Watch says WMCA and WNYC were knocked offAnd the WNYC site says it was knocked off too. He has a long list of silenced stations there.]

Funnel #2, right where the eye will hit: Delaware Bay. Watch out Philly/Camden/Wilmington.

Funnel #3, Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor.

1:03pm: I forgot to bring a portable radio, so I got a new little “travel radio” for $39.95 from Radio Shack, along with some re-chargeable batteries. After charging them overnight, I put the batteries in, and… nada. The clock comes on at 12:00, but nothing else happens. None of the buttons change anything. The time just advances forward from the imaginary noon. So, it’s useless. Oh well. I have other radios plugged into the wall. But if the power goes out, so do they.

12:48pm: In a crisis like #Sandy, one of the great failures of public television is exposed: there is almost no live local coverage of anything, despite a boundless abundance of presumably willing helpers in the Long Tail. Public TV’s connection with What’s Actually Happening is astoundingly low, and ironic given its name. Scheduled programs throb through the calendar with metronomic precision. About the only times they ever go live is during pledge breaks, which always give the impression of being the main form of programming. If they were as good at actual journalism as they are at asking for money*, they would kick ass. I’ve included local public stations in my list here. None of them are go-to sites for the public. I just scanned through them, and here’s the rundown:

  • Maryland Public Television displays no evidence that a hurricane is going on.
  • WHYY Philadelphia-Wilmington: Pointage to Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, which ran from 10-Noon today. The top Special Announcement is “Visit NewsWorks.org or follow @NewsWorksWHYY on Twitter for continuing coverage of Hurricane Sandy.”
  • WNET in New York is itself almost inert. But it does have links to its three broadcast outlet pages. thirteen.org in Metro Focus has a scary visual of likely flooding in New York, last updated at 7:38pm Sunday. WLIW, another of its stations, has the same pointage. That’s about it. Its NJTV site is a bit more current. They post this: “Committed to serving Garden State residents during what is predicted to be an exceptional storm in Hurricane Sandy, NJTV will provide updates throughout the day plus Gov. Chris Christie’s next press conference. Monday night, join Managing Editor Mike Schneider for full storm analysis during live NJ Today broadcasts at 6 pm, 7:30 and 11 pm. Residents can also expect ongoing weather-related news updates on the network’s Facebook andTwitter sites. NJTV is also planning a joint broadcast with WNET’s MetroFocus news program on Tuesday night at 9:30 pm, to assess the effect of the storm on the Tri-State area.” Can’t wait.
  • WETA in Washington, D.C. has exactly nothing. WHUT appears to be down.
  • CPBN, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, has nothing.
  • WGBH in Boston points to a show about the great hurricane of ’38. Almost helpful, that.

* See Jan Hooks’ legendary Tammy Jean show on the old Tush program, which ran on Ted Turner’s original cable station back at the turn of the ’80s. It was a perfect parody of a low-end religious program that seemed to exist only for seeking money, which viewers were told to put in the “money font”: a fish bowl on a pedestal. Watch here, starting around 2:50 into the show. Bonus show, with the pitch point arriving about five minutes in.

12:43pm: Normally I’d be headed this afternoon to Jay Rosen‘s Studio 20 journalism class at NYU. But after NYU announced its closures yesterday,  I decided to stay here in Boston and report on what some corners of journalism are up to, as Sandy hits New York. To help with that, I’ve put up a roster of what I’m calling “infrastructural” sources, on Trunk Line, a blog that Christian Sandvig and I set up at the Berkman Center, and which is coming in handy right now. I have websites, feeds, radio and TV stations. Haven’t added newspapers yet. Stay tuned.

12:38pm: A Weather Channel reporter on the beach in Point Pleasant, New Jersey just said, live, “We’ve been told to get out of the shot. Sorry. Gotta cut it off.”

12:28pm: Getting our first strong wind gusts here, from the north. The fall colors, which were right at peak on our street, just flew past my window here in the attic.

12:19pm: We have no TV here at the Boston place. Normally I carry an EyeTV Hybrid thingie to watch over-the-air TV on a laptop, but the thingie is at our New York place (yes, we’re there too; just not now). But we have Dish Network back home in Santa Barbara, so that’s what I’m watching, over our iPad here in Boston, thanks to the Slingbox on the Dish set top box. (Which is actually in a hall cabinet, since “sets” these days don’t have tops. They have edges, none of which supports a box.) Consider the route here. TWC distributes to Dish over a 50,ooo mile round trip to a satellite. Then Dish sends the signal to Santa Barbara over another round trip through a satellite just as far away. Then I’m watching 3000 miles away over a wireless connection at our place in Boston. Credits en route go to Cox for the cable connection in Santa Barbara, and to Verizon FiOS for the connection here. This will work until the power goes out here.

12:12pm: Finally heard somebody on the Weather Channel mention that there is a full moon today, which means maximized tide swings. Here’s the tide chart for the Battery, at the lower end of Manhattan.

11:20am Weather Channel gets all ominous, sez InsideTV at Entertainment Weekly.

11:18a: Slate is on top of Frankenstorm coverage in the papers.

11:05am: Radio stations should list their stream URLs as clearly as they list their dial positions. None do. Some have many steams but not enough links. WNYC, for example, has a nice help page, but the links to the streams are buried in a pop-up menu titled “other formats” (than the “Listen Now” pop-up page).

11:00am: How New Nersey Broadcasters Have Prepared for Sandy, at RadioINK. It begins,

New Jersey Broadcasters Association President and CEO Paul Rotella tells Radio Ink stations in his state have been preparing for Hurricane Sandy since Friday. “This is a perfect example of how only  local radio and TV can provide the critical information our audiences need to know in times of emergency. Sure, you can get a “big picture” overview from some media sources, but our citizens need to know much more detailed and salient information that only local broadcasters can provide.”

No links. Anybody have evidence of that yet? I’m listening to WKXW, aka New Jersey 101.5, After a lot of ads, they have lots of weather-related closings, followed by live talk, where they’re talking about other media at the moment.

10:56am: I’ve put up a fairly comprehensive list of infrastructure-grade Sandy information sources over on the Trunk Line blog. Much of what I’ll write about here will come from checking over there. Note that all the TV and radio stations from DC to Boston carrying live (or nearly live) coverage are listed, plus a number of live streams from stations providing them.

NOAA has Sandy headed straight at New Jersey and Delaware. The Weather Channel has a prettier map:

I was going to go to New York today, but decided to stay around Cambridge instead. All the media are making dire sounds, and there is lots of stocking up going on. Home Depot, Costco, all the grocery stores have had packed parking lots all day. Schools are closed all over the East Coast. New York City is shutting down the subways and Mayor Bloomberg has advised everybody to stay inside. Huge storm surges are expected.

I’m a natural event freak, so I’m on the case, but also need some sleep, in the calm before The Storm. More in a few hours.

New York at night

The conditions were what pilots call “severe clear” from Charlotte to New York on Thursday night. I made sure (paying $44 to USAirways) that I had a window seat on the left side, and had a perfect view through an imperfect window of nearly every city and town from Charlotte to New York.

Rolling by went Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem, Burlington-Graham, Chapel Hill and Durham, Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, and then, finally: New Yawk in her great sparkling self. From the air at night it does indeed appear to be what the Letterman show calls The Greatest City in the World. From altitude at night most other cities look like splats of light; but New York bristles with buildings and throbs with traffic coursing through streets and urban arteries.

Where skyscrapers in lesser cites often seem there just to show off, in New York they are natural expressions of the city’s muscularity. They have to go up.

So I shot the whole trip. Most didn’t come out. (Not the best camera, lens or window — and shooting stationary settings at f1.8 at 1/20th of a second while flying through by “light chop” at 500 miles per hour tends to produce less than ideal results.) But The City looked too good not to post. So here it is.

Toronto

Thanks to my hosts with the Conference Board of Canada, I got some excellent quality time in Toronto this week, including drinks and dinner, respectively, at the Horizons bar and the rotating 360 restaurant at the 1500-foot level of the CN Tower.

Of course, being the aerial photography freak that I am, I took a lot of pictures there, looking down on interesting infrastructure, building construction, and a skyline at sunset and after dark, viewed from the city’s highest landmark.

Here’s a slideshow of the whole series.

My sister and I received a durable lesson in generosity in the summer of 1963, in the heart of Iowa. That was where our family’s 1957 Ford Country Sedan station wagon, towing our Nimrod pop-up camper trailer, broke down.

It was on a Sunday morning in late June, heading south from Des Moines on I-35 when the engine made a loud bang, and there was smoke and steam everywhere. We pulled over to shoulder and sat there for a long time while the engine cooled off and the day heated up. Then we topped off the radiator with some of the water from our cache, started the car back up and knew right away that the engine was in very bad shape. Pop figured that fewer than car’s straight-six engine’s cylinders were working, and that water was leaking through the head gasket  (since steam as well as smoke and unburned gas fumes were coming out the exhaust). There was no traffic to flag down on the highway, which was still new.  So all we could do was limp on, while limping was all the car could do.

At the top of the first exit was a sign that pointed west to St. Charles, and east to St. Mary’s. The former was closer, it said, so we turned right. We pulled up in front of a general store with some old guys on the porch out front, and asked if there was a service station nearby.

“Deane fixes cars,” one of them said, and told us which house was Deane’s. It was down the road on the left.

Turns out this was Deane Hoskins, a master mechanic with a complete garage in his garage. His day job was working for GM’s diesel division in Des Moines. His wife was Arlouine, a teacher like Mom. They also had a bunch of kids: Carolyn, Linda, Janet, Karen and Robert. All were friendly and eager to help. Deane told us to pull in. So Pop and I disconnected the camper, left it in the street, and went up the driveway to help Deane as best we could while he tore down the broken engine.

At the peak of the Hoskins garage’s roof, facing down the driveway, was a thermometer in the shape of a big clock. It said 112°. Sweat poured off Deane’s nose and chin. I remember that his eyes were blue, though one was a mix of blue and brown. The whole time he talked to us about engine design, how they worked, and what they were built do do. This Ford, he explained, was built to fail.

The policy was called “planned obsolescence,” and you could see it in the cooling tubes in the engine block, flanking the cylinders. Water cooled by the radiator flows through these tubes, keeping an engine from overheating. The pistons in the first and sixth cylinders looked fine. The ones in the second and fifth were pitted on the top. The pistons in the third and fourth cylinders had holes blown through their tops. That was because the cooling tubes flanking the third and fourth cylinders had metal plugs in them, causing the pistons to overheat and eventually fail. The plugs were the opposite of necessary, unless the necessity was a blown engine, eventually. In our case the eventuality was sixty thousand miles.

This was a huge blow to Pop, a committed Ford Man. This wagon was the first new car he had ever bought, and it had been nothing but trouble from Day One. Even before this last failure he figured the car cost $60 per month on average to fix, and this was in 1950s dollars. It was also clear and present evidence of customer-hating corporate venality. To this day it amazes me to see nothing written about Ford’s (or anybody’s) practice of plugging an engine block’s cooling tubes. Were all of Ford’s inline-6 blocks crippled like this? Or was this an experiment by Ford with just a few engines to see what happened? How could a worker in good conscience have put the plugs in there, when the result would obviously be a short life span for the engine?

Deane drilled out the plugged tubes, removed the bad pistons, honed out the two center cylinders, called up a friendly Ford dealer, and drove us over to pick up some new pistons and a fresh head gasket. The dealer was closed on Sunday, but opened up just for us. On the way over we went through a covered bridge, one of those later made famous by The Bridges of Madison County.

By evening Deane had the engine back together, and the car running fine. We spent the night as the Hoskins’ house guests, and in the morning went on our way. For years Mom kept up with the Hoskins family through Arlouine. It was what moms did in those days. Mom was from a small town two states away: Napoleon, North Dakota. St. Charles and its friendly ethic was familiar to her.

Pop’s partisan loyalties were simple and clear. Three of the biggest were to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Ford Motor Company and the Republican Party. So this was the second time he felt betrayed. The first was when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. The third was Watergate.

Leaving St. Charles on Monday morning, we drove west. In Griswold, barely bigger than St. Charles, we found a Chevy dealer. It wasn’t that Pop was suddenly a believer in Chevy, but that he had become a disbeliever in Ford. He also took Deane’s word that GM didn’t play the planned obsolescence game. There were just two new cars in the showroom: a minimal white Biscayne and a  blue Bel-Air. Pop and Mom wanted to get the Biscayne, but my sister and I talked them into getting the Bel-Air, which had a 283 v-8 rather than the Biscayne’s straight six. Better for pulling the trailer, we argued, successfully. Pop’s compromise was to make sure the car had no radio and no air conditioning. That car was almost trouble-free until the transmission went, at 125,000 miles — a lot in those days. That’s when we sold it, in 1969.

And that’s Griswold, above. I spotted it last week while looking out the window of the plane from Newark to Los Angeles. It doesn’t look much different from above than it did on the ground forty-nine years ago. The dealer was small, with just two cars in the showroom: our Bel-Air and the Biscayne. No Impalas. I don’t remember the name, but there are no Chevy dealers in Griswold today.

I see that Deane died in 1991 and Arlouine in 2005. And, at the second link, that Linda is also gone. But our encounter with the Hoskins family isn’t forgotten, half a century later. To me the “flyover” states are places where good people live and lucky people drive through. Turns out our bad luck in St. Charles with a bum Ford was the best thing that could have happened.

 

 

Okay, my foursquare experiment is over. I won, briefly…

4sq… and, about 24 hours later (the second screenshot) I was back in the pack somewhere.

So now I’m done playing the leaderboard game. I’d like to say it was fun, and maybe it was, in the same way a hamster in a cage has fun running in its wheel. (Hey, there’s a little hamster in all of us. Ever tried to “win” in traffic? Same game.)

The experiment was to see what it would take to reach #1 on the leaderboard, if only for a minute. The answer was a lot of work. For each check-in I needed to:

  1. Wake up the phone
  2. Find foursquare (for me it’s not on the front page of apps)
  3. Tap the app
  4. Dismiss the “Rate foursquare” pop-over window
  5. Tap on the green “Check In” button
  6. Wait (sometimes for many seconds) while it loads its list of best guesses and actual locations
  7. Click on the location on the list (or type it in, if it’s not there)
  8. Click on the green “Check In Here” button
  9. Take a picture and/or write something in the “What are you up to?” window
  10. Click on the green “Check In” button, again.

And to do that a lot. For example, at Harvard Square a few days ago, I checked in at the Harvard Coop, Radio Shack, Peets Coffee, the Cemetery, Cambridge Common and the Square itself. For just those six places we’re talking about 60 pokes on the phone. (Okay, some of the time I start at #5. But it’s still a lot of pokes.)

To make sure I had the poke count right, I just did it again, here at the Berkman Center. Now my phone says, “Okay. We’ve got you @ Berkman Center for Internet & Society. You’ve been here 45 times.”

Actually, I’ve been here hundreds of times. I only checked in forty-five of those times. The difference matters. What foursquare says in that statement is, If you haven’t checked in on foursquare, you haven’t really been there. Which is delusional. But then, delusion is part of the game. Being mayor of the 77 bus (which I have been, a number of times) confers no real-world advantages to me at all. I even showed a driver once that I was mayor of the bus. She looked at my phone, then at me, like I was a nut case. (And, from her perspective, I surely was.) Being the mayor of some food joint might win you a discount or a freebie if the establishment is so inclined. But in most cases the establishment knows squat about foursquare. Or, if it does know something, squat might be what it does.

That was my surreal experience after checking in at a Brookstone at Logan Airport last October. I coudn’t miss the large placard there…

… and asked the kid at the cash register what the “special” would be. He replied, ”Oh, that’s just a promotion.” At the other end of the flight, while transferring between concourses in Dallas-Fort Worth, I saw this ad on the tram:

On my way to the next plane I checked into as many places as I could, and found no “great deals.” (Here is my whole mini-saga of foursquare screenshots.)

But, credit where due. An American Express promo that I ran across a number of times at SXSW in Austin earlier this year provided $10 off purchases every place it ran, which was more than a few. (Screenshots start here.) We also recently got a free upgrade from Fox, the car rental company, by checking in with foursquare. And I agree with Jon Mitchell of RWW, in What Is the Point of… Foursquare?, that the service has one big plus:

Isn’t Foursquare just for spamming Twitter and Facebook with what Geoloqi’s Amber Case calls “geoloquacious” noise about your trip to the grocery store? It can be, and for too many users, it is.

But turn all that off. Forget the annoying badges and mayorships, too. There’s one useful thing at which Foursquare is very, very good: recommendations.

So I’ll keep it going for that, and for notifying friends on foursquare that I’m in town, and am interested in getting together. (This has worked exactly once, by the way, with the ever-alert Steve Gillmor.)

But still, you might ask, why have I bothered all this time?

Well, I started using foursquare because I like new stuff and I’ve always been fascinated by the Quantified Self (QS) thing, especially around self-tracking, which I thought might also have a VRM benefits, somewhere down the line. I’m also a born geographer with a near absolute sense of where I am. Even when I’m flying in the stratosphere, I like to know where I am and where I’ve been, especially if photography is also involved. Alas, you can’t get online in the air with most planes. But I’ve still kept up with foursquare on the ground, patiently waiting for it to evolve past the hamster-wheel stage.

But the strange thing is, foursquare hasn’t evolved much at all, given the 3+ years they’ve been around. The UI was no bargain to begin with, and still isn’t. For example, you shouldn’t need to check in always in real time. There should be a setup that keeps track of where you’ve been, without the special effort on your part. If there are specials or whatever, provide alerts for those, on an opt-in basis.

But evolution is planned, in a big way. Foursquare Joins the Coupon Craze, a story by Spencer E. Ante last week in The Wall Street Journal, begins with this:

Foursquare doesn’t want to be another popular—but unprofitable—social network. Its new plan to make money? Personalized coupons.

The company, which lets users alert their friends to their location by “checking in” via smartphone from coffee shops, bars and other locations, revealed for the first time that it plans to let merchants buy special placement for promotions of personalized local offers in July in a redesigned version of its app. All users will be able to see the specials, but must check into the venue to redeem them.

“We are building software that’s able to drive new customers and repeat visitors to local businesses,” said Foursquare co-founder and Chief Executive Dennis Crowley.

This tells me my job with foursquare is to be “driven” like a calf into a local business. Of course, this has been the assumption from the start. But I had hoped that somewhere along the way foursquare could also evolve into a true QS app, yielding lat-lon and other helpful information for those (like me) who care about that kind of thing. (And, to be fair, maybe that kind of thing actually is available, through the foursquare API. I saw a Singly app once that suggested as much.) Hey, I would pay for an app that kept track of where I’ve been and what I’ve done, and made  that data available to me in ways I can use.

Meanwhile, there is one big piece of learning that I don’t think anybody has their head fully wrapped around, and that’s the willingness of people to go to all this work, starting with installing the app in the first place.

Back in the early days of ProjectVRM, it was taken as fact amongst developers that anything requiring a user install was problematic. Now most of us have phones with dozens or hundreds of apps or browser extensions that we’ve installed ourselves. Of course Apple and the browser makers have made that kind of thing easier, but that’s not my point. My point is that the conventional wisdom of today could be old-hat a year from now. We can cite example after example of people doing things which, in the past, it was said they were unlikely to do.

That’s the Navajo name for what everybody else calls Shiprock. It’s a rock spire that rises out of the desert southeast of Four Corners in the far northwestern corner of New Mexico. Elevation at the peak is 7,177 feet, with a prominence of 1,583 feet.

Technically, it’s what geologists call a monadnock, an inselberg, or a volcanic neck or plug. By whatever name, it’s what remains of a volcano that was active 27 million years ago, in the Oligocene epoch, one among many volcanic perforations of what later became the American southwest. Radiating in three directions from the center are long volcanic dikes,: walls of intrusive rock that formed were once, like Shiprock, lava. From the air they give Shiprock the look of a giant symbol.

I’ve been wanting to shoot pictures of Shiprock for years, but flights east to and from from LAX tend to go a bit north of there, and since I like to shoot out the shady (usually northern) side of the plane, I’ve tended to miss it. But my flight from LAX to BOS on Sunday took an unusually southern route, and I got a good view, though it was hazy.

Got lots of other good stuff too, but it was easy to put this one up first.

[Later...] Just found I’ve shot it before, from the north side, in 2008. See here.

Newtown Creek

Thanks to Jeff Warren (also here) of GrassRootsMapping and  Public Laboratory, I now know — and am highly turned on by — the possibilities of mapping in the wild. That is, mapping by the 99.xxx+% of us who are not in the mapping business, and are in the best multiple positions to map the world(s) in four running dimensions.

Check Jeff’s latest post at MapKnitter for what extra good can come from the series of shots I took of New York from altitude recently, and blogged about here. Pretty damn cool.

The thought now of what can be done with my many thousands of aerial photos is both exhiliarating and daunting. Fortunately, the work won’t be just mine — or any one person’s. And that’s what’s most cool about it.

On my way back from SXSW a couple weeks ago, I got some terrific shots of many things, including portions of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky (including mountaintop mining), Virginia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton and Providence.

Most of those aren’t uploaded yet, but I just put up the best of the bunch: this series of New York, with adjacent parts of New Jersey. The day wasn’t quite as clear as the pictures suggest, so I enhanced them a bit. But I love the detailed view they provide of what the David Letterman Show calls “the greatest city in the world.” It will always be home for me. Even though I’m from the Jersey side of “the rivva,” I was born, and grew up, closer to midtown than parts of all the other boroughs.

Say where?

This photo of Chicago has suddenly had more than six thousand views thanks to being posted in CityPorn on Reddit. Fun.

Here’s the whole series (on Chicago).

Ray SimoneRay Simone, my good friend and long-time business partner, died this morning. He was 63 years old. He is survived by his wife Gillian, his daughter Christina, and many good friends for whom he remains an inspiration and a delight.

Ray was one of the most creative people I have ever known. Though we originally shared the Creative Director title at our agency, Hodskins Simone & Searls, Ray was the Main Man. While I was a good copywriter, Ray could do it all: come up with killer campaigns, clever headlines, great design and art, tight scripts, whatever. His knowledge of art, of typography, of technologies and sciences — actually, pretty much everything — was encyclopedic. He worked his ass off, and he was great to work with as well.

We met in the mid-’70s in Durham, North Carolina, when I was still “Doctor Dave,” an occasional comic radio character for WDBS and columnist for the station’s magazine, and Ray was an artist whose equally comic work appeared in the same publication. We both circulated in the same low-rent Hippie creative-art-music-dance-weekend-party crowd surrounding Duke University. Ray was working with Hodskins Simone and Searls 1978David Hodskins and some other folks at small “multiple media” shop (decades ahead of its time) that had somehow spun out of the Duke Media Center. One day, when I called up Ray to talk about collaborating on an ad for an audio shop I was working for part-time, Ray put me on hold and told David that Doctor Dave was on the line. David told Ray to arrange a lunch. A team was born over that lunch, and in 1978 it became an advertising agency: Hodskins Simone & Searls. The photo on the right dates from that time.

By 1980 we were specializing in high tech clients up and down the East Coast, and after several years decided to open a satellite office in Silicon Valley. After winning some major West Coast

Hillbilly Jazzaccounts we moved the whole agency to Palo Alto, and by the early 90s HS&S was one of the top shops there. (Huge props to David Hodskins for his leadership through all that. David was the agency President and another truly brilliant dude.)

Twenty years after its founding,  HS&S was acquired. By then I had moved on to other work, and after awhile so had David and Ray. While I went back to journalism, Ray went back to art, teaching at Ocean Shore School in Pacifica, as well as at Brighton Preschool, which he and Gillian, his wife and soulmate, ran in the same town. He was Sting Ray to the kids there. Says Gillian, “He made story time come alive.”

He also went back to painting. But his full portfolio of accomplishments includes much, much more. For example, Ray designed covers for dozens of major country and bluegrass albums, mostly for Sugar Hill Records. Two samples, one for Vassar Clements and the other for the Red Clay Ramblers, are on the left and right. Here is a partial discography (drawn from here and other places), in alphabetical order:

Ray was himself a musician. When he was a student at what is now Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, he played keyboards in a band that traveled to gigs in a used hearse. Some of the stories he told about those days were beyond wild and very funny.

Ray designed countless t-shirts and posters, most of which were worthy of collection. Panel from Ray Simone Hassle House poster(Wish I still had some, but alas.) Old friends from Durham will fondly remember the Forklift Festival at the late Plantation (an run-down mansion on North Roxboro that should have been preserved), which sprang up as a wacky alternative to the annual Folklife Festival (now Festival for the Eno). Same goes for the Good Time Boogie, an annual gathering in Eastern North Carolina for which there was huge attendance, pass-the-hat funding and no publicity.

Ray did brilliant t-shirt designs for both. His cartoon poster for a place called Hassle House, done in the style of MAD’s Will Elder by way of Vaughn Bodé, was the first thing that turned me on to Ray. It was funny as hell, and I can still remember every panel of it. (Rob Gringle provides more background in a comment below, and also reminds us that Ray did many covers for The Guide, the monthly published by WDBS. I still have a stack of Guides somewhere.)

[Later...] Big thanks to Jay Cunningham for providing scans to the poster. That’s one panel, there on the right.

Ray was a born athlete, though he never exploited his talents beyond casually (but never maliciously) humiliating anybody who took him on at ping-pong, darts, softball or whatever. I remember one softball game where he grabbed a hard grounder bare-handed at third base, and — while falling down — threw out the runner at first base. All in one move. Like it was no big deal. It was awesome.

He took up fencing when we were still in North Carolina, and quickly won trophies.

A student of fun history, he was active for years in the Society for Creative Anachronism. In that capacity he once served “stargazy pie” at Monkeytop, the rambling Victorian urban commune where he, David Hodskins and many others lived at various times on Swift Street. (It’s now the restored E.K. Powe House.)

When Ray and Gillian (also an artist) were married at a California ranch in 1991, everybody was costumed as cowboys and cowgirls.

A devoted reader of science fiction and watcher of movies, Ray could expound with insight and authority on either subject, plus too many others to list.

Yet what matters most is that Ray was a loving guy and a first-rate friend. Back at the turn of the ’90s, when I had sworn off dating after a series of failed relationships, Ray pulled me out of my shell. As a direct result I’ve now been happily married for more than twenty years, with a wonderful teenage son. I know Ray had similar influences on others as well.

I could add much more, but I want to post this today. I’m sure other old friends will weigh in as well. Additions and corrections of course are welcome. Here are a few I failed to string among the pearls above:

      • His full name: Raymond George Simone. Most of his album credits are for Raymond Simone.
      • Simone is pronounced with three syllables and a long e: Simonē. That is, the correct Italian way.
      • He was born in Potsdam, New York, and grew up in High Point, North Carolina.
      • He had one brother, Jim, who died of throat cancer many years ago. Ray’s malady was lung cancer, no doubt an effect, as with Jim, of smoking. Ray quit many years ago, but it still caught up with him.
      • His mother, born and raised in Oklahoma, was part Cherokee. Both his parents passed in recent years.
      • He sometimes called himself The Weasel (others shortened that to “The Weez”), and drew himself in cartoons as a weasel with a mustache. For most of the early years we worked together, Ray’s signature look was long hair and a mustache, sometimes waxed at the tips.
      • Here is Ray’s Facebook page, with a self-portrait from when he was more full-bodied, a couple years back.

The photo at the top of this post is cropped from this one, shot by Gillian last Friday when David and I came to visit Ray at their home. Ray knew he didn’t have much time left, but was still in good humor. That was the day after Thanksgiving. So I’m thankful that I was in town and that these three old partners could get together one last time.

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So I’m writing about financialization. Kevin Phillips‘ prophetic book on the subject, Bad Money, is open on my desk. (He published it in early 2007, in advance of The Crash.) But it doesn’t contain the definitional quote that I need. So I turn to Wikipedia. There, in the Financialization entry, we are treated to this quote:

Financialization may be defined as: “the increasing dominance of the finance industry in the sum total of economic activity, of financial controllers in the management of corporations, of financial assets among total assets, of marketised securities and particularly equities among financial assets, of the stock market as a market for corporate control in determining corporate strategies, and of fluctuations in the stock market as a determinant of business cycles” (Dore 2002)

Nice, but there is no citation for Dore; just some “further reading”:

Dore, R (2000). Stock Market Capitalism: Welfare Capitalism: Japan and Germany vs. the Anglo-Saxons. Oxford: Oxford University PressISBN 0-19-924061-2.

So I go look that up, find it on Amazon, and look inside. I choose to search for “determinant,” a fairly rare word, and get five results. None are what’s quoted in Wikipedia. But, since Ronald Dore is a scholar, I figure he must have written that definition somewhere. But when I go to look, the results are a cascade of Wikipedia citations. Not the original Dore.

This drives me just as nuts as I get when I go to look up, say, a geographical feature and get pages of commercial businesses associated with the feature, but not the feature itself. Google Maps is one offender here. Look up “Comb Ridge”, and you get this: http://g.co/maps/syspr. (Here are my own many shots of Comb Ridge.) The difference in this case is that I can still find Comb Ridge, while the provenance of the original Dore quote remains a mystery to me.

And, since I want to finish my book today, I’m not going to fool around any more with it. I’ll find some other definition. Still, I need to gripe a bit. Sloppy citing is a curse that keeps on cursing. Or causing it, anyway.

Rochester, Vermont

My favorite town in Vermont is Rochester. I like to stop there going both ways while driving my kid to summer camp, which means I do that up to four times per summer. It’s one of those postcard-perfect places, rich in history, gracing a lush valley along the White River, deep in the Green Mountains, with a park and a bandstand, pretty white churches and charm to the brim.

My last stop there was on August 20, when I shot the picture above in the front yard of Sandy’s Books & Bakery, after having lunch in the Rochester Cafe across the street. Not shown are the 200+ cyclists (motor and pedal) who had just come through town on the Last Mile Ride to raise funds for the Gifford Medical Center‘s end-of-life care.

After Hurricane Irene came through, one might have wondered if Rochester itself might need the Center’s services. Rochester was one of more than a dozen Vermont towns that were isolated when all its main roads were washed out. This series of photos from The Republican tells just part of the story. The town’s website is devoted entirely to The Situation. Here’s a copy-and-paste of its main text:

Relief For Rochester

Among the town’s losses was a large section of Woodlawn Cemetery, much of which was carved away when a gentle brook turned into a hydraulic mine. Reports Mark Davis of Valley News,

Rochester also suffered a different kind of nightmare. A gentle downtown brook swelled into a torrent and ripped through Woodlawn Cemetery, unearthing about 25 caskets and strewing their remains throughout downtown.

Many of the graves were about 30 years old, and none of the burials was recent.Yesterday, those remains were still outside, covered by blue tarps.

Scattered bones on both sides of Route 100 were marked by small red flags.

“We can’t do anything for these poor people except pick it up,” said Randolph resident Tom Harty, a former state trooper and funeral home director who is leading the effort to recover the remains.

It was more than 48 hours before officials in Rochester — which was cut off from surrounding towns until Tuesday — could turn their attention to the problem: For a time, an open casket lay in the middle of Route 100, the town’s main thoroughfare, the remains plainly visible.

I found that article, like so much else about Vermont, on VPR News, one of Vermont Public Radio‘s many services. When the going gets tough, the tough use radio. During and after natural disasters, radio is the go-to medium. And no radio service covers or serves Vermont better than VPR. The station has five full-size stations covering most of the state, with gaps filled in by five more low-power translators. (VPR also has six classical stations, with their own six translators.) When I drive around the state it’s the single radio source I can get pretty much everywhere. I doubt any other station or network comes close. Ground conductivity in Vermont is extremely low, so AM waves don’t go far, and there aren’t any big stations in Vermont on AM anyway. And no FM station is bigger, or has as many signals, as VPR.

One big reason VPR does so much, so well, is that it serves its customers, which are its listeners. That’s Marketing 101, but it’s also unique to noncommercial radio in the U.S. Commercial radio’s customers are its advertisers.

VPR’s services only begin with what it does on the air. Reporting is boffo too. Here’s VPR’s report on Rochester last Thursday, in several audio forms, as well as by transcription on that Web page. They use the Web exceptionally well, including a thick stream of tweets at @vprnet.

I don’t doubt there are many other media doing great jobs in Vermont. And at the local level I’m sure some stations, papers and online media do as good a job as VPR does state-wide.

But VPR is the one I follow elsewhere as well as in Vermont, and I want to do is make sure it gets the high five it deserves. If you have others (or corrections to the above), tell me in the comments below.

Some additional links:

My parents, Eleanor and Allen Searls, were married 65 years ago today. Allen and Eleanor Searls wedding The wedding was in Grace United Methodist Church, in Minneapolis.* Mom’s family, all descendents of Swedish immigrants to homesteads in Minnesota and North Dakota, were the primary attendees, as I recall being told. Pop’s family was from New Jersey, and that’s where the couple settled down and raised their family. Additions were myself, a bit less than a year later, and my sister Jan, another 20 months after that.

We were lucky kids. Our parents were good, sane, loving, smart, hard-working and convivial people. Our home was a safe and happy one. We had lots of family gatherings, and lots of friends in our town and around the little summer place Pop and uncle Archie Apgar built on the edge of the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. For us that place was paradise.

Mom and Pop are gone now, but the family is still intact. We celebrated my birthday at Pop’s little sister Grace’s place in Maine two weekends ago. She’s 99 now, and doing great. (Here’s a photo set from that trip. All the shots of me in that set were ones Grace shot. As you can see, I enjoyed the company.)

So here’s a toast to Mom and Pop. We love ya both, and always will.


*Today that’s Northeast United Methodist Church, and it’s not clear to me if the church where Mom and Pop got married is the one still at 2510 Cleveland Street N.E., or the one the website says is for sale at 2511 Taylor St. N.E. I suspect not, though, since the picture of that church, called Trinity United Methodist Church, doesn’t have steps like the ones we see in this picture of Mom and Pop leaving the church after the wedding.

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Last week we spent a lot of time here, in Venice:

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

The triangular marble plaza on the edge of the Grand Canal of Venice is known informally as Bancogiro, once one of Italy’s landmark banks, and now the name of an osteria there. The plaza is part of Rialto Mercado, the marketplace where Marco Polo was based and prospered when he wasn’t out opening trade routes to the east. It’s also where Shakespeare set The Merchant of Venice, and where Luca Pacioli studied double entry bookkeeping, which he described in Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità (Venice 1494), one of the first textbooks written in the vernacular (rather than Latin), and an early success story of the printing press.

Here’s a photo set of the place.

Here’s a 360° view. (While it’s called “Fondamenta de la Preson,” that’s just the cockeyed white building in the map above — a former womens prison — in the corner of the plaza.)

Note that Google Maps tells us little about the location, but plenty about the commercial establishments there. When I go for a less fancy view, the problem gets worse:

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

In that pull-down menu (where it says “Traffic”) I can turn on webcams, photos and other stuff from the Long Tail; but there’s no way to turn on labels for the Grand Canal, the Bancogiro plaza, the Rialto Mercado vaporetto (water bus) stop, the Rialto Mercado itself, the Fondamenta de la Preson (women’s prison, labeled, sort of, in the upper view but not the lower), or even the @#$% street names. The only non-commercial item on the map is the Arciconfraternita Di San Cristoforo E Della Misericordia, which is an organization more than a place.

(My wife just said “You know those hotel maps they give away, that only show hotels? It’s like that, only worse. The hotel maps at least give you some street names.”)

For example, try to find information about the Bancogiro: that is, about the original historic bank, rather than the osteria or the other commercial places with that name. (Here’s one lookup.) For awhile I thought the best information I could find on the Web was text from the restaurant menu, which I posted here. That says the bank was founded in 1157. But this scholarly document says 1617. Another seems to agree. But both are buried under commercial links.

The problem here is that the Web has become commercialized at the cost of other needs of use. And Google itself is leading the way — to the point where it is beginning to fail in its mission to “organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

This is understandable, and easily rationalized. Google is a commercial enterprise. It makes money by selling advertising, and placing commercial information in settings like the ones above. This has been good in many ways, and funds many free services. But it has subordinated purely useful purposes, such as finding the name of a street, a canal, or a bus stop.

There are (at least) two central problems here for Google and other giants like it. One is that we’re not always buying something, or looking only for commercial information. The other is that advertising should not be the only business model for the likes of Google, and all who depend on it are at risk while it remains so.

One missing piece is a direct market for useful information. Toward that end I’ll put this out there: I am willing to pay for at least some of the information I want. I don’t expect all information to be free. I don’t think the fact that information is easily copied and re-used means information “wants” to be free. In other words, I think there is a market here. And I don’t think the lack of one is proof that one can’t be built.

What we need first isn’t better offerings from Google, but better signaling from the demand side of the marketplace. That’s what I’m try to do right now, by signaling my willingness to pay something for information that nobody is currently selling at any price. We need to work on systems that make both signaling and paying possible — on the buyer’s terms, and not just the seller’s.

This is a big part of what VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management is about. Development is going on here. EmanciPay, for example, should be of interest to anybody who would like to see less money left on the market’s table.

Bonus link.

 

Since writing What if Flickr fails? six months ago, my photography has dropped way off. I still shoot, but not as much. And I don’t upload as much to Flickr as I used to.

It’s not one thing, but in a way it comes down to that.

First, I’ve been writing a book, which I’ve never done before, and which takes a lot of time. When I have a choice of what to do, the book comes ahead of anything that’s not also top priority. Sorting, improving and uploading photos was never top priority, but it used to be closer than it is now.

Second, my old camera, a Canon 30D, has been upstaged by my new camera, a well-used and equally old Canon 5D. The 5D is a much better camera. The look, feel and UI are nearly identical. Alas, both are crapping out. The 30D was pretty much worn out anyway, and no longer reads light properly. Now the 5D has begun to fail in shutter (Tv) or aperature (Av) priority (or, in Canon parlance, value) modes. It still works in other modes, but shooting is trickier. In any case, I’m due for a new camera. Or, more likely, a new old one, such as another used 5D.

Third, all my old lenses for the 30D suck on the 5D, because they aren’t designed for full-frame sensors. They vignette on the edges, even at narrow aperatures. For many shots this doesn’t matter (or adds an interesting effect); but lack of lenses also discourages shooting.

Fourth, all my wish list lenses…

 

… are north of $1k apiece. For now that’s an indulgence. So, I’m coping on my current trip (in Italy) with the 5D and compensating for the failings of both the camera and the lenses.

If I’d had more time before this trip I would have rented a lens or two. (Here’s LensRentals.com’s price list for the first of the lenses listed above. A lot cheaper than a new lens. Right now I’m really regretting not doing that.)

But what it comes down to is what I want to do with the results. While I like Flickr as a place to post large numbers of shots that I’d like to see in the public domain (CC licensed for the most permissive use, which is why there are now 231 of them on Wikimedia Commons), I’d rather post the shots I care most about on my own server, in my own ways. For example, I’d love to do photo esssays like the ones Tony Pierce used to do, but without the heavy html work. (And if there’s an easy way, tell me.)

So, what I’m dealing with is a lack of tools. Which is cool. Shooting pictures is just one thing I do. Other things matter more. Especially, right now, that book.

Air travel has taught us to hate flying, and that’s a huge bummer, because flying is just freaking amazing.

Yesterday I flew from Rome to Brussels, in a window seat on the right side of the plane. I knew if we were lucky, we’d see the Alps, as well as other geographic and geological wonders. We were, and a few of us did. But most passengers, even with window seats, saw nothing. They ignored the spectacle sliding by under the window.

Back when I was in the third grade, I remember hanging out with older kids who argued about what subjects they hated most. They came to an agreement around geography. I saw that as herd mentality, and decided right there to become interested in what they hated, and the result has continuously informed my life.

That’s why I expected to see the Matterhorn and the Pennine Alps yesterday, and got the nice series of shots you’ll see as a slide show if you click on the picture above. I’d seen the Matterhorn from the ground as well, and that helped. But what helped most was remaining curious about geography and geology, and loving to fly. I didn’t let school teach me to hate those subjects way back when, just like I don’t let air travel teach me to hate flying.

I see that Boeing has gone to the trouble, with the new 787 Dreamliner, to give windows and views more respect that we’re accustomed to getting from airlines. I also see that United, with which I have flown close to a million miles, will soon be flying a bunch of 787s. United catches a lot of flak for being an imperfect airline, but my experience with them is nearly 100% positive, and I love the fact that they share air traffic audio with passengers, and is the only airline to do so. They woudn’t if they didn’t love flying too.

So here is an appeal to United, as the 787 launch dates approach: Get in touch with me. If you’d like to make flying lovable again for everybody, I’d like to help.

The Santa Barbara Arts Collective is looking for worthy photographs to hang in the Mayor’s office. And my friend Joe just called to suggest I submit some candidates.

In my Flickr collection I have 3,928 shots tagged “santabarbara”, and 1,017 with “Santa Barbara” in title or caption text. Tops on both lists is this one:

Gap Fire, behind the Mission

But it’s not my favorite, and it looks like the mission itself is on fire (which it wasn’t). I’m kinda partial to…

I could go on, but I’d rather leaving the chosing up to you. (If you think any of them are worthy.) Votes?

By the way, most of those shots were taken with a 5-megapixel Nikon CoolPix 5700. Not my newer (but now also old) Canon 30D or 5D cameras. None of my cameras or lenses are especially desirable, by Real Photographer standards. Someday I’ll get the gear I’d like, starting with lenses. Meanwhile, like they say, the best camera is the one you’ve got. And what you see in those collections is from what I had at the time.

Oh, and all are Creative Commons licensed just to require attribution. Feel free, because they pretty much are exactly that.

Ford River Rouge plant

Got my first good clear look at Detroit and Windsor from altitude on a recent trip back from somewhere. Here’s a series of shots. What impressed me most, amidst all that flat snow-dusted spread of city streets, a patch of grids on the flatland of Michigan and Ontario, flanking the Detroit River and its islands, was what looked like a dark smudge. Looking at it more closely, and matching it up with Reality, I discovered that this was Ford’s famous River Rouge Complex in the city of Dearborn.

Says Wikipedia,

The Rouge measures 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide by 1 mile (1.6 km) long, including 93 buildings with nearly 16 million square feet (1.5 km²) of factory floor space. With its own docks in the dredged Rouge River, 100 miles (160 km) of interior railroad track, its own electricity plant, and ore processing, the titanic Rouge was able to turn raw materials into running vehicles within this single complex, a prime example of vertical-integration production. Over 100,000 workers were employed there in the 1930s.

As an inveterate infrastructure freak, I would love to see this thing sometime.

 

Gibraltar Reservoir

One hundred and fifty years ago yesterday, the scene above had no water in it, besides the Santa Ynez river, which barely flowed most of the year. Looking down on that scene was William Brewer, who led a survey sent out by Josiah D. Whitney, who had recently been named California’s state geologist, and whose surname was later given to the state’s highest mountain. Brewer wrote many letters from the survey, which are collected and parsed out, exactly 150 years after they were written, by Tom Hilton in Up and Down California. Tom has been using a few of my many photos to illustrate Brewer’s blog posts. Yesterday’s contained the picture above.

Tom’s own shots are here. He explains the project here and here. It’s a cool thing. Check it out.

[2 February update... A new case has come up, of accidental deletion. More details here and here. The company has also updated its community guidelines. It's still not clear why the company does not save deleted accounts. My provisional assuption is that the reason is legal rather than technical. But I'd love to hear somebody from Flickr (or somebody familiar with their systems) tell me that's wrong. In any case, deleted accounts should be kept, somewhere, somehow, one would think.]

As of last October, hosted 5,000,000,000 images. I’m approaching 50,000 images on Flickr right now. Sooo… if I lop off a bunch of zeros that comes to… .001% of the total. Not much, but maybe enough to show on their radar.

Here is what I hope they see: some heavy Flickr users are getting worried. Those with the most cause for worry are at the ‘pro’ level, meaning we pay for the service. (In my case, I pay for two of the four at links above). One cause for worry is reports of sudden and unexplained account deletions. The other is the possibility that Flickr might fail for the same reason that, say, is now failing. That is, by declining use, disinterest or mismanagement by the parent corporation, or a decline in advertising revenues.

Of particular interest right now is a report by of Deepa Praveen’s Flickr Pro account deletion. She claims she lost 600 photos, 6,000 emails, 600 contacts, 20,000 favorites, 35,000 comments, 250,000 views and more. “Don’t I deserve a reason before they pressed the DEL key?” she writes.

Of course we only have her side on this thing, so far, so bear that in mind.

Meanwhile the closest thing I can find to an explanation in Flickr’s Help Forum is this thread, which leads me to think the most likely reason for the deletion is that Deepa voilated some term of service. But, I dunno. Maybe somebody from Flickr can explain in the comments below.

Still, even if blame for the deletion ends up falling at least partly on Deepa (which I hope it does not, and have no reason yet to think it should), one’s exposure on Flickr goes up with the sum of photos one puts there. And the greater risk is not of Flickr’s deletion of customers, but of the market’s deletion of Flickr. Because, after all, Flickr is a business and no business lasts forever. Least of all in the tech world.

Right now that world looks to advertising for paying many big Web companies’ bills, and for driving those companies’ valuations on Wall Street and in pre-IPO private markets. Some numbers… The online advertising business right now totals about $63 billion, close to half of which goes to Google. In fact the whole advertising business, worldwide, only comes to $463 billiion. (Sources: and Google Investor Relations.) That’s a lot of scratch, but does that alone justify the kinds of valuations that and are getting these days? A case can be made, but that case is a lot weaker if Facebook and Google remain mostly in the advertising business. Which, so far, it looks like they will.

Wall Street is less enthusiastic about , but still a little upbeat, perhaps because advertising is still hot, and Yahoo still makes most of its money from “marketing services.” Flickr is part of Yahoo. I can’t find out how much Flickr brings in, but I’m curious to know what percentage comes from Pro account subscriptions, versus advertising placed on non-pro account pages.

There are cracks in the edifice of the online advertising. This comScore report, for example, and an earlier one, both show that ‘natural born clickers’ (that is, people who like to click on ads, versus the rest of us) account for a huge percentage of all the clicks on advertising, which pays based on “click-throughs”. Chas Edwards says, “these ‘natural born clickers’ are not the most desirable demographic for most advertisers: They skew toward Internet users with household incomes below $40,000 who spend more time than average at gambling sites and career advice sites.”

Among all the revenue diets a company might have, advertising equates best with candy. Its nutritive value is easily-burned carbohydrates. A nice energy boost, but not the protien-rich stuff comprised of products and services that provide direct benefits or persistent assets. (I can hear ad folk’s blood begin to boil here. “Advertising is nutritive! It delivers lots of positive public and private good!” Please, bear in mind that I made my bones for many years in the advertising business. I co-founded and served as creative director for one of Silicon Valley’s top agencies for many years. My name was on a building in Palo Alto when I did that. I know what the candy is, how it’s made, how easily most companies who use it can get along without it, and how it differs from stuff they can’t get along without.*)

Regardless of whether or not you think the online advertising business is a bubble (which I do right now, but I’m a voice in the wilderness), we should face the fact that we are seriously exposed when we place our businesses and online lives in the hands of companies that make most of their money from advertising, and that aren’t diversifying into other businesses that aren’t based on guesswork.

I just got off the phone (actually Skype) with folks working on a project that examines Facebook. Many questions were asked. Rather than repeat what you’ll hear me say when that show is produced, I’d rather point to one example that should prove at least some of my points: MySpace.

What’s to stop another company from doing to Facebook what Facebook did to MySpace? More to my point, what’s to stop some new owned-by-nobody technology or collection of protocols and free code from doing to Facebook what SMTP, POP3 and IMAP (the protocols of free and open email) did to MCI Mail, Compuserve mail, AOL mail, and the rest of the closed mail systems that competed with each other as commercial offerings? Not much, frankly.

So I think we need to do two things here.

First is to pay more for what’s now free stuff. This is the public radio model, but with much less friction (and therefore higher contribution percentages) on the customers’ side. In  (at the ) we’re working on that with . Here’s a way EmanciPay will help newspapers. And here’s our Knight News Challenge application for doing the same with all media sources. You can help by voting for it.

Second is to develop self-hosted versions of Flickr, or the equivalent. Self-hosting is the future we’ll have after commercial hosting services like Flickr start to fail. Fortunately, self-hosting is what the Web was meant to support in the first place, and the architecture is still there. We’ll have our own Flickrs and Zoomrs and Picassas, either on servers at home (ISP restrictions permitting) or in a server rack at the likes of RackSpace. But somebody needs to develop the software. has been working in this direction for years. Flickr Fan being one example. The end point of his work’s vector is Silo-free everything on the open web. We are going to get there.

Fortunately Flickr has a generous API Garden that does allow the copying off of most (or all) data that goes with your photographs. I’m interested in being able to copy all my photos and metadata off into my own self-hosted system. How much they would welcome that, I don’t know. But their API is certainly encouraging. And I do want them to stay in business. They’ve been a terrific help for me, and many other photographers, and we do appreciate what they’ve done and still do. And I think they can succeed. In fact, I’d be glad to help with that.

But mainly I want them, and every other silo out there, to realize that the pendulum has now swung full distance in the silo’d direction — and that it’s going to swing back in the direction of open and distributed everything. And there’s plenty of money to be made there too.

I think they might also consider going all-pro or mostly-pro. I say that because I’m willing to pay more than I do now, for a serious pro account — meaning one in which I have more of a relationship with the company. When the average price of first-rate cameras and lenses each run well into four figures, paying, say, $100+ per year for hosting of photos and other value-adds isn’t a bad deal. Hell, I used to pay that much, easy, per month, for film processing, back in the last millennium. And I did most of that at Costco.

So here’s hoping we can talk, that Deepa can recover what she’s lost (or at least see a path toward something better than the relationship she had with Flickr), and that the entrepreneurs and VCs out there will start seeing value in new open-Web start-ups, rather than the ad-funded and silo’d ones that are still fashionable today.

[Later (28 January)...] Thomas Hawk reports,

…after getting three previous non-answer emails from them over the past few weeks, this morning they seem to have finally given her an official answer on why her account was deleted.

From Flickr:

Hi there,

Like I said before, we saw behavior in your account that
went against our guidelines and required us to take action -
which was to delete your account. Our guidelines apply to
any and all content you post on Flickr – photos you upload,
comments you make, group discussions you participate in,
etc.

I am afraid I cannot give you any more specific information
than this.

Thank you for your understanding,
Cathryn”

The only problem is though, according to Deepa she said she hasn’t participated in any discussions or group threads in Flickr for over a year. And she felt that her content very much adhered to the Flickr Guidelines.

I assume that Cathryn had no answer, and that this was the best Flickr could do.

I would like to say this is unacceptable, except that it is acceptable. We accept it when we click “accept” to Flickr’s terms of service when we take out an account with them. And Flickr is no exception here. ALL websites and services like Flickr’s have similar terms.

And we can’t expect the sites to fix them. We have to do that, by proffering our own terms.

Which we’re working on. Stay tuned.

*I actually have hopes for advertising — not as the super-targeted, quant-driven, “personalized” stuff that’s all the rage these days; but as a new communications mechanism on the corporate side of real conversational marketing, in which the customer has full status as a sovereign individual, and takes initiative, expresses intentions, and engages through mechanisms he or she controls (and preferably also owns).

Hey, this is cool: CoolLAj Magazine includes this shot in La La Land at It’s Best: Photos of LA:

It was near the end of a series of flights from Copenhagen to Santa Barbara, and easily the best of the bunch.

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woman, dog, car

The Kid has been scanning archival family photos and I’ve been uploading them to Flickr (where I have now passed 39,000 shots in that one site alone). Many of these photos are well over a hundred years old. Most are about eighty years old, give or take a decade or two. They’re from the collection of Grace Apgar, my father’s sister, who is now 98 and doing fine. She’s been putting corrections and contexts into the comments. (There is a lot of longevity here. Grace’s mom, my grandmother, lived almost to 108.)

The shot above has me intrigued, because I’m curious to know what kind of car that is. Here’s another shot, of my father and a buddy, with a different car. That shot has a date, but the car’s identity isn’t clear to me yet. There are more car shots here and here.

So, just some fun stuff on a weekend, identifying old things.

My great uncle Jack Dwyer worked in the shipping and steamship business through the first half of the last century. He also took a lot of pictures, including my favorite family photo of all time. (I’m the kid with the beer.) I was going through a bunch of these on Flickr yesterday, when I noticed the name of a ship launched in Biloxi, in 1919. It was the Elizabeth Ruth. Look closely and you can see the ship is wooden. In fact it was one of the last of the masted schooners on which Biloxi specialized.

Thanks to Google Books and the Library of the University of Michigan, we have an account of the Elizabeth Ruth’s launch, in March 1917, in Volume 35 of The Rudder, edited by Thomas Fleming Day (in a day when using full names was still as current as sails on ships). Writes Day, “The Mississippi Shipping Corporation, at Biloxi, put out Elizabeth Ruth, of the Schooner type, one of the prettiest little vessels ever built in the United States, of 1400 tons cargo capacity.”

So I wondered whatever happened to the Elizabeth Ruth. And I quickly found out. From Papers Past, we have this account:

Sez the About page:

Papers Past contains more than one million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839 to 1945 and includes 61 publications from all regions of New Zealand.

New Zealand. I just love that. Here I am, wanting to know what may have happened to a minor ship, built and launched from a minor port on one continent ninety-two years ago — that I have just learned about from a book scanned in Michigan and probably not cracked open in the library stacks there except to get scanned — and I get the answer from a scanned strip of equally old print, kindly curated by  archivists half a world away.

That just rocks. Hats off to librarians, archivists and their technical facilitators everywhere, doing the good work of opening up history and letting the world have at it.

Bonus link. Another.

Way to die

I just learned by Dave that Chris Gulker died on Wednesday. (Somehow I missed the news at first pass.) I barely knew Chris, I knew enough to get that he was terrific guy, citizen, friend, photographer, blogger and much more. I don’t think it’s possible to die more consciously and graciously than Chris did. Dave’s right that it’s wrong not to read Chris’s obituary in a mainstream paper. But there are plenty of good ones out there* where it matters most. Start with Scott Rosenberg’s.

*And thank you, IceRocket, for still doing great blog search. It matters. Everybody, please do read the list of goodbyes that come up in a search for Chris.

First, three posts by:

His bottom line in the last of those: “… people are saying the web dumbs us down. This is wrong. The web can dumb us down, but only if we choose to let it.” Much substance leads up to that, including many comments to the first two posts.

In the first post, JP says, “For information to have power, it needs to be held asymmetrically. Preferably very very asymmetrically. Someone who knows something that others do not know can do something potentially useful and profitable with that information.” He adds,

So when people create walled-garden paid apps, others will create unpaid apps that get to the same material. It’s only a matter of time. Because every attempt at building dams and filters on the internet is seen as pollution by the volunteers. It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. No pollutants.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. There’s been a lot of talk about the web and the internet making us dumber.

I think it’s more serious than that. What the web does is reduce the capacity for asymmetry in education. Which in turn undermines the exalted status of the expert.

The web makes experts “dumb”. By reducing the privileged nature of their expertise.

Every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance. And, over time, the abundance will win. There will always be more people choosing to find ways to undo DRM than people employed in the DRM-implementing sector. Always.

Joe Andrieu responds with Asmmetry by choice.  After giving some examples, Joe adds,

These types of voluntary acceptance of asymmetry in information are the fabric of relationships. We trust people with sensitive information when we believe they will respect our privacy.

I don’t see abundance undoing that. Either the untrustworthy recipient develops a reputation for indescretion and is cut off, or the entire system would have to preclude any privacy at all. In that latter scenario, it would became impossible to share our thoughts and ideas, our dreams and passions, without divulging it to the world. We would stop sharing and shut down those thoughts altogether rather than allow ourselves to become vulnerable to passing strangers and the powers that be. Such a world would of totalitarian omniscience would be unbearable and unsustainable. Human beings need to be able to trust one another.  Friends need to be able to talk to friends without broadcasting to the world. Otherwise, we are just cogs in a vast social order over which we have almost no control.

Asymmetry-by-choice, whether formalized in an NDA, regulated by law, or just understood between close friends, is part of the weft and weave of modern society.

The power of asymmetry-by-choice is the power of relationships. When we can trust someone else with our secrets, we gain. When we can’t, we are limited to just whatever we can do with that information in isolation.

This is a core part of what we are doing with and the . Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is about helping users get the most out of their relationships with vendors. And those relationships depend on Vendors respecting the directives of their customers, especially around asymmetric information. The Information Sharing Work Group (ISWG) is developing scenarios and legal agreements that enable individuals to share information with service providers on their own terms. The notion of a is predicated on providing privileged information to service providers, dynamically, with full assurance and the backing of the law. The receiving service providers can then provide enhanced, customized services based on the content of that data store… and individuals can rest assured that law abiding service providers will respect the terms they’ve requested.

I think the value of this asymmetry-by-choice is about artificial scarcity, in that it is constructed through voluntary agreement rather than the mechanics/electronics of the situation, but it is also about voluntary relationships, and that is why it is so powerful and essential.

I’ll let both arguments stand for now (and I think if the two of them were talking here right now they’d come to some kind of agreement… maybe they will in comments here or on their own blogs), while I lever both their points toward the issue of privacy, which will continue to heat up as more people become aware of liberties taken with personal information by Web companies, especially those in the advertising business. I hadn’t thought about this in terms of asymmetry before, but maybe it helps.

The Web has always embodied the design asymmetry of . Sites have servers. Visitors have clients (your computing device and its browser). To help keep track of visitors’ relationships, the server gives them . These are small text files that help the server recall logins, passwords, contact history and other helpful information. Cookies have been normative in the extreme since they were first used in the mid-nineties.

Today advertising on the Web is also normative to an extreme that is beginning to feel . In efforts to improve advertising, “beacons” and flash cookies have been added to the HTTP variety, and all are now also used to track users on the Web. The Wall Street Journal has been following this in its series, and you can find out more there. Improvement, in the new advertising business, is now about personalization. “It is a sea change in the way the industry works,” Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, told the Wall Street Journal. “Advertisers want to buy access to people, not Web pages.”

Talk about asymmetry. You are no longer just a client to a server. You are a target with crosshairs on your wallet.

Trying to make advertising more helpful is a good thing. Within a trusted relationship, it can be a better thing. The problem with all this tracking is that it does not involve trusted relationships. Advertisers and site owners may assume or infer some degree of conscious assent by users. But, as the Journal series makes clear, most of us have no idea how much unwelcome tracking is really going on. (Hell, they didn’t know until they started digging.)

So let’s say we can construct trusted relationships with sellers. By we I mean you and me, as individuals. How about if we have our own terms of engagement with sellers—ones that express our intentions, and not just theirs? What might we say? How about,

  • You will put nothing on my computer or browser other than what we need for our  relationship.
  • Any data you collect in the course of our relationship can be shared with me.
  • You can combine my data with other data and share it outside our relatinship, provided it is not PII (Personally Identifiable Information).
  • If we cease our relationship, you can keep my data but not associate any PII with that data.
  • You will also not follow my behavior or accumulate data about me for the purposes of promotion or advertising unless I opt into that. Nor will your affiliates or partners.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not saying any of the points above are either legal or in legal language. But they are the kinds of things we might like to say within a relationship that is symmetrical in nature yet includes the kind of asymmetry-by-choice that Joe talks about: the kind based on real trust and real agreement and not just passive assent.

The idea here isn’t to make buyers more powerful than sellers. It’s to frame up standard mechanisms by which understandings can be established by both parties. Joe mentioned some of the work going on there. I also mention some in Cooperation vs. Coercion, on the . Here’s a long excerpt:

What we need now is for vendors to discover that free customers are more valuable than captive ones. For that we need to equip customers with better ways to enjoy and express their freedom, including ways of engaging that work consistently for many vendors, rather than in as many different ways ways as there are vendors — which is the “system” (that isn’t) we have now.

There are lots of VRM development efforts working on both the customer and vendor sides of this challenge. In this post I want to draw attention to the symbols that represent those two sides, which we call r-buttons, two of which appear above. Yours is the left one. The vendor’s is the right one. They face each other like magnets, and are open on the facing ends.

These are designed to support what calls , which he started talking about back in 2005 or so. I paid some respect to gestures (though I didn’t yet understand what he meant) in The Intention Economy, a piece I wrote for in 2006. (That same title is also the one for book I’m writing for . The subtitle is What happens when customers get real power.) On the sell side, in a browser environment, the vendor puts some RDFa in its HTML that says “We welcome free customers.” That can mean many things, but the most important is this: Free customers bring their own means of engagement. It also means they bring their own terms of engagement.

Being open to free customers doesn’t mean that a vendor has to accept the customer’s terms. It does mean that the vendor doesn’t believe it has to provide all those terms itself, through the currently defaulted contracts of adhesion that most of us click “accept” for, almost daily. We have those because from the dawn of e-commerce sellers have assumed that they alone have full responsibility for relationships with customers. Maybe now that dawn has passed, we can get some daylight on other ways of getting along in a free and open marketplace.

The gesture shown here —

— is the vendor (in this case the public radio station , which I’m just using as an example here) expressing openness to the user, through that RDFa code in its HTML. Without that code, the right-side r-button would be gray. The red color on the left side shows that the user has his or her own code for engagement, ready to go. (I unpack some of this stuff here.)

Putting in that RDFa would be trivial for a CRM system. Or even for a CMS (content management system). Next step: (I have Craig Burton leading me on this… he’s on the phone with me right now…) RESTful APIs for customer data. Check slide 69 here. Also slides 98 and 99. And 122, 124, 133 and 153.

If I’m not mistaken, a little bit of RDFa can populate a pop-down menu on the site’s side that might look like this:

All the lower stuff is typical “here are our social links” jive. The important new one is that item at the top. It’s the new place for “legal” (the symbol is one side of a “scale of justice”) but it doesn’t say “these are our non-negotiable terms of service (or privacy policies, or other contracts of adhesion). Just by appearing there it says “We’re open to what you bring to the table. Click here to see how.” This in turn opens the door to a whole new way for buyers and sellers to relate: one that doesn’t need to start with the buyer (or the user) just “accepting” terms he or she doesn’t bother to read because they give all advantages to the seller and are not negotiable. Instead it is an open door like one in a store. Much can be implicit, casual and free of obligation. No new law is required here. Just new practice. This worked for (which neither offered nor required new copyright law), and it can work for r-commerce (a term I just made up). As with Creative Commons, what happens behind that symbol can be machine, lawyer or human-readable. You don’t have to click on it. If your policy as a buyer is that you don’t want to to be tracked by advertisers, you can specify that, and the site can hear and respond to it. The system is, as Renee Lloyd puts it, the difference between a handcuff and a handshake.

Renee is a lawyer and self-described “shark trainer” who has done much in the community to help us think about agreements in ways that are legal without being complicated. For example, when you walk into a store, you are surrounded by laws of many kinds, yet you have an understanding with that store that you will behave as a proper guest. (And many stores, such as Target, refer by policy to their customers as “guests.”) You don’t have accept “terms of service” that look like this:

You agree we are not liable for annoying interruptions caused by you; or a third party, buildings, hills, network congestion, rye whiskey falling sickness or unexpected acts of God or man, and will save harmless rotary lyrfmstrdl detections of bargas overload prevention, or if Elvis leaves the building, living or dead. Unattended overseas submissions in saved mail hazard functions will be subject to bad weather or sneeze funneling through contractor felch reform blister pack truncation, or for the duration of the remaining unintended contractual subsequent lost or expired obligations, except in the state of Arizona at night. We also save ourselves and close relatives harmless from anything we don’t control; including clear weather and oddball acts of random gods. You also agree we are not liable for missed garments, body parts, electronic communications or musical instruments, even if you have saved them. Nothing we say or mumble here is trustworthy or true, or meant for any purpose other than to sphincter the fears of our legal department, which has no other reason to live. Everything here does not hold if we become lost, damaged or sold to some other company. Whether for reasons of drugs, hormones, gas or mood, we may also terminate or change this agreement with cheerful impunity.

[   ]  Accept.

And for that you get a cookie. Yum.

gives a great talk in which he reduces History of E-Commerce to one slide. It looks like this:

1995: Invention of the Cookie.

The End.

Not content with that, Phil has moved history forward a step by writing KRL, the , which he describes in this post here. The bottom line for our purpose in this post is that you can write your own rules. Terms of engagement are not among them yet, but why not? It’s early. At last Friday, showed how easy it is to program a relationship—or just your side of one—with KRL. What blew my mind was that the show was over and it was past time to leave, on a Friday, and people hung out to see how this was done. (Here’s a gallery of photos from the workshop.)

And those are just some of the efforts going on in the VRM (and soon, we trust, the CRM) community. What we’re trusting (we’re beyond just hoping at this point) is that tools for users wishing to manage relationships with organizations of all kinds (and not just vendors) will continue to find their way into the marketplace. And the result will be voluntary relationships that employ asymmetry by choice—in which the choice is made freely by all the parties involved.

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Last week I flew back and forth from Boston to Reno by way of Phoenix. Both PHX-RNO legs took me past parts of Nevada I hadn’t had a good look at before. One item stood out: a dry lake that looked, literally, like a town had been built on it and blown up. In fact, this was the case. The lake was Frenchman Lake, on Frechman Flat, a valley in a part of the desert known as the Nevada Test Site. The town was nicknamed “Doom Town,” and it was built to see what would happen to it in an atomic blast. Here’s a video that shows the results.

In fact more than a dozen blasts rocked the Doom Town area, starting with Able, in 1951 — the first at the Test Site.

This shot shows Yucca Lake and Yucca Flat, which has many dozens of subsidence craters where underground blasts have gone off. This Google Maps view shows the same from above. All the blasts look like rows of dimples in the desert. But some are hundreds of feet across. Before reading about underground nuclear testing, I had thought that all the tests were deep enough to avoid surface effects.

This shot looks across the Test Site to Area 51. Amazing place. Some of what they say about it may even be true. By the way, that shot was taken (I just checked) from almost 100 miles away. I used a Canon 5D and a zoom telephoto lens set to 200mm.


While walking around Paris for the last month, I’ve been fascinated by the highly fossiliferous limestone that comprises so many of its iconic structures. At one point I thought, Hmm… The City of Light is built with materials of death. I had no idea how much farther that thought would take me.

Without abundant death we wouldn’t have asphalt, concrete, marble, travertine, chert, oil, coal or countless other graces of civilization. Still, there seemed to be an unusual abundance of limestone in use here, and I wondered where it came from. Naturally, from my 21st century perspective, I assumed that all the stone had been quarried in some other place: hills outside of town, perhaps. (Lutetian limestone, it’s called, and it’s a relatively new rock: only only a few dozen million years old. Younger than dinosaurs. It’s also known as “Paris stone”, and has become quite the fashion item lately.) What I hadn’t figured was that nearly all of this building stone, for many centuries, was extracted from beneath Paris itself.

I didn’t learn that fact until we visited the Catacombes a couple days ago.

The Catacombes are bone banks called ossuaries. They occupy abandoned quarries beneath Paris and contain the remains of more than six million people. Many of the deceased are surely the same men (and women? probably) who carved out the quarries, mostly in the first several centuries of the last millennium. It must have been quite a project, since they withdrew enough rock to assemble Notre Dame, thousands of other churches large and small, bridges, city walls and homes — and left beneath the streets of Paris more than 300 kilometers (100 miles) of tunnels, including rooms and vaults that together comprise a vast man-made cave system. Top to bottom, a vertical cross-section of Paris looks like this:

  • Surface — streets, buildings, parks
  • Metro tunnels
  • Sewers
  • Quarries

Fossils are bones of stone, I explained to my kid. And limestones are stones of bone. Here in the Catacombes, down hallways that go on and on and on and on, the bones of dead Parisians are stacked into walls, with an artistry that makes one wonder what was going on in the heads of the masons. The walls facing the halls and passing visitors are built mostly with femurs and skulls. The femurs are stacked and interlocked, with the knee knuckles outward, course after course forming a pattern like stitches in a cloth. These are interrupted by horizontal lines of skulls, and usually topped with a final row: a crowning course of human heads. Here and there some arm bones might be used, but femurs and skulls were clearly the preferable building material. Behind these walls behind lie the rest of the bones: remains of remains.

The masons were priests. The bones were gathered from the city’s cemeteries, which had become rotten with an abundance of corpses as the end of the 18th century approached. That’s when it was decided to move the bones down into deeper graves. The quarries were empty, so the bones came down. The whole project went in stages, running from the late 1700s to the middle 1800s. The priests, whose jobs already required exceptional respect for the dead, were conscripted for the work.

The pictures in my collection (such as the one above) aren’t the best I’ve taken. Most of the light was provided by dim illumination in the catacombes itself, or by cell phones. If you wish to know more (and I recommend it), here are a pile of fascinating links:

Since one walks through the tunnels in the company of others, it is less creepy than you might think. After a while, endless aisles of bones also tend to make the bones themselves ordinary. Yet one wonders: Is this skull Robespierre’s? Danton’s? Both lost their heads at the guillotine, but down here all heads are equally ordinary and anonymous, fully respected, but still just building material.

A lesson: different as we all are in life, we are remarkably identical in death. Skulls tend to all look the same. So do other bones. One can say, These were babies once. Then laughing children. They grew up, learned about life, and lived long enough to produce more babies and get work done. And what they’ve left is no different than what everybody else leaves.

What makes us animals is that we eat other living things. (We need their carbon.) We live on things that lived. And we build with them too. Death supplies us. In turn, we supply as well. And all our turns will come.

What makes us different is who and what we are, and what we do, when we’re alive. Life is for the living. And so, it turns out, is death.

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The California is serpentine (correct name, serpentinite), which comes in many varieties, some which contain asbestos, which doesn’t get dangerous unless you grind it up and spread it into the air. Just sitting there, as it does through much of California and in other parts of the world, serpentine is mostly a greenish grace on the landscape.

Serpentine’s provenance is also remarkable (at least to geology types like me). It’s formed deep in the planet’s crust, under the spreading centers of oceans, where sea water penetrates mantle rock and, under great heat and pressure, lends lustrous colors and textures to what would otherwise become the plain old peridodite.

Anyway, have found a friend in , who is working to dump serpentine as the state rock. You know, like it matters. (Only 27 states bother having a state rock.) Read more in Burrito Justice and in the many posts that come up when you search for. Or you can skip all that and go to ‘s Speak Up for Serpentine at .

Here’s the opposing (anti-serpentine) view.

My home state, (also that of my nonfictionist hero, ) has no state rock, mineral or gem. How about asphalt, rhinestone and dirt? Just trying to help.

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Or let the paleontologists dig it for you. That’s what a team led by Yale researchers did last year in southeastern Morocco’s Lower and Upper Fezouata Formations. The result is covered by LiveScience in Oldest Soft-Bodied Marine Fossils Discovered . Specifically, “The animals represented by these newly discovered fossils, including sponges, annelid worms, mollusks, and horseshoe crabs, lived during the Ordovician period between 480 million and 472 million years ago, making them the oldest ever discovered during this period.”

So, while I have your attention on that, let me redirect you to Ron Schott’s Road Trip: An Experiment in Social Geology. He begins,

With your help, dear readers and fellow geobloggers, I’d like to run an experiment in social geology this summer. My hypothesis is that real-time/live-web tools and social networking can be applied to geology-focused road trips in ways that enrich the experience for both the road-tripper and the audience of active participants. This blog post is a call for collaborators, and a starting point for discussion and refinement of this hypothesis. I hope that it evolves into much more than that.

Me too. While Ron traverses The West, I’ll be heading to France for much of June and July. But I’ll keep up with him and enjoy vicarious digging of hard rock landscapes, many of which I already know but haven’t seen. Sez Ron,

The response to my blog posts two weeks ago using excerpts from John McPhee’s Annals of the Former World has inspired me to attempt to GigaPan at least four more of his I-80 geologic localities on my way out to San Francisco. Tentatively, and subject to tight restrictions imposed by the vagaries of weather and the need to arrive at the conference on time, I’m aiming to GigaPan the Gangplank/Summit area of the Laramie Range, roadcuts in the Rawlins, WY area, something in the Rock Springs/Overthrust area of western Wyoming, the Wasatch Front/Great Salt Lake, the Golconda Thrust, and an ophiolite in the Sierra Foothills.

The only thick book I’ve picked up nearly as often as McPhee’s Annals is Tolstoy’s War and Peace (though the latter not in the last couple of decades, I regret to admit). The Gangplank and the Overthrust sites I have visited dozens of times in re-readings of Rising from the Plains, my favorite of the four prior books that Annals combines (with a bonus section called Crossing the Craton). The Wasatch, Salt Lake, Golconda thurst and Sierra Foothills ophiolites star in Basin and Range and Assembling California, which Annals also includes. Been to all of those many times as well.

Ron is a Gigapanner of the first water. Here’s the latest, shown with a Canon 5D like my own (though with a better lens than any that I have). Can’t wait to see what he shows. (Some samples from his professional work as a geology professor.)

Good to see by his tweets (he’s @rschott) that he’s still cruising the West Coast (after getting some gigapans in Utah en route ). While he’s still out there, here a few possible side trips I’d like to suggest :

  • Love Ranch, where David Love grew up. Love was the geologist who guided McPhee through Wyoming. The title of the resulting book, Rising from the Plains, comes from a diary of David’s mother, Ethel Waxham Love, a writer whose prose was equal to McPhee’s, and who carries much of the book’s narrative burden. Dr. Love and the ranch buildings are all gone, but not the landscape, nearly all the features of which were named by the Love family.
  • Red Bluff Ranch, near Lander and west of the Gas Hills, amidst red Triassic features raised to weather when the Wind River Range, said David Love to John McPhee, “just pooched out.” Red Bluff Ranch is where Ethel Waxham (years away from becoming a Love) arrived when she — as McPhee loves to put it — came into the country by stagecoach.
  • The Powder River Basin strip coal mines, where the land celebrated by “Home on the Range” is classed as “overburden” and peeled off by the square mile to extract coal. This is featured in the “Coal Train” chapters McPhee’s Uncommon Carriers.

I can think of many more, but those are a start. I’ll add more later. Right now I gotta take the kid to the dentist.

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Until her Supreme Court nomination turned Elena Kagan into big-time news fodder, there was not an abundance of great pictures of her to be found on the Web. Among the better ones to be found were a couple I had posted on Flickr a couple years ago, when she was still Dean of Harvard Law School. Here’s one. Here’s another.

The second of those (cropped a bit) was put up on Wikimedia Commons, and for awhile accompanied her Wikipedia entry, and continues to be used in a number of places.

Both shots have a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 2.0 license, meaning anybody can use it, and should also give me credit for having shot it. And both shots have appeared since then in many publications. Some, like Wikipedia, do a good job of following the license. Some, for example Outside the Beltway — in this piece stirring the shit about Ms. Kagan while accusing CBS and other news organizations of bad journalistic practices — do not.

None of that is troubling, or even very interesting. Instead what prompts this post is a comment under one of the two photos, from an entity called TEA PARTY LEADER. It’s a diatribe that verges on hate speech, but (in my amateur judgment) doesn’t quite cross the line. The question for me, when I saw the comment, was Should I kill it?

My photo pile on Flickr isn’t a public space. It welcomes comments to the degree that it simply allows them. It has no rules (of my own or defaulted by Flickr) regarding comments, beyond the ability Flickr provides for editing or deleting them.

I asked fellow Berkman Fellows list for their thoughts, and those went both ways. Some said the space is mine to manage, and if somebody is rudely spamming the premises I should feel free to delete their icky work. Others said doing so indeed would violate free speech principles, even if I would be within my rights in doing so. I was also probed with questions about whether I would delete the comment if its positions were more agreeable to me — though with manners just as rude.

I’ve been inclined from the start toward leaving it up, and that’s where I’m staying. But in the meantime I thought I’d pass along the same questions.

What would you do, and why?

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I’ll be giving a talk by the title above, at 4pm in the conference room of the Berkman Center, 23 Everett Street in Cambridge. The occasion is the regular bi-weekly meeting of our Infrastructure Group — an informal collection of folks interested in the topic. The group was gathered by Christian Sandvig, an authority on the topic. (Christian gave a great talk last week in the Berkman luncheon series. Check it out.)

Infrastructure has long been a focus of my work as a fellow with the Center for Information Technology & Society at UCSB, although at this stage I’m still more of an observer of the topic than an authority on it. You’ll find lots of photos tagged with “infrastructure” in my Flickr stream (now more than 34,000 shots long), plus more at the Berkman Infrastructure Group’s own Flickr site. I’ll be leveraging some of those, and putting what I’ve gathered into the helpful contextprovided by Stewart Brand‘s great book, How Buildings Learn — What happens after they’re built (which was later made into a BBC series you can watch on Google Video).

Look forward to seeing some of ya’ll there.

David Siegel, author of the excellent new book Pull, shares with me an abiding frustration with all major camera makers — especially the Big Two: Canon and Nikon: they’re silos. They require lenses that work only on their cameras and nobody else’s. In Vendor Lock-in FAIL David runs down the particulars. An excerpt:

If you have a Canon body, you’re probably going to buy Canon lenses. Why? Not because they are the best, but because they are the only lenses Canon bodies can autofocus. Canon keeps this interface between body and lens proprietary, to keep Canon owners buying more Canon lenses and prevent them from using third-party lenses. A company called Zeiss makes better lenses than Canon does, but Canon won’t license the autofocus codes toZeiss at any price, because Canon executives know that many of their customers would switch and buy Zeiss lenses and they would sell fewer Canon lenses. The same goes for Nikon. And it’s true – we would.

I didn’t know that Canon froze out Zeiss. Canon doesn’t freeze out Sigma and Tamron, both of which make compatible lenses for both Canon and Nikon (many of them, in fact).  Zeiss makes three lenses for Sony cameras but none for Canon and Nikon. I had assumed that Zeiss had some kind of exclusive deal with Sony.

In any case, photographers have long taken camera maker lock-in for granted. And there is history here. Backwards compatibility has always been a hallmark of Nikon with the F-mount, which dates back to 1959. Would Nikon photographers want the company to abandon its mount for lens compatibility with Canon and others? I kinda think not, but I don’t know. I’ve been a Canon guy, like David, since 2005. I shoot a lot, but I don’t have a single lens that a serious photographer would consider good. For example, I own not one L-series lens. (Those are Canon’s best.) All my lenses I bought cheap and/or used (or, in one case, was given to me).  I was a Nikon guy back in the 70s and 80s, but my gear (actually, my company’s gear, but I treated it like my own) all got stolen. Later I was a Pentax guy, but all that stuff got stolen too. Then I was a Minolta guy, and which I stayed until Minolta went out of business (basically getting absorbed into Sony, a company that could hardly be more proprietary and committed to incompatibility). I decided to dabble in digital in 2005, with a Nikon point-and-shoot (the CoolPix 5700, which had great color and an awful UI). I went with Canon for my first (and still only) SLR, an EOS 30D. (I also use a full-frame EOS 5D, but I won’t consider it mine until I’m done paying for it. Meanwhile none of my old lenses work right on it –they all have vignetting — another source of annoying incompatibility.)

Anyway, I do sympathize with David here:

While Nikon and Canon will both say they need to keep their proprietary interfaces to make sure the autofocus is world-class, they are both living in an old-world mentality. The future is open. Some day, you’ll be able to put a Canon lens right on a Nikon body and it will work fine. And you’ll be able to put a Zeiss lens on and it will work even better. But that day is far off. It will only come when the two companies finally realize the mistake they are making with their arms race now and start to talk openly about a better long-term solution.

Stephen Lewis (who is a serious photographer) and I have talked often about the same problem, [later... he says I got this (and much else) wrong, in this comment)] and also look toward the future with some degree of hope. As for faith, I dunno. As companies that are set in their ways go, it’s hard to beat the camera makers.

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Four years and one day ago, we took a trip aboard a sailboat captained by our friend John Pfarr (who a few days later would later sail the same vessel to Hawaii, the South Seas and back — the dude is a serious sailor). Our modest destination was the string of oil platforms that rise above the coastal waters off Santa Barbara. These are now familiar landmarks, and are regarded with both loathing and affection, the latter especially by he sea (most obviously seal) life that abounds on the platforms’ pylons and girders, above and below the waterline.

As always, I took a lot of photos, one of which now also graces the poster for Oil + Water: The Case of Santa Barbara and Southern California, which will take place April 8 – 10, 2010 in the McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB, at UCSB. Specifically,

This conference will explore the ways in which oil and water have created and transformed the history and culture of Santa Barbara and Southern California. Topics will include the Santa Barbara oil spill; the impact of oil on Hollywood; agriculture and marine life; the Owens River Valley; the Salton Sea; cars and car culture; and environmental histories and their lessons.

Important stuff, and highly recommended.

We had a week of record rain here in Eastern Massachusetts. Lots of roads were closed as ponds and brooks overflowed their banks, and drainage systems backed up. At various places on Mass Ave north of Cambridge water was gushing up out of blown-off manhole covers. Traffic was backed up all over the place. Yesterday, the first after the rains stopped, many residents were pumping out basements through fat hoses that snaked out into streets. Much of this water only pooled somewhere else, since many drainage systems were filled too.

In some ways I’ve never stopped being the newspaper photographer I was forty years ago, in my first newspaper job (I didn’t have that many, total, but that was more fun than the rest of them). So I went out and looked for some actual floods worth shooting and found Magnolia Field in Arlington, near the Alewife T stop at the end of the Red Line. It’s a big soccer and lacrosse field, with with the Minuteman Bikeway at one end and a playground for kiddies at the other. It normally looks flat, but inundation by water proved otherwise. I could tell by the high debris mark that most of the field had been covered with water when the flood was at its maximum depth, but there was plenty left when I showed up and shot the photo above and the rest here.

Here’s the field on a sunny spring day, shot by Bing and revealed, too many clicks down, in its “birds eye view” under “aerial”. Here’s a link to the actual Bing view. And here’s Bing’s contribution to an iPhone app called MyWeather, which does a great job of showing a combination of precipitation and clouds, with looping animation:

I took that screen shot at the end of the storm on Monday night. You can see how it was our corner of a huge cyclonic weather system, rotating around an eye of sorts, out in the Atlantic off the Virginia coast. This winter we’ve had a series of these. As I wrote in an earlier post, it was one of these, spinning like a disk with a spindle in New York City, that brought rain to New England and snow pretty much everywhere else in February.

Now it’s Spring, almost literally. The sky was blue and clear as can be, winds calm, temperature hitting 66°. I know it won’t last, but it’s nice to get a break.

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spinning_stormI’ve done much of my weather-watching this Winter using MyWeather, an iPhone app that not only combines satellite and radar views, but shows the motions of both, together.

What has amazed me, through much of the heavy weather that the Middle Atlantic states have had in recent weeks, is how smoothly cyclonic the precipitating weather has been.

For most of February’s last week, a huge  weather system revolved, around one stationary point: New York City. Like a big Lazy Susan it carried snow down from Canada , across the Great Lakes and through Upstate New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, the Virginias, Maryland and New Jersey — and rain from the Atlantic across New England, where some of it fell as snow, some of the time, inland.

So, while record snows fell from DC to NY, here in Boston we mostly got wet, with one day of high winds.

It was also interesting to watch the storm as it went out to sea and organized itself even more convincingly in the shape of a hurricane, complete with something of an eye. I could see it still rotating around, far out to sea, late last night, spinning rain across the Maritimes and down into coastal New England.

Now we have another weather system coming through. It looks like the tail end of the last one, and is forming its own little cyclone right now, off the coast of Virginia.

I just wish Spring would hurry up.

It will, of course. Just not here.

witw1
Years ago, before Flickr came into my life and provided incentives for hyper-identifying everything about every photograph, I had a brief-lived series of photographic teases called Where in the World? — or something like that. (Can’t find the links right now. Maybe later.)

So I thought I’d fire it up again for the shot above, which I took recently on a road trip. Can anybody guess what this is? Bonus points if you can say exactly where.

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olympicice

Anything look familiar about the ice crystals on NBC’s Vancouver Olympics bumper screens (some of which float behind Bob Costas’ head when he sits talking at his desk)?

You can see the originals here. They were shot at our apartment near Boston one year ago, on a morning when it was way below freezing outside, and moisture from inside the house collected in these snowy patterns, a fractal festival on the insides of our storm windows. (All of which our landlady has since replaced with fresh thermal ones, by the way — meaning I’m not going to get those shots again.)

Anyway, I was approached last Fall by NBC about using the shots for their Olympics coverage. They’d found them in my photo pile on Flickr. I said sure. There’s no money in it, but my name will run in the credits.

Meanwhile, it makes watching the show a lot more fun. And it’s a big win for Creative Commons too.

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Bubkes, Stephen Lewis explains, is “Yiddish for beans; early-20th-century Bronx-, Brooklyn-, and Lower-East-Side-ese for very inconsequential matters.” It’s also the name of his blog at Bubkes.org — which, perhaps miraculously, is back up again.

Though not for long.

Bubkes is hosted by Userland, a company that has been bobbing belly-up for the past few months. As Dave wrote in The (safe) future of Radio and Manila, “At some point the userland.com servers will shut down. I don’t know what will be done with the domain. What I care about are the items above. If anyone has an opinion about the other stuff, I don’t know who you would call. I expect to refer to this paragraph many times in the coming weeks and months.” Among the many “items above” is Skywave, an old blog of mine that I’m glad to see kept alive in archived form (and for which I thank Dave and friends for rescuing with other former radio.userland blogs).

Bubkes.org, however, is among the “other stuff” Dave mentioned. So I’m calling on anybody who wants to help convert it from Manila to WordPress, so it can persist as a WordPress blog at the same URL. There are scripts for doing this, but we’re having trouble getting the archive in a convertible form. If any of ya’ll have some ideas, let me know.

Worst case, we move the text and graphics by hand. Those have already been saved off as HTML. But I’d like to give a less labor-intensive alternative a shot before we do that.

spypondhockey

For most of Winter in the Northeast, skating is possible only during the somewhat rare times when the ice is thick and not covered with snow or other unwelcome surface conditions. And bad skating has been the story, typically, for most of this Winter around Boston. After an earlier snow, there were some ad hoc skating rinks cleared by shoveling, but those were ruined by rains, more snow, more rains, and intermittent freezes that made a hash of the surface. But recent rains and hard freezes have formed wide paths between remaining islands of ruined snow. On most ponds there aren’t enough open spaces for real hockey games, but there’s plenty enough for skating, and for hockey practice, anyway. (A note to newbies and outsiders: nearly all lakes here are called ponds. Dunno why yet. Maybe one of ya’ll can tell me. Still a bit of a noob myself.)

Hockey practice is what I saw when I paused to take a sunset shot with my phone at Spy Pond, which I passed it late this afternoon on a long walk along the Minuteman Bikeway, which is one of my favorite walking paths (and thoroughfares — at least when it’s warm and clear enough to bike on). As it happens, Spy Pond ice has some history. There was a period, in the mid- to late-1800s, after railroads got big, but before refrigeration came along, when New England was a source for much of the world’s shipped ice. And Spy Pond itself was one of the most productive sources. This picture here…

spypond_history2

… shows ice being harvested for storage in ice houses beside the railroad which is now the Bikeway. I stood near the left edge of this scene when I took the picture at the top, and the boy and his dad playing hockey were about where at the center left, where a horse is shown pulling what looks like a man with a plow. (That last shot is from this historical display alongside the bikeway.)

The brainfather of Boston’s ice industry was Frederic Tudor, about whom I have learned a great deal from The Ice King: Frederic Tudor and His Circle. Highly recommended, if you’re into half-forgotten New England history. The book came as a bonus with membership in Mystic Seaport, a terrific maritime museum down the road on the Connecticut coast.

[Later...] The industry you see depicted above can also serve as a metaphor. For that a hat tip goes to Robin Lubbock (@RLma), New Media Director of WBUR, who pointed me to this piece by Michael Rosenblum. Nails it. (I also love Rosenblum’s Maybe monetizing is not the answer and Edward III, Crecy and Local TV Newsrooms, also via Robin.)

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Hospitality story

We tested Santa Barbara before moving there, by taking a small apartment near the beach. The apartment was at the uphill (northwest) end of Burton Circle, on Natoma (a paved tangent of Burton’s circle), on the second floor of the keystone-shaped building in the center of this map here. At the time we had no idea that we had plunked ourselves at a kind of Ground Zero of the city’s history.

The first clue came under the apartment across the street. The place was for sale, so we went over to take a look during an open house or something. Our tour paused in the basement laundry room, next to which was an open crawl space floored by loose sand. When I ran my hands through the sand, my skin was blackened by ash. This was a familiar experience for me, since I grew up spending summers in New Jersey’s pine barrens, a sandy expanse of pitch pine and scrub oak that had burned so often since the Pleistocene that the top layer of sand was tinted gray with ash. So I said to the real estate agent, “there’s been a fire here.”

“Oh yes,” he replied. “A huge one. This was the site of the Potter Hotel. It burned down in the Twenties.”

When I dug into local history, I found that our apartment not only sat across the circular driveway of the grand hotel’s entrance but at the crest of Burton Mound, which had been the very center of the Chumash settlement displaced by the Spanish after serving as the closest thing to a native city for perhaps thousands of years before.

All this comes to mind again reading historian Neal Graffy’s excellent article in Edhat on the Potter Hotel and the city that grew up around it. Continue reading there.

[Later...] Note to selves: the Potter Hotel deserves a Wikipedia entry. Let’s make one.

Passive Assistance

saltpond_smFour more of my aerial photos now illustrate their subjects in Wikipedia: Nebraska National Forest and the nearby town of , both in the region; and and Salina (a micro algae that colors salt ponds, such as those on the left), both in the Bay Area.

There are now 120 of my shots in Wikimedia Commons. I put none of them there. I just tag shots aggressively and describe them the best I can (and have time for), and let nature take its course. In these cases nature was PDTillman. Hats off to him.

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Anybody who refuses to leave a mudslide evacuation area needs to watch this video:

It’s a live recording of the slide that killed ten people in LaConchita, California, on January 10, 2005. We know people who knew people who were killed in that slide. The story of the Wallet family is especially tragic. Jimmy Wallet was walking back from a corner store with some ice cream for his family when the mudslide in the video above destroyed his house before his eyes, burying his wife and three little daughters. Only he and his teenage daughter, who was out with friends, lived. Six others also died.

And this wasn’t  an especially big slide — or the first to strike that little community. Here’s one from five years earlier. That killed people too.

I’ve been listening to KNX, which has been reporting on the heavy weather in Southern California, and I’m amazed to hear that a large percentage (40%, I think the reporter said) of evacuees are waiting it out.

Here’s the deal, folks: mudslides are inevitable. If you live below a steep hill or mountain slope in a part of Southern California that’s getting heavy rain, and you’re under an evacuation order, get out. Right now (5:45pm Pacific), Acton. La Crescenta, La Cañada-Flintridge, Glendale, Tujunga Foothill and Sierra Madre all have a total of nearly 2000 homes under evacuation order. (So says the official speaking at a news conference on KNX right now.)

Yesterday I shared some of what John McPhee wrote in The Control of Nature about a mudslide (in Glendale — in the same area under evacuation orders now. Here is the whole passage, courtesy of  this page on Los Angeles provided by United States Geological Survey:

In Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains, it is not always clear which side is losing. For example, the Genofiles, Bob and Jackie, can claim to have lost and won. They live on an acre of ground so high that they look across their pool and past the trunks of big pines at an aerial view over Glendale and across Los Angeles to the Pacific bays. The setting, in cool dry air, is serene and Mediterranean. It has not been everlastingly serene.

On a February night some years ago, the Genofiles were awakened by a crash of thunder — lightning striking the mountain front. Ordinarily, in their quiet neighborhood, only the creek beside them was likely to make much sound, dropping steeply out of Shields Canyon on its way to the Los Angeles River. The creek, like every component of all the river systems across the city from mountains to ocean, had not been left to nature. Its banks were concrete. Its bed was concrete. When boulders were running there, they sounded like a rolling freight. On a night like this, the boulders should have been running. The creek should have been a torrent. its unnatural sound was unnaturally absent. There was, and had been, a lot of rain.

The Genofiles had two teen-age children, whose rooms were on the uphill side of the one-story house. The window in Scott’s room looked straight up Pine Cone Road, a cul-de-sac, which, with hundreds like it, defined the northern limit of the city, the confrontation of the urban and the wild. Los Angeles is overmatched on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by very high mountains. With respect to these principal boundaries, Los Angeles is done sprawling. The San Gabriels, in their state of tectonic youth, are rising as rapidly as any range on Earth. Their loose inimical slopes flout the tolerance of the angle of repose. Rising straight up out of the megalopolis, they stand ten thousand feet above the nearby sea, and they are not kidding with this city. Shedding, spalling, self-destructing, they are disintegrating at a rate that is also among the fastest in the world. The phalanxed communities of Los Angeles have pushed themselves hard against these mountains, an aggression that requires a deep defense budget to contend with the results. Kimberlee Genofile called to her mother, who joined her in Scott’s room as they looked up the street. From its high turnaround, Pine Cone Road plunges downhill like a ski run, bending left and then right and then left and then right in steep christiania turns for half a mile above a three-hundred-foot straight-away that aims directly at the Genofiles’ house. Not far below the turnaround, Shields Creek passes under the street, and there a kink in its concrete profile had been plugged by a six-foot boulder. Hence the silence of the creek. The water was not spreading over the street. It descended in heavy sheets. As the young Genofiles and their mother glimpsed it in the all but total darkness, the scene was suddenly illuminated by a blue electrical flash. In the blue light they saw a massive blackness, moving. It was not a landslide, not a mudslide, not a rock avalanche; nor by any means was it the front of a conventional flood. In Jackie’s words, “It was just one big black thing coming at us, rolling, rolling with a lot of water in front of it, pushing the water, this big black thing. It was just one big black hill coming toward us.”

In geology, it would be known as a debris flow. Debris flows amass in stream valleys and more or less resemble fresh concrete. They consist of water mixed with a good deal of solid material, most of which is above sand size. Some of it is Chevrolet size. Boulders bigger than cars ride long distances in debris flows. Boulders grouped like fish eggs pour downhill in debris flows. The dark material coming toward the Genofiles was not only full of boulders; it was so full of automobiles it was like bread dough mixed with raisins. On its way down Pine Cone Road, it plucked up cars from driveways and the street. When it crashed into the Genofiles’ house, the shattering of safety glass made terrific explosive sounds. A door burst open. Mud and boulders poured into the hall. We’re going to go, Jackie thought. Oh, my God, what a hell of a way for the four of us to die together.

The parents’ bedroom was on the far side of the house. Bob Genofile was in there kicking through white satin draperies at the paneled glass, smashing it to provide an outlet for water, when the three others ran in to join him. The walls of the house neither moved nor shook. As a general contractor, Bob had built dams, department stores, hospitals, six schools, seven churches, and this house. It was made of concrete block with steel reinforcement, 16 inches on center. His wife had said it was stronger than any dam in California. His crew had called it “the fort.” In those days, 20 years before, the Genofiles’ acre was close by the edge of the mountain brush, but a developer had come along since then and knocked down thousands of trees and put Pine Cone Road up the slope. Now Bob Genofile was thinking, I hope the roof holds. I hope the roof is strong enough to hold. Debris was flowing over it. He told Scott to shut the bedroom door. No sooner was the door closed that it was battered down and fell into the room. Mud, rock, water poured in. It pushed everybody against the far wall. “Jump on the bed,” Bob said. The bed began to rise. Kneeling on it — on a gold velvet spread — they could soon press their palms against the ceiling. The bed also moved toward the glass wall. The two teen-agers got off, to try to control the motion, and were pinned between the bed’s brass railing and the wall. Boulders went up against the railing, pressed it into their legs, and held them fast. Bob dived into the muck to try to move the boulders, but he failed. The debris flow, entering through windows as well as doors, continued to rise. Escape was still possible for the parents but not for the children. The parents looked at each other and did not stir. Each reached for and held one of the children. Their mother felt suddenly resigned, sure that her son and daughter would die and she and her husband would quickly follow. The house became buried to the eaves. Boulders sat on the roof. Thirteen automobiles were packed around the building, including five in the pool. A din of rocks kept banging against them. The stuck horn of a buried car was blaring. The family in the darkness in their fixed tableau watched one another by the light of a directional signal, endlessly blinking. The house had filled up in six minutes, and the mud stopped rising near the children’s chins.”

Note that these flows don’t happen only when it’s still raining. Here’s one that happened along the Hayward Fault, in Fremont, that I remember watching from across the South Bay when we lived in Emerald Hills, California, in the late Nineties. It moved slowly and didn’t take out any houses; but it almost did, and was dramatic to watch. It wasn’t raining at the time. The mountainside was saturated with water from earlier rains, and chose its own time to give.

In terms of Geology, California is new. If you were to run a short video of the last few hundred thousand years in Southern California, you’d see a riot of mountains forming, sliding sideways and collapsing. If you were to do the same for the mountains of Arkansas or North Carolina, you’d see almost nothing happening.

Living anywhere is a game of russian roulette with nature: a bet that grand geologic or weather events will not occur within our brief lifespans. In communities like La Conchita, and others placed below dirt sure to move, there are many more bullets in the chambers.

But denial is a powerful force. When I first moved to Santa Barbara, and drove past La Conchita on Highway 1, I was astounded that anybody would chance to build there, because big landslides had obviously happened already, and more were sure to come. Since the mudslide of 2005, many people continue to live in La Conchita, and insist that the county “fix” the mountain above them — even though geologists have studied the region closely and said this:

The 1995 and 2005 landslides in the 200-m high sea cliff above the community of La Conchita, California, are known to be part of a reactivated Holocene prehistoric landslide. We propose that the prehistoric Holocene slide is part of a much larger, several hundred million cubic meter late Pleistocene slide complex composed of upper slumps and lower flows, informally termed as the Rincon Mountain megaslide.

On the positive side, rain on SoCal’s low elevations in winter means snow on the high peaks. If the air clears, Los Angeles will be flanked by white alps. I guarantee great skiing on Mt. Baldy when this thing is over. Provided there isn’t a debris flow blocking the road going up there.

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rotenboden_sleds

I grew up on our town’s best hill for sledding. After a good snowfall, the town would sometimes block the steet so kids from all over could ride down the hill. The top was steep, but there was a long flat straight-away at the bottom. We used to compete to see who went fastest, and who coasted farthest.

But this was in Maywood, New Jersey, a small hunk of suburb that was closer to Manhattan than parts of Queens. And, this being where it was, Winter weather was not always snow. In fact, most of the time forecasts were the dreaded “snow, mixed with and changing to rain.” Now they call this “wintry mix.”

We also have weather radar now, showing densities of rain and snow. My own favorite is Intellicast, which produced this image here:

As you see most of Boston was under the pink “mixed” yesterday morning. It started with rain in the wee hours, changed to snow, and then a mix of snow, rain and sleet until the storm passed after sunrise. The result is a layer of white slush atop an ugly uneven mostly-worn-out half-thawed and re-frozen snow from the last storm, which was around two weeks ago.  What we’ve got now is not stuff you’d want to sled on, much less drive. So I stayed in most of the day.

I know they got about a foot of snow up in the ski areas of southern Vermont and New Hampshire. Maine too, I guess. Wish I could go there today, but duties call and the kid’s in school. If we’re lucky we’ll get another storm just before the weekend.

As for sledding, when we were in Zermatt after Christmas, I became fascinated by the kinds of sleds they use in Switzerland, shot in the pic at the top. They looked nothing like the American sleds I grew up with, the most popular of which were Flexible Flyers. I see here — and on hills around Boston, anyway — that the Flexible Flyer has passed out of fashion. In fact, I see few steerable sleds at all. Mostly just plastic shells that go where they will.

Samuel Leeds Allen, inventor of the Flexible Flyer (the world’s first steerable sled) has his own Wikipedia entry at that last link. But alas, the Flexible Flyer itself does not. (Where are your obsessives when you need them?)

Wow, I just discovered that I took a movie of sledding from the the top of the run alongside the ski slopes of Gornergrat, facing the Matterhorn, starting at the Rotenboden/Rifflesee rail stop, and added a link to it behind the still frame I lifed from it and put at the top of this post. It shows pretty well how the local sleds look and work there. Most of the crowd noise you hear there is Italian. In fact Italy is not far away. The Matterhorn, aka Monte Cervino, is half-Italian.

Looking at the white slush outside, I wish we were still there.

By the way, it’s snowing outside now. Rain is expected later.

Last month The Kid and I went to the top of the Empire State Building on the kind of day pilots describe as “severe clear.” I put some of the shots up here, and just added a bunch more here, to share with fellow broadcast engineering and infrastructure obsessives, some of whom might like to help identify some of the stuff I shot.

Most of these shots were made looking upward from the 86th floor deck, or outward from the 102nd floor. Most visitors only go to the 86th floor, where you can walk outside, and where the view is good enough. It costs an extra $15 per person to go up to the 102nd floor, which is small, but much less crowded. From there you can see but one item of broadcast interest, and it’s so close you could touch it if the windows opened. This is the old Alford master FM antenna system: 32 fat T-shaped things, sixteen above the windows and sixteen below, all angled at 45°.

From the 1960s to the 1980s (and maybe later, I’m not sure yet), these objects radiated the signals of nearly every FM station in New York. They’re still active, as backup antennas for quite a few stations. The new master antennas (there are three of them) occupy space in the tower above, which was vacated by VHF-TV antennas (channels 2-13) when TV stations gradually moved to the World Trade Center after it was completed in 1975.

When the twin towers went down on 9/11/2001, only Channel 2 (WCBS-TV) still had an auxiliary antenna on the Empire State Building. The top antenna on the ESB’s mast appears to be a Channel 2 antenna, still. In any case, it is no longer in use, or usable, since the FCC evicted VHF TV stations from their old frequencies as part of last year’s transition to digital transmission. Most of those stations now radiate on UHF channels. (All the stations continue to use their old channel numbers, even though few of them actually operate on those channels.) Two of those stations — WABC-TV and WPIX-TV — have construction permits to move back to their old channels (7 and 11, respectively).

That transition has resulted in a lot of new stuff coming onto the Empire State Building, a lot of old stuff going away, and a lot of relics still up there, waiting to come down or just left there because it’s too much trouble to bother right now. Or so I assume.

For some perspective, here is an archival photo of WQXR’s original transmitting antenna, atop the Chanin Building, with the Empire State Building in the background. The old antenna, not used in many years, is still up there. Meanwhile the Empire State building’s crown has morphed from a clean knob to a spire bristling with antennae.

Calling the Fat Tail

I think I’ve figured out a lot of what’s up there, and have made notes on some of the photos. But I might be wrong about some, or many. In any case, a lot of mysteries remain. That’s why I’m appealing to what I call the “fat tail” for help.

The “fat tail” is the part of the long tail that likes to write and edit Wikipedia entries. These are dedicated obsessives of the sort who, for example, compile lists of the tallest structures in the world, plus the many other lists and sub-lists linked to from that last item.

Tower freaks, I’m talking about. I’m one of them, but just a small potato compared to the great , who reports on a different tower site every week. Among the many sites he has visited, the Empire State Building has been featured twice:  January 2001 and November 2003. Maybe this volunteer effort will help Scott and his readers keep up with progress at the ESB.

This Flickr set, by the way, is not at my home pile, but rather at a new one created for a group of folks studying infrastructure at Harvard’s Berkman Center, where I’m a fellow. I should add that I am also studying the same topic (specifically the overlap between Internet and infrastructure) as a fellow with the Center for Information Technology and Society at UCSB.

Infrastructure is more of a subject than a field. I unpack that distinction a bit here. My old pal and fellow student of the topic, , visits the topic here.

Getting back to the Empire State Building, what’s most interesting to me about the infrastructure of broadcasting, at least here in the U.S., is that it is being gradually absorbed into the mobile data system, which is still captive to the mobile phone system, but won’t be forever. For New York’s FM stations, the old-fashioned way to get range is to put antennas in the highest possible places, and radiate signals sucking thousands of watts off the grid. The new-fashioned way is to put a stream on the Net. Right now I can’t get any of these stations in Boston on an FM radio. In fact, it’s a struggle even to get them anywhere beyond the visible horizons of the pictures I took on the empire State Building. But they come in just fine on my phone and my computer.

What “wins” in the long run? And what will we do with all these antennas atop the Empire State Building when it’s over? Turn the top into what King Kong climbed? Or what it was designed to be in the first place?

Infrastructure is plastic. It changes. It’s solid, yet replaceable. It needs to learn, to adapt. (Those are just a few of the lessons we’re picking up.)

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newyear_zermatt_fireworks

It’s almost 3am in Zermatt, which turns into one huge party town for New Years. First we rode in from a nice day in Lausanne on a train packed with rowdy party-goers. Then we found Zermatt turned into one wild-ass place. Fireworks — big ones — were set off from everywhere all over the town, and up on the steep mountain sides. It looked and sounded like a war was going on. The fireworks started before midnight, became a solid cacphony when the cellphones (not very evenly) struck midnight, and went on, solid, for at least an hour more. Meanwhile, on the ground, we were soaked, repeatedly, by shaken bottles of champagne squirted everywhere. Another one was dropped and exploded like a grenade at my feet. I’m surprised I wasn’t cut by it. Bottles, butts and debris are everywhere. Hate the be the ones cleaning the mess up in the morning.

The shot above was looking straight up from in front of the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof. Guys set off these boxes of fireworks, only a few feet from the crowd of spectators. Very different from the more cautious U.S. stafety procedures.

That’s the full moon on the right, by the way. Earlier it was partially eclipsed. That’s about as full as it gets.

Tomorrow is our last full day here. Looking forward to another day in the mountains. Meanwhile it’s still yesterday if you live in the Americas. Welcome to the New Year, everybody.

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matterhorn_by_moonlight

There are mountains, and there is the Matterhorn. It’s all a matter of sculpture and presentation. Great art, great framing.

The Matterhorn is ice sculpture. It was carved by ice out of rock pushed to the sky by a collision between Italy and Europe that’s still going on. The ice was as high as the mountain, or higher, and the carved off parts are scattered all over the Alps and its alluvial fans, discarded by water and wind when the ice cap melted, only a few millennia before the Pyramids showed up. Go back to when the ice was at high tide, and the Alps looked like the near-buried parts of Greenland do today. (See here, here and here.)

The shot above was what the Matterhorn looked like by moonlight on our way back to the hotel tonight. There’s hardly a thing on Earth more impressive than that.

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matterhorn-gornergrat_pano

The shot above is a pano taken by The Kid with my iPhone, which isn’t good for much else here in Switzerland. (Click here or on the shot to see the original, including larger sizes.) On the left is the Matterhorn, which may be the most impressive mountain on Earth. It’s hard to imagine more glorious ski slopes than those surrounding Zermatt, all of which either face the Matterhorn or occupy its flanks.

Skiing was good on the upper runs, but icy on the lower ones. The four inches of fresh powder yesterday, plus fresh artificial snow in places, was a big help. But the heavy rains on Christmas day are still preserved in a layer of ice.

Near the end of the day, the kid and I took a wrong turn and had to navigate our way down runs that were a bit advanced, at least for me. (I’m an intermediate skier at best.) I fell more times than I bothered to count, though not on the steepest sections. I think I just wore out. So we’re taking a day or two off from skiing and doing less strenuous things.

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stpaul_paternoster
So I’ve been out and about London the 2-3 days. Had a great time. Beautiful city in Christmas season, even (or perhaps especially) in the rain. Not much connectivity, or time to connect, actually. The above is one of the few pix I took, before breakfast with JP Rangaswami this (or yesterday, depending) morning. Shot it with a little pocket camera. Not bad, considering. Moon over a spire of St. Paul’s Cathedral from Paternoster Square, one of my haunts there. I leave in a few hours for DC, then Boston. See ya’ll stateside.

I was gonna tweet this, but Twitter’s down again. #LeWeb, I guess.

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saltpond

Before the salt in evaporating sea water turns white, it goes through stages of color that range from jade green to brick red, with variations of orange, yellow and other colors. From above the salt ponds around San Francisco Bay look like giant panes of stained glass. The shot above is from my latest set, shot on approach to SFO last week.

Here’s another series.

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Wow: Regis McKenna‘s Wikipedia entry is one short paragraph. Geoffrey Moore‘s is barely more than a stub. We’re talking here about two of the greatest marketing minds in human history. I’m not joking. Amazing.

Neither has a picture, either. I just checked my own 31,000-shot gallery, and didn’t find either one. I did find the great Phil Moore, however. Like I said at that link, one of my heroes.

boreray

Painted Cave. Lava Falls Trail. Uinkaret Volcanic Field. Nat Friedman. Denver International Airport. Sarah Lacy. Rainsford Island. Dorney Lake. David Boies. A peak above a glacier. Rim of the World Highway. Elena Kagan. Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Lake Havasu. Berneray, North Uist. Spectacle Island. San Gorgonio Mountain. River Nith. Paul Trevithick. Dumont Dunes. Tunitas Creek. Steve Gillmor. Boreray, North Uist. Guido van Rossum. Nunavut Shadows. Bristol Dry Lake. Brunswick Nuclear Generating Station.

All shots I’ve taken. All put in Wikimedia Commons, and (in nearly all cases above) in Wikipedia, by persons other than myself.

All I did was post them on Flickr, label and tag them well, so they could be found and used, via the Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

That’s just some of them, by the way. Lots more where they came from. One hundred and five, so far.

manicouagan

Above is the best (or the widest) shot I could get of Lake Manicouagan, which is the largest visible impact crater on Earth. Only three (or maybe four) are larger and none are visible.

The Manicouagan impact event happened about 214 million years ago, give or take. That was 14 million years before the end of the Triassic, which was first of the three “dinosaur ages” of the Mesozoic, an era that came to an end with the Chicxulub impact. Coming that far in advance the Manicouagan event  may not have been to blame for a mass extinction, but it wouldn’t have been pleasant.

There are better photos in the series, but it was a hazy day and the one above does the best job of showing the crater’s edges.

I’ve been wanting to see (and shoot) Manicouagan for many years, but routes and weather had never obliged before. This time they did, which was cool.

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bypassbridge

The shot above, made on Sunday out the window of a plane on approach to Las Vegas, comes three and a half years after this shot, which I took from the ground at Hoover Dam. Here’s a whole set of the fly-by. Not much of the dam shows. The Colorado River gorge is easier to see.

Two things stand out for me in this scene. One is the remarkable engineering involved in building the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, better known as the Hoover Dam Bypass. The other is that, from altitude — far more than from the ground — you can see the volcanic nature and origin of the rock supporting both the bridge and hte dam. I’ve been looking around for source docs online that detail the provenance of this rock, which needs to be of a competence sufficient to anchor one of the world’s biggest dams, while also supporting a bridge over a gorge. As I recall from the visit, it’s rhyolite. But, not sure. Looks like it. Maybe Arizona Geology can fill us in.

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Fire from above

stationfire_from_above

Above is a picture of the Station Fire, taken from the plane I was riding from Santa Barbara to Denver on Monday afternoon. I believe the water body at the bottom is the San Gabriel Reservoir. It lies in the midst of the San Gabriel Mountains, most of which are in the Angeles National Forest, much of which got burned up in the last two weeks.

I didn’t see this scene myself, since I was seated on the left side of the plane, with a view of the Mojave desert. But I knew the fire was there, below the right side of the plane, which had a perfect view of the burn area. So I handed my camera over to people sitting on the right side, and they made the shots.

The fire has been burning itself out in the back country, which it was doing on Monday when that shot was taken. Current stats: 160,357 acres, 71% contained, 3,647 personnel, containment expected on Tuesday September 15th, 2009, at approximately 6:00 PM. (Yes, they’re that precise.)

Here’s my whole set of Station Fire-related images.

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redwoods

Why do mature redwood trees have trunks that rise two hundred feet before branches commence, live for centuries and have bark that’s a foot thick? Because they are adapted to fire.

zaca

Why does the silver-green chaparral that covers California’s hills and mountains burn so easily? Because it’s supposed to.

calpoppies

Why, other than its color, is the California Poppy such an appropriate flower for the Golden State? Because it is adapted to both fire and earthquakes. Says Wikipedia, “It grows well in disturbed areas and often recolonizes after fires”.

Of course, so do we. That’s why it’s not weird to find humans colonizing hillsides and other “disturbed areas” of California. Case in point: I am writing this in a house sited on an former landslide, not far from the perimeters of two wildfires that claimed hundreds of other houses in the past few months.

Every spot on Earth is temporary, but California is a special example. As permanence goes, California is a house of cards.

For example, take a look at some of the animations here, prepared by geologists at UCSB. Watch as a sheet of crust the size of a continent gets shoved under the western edge of North America. Debris that piled up in the trench where that happened is what we now call the Bay Area. Submerged crust that melted, rose and hardened under North America — and was just recently exposed — we now call the Sierras. Take a look at the last 20 million years of Southern California history. It’s a wreck that’s still going on. One section of that wreck is a bend along the boundary between plates of crust. Mountains pile up along that bend, like snow in front of a plow. The biggest of these ranges we call the San Gabriels. Those are on fire right now. Add up all the Southern California wildfires over the last twenty years and you’ll get a territory exceeding that of several smaller states.

My point is perspective. The human one is so brief that it can hardly take in the full scope of What’s Going On, or what our lives contribute to it. In a geological context, what we contribute are carbon and fossils. We do that by dying. Other planets have geologies as well, but none have marble, limestone, coal or oil. Those are all produced by dead plants and animals. It would be hard to make heat on Mars because — as far as we know — there is no dead stuff to burn.

Humans love to make structures and produce heat, which means we have an unusually strong appetite for dead stuff. Even cement and steel require dead stuff in their making.

If you fly a lot, as I do, you start to notice black lines on the landscape. These are coal trains that move like ant trails from mines in the West to power plants all over the country. The largest of these mines are in Wyoming, more than 50% of which has coal to burn. This coal consists of dead stuff that has been buried for dozens of millions of years, and took at least as long to form. In Uncommon Carriers, John McPhee says the largest power plant in Georgia, Plant Sherer, “burns nearly thirteen hundred coal trains a year—two thousand miles of coal cars, twelve million tons of the bedrock of Wyoming.”

Nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you’re not human.

From any scope wider than our own, we are a pestilential species. Since the human diaspora began spreading out of Africa only a few thousand generations ago, we have chewed our way through land and species at a rate without equal in the history of the Earth, which began 4.567 billion years ago, or more than a third of the way back to the start of the Universe. We are distinguished by our intelligence, our powers of speech and expression, our ability to use tools and to build things, our ability to learn and teach, and our diversity (no two of us, even twins, are exactly alike). There are 6.781 billion of us now. Few of us will live more than a hundred years, and fewer still will have more than a few decades to contribute more than carbon to the world.

Among the many recent developments in civilization, two stand out. One is a widespread realization that the effects of human activity on the planet are non-trivial. The other is a growing ability to connect with each other and communicate over any distance at very little cost. What will we do with this knowledge, and the ability to share it? Will we follow the model of civilizations that waste the places where they live? Or will we prove to be creatures who can change their nature and stop doing that?

The former is the way to bet. The latter is the way to go.

Bonus read: John McPhee’s The Control of Nature. A third of it is called “Los Angeles vs. The San Gabriel Mountains.” While it is mostly about “debris flows” — slow motion landslides — that happen during winter rains, the important part for today’s discussion involves a primary condition for those flows: mountain slopes denuded of vegetation by fires. This means you can count on many mudslides this coming winter.

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090720-jupiter-spot-impact-picture_big

When I read that an impact had been spotted on Jupiter, I figured it was somewhere other than the equator, which would be a bulls-eye. Even Shoemaker-Levy, a huge comet broken into a string of pieces, slammed like a series of machine gun bullets into Jupiter near its south pole.

But this one was bigger. See above. And read the story. That black hole in the side of Jupiter is nearly as big as our whole planet. [Woops, not quite. DFR points out in a comment below that the black spot is certainly a moon shadow. Jupiter has four big ones, they do make shadows like that, they are all on the planet’s equator, they’re all a good deal smaller than the Earth (being moons), and I should have known better. Anyway…

And nobody saw it coming.

One good thing is that Jupiter is kind of a crap sweeper, gliding around the inside edge of the outer solar system with a nice big gravitational field, sucking up debris that might otherwise clobber one of your inner planets, such as ours.

By the way, that bright point of light in the eastern sky these evenings is Jupiter. The smaller points of light on either side of it and close by are its moons. The clear-eyed can make them out on a dark night. And they’re quite obvious through good telescopes.

Oh, by the way, there’s a total solar eclipse happening right now in Asia. The NASA server with cool info seems to be hosed. So do some other sites I’ve checked (not that my connection is good right now… we’re back to high latencies again). But Shadow & Substance is on the scene and covering it live. Lots of fun stuff there.

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nick_givotovsky

I remember talking to Nick Givotovsky the first time at an early Internet Identity Workshop, when he pulled me aside to share some ideas, and immediately stripped my gears. The guy was as smart as they come, and articulate to an extreme equaled by few. I had to stop him every few sentences to get him to dumb it down a bit, or at least to let me catch up. Many conversations followed, in many settings. Every encounter with Nick was engaging and mind-sharpening.

We became friends — or as close as people get when they’re mutually engaged in a number of projects, and enjoy each other’s company, as well as each other’s minds and hearts. I called him “Nicky G.”

Best I can recall, Nick came to nearly every IIW, plus workshops on VRM, networking and much more. He always contributed, always brought a warm smile and good sense of humor. He was serious, but didn’t take himself too seriously. A rare combination. Also notable was Nick’s mode of engagement. He was always original, often challenging, but never hostile or obstructive. And his mind was always open, always curious, always ready to step up and participate.

As I recall, the last I saw Nick was at the IIW this past May. He left a bit early to get back to his farm in Cornwall, Connecticut. I remember him talking about this old tractor he had, and how much he enjoyed operating it. He died this last Friday after falling off (what I assume is) that tractor. More of the story is here and here. (I share those links there for the record, but they are not pleasant reading.)

Nick’s last post on one of the many lists in which he participated told the story of his older brother’s death. “I think he did it astonishingly ‘right’, if such a thing can be said of dying,” Nick wrote.

Alas, Nick died wrong. And way too young. He was just 44. He leaves his wife and two kids. Plus many shocked and saddened friends.

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column

Hard to tell from the looks of these, but they’re columns in front of the Park Plaza Hotel in London. The rest of my London shots from last week are here.

madison-at-dawn

On the same flight that started with The Cities in darkness and ended with Chicago at sunrise, my flight glided over Madison, Wisconsin, which I shot in the dawn’s early light. The shot above leads to the whole series. I need to go back and correct the botched tags on many of them. Meanwhile, locals can fill me in on what I got right and wrong.

One of these years I’d like to actually visit Madison, on the ground. Meanwhile, this will have to do.

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chicago_skyline

Just posted this series of shots taken while flying into Chicago at dawn in early April

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Pano of Harvard Yard

We are severely into Pano. It’s an amazing free (woops, $2.99) app for the iPhone that lets you take panoramic shots — first by helping you line up one shot after another, and second by stitching them together remarkably well. The above is the first of two shot at Harvard’s Old Yard. I made small mistakes on both, but so what. They’re a load of fun, and not bad, considering.

Check these out.

jesusita_google_modis10

Where most of my earlier shots in this series were of fire detection and spread across time, the one above (and in the larger linked shot, on Flickr) is of “fire radiative power”. If you look at the whole set, you can get an idea of both intensity and spread across time. Again, these are from MODIS, which is an instrument system on satellites passing more than 700km overhead. Still, it finds stuff, and dates it. That’s why this next shot is very encouraging:

jesusita_google_modis11

It will sure spread some more, but we can see the end coming. Here’s the whole photo set.

And here’s the latest update on exactly what burned (addresses and all) from Matt Kettmann (Contact), Sam Kornell , Chris Meagher (Contact), Ben Preston (Contact), Ethan Stewart (Contact) of the Independent.

They also issue a caution:

The bad news is that the fire still threatens parts of Goleta to the west, the Painted Cave community to the north, and, to the east, parts of Santa Barbara and Montecito, where the evacuation order was just extended once again.

Those Indy folks did — and are still doing — an outstanding job, deserving of whatever rewards are coming their way. Great work by everybody else reporting on the fire as well. Kudos all around.

And great work, of course, by the firefighters. They saved the city. If you’ve ever seen a fire this big and threatening (for example, Oakland, which I did see, and which took out more than 3500 homes), you know how hard it is to stop. Around 80 homes were lost in this one. It could have been many more. If Cheltenham, or the Riviera, had gone up, and the sundowner winds kept blowing, it’s not hard to imagine losing the whole city, since the rain of flaming debris would have caused a true firestorm. From the same Indy report:

“The firefighters must have sat in every single backyard and held it off. The fire reached literally the backyards of every single one of them, but I didn’t see a single house burned up there.”

The mountains won’t be as pretty for a couple of years. But the city will also be safer. That’s the upside. 2:54pm Pacific

Here is a great map that shows all three fires in the last year, as well as good information about the ongoing Jesusita Fire.

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jesusita_google_modis8

(Scroll to the bottom for my latest. Not the latest, just mine.)

The shot above looks west from the eastern flank of the Jesusita fire, above Montecito.  The overlays are MODIS (the dots and squares) and GEOMAC (the red line). I think the GEOMAC data is older, but I’m not sure. Both were downloaded at about 4:42am, Pacific time. The newest detections are red and the oldest are yellow. They are from instruments on satellites and may or may not indicate major fire activity. One during the Tea Fire suggested that the fire had spread far down into the Riviera district and toward town. When I checked the spot, it turned out to have been a fire in part of a small isolated oak tree. No fire had spread to or from there.

Still, the data do show changes in the fire’s approximate perimeter over time. Step through this photoset and you can see how the fire has gone over the past few days.

Sean Trek has a way of seeing MODIS with radiative power.

It looks to me now like the next challenge, after saving lives and homes, is keeping the fire from burning for many more days or weeks across the back country. The trick here is to let the fire take nature’s course while also keeping it away from civilization. It is a significant fact that California’s state tree (the Coast Redwood) and state flower (the California Poppy) are both adapted to fire. One might also make the case that the latter is adapted to earthquakes.

I don’t doubt that if any of the three most recent fires — Gap, Tea and Jesusita — had hit fifty years ago, much of Santa Barbara would have been cremated by this morning. Since we are among more than 30,000 current evacuees, that might  have included our house too. Firefighting and team coordination have vastly improved just since the 1990 Painted Cave Fire, when more than 600 homes were lost. Experience from that fire led to many of the improvements that saved homes this past week. (For a history of Santa Barbara’s wildfires, go to Santa Barbara Outdoors, and read the remarkable series that starts here. It covers the eight fires between 1955 and 1990.)

Life everywhere is a losing game with death. We just hope that the substantive things we do and build will outlive us. In much of California, the chance that our homes will outlive us is smaller than most other places. Some homes lost in the Tea Fire had replaced homes on the same property that had burned in 1964 Coyote Fire and again in the 1977 Sycamore Fire. Among disasters that might befall homes in California, only earthquakes are more certain to occur, and in more places. Hence the higher insurance costs.

But still the graces of living here are exceptionally high. Mild, sunny weather. Clean air. Beautiful mountains and beaches. Wonderful people. Excellent university. So we do.

And every day we should thank the heroic work required of the firefighters who keep the worst of nature at bay. Posted 5:38am, Pacfic.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to see the subtitle in Gretchen Miller’s report in the Independent, Fires Burn In Canyon Near Painted Cave: Favorable Weather Conditions Keep Fire Under Control. From around 10pm last night. 6:20am

The LA Times has a story on the fire, dated 10:28pm last night.

Last night on KCLU before going to sleep I heard that the Gane House at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden was destroyed. This confirms it. 6:28am

A news conference is scheduled for 8am. Just heard that on KNX, which has done an excellent job covering the fire.

Okay, the press conference just ended. KCLU, KNX and KTYD (and, presumably, some or all of its four sister stations) all carried it. KCLU bailed before it was over. So did KNX, though they stuck it out a bit longer. Only KTYD stayed until the end. (Bravo for them.)

The news that matters is that the fire is “contained” along the northern border of Santa Barbara. Thus spake SB Fire Chief Andrew DeMizio (who always starts by spelling his name). He was glad to see “that black line” on the new Incident map. Contained does not mean put out. He had another word for that, but I forget what it was.

The language is interesting. A fire is an “indicent”. Police, fire, Red Cross and other personnel are “assets”. Lifting an evacuation order is “repopulation”. My kid just said, “I thought ‘repopulation’ was what you got after the first population has died”.

Inexcusable, if true: No questions about locations still apparently threatened. (Could be that somebody asked and I didn’t hear it.) Specifically, the only two communities up in the Santa Ynez Mountains, overlooking the city: Painted Cave and Flores Flat. I gathered from the Indy story mentioned above that Painted Cave was okay. But the only way I knew that Flores Flat survived was from a little human interest feature that KNX has been running over and over again: comments by a woman who gave advice about what to take and what to leave behind. She said she had resigned herself to losing her home in Flores Flat, but was surprised to find it had survived. Frankly, I’m amazed that Flores Flat is okay. I’ll bet the firefighters gave special attention to that one. Maybe one of the places where the DC-10 laid down some of its 12000+ gallons of fire retardant was between Flores Flat and the fire.

Flores Flat is far up Gibraltar Road, between Gibraltar Peak (where many of Santa Barbara’s FM stations radiate from, including KCLU and KTYD) and the site farther up the mountain face where hang gliders and paragliders launch toward the city when the winds are right.  From the looks of the map and overlays above, the fire movement was eastward away from Gibraltar, and up and over the crest of the ridge near Montecito Peak to the east and LaCumbre Peak to the west.

The Tea Fire surely created a fire break as well. It burned much of Gibraltar road, and up the face of Gibraltar Peak, where it roasted the antennas of KCLU and many of the other stations there. KTYD and its AM sister KTMS are located a few hundred feet above and behind there, so they survived.  To the west of there are some of the main power lines that supply the city. As I recall those lines are draped quite high, and I suppose survived the fire as it approached Gibraltar road this time. Other high power lines coming into the Goleta side of town were hurt in the Gap Fire last summer, knocking out power for much of the city at the time.

The weather is much better now. Cooler, and moist, with marine layer fog moving in off the Pacific Ocean to the south. Vari0us officials cautioned that this could change, and in fact it probably will. Typical late Spring and Summer weather is early morning fog, burning off as the day goes on. Whether hot “sundowner” winds return is still an open question, but various weather sources suggest that won’t happen. On the other hand, if the fire gets into Paradise Valley on the north side of the ridge, the story might be different. The climate there tends to be much hotter and dryer than on the Santa Barbara side of the mountains. 8:50am

We have friends in Worchester who were going to Santa Barbara to see Katy Perry’s last show, in her home town. That last link is from Noozhawk, which I’ve neglected to follow more closely. The reason is that Santa Barbara is being repopulated with a raft of new and improved media sources growing like a ring of redwood sprouts where a mighty tree has fallen. That tree is the Santa Barbara News-Press, a once fine newspaper that was (and remains) in a much better position to survive than papers in other cities that are owned by stressed public companies or private individuals with shallower pockets. The story of the News-Press’s meltdown is not yet the stuff of legend, only because it’s still going on. Kind of like a fallen tree with a few intact roots, staying alive, but barely. For more on that, just look up Wendy McCaw on Google. Or read Craig Smith. It’s his main beat. A sample:

A major fire in town didn’t stop the Santa Barbara News-Press from doing business as usual. In this case, “business as usual,” meant laying people off.

This time, the unlucky employee was Jued Martinez. He was a digital image technician for the paper, the “go-to-guy for Photoshop issues,” as he put it, working in the camera (pre-press) department for many 15 years.

He announced his own layoff via Twitter around 1:40 Thursday afternoon by saying, “Wow! I’m available for Design work now. Just got laid off from the SBNP. Feel a little better now, not worrying about it.”

To witness how retro and self-destructive the News-Press is, go to their Jesusita Fire Coverage page. Click on a story. Say, this one. You get one sentence. Then you’re told to long in. Subscribers only. Hell, even when we were subscribers, we couldn’t get in there. I’m sure it all disappears or scrolls behind a paywall after a few days in any case. Gone like snow on the water.

Except as a source of fodder about itself, the News-Press plays a self-minimized role in the local news ecology. For getting news on the fire, that includes:

  1. Twitter search for Jesustiafire or Jesusita (@latimesfires uses this search)
  2. Google News search for Jesusita (most recent)
  3. The Independent
  4. Edhat
  5. Noozhawk
  6. City2
  7. KNX
  8. KTYD
  9. KCLU
  10. KCSB

With the radio stations, I mean their streams, not their sites.

I’ll add others later (including stream addresses). Gotta go. Here’s a photo pool in the meantime. 9:33am

And here’s one last photo, courtesy of the only commenter so far on this post:

jesusita_google_modis9

Thanks, nathan. 10:19am

They’re “repopulating” at last. The worst is over. 10:48am

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East Coasters, look up

Minotaur rocket trail from 2005 launch

Minotaur rocket trail from 2005 launch

Glaring Rocket Launch Could Surprise East Coast Residents Tuesday Evening reads the headline of a post by Joe Rao at Space.com. In it he points to a video I taped in 2005 with my kid of a similar launch on the west coast. You can watch it here.

The launch will take place on Wallops Island, Virginia, but should become visible up to hundreds of miles away as the rocket arcs upward into space. Look for the launch starting at 8pm Tuesday. If the view is clear, you’re in for a treat.

Click on the image above (or here) for some still shots from the same launch.

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It all started here.

It all started here. With Platform A: the first of thirty-some oil platforms built in the 1960s off the coast of Southern California. To anybody looking seaward from Santa Barbara, the platforms are nearly as much a fixture of the horizon as the Channel Islands beyond. The three closest, Platforms A, B and C, are just several miles out.

On January 28, 1969, Platform A had a blow-out. As much as 100,000 barrels of oil rose to the surface and spread. Had the oil been carried away from shore, the event might have been small news. But instead it gunked up the coast, ruining Santa Barbara’s harbor for a time, and treating the world to the first of many iconic visuals: tar-covered sea birds.

Long story short, Earth Day followed.

Some pictures from the time.

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First, a big thanks to all the folks at Yahoo who ran down and helped fix the problem behind the post below. Turns out I had two IDs, one for Yahoo and one for Flickr, and that the two were never joined, or merged, or whatever it is. They still aren’t, but it’s cool. The only one I care about (at least at this point) is the Flickr one. I still don’t understand what went wrong, exactly, but at least now I know for sure what the logins and passwords are, for both accounts.

So I just celebrated by uploading some shots of the Channel Islands, which I took two days ago, en route from LAX to SFO. I have a huge backlog of shots to upload, but I’m too busy these days to keep up. But this is a nice batch, and labeling and tagging everything didn’t take too long.

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On Wednesday I somehow signed out of my Yahoo account on Flickr. When I tried to sign back on, my login/password failed. So I went through Yahoo’s authentication process to recover those, and it sent them to me by email.

Still didn’t work.

Then I went for help here, and got thanked by a page that said “one of our knowledgeable and well trained Sign-in & Registration agents” would get back to me within 24 hours. At 2:42 this afternoon I received this:

Subject: Auto Confirmation – Your Yahoo! Account Verification support request was received …
From: Yahoo! Account Services  <my-login-help@cc.yahoo-inc.com>
Reply-To: Yahoo! Account Services  <my-login-help@cc.yahoo-inc.com>

Hello,

This is an automated message regarding your recent request for Yahoo!
Account Verification Customer Care support. Your message was received,
and you will hear back from us within the next 24 hours with an answer.

Thank you for reaching out to us. We look forward to helping you!

Sincerely,

Yahoo! Customer Care

**Please do not respond to this message as no one will receive it.

I look forward to being helped too.

FWIW, I have had a Pro account that  since Flickr was a start-up in Vancouver. I have 28,000 pictures on Flickr so far. I’d like to put up more.

Now, of course, we’re entering the weekend. Still, I’d like some real help here. If any of ya’ll know one of those “knowledgeable and well trained Sign-in & Registration agents” — or just anybody who can help, please send them my way. Thanks.

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I’m bummed that I’m drinking a beer on the deck here in Santa Barbara while Dave is in Cambridge. Would have enjoyed having coffee with him this morning. So instead I’ll raise a glass in his general direction, and post a bunch of loose notes here.

Sez Dave, Doc Searls likes to say that markets are conversations, but people are conversations too. Right. And markets are people, which is our point in this Cluetrain chapter. They are not marketing. The market in marketing is a verb. A synonym for sell, basically. (See definitions 13 to 16 here.)

Which is why I think “conversational marketing” is oxymoronic. Federated Media’s Conversational Marketing Summit, for example, came to my attention by way of a fellow Cluetrain author who attached a promotional email from Federated, adding “yep, looks like our work here is done! Off to find some good stout clothesline and a high enough limb.” Among the speakers is Comcast’s “Director of Digital Care.” Feeling cared for, Comcast customers?

Okay, that was unfair. The director in question is Frank Eliason, who has a fine blog and is running at about 16,000 followed and followers as @comcastcares on Twitter. I’m one of those thousands (on the following side, anyway).

Anyway, here’s just one paragraph from the CM Summit pitch:

CM Summit will provide key insights from some of the world’s largest brand advertisers and the web’s most successful social media properties. Don’t miss this opportunity to look under the hood of conversational marketing and find out what’s driving innovation and success for the publishers, marketers, and consumers who occupy the social Web.

Gag me with a shovel.

Gag Steven Hodson too. He says The wrong people are promoting Social Media. Specifically,

We are increasingly be told that Social Media is about being able to open lines of conversations with corporations and governments. It is supposed to be the new way for us to interact with those in more powerful positions than us. We are increasingly being marketed to about the benefits of being connected to brands – be it personal or corporate ones.

As a result people are beginning to think that social media is nothing more than a round table with corporations, marketers and public relation people deciding on what the conversation is all about. Once more we are finding ourselves being talked to even though it is carefully couched in terms of openness and transparency.

Yep. Later Steven adds,

We have only begun to taste the incredible freedom and personal power that comes with being a part of a social media world. It is this taste that companies fear because it removes them from the top down position. It brings them onto a level playing field where even the poorest person in the world can have an effect.

Social media doesn’t belong to the marketers, the public relation flacks or the corporations so desperately trying to take ownership. It belongs to the people. For the first time the media truly is made up of people for the people.

It is us who should be out there promoting Social Media – not the Facebooks, not the MySpaces, not the Twitter and especially not the marketers and corporations. The sooner we realize that the sooner we can take back our social media from the grasp of those who would bastardize it to their own means.

I’m with him in every respect other than love for the term “social media.” That’s because most people equate “social media” with Facebook, MySpace and all the other conversation containment silos.

Let’s go back to fundamentals. For that I’ll defer first to Larry Josephson, my favorite personality in the history of radio, who naturally isn’t working there any more. Larry once told me, “Radio is personal. That’s my philosophy.” The road radio traveled to hell (where its commercial corner has rotting for the last thirty years or so) was paved with jive like Federated is talking in that pitch. It’s all sell-side shit, and about as conversational as a billboard.

The Net is personal too. So is the Web. Also email, SMS, IM and the rest of it.

And before all of those, so was the telephone. Nothing could be more conversational than that. Back in the 80s, Reese Jones told me that the phone — a tech communications mode that is senior in the extreme, was both the original and the ultimate platform. And now there are close to a billion app downloads for the iPhone. One of the iPhone’s 25 thousand apps is the Public Radio Tuner, which is now passing 1.6 million downloads. That app, plus WundeRadio, have turned my iPhone into my radio. Together they get many more stations than would ever fit in a dial.

Reese’s point: conversation is personal. It’s one-with-one, not one-to-many.  It may be social in the sense that talking with another person is a social act. But it’s not a group thing. Orignally a brain researcher, Reese pointed out that none of us are capable of listening to more than one other person at a time.

In other words, talking may be social, but listening is personal.

Talk “social” and the silos show up. That’s what “social media” are. The good stuff Steven wants us to save, and advocate, are inherently personal qualities of the Net and the Web.

By the way, without Reese schooling me about phones and conversations, I doubt I would have come up with the “markets are conversations” line.

Speaking of which, in Brian Solis’ The Conversation Index, he says this:

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Communities support each other. Citizens actively help others make decisions, offer suggestions and referrals, proactively share negative experiences, and repeatedly ask question – with or without our participation.

Doc Searls calls this Vendor Relationship Management (VRM). Others refer to it as Customer Relationship Management (CRM). But, as we are quickly learning, “management” and “relationships” are as distant from each other as their intentions. Perhaps it’s better stated as Community Relations or better yet, Public Relations.

Well, VRM is not CRM. Nor is it public relations. It is nothing that the seller does. VRM is something the customer has. It comes from the customer. There will be, in the VRM world, both individuals and user-driven and customer-driven services, which I call fourth parties. More about those distinctions here.

Other stuff…

Mike Arrington’s post about The Cenralized Me and Data Portability is all about VRM, though he doesn’t mention it.

Great interview with Richard Rodriguez, one of my favorite writers and thinkers. Richard’s book Brown foreshadowed Obama’s presidency. This is outstanding, too.

Umair Hague is in high dungeon about The Geithnerconomy, which Umair considers a coup.

Long as we’re down on Obama, Tim Jones of the EFF says In Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ’s New Arguments Are Worse Than Bush’s. That’s on top of Jennifer Granick’s post about a proposed federal take-over of the Net. More centralization and concentration of power, anyway.

Not sure whether or not I’m creeped out by this new biz model for journals and Twitter.

To answer the question “How come you’re not posting your usual giant piles of photos on Flickr?” the answer is that I stupidly somehow signed off Flickr and can’t sign back on, because I have no idea what the hell my ID or password are. (Actually I do, but they don’t work.) I have appealed to Yahoo for help here, and its automatum has thanked me for that. They may not want to thank me for what I’ll say if “one of our knowledgeable and well trained Sign-in & Registration agents” doesn’t get back to me within the promised 24 hours. That’s by tomorrow afternoon. FWIW, I’ve always been vexed by Yahoo’s ID system. Not that it’s much different than anybody else’s but … somehow it has always been a bit of a problem.

The Failure of #amazonfail, by Clay Shirky, is a good read too. What he calls “conservation of outrage” (that is, “finding rationales for continuing to feel aggrieved, should the initial rationale disappeared”) is exactly why I am always slow to get worked about stuff that get crowds excited. In fact, VRM is in part a way not to get outraged at vendors, but rather to engage them constructively. (But we don’t have those ways yet, so go ahead and get outraged anyway.)

Here’s a nice rationale for PayChoice. (Which needs a different name, by the way.)

Okay, beer done. Later, folks. I’m heading in.

garanti-obamaStephen Lewis has an excellent post from Istanbul on the occasion of President Obama’s visit to Turkey, which was completed this morning.

Steve explains, “Yes, that’s Garanti with an ‘i’ and not a double-’e', as in Garanti Bank, one of the largest banks in Turkey.  For the last two months Garanti Bank has mounted these advertisements on billboards throughout Istanbul — with text offering low interest loans set below an image looking convincingly like Barak Obama and printed in a very Islamic green.  Actually, the face is that of a local actor and Obama look-alike.  The choice of an Obama-like image for the ads might imply a guarantee of stability in a time of instability and a recognition of vox populi rather than the very real and desperate need of the US economy for low-interest capital.”

More of Steve’s thoughtful postings at his alterblog, Hak Pak Sak.

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Flying from Boston to Minneapolis by way of Chicago today. The second leg is through the middle of this:

Shouldn’t be much to see out the window.

But I’m looking forward to talking tomorrow morning at MinneWebCon. The title is The Intention Economy: What Happens When Customers Get Real Power. I gave a shorter talk by the same title to a small group at the Berkman Center a couple weeks back. The video and audio are here. This one will be for Web development folks rather than the somewhat academic folks that come to Berkman lunches. Should be fun.

I also expect to be hanging Monday night with other folks interested in seeing Carolina beat Michigan State in the NCAA championship game. :-)

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Got these shots of St. Louis and the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers while flying to Austin by way of Chicago two Fridays ago. You can see the Gateway Arch, right of center, Busch Stadium, the Edward Jones Dome, the City Museum, and lots of barge traffic on the river.

I actually didn’t see much of St. Louis. My window seat didn’t have well-placed windows, and I couldn’t see downward in any case. But my little Canon Powershot 850 could look for me. So I held it against one of the windows, angled it downward, and shot away, checking from time to time on the back of the camera to see if my shots were accurate. Didn’t do too poorly, considering.

What I want is a small camera like this one that can shoot RAW without taking forever to do it. (As was the case with my old and much missed Nikon Coolpix 5700, which also featured a flip-out viewer, making shots like this much easier.) The PS 850 has no RAW mode, and its processing is rather thick with artifacts. Still, fun to use.

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Flying out of SFO yesterday morning, I had a great seat for shooting: on the left side of the plane, away from the sun, facing The City on departure. I got several hundred shots crossing the country, more of which will go up on Flickr over time. Meanwhile, I’ve uploaded a set of San Francisco alone. Here ya go.

Between flights in and out of O’Hare last Saturday, I caught this formation of geese flying overhead. Before Flight 1549, this wouldn’t have worried me.

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The Bank of America and Sun Trust buildings, both called \

Last week I got some nice aerial photos of Atlanta and its surroundings, shooting from a restaurant rather than a plane. Most of the ones in the set above were taken from the revolving Sun Dial restaurant atop the 73-story Westin Peachtree hotel where I stayed. Some were taken from my room on the 54th floor. Above are the Bank of America and Sun Trust buildings, both called “Plazas” — as is the Westin Peachtree, atop which I took this shot.

Here are some shots of a storm as well, shot from a suite on the 67th floor. One sample:

On the left is 191 Peachtree. On the right is the Georgia Pacific building. While there I marveled at the storm coverage on TV. I might put up some of that later.

There was a tornado warning in the midst of all that. This mattered to our hotel, because one last March hit the hotel directly and took out many windows — though no occupants.

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It’s not like this in Atlanta, but it was like this in Boston a few days ago. So, another photo set of ice on storm windows.

And another.

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Not long ago as geology goes — nine, ten, twelve millennia — one of the world’s largest lakes covered most of Minnesota, plus much of North Dakota, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Ontario and a corner of South Dakota. It’s called Lake Agassiz, named after the scientist Louis Agassiz, who figured out the Ice Age (continental glaciation, basically), and whose statue dropped head-first into the concrete in the 1906 earthquake.

Evidence of the late lake s not obvious unless you look in winter, from altitude. I did that while flying west the week before last. Here’s the photo set I shot. Those lines you see in the farmland are old shorelines of the lake. Since it was a glacial lake — a large puddle left by the effect of global warming on the ice cap — these lines I suppose also qualify as glacial moraine. Anyway, interesting shit. To me, at least.

By the way, the straight lines in the shot above are wind breaks made of trees or hedges. (Not sure.). The larger square or rectangular dark areas are woodlots. The setting is a spot almost exactly where South Dakota, North Dakota and Minnesota meet. I believe it is in South Dakota.

By the way, what remains of Lake Agassiz is Lake Winnepeg, Minnesota’s ten thousand lakes (See this comment below for the correction, and a larger number scattered around three provinces of Canada.

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Pixel pi

Check out David Bergman‘s 1,474-Megapixel GigaPan picture of the 2 gigaperson presidential inauguration last Tuesday. You can all but look in the noses of the people there.

What impresses me most is how many cameras with extremely long lenses were there. Yow. Canon and Nikon were cleaning up.

Hat tip to Sheila Lennon.

Spottings

My aerial photo of Giants Stadium, aka The Meadowlands, where both the Giants and the Jets play, made WikiNews Shorts today.

Chilling out

When it got down near zero (Fahrenheit) a few days ago, the ice formations on the windows were too delicate and interesting to resist shooting. Click on the shot above for a look through the whole series.

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Afterposts on (more popularly, just )…

Bio of the pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger, aka “Sully”, the captain of flight USA1549 yesterday afternoon. Via TheSmokingGun.

Charles Bremer, pilot and editor for the London Times, on the flight. Includes interesting background, such as why Airbuses can float “in the unlikely event of a water landing”. Expect Boeing planes to be fitted retrofitted soon with the same feature. Hat tip to Andrew Leyden for that one. (Note: This comment says I have my facts wrong here, and offers corrective details. Interesting stuff. Go read it.)

Airbus 320 fact sheet. Includes interesting safety record info.

Sully’s Facebook fan page.

Nice series of photos and a graphic from one commenter on this FlightAware discussion page.

Stephen Lewis was wise to turn down the opportunity to participate in a Ponzi scheme in a time and place where the downside of failure was absolute. The lesson:

  Fast-forward a decade to 2005, Bulgaria is about to enter the European Union and bank and insurance moguls whose memories are the only remaining links to the identities of initial depositors and investors are being shot wholesale in gangland-style slayings. On a wintry Sunday, I join a friend for an early morning hike part-way around the base of Vitosha mountain, just outside of Sofia. At the town of Bistritsa we leave the hiking path in search of a restaurant serving tripe soup and grappa (shkembe chorba and rakiya to afficionados). As we enter Bistritsa we pass a neighborhood of immense homes worthy of present day Las Vegas or 1970s American television soap operas about the scandalous lives of California rich. On the gated entrance way of every third or fourth such mansion are posted Necrologs — paper fliers announcing or commemorating the deaths — of the home’s owner. Most of the deceased seem relatively young and few likely to have died from natural causes. My hiking companion, a retired journalist explains … some of the deceased are businessmen, some are gangland heavies and “narco-millionaires,” and others are “credit-millionaires” i.e people who had borrowed large sums of money from banks on behalf of others and made fortunes on commissions for doing so.

This is one in a series of thoughtful posts that combine Steve’s wide travels and deep cultural understands with his photography. While some are timely, all are timeless. Samples here, here, here and here.

Since I’m an aviation freak, I’m also a weather freak. I remember committing to getting my first color TV, back in the mid-70s, because I wanted to see color radar, which at that time was carried by only one TV station we could get from Chapel Hill: WFMY/Channel 2 in Greensboro. These days TV stations get their radar from elsewhere, and have mothballed their old radar facilities. (Here’s one mothballed TV radar tower, at the WLNE/Channel 6 transmitter, which is istself doomed to get mothballed after the nationwide February 17 switchover to digital TV — marking the end of TV’s Mainframe Era.)

Online I’ve been a devoted watcher of both Weather.com and Weather Underground. Both those last two links go to local (Cambridge, MA) maps. They’re good, but they don’t quite match Intellicast, source of the map above. Play around witht the pan & zoom, the animation and the rest of it. It’s a nice distraction from weather as ugly as we’re getting right now here: sleet and then rain atop enough snow to cancel school today,.

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Management wall

I love this video.

Picture These

So I’m here in the Bolt Bus from Boston to New York. There’s wi-fi on board, and power outlets in the backs of most seats. But the wi-fi is slow, so I’m on a Sprint EvDO card. Getting about 1Mb down and .6Mb up. Not bad.

Anyway, I’ve recently uploaded a pile of photo sets to Flickr, where my inventory of photos is now approaching 26,000. Here is a list of just a few sets, mostly shot from airplanes and other moving vehicles:

Wow. It’s snowing now. Hard. We’re still in Connecticut, approaching the Westchester border. The Weather.com map is quite colorful:

Hm. Not taking. Guess I need a separate post for it.

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On departure from Zürich to Paris yesterday the ground was shrowded in gloom and haze, but above it the sky was clear and crystalline. I sat purposely on the left side of the plane to get a view, even though I knew I’d be photographing the scene against the sun, which would be low in the early afternoon on a day approaching the Winter Solstice. Worse, the window looked like it had been cleaned with fine-grit sandpaper. Still, I got some nice shots with my old Tamron zoom and the Canon Rebel Xti (borrowed from the excellent and generous Rebecca Tabasky, a colleage at the Berkman Center).

I’m guessing the plane was about a hundred miles from the shot above. Closer for some of the early ones, and much farther for some of the later ones, some of which feature Mont Blanc, the only peak I could easily identify. I’m hoping some of the rest of you can fill in the blanks.

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Going from San Francisco

Got some nice shots of San Francisco and Marin on Sunday, as we flew off to Chicago on the first leg of the trip home from Thanksgiving in California. Actually, my kid shot most of them, since he had the window seat. Shot some other stuff too, which I’ll put up later.

Mount Tamalpias (better known as Mt. Tam) looms in the background, and Mt. Beacon in front of it.

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Looks like the evacuation notices have been lifted. And The Map (which is very well done) now has two pages showing the status in the area, including (near as I can tell) all 211 burned structures, nearly all of them homes.

My shots of the aftermath are here.

Hard to believe I’m in Boston now, and about to be in Zurich, then Amsterdam. See some of ya’ll there.

Before:

After:

I just put up a gallery of shots I took as the sun was going down today, and the evacuation barricades were lifted — at least from some of the Tea Fire burn area.

The aerial shot above is from the excellent Live Search Maps. If you want to look around, the top shot is in this view here.

Most of my shots were after the sun went down, so they’re not the best. But they reveal some of what went on at the western edge of the fire perimeter.

Most of the houses north of Sheffield Reservoir (which is now buried beneath a park) were spared. But many along Gibraltar, El Cielito and West Mountain Road (such as the one above, a beautiful house with a view across a pool and Parma Park) were burned. It wrenched my heart to see residents visiting some of these homes. They weren’t all “mansions”, as the out-of-town media called them. Many were not even especially upscale. But most were beautiful, and all were in a beautiful setting. And they were homes. They contained the lives of their residents. Lives that will have to start over in many ways.

We know people who lost homes here. Our hearts go out to them.

One thing that amazed me was how good a job the firefighters did protecting many homes in this area. One official said it would have been reasonable to expect to lose 500 or more homes in a fire like this one.

I head back to the place our kid calls “alt.home” or “shift_home” in Boston tomorrow. Meanwhile I am appreciating every minute I’m here.

Meanwhile, here’s a thankful shout-out to the firefighters who did their best to save what they could. Which happens to be the rest of Santa Barbara.

Bonus pic: Here’s exactly the same area, after the Sycamore Canyon fire in 1977.

[Later...] I’m on a pit stop at the Starbucks Coffee & Reggae Disco in King City, where the music is so loud that people go outside to talk on their cell phones. Just did that myself.

It was weird to hit SCAN on the rental car radio and have it stop at 87.7, where KSBY/Channel 6 in San Luis Obispo was running a live press conference on the Tea Fire from Santa Barbara. I stayed with it until the signal gave out around San Ardo. Meanwhile, here’s what I picked up that matters: Homes were lost on the folowing roads:

  • Coyote Road
  • Coyote Circle
  • East Mountain Drive
  • West Mountain Drive
  • El Cielito
  • Gibraltar Road
  • Las Alturas Road
  • Orizaba Road
  • Orizaba Lane
  • Conejo Road
  • Stanwood Road
  • Sycamore Canyon Road
  • Ealand Place (not sure, but I think so)
  • Mt. Calvary Road (including the Monastery and Retreat Center)
  • Westmont Road/Circle Drive (not clear about this, but I believe so)

They said 210 structures were lost. More than 5000 homes were evacuated across a large area outside the fire perimeter, ours among them.

Only residents with government-issued IDs will be let into the main burn areas: Mountain Road, Conejo, Coyote, a few others.

Okay, hitting the road again. Next stop, SFO. Then BOS and back to work.

[Later...] I’m at SFO now. No time to say more than to look at this map, this City 2.0 summary, and these images and headlines.

Oh, and look at this. It’s the same scene after the 1977 Sycamore Fire. Some home sites have burned three times: In the 1964 Coyote Fire, the Sycamore Fire, and now the Tea Fire.

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These are a few among the many salt ponds that ring the south end of San Francisco Bay. Once considered and agricultural innovation and an economic boom, the practice of “reclaiming” wild wetlands for industrial purposes is now considered ecologically awful by environmentalists, especially here on the West Coast of the U.S., which has precious few wetlands in any case. Many environmentalists have been working to get Cargill to close the ponds and return the Bay to its more natural state. Cargill hasn’t budged. In fact, <a href=”http://www.cargill.com/sf_bay/saltpond_ecosystem.htm”>Cargill has its own views</a> on the matter, plus some interesting facts about the ponds themselves.

It’s worth pointing out that the Bay is actually one of the youngest features on the California landscape, having flooded within only in the last couple thousand years, as sea levels rose. (Global warming has been happening, in fact, since the last ice age.)

I took this shot two days ago on approach to San Francisco on a flight from Boston. Here’s a set of all the photos I’ve taken of salt ponds, both here and in the desert. And here is the whole set of shots I took from coast to coast. Most were at the ends of the flight, since the sky was undercast most of the way.

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New Hampshire has a Brookline, too. It’s just north of the Massachusetts border, and it’s this pretty little New England town, complete with a covered bridge and a lighthouse.

The former was born in 2001 and carries foot and bike traffic, and the latter has less modern provenance, judging from its look. And it is obviously ornamental, sitting at the corner Potanipo Pond, at what I gather is the source of the Nissitissit River.

Interesting to compare two photo sets, taken one day away from exactly one year apart. Here’s my series of the site from 2007, and here’s the one from 2008. Except for the footbridge the subjects were a bit different, but one thing stands out: the colors were better this year.

Fall in New England is a visual cliché of the first order, and exactly as advertised. Only better this weekend, because it’s been unseasonably warm, as well as clear and perfectly gorgeous, complete with full moons each night.

We’ve been out at a church retreat at Otter Lake, New Hampshire. And it’s been a healthy break for me, coming as I am off one of the worst colds in a long time. The fever broke yesterday morning, and the cough ended last night. It was the first night in a week when I actually slept the whole night and it was blissful.

Meanwhile, I’ve loved walking along the lake and in the woods. The loud colors at a distance usually turn out to be comprised of leaves with blisters, chewed-out edges and other signs of wear & tear. What I love about the forest here is that it’s mostly evergreen with deciduous trim. You can see one felicitous effect of that in the shot above, where pine needles hang like ornaments from the stems of maple leaves.

I’m pretty sure the shot above is of a sugar maple, though it might be a Norway. Maybe one of ya’ll can help here.

Anyway, we’re home again tomorrow and back to work.

Oh, by the way, all the shots in this series were taken with a little pocket camera rather than my big (and somewhat broken) SLR. Still, does the job.

Grand Icing

From the air there’s a strange kind of vast sameness to the Grand Canyon. It’s a carved up layercake of variously colored rock that’s less dramatic viewed from above than from its edges or its insides. There’s one anomaly, however, that stands out for me every time I see it: the Uinkaret Volcanic Field, which flows over the edge of the canyon and cascades down to the Colorado, looking like tar poured over a birthday cake. The most dramatic corner of the field is called Lava Falls, atop which sits Vulcan’s Throne. That’s what we have in the shot above.

It was taken on September 18, on my way from Boston to Las Vegas by way of Los Angeles. I’ve shot the scene before. The whole collection is here. The larger Grand Canyon set from this trip is here. It’s pretty freaking dramatic too, actually. Someday when I have time I’ll identify some of the features there. Meanwhile if any of the rest of ya’ll feel like doing the same, please do.

By the way, one of my earlier shots is featured in Wikipedia’s Uinkaret Volcanic Field article.

In September I took two flights across the country that featured lots of clear views of the sights below. I think I took 700+ pictures on each of them.

I’ve been posting them to Flickr in slow motion, trying to minimize the labors involved in tagging and captioning them. It helps that many of these sights I’ve seen before, so I could just copy and paste from one shot to another.

This set is of Comb Ridge, in southeastern Utah. Other sets I put together, all in Utah and Arizona, are of Goosenecks, Lake Powell and Navajo Mountain.

Funny thing, when I went to look up Navajo Mountain on Wikipedia, I saw that one of the pictures there bore a strong resemblance to one of my own because that’s exactly what it is.

Just a pause in the midst to express appreciation for ‘s storm-tracking services, and handy pile of Good Stuff, such as the WunderMap. Their site is far less crapped up with junk than Weather.com.

Right now we’re getting a late summerlike storm, complete with thunder. Thanks to the map’s animation and storm tracking features, I can see exactly what’s happening, and educate my judgements about whether to walk to the bus or the train — and when.

Anyway, dig it.

A High Fly Five…

… to McCarran International Airport, for providing free wi-fi.

And dig the speed:

Nice.

Guess I can upload some photos while I’m busy with actual work here (at 4:49am).

Canon has unveiled the 5D Mark II SLR. Whoa: 21.1 megapixel full-frame CMOS sensor; ISO range from 100-6400, and expandable to 25600 (that is, shooting under appoximately no light); 1080p HD video shooting with live view on the back (3″ across), HDMI and USB connectivity…

Also welcome: a sensor-cleaning system (my 30D is constantly plagued with sensor dust).

$2700 or so.

No price yet from Amazon, but you can pre-order it.

Seems like last millenium

Sitting and shooting at U.S. v. Microsoft, 10 Years Later, at Austin Hall in Harvard Law School. Extremely interesting, and free as well. If you’re nearby, stop by.

Capitol Reef and its amazing rock suite

I shot more than 500 pictures out the pitted and blistered windows of the United Airbus 320 I took from Chicago to Orange County, day before yesterday. The shot above is one of them. It’s part of this series here, all of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

What I’m hoping is that somebody somewhere has troubled to identify all the rock strata on display here. If not, I’ll do it eventually. Meanwhile, I’ll at least tell you that the lightest color rock — the spine of the “reef” that stands out most in the larger feature known locally as the Waterpocket Fold — is Navajo Sandstone. Read more about it at that last link.

Power Trip

(Note: this post was made mistakenly as a page, and didn’t go up at first. Now it’s here. Thanks to commenters for the help.)

I’ve flown over these coal in New Mexico and Arizona many times, but never checked to see what was up with them. Or down. Or choose your direction.

Turns out the one above, a giant W in the Arizona landscape, is the Black Mesa Mine, and it has been mothballed since 2005 when the destination of its coal (via an unusual route), the Mojave power plant, was shut down. The Kayenta Mine is still running, as are the other mines I saw off to the east around the Four Corners areas.

I’m flying back to Boston today. Weather looks bad for shooting over the West. It’ll be dark over the rest of the trip anyway, though sometimes I get some good city shots at night.

Flying out here on the 19th, I sat on the sunny side of the plane, which never makes for good shooting, but I still got some decent shots of Gloucester Bay, Mt. Blanca in Colorado’s Sagre de Cristo range, Great Sand Dunes National Park, center-fed farms (such as the one above) in the San Luis Valley, the San Juan River running through a hogback, Shiprock, the painted desert, the Black Mesa Mine, the Kayenta Mine, the Grand Canyon, salt evaporators, Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Gorgonio, mountains of coastal southern California and Los Angeles freeways. Some are good. Enjoy.

I grew up in New Jersey, which I think of as “New England without the universities”. There are many places in New Jersey with beauty equal to, say, New Hampshire’s. But New Jersey never had the same ethos of preservation, the same not-quite-a-mythology that explains why Norman Rockwell and his sentiments fit New England like a shoe while to the rest of the country they remain a maudlin approximation of bygone times elsewhere.

I transferred my state citizenship from New Jersey to North Carolina in early 1974, when I left our small rented house on Route 94 in Yellow Frame, out in Sussex County, the beautiful northernmost county of the state. Back then Sussex County had more cows than people, and featured fall colors and pastoral scenes worthy of calendars and post cards. Best of all it shared the with Pennsylvania. The shores of the river were settled first by the Indians and later by the , descendents of which continued to farm the islands and lowlands alongside the river, right up to the point in the 1970s when the United States government, with help from both states, condemned the land, including perfectly good towns such as Dingman’s Ferry, and let it all fall to ruin while fighting and failing to build the unnecessary. It was, and remains, a disgrace.

Can you imagine the feds, or Vermont and New Hampshire, doing the same to the ? Of course not. We’re talking about New England here.

The difference was brought home to me this past weekend when we picked up The Kid from camp in Vermont and took our time heading back to Boston. We visited Middlebury, Waterbury (including the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream headquarters), the Rock of Ages Quarry near Barre, and various towns along the Connecticut River before having some okay Thai food in Keene. New England is truly a beautiful region, even with almost no available hotel rooms.

Much of that was recorded photographically. Here’s the set. Here’s the slide show.

Nice to know New England is there. Less nice to know that much of the same beauty has long since been paved or otherwise profaned in other states. (Of course, I also realize that much has been lost in New England as well. Just less of it than elsewhere.)

The shot above is of the Congregational Church in Middlebury, Vermont. I shot a series of photos of the church, most with white and grey clouds boiling up in the sky beyond. I wasn’t sure which was best (which is why I kept them all), but I am sure that several are better than the one the church uses for its own website.

I also did some experimental shooting with this brick building in downtown Middlebury, which is about as nice a little college town as you’re gonna find anywhere. The best of those shots, by the way, were taken not with my Canon 30D SLR, but with a little Canon Powershot SD850is. Partly that’s because the little camera likes to yield more vibrant colors than the big one; and partly it’s because the big one wasn’t fixed right and read the light wrong.

Anyway, I’m back out in California, where I am now a citizen, even though most of the next year will be spent back at the Berkman Center in Cambridge.

Several weeks ago, while we were walking around Mystic Seaport, in the mist of shooting these pictures, I dropped my camera, a Canon 30D — a workhorse that has served ably for more than two years. Afterwards it seemed to work fine mechanically, but it could no longer read light properly. For whatever reason, it overexposed shots by two stops or more. (All the shots I took with it after that were in manual mode using guesswork about light, trial and error.)

So I took it in to a camera repair shop near Boston, and they sent it to Canon. On Friday (yesterday) I got it back. It was an almost entirely new camera. New back, new top, new electronics. I didn’t have time to test it out before hitting the road for the weekend in Vermont and New Hampshire, but I didn’t expect any problems.

I was wrong. The problem wasn’t fixed. It still reads light wrong and overexposes by two or more stops. How could they replace so much of the camera and not fix the one thing that was wrong with it? Amazing.

I suppose I should bring the camera back on Monday and repeat the process, but I really want to have it in California this next week, and on the trip that follows that one. In fact, the first day I’ll be able to pick it up is September 12.

Right now I’m hoping that Samy’s in Santa Barbara (where I bought it) will be able to send it into Canon and expedite a fast turn-around on a fix.

Meanwhile I’m wondering if I should just go ahead and get a soon-to-be-discontinued Canon 5D, which is getting down around $1000 now. It’s a great camera, much better than the 30D. And use the 30D as a second camera. But… I dunno. Probably not, mostly because I’d also have to invest in all those good lenses that will make the 5D sing. Right now I have only one really good lens for the 30D. The other two are cheapies: a Tamron 18-200 (sharp, but not fast, and with fuzziness at the long end and barrel distortion at the wide) and a Canon f1.8 you can still get for just $80 or so.  They do a good job for the money, but they’re not real good lenses.

I’m a pretty good photographer. Not great, but pretty good, on the whole. And I feel like a pretty good musician using an almost good instrument. The 5D is a good instrument. Not the best, but close enough. To get a 5D and the “glass” that would do it justice… say, three primes (fixed length lenses) and a zoom would cost several thousand dollars. That’s out of my range, at least until my get-rich boat comes in.

I’m sure it will. And for that to happen, I need to focus on other work.

Radio now

I listen to a lot of WBUR in my car. ‘BUR is Boston’s main NPR station, and where I’m I do most of my public radio listening. While weather isn’t the main thing on ‘BUR, it’s a frequent thing, and what makes me feel at home when I listen. Lately the report has been what we’ve heard most of this summer: more rain. Flash flood watch, even.

Still, as I looked around here, it’s sunny and clear and perfect in the same way that Boston weather this summer has been sucky. That’s because I’m listening in Santa Barbara. At home I use our Sonos system, and in the car I use the Tuner app on my new iPhone. Tuner costs money and is missing some pieces (just like the iPhone), but it’s a great way to listen to radio.

I got an iTrip AutoPilot to go with it. The design is good, but its FM signal is way too weak. Not sure if I’ll take it back, but I’ve abandoned it while jacking the iPhone into one of those fake tape cassettes on a wire, which I shove into the car’s cassette player. (The car is a ’95 Infiniti.) ‘BUR is easy on the cell system because its stream is just 24kbps. I’ve also done a lot of listening to faster streams, all the way up to 128kbps, and I gotta say those work pretty well too, over the 3G system. My fave at the top rate is , which is just an awesome music station.

The main result for me is a new set of prelminary conclusions about the final stage of radio.

1) Live still matters. I have lots of stored music and podcasts on my iPhone. They’re great to have, but there’s no substitute. Stored and live are not the same. Both have their virtues, and now both can be maximized.

2) Human still matters. When I listen to WBUR in the morning, I expect to hear Bob Oakes, even if what he’s saying could be said by anybody.

3) The primary medium for radio, as with every other form of digital communication, is now the Net. Over-the-air (OTA) will still matter for a long time, but it will be become secondary rather than primary.

4) The cell phone system will become a data system that carries telephony, rather than the vice versa we have now. The same goes for the Net at home as well. What we still have in both cases is dial-up: data piggy-backing on telephony or cable TV. In terms of provider priorities, that’s the way it’s been for awhile, but the flip is going to come, and the sooner we make that happen, the better.

5) The iPhone is less a phone than a platform for mobile Internet applications that start with telephony. Voice will always be the primary personal mobile communications activity; but it will be one application, or set of applications, among many. Radio is another of those applications.

6) iPhones and other MIDs (mobile internet devices) will become bags of tools for doing all kinds of highly personal and engaged stuff. Today I’m in Toronto blue-sky-ing at PlanetEye (I’m on their board), thinking about all this. Long ago Larry Josephson told me “Radio is personal. That’s it.” But when all you had were transmitters and non-interactive receivers, there was a limit to how personal it could be. Not any more.

I’ll add more, but I gotta go.

Mark-up

In May of last year I flew from London to Los Angeles and shot a lot of pictures out the window. While still ascending toward the sky over Scotland and beyond I shot a city I later discovered was Manchester.

Since then the photo has acquired 21notes by 3 different people. Go through the 49 shots at that last link and find many more notes from more people than I can count. Amazing. I love that kind of help.

Speaking of which, many shots like this also serve duty in Wikipedia. I just discovered where they live.

New daze

We’ve been having a lot of thunderstorms this summer in Boston. On Sunday we followed the last ones out of town, veering west after departing from Logan, while the clouds puffed off to the east. The dawn weather was dreary at ground level, but quite pretty, as clouds go, from altitude. So here’s a set of pictures I shot on the way out of town.

Most of the rest of the trip was cloudy, wasting a perfectly okay window with no obstructions. But I still got nearly 200 shots. I’ll be putting the rest of those up soon.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

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.

The trip across the country on Friday yielded very little photography, at least for me: a set just 26 shots long. Our 3-person family had row 12 on the left side of a United 757-200. That’s one of the rows with a blank wall where a window might otherwise be. Our only window was usable only if we reclined the seat, and then it was pitted and dusty, and on the sunny side of the plane as well, which makes for terrible aerial photography. (Here is a shot that focuses on the window itself. Amazing we got anything through that.) Also we were on the leading edge of the wing, with the left engine intruding into much of the view of the land below. On top of all that, it was pretty hazy and/or undercast from coast to coast. The main exception was our flight path southwest across the Wind River Range of Western Wyoming, which features more than 40 named peaks in excess of 13,000 feet. Many of those are in the shot above, along with Willow and Boulder lakes on the far side of the mountains. I am sure Gannett Peak, highest in Wyoming, is near the center of the shot, which also takes in the Continental Divide

The Kid shot nearly all the pictures, by the way. He had that seat.

I’m not a car nut — I could never afford to be, lacking both the money and the time — but I do enjoy and appreciate them as works of arts, science, culture and plain necessity. So, about a month ago the kid and I joined Britt Blaser at the Concours d’Elegance in Newport Harbor, looking at an amazing collection of antique cars and motorcycles, all restored or preserved to a level of perfection you hardly find in new cars off the production line.

We also got to hang with new friends from Iconic Motors, who are making a very hot little sports car designed and made entirely in the U.S., mostly by small manufacturers of obsessively perfected goods. Took a lot of pictures of both, which you’ll find by following the links under the photos.

Something about 3/4 of the way into this here. From last week in Amsterdam.

Here are my still shots from the show. Also from Maarten’s barbeque the night before. I’ll have more Amsterdam shots up when I’m done dealing with life & stuff.

[Later...] Here they are.

You fly enough and they bump you up to Business Class whether you want it or not. That’s how United Airlines works, and for most passengers that’s not a bad thing. In my case I often don’t want it because it means giving up a window seat I’ve carefully chosen back in what we used to call Coach.

But that’s what happened last Wednesday, when I flew from Amsterdam to Chicago. I got bumped to an aisle seat in the Business Section. Worse, nearly everybody with a window seat closed their shades. For viewing we might as well have been in the cargo hold.

The “air show” system that displays flight progress on a map was also down, although a couple times I was able to tell where I was with my GPS, which (amazingly) was able to pick up the 4+ satellites required to to quadrangulate our location 38,000 feet over the Earth.

So I knew when we got to Greenland — my favorite place to shoot from on high . I asked my seatmate, who had the window, if she’d mind if I took some pictures of the land below. She said okay, we opened her shade, and that’s how I got these shots here.

The conditions were less than ideal. It’s never good to shoot out the sunny side of a plane in any case, because the direct light illuminates all the scratches, debris depositions and other imperfections in the windows, which are optically awful to begin with. This window was average or worse in those respects, and on this day Greenland was also hazy, with lots of clouds amidst the mountains. Still, I got some decent shots — enough, at least, to slake my thirst for geographic and geological spectacle and knowledge-building.

I took more shots a bit later, after we crossed the white expanse of Greenland’s middle (at just above the 63rd parallel, which is just 3 degrees south of the Arctic Circle), but need to work instead. Meanwhile, if any Flickr freaks want to help me name some of the mountains, glaciers and other features I shot in that series (or any of the others), please do. I found a few details on Google Earth and filled them in.

The caption for the above reads,

The water body is a glacial bay called Norrivig. Behind it is an island in the midst of which is “Azimuthbjerg” lat=63.4333333, lon=-41.6666667. Here is NotSoGreen on the same area, which also points to this Jason Sloan photo on Flickr. This is all in the Tunu or East Greenland, one of four large Greenland counties, or administrative districts. East Greenland is known natively as Ostgrönland. The glacier or gletcher emptying into Norrivig Bay is Thrym. The mouintain beyond is Hvidbjørn Bjerg, at
N 63° 31′ 0” W 41° 49′ 0”, or 63.51667 / -41.81667, with GeoNameId : 3423410.

Hope that helps the curious find out more.

If you’re interested in Greenland — and I would highly recommend it, because it’s not only beautiful but melting — check out NotSoGreen. Wonderful service.

Tropical Massachusetts

It was a clear morning yesterday when I flew out of Boston, and almost identical when I landed in San Francisco. For  oddball reasons of season and perspective, many of the sights on the outbound looked like the coast of Mexico or Brazil. In fact the above is Plum Island and its inlet on the North Shore near Ipswich.

Anyway, a fun set. Many more coming. See the slide show version here.

Remembering Catherine Burns

My grandmother, who was born in 1882 and died in 1990, came from sturdy Irish and German stock. It’s a combination that yields what I like to call “very organized party people”. She lived longer than her sisters, but not by a huge sum. The other three all lived into their 80s and 90s.

Grandma was the third of four daughters whose parents were Henry Roman Englert and Catherine Trainor. Catherine died in her thirties, so I assume that when this picture was taken, the girls were without a mother — although grandma often spoke fondly of her Aunt Mag, Catherine’s sister. I still remember lessons handed down from Aunt Mag. Such as, “You’ve got it in your hand. Put it away.”

Catherine Trainor Englert was the daughter of Thomas Trainor and (as I recall) Catherine McLaughlin. Thomas emigrated from Ireland in 1825 at age 15 and worked as an indentured servant to Catherine McLaughlin’s dad in Boston, learning the carriage trade. After marrying Catherine he moved to New York, living at a farm in Harlem while running a successful carriage business on Lower Broadway, where the World Trade Center later stood and fell. The Trainors had two daughters and at least two sons. As I recall one of them fought in the Civil War and died of injuries not long after the war was over. As the family story goes, the son arrived home on Christmas in a box.

Henry Englert was the son of Christian Englert and Jacobina Rung, who emigrated from the Alsace region of Germany in the mid 1800s. Henry was the head of the Steel & Copper Plate Engraver’s Union in New York City. The family’s home was at 742 E. 142nd Street in the Bronx. Grandma described the site as a paradise for the girls growing up.

Grandma was third of the four girls. Fourth was Florence, with whom Grandma stayed closest all their lives. Grandma Married George Washington Searls and had three children. The middle of those was my father. His older sister was Ethel and his younger was Grace. Florence married John Jackson “Jack” Dwyer, and had three children: William, Catherine and Jack Junior. William died at 19, a tragedy that was still fresh many decades later when I was growing up. Catherine married Donald Burns and had two sons, Martin and Kevin. Jack Junior had many kids with his wife Ruth. This all added up to more cousins and second cousins than I can count.

From the late 1940s into the early 1960s, our extended family maintained three adjacent properties on the edge of the New Jersey pine barrens. In one, called “Bayberry” lived Grandma and Aunt Ethel — Grandma’s oldest daughter and my father’s older sister. Ethel was a successful businesswoman, running a Newark office of the Prudential Insurance company. As I recall she held the highest position of any woman in the company, which says a lot about glass ceilings in those days. In another lived Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack. In the third lived us. We were summer inhabitants, while Grandma and Aunt Florence became year round somewhere in the middle of the Fifties.

This post, written in summer of 2003, gives a good sense of what a wonderful place and time that was. I still remember vividly Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack’s 50th wedding anniverary, on June 8, 1960. (The photo series from that day begins here.) Now even the kids pictured in that post and those pictures are getting old. All but a few from our parents generation passed on years ago. Notable exceptions have been my aunt Grace and Catherine Burns, the mid-born among Florence and Jack’s three kids, and the third Catherine in four generations.

Grace will be 96 next month, and is doing fine living up in Maine. Yesterday, however, came news that Catherine had passed on Sunday. She was 94.

While I haven’t seen Catherine in many years, I’ve kept up a warm correspondence with her son Martin (pictured with the cat in that last link — a cat that he recalls scratching him while we were posing for Uncle Jack, who set up a large view camera on a sawhorse).

Catherine did an amazing job over several decades studying the genealogy of her family’s roots, and adjacent ones (such as the Searls) as well. Nearly all the photos in this collection are from her archives. Her studies informed many of the notes in the captions as well.

I’ll try to make it up to Portsmouth this evening for the visitation announced in Catherine’s obituary.  Meanwhile, it is moving to look back through her early life in this series here. It shows how the children and adults we were and become stay alive in us, and in our loved ones.

Love is life. To give it is to live it, and vice versa. I thank Aunt Catherine for giving us so much for so long.

Click on the above for a nice series of shots I took while flying out of Chicago in the evening, looking east toward the skyline with the sun behind me in the west. Early on is a nice series of the Bensenville Yard, one of the most impressive, and busy, rail yards in the world.

Here’s the slide show.

Shot this series of pictures, mostly of islands in Boston Harbor, while ascending to the skies out of Logan on Sunday, en route to San Francisco. The one above is Rainsford Island. (And my shot is a lot prettier than the one at that last link, on Wikipedia. They can use it if they like.)

Like many islands and hills in the Boston area, Rainsford is a drumlin or two. Given its shape, I’d call it Fish Island.

Got a lot more pictures from that trip, but they’ll have to wait. Meanwhile, here’s a slide show from the last cross-country trip.

Andy Carvin & NPR crew get kicked out of a public place for taking pictures with a weird (but way cool) camera.

I’ve now passed 20,000 shots on Flickr. When doing that few things please me more than finding out that one of them now illustrates its subject on Wikipedia. (Where I remain a stub, by the way. I don’t mind. Wikipedia entries about living folks are too often wrong.)

Here’s another. I know there are more, but not how to find them.

But that’s not the point, which is that the primary source of media now is each other. We’re rebuilding everything back up from Layer Zero. That’s us.

In Linux Journal: Is Linux now a slave to corporate masters? I think it’s a serious question, though the comments there so far have not yielded a serious answer. I’m kinda surprised by that, but maybe it’s still early.

Speaking of Serious Stuff, Stephen Lewis visits The Infrastructure of Repression, and vice versa, at HakPakSak. A sample:

  To enforce the ban and prevent mass protests, the Turkish government bussed an army of police to Istanbul from throughout the country, stationing dozens of riot geared policemen at every street and alleyway leading to Taksim and to Istiqlal Caddesi, the main pedestrian artery that feeds into the square. Policemen carried truncheons, shields, automatic weapons, gas masks, and tear gas cannisters. Larger arteries were blocked by tank-mounted water cannons manned by police…

  The quickness and effectiveness of this shutdown of the infrastructure of urban movement of one of the world’s largest cities was alarmingly effective. By knowing exactly where the pressure points of urban movement are and how to pinch them, the government and police succeeded in isolating neighborhoods from neighborhoods, halting the movement of people, and putting a pulsing, hyper-alive city into a state of near sleep. Even the communications infrastructure of the present age — internet and mobile voice and sms — could not compensate for the atmosphere of isolation and the breakdown of information flows and of the ability to exercise the basic rights of citizenship that ensued when the infrastructure and freedom of physical movement, the most elementary components of cities and civilizations, were frozen.

While matters are far more peaceful here, infrastructure matters no less. Hence Comparing hard and soft infrastructure, another recent post in Linux Journal. This one vets what I’ve learned on photo explorations of infrastructure in Boston, Cambridge and the Minuteman Bike Trail. Try looking at them in slideshow mode. Click the “i” for information, and you’ll see the captions that go with each.

And here’s a Cinco de Mayo link roundup at the ProjectVRM blog.

Here’s the link, and here’s the text:

Additionally, we have awarded two special prizes for the initiatives we considered groundbreaking. The VRM project lead by Doc Searls is from our point of view a very innovative approach to bring the concept of user-centric identity to customer management. During the VRM Unconference 2008 this topic has been intensively discussed for the first time in Europe. The second special prize goes to open source projects Higgins and Bandit, which we consider the most important open source initiatives in the field of Identity Management.

And here’s Bart Stevens’ blog post with photographic proof as well.

Big thanks to Joerg, Martin and all the folks at Kuppinger Cole for hosting and for welcoming all the participants from the VRM crew to EIC2008.

We have many more events coming up. In addition to regularly (and irregularly) scheduled ones in the U.K and elsewhere in Europe (need to get everything on the wiki), we have the VRM sessions at the next IIW, plus the first VRMW (VRM Workshop, unless we come up with a better name for it) at Harvard on 9-10 July. Mark your calendars.

Shots from the I Can Haz Case Study? session at ROFLCON. The show continues today. I’ll be there.

Meanwhile, if you’re looking to ROFL, check out (some of) the many videos linked to by Ethan Zuckerman here.

My fave, not mentioned. Runner up, mentioned.

To get (and stay) in shape, I’ve been spending more time off-grid. Less blogging and twittering, more time communing with nature. Some of that time I’m not indulging my curiousities. Or at least I’m resisting them. No electronics, for example. It was on one of those walks that I became curious about the story of infrastructure, past and present. What were these metal plates doing in the ground? Why were they there? Why were there so many of them? What were their different purposes? Which ones were remnants of services or companies no longer in existence? Which ones had found new uses? Why do so many carry the signatures of companies and utilities long dead?

I started on the Minuteman Bikeway, which passes close to our home not far from Harvard, where I’m headquartered these days. With a minimal slope, it’s perfect for active but low-stress strolling or biking. And it connects a lot of interesting historic sites. At one end is the Alewife “T” stop on the Red Line subway. At the other is something in Belmont I haven’t reached yet, because I usually go only as far as Lexington. Most of the stretch runs through Arlington, which combines the former villages of West Cambridge and Menotony. This is roughly the path along which the British soldiers retreated from Lexington on April 19, 1775, losing men (mostly boys, actually) and killing colonials of many ages. Thus started the Revolutionary War.

The Middlesex Central Railroad was born in 1846 and died in 1982. Part of it was better known as the Lexington and West Cambridge Railroad. It began as a vein of commerce, carrying goods from mills and ponds along its path. The Earth was colder in the early days of the railroad, and the winters were longer. Ice cut from Spy Pond was shipped all over the world from docks in Boston. This past winter the pond was thick enough to support skating for about three days.

But I’ve become more interested in the infrastructure story. So, over the last couple weeks, as Spring breaks out along the trail, I’ve been shooting pictures, mostly of stuff on the ground, before it gets haired over with vegetation, in faith that patterns will start making sense to me. I’ve also shot a lot around Cambridge, Boston and other places, but haven’t put those up yet. Right now I’m adding descriptions to the photos in this set here.

This is part of a long-term project, methinks. We’ll see how it goes. If you’re interested in following the same threads, tell me in the comments below.

Clicking on the picture above will take you on a slideshow tour of the Grand Canyon, shot from the right side of an LAX-bound 757 that departed from Boston. I have no idea what movie was showing at the time; though I do know I refused, as I usually do, to close my windowshade to reduce ambient light on the ancient crappy ceiling-mounted TV screens. The scene outside upstaged the movie in any case, as it has been doing for the last several million years, as the Kaibab Plateau has pushed its dome upward and the Colorado has stayed roughly where it had been since the many millions of years before that, when it wandered lazily across a flat plain.

As ranking canyons go, the Grand Canyon is almost too grand. It’s freaking huge. From the air I find it far more dramatic to peer down into its narrower regions, such as the one above, which is early in the Colorado’s course through the canyon. The series follows the canyon from east to west, from not far below Glen Canyon dam and the Vermillion Cliffs area to Vulcan’s Throne and Lava Falls, where relatively recent flows have slopped their blackness down across the canyon’s iconic layer-cake strata.

What is most amazing to me about this corner of The West is that it was obviously placid through so many time stretches across the last almost two billion years. The West is painted with the colors of long periods of relative quiet, as sands and silts and gravel and cobbles were deposited by braided rivers and transgressing seas.

All of the Grand Canyon’s strata were laid down before the age of dinosaurs. Younger layers such as those comprising the Vermillion Cliffs to the East, the Grand Staircase upstream in the Glenn Canyon area, in Canyonlands, Arches, and most of Utah’s most colorful layer-cake displays — Bryce, Zion, Capitol Reef, Cedar Breaks, San Rafael Reef and Swell — are comprised of younger rock eroded off the top of the Kaibab Plateau.

Some of the shots were taken with my Canon 30d, and others with my tiny PowerShot 850. which does a better job of shooting straight down through the window. Its smaller lens distorts less through the plane’s multiple layers of bad glass and plastic windows. And the display on the back lets me shoot without looking through an eyepiece. It’s not perfect, but not bad, either.

I still miss my Nikon Coolpix 5700, which took lots of great pictures out plane windows, and was frankly much better at that job than the Canon, mostly because the Coolpix’ objective lens was smaller (again, better for looking at angles through the terrible optics of plane windows), and partly because the camera’s flip-out viewer allowed me to hold the camera to the window at angles I could not put my face, but where I could still see and frame the view.

When I couldn’t sleep last night, I uploaded another pile of pix shot out the window during a flight last month from Boston to Los Angeles. This segment runs from the Mineral Hill Mine in Arizona to Slide Peak in the San Bernardino Mountains east of Los Angeles.

The picture above is of the the mine at , Arizona. Once home to a settlement of 700 people, it’s now a ghost town.

What intrigued me, even from 30 miles away, was the “happy face” look of the mine, produced by the small ponds in the mine’s depths.

Here’s a slide show compiled from shots from a left side window (6A) of a United 737 flying from Dulles to Logan. Featured are Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Jersey’s refinery districts, New York and BostonProvidence. Even from half a dozen miles up and more than that away, you can see the bright lights of Yankee Stadium and Camden Yards, where the Yankees and Orioles were playing that evening. Also the Verazano-Narrows and George Washington bridges, along with many others draped across the black waters below.

Got some nice pictures of the Cornwall Coast, while still ascending out of Heathrow en route to Washington and Boston.

The shot above is of Padstow Bay, with Trebetherick and the Polzeaths on the right, above Padstow and Daymer Bays. (The latter is the lower, or southern, one.)

Interesting to see how the surf hits the Polzeaths at full force. Some pretty big waves there. You can also see the corduroy surface of the ocean, as the waves advance from a swell coming in from the west.



Often as I fly over eastern Canada, I’ve somehow always missed Newfoundland. It has always been nighttime, or clouded under, or too far from the plane’s route. Well, not this last time. When I flew from London to Boston via Washington (LHR-IAD-BOS) on the first day of March, I could see on the plane’s map that we were headed straight over the southeastern corner Newfoundland — the Avalon Peninsula, where St. John’s lies next to the easternmost point on mainland North America. Then, as we approached, the plane veered slightly left, toward the south, and we missed St. John’s by fifty miles or more. But it was a clear day, so I got a few shots of St. John’s anyway, and then much better shots as we flew just south of the southern capes.

I got some nice shots of Trepassy Bay, Biscay Bay and St. Mary’s bay, all on the “Irish Loop” of Highway 10. The towns along and near the loop — Portugal Cove South, Trepassy, St. Shotts — are fishing villages more akin to settlements. So far I’ve found surprisingly little about them on the Web, most of which I’ve put into links in captions under some of the pictures. Maybe some of ya’ll can fill me in.

Yesterday we went to visit the De Cordova Museum in Concord Lincoln, where we were looking forward to seeing the museum’s iconic pink pig sculpture along with other exhibits in the museum and its Sculpture Park.

Rounding a curve on the road through the park heading into the museum, we were shocked and saddened to see that a tree from the center of a nearby grove had fallen squarely across the pig, smashing it right in the middle. No expert could have dropped the tree more squarely. It was amazing that, given 360 possible compass degrees that the tree might have fallen, it picked exactly this one.

Later we learned that the tree had fallen just that morning, no doubt because its rooting had been weakened by gound saturated with rain over the past few days.

Then this morning I was surprised to find no mention of the news in blog or the Boston Globe. So I just started uploading a bunch of pictures taken with my pocket camera. The lighting wasn’t good, but there are plenty of shots for anybody to use, should they like, up here at Flickr. If you’re a journalist of any kind, feel free to take and use them.

More about the pig. It is a work of Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades of Actual Size Artworks. Its title is Trojan Piggybank, and it is on loan from the artists. From the writeup two links back:

Originally exhibited in the 2004 Navy Pier Walk: The Chicago International Sculpture Exhibition, Trojan Piggybank comes to DeCordova Museum’s Sculpture Park with a playful warning from its collaborative team of artists, Gail Simpson and Aristotle Georgiades, who caution, “Sometimes things are not what they appear to be.”

From a distance, the large pink wood piggybank appears friendly. A closer look reveals military camouflage colors painted around the snout, suggesting a recent wallow in filth, while imparting an additional and foreboding meaning. The artists intend this familiar military pattern to represent the greed associated with our ever-expanding military industrial complex. This visual stratagem is furthered by grates protecting Trojan Piggybank‘s eyes, and a hatch door on the underbelly hinting at hidden invaders inside. A large silver coin waits at the ready in the piggybank’s slot. As Simpson and Georgiades observe, “The pleasures of consumer culture are accompanied by less desirable social consequences. When we impose one way of life onto another, the bad goes along with the good. The playful piggybank has a hidden agenda.”

No wonder our first thought was that the tree across the pig was itself a sculpture, or an improvisation on the original.

Well, in a way it was, no?

I just discovered that is also useful for astronomy. You go under View and click on Switch to Sky. Suddenly your screen is a planetarium. It’s not quite the equal yet of KStars, Starry Night or Carinasoft’s Voyager (the three programs I know best), but it’s not bad for a start, and with call-outs that integrate well with the Web.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, I’m wondering if there’s an easy one-click way to copy lat/lon from an x/y location on the Earth. Or to copy the geotag.

Another question… Is there an easy way to make Google Earth display the names of mountains and rivers? Seems the only way is by angling down with the tilt slider (the horizontal one above the compass tool), to an elevation barely above that of the mountain — and then using your mouse, keyboard, or that joysticky whatever-that-is in the middle of the compass, to fly like a plane toward the mountain’s crest, hoping that at some point the name of the mountain will appear in blue above it. Any of you geo-hackers know a better way? Hope there is one.

And one more… Is there a way to use normal, non-3D fonts?

Oh, and these questions don’t just apply to Google Earth.

My main purpose is to geotag pictures I put up here. No way to label them all, since there are around 18,000 of them. But I’d like to label a few, at least. Easily.

Looking grand

That’s a shot of the Lava Falls section of the Grand Canyon. It’s one of my favorite scenes: of lava from the Uinkaret Lava Field slopping down into the canyon over the north rim. Atop Lava Falls itself is Vulcan’s Throne, a volcanic vent about 73,000 years old.

This may seem old, but the lava is among the newest features of the Grand Canyon. The Kaibab Limestone over which the lava flowed was laid down in early Permian time, around 290 million years ago. All the rocks below are older, on down to the Vishnu group at the bottom of the canyon, around 1.7 billion years ancient.

That set is one of many that came out of my most recent trip out west by plane. I’m in London now, and still getting them up.

Shootings


Getting this one up quickly from my seat in a London-bound 777 before taking off. It’s a set of shots heading westbound from Comb Ridge to Monument Valley in southern Utah during the trip west I’m ending now. The shot above is of Red Lake, a dry lake in the midst of an only slightly less rutilant desert south of Comb Ridge, the town of Bluff, and the San Juan River. The colorful parts of Utah are among my favorite places on Earth. Even though I haven’t been to most of them.

Someday I’d love to take a rafting trip down the San Juan River, through Goosenecks, which are also featured in this series.

The whole trip is here — a long series of shots running from Boston to Los Angeles. I don’t have all of them up yet. All my connections have been too slow. Maybe I’ll finish them in London. We’ll see. In any case, it was the clearest view I’ve had coast-to-coast in many trips.

The Grand Canyon series is pretty good too.

Fractal footprints

The interesting thing to me about the footprints above, aside from their nature as photography fodder, is that they resemble the layout of the two intersecting paths at Winthrop Park, where I took the shot.

You can see the paths on Google Maps if you look for the intersection of JFK and Mt. Auburn in downtown Cambridge — one block south of Harvard Square (which isn’t), or you can hope that clicking on the “Link to this page” link for the park itself will work; but for some reason Google Maps (on this laptop, at least, in two different browsers) shows you the park while it’s loading, then jumps to another part of Cambridge. It’s 2:33am, however, and I’m not going to try to debug whatever I might be doing to cause that.

In any case, the pidgeon prints drew a map of the park paths.

The park is also Wintrop Square. Unlike most squares in Boston, it actually has corners that are right angles. It was the city’s original marketplace, and therefore dates, as does the city, from 1630. It was called Newtowne then. It became Cambridge eight years later.

Snow ‘nuf

The link behind that picture leads to a small set of shots I took with my new little inexpensive Canon pocket camera (with a name like a license plate, so I don’t remember it). Takes some getting used to, but I like it.

One of the pleasant discoveries I’ve made since moving (at least temporarily) Back East (as we, or they, say in California), is that I enjoy the winter. Nothing is prettier than New England under a fresh snow. That’s what I was trying to shoot there.

What I missed was taking some shots the day before the snows came, when the ponds were both frozen and clear. I bought some skates and went out on one of the local ponds with The Kid, who with a total of hours on skates was far better than his old man, who hadn’t been on the things in at least three decades — and hadn’t skated on a pond or a lake since his teens. So we’re talking, like, 45 years ago, give or take.

Now it’s warmed up and about all that’s left of the snow is gray glaciers of former slush along the sides of roads. Still, it’s pretty to me.

This weekend we’ll go skiing with friends up in Vermont. My first time skiing there. Looking forward to that, here at midnight in Toronto (at the moment).

Haze set

There’s this great haze effect you sometimes get in the mountains of Southern California in the evening. It’s not smog, though sometimes that’s involved. It’s just enough moisture in the air, nicely layered, to give you these amazing silhouettes that look like Japanese paintings. Or something.

And that’s what I saw whille driving from Las Vegas to Los Angeles last Thursday evening, right after CES, when I passed through some low mountains between Barstow and Victorville on I-15. Google Earth is woefully deficient in the mountain-naming department, so I’m not sure what these are. The near ones are close to the road. The far ones are probably in the San Gabriel Mountains, which frame the Los Angeles basin on the north, and the Mojave Desert on the south. At this point I’m on the Mojave side, facing southwest. In any case, I got some nice shots in the set behind the picture above.

And here’s the same effect, in the San Gabriels, shot from an inbound plane.

In CES digestion

Picturing CES, continued is my latest post at Linux Journal. It leads to a long report in the form of captions to over two hundred pictures (though far from all) shot at the show.

Where looks are everything

Las Vegas is a crazy place. Picturing CES shows some of that. There’s more to come.

Just noticed I have 394 potos tagged lasvegas here and another 77 here.

That was the sunrise on New Year’s Day here in Santa Barbara. Here’s the sunset from the same day:

Both were harbingers of sorts. As I write this we’re having the worst rain of the new year. Huge storm happening.

We’ve been under snow in Boston for all of December; but in our case we missed the white Christmas there, opting instead to visit family and grandbaby in Baltimore, where it was a bit cold but not snowy. Christmas evening, however, we made up for that by hanging in Denver, waiting for a plane to Boise, where things were white again, and getting whiter.

The next morning, after a fabulous breakfast I wrote about on site, we hopped in the rented Subaru Forrester and headed toward Sun Valley. The roads were slick and the accidents were many, so I didn’t do any shooting until we were heading into Shoshone, and taking the Sawtooth Scenic Byway (Idaho 75) north into Sun Valley. That’s where this gallery came from, including the shot above, which was made by The Kid out a side window. Not bad.

We had fresh snow every day in Sun Valley, and even more up at Galena where I did the first cross-country skiing in my life. Beautiful place, with the best lodge food I’ve ever had. Amazingly good, especially considering the remote infrastructure-free location.

Anyway, things stayed white all the way until we were over California airspace yesterday. More pix of those after I get some sleep.

As a photographer with nearly 18,000 shots on Flickr (and hundreds of thousands on hard drives), Dave Winer’s FlickrFan looks like a killer thing. I’m especially interested in turning our idle flatscreen “TV”s into useful ways to display the work photographers and services (such as the AP) that I like. When I get home to Santa Barbara later this week, I’ll give it a whirl.

Meanwhile, I think we’re going to see TV undermined absolutely by “content” of the users’ own choosing. TV itself isn’t even TV any more. It’s just one way among many for people to display pictures and video that could come from anywhere, produced and distributed by anybody, including (and especially) the user himself or herself.

When the TV ceases to be a TV, and can be whatever you want, wherever you want — yet still remains that attention-grabbing thing that a screen tends to be — all kinds of interesting things can happen.

I think we’re not only seeing the end of TV, but the beginning of a new life for digital photography.

My sister Jan put up a nice photo series of our Aunt Grace Apgar, flying with our cousin Mark Crissman. Grace is 95 and doesn’t look or act a day over… hell, pick a number. Make it a low one.

Her mom lived to 107, and Grace is in better shape at 95 than Grandma was at the same age.

Hoping here that some of those long-lasting genes got distributed in my old bones too.

New found ice

Speaking of ice and snow, that picture above is one in a series of shots I took out the window of the galley in the 777 yesterday as it passed into Canadian airspace after hours crossing nothing but the vast North Atlantic. This is the Labrador coastof the province now known as Newfoundland and Labrador. The patterns made by the icy water flowing past small islands along the coast was beautiful and fascinating. Look here and here to see the larger scope, and how some play between moving seas and moving winds creates these broad flow patterns that almost appear to have been made by a rake or a broom.

The shot above is one in a series shot last night walking from our hotel to the Louvre. It was cold and rainy, but Paris itself more than compensated for the discomforts, because Paris in the rain looks better than most cities in the sun. Such a great place. I forgot how much I missed coming here, which I used to do quite a bit, back in the mid-90s. A few bits of French even came back to me.

Anyway, I found a good connection here at (where the wi-fi is otherwise bad), so I’ve been uploading shots. Here’s the whole series, which will keep growing.

My Flickr DNA reveals that I have 383 photo sets among 17,437 photos, and just just one favorite photograph by anybody else, which is embarrasing.

(Thanks to Mike Warot for the pointer.)

So I was flying from Boston to Atlanta by way of Chicago, heading south across Illinois roughly on a vector that took me along Interstate 57. I had enjoyed getting looks at varioius intersections and landmarks (Chicagoland Speedway, Argonne National Laboratory) west of Chicago, the Canal Corridor (with the Illinois and Michigan Canal) and the Illinois River on either side of Joliet, the Kankakee River, and then the countryside along the way to Champaign-Urbana, when I spotted a fire on the main street of a town along the way.

I had meant to do the detective work of figuring out which town it was, and to get some photos to the local paper, but got caught up in work.

Then this morning I decided I needed to nail this one down, and sure enough, the town was Paxton, and the fire was in its historic Magestic Theater. Here’s the story from the News-Gazette. Here’s the “before” picture of Downtown Paxton, from Wikipedia. I believe the Magestic Theater is there on the left. Not sure, though.

In response to my piece in Linux Journal yesterday, Antonio Rodriguez, proprietor of Tabblo, has come up with an excellent workaround for photographers dealing with the asymmetry of today’s Net and the problem of uploading over and over again to multiple photo sites:

I’d like to see a white-label services that could be wrapped by webapp builders for core pieces of functionality. To continue the upload example: why doesn’t Amazon, or some enterprising entrepreneur looking to build on the cloud computing infrastructure at Amazon, build out a full suite of well-supported file uploaders, along with an associated S3-backed storage infrastructure for everything from photos to videos. By focusing on just the upload experience, this effort could just nail it for all the rest of us— building plug-ins for our favorite apps, clients for our favorite platforms, and even specialized hardware for events and community activities. In Doc’s VRM world, such a company might even be able to charge the enduser a nominal fee for pipe and storage, so long as its service integrated easily with enough of the interesting webapps.

You listening lazy web?

Better yet, are you listening, carriers?

All the last-mile companies — Comcast, Cox, AT&T, RCN, Time-Warner, Verizon and the rest — are continuing to make all their money on “triple play” and other monopoly rents. They can do better than that. The Net may be a World of Ends in an ideal sense, but in reality there are physical-world issues that put proximal services at a real advantage. Same goes for proximal real estate.

The carriers have already let Akamai school them once. I suppose you could throw in Amazon’s Web Services (notably EC2 and S3, which provide big back-end compute and storage, cheap) as well. Companies such as Digisense leverage Amazon’s S3 back end to provide workarounds of carrier last-mile slow-upstream asymmetries. (Disclosure: I’ve consulted Digisense.) Rather than being a problem to be worked around, the carriers could become the solution. Or at least support solutions provided by more agile companies that could serve as partners or customers.

There are enormous benefits to carrier incumbency that go beyond extending decades-old cable TV and century-old telephone company business models. There are countless potential service businesses that can be either created or supported by the carriers, and their suppliers as well. (That’s you, Cisco.) Antonio just described one of them.

Here at my apartment near Boston I’m lucky to have a choice of three different carriers: Comcast, RCN and Verizon. I use Verizon because it provides 20Mb downstream and 5Mb upstream — much higher speeds, especially on upstream, than either of its rivals — and comes pretty damn close to delivering exactly that:

The HDTV we get is also pretty good, though the user interface and choice of set-top boxes fall far short of what we’ve experienced for years in Santa Barbara with Dish Network. (Still, they’re new at this. I’m willing to cut them some slack.)

Anyway, we pay a little over $100/month for TV, phone and Net as a “triple play”. Of that, the Net is about half the total. But what if we want more, such as an IP address or two, so se can set up our own Web servers? Well, we need to get Verizon FiOS for business for that. There the lowest price is about $100, for a two-year commitment for “Up to 15 Mbps/2 Mbps”. That’s twice the cost for much lower speeds, both ways, than I get now. The closest business offer to what I have now is “Up to 30 Mbps/5 Mbps”, and that’s $389.99/month for one year and $404.99/month for two years.

This kind of pricing prevents far more business than it supports. It’s the old telco mentality at work: the one that says, “Businesses can afford to pay more, so we’ll charge more”.

Verizon and its competitors need to start seeing their primary advantages in three places: 1) existing customer relationships; 2) proximity to customers of buildable and rentable service-platform real estate; and 3) providing the connectivity that allows business to grow around #1 and #2.

So consider this a friendly and construcive shout-out to CZ and others at Verizon, from the other side of the carrier/customer fence. You guys are making some good moves, technically. Now let’s see you make a few that support the Web’s and the Net’s business and social ecosystems, and not just those of Hollywood and Ma Bell’s ghost.

Another angle on service

Over in Linux Journal: Let’s keep photography and mapping mashable. A sample:

Now, in an ideal world — that is, one where the Net is truly symmetrical, peer-to-peer and end-to-end — I would rather do the federating myself, from my own photo archive, with my own APIs. That way I could federate selected photos to Flickr, Tabblo, Panoramio and whomever else I please. In fact, that would probably make things easier for everybody. But that’s a VRM (vendor relationship management) grace we don’t enjoy yet. In the absence of that, we need more open APIs between services such as these, so customers’ photos can be shared at the vendor-to-vendor level.

To get the context, ya need to read the whole thing. But you get the idea.

The shot above, of Kettle Point on Lake Huron, is one of many in a series taken in a line running from Pinery Provincial Park in Ontario, across Michigan looking north toward Saginaw (and its Bay), Grand Rapids, various towns on the Grand River, and then the shore of Lake Michigan, all while flying from Boston to Chicago on the way to Atlanta last week.

The woods near Kettle Point, and up the coast into Pinery Park, comprise the largest oak savanna in North America, left unspoiled because the sandy land beneath was bad for farming. The lines running through them are the remains of old shorlines. I won’t say “ancient”, because they aren’t. They’re markers of the rising land and shrinking size of the lake, which is actually a puddle left by the melting glacier that comprised an ice cap that recently came south as far as Long Island and Cape Cod, which were both built along its southern boundary of dirt and rock the glacier had carried there. In fact all the Great Lakes, and nearly every Lake in Canada, is but a dozen thousand years old, at its most elderly edge (this one here).

Kinda puts global warming in perspective. You could stand at any one of those lines at any time in the past 12,000 years, and speak of global warming as a progressive fact.

By the way, fall colors stand out in many of these pictures, if you look closely for them.

Greenland in bluelight

Put up a tabblo of Greenland in blue light at sunset. Another take on this series here.

Behold Fridgewatcher.com.

I don’t know any other way to describe this. Wow.

How long before that shows up in a James Bond movie?

[Later...] That’s a they’re wearing.

Perhaps this is the next step.

Blueland

I just uploaded some more shots from last week’s flight over Greenland, en route from London to Denver. The last series, of peaks drowning in ice, was shot with the sun below the horizon, behind clouds, or both. Couldn’t tell from my side of the plane. As we flew straight west, however, the sun began to come up again, just peeking over the horizon and illuminating the peaks of mountains above deep fjords bottomed by glaciers, all moving toward the Davis Strait on the west side of the island. The result highlighted the deep blue of dusk in the valleys.

Eastern Greenland blows my mind every time I fly over it. This last trip was no exception. Imagine Alps, Rockies, Himilayas, buried up to their nostrils in snow and ice across an expanse of Saharan dimensions, all of it moving, less an ice cap than a great spreading mound of blue and white, all of it heavy as magma, hard as stone, abrading away at the mountains, leaving horns and scarps protruding above the whiteness. At its edges icebergs calve off constantly and in great profusion, suggesting a bovine maternal quality to the great mound itself.

Anyway, it’s past the equinox and gaining on the winter solstice, so the sun was quite low when we flew over Greenland en route to Denver from London last week. Still, the subject was still there. Amazing sight.

Just got into Chicago, and now I’m sitting in seat 4F, at the window, camera at my side, while the rest of the passengeriat boards the 737.

Beautiful view of Toronto, Hamilton, Southern Ontario, Lake Huron and Central Michigan after clearing the clouds in Central New York. Got some pix I’ll put up later.

Can’t get to my point, Have to turn this off. durn.

Okay, we’re en route to Atlanta, and permission has just been granted to use laptops and other “approved electronic devices”. These do not include “all electronic devices including two way radios using cellular wi-fi technology”. The technical among you will know that the last phrase was not written by a technical expert.

Anyway, my point, two paragraphs up, was that these prohibitions, while serious in one way, are silly in others. I’d bet that most of the open laptops on this plane have wi-fi on by default, putting out whatever little signal that involves. I have my wi-fi turned off, which spares the battery in any case.

More to my point about silliness, for the first time ever I was told by a flight attendant to turn off my camera, presumably because it is an “electronic device”. I can only assume, because I didn’t ask. Her pissy and reproachful tone made it clear that asking questions would not be helpful. So I complied. Meanwhile we crossed the north shore of Chicago, with brilliant fall colors and many scenes I would like to have shot, but alas. Not big as deals go, but still annoying. The risk to the aircraft caused by my shooting pictures out the window is exactly zero. The benefits to the airline exceed that, though perhaps not by much.

I’ll check when I get to the hotel, but I’ll bet that about half of the 17,000 or so pictures I’ve put up on Flickr were shot out of plane windows. (Later… 4303 are labeled “aerial”.) A lot are blah, but more than a few are pretty darn good. Including many shot on approach or take-off.

And now I’m in Atlanta, at Apachecon, working.

Many flights aren’t in the air. They’re on the ground. Such as mine, UA7157 from IAD to BOS. It was supposed to depart at 2:35pm. It’s 4:30 now. The plane was delayed out of Philadelphia, and is on the ground now at IAD (Dulles, Washington DC). We’ll board shortly.

Meanwhile, I’m looking at flight trackers. Flyte.com can’t find the flight at all. Flightstats says it leaves at 4:09. So does FlightAware. Here’s an announcement…

Turns out 7157 has a new plane with 15 fewer seats….

It’s now 5:30. I’m still at IAD, only now on flight 822, which was due to leave at 5:15. I volunteered for it, and got a free round trip voucher for doing that. I still have a window seat, but in 12F on a 757, which has no window, but rather a large blank space from which the rushing sound of the plane’s ventillation system roars.

Anyway, we’re not going. Soon as I sat down in the plane, they announced that a bolt was loose in a wheel, and we would be delayed at least 45 minutes, or perhaps an hour.

The Verizon cell signal is too poor in here to do the fancy flashy stuff that most or all the flight tracking sites use, so fuggit. I’ll try to sleep.

[Later...] Got in at 7:10. The fix didn’t take that long, and I netted a free round trip for the trouble. Coulda been worse. Now to bed for real.

Here’s what I saw when I looked out my Denver hotel window this morning. That’s venus and the moon, in a conjunction, high in the eastern sky. If you live on the West Coast and it’s clear, you can see the same thing right now (5:20am), and into the morning light.

Same for folks in Hawaii and the Pacific.

The configuration will change by the time dawn reaches Australia and eastern Asia, but will still be impressive, methinks.

An interesting exercise: with the moon so close to Venus, you have a guidepost to finding Venus in braod daylight, just by looking for it to the north of the moon.

By the way, sorry the shot’s a bit smeared. It was a five-second hand-held exercize and the best I could do with no time to spare.

Shooting Fawkesworks in Battersea

Had a great time watching the fireworks show at Battersea Park last night. Guy Fawkes Day isn’t until Monday, but this was a perfect night for it: not cold, not rainy. Which is the most you should ask of London in November. I stood there in a long sleeve shirt, carrying two layers of unnecessary additional outwerwear over my arm along with the camera.

The shot above, and all the others showing the flamethrowing display (orange lines pointing upward from the bottom of the photo) were all made without me looking through the viewfinder. I held the camera over my head, and the crowd in front of me, pointed in the general direction of the fireworks.

The show was well-coordinated with music, and involved some of the most unusual and inventive pyrotechnics that I’ve yet seen: fireworks that flew in tight ringlets once they achieved altitude, others that produced trails that looked like waterfalls, draped across the sky… Very nice.

Went there with friends old and new, and enjoyed it tremendously. My one regret was missing the last tube out of Sloane Square. Finding an unoccupied taxi proved difficult for more than an hour, during which I failed to grok the “night bus” system as well. But I did find a taxi eventually, and chalked it up to another learning adventure in London.

Enjoyed last night’s . I brought my camera, but only took one picture, which isn’t even worth posting. That’s because it was too crowded for the lens I was using, at the places where I was standing; and also because the conversation was more important anyway.

It was interesting to come to an East Coast gathering where I knew maybe one in twenty people. (Though more than that knew me.) In the Bay Area, the ratio is usually reversed. Anyway, met a bunch of great new folks.

Boston to Earth: lots happening here.

Much more from Jeremiah, who turned me on to the event, and who points to all the pix tagged bloggerdinnerbostonoct07 too.

Hello, Earth!

I’m at my Aunt Grace’s new place way back in the woods on a Maine coastal peninsula, feeling way cool that I have successfully guessed the WEP key on her wi-fi station, and am now connected to the Net via her rooftop satellite connection. Meaning that all these bits travel a 25,000 mile round trip to get where they’re going. Not a big deal anymore, I know, but I still think it’s cool that it works at all.

We went hiking in the woods this afternoon, looking mostly at fall colors above and soft mosses below. But somewhere in there we found an old mica mine, with some of the most amazing rocks I’ve ever seen.

It’s fun to visit with so many New Jersey relatives that have moved to rural New England. I feel like I’m in Monmouth County in a parallel universe.

Might have pictures later. Not sure. Too much else going on.

Got a few shots of downtown Toronto earlier this week while I was there on a whirlwind in-and-out trip. It was unseasonably warm, and foggy as well. Many of the shots at the link above were taken as the fog burned off.

The camera wasn’t my usual Canon SLR. Instead it was my wife’s little Olympus SP-350, a camera we both hate. It takes decent pictures and has a few other virtues, but it also kills batteries at about the same rate as older cameras killed rolls of film. And rechargeables don’t last for crap in it either. Yes, I’ve updated the firmware. The latest made a *little* difference, but not much. Anyway, if you ever have a chance to get one, avoid it.

Rainbow sky

On the trip over here to London last Sunday evening, I shot a set of 24 photos over about a minute and a half while our United 777 ascended through a layer of cirrus clouds at around 25,000 feet, give or take. The sunlight passing through the clouds, which at this altitude were comprised of ice crystals, produced a form of rainbow called a “sundog“. These can also be seen from the ground, but obviously the better angle is on the level at the clouds’ own altitude, with the rising or setting sun at a low angle. Normally I toss most of the shots I take, but in this series every one was a keeper.

I managed to irk pretty much everybody with my post Citizen journal breaks a heroic story. Shelley Powers and David Kearns both took issue with the “citizen journalism” concept. Shelley said it doesn’t work, and David pleaded “for the demise of that horrible ‘citizen journalist’ meme”. Liz Straus, who pointed me to the story in the first place, said “Aw Doc, why the focus on citizen journalism and not the focus — as David point’s out — on the oral history that’s been happening since time began?” More than one comment gave David Armano a hard time for apparently preferring to report via Twitter and blog, rather than through mainstream news media. David himself weighed in with good answers to his critics, and added, “This isn’t real journalism and I don’t think anyone would claim it to be (I wouldn’t). It just demonstrates that the average person can tell a story from there perspective. I was there, I saw what I saw and told that story. That’s all.”

But is it?

“Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow”, Linus’s Law says. But we have to do better than just de-bugging posts like David Armano’s and mine. The mainstream media never had enough eyeballs, or time, to do a job that was even close to ideal. And now, as advertising money and eyeballs both flood over the banks of mainstream media and out through the surrounding jungle of blogs, twitters, cell calls, text messages and countless other outlets for information, we clearly need to think afresh about re-institutionalizing the means by which we get trustworthy news to each other, and how we then debug and interpret it along the way.

We’ve not only hardly started to build the new (or renewed) institutions we require; we barely have a common understanding for what we’re doing in the meantime. “Citizen journalism” sounds right to some, “horrible” to others. Blogs are journals in the literal sense, but few carry the same breed of responsibility long ferried by major newspapers and magazines. (Although fate may put bloggers in that position from time to time.) While we debate whether or not new media authors practice “real journalism”, the need to report What’s Going On not only persists, but has more means than ever.

This is why I’ve lamented the dying not only of local newspapers, but of full-service local radio in most smaller U.S. cities, and the failure thus far of everybody (bloggers, public radio, you name it) to fill the void. Old acts are failing and new acts are not fully together.

Earlier this year Dan Gillmor and JD Lasica put together five basic Principles of Citizen Journalism (accuracy, thoroughness, transparency, fairness, independence) that should refresh veteran journalists while educating rookie ones. We also need new institutions where these kinds of principles can be practiced. And new practices where these principles can be institutionalized.

If you’re looking for a good cross-section of possibilities here, check out JLab and the Knight-Batten awards, which are given to worthy efforts in constructive journalistic directions.

While all these are good, the larger trend to watch over time is the inevitable decline in advertising support for journalistic work, and the growing need to find means for replacing that funding — or to face the fact that journalism will become largely an amateur calling, and to make the most of it.

This trend is hard to see. While rivers of advertising money flow away from old media and toward new ones, both the old and the new media crowds continue to assume that advertising money will flow forever. This is a mistake. Advertising remains an extremely inefficient and wasteful way for sellers to find buyers. I’m not saying advertising isn’t effective, by the way; just that massive inefficiency and waste have always been involved, and that this fact constitutes a problem we’ve long been waiting to solve, whether we know it or not.

Google has radically improved the advertising process, first by making advertising accountable (you pay only for click-throughs) and second by shifting advertising waste from ink and air time to pixels and server cycles. Yet even this success does not diminish the fact that advertising itself remains inefficient, wasteful and speculative. Even with advanced targeting and pay-per-click accountability, the ratio of “impressions” to click-throughs still runs at lottery-odds levels.

The holy grail for advertisers isn’t advertising at all, because it’s not about sellers hunting down buyers. In fact it’s the reverse: buyers hunting for sellers. It’s also for customers who remain customers because they enjoy meaningful and productive relationships with sellers — on customers’ terms and not just on vendors’ alone. This is VRM: Vendor Relationship Management. It not only relieves many sellers of the need to advertise — or to advertise heavily — but also allows CRM (Customer Relatinship Management) to actually relate, and not just to capture and control.

As VRM grows, advertising will shrink to the the perimeters defined by “no other way”. It’s hard to say how large those perimeters will be, or how much journalism will continue to thrive inside of them; but the sum will likely be less than advertising supports today.

The result will be a combination of two things: 1) a new business model for much of journalism; or 2) no business model at all, because much of it will be done gratis, as its creators look for because effects — building reputations and making money because of one’s work, rather than with one’s work. Some bloggers, for example, have already experienced this. Today I have fellowships at two major universities, plus consulting and speaking work, all of which I enjoy because of blogging. The money involved far exceeds what I might have made from advertising on my blogs. (For what it’s worth, I have never made a dime of advertising money by blogging, nor have I sought any.)

On the with effects side — money made with journalism, rather than because of it — perhaps the new institutions of journalism will become more accountable as journalism’s consumers pay its producers directly. I don’t know how we’ll get to that, but it will necessarily involve VRM, and I would love to help build it.

One sure thing: a primary building material for the future institutions of journalism will be the work of amateurs sort, the best of which will honor that adjective’s original meaning: one who loves a subject, but does not require payment for obsessing constructively about it. Again, the old system does not go away, but grows to include both the old and the new.

Just don’t expect advertising to fund the new institutions in the way it funded the old.

About an hour into Southern Illinois after watching St. Louis’ Gateway Arch recede from our rear-view mirrors, we were met along Interstate 70 by an even more surreal giant totem: a white cross, rising oddly out of a field next to the highway and behind a bunch of industrial buildings. So we shot a bunch of pictures of it and kept on trucking. Later I looked up giant cross 70 illinois and found Effingham, Illinois – Giant Cross, at RoadsideAmerica.com:

In case a nearly 200-foot cross isn’t surreal enough for you, this site is enhanced by ten rock-shaped (as in “Rock of Ages”, natch) speakers next to the stone tablets for each Commandment, blasting out what sounds like the stuttering instrumental break from Pink Floyd’s “One Of These Days.” Press a button by each station and hear a bit of wisdom appropriate to the given Commandment. [Aqua Larva, 10/28/2006]

Now I’m sorry we didn’t stop.

(By the way, I’m posting this from the passenger seat of our car, heading toward Cleveland just past Columbus in Ohio on Interstate 71. Gotta hand it to Verizon: EvDO actually works here. It’s the first stretch on the whole trip where the connection has stayed up.)

For someone as old as I am, it’s hard to keep Kansas City (the fist song ever written by Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, recorded by everybody but made a hit) by Wilbert Harrison out of one’s mind. With my Kansas City Baby and a bottle of Kansas. Citywine.

Taking a plane, a train and walking are all listed as options by the writers (and Harrison) for traveling to Kansas City. We did it by a black 2000 Passat Wagon, loaded to the gills.

The wagon passed 120,000 miles just nine shy of Arthur Bryant’s Barbeque. I’d last been to Arthur Bryant’s in 1987, or whenever it was that Duke lost to Kansas in the NCAA semifinals in the Kemper Arena there. My business partner David Hodskins, a devoted Duke fan (he actually went there, and was at the time an Iron Duke), had won a flight for two to the finals by winning a trivia contest or something on the old M Dung morning show on KFOG in San Francisco. I was his date. We flew there, rented a car, picked up our friend Jon Parker (also a rabid Dukie) dumped our stuff in our hotel, then sought out the one thing we wanted most, other than to see Duke win: a pile of Arthur Bryant’s Meats, on Brooklyn Avenue.

The menu on the wall was written in those red and black letters you insert into a kind of coarse corduroy. One memorable entry bragged about the restaurant’s “legiondary sauce”. The choice was between a sandwich and a plate, as I recall. Large black men behind the counter sliced giant hunks of hot beef fresh from a huge brick oven, threw a pile of it on a metal tray, and ladled sauce over the top. If you got a sandwich, they did the same thing, with the pile between slices of white bread that quickly became soaked in juices. It was some of the best food I’ve ever had.

This time, however, we were in a hurry, so we went to the restaurant’s new location out at a vast big box shopping center just north of the immense Kansas Raceway. It was about three in the afternoon and cicadas loud enough to cause hearing damage were buzzing from little trees growing fresh out of the landscaping. There were almost no other customers. Our choice choice on the current menu was between ribs, sausage, pork and beef, so we got a half pound of each, plus some beans and cole slaw. They were all excellent. But the meats were cold, the sauce came from squeeze bottles on the tables, and the atmosphere was pure theme-bar nostalgia with little of the the original restaurant’s soul. Still, it was the best food we’ve had on this trip, and worth the stop.

The day began in Colby, Kansas, which it turns out Dave had visited a few years earlier. I found it notable for the conscientious Starbucks just up the road from our cheap motel. My wife and I like our cappuccinos strong, and consider it a steep challenge to get the average starbucks not to make a cappuccino (or anything other than a straight espresso) that isn’t mostly milk. Generally, ordering a “double short cappucino” or a “double short dry cappuccino” yields an approximation of the ideal. (Background here.) In this case, the barrista said “I think one of these might be a bit heavy. See what you think.” I did, and it was close to perfect, but a tiny bit milk-heavy. She made it again, and nailed it. Gotta love that.

Colby was also familiar on more obscure grounds. I remember passing through there on a family trip in July 1963, long before Interstate 70 bypassed the town (and everything, pretty much). We were on Highway 24 headed west toward Colorado Springs. A tower with KXXX on the transmitter shack caught my attention. Turns out the station is still there (here’s the topo), on 790AM. No website (well, there is one, but predictably it’s for a porn site), but a big signal that covers much of Kansas, Nebraska and Colorado with the “5000-watt voice of agriculture”, or something like that, by day. At night the station is 24 watts and covers downtown Colby.

Anyway, except for stopping to eat meat, we made it all the way across Kansas and nearly all of Missouri. Just under 600 miles. The next day (today as I write this) is for having fun in St. Louis. I’m missing it, since I’m sick with some kind of intestinal business, probably exacerbated by sitting on my ass for days at a time. Anyway, Day 5 is when my wife and kid explore museums and see the sunset from the Arch while I try to get well and catch up on work here at the hotel. That’s what I’m almost doing right now.

First we got up at 3-something AM and drove back into Arches National Park, roughly to the site where Thelma & Louise stuffed the cop in the trunk. There, in darkness, we watched the eclipsed moon sink slowly behind rock spires barely visible in silhouette. It was there that I shot the photo above, acting as a human tripod. Incredibly, it came out. I had no idea until now, abut 20 hours later, in Colby, Kansas.

We went back just before sunrise, crashed in the motel, and didn’t get up and out of town until way late in the morning. Then we drove pretty much non-stop until we were well into Kansas.

I’m uploading photos, in very slow motion. Motel wi-fi is generally bad, whether it’s free or not. (In my growing experience.)

We almost went to Cedar Breaks, but it was raining heavily up there — and all around that part of Utah — when we left Cedar City this morning. So we went up 15 to 50 and headed down to 70, where we took in the Castle Country, San Rafael Swell and San Rafael Reef before arriving at Moab in late afternoon, just in time to take in some nice (though very intermittent) lighting on the most amazing rock formations in the world.

Check here for pix. They’re uploading now on the dial-up speed wi-fi here at the hotel.

I’m hitting the sack, hoping to catch the solar eclipse at 4am or so.

I was sure Hurricane Dean wiped out these places here. All in the Playa Del Carmen area. But apparently not.

[Later...]

Turns out I was right in the first place and this setting (and everything around it) in the coastal town of is gone:

The three pictures behind the three links in the first sentence above were all shot by my sister Jan and myself while on a shore excursion from the last Linux Lunacy Geek Cruise, in October 2005. In the first comment to this post (and in comments to the picture above), she reminded me that we were in Costa Maya, not Playa Del Carmen. And that Costa Maya got clobbered by Dean, with Majahual right in the storm’s bull’s eye. Here’s a Cruise Ship Report:

Carved from the jungle along the Yucatan coast only six years ago, Costa Maya in that short time has become of the most visited ports in the Western Caribbean, with cruise ships carrying a half million passengers calling there last year…

But Cesar Lizarraga, director of sales and marketing for Costa Maya, said about half the port’s infrastructure — including the cruise ship pier, which was able to accommodate three ships — was damaged by the mammoth storm.

“An early estimate indicates the port will remain closed for six to eight months,” Lizarraga said. Others suggested a mid-2008 timeline might be more realistic.

While the faux Mayan shopping and entertainment complex at the foot of the cruise ship pier suffered heavy damage, the adjacent town of Majahual — where dive and souvenir shops and open-air restaurants lined the picturesque beach — has largely been destroyed.

All our pictures there were of Majahual, not the faux shopping center. The cruise ships avoid telling you about Majahual, but we found out anyway and went there, where we had some of the best fresh cooked fish, ever, at the El Faro restaurant, right on the beach. I can’t imagine it, or anything in that town, which has an elevation of about 3 feet above high tide, and couldn’t be closer to the water.

Here’s the El Faro:

Gone now, for sure.

Says here,

The hurricane hit land near Majahual on the Quintana Roo coast of the Yucatán Peninsula at 08:30 UTC (03:30 EDT) on August 21, 2007. Wind gusts of 200 mph (320 km/h) were reported. The state’s tourist cities of Cancún and Cozumel were spared the worst of the storm, but it wreaked havoc in state capital Chetumal, some 65 km south of landfall.[106][105] However, communication with the Mayan communities near the landfall location has been difficult, and little details are available from there.

Dan Askin of CruiseCritic reports:

What we do know is this: The latest from Costa Maya is that more than 50 percent of the pier has been destroyed by Dean. Rebuilding will required a multi-million dollar investment, and it will be a minimum of six months before cruise ships will return to the port. We’ll know more about the fate of the area as residents, business owners and government crews return today to assess the damage.

And now, courtesy of Julie Minter, we have more details — this time on the nearby fishing village of Majahual. Just a five minutes cab ride from the pier at Costa Maya, the little town has become a popular destination for lunching, beach bumming and souvenir shopping. In her first-hand account of Hurricane Dean’s impact on the areas outside of the actual Costa Maya resort, Minter tells Cruise Critic that the overall scene is quite grim.

“From the new light house all down the town of Mahahual, it is no longer Mahahual, everything is gone!” Many of the local businesses, she tells us, including restaurants, souvenir shops and dive shops are gone, with only a few buildings spared. Minter notes that “busted glass, water and wind damage is seen all over … houses are left in pretty bad shape. It is a shame that not everyone knew or got to visit this beautiful well kept secret that we knew as ‘our private paradise,’ our little island.”

Cruise lines have not yet released information on itinerary changes, but it’s clear that Costa Maya will have to be replaced for the near future.

In the meantime, Minter’s Blue Ocean Safari Dive Center plans to issue refunds to folks who pre-booked shore outings. “Blue Ocean Safari will be closed until further notice – but we will issue refunds once we know that the damage is.”

On Cruise Critic’s Costa Maya forum, some members are trying to contribute to relief efforts; some have even suggested that one way to show support would be to not apply for refunds from cancelled excursions. (Please note Cruise Critic’s rules regarding donations: According to community manager Laura Sterling, “Only links to legitmate relief efforts are allowed.”) Visit the Costa Maya board for more information.

USA Today reports,

Although Dean swept over Yucatan as a rare Category 5 hurricane, which is capable of causing catastrophic damage, the storm’s top winds were relatively narrow and appeared to hit just one town: the cruise ship port of Majahual.

The few people who had not evacuated Majahual fled ahead of the storm. Dean demolished hundreds of houses, crumpled steel girders, splintered wooden structures and washed away parts of concrete dock that transformed what once was a sleepy fishing village into a top cruise ship destination.

There’s a photo here.

And there are many more photos here. Found via this CruiseCritic thread.

Here are photos and a thread recalling Majahual as it was.

One of my biggest rarely-fulfilled fantasies is visiting amazing places I’ve seen from the sky. Starting this Saturday we may do some of that. Or maybe not. Depends on how much we hurry on our road trip from Santa Barbara, California to Cambridge, Massachusetts, where we plan on living for the next year.

(No, we’re not moving there. We are committed Santa Barbarians, and we just moved into our new house here a few months ago. But in order to make the most of my Berkman fellowship, and to step on the gas for ProjectVRM, I need to be there. It should also help my Linux Journal work to be in the company of many talented geeks as well.)

Anyway, as it happened my last flight back from Boston vectored south, across Tulsa, and followed Interstate 40 through the Texas panhandle, across Albequerque, the Painted Desert of Arizona and the volcano-dotted deserts of Southern California on the way into Los Angeles.

I shot a lot of that from the air, as you can see in the photosets behind the pictures in this post. If we take I-40 it’ll be interesting to see how some of the same places look from the ground.

Anyway, in the meantime I’m spending most of my time packing and trying not to drop too many balls on the floor. So expect continued light blogging.

Today’s forecast: falling ash

I haven’t posted much on the Zaca Fire since I got back. One reason is that — for the moment, at least — civilization seems less threatened, even as the wilderness behind us burns away. The other is that I have a lot to say about it, and work with other locals to do on it, that I’m just not ready for, since neglected deadlines for other real-world obligations loom.

But that doesn’t mean I’m not watching. In fact, we don’t have much choice.

Yesterday, for example, was an orange day. All day long the sun was filtered though clouds of ash from the fire. I took a few pictures, naturally. The set is at the link here and behind the picture above.

And if you want to follow progress with the fire on the Live Web, check out the Zaca Fire news river that David Sifry put together in the midst of other pressing matters. “Be of service” has always been his motto. Came through here, too.

One disappointment of my Canon 30D camera is that the colors, while almost clinically accurate, are not as rich as they were on my old Nikon Coolpix 5700. The Coolpix is now a five-year-old model, with only 5 megapixels and no switchable lenses or anything. Yet it took some outstanding shots. The one above was taken at SBA, the Santa Barbara Airport, through a chain link fence. Shots in that series are still among my faves.

A reader writes,

I just did a search on Flickr for “Doc”  and got “Would you like to try a search for photos about bashful, dopey, grumpy, happy or sleepy instead?”

I failed to reproduce the effect, but still, it’s funny. Not that it matters, but I was “Sleepy” in junior high school. With good cause. Except for Bashful, I’ve been all the dwarves.

Mashing is believing

Two casual photos I’ve taken of Baltimore have made their way into the Schmap guide for the city.

One of the things I like best about digital photography is seeing results and learning from them immediately. In shots like the one above, for example, I could see that the time exposure actually worked, even from an airplane flying at hundreds of miles an hour. I not only see what I got right away, but I know exactly what settings produced the exposure, and I don’t have to waste a roll of film and a pile of prints to see the result.

Shots like these also fool the photo processing systems too. Those systems often think night shots like these are underexposed and compensate by overexposing them in the printing process. To get the shot above to work with film, I’d probably need to bring the negative back in with specific instructions to enlarge it properly.

It’s also interesting for me to see, often months after I’ve posted them, which pictures people remark upon or call favorites. The one above, for example, I shot on June 6 of last year. Since then it has been called a favorite by five different people, all at different times, including once a few hours ago, which is how it returned to my attention.

The shots of mine that others call favorites are often not my own favorites. Yet the fact that others have “favorited” these is interesting and rewarding to me. It’s also taught me not to edit too heavily. Better to throw a pile of stuff up there than to post only those shots I consider most worthy.

Also, how people relate to photographs differs from one online photo service to another. For example, Tabblo (born in Cambridge, MA) supplements Flickr pefectly as a place to assemble photos into montages or “tabblos” that can, if you like, be printed in a variety of forms. (Disclosure: I’ve consulted Tabblo in the past.) Thanks to mashable web services, I can flow my Flickr sets into tabblos. It’s interesting to me that this tabblo has had 14 comments (two by me, in response to others), including two favorites (not by me), out of just 90 views. Meanwhile the original photo set on Flickr has had 2 comments out of 244 views. For the Tabblo set that’s more than 10x the rate of commenting on way less than half of the viewing of the same set on Flickr.

What would be my own favorites, among either photos or sets or tabblos? I’ll post a few here over the coming days or weeks, to see if any of the rest of ya’ll agree.

The power went off when the storm came through yesterday afternoon (see the post below). I heard it happen first when I was driving through Baltimore, watching the storm gather, listening to WEAA/88.9 on the radio. Faint hints of lightning blinked in the sky. On one of the brighter blinks, the station’s audio went out. The signal was still there, broadcasting silence; but the audio was gone. A few minutes later, back at the house, I was working on my laptop when the lights blinked a couple of times then went dark … and stayed that way until 5:30 this morning. Of course the air conditioning went out too. So did the fridge, and the washer, and everything else. The baby (my new first grandchild) was oblivious to the discomfort of the adults, still dealing with a hot day and night — and also a wet one, as waves of rain came and went. Over 4000 Marylandians were without power from BGE, which said it would be back up at 5:30, then 9:30, then 11:00. All of which were wrong, it turned out.

Anyway, I’m at a coffee shop this morning, where the wi-fi is free but slow. I did manage to upload some pix of the Grand Canyon, however, shot a few weeks ago from the same flight from LHR to LAX on which I toured southern Greenland. A sample:

Closer to home, firefighters have held the southern flank of the Zaca Fire. Although they’ve got a lot of fighting left to do, it looks like Santa Barbara is safer than it looked a day or two ago.

I’m in Baltimore for about a week, enjoying good times with family. And with the city. In spite of all the publicity by Poe, Mencken, Levinson, Waters, and a pile of fine sports teams, Baltimore remains one of the most overlooked cities in the world — a singular center of shipping, education, industry, medicine, science, history, government, art, sports fanaticism and other signs of advanced civilization. All those virtues make for fun exploration, too. Which I’ve done every time I’ve come here.

Of course, I’ve shot pictures. Click on the one above (from Fort McHenry) for all 244 shots I’ve tagged “Baltimore”. In addition to photosets here, here and here, it includes shots from the sky — such as this one, taken at night from high overhead on a flight from Los Angeles to Boston.