Science

You are currently browsing the archive for the Science category.

The power is out and won’t be back for awhile. That’s what the guys in the hard hats tell me, down where they’re working, at the intersection where our dead-end street is born. Many trucks are gathered there, with bright night-work lights illuminating whatever went wrong with the day’s power pole replacement job. The notices they left on our doors said they’d be done by five, but now it’s eight and I’m sitting in a house lit by candles, working on the nth draft of a writing assignment, in the absence of a steady flow of electrons off the power grid. Also in the absence of connection except to the physical world alone. Connectivity = 0. My laptop is good for another four hours or so, but without a connection I lack the building materials I need for constructing the piece. So I’m writing this instead.

Some other utilities are unaffected by the power outage, of course. I have matches, and can fire up the gas stove. Water runs, cold and cold. It also drips out of the little motel-grade refrigerator upstairs, defrosting itself into towels I’ve fed under it. The freezer in the kitchen remains closed, to keep whatever is in there from thawing and requiring use in the next couple days. What I’m witnessing is a gradual breakdown that is easy to imagine accelerating fast, especially if I was coping instead with a wildfire or an earthquake.

Three interesting facts about California and the people who — like me — choose to live here:

  1. The state tree is the California redwood. What made these things evolve into groves of spires with thick bark, standing at heights beyond three hundred feet, with branches in mature specimens that commence a hundred or more feet above the ground. I say they are adapted to fire. A cross section of a mature redwood will feature black edges to rings spaced thirty, fifty, two hundred apart, all marking survival of wildfire at a single location.
  2. The state flower is the California poppy. Here is what makes poppies thrive in dry rocky soils that are poor for agriculture but rich with  freshly exposed minerals: they are adapted to earthquakes. More than any other state, except maybe Alaska, California is a product of recent earth movement. Imagine looking at the southern Appalachians in the U.S. or the Blue Mountains of Australia, two million years ago. It’s not hard: they would pretty much like they do now. If you looked at the site of the future California from anywhere two million years ago, you would recognize nothing, unless you were a geologist who knew what to look for. All of California has been raised up or ferried in by tectonic forces that have been working at full throttle for a couple hundred million years, and aren’t moving any slower today.
  3. Neither of those facts teaches caution to human beings who choose to live here. For example, the home where I write this, in Santa Barbara, has been approached, unsuccessfully, by two wildfires in recent years. The Tea Fire in November 2008 burned 210 homes and the Jesusita Fire in May 2009 burned other 80 more. The Tea Fire came straight at us, incinerating everything but rocks and soil for a mile in its path before stopping a quarter mile and ten houses short of where I’m sitting right now. (Here is my report on the aftermath.) The Coyote Fire in September 1964 burned the same area, and much more. The Sycamore Fire in 1979 came even closer, burning houses just up the street from here.

“We live in the age of full convenience,” John Updike wrote, at a time when it made sense to think copiers and fax machines marked some kind of end state.* But the lessons that matter at the moment arise from the absence of the two most essential utilities in my life, and probably yours too: the electric grid and the data network. (Yes, I can get on the Net by tethering my laptop to my mobile phone, but both use batteries that will run out, and the phone is down below 20% already anyway.) So here are three lessons that come to me, here in the dark, all of which we are sure to continue ignoring::::

  1. Civilization is thin. A veneer. Under it nature remains vast, violent and provisional. In the long run, which may end at any time for any of us, nature will prove no easier to tame than the tides. For three great perspectives on this, I highly recommend John McPhee‘s The Control of Nature. The title is taken from a plea to students, carved into sandstone over the door of a building at the University of Wyoming in Laramie: STRIVE ON — THE CONTROL OF NATVRE IS WON, NOT GIVEN. (I also recommend this blog post, by Themon The Bard, who went to UW and provides a photo.) Its chapters are “Iceland versus the volcanoes,” “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains” and “The Army Corps of Engineers versus the Mississippi River.” The New Yorker re-ran a set piece from the third of those, right after Hurricane Katrina, which produced what New Orleans natives call “The Flood.” In it McPhee describes what would happen to New Orleans when a levee is breached. Here is the original, published years before reality certified true McPhee’s prophesy.
  2. Humanity is insane. A good working definition of psychosis is disconnection of the mind from reality. As a species we have proven ourselves nuts for the duration, as the examples above attest. Present company included. (Further proof: war, genocide.) It should be clear by now that humanity is not merely at the top of the food chain around the world, but a pestilence to everything God (or whatever) put in position to be exploited in the short term, regardless of the obvious fact that it took approximately forever to put those resources in place, and how much of it cannot be replaced. While it’s true that in the very long run (a billion years or few), the aging Sun will cook the planet anyway, we are doing our best to get the job done in the geologic present. This is why many geologists propose renaming our current epoch “Anthropocene.” Bonus question: Why do political conservatives care so little about the long-term conservation of resources that are, undeniably, in limited supply and are clearly bound for exhaustion at any consumption rate? Before categorizing me, please note that I am a registered independent, and in sympathy with economic conservatives in a number of ways (for example, I do like, appreciate and understand how the market works, and in general I favor smaller government). But on environmental issues I’m with those who give a shit. Most of them happen to be liberals (or, in the current vernacular, progressives). George Lakoff provides some answers here (and in several books). But, while I love George, and while he has probably influenced my thinking more than any other human being, it still baffles that opposing conservation of resources fails to seem oxymoronic to most avowed conservatives.
  3. The end is in sight. Somewhere I’ve kept a newspaper story that did a great job of listing all the resources our species is bound to use up, at current rates of exploitation, and how long that will take. On the list were not only the obvious “reserves,” such like oil, gas, coal and uranium, but other stuff as well: helium, lithium, platinum, thorium, tungsten, neodymium, dysprosium, niobium… stuff we use to make stuff that ranges from balloons to hard drives to hybrid car engines. Many of the heavier elements appear to have been deposited here during bombardments by asteroids several billion years ago, when the Earth has hard enough not to absorb them. Helium, one of the most abundant elements in the universe, is produced on Earth mostly by decay of radioactive elements in certain kinds of natural gas. Much of the world’s helium comes from the ground here in the U.S., where our enlightened congresspeople decided a few decades back to hand the reserves over to private industry, where “the market” would decide best how it would be used. So, naturally, we are due to run out of it within maybe a couple dozen years, and have not yet found a way to replace it. Read on.

[Later...] I wrote this three nights ago, but didn’t put it up until now because I was already way overdue on the  writing assignment I mentioned up top, and I had to deal with other pressing obligations as well. So I just went through the post, copy-edited it a bit and added some links.


* Special thanks goes to anybody who can find the original quote. I’ve used it so often on the Web that I’ve effectively spammed search results with unintended SEO. The closest thing I can find is this from Google Books, which fails to contain the searched-for nugget, but still demonstrates why Updike’s criticism earns the same high rank as his fiction.

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:

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”.

Just discovered by Antipodr that Bermuda and Perth are antipodes: located at the exact other ends of the Earth from each other.

I’m in Melbourne, Australia, which is the antipode of a spot on the h of North Atlantic Ocean on Antipodr’s map. By the end of tomorrow I’ll be back in New York, a couple thousand miles west of there, after flying most of the way around the world on four different planes and three different airlines. New York’s antipode is a spot not far southwest of Australia — maybe about as far from the coast as Brisbane is from Sydney, as you can see from the upside-down image of North America on the amazing map around which this text wraps.

The map is from Wikimedia Commons, and illustrates perfectly how little land is antipodal from other land. The sum, in fact, is just 4%. As Wikipedia currently puts it, “The largest antipodal land masses are the Malay Archipelago, antipodal to the Amazon Basin and adjoining Andean ranges; east China and Mongolia, antipodal to Chile and Argentina; and Greenland and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago, antipodal to East Antarctica.”

Click on the map three times and you’ll find yourself at a large version of the map that lets you discover these other antipodes:

Those last three are the sum of U.S. antipodes, at least for the lower forty-eight. Most of Hawaii is antipodal to Botswana, while the northern edge of Alaska is antipodal to an edge of Antarctica. Same with the most northern parts of Canada.

So that’s a little fun in the early hours before my last day of meetings here. It’s been a fun trip.

A question on parting: Have the link piles been useful or interesting? They’ve been all I’ve posted on this trip, because it’s easy and I sometimes feel like sharing what I’m reading. But I’ve had just one piece of feedback so far, and it was negative. So, if you care, lemme know.

A comet is headed for Mars. impactNow approaching at 125,000 miles per hour, it will explode with the force of 35 million megatons of TNT if it hits. That’s a third the size of the collision that caused the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event, which famously erased the dinosaurs and ended the Mesozoic, around 66 Million B.C. It also left a 110-mile wide crater next to what is now Mexico. This Mars impact, should it occur, will also be larger than many other impact events that changed life on Earth utterly, causing mass extinctions countless times in in ages before ours.

The chance that this comet will hit Mars is one in two thousand. The chance that its tail will graze Mars and produce an impressive sky show there are high. Earth-made probes on the surface of Mars will be watching, if they survive. So expect some impressive news, either way.

By the way, my favorite comet of all time was Comet West, which glided slowly through our skies through several weeks in the Winter of 1976. It was beautiful. So was Hale-Bopp, in 1997. Here is an excerpt from what I wrote at the time:

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 I looked and that maybe I sawsomething. (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.

Bonus links: Comet Ison, which might become “the comet of the century” later this year. After looping close to the Sun, it may become as bright as the moon, and visible in daylight. And Comet Panstarrs, which is visible now.

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.

Over dinner in Amsterdam recently, George Dyson — who knows a thing or two about the history of computing — told me that a crossover of sorts has happened, or is happening now.

The crossover is between a time when we erased storage media to make room for fresh data and a time when we save nearly all of it. This is one reason there’s all this talk about Big Data. We need big ways (storage, analytics, software, services) to deal with the accumulations.

At the personal level we don’t yet have more than a few primitive means, relative to whatever it is that Google, Amazon, Facebook, the NSA and other big entities are doing. At their level, who knows? Lets say Google wants to save all your deleted Gmails. The mails might be deleted for you, but are they deleted for Google? I have no idea. All I know is that storing and analyzing them is more and more do-able for them.

I don’t have an axe to grind here (not yet, anyway). I’m just noting that this change is freighted with many possibilities and many meanings. And so, to make it easier to talk about, I suggest we name it, if it isn’t named already.

Hmm… since the sum of all stored data is Too Big to Know, maybe we should call it the Weinberger Threshold. One reason I like that (at least provisionally, besides liking David) is that there is what I consider a fallacious assumption, or presumption, behind much Big Data talk: that an analytical system can know us better than we know ourselves.

But that’s a whole ‘nuther topic, and maybe we should avoid conflating one with the other. (Though I do think the two — Big Data and Too Big to Know — are related, and I am sure David has thought about this stuff far more than I.)

Anyway, just blogging out loud here.

Discuss.

The Northern Lights in the Window

aurora

When it got bumpy on the red-eye from Newark to Amsterdam two Fridays ago, I looked out the window, hoping to see auroral activity such as I’d seen a couple times before on trips like this. And sure enough, there it was. Not as spectacular as the other two, but plenty visible. I watched it from south of Greenland until dawn began to break west of Ireland.

The shot above is the only one in the series without stars turned into lines by the motion of the plane. (The shot, like most others, was four seconds long, at ISO 1600.). The camera, a Canon 5D, is a solid workhorse that’s now eight years old. So is the lens, a $100 bottom-of-the-line 50mm f1.8 prime that I brought along just in case opportunities like this came up.  Alas, the 5D is not great shakes in low light. Still, it was fun watching the show at the time, and still fun sharing a bit of it, a few hours before we fly back.

Geologists have an informal name for the history of human influence on the Earth. They call it the Anthropocene. It makes sense. We have been raiding the earth for its contents, and polluting its atmosphere, land and oceans for as long as we’ve been here, and it shows. By any objective perspective other than our own, we are a pestilential species. We consume, waste and fail to replace everything we can, with  little regard for consequences beyond our own immediate short-term needs and wants. Between excavation, erosion, dredgings, landfills and countless other alterations of the lithosphere, evidence of human agency in the cumulative effects studied by geology is both clear and non-trivial.

As for raiding resources, I could list a hundred things we’ll drill, mine or harvest out of the planet and never replace — as if it were in our power to do so — but instead I’ll point to just one small member of the periodic table: helium. Next to hydrogen, it’s the second lightest element, with just two electrons and two protons. Also, next to hydrogen, it is the second most abundant, comprising nearly a quarter of the universe’s elemental mass.  It is also one of the first elements to be created out of the big bang, and remains essential to growing and lighting up stars.

Helium is made in two places: burning stars and rotting rock. Humans can do lots of great stuff, but so far making helium isn’t one of them. Still, naturally, we’ve been using that up: extracting it away, like we do so much else. Eventually, we’ll run out.

Heavy elements are also in short supply. When a planet forms, the heaviest elements sink to the core. The main reason we have gold, nickel, platinum, tungsten, titanium and many other attractive and helpful elements laying around the surface or within mine-able distance below is that meteorites put them there, long ago. At our current rate of consumption, we’ll be mining the moon and asteroids for them. If we’re still around.

Meanwhile the planet’s climates are heating up. Whether or not one ascribes this to human influence matters less than the fact that it is happening. NASA has been doing a fine job of examining symptoms and causes. Among the symptoms are the melting of Greenland and the Arctic. Lots of bad things are bound to happen. Seas rising. Droughts and floods. Methane releases. Bill McKibben is another good source of data and worry. He’s the main dude behind 350.org, named after what many scientists believe is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: 350 parts per million. We’re over that now, at about 392. (Bonus link.)

The main thing to expect, in the short term — the next few dozen or hundreds of years — is rising sea levels, which will move coastlines far inland for much of the world, change ecosystems pretty much everywhere, and alter the way the whole food web works.

Here in the U.S., neither major political party has paid much attention to this. On the whole the Republicans are skeptical about it. The Democrats care about it, but don’t want to make a big issue of it. The White House has nice things to say, but has to reconcile present economic growth imperatives with the need to save the planet from humans in the long run.

I’m not going to tell you how to vote, or how I’m going to vote, because I don’t want this to be about that. What I’m talking about here is evolution, not election. That’s the issue. Can we evolve to be symbiotic with the rest of the species on Earth? Or will we remain a plague?

Politics is for seasons. Evolution is inevitable. One way or another.

(The photo at the top is one among many I’ve shot flying over Greenland — a place that’s changing faster, perhaps, than any other large landform on Earth.)

[18 September...] I met and got some great hang time with Michael Schwartz (@Sustainism) of Sustainism fame, at PICNIC in Amsterdam, and found ourselves of one, or at least overlapping, mind on many things. I don’t want to let the connection drop, so I’m putting a quick shout-out here, before moving on to the next, and much-belated, post.

Also, speaking of the anthropocene, dig The ‘Anthropocene’ as Environmental Meme and/or Geological Epoch, in Dot Earth, by Andrew Revkin, in The New York Times. I met him at an event several years ago and let the contact go slack. Now I’m reeling it in a bit. :-) Here’s why his work is especially germane to the topic of this here post:  ”Largely because of my early writing on humans as a geological force, I am a member of the a working group on the Anthropocene established by the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy.” Keep up the good work, Andy.

When I was a kid I had near-perfect vision. I remember being able to read street signs and license plates at a distance, and feeling good about that. But I don’t think that was exceptional. Unless we are damaged in some way, the eyes we are born with tend to be optically correct. Until… what?

In my case it was my junior year in college. That’s when I finally became a good student, spending long hours reading and writing in my carrel in the library basement, bad flourescent light, cramping my vision at a single distance the whole time. Then, when I’d walk out and the end of the day or the evening, I’d notice that things were a little blurry at a distance. After a few minutes, my distance vision would gradually clear up. By the end of the year, however, my vision had begun to clear up less and less. By the end of my senior year, I needed glasses for distance: I had become myopic. Nearsighted. I remember the prescription well: -.75 dioptres for my left eye and -1.oo dioptres for my right.

I then began the life of a writer, with lots of sitting still, reading things and writing on a typewriter or (much later) a computer. Since I tended to wear glasses full-time, the blurred distance vision when work was done — and then the gradual recovery over the following minutes or hours — continued. And my myopia gradually increased. So, by the time I reached my forties, I was down to -3 dioptres of correction for both eyes.

A digression into optics… “Reading” glasses, for hyperopia, or farsightedness, are in positive dioptres: +1, +2, etc. As magnifiers, they tend toward the convex, thicker in the middle and thinner toward the edges, or frames. Corrections for myopia tend toward the concave, thicker on the edges. You can sort-of see the thick edges of my frames in the YouTube video above, shot in June, 1988, when I was a month away from turning 42 (and looked much younger, which I wish was still the case). My glasses were Bill Gates-style aviators.

I also began to conclude that myopia, at least in my case was adaptive. It made sense to me that the most studious kids — the ones who read the most, and for the longest times each day — wore glasses, almost always for myopia.

So I decided to avoid wearing glasses as much as I could. I would wear none while writing and reading (when I didn’t need them), and only wear them for driving, or at other times when distance vision mattered, such as when watching movies or attending sports events. Over the years, my vision improved. By the time I was 55, I could pass the eye test at the DMV, and no longer required glasses for driving. In another few years my vision was 20/25 i

n one eye and 20/30 in the other. I still had distance glasses (mostly for driving), but rarely used them otherwise.

I’ve been told by my last two optometrists that most likely my changes were brought on by onset of cataracts (which I now have, though mostly in my right eye), and maybe that was a factor, but I know of at least two other cases like mine, in which myopia was reduced by avoiding correction for it. And no optometrist or opthamologist I visted in my forties or fifties noted cataracts during eye examinations. But all have doubted my self-diagnosis of adaptive myopia.

Now I read stories like, “Why Up to 90% of Asian Schoolchildren Are Nearsighted: Researchers say the culprit is academic ambition: spending too much time studying indoors and not enough hours in bright sunlight is ruining kids’ eyesight“… and the provisional conclusion of my one-case empirical study seems, possibly, validated.

It also seems to me that the prevalence of myopia, worldwide, is high enough to make one wonder if it’s a feature of civilization, like cutting hair and wearing shoes.

I also wonder whether Lasik is a good idea, especially when I look at the large number of old glasses,  all with different prescriptions, in my office drawer at home. What’s to stop one’s eyes from changing anyway, after Lasik? Maybe Lasik itself? I know many people who have had Lasik procedures, and none of them are unhappy with the results. Still, I gotta wonder.

 

One of the world’s great craters

dome
When I visited the Upheaval Dome in 1987, I was sure it was an impact crater. But roadside displays and printed literature from Canyonlands National Park said otherwise. Clearly, they reported, this was collapsed salt dome. Since then German researchers have found evidence, through shocked quartz, of an impact. That now appears to be the prevailing theory. The crater is approximately 5 km in diameter and must be Jurassic in age or younger, given the ages of the rock it hammered. From bottom to top, those rocks are:

Navajo Sandstone also stars in Zion and Capitol Reef National Parks, in Comb Ridge, San Rafael Reef and the Red Rock country overlooking Las Vegas from the west (where it is called Aztec Sandstone). Its cross-bedding strata suggests windblown sand, which is exactly what comprises the rock. The whole formation is the fossilized remains of a Sahara that once covered much of  The West. Think of it as a fossil desert within a desert.

So I was flying over the area last week, and got some good shots of the thing, including the one above. There are many more in that series, which stretches from Boston to San Francisco, by way of Newark. I’ll put up other segments soon, I hope.

 

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.

So I’m at Micah Sifry’s Politics of the Internet class at the Kennedy School, and risk live-blogging it (taxing my multitasking abilities…)

Some questions in the midst of dialog between Micah (@Mlsif) and the class (#pol-int)…

  • Was there a $trillion “internet dividend” over the old phone system, and was it a cost to the old system?
  • Did the Internet have to happen?
  • Is the IETF‘s “rough consensus and running code” still a prevailing ethos, or methodology?
  • Is it an accident that the rough consensus above is so similar to the #Occupy methods?
  • When you add value, do you also subtract value? (And did I — or David Weinberger and I) actually say that in World of Ends?)
  • Does this new un-owned decentralized medium cause or host culture?
  • How is the Internet used differently in different societies? (Assertion: it’s not monolithic.)
  • What is possible in a world where we assume connectivity?
  • What are the major disruptive effects?
  • What is the essence of the starting point in the early connection of computers? (What is the case for the Net, and how would you make it to, say, a legislator? Or you’re in an elevator with your boss, and you want to make the case against legislating how the internet is structured?)

Topics brought up:

  • Net-heads vs. bell-heads (the Net as its transcendant protocols vs. the Net as a collection of owned and controlled networks)
  • Commercialization
  • Authentic voice
  • Before and after (what if Compuserve and AOL had won?)
  • How can we speak of a giant zero when companies and governments are being “smart” (either through government censorship or carrier limitations, including the urge to bill everything, to pick a couple of examples)

My Linux Journal collection on the topic (from a lookup of “giant zero”):

Well, I wrote down nothing from my own talk, or the Q & A following. But there are clues in the tweet stream (there’s some funky html in the following… no time to fix it, though):

dskok David Skok
 An excellent read re: the battle @dsearls was referring to. I recommend @scrawford‘s @nytimes op-Ed: nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opi… #pol-int
NoreenBowden Noreen Bowden

 @dsearls! #pol-int Death From Above – 1995 essay by John Barlow on future of internet. w2.eff.org/Misc/Publicati…
dskok David Skok

 .@dcsearls reading list: Death from above by John Perry Barlow: w2.eff.org/Misc/Publicati… #pol-int
NoreenBowdenNoreen Bowden
Stanford prof leaves to start online university. allthingsd.com/20120125/watch… #pol-int
dsearls Doc Searls
My live blog from @mlsif‘s #pol-int class: hvrd.me/xd3Iki #politics #internet
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 Tweet “+1″ if you think @MlSif should slide over 3 feet to his left or right so the classroom projector isn’t shining on his face. #pol-int
dskokDavid Skok

 Listening to @docsearls referring to the Internet Protocol Suite: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_… #pol-int
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 ”Anyone can join it and work to improve it.” @Mlsif: Is it a coincidence that #OWS and the Internet are structured so similarly? #pol-int
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 Testing live classroom Twitter feed @Mlsif‘s new @Kennedy_School course, “The Politics of the Internet.” #pol-int
dsearlsDoc Searls

 Fun to be sitting in on @Mlsif‘s #pol-int class, described here: hvrd.me/w3hCbI
 MlsifMicah Sifry
I hadn’t realized up til now just how much the IETF and its working groups resemble Occupy Wall St and its working groups. #pol-int

Enjoyed it. The class will be blogging. Look forward to reading those too.

Storm over Boston

So here’s the storm happening right now over Boston:

Also watching lightning strikes on Lightning Finder, as well as out my window, before I go outside for a better view.

Check out FlightAware‘s view of KBOS (Logan airport) flight activity map:

flightaware-kbos

You can see flights avoiding the storm as it approaches the airport, which is just above the “BO” in KBOS.

It’s just a summer thunderstorm. Nothing exceptional. It’s just fun to watch it online in all these places as well as from a chair on my front porch.

… And now, a few minutes later,  the sun is out and we have rainbows in Cambridge. Meanwhile, flights are taking off from Logan, while inbound flights circle in the sky to the east:

By the way, also at FlightAware, there’s this notice: “Boston Logan Intl (KBOS) is currently experiencing inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 1 hour 33 minutes due to thunderstorms.” So if you’re coming here for the weekend, good luck.

 

Tags: , ,

 

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.


says we’re overdue for a plasma bullet from the Sun. In Saturday issue (at that last link) they have a movie of a plasma blast coming out of sunspot 1147, on the eastern (left) edge of our nearest star.

Yesterday they reported this:

SOLAR FLARE: Sunspot 1158 has just unleashed the strongest solar flare of the year, an M6.6-category blast @ 1738 UT on Feb. 13th. The eruption appears to have launched a coronal mass ejection (CME) toward Earth. It also produced a loud blast of radio emissions heard in shortwave receivers around the dayside of our planet. Stay tuned for updates!

BEHEMOTH SUNSPOT 1158: Sunspot 1158 is growing rapidly (48 hour movie) and crackling with M-class solar flares. The active region is now more than 100,000 km wide with at least a dozen Earth-sized dark cores scattered beneath its unstable magnetic canopy. Earth-directed eruptions are likely in the hours ahead.

And today they say,

EARTH-DIRECTED SOLAR FLARE: On Feb. 13th at 1738 UT, sunspot 1158 unleashed the strongest solar flare of the year so far, an M6.6-category blast. NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory recorded an intense flash of extreme ultraviolet radiation, circled below:

The eruption produced a loud blast of radio waves heard in shortwave receivers around the dayside of our planet. In New Mexico, amateur radio astronomer Thomas Ashcraft recorded these sounds at 19 to 21 MHz. “This was some of the strongest radio bursting of the new solar cycle,” he says. “What a great solar day.”

Preliminary coronagraph data from STEREO-B and SOHO agree that the explosion produced a fast but not particularly bright coronal mass ejection (CME). The cloud will likely hit Earth’s magnetic field on or about Feb. 15th. High-latitude sky watchers should be alert for auroras.

The shot above is one I took on a flight from San Francisco to London in 2007. For some reason it flew far south of the usual route, giving me a somewhat distant view of the aurora that showed up outside my window on the left side of the plane. It was my first good view of one.

I shot another set here on a later flight a few weeks later. When flying to and from Europe, always get a seat on the north side if you want to see the show.

Meanwhile, watch SpaceWeather for more developments. Also NOAA’s Space Weather Service, which yesterday said this:

February 11, 2011 — Region 11153 has rotated on to the far side of the Sun, having given us an M class flare and a handful of small C class flares over the past few days. Recently, there have been some small active regions appearing and disappearing that haven’t bothered to produce any interesting activity and there are currently 4 of them on the disk. What has the attention of forecasters is the Sun’s East limb, where old Region 11149 is just beginning to reappear having transited the far side of the Sun. During that transit, multiple coronal mass ejections were observed that were directed away from the Earth. If that region stays active, we could be in store for some interesting space weather in the days ahead as it moves towards the center of the solar disk.

I have a feeling we’ll be taking a plasma bullet in the next few days.

[This piece was written for (in Raleigh, North Carolina ) and published twenty-five years ago, on February 10, 1986. Since it might be worth re-visiting some of the points I made, as well as the event itself, I decided to dust off the piece and put up here. Except for a few spelling corrections and added links, it's unchanged. — Doc]

I can remember, when I first saw the movie , how unbelievable it seemed that and could fly their spacecrafts so easily. They’d flick switches and glance knowingly at cryptic lights and gauges, and zoom their ways through hostile traffic at speeds that would surely kill them if they ran into anything; and they’d do all this with a near-absolute disregard for the hazards involved.

That same night, after I left the movie theatre, I experienced one of the most revealing moments of my life. I got into my beat-up , flicked some switches, glanced knowingly at some lights and gauges, and began to zoom my way through hostile traffic at speeds that would surely kill me if I ran into anything; and I did all this with a near-absolute disregard for the hazards involved. Suddenly, I felt like Han Solo at the helm of the . And in my exhilaration, I realized how ordinary it was to travel in a manner and style beyond the dreams of all but humanity’s most recent generations. I didn’t regret the likelihood that I would never fly in space like Han and Luke; rather I felt profoundly grateful that I was privileged to enjoy, as a routine, experiences for which many of my ancestors would gladly have paid limbs, or even lives.

Since then I have always been astonished at how quickly and completely we come to take our miraculous inventions for granted, and also at how easily we use those inventions to enlarge ourselves, our capabilities, and our experience in the world. “I just flew in from the Coast,” we say, as if we were all born with wings.

I think this “enlarging” capacity, even more than our brains and our powers of speech, is what makes us so special as creatures. As individuals, and as an entire species, we add constantly to our repertoire of capabilities. As the educator said, our capacity to learn is amplified by our ability to develop skills. Those skills give us the power to make things, and then to operate those things as if they were parts of ourselves. Through our inventions and skills, we acquire superhuman powers that transcend the weaknesses of our naked, fleshy selves.

One might say that everything we do is an enlargement on our naked beginnings. That’s why we are the only animals that not only wear clothes, but who also care about how they look. After all, if we were interested only in warmth, comfort and protection, we wouldn’t have invented push-up bras and neckties. Or other non-essentials, like jewelry and cosmetics. It seems we wear those things to express something that extends beyond the limits of our bodies: the notions of our minds, about who we are and what we do.

But clothes are just the beginning, the first and most visible layer in a series that grows to encompass all our tools and machines. When we ride a bicycle, for example, the bike becomes part of us. When we use a hammer to drive a nail, we ply that tool as if it were an extra length of arm. Joined by our skills to tools and machines, our combined powers all but shame the naked bodies that employ them.

I remember another movie: a short animated feature in which metallic creatures from Mars, looking through telescopes, observed that the Earth was populated by a race of automobiles. Martian scientists described how cars were hatched in factories, fed at filling stations, and entertained at drive-in movies.

And maybe they were right. Because, in a way, we become the automobiles we drive. Who can deny how differently we behave as cars than as people? It’s a black that cuts us off at the light, not Mary Smith, the real estate agent. In traffic, we give vent to hostilities and aggressions we wouldn’t dare to release in face-to-face encounters.

Of course, we have now metamorphosed into entities far more advanced than automobiles. As pilots we have become airplanes. As passengers we have become creatures that fly great distances in flocks.

If those Martian scientists were to keep an eye on our planet, they would note that we have now begun to evolve beyond airplanes, into spaceships. In their terms we might note the Tragedy as the metallic equivalent of a single failure in the amphibians’ first assault on land. Evolution, after all, is a matter of trial and error.

But as we contemplate the price of our assault on the shores of space, we need to ask ourselves some hard questions. For example: is the Challenger tragedy just a regrettable accident in the natural course of human progress, or evidence of boundaries we are only beginning to sense?

On January 28th, Challenger addressed that question to our whole species. We all felt the same throb of pain when we learned how, in one orange moment, seven of our noble fellows were blown to mist at the edge of the heavens they were launched to explore.

Most of us made it our business that day to visit the TV, to watch the Challenger bloom into fire, and to share the same helpless feeling as we saw the smoking fragments of countless dreams rained down in white tendrils, like the devil’s own confetti, to the ancestral sea below. The final image — a monstrous white Y in the sky — is permanently embossed in the memories of all who witnessed the event.

It was so unexpected because the shuttle had become exactly what NASA had planned: an ordinary form of transportation, a service elevator between Earth and Space. NASA’s plan to routinize space travel succeeded so convincingly that major networks weren’t even there to cover the Challenger liftoff. Instead they “pooled” for rights to images supplied by Ted Turner‘s Cable News Network. Chuck Yeager, the highest priest in the Brotherhood of The Right Stuff, voiced the unofficial NASA line on the matter. “I see no difference between this accident and any accident involving a commercial or military aircraft,” he said.

Would that it were so.

“Fallen heroes” is not a term applied to plane crash victims. In fact, the technologies of space travel are still extremely young, and the risks involved are a lot higher than we like to think. “Since NASA made it look so easy, people thought it would never happen. Those of us close to the program thought it could happen a whole lot sooner. We’re glad it was postponed this long,” said , a former astronaut and pilot of the .

The fact that the shuttle program was so vulnerable, and we failed to recognize the fact, says unwelcome things about our faith in technology, and now is when we should listen to them. Because the time when flying through space becomes as easy as flying down the road, or even through the air, is still a long way off. In the meantime, it might be best to leave the exploring to guys like Lousma, who are blessed with the stuff it takes to push the risks out of the way for the rest of us.

And we’re talking about the kind of risks that were built into the shuttle from its start.

Consider for a moment that the shuttle program is, after all, the bastard offspring of a dozen competing designs, and constrained throughout its history by a budgetary process that subordinates human and scientific aspirations to a variety of military and commercial interests. And consider how, as with most publicly-funded technologies, most of the Shuttle’s components were all produced by the lowest bidder. And consider the fact that many of the Shuttle’s technologies are, even by NASA’s admission, obsolete. If we had to start at Square One today, we’d probably design a very different program.

A new program, for example, would probably take better account of the Perrow Law of Unavoidable Accidents. A corrolary of Murphy’s Law — “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong” — the Perrow Law is modestly named after himself by , Professor of Sociology and Organizational Analysis at Yale University. According to Perrow, the shuttle program has succeeded mostly in spite of itself. Its whole design is so detailed, so complex, so riddled with interdependent opportunities for failure, that we’re lucky one of the things didn’t blow up sooner, or worse, suffer a more agonizing death in space.

“The number of interconnections in these systems is so enormous,” he says, “that no designer can think of everything ahead of time. It may be that this was one major valve failing on one of the tanks, but I rather suspect that that’s not the case. NASA tests and is very concerned about those valves. They have back-ups for every major system. The problem is more likely to have been a number of small things that came together in a mysterious way — a way that we may never learn about.”

He continues, “The chances for an accident will be only marginally reduced if we find the cause of this, and harden something or increase the welds, and eliminate this one thing as a source of an accident. But right next to it will be a dozen other unique sources of accidents that we haven’t touched. But by touching the components next to it, we may increase the possibility of other accidents.”

, who wrote , and invented the term, suggests that NASA may have snowed itself into believing that space travel is past the pioneering stage, and that, as a concept, the shuttle’s “coach & freight service — a people’s zero-G express” was premature. Of the martyred teacher, , he says “Her flight was to be the crossover, at last, from a quarter of a century in which space had been a frontier open only to pioneers who lived and were willing to die by the code of ‘the right stuff’ — the Alan Shepards, s and Neil Armstrongs — to an era when space would belong to the entire citizenry, to Everyman. The last role in the world NASA had in mind for Crista McAuliffe and the rest of the Challenger crew was that of pioneer or hero.”

This was because NASA had labored long and hard to break the political grip of what Wolfe calls “Astropower,” the “original breed of fighter-pilot and test-pilot astronaut — the breed who had been willing, over and over again, to sit on top of enormous tubular bombs, some 36 stories high, gorged with several of the most explosive materials this side of nuclear fission, and let some NASA GS-18 engineer light the fuse.”

The fact was, Wolfe suggests, that McAuliffe and her companions “hurtled for 73 seconds out on the edge of a still-raw technology” before they perished. Which is why he asks “If space flight still involves odds unacceptable to Everyman, then should it be put back in the hands of those whose profession consists of hanging their hides, quite willingly, out over the yawning red maw?”

If the answer is yes, then what will need to happen before Everyman is really ready to fly the zero-G express?

In a word, simplification. Right now there is no way for a single pilot’s senses to stretch over the entire shuttle system, and operate it skillfully. A couple of years ago, the Director of Flight Operations for NASA said “this magnificent architecture makes it that much harder to learn to use the system.” According to Professor Perrow, “because the Shuttle system was designed in so many parts by a phalanx of designers, when it’s all put together to run, there is nobody, no one, who can know all about that system.”

Perrow says “It requires simplification for a single person, a pilot, to know everything that’s happening in such a hostile environment as space.” One of the great simplifications in aviation history was the substitution of the jet engine for the piston engine. That’s what we need to make space travel agreeably safe.”

It is ironic that on the day the Challenger blew up, , a space industry consultant and a former NASA administrator, was about to mail the first draft of a commission report to the president on the future of the U.S. space effort. That report advanced two recommendations: 1) a unmanned cargo-launching program to deliver cargo to space at a fraction of current shuttle costs; and 2) an improved shuttle or a new-generation system like the “hypersonic transportation vehicle” the Air Force has wanted ever since NASA beat the rocket airplane into space. The hypersonic transport would simply be an airplane that can fly in space. By contrast, the shuttle is a spacecraft that can glide to earth. Already, hypersonic transport technology has been around for years. Reports say the first “space plane” could be ready to fly in the 1990s. The thing would cruise along at anywhere from Mach 5 to Mach 25, which would mean, theoretically, that no two points on the earth would be more than three hours apart.

But it will have to fight the inertia behind the shuttle program, which is substantial, and slowed only momentarily by the Challenger explosion.

I fear we can only pray that future missions will continue to dodge Murphy’s law.

Over time, however, our sciences will need to face Perrow’s Corollary more soberly. We need to recognize that there are limits to the complexities we can build into our technologies before accidents are likely to occur. Thanks to Fail Safe, Doctor Strangelove , and other dramatic treatments of the issue, we are already familiar with (and regretably taking for granted) the risks of nuclear catastrophe to which we are exposed by our terribly complicated “defensive shields.”

And this hasn’t stopped us from committing to even more dangerous and complicated “defensive” projects, the most frightening of which is the euphemistically titled , better known by its nickname: Star Wars. Professor Perrow says “Star Wars is the most frightening system I can think of.” In fact, Star Wars is by far the most complex technology ever contemplated by man. And possibly the most expensive.

There are cost projections for Star Wars that make NASA’s whole budget look like pocket change. Portentiously, the first shuttle experiment with Star Wars technology failed when shuttle scientists pointed a little mirror the wrong way. We can only hope that the little mirrors on Soviet Warheads are aligned more cooperatively.

Complexity is more than a passing issue. It is science’s most powerful and debilitating intoxicant. We teach it in our schools, confuse it with sophistication and sanction it with faith. In this High Tech Age, we have predictably become drunk on the stuff. And, as with alcohol and cocaine, we’ll probably discover its hazards through a series of painful accidents.

Meanwhile, there is another concern that ironically might have been illuminated by a teacher, or better yet a journalist, in space. Its advocates include a recently-created organization of space veterans whose non-political goal is to share their singular view of our planet. That view sees a fragile ball of blue, green and brown, undivided by the lines that mark the maps and disputes on the surface below. It is an objective view, and we need it badly.

The implications of that view are made more sober by recent discoveries suggesting limits to the viability of human life in the environments of space. Outside the protective shield of our atmosphere, travelers are bombarded constantly by cosmic radiation that produces cancer and other ailments.

Weightlessness also has its long-term costs. While there may be ways to reduce or eliminate the risks involved with space travel, we are still, at best, in the zygote stage of our development as space creatures. It might be millennia before we are finally ready to leave Earth’s womb and dodge asteroids in the manner of Han Solo.

Until then, it would be nice if we didn’t have to discover our limits the hard way.

As you can tell, if you read the small print in this StrikeStar map, we’re being hit by lightning (and therefore thunder) here in the Boston area, right now. After nothing but snow, over and over, for a month and a half, we get a day of rain with a Summer encore. Very strange.

Tags:

I’ve been looking gratefully and often, over the past few years, at Louis J. Maher, Jr.’s . The shots themselves date from 1956-1966, and he put the page up in 2001; but their subjects are the sort that don’t change much over a span of time so short as the last thirty-five years. Dr. Maher is an Emeritus Professor in the Department of Geoscience at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and specializes in the Quarternary Period, which also happens to be the one in which we  live. (More specifically, we operate in the Holocene epoch, which is the name geologists give to the last dozen millennia or so.)

Explains Dr. Maher,

I was working on a closed-circuit educational television class in geology in 1966. A problem arose while I was planning the outline of some 43 lectures. Many of the available photographs and films that I wanted to use were copyrighted. Although they could be shown free to normal classes, royalties were required once they were put on video tape. I decided to solve the problem by getting a couple of cameras and spending a month in the West filming my own material. Then a happy thought occurred to me. Why not take some of the pictures from the air? I had earned a private pilot rating in 1964 and had logged about 90 flight hours. It happened that the Geophysics Section of our Geology Department owned a Cessna 170B that had been purchased for aeromagnetic research. At the time N2398D was sitting empty at a local airport, and the University of Wisconsin agreed to absorb 100 hours of flight time for the project. Graduate student and project assistant Charles F. Mansfield indicated he was willing to come along as photographer; I could not have found a more able colleague.

I have used the color film taken during the flights of 1966 long after the black and white video tapes were discarded, and I have added to the collection over the years. While it is important to have detailed ground-based slides to illustrate geological features for introductory classes, a few shots from the air help to establish their overall relationship.

These air photos have been very useful in my teaching. I think they can be useful teaching aids for others. I have copyrighted the digital image files, but I am making 360 of them available at no cost for noncommercial educational use.

That’s also the idea behind all the photos described or tagged geology in my Flickr photo collection. Only a few of those were taken by lightplane. (Those are in this set of the San Andreas Fault, in the Carrizo Plain of California. The pilot was @DougKaye) The rest were all shot from heavyplane, at altitudes of up to forty thousand feet and more. (I think the highest was this one.) Some were shot from the ground, such as during this cross-country road trip. Here’s one sample, from a flight over Greenland:

So here’s a belated thanks to Dr. Maher for his generosity. As did he, I grant permission to anybody teaching or learning geology to use any of my shots, any way they please. All of them should be CC licensed to permit that. If you find any that aren’t, let me know and I’ll fix them.

When I was walking to school in the second grade, I found myself behind a group of older kids, arguing about what subjects they hated most. The consensus was geography. At the time I didn’t know what geography was, but I became determined to find out. When I did, two things happened. First, I realized that I loved geography (and along with it, geology). Second, I learned that popularity of anything often meant nothing. And I’ve been passionate about geography ever since.

But not just for myself. Instead I’m interested in feeding scholarship wihin subjects that interest me. For both geography and geology I do that mostly through photography. Toward that end, here are a few recent sets I’ve posted, or updated:

Meanwhile, close to 200 of my shots are now in Wikimedia Commons. Big thanks to the Wikipedians who have put them there. I can’t begin to count how many Wikipedia articles many of these illustrate. currently accompanies eighteen different articles in fourteen different languages.

While we’re on the subject of , I’ll commend to you the new book Good Faith Collaboration by , a fellow at this year. His first chapter is online.

You may notice that most of my links to subjects, both in my online writings and in my photo captions, go to Wikipedia entries. Sometimes people ask me why. One reason is that Wikipedia is the closest we have come, so far, to a source that is both canonical and durable, even if each entry changes constantly, and some are subject to extreme disagreement. Wikipedia is, like the , a set of . Another reason is that Wikipedia is guided by the ideal of a neutral point of view (NPOV). This, Joseph says, “ensures that we can join the scattered pieces of what we think we know and good faith facilitates the actual practice of fitting them together.”

The nature of the Net is to encourage scatterings such as mine, as well as good faith about what might be done with them.

Here’s what one dictionary says:

World English Dictionary
privacy (ˈpraɪvəsɪ, ˈprɪvəsɪ) [Click for IPA pronunciation guide]
n
1. the condition of being private or withdrawn; seclusion
2. the condition of being secret; secrecy
3. philosophy the condition of being necessarily restricted to a single person

Collins English Dictionary – Complete & Unabridged 10th Edition
2009 © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009

I especially like that last one: restricted to a single person. In the VRM community this has been our focus in general. Our perspective is anchored with the individual human being. That’s our point of departure. Our approach to privacy, and to everything else, starts with the individual. This is why we prefer user-driven to user-centric, for example. The former assumes human agency, which is one’s ability to act and have effects in the world. The latter assumes exterior agency. It’s about the user, but not by the user. (Adriana Lukas unpacks some differences here.)

But this is a post about privacy, which is a highly popular topic right now. It’s also the subject of a workshop at MIT this week, to which some friends and colleagues are going. So talk about the topic is one thing that makes it front-burner for me right now. The other thing is that it’s also the subject of a chapter in the book I’m writing.

My argument is that privacy is personal. That’s how we understand it because that’s how we experience it. Our minds are embodied, and we experience privacy through our bodies in the world. We are born with the ability to grab, to hold, to make and wear clothing, to build structures that give us boundaries and spaces within which we can isolate what are our concerns alone.

Privacy requires containment, and concept of a container is one of our most basic, and embodied. Here’s George Lakoff and Mark Johnson in Philosophy in the Flesh:

Our bodies are containers that take in air and nutrients and emit wastes. We constantly orient our bodies with respect to containers—rooms, beds, buildings. We spend an inordinate amount of time putting things in and taking things out of containers. We also project abstract containers onto areas in space, when we understand a swarm of bees being in the garden. Similarly every time we see something move, or move ourselves, we comprehend that movement i terms of a source-path-goal schema and reason accordingly.

I don’t think privacy itself is a container, but I do think the container provides a conceptual metaphor by which we think and talk about privacy. I also think that the virtual world of the Net and the Web—the one I call the Giant Zero—is one in which containment is very hard to conceive, much less build out, especially for ourselves. So much of what we experience in cyberspace is at odds with the familiar world of physical things, actions and spaces. In the absence of well-established (i.e. embodied) understandings about the cyber world, there are too many ways for organizations and institutions to take advantage of what we don’t yet know, or can too easily ignore. (This is the subject, for example, of the Wall Street Journal’s What They Know series.)

That’s where I am now: thinking about containers and privacy, but not with enough help from scholarly works. That’s why I’m looking for some help. One problem I have is that the word privacy appears on every Web page that has a privacy policy. There are too many false radar images in every search. Advanced searching helps, but I can’t find a way to set the filter narrowly enough. And my diggings so far into cognitive science haven’t yet brought up privacy as a focus of concern. Privacy shows up in stuff on ethics, politics, law and other topics, but is not a subject in itself — especially in respect to our embodied selves in this cyber world we’re making.

So, if anybody can point me to anything on the topic, I would dig it very much. Meanwhile, here’s a hunk of something I wrote about privacy back in September:

Take any one of these meanings, or understandings, and be assured that it is ignored or violated in practice by large parts of today’s online advertising business—for one simple reason (I got from long ago): Individuals have no independent status on the Web. Instead we have dependent status. Our relationships (and we have many) are all defined by the entities with which we choose to relate via the Web. All those dependencies are silo’d in the systems of sellers, schools, churches, government agencies, social media, associations, whatever. You name it. You have to deal with all of them separately, on their terms, and in their spaces. Those spaces are not your spaces. (Even if they’re in a place called . Isn’t it weird to have somebody else using the first person possessive pronoun for you? It will be interesting to see how retro that will seem after it goes out of fashion.)

What I’m saying here is that, on the Web, we do all our privacy-trading in contexts that are not out in the open marketplace, much less in our own private spaces (by any of the above definitions). They’re all in closed private spaces owned by the other party—where none of the rules, none of the terms of engagement, are yours. In other words, these places can’t be private, in the sense that you control them. You don’t. And in nearly all cases (at least here in the U.S.), your “agreements” with these silos are contracts of adhesion that you can’t break or change, but the other party can—and often does.

These contexts have been so normative, for so long, that we can hardly imagine anything else, even though we have that “else” out here in the physical world. We live and sleep and travel and get along in the physical world with a well-developed understanding of what’s mine, what’s yours, what’s ours, and what’s none of those. That’s because we have an equally well-developed understanding of bounded spaces. These differ by culture. In her wonderful book , Polly Platt writes about how French —comfortable distances from others—are smaller than those of Americans. The French feel more comfortable getting close, and bump into each other more in streets, while Americans tend to want more personal space, and spread out far more when they sit. Whether she’s right about that or not, we actually have personal spaces on Earth. We don’t on the Web, and in Web’d spaces provided by others. (The Net includes more than the Web, but let’s not get into that here. The Web is big enough.)

So one reason that privacy trading is so normative is that dependency requires it. We have to trade it, if that’s what the sites we use want, regardless of how they use whatever we trade away.

The only way we can get past this problem (and it is a very real one) is to create personal spaces on the Web. Ones that we own and control. Ones where we set the terms of engagement. Ones where we decide what’s private and what’s not.

For a bonus link, here’s a paper by Oshani Seneviratne that was accepted for the privacy workshop this week. It raises the subject of accountability and proposes an approach that I like.

The summary paragraph of a great column by Tom Friedman:

A dysfunctional political system is one that knows the right answers but can’t even discuss them rationally, let alone act on them, and one that devotes vastly more attention to cable TV preachers than to recommendations by its best scientists and engineers.

Here’s a link to Rising Above the Storm, the study Tom cites. There is a free download routine that requires giving ID information, though what you say is up to you.

Tags: ,

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.

I just learned by Eric Martindale’s comment to my Borg’s Woods post in February that the March 13 storm knocked down many of the trees in the old growth urban forest that was our neighborhood playground when I was a kid. For more here’s a post in the NJUrbanForest blog, and here are some pictures as well.

Storms are as much a part of nature as old growth forests, even when the former reduces the latter. Sad to read, however, that mosquito abatement has involved the draining of the woods’ pond, where generations of kids learned to skate in a beautiful setting.

For perspective perhaps it is helpful to note that the boggy parts of Borg’s Woods are among the few vernal remnants of glacial Lake Hackensack, which pooled over most of the Hackensack River watershed when the last ice age began to end around 15,000 years ago. The lake lasted several millennia, then drained around 11,500 years ago, when the terminal moraine near Perth Amboy broke. Back then the sea was still far outside the current borders of New York and New Jersey. Only when the rest of the ice cap melted did the oceans reach their current level — which, as we know, is still rising.

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.

Tags: ,

noreaster

That’s what the radar shows right now. Outside the winds range from strong to scary. The rain is steady and horizontal. The storm rotates counterclockwise. If it had an eye, it would be on Boston.

New York, as you see, is getting snow. This illustrates this winter’s weird weather pattern. Mid-Atlantic states get buried in snow and ice while New England is South Carolina. We had a couple of snowstorms this winter, but none of the big ones the states south and west of here got. Mostly we’ve had rain. Lots of it. I’m sure most of the ski areas are watching their seasons wash away.

But somehow planes are landing and taking off at Logan. No delays, it says (and shows) here. Can’t be fun in those planes, though.

By the way, Intellicast.com rocks. Highly recommended for weather freaks. Not the best UI, but great images.

[Next morning...] Clear now in Boston, but an awful time to be flying into JFK or PHL:

aviation_jfk-phl

Of the latter it says here, “Philadelphia Intl (KPHL) is currently experiencing inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 3 hours 23 minutes due to snow and ice. (all delays).” And this new update for JFK:

John F Kennedy Intl (KJFK) is currently experiencing:

  • all inbound flights being held at their origin until friday at 09:15a EST due to snow and ice
  • inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 5 hours 43 minutes due to snow and ice

(all delays)

All that is from FlightAware, another great site that can use some UI improvements. (Such as linkability to map sections.) Highly recommended if you want to track, say, inbound flights of persons you need to pick up at the airport.

Tags: , , , ,

John McPhee is the best nonfiction writer alive. My opinion, of course. But I happen to be right. Nobody describes anything better. No writer does a better job of digging into subjects most would find dull (rocks, pine barrens, river levees, minor species of fish) and making them not only interesting but relevant. Sometimes extremely so.

Take what he wrote in The Control of Nature about the Mississippi river, describing, among much else, what would happen to New Orleans when a levee failed. Which, ineviably, one would. In a chapter titled Achafalaya, McPhee handicapped the Army Corps of Engineers against the Mississippi. That was in 1987. The New Yorker ran it again in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina gave McPhee’s words the ring of phophesy.

Another chapter in The Control of Nature is “Los Angeles vs. The San Gabriel Mountains.” That one has special relevance today, when torrential rain on mountains denuded by fires brings the threat of mud slides — a term that doesn’t describe what really happens. McPhee:

  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.

Geologists call mountain-building “orogeny.” In his Pulitzer-winning book on geology, Annals of the Former World, McPhee explains, “in the fight between orogeny and erosion, erosion always wins.” Fires side with erosion. Rain does too, especially when teamed with fires.

It is important to understand, if you live on or under their slopes, that the mountains of Southern California are brand new and not all well built. There are volcanoes that grow slower than some of these mountains, and come down slower too. Many of the canyons and ravines in the San Gabriels — the Big Tujunga, the Pacoima — are flanked by dirt whose angles of repose nearly exceed the temporary frictions that hold the land in place. Water-soaked dirt can weigh more than rock, and will seek a level lower than its own. Burn off the desert chapparal that carpets the slopes, and debris flows become certain once the rain soaks in.

So that’s not just what to watch for in the current heavy weather. It’s what to expect.

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.)

Tags: , , ,

Don’t forget

Reuters: Cellphones may protect brain from Alzheimer’s. Specifically,

  After long-term exposure to electromagnetic waves such as those used in cell phones, mice genetically altered to develop Alzheimer’s performed as well on memory and thinking skill tests as healthy mice, the researchers wrote in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Your species may vary.

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Progress

Back when I started coming over to Europe for work (mostly to France), in the mid-90s, I listened almost every night to U.S. armed forces radio (then called the Armed Forces Radio Service, or AFRS) on 873KHz on the AM (or, in Europe, MW) dial. I’m listening again now, almost surprised to find it still there (at the top of this handy list in Wikipedia). Big station: 150kw, or 3x the max allowed in the U.S.

It’s the Armed Forces Network now, or AFN. Playing country music.

Here’s a Wikipedia page for the transmitter itself, in Weißkirchen.

Meanwhile, I’m also listening to ‘s 96Kb AAC stream, from New York. Specifically, Strauss’s Elektra, Johannes Brahms, Rhapsody in B Minor, Op. 79/1, Ivo Pogorelich, piano, the station website tells me. Sounds terrific on my Sennheiser headphones.

Consider the fact that I’m listening at the far end of a weak wi-fi signal in one of the cheapest hotels in Zermatt, which is at the deep end of a long valley in Switzerland’s Alps. (Outside our window, the Matterhorn.) Puts some perspective on the comment thread, still lengthening here, that was set off by WQXR’s move to a weaker over-the-air signal (among other moves by when they took over the station from the New York Times).

Earlier today we visited some of the other hotels. The most impressive one in town is the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof. The Internet is not among its featured offerings. They do have a tiny “Internet corner,” occupying what appears to be old phone booth locations, and which we found occupied by two twelve-year-olds on the only terminals there. Makes me glad we’re at our good-enough hotel with its free wi-fi. Elsewhere service seems to be most commonly provided by Swisscom, at prices that make sense only to them. (I’d show a screen shot, but I lost it, alas.) Given the brutal prices already charged by the better hotels here, it would make far more sense just to bake the service into those price and let the guests use the Net for free, just like they use water, bedding and electricity.

But actually I care less about the right thing to do now than I care about the only thing to do in the future. That’s to build out the Net as a basic utility. Not as a secondary (or tertiary) service of phone and cable companies.

I know that’s not how it is now, and that’s not how it’s gong to be for awhile. Right now the Net is still seen as gravy rather than as meat. But this will change. Count on it. And count on more money being made on the transition than on maintaining today’s defaults. Also count on it all going faster if we can also handle our own end of it, in our own homes and neighborhoods.

Companies betting on the free and ubiquitous Internet of the future have the best chance of winning in the long run. They just won’t win by continuing to monetize the Net on the pay toilet model. (Or, for those who recall, the coin-operated television model. Yo, here’s the patent.)

We passed the Winter solstice at 17:47 today, universal time, or 12:47pm Eastern time here in the U.S. It’s 4:02pm right now in Boston, as the Sun enters the horizon at the lowest angle of the year. From now until the summer solstice, the days will only get longer.

That’s the optimistic angle on the official first day of Winter, anyway.

‘Smart’ Electric Utility Meters, Intended to Create Savings, Instead Prompt Revolt is a New York Times story that perhaps suggests a deeper truth: People don’t want their utilities to get smart on them. Except, occasionally, on request. Like, when a bill one month is strangely high.

These paragraphs encapsulate several problems at once:

At the urging of the state senator, Dean Florez, Democrat of Fresno and the chamber’s majority leader, and others, the California Public Utilities Commission is moving to bring in an outside auditor to determine whether the meters count usage properly.

In response to a wave of complaints from the Bakersfield area in the Central Valley, Pacific Gas & Electric has been placing full-page advertisements in newspapers in the area promising benefits from the new meters. It says customers will save money not only by paying rates based on hourly fluctuations in the wholesale market, but also eventually by displaying real-time rates.

To reduce their bills, customers could cut back at pricey peak times and shift some activities, like running a clothes dryer or a vacuum cleaner, to off-peak periods. Utilities will then have lower costs, the argument goes, because the grid will need fewer power plants as demand levels out.

Customers will become “structural winners,” said Andy Tang, senior director of the company’s Smart Energy Web program.

The first problem is that some customers (enough to cause a stink, and cause newspaper stories) think their new “smart” meters are cheating them. Let’s say the meters are fine. (And I’m betting they are.) What’s this say?

The second problem is that the meters complicate usage. Who (besides people paid to care) are interested in wholesale energy market price fluctuations? And how many customers are ready to modulate usage based on fluctuating real-time demand?

The third problem is cultural, normative, and to some degree explains the first two: We’re not used to caring about this kind of stuff. Much less about being “structural winners,” whatever those are.

What’s being called for here is not just new gear that helps users use less electricity, water and gas. And what’s proposed is not just the need for all of us to “go green” and care about wasting resources and cooking the planet. What’s proposed is re-conceiving what a utility is.

Utilities, at least to the end user, the final customer, the one paying the bills, are simple things. They are dumb. Their availabiliy is binary: it’s there or its not. When it is, you want to hold down costs, sure; but you expect it to be there full-time. There should be enough gas or oil to run a furnace, to boil an egg, to produce hot water. There should be enough electricity to light bulbs and keep appliances running. There should be enough water pressure for people to take showers and wash dishes. More than enough doesn’t get noticed. Less than enough is a problem. That or none requires a call to the utility company or the landlord.

“Smart” so far looks complicated. And most people don’t want complicated, especially from their utilities.

Now, what we’re talking about here is making all utilities digital. That is, computerized. Again, complicated. True, for a mostly good cause. But entirely good? I gotta wonder. When I see big companies like GE and IBM talking about making our power “smart,” I think they’re talking about making it smart their way. Which is not like other companies’ ways. And selling “solutions” to utility companies that are different than the next company’s “solutions,” and lock the customers into proprietary systems that can cause more annoyance than convenience down the road.

I haven’t studied any of this, so I don’t know. I’m just saying what I suspect. And I invite correction on the matter. If there are standard ways to smarten power, so that customers can swap out one company’s gear for another’s, that’s fine. But again, I dunno.

Meanwhile, let’s table that and look at the Internet. This is a place where we have a degree of intelligence in a utility. Customers in many places have choices about variables such as bandwidth, and “business” versus “home” levels of support.

But I think what we want out of the Internet is what we already have with water, gas and electricity: it’s just there. Nothing more complicated than that.

I hope that’s where we end up. But my fear is that old-fashioned utilities will get smart the way the phone and cable companies have made the Internet smart. And that would be dumb.

Tags: , ,

Yesterday the FCC released a public notice seeking comment on the “transition from circuit switched network to all-IP network.” (Here’s the .pdf. Here’s the .txt version.) Translation: from the phone system to the Internet.

This is huge. Really. Freaking. Huge.

Or maybe not. Could be it’s all just posturing or worse. But I don’t think so. Or I hope not.

Either way, it matters. For better and worse, the Internet reposes in legal as well as technical infrastructures.

The money text:

The intent of this Public Notice is to set the stage for the Commission to consider whether to issue a Notice of Inquiry (NOI) relating to the appropriate policy framework to facilitate and respond to the market-led transition in technology and services, from the circuit switched PSTN system to an IP-based communications world.

In the spirit of understanding the scope and breadth of the policy issues associated with this transition, we seek public comment to identify the relevant policy questions that an NOI on this topic should raise in order to assist the Commission in considering how best to monitor and plan for this transition.

In identifying the appropriate areas of inquiry, we seek to understand which policies and regulatory structures may facilitate, and which may hinder, the efficient migration to an all IP world. In addition, we seek to identify and understand what aspects of traditional policy frameworks are important to consider, address, and possibly modify in an effort to protect the public interest in an all-IP world.

The italics are mine.

There is a high degree of presumption here. I mean, are we really migrating to an all-IP world? All? Most of us still watch plenty of television. And, in the immortal words of Wierd Al Yankovic, we all have cell phones. Neither TV nor cellular telephony are even close to an “all-IP world.” IP might be involved, but … there is some distance to cover here. And not much motivation by phone companies to make the move.

Still, we can see it happening. Your smartphone today is a data device that happens to run a lot of applications, which include both telephony and television. Yet the bill you get for using your phone (no matter how smart it is) comes from a phone company. The underlying infrastucture, including 3G, is largely a phone system. It handles data, and it’s mostly digital, but it is not fundamentally a data system. It’s a phone system built for billing by the minute. Or even the second.

Can we change phone systems into all-IP data systems? I would hope so.

But before I go any deeper, I want to plug my panel tomorrow morning (8:30am Pacific) at Supernova (#sn09). The title is Telecom as Software. Any questions you want me to ask, or topics you want me to cover, put them below.

I just posted Rupert Murdoch vs. The Web, over at Linux Journal. In it I suggest that the Murdoch story (played mostly as Bing vs Google) is a red herring, and that the real challenge is to free the Web and ourselves from dependencies from giant companies I liken to volcanoes:

We’re Pompeians, Krakatoans, Montserratans, building cities and tilling farms on the slopes of active volcanoes. Always suckers for stories, we’d rather take sides in wars between competing volcanoes than build civilization on more flat and solid ground where there’s room enough for everybody.

Google and Bing are both volcanoes. Both grace the Web’s landscape with lots of fresh and fertile ground. They are good to have in many ways. But they are not the Earth below. They are not what gives us gravity.

I think one problem here is a disconnect between belief systems about markets, and the stories that arise from them.

One system believes a free market is Your Choice of Captor. In this camp I put both the make-it/take-it mentality (where “winners” are rewarded and “losers” punished) of the Wall Street Journal (which a few months ago looked upon the regulated duopolies for Internet access as the “free market” at work) and those who see business (or corporations, or capitalism, or all three) as a problem and look to government — another monopoly — for remedy from these evils in the marketplace. In other words, I lump both the left and the right in here, along with the conflicts between them.

The other system sees markets as settings for human activity: the locations, both real and virtual, where people and their organizations meet to do business, make culture, and build civilization. Here I put nearly everybody who contributed the structural agreements that made the Internet possible, and who truly understand what it is and how it works, even if they can’t all agree on what metaphors to use for it. I also include all who have contributed, and continue to contribute, to the free and open code bases with which we are building out our networked world. While political beliefs among members of this system may sort somewhere along the right-vs.-left axis, what they do to build the world is orthogonal to that axis. That’s one big reason why that work escapes notice.

The distinction I see here aligns well with Virginia Postrel‘s contrast between “stasists” and “dynamists”. The difference is that much of what gets done to make the networked world (and to support its dynamism) isn’t “dynamic” in the active and dramatic sense of the word — except in its second-order effects. For example, SMTP and IMAP are not dynamic. (Being mannerly technical agreements, protocols don’t do that.) But on those protocols (and related ones) email happened, and the world hasn’t been the same since.

With that distinction in mind, I suggest that too much oxygen suckage is wasted on “wars” between the stasists (some of whom are also into the superficially dynamistic attention-suck of vendor sports — here’s an oldie but goodie that still makes my point), and not enough on constructive work done by geeks and entrepreneurs who quietly build the original and useful stuff that serves as solid infrastructure on which countless public goods (including wealth creation beyond measure) can be generated.

We have the same problem in most net neutrality arguments. The right hates it, the left loves it. One looks to protect the “free market” of phone and cable companies (currently a Your-Choice-of-Captor system) while the other looks to government (meet your new captor) for relief. When in fact the whole thing has happened all along within what Bob Frankston calls The Regultorium.

The primary dynamism of the Internet — what gave us the Net in the first place, and what holds the most promise in the long run — doesn’t just come from those parties, and can’t be found in the arguments they’re having. It comes from low-box-office geekery that supports enormous new business opportunities (along with many public benefits, with or without business).

It’ll take time to see this, I guess. Just hope we don’t drown in lava in the meantime.

Bonus red herring: A lot of news really isn’t.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The dark and gathering sameness of the world. An excerpt:

  The consequence of this is a “plague of sameness” and the loss of a distinct species every ten minutes. Some types of fruits and vegetables have lost 90% of their variants. An entire language disappears every two weeks. “We are not gaining knowledge with every human generation”, Glavin says, “we are losing it”. “All these extinctions are related…and the language of environmentalism is wholly inadequate to the task of describing what is happening…It doesn’t have the words for it”. Wherever he travels, he says, he finds the overwhelming majority of people are troubled by this loss of diversity, but at a loss to know what to do about it.

Nobody knows anything. Excerpts:

  Because of our horrific overpopulation and exhaustion of our planet and its resources, we have entered into a period of chronic, massive, global stress, and it’s made us all crazy, like rats in a lab fighting over the last few scraps of food. We’ve stopped listening to ourselves and started looking for saviours — ‘leaders’ and ‘experts’ to show us and tell us what to do.

  The so-called ‘leaders’ and ‘experts’ I’ve met are mostly very intelligent people, but they haven’t a clue. They’re buoyed by their own press and by sycophants fighting their way up from the bottom or desperate to believe that someone is in charge, in control, and knows what needs to be done. These ‘leaders’ hang out with other people just like themselves, and their groupthink persuades them that they’re right, they’re important, that what they say and do and decide really matters...

  We have destroyed this planet for future generations and for all-life-on-Earth, and the worst culprits are still doing it, while we sit around stupidly watching them, wondering what to do, waiting for someone, anyone, to save us from us.

  We need to stop listening to these know-nothing, cowardly ‘leaders’. We need to stop paying them. We need to stop working for them. We need to stop investing in them. We need to stop trusting them, and stop believing the nonsense they are telling us. We need to stop voting for them, and paying taxes to finance their backroom deals. We need to stop buying overpriced crap from their fat, mismanaged organizations. We need to send some of them to jail for criminal fraud and the rest out to pasture, and take back our society, our economy, our Earth from these thieves, these self-deluded con men. No more leaders.

Just something to cheer you up on a Sunday.

The older I get, the earlier it seems.

So many gone things once looked like final stages: AM radio, nuclear bombs, FM, stereo, FM stereo, TV, color TV, quadrophonic sound, answer machines, PCs, online services, bulletin boards, home PBXes, newsgroups, instant messaging, cell phones, HD, browsing, pirate radio, free wi-fi, friending, tweeting.

Yeah, some of those aren’t gone yet, but don’t count on their staying around. Not in their current forms.

Three conditions have been profoundly increased by technology during my brief (62.2 year) lifetime: connectivity, autonomy and abundance. Those have been provided respectively by the Net, personal computing, and data processing and storage. I can now connect with anybody or anything pretty much anywhere I go, as an autonomous actor rather than a captive dependent on some company’s silo or walled garden. I can also access, accumulate and put to use many kinds of information of relevance to myself and my world.

Some creepy dependencies are still involved, such as the ones I have with ISPs and phone companies. But I believe even those will become substitutable services in the long run, much as the best “cloud” services are also becoming substitutable utilities.

I haven’t said that all this is a Good Thing. In fact I’m not sure it is. Meaning I’m not sure it has been good for us, or our world, that we have drifted so far from the hunting and gathering animals we were when we diasporized out of Africa during the last Ice Age. Perhaps we have adapted well without evolving at all. Think about it.

We are, if nothing else (and yes, we are much else) a pestilence on the planet. Few creatures other than rats and microbes are more widespread, or have done more to eat and alter the Earth’s contents and its living dependents. Sure, I’m enjoying it too. But at some point the party ends. When it does, what do we go home to?

Anyway, this all comes to mind while reading Nick Carr‘s The eternal conference call. His bottom lines are killer:

  The flaw of synchronous communication has been repackaged as the boon of realtime communication. Asynchrony, once our friend, is now our enemy. The transaction costs of interpersonal communication have fallen below zero: It costs more to leave the stream than to stay in it. The approaching Wave promises us the best of both worlds: the realtime immediacy of the phone call with the easy broadcasting capacity of email. Which is also, as we’ll no doubt come to discover, the worst of both worlds. Welcome to the conference call that never ends. Welcome to Wave hell.

It’s the latest among Nick’s Realtime Chronicles. As always, strong stuff.

Quakes

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) has an excellent Earthquake Center for all the earthquakes in the world, which is very handy at a time when many are happening at once, followed in some cases by tsunamis that cross seas to strike coastlines minutes to hours later.

For example, this list of earthquakes of magnitude 5 and greater shows in red both the 8.0 quake that caused tsunamis in the South Pacific, and the 7.6 quake that devastated western Sumatra and also poses a serious tsunami risk — both just in the last few hours. Tonga alone has seen thirteen aftershocks of 5.0 or greater. The Samoa Islands Region has seen twelve.

Bear in mind that the Loma Prieta Quake in 1989 was around a 7.0, and 5.0 earthquakes have caused thousands of deaths as well.

Most of us are great distances from both regions that were just hit, but we are still in position to help. One way is by getting facts straight, and also to keep fail whales from falling on lines that are bound to be congested. Hope this little bit of pointage helps.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

stony

Above is the latest (as of this morning) MODIS satellite map (on Google Earth) of Station Fire spottings in the Angeles National Forest north of the Los Angeles basin. Near the center I’ve marked the Stony Ridge Observatory. While less familiar than the famous Mt. Wilson Observatory (and little known outside its own circles), Stony Ridge has a long history and is much loved as well as relied-upon.

This story in the LA Times raised concerns that Stony Ridge might be lost, but the latest word on the observatory’s own site, as well as the map above, suggest that it has been spared. I wonder to what degree this is because firefighters worked to save it, or that the fire simply avoided it. In any case it looks like a hole in the donut of surrounding fire—and that most of the fire spreading currently is away from populated areas.

Here are some aftermath shots of Mt. Wilson.

Here’s my whole Angeles Fire series on Flickr.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Why do mainstream broadcasters keep calling that big fire north of Los Angeles “the so-called Station Fire?” You never hear “so-called Hurricane Bill” or “so-called Hurricane Erika”. Why is that?

The main reason is that hurricanes have a much better naming convention. The surnames of hurricanes are first names of humans. The first names of wildfires often make no sense to ordinary folk. Gap, Day and Station don’t call meaning to mind. As I recall the Day Fire was the second to start on Labor Day, 2006. The other fire was called Labor.

With their human names, hurricanes are personified, making them easy to follow and remember. Katrina, Andrew, Hugo and Fran leap from memory a lot quicker than “The Great Hurricane of 1938” — which happened to be a Category 5 monster. It killed hundreds of people and blew out the wind guage at the Blue Hill Observatory when a gust hit 186 miles per hour. If it had been named Lucinda, it would have persisted as one of New England’s greatest weather legends. Instead it’s like, whoa, who knew?

According to this report, fires are named by the people who fight them. I suggest to those same folks that it will be easier to fight a fire with a personified name than a locational one. Why? Fear. Residents are much more likely to get their rears in gear when “Jack” or “Martha” are coming up the canyon than when “Station” is doing the same.

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Mostly I work like a hermit:  in an attic with two window air conditioners fighting the heat and providing an endless source of dull noise that furthers my sense of productive isolation. For the last few days of record-high temperatures, the AC units have been losing the fight. Today they’ve been winning, so I haven’t been paying any attention to the world outside.

Then, one minute ago: Boom! A crack of thunder. Sure enough, Wunderground says a storm is moving in. It doesn’t look big, but it’s bowling a strike right across Boston:

stormtrack

A perfect excuse to take a snack out on the back porch for a front row seat on the best of nature’s summer theatre. (One of the things I miss when I’m in Santa Barbara, though I’ve been missing Santa Barbara mightily during the heat wave here.) And sympathizing with the passengers that are surely soon delayed on approach to Logan.

[One hour later...] Well, that was a case of wishful blogging. The storm cell passed over Boston but missed most of Cambridge. I see here another small one is on the way (right now it’s over Ashland, between Hollston and Framingham), but it might be pooped out by the time it gets here.

[Next morning...] The small patch of rain never got here. In the evening I went to a barbeque in a Cambridge backyard and the place was still soaked by the rain that missed my place. This morning it’s hot all over again.

Tags: , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , ,

Check out two very provocative Baltimore Weather Examiner pieces by : Air France 447 electrical problems and the South Atlantic Anomaly and Air France 447 mystery, LOST, and The Bermuda Triangle. The latter is not as goofy as its headline suggests. Tony is a degreed meteorologist and his unpacking of weather arcana, especially in his short slide shows, provokes much thought. Some of the visuals also give me added respect for the pilots, advanced avionics and careful air traffic control in regions where thunderstorms are a daily occurrence — such as in South Florida, where plenty of planes take off and land constantly. Flying there requires navigating around dangerous hazards that can grow and move at explosive speeds. Anyway, check it out.

Tags: ,

So I’m walking across the Harvard campus, going from one Berkman office to another, listening to KCLU from Santa Barbara on my iPhone. The guest on the show is Berkman’s own John Palfrey. I think, that’s coolwhat’s the show? The tuner doesn’t tell me, because (I assume) KCLU doesn’t provide that data along with the audio stream.

To find out, I just sat down on a bench, popped open the laptop and started looking around. KCLU’s site says what’s on now is OnPoint. That’s because the time on the scuedule block says 9:00am. It’s currently 10:45am, Pacific. The next show block on the schedule is Fresh Air at 11:00am. John isn’t listed as an OnPoint guest, so… what is the show he’s on?

I wait until the interview with John ends, and then I learn that the show is Here & Now, which KCLU says comes on at 2pm. Here & Now has the JP segment listed. Says this:

More Countries Use Internet Censorship
Listen
We’ve heard about countries like China, Iran and North Korea censoring websites. But our guest, John Palfrey of Harvard’s Berman Center for Internet and Society says the practice is becoming more widespread—more than three dozen countries do extensive censoring, even France, Australia and the U.S. engage in some type of censorship.

Now it’s 11:00am Pacific, and KCLU brings on Science Friday. Also at variance from the schedule.

I’m not sure how to fix the problem of not including show data in a stream (or, if included, getting it displayed on software tuners), though I am sure it’s fixable. More importantly, I am convinced of the  need of listeners to know what they’re hearing, to bookmark it, and to find out more about it later. At the very least they should be able to find the answer to the “What was that?” question — without spending fifteen minutes surfing around a browser on a laptop.

Being able to know what you’re hearing would also inform decisions about, say, how much money you’d like to throw at the station or a program, if you’d like to do that. That’s what EmanciPay (which I wrote about yesterday) would help do.

Anyway, that’s why we’re working on Listen Log, as a variety of Media Logging. Input welcome.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Tristan Louis asks, Is ownershp passe? Or, from his first paragraph, “…our ownership society seems to be started a slide towards a new mode of being: a rental society.” He uses the examples of Netflix, Apple, Kindle and build vs. buy vs. rent choices at the enterprise level, and suggests, “The change in our relationship to media forces us to reassess the value of the physical good.” Except for books, most media are either disposable or self-disposing.

Good points. Got me thinking…

The concept of ownership is embedded in human nature, for the simple reason that we are grabby animals. Our hands are built for grasping. Most languages have a possessive case. “Mine!” (in whatever language) is one of the first words a toddler learns. Possession is 9/10ths of the three-year-old — especially if you try to take something away from the kid.

Yet all possession is temporary, because life is temporary, and our conditions are temporary. Even the things we love change. The physical appeal of our mates changes. Our little sweet babies grow into big hairy adults.

Could it be that the evanescent nature of the Net is in greater alignment with the temporal nature of life than the physical world we also inhabit? Think about it. Do you really “own” your domain name? Or do you rent it? Do you really own your data, or any of the identities you use? You may be able to hide your data, or encrypt it so only you and trusted others can make sense of it. But how valuable is your data in a world that operates as one big copy machine? The words I write here are not mine alone. They are available to everybody with a Net connection. If they repeat what I’ve written, does that make my words theirs? Or is there something in the nature of words that is also beyond the scope of possession — even given that possession as a quality can have great value? (If, however, a temporary one.)

The older I get the less I wish to hold on to anything, other than what is truly worthwhile to hold. (If “holding” is even what I’m doing.) What matters most, it seems to me, is neither possession nor control, but responsibility. There are things only I can, and must, do. I have an unknown budget of time to do it in. Time is something we can only spend, even when we talk about “saving” it. We are born with an unknown sum of it, and we spend it at a uniform rate until it’s gone. We just don’t know what that rate is. We do know we have 100% of what remains.

Today, here on the Net, we have a new world of our own making that is very different than the one our inner three-year-olds know too well. The concept of possession inside a system that works by copying is an odd one to apply. The concept of distance-free connecting is another. At a functional level the Net puts us all at approximately zero distance from everybody else. More than a World of Ends, the Net is a World of Beginnings. Every word we say, every key we stroke, every gesture we commit, is the beginning of something — even as we do those things at the ends of a network comprised of countless other ends.

My grandfather, George W. Searls,  was a carpenter in Fort Lee, New Jersey in the early days of silent movies, when Fort Lee was the first Hollywood. (Lon Chaney was a good friend of his, and lived for awhile in one of the family’s upstairs apartments.) Among other things, Grandpa built movie sets. Here is a picture of one. It appears to be a ballroom with a stage at one end. This is how they did movies back then: on stages. They shot there because theater was what they knew. They did theater on film.

I think we’re still at that stage (no pun intended) with the Internet. We’re doing old media stuff in this new place that’s not really a medium at all. It’s a strange new disembodied environment that doesn’t make full sense to our embodied selves, because bodies aren’t there. I think the Net will only make sense, eventually, to our disembodied selves. These are the selves that require bodies but are not reducible to them. Possession gives us something to do with our bodies. But not with our souls.

The work of life is doing, not having. Even if having is what you’re doing, it’s the doing that matters. Life is process, not product. That process is one of contribution, I think. We want to leave the world with more than it had when we entered it. And with goods that are beyond measure or price. Goods which, like time, we can only give.

With the Net we have invented an excellent place to do that.

Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , ,

I’m listening right now to On Point*, where the topic is Pushing E-Health Records. The only case against electronic health records (EHR, aka electronic medical recordsk, or EMR) is risk of compromised privacy. Exposure goes up. The friction involved in grabbing electronic medical records is lower than that involved in grabbing paper ones, especially with the Internet connecting damn near everything.

Here’s the problem with privacy in the Internet Age (which we are now in, with no hope of ever getting out, unless we live the connectionless life): the Net is a big copy machine. It’s amazing how a fact so simple escapes attention until a first-rate metaphorist such as Kevin Kelly comes along to expound on what ought to be obvious:

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Our digital communication network has been engineered so that copies flow with as little friction as possible. Indeed, copies flow so freely we could think of the internet as a super-distribution system, where once a copy is introduced it will continue to flow through the network forever, much like electricity in a superconductive wire. We see evidence of this in real life. Once anything that can be copied is brought into contact with internet, it will be copied, and those copies never leave. Even a dog knows you can’t erase something once it’s flowed on the internet.

We’re not going to fix that. The copying nature of the Net is a feature, not a bug. We can fight some of it with crypto between trusting parties. But until we find ways to make that easy, the exposure is there. And, as long as it is, we’re going to have people who say risk of exposure overrides other concerns, such as the fact that dozens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone die every year of bad health care record keeping and communications — in other words, of bad data.

Still, if we want good medical care, we need EHR. That much is plain. The question is, How?

The answer will not be an information silo, or a set of silos. We have too many of those already. That’s the problem we have now — both on paper and in electronic formats (as I discovered last year in one of my own medical adventures).

The patient needs to be the point of integration for his or her own data, and the point of origination about what gets done with it. Even if the patient’s primary care physician serves as a trusted originator of medical decisions, the patient needs to anchor the vector of his or her own care, for the simple reason that the patient is the one constant as he or she moves through various medical specialties and systems.

The patient needs to be the platform. Not Google, or Microsoft, or your HMO, or the VA, or some kieretsu involving Big Pharma, Big Software Companies and Big Equipment Makers.

This requires classic VRM: tools of independence and engagement. That is, tools that enable the patient to be independent of any health care provider, yet better able to engage any provider.

In other words, while the answer needs to be systematic, it does not need to be A Big System (which I fear both BigCos and BigGovs whish to provide).

The answer needs to come from geeks who know how to eliminate big problems with simple solutions. For example,

  • Consider how the Internet Protocol solved the problem of multiple networks that didn’t get along.
  • Consider how email protocols such as SMTP, POP3 and IMAP solved the problem of multiple email systems that didn’t get along.
  • Consider how the XMPP protocol solves the problem of multiple instant messaging systems that don’t get along.

We need new ways of organizing our own health care data, and communicating that data selectively to trusted health care providers through open and standard protocols (that may or may not already exist… I don’t know).

I wanted to get those thoughts down because there’s a bunch of stuff going on around health care right now (including two conferences in Boston), detailed to some degree in Health Care Relationship Management, over at the ProjectVRM blog.

* On WBUR, a Boston station I pick up here in Santa Barbara over my Public Radio Tuner.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Good of Vanity Fair to interview some of the Net’s and the Web’s fathers and sons (alas, no mothers or daughters), in a piece titled How the Web was Won.

On vision:

Leonard Kleinrock: Licklider was a strong, driving visionary, and he set the stage. He foresaw two aspects of what we now have. His early work—he was a psychologist by training—was in what he called man-computer symbiosis. When you put a computer in the hands of a human, the interaction between them becomes much greater than the individual parts. And he also foresaw a great change in the way activity would take place: education, creativity, commerce, just general information access. He foresaw a connected world of information.

The culture was one of: You find a good scientist. Fund him. Leave him alone. Don’t over-manage. Don’t tell him how to do something. You may tell him what you’re interested in: I want artificial intelligence. I want a network. I want time-sharing. Don’t tell him how to do it.

On intellectual property sanity:

Larry Roberts: After we built the Arpanet, lots of people built networks. Everybody was competing. Everyone had their own thing that they wanted to do. So it became very important that the world have one protocol, so they could all talk to each other. And Bob Kahn really pushed that process. And Vint. And it wasn’t licensed. They proved to the world that making something free as a driver would make a huge difference in making it a standard.

Robert Cailliau: We looked for a name for several weeks and couldn’t come up with anything good, and I didn’t want yet another one of these stupid things that doesn’t tell you anything. In the end Tim said, Why don’t we temporarily call it the World Wide Web? It just says what it is.

At one point cern was toying with patenting the World Wide Web. I was talking about that with Tim one day, and he looked at me, and I could see that he wasn’t enthusiastic. He said, Robert, do you want to be rich? I thought, Well, it helps, no? He apparently didn’t care about that. What he cared about was to make sure that the thing would work, that it would just be there for everybody. He convinced me of that, and then I worked for about six months, very hard with the legal service, to make sure that cern put the whole thing in the public domain.

On how markets are conversations after all:

Steve Case: We always believed that people talking to each other was the killer app. And so whether it was instant messaging or chat rooms, which we launched in 1985, or message boards, it was always the community that was front and center. Everything else—commerce and entertainment and financial services—was secondary. We thought community trumped content.

On the dawn of a different democracy:

Wes Boyd: I think the biggest shock for us, and it was from the very beginning, was not: Oh, boy, these big people are paying attention to us. It was that there are no big people; it’s up to all of us. And that’s a very scary thing, you know, when you realize what a vacuum there is in many ways in politics.

On the end of media as usual:

Dave Winer: The press is very susceptible to conventional wisdom. The press buys into certain things being true that really aren’t true. The conventional wisdom was that Apple was dead and there was no new software for Macintosh. Yet I was a software developer making new software for the Macintosh. So I went to bat for Apple.

That was the reason why I got so heavy into blogging—I didn’t want the verdict of the press to be the last word. And I’d argue that the same thing is happening now in politics. Today it’s: Is Reverend Wright really a disaster for the Obama campaign? Well, the press seems to think so, but if we want to get a different story out there we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

It’s far from a Compleat History, but it’s a fun read. Makes me wish The Media (including bloggers) had reported more about What Happened after Gutenberg invented movable type. I don’t think the parallels would be few.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Props to Joe Andrieu for pointing out the Cult of Done, for which I am constitutionally disqualified, but wish I were not.

Why? Because I: 1) Bite off more than I can eschew, 2) Keep more balls on the floor than anybody I know, and 3) Plan for my epitaph to read “He was almost finished.”

But I am at home right now, mostly getting things done while regretably missing Free Libre Planet, happening right now at Harvard, and for which I am registered. Just too much to catch up on, and I don’t know when Wes Felter is speaking. Hope it’s tomorrow, by which time I hope to have more done.

Ah, I see that Wes’ personal servers is up for an unconference session tomorrow. I’ll be there for that. Yay.

Sums of differences

Here at SXSW there are two conferences happening on the same floors: Interactive and Film. Interactive is mostly computing geeks. Film is mostly film geeks.

The main visual difference: tatoos and laptops. In the film crowd there is a high tatoo/laptop ratio. In the interactive crowd, there is a high laptop/tatoo ratio — lthough many laptops have tatoos in the forms of decals, which are left on tables and handed out to attendees by companies or causes with something to promote.

I’m on the Interactive side, but have attended very few sessions here, mostly because we have a bunch of VRM developers here, and are taking advantage of sharing meet/meat space to get stuff done. It’s been very productive, actually.

Anyway, I decided yesterday to visit one of the film sessions: the enthusiastically titled Henry Selick and Robert Rodriguez talk 3D at SXSW! The room was packed. The only laptops I saw were my own and two others in the back row. It felt only a bit less strange than it did seven years ago when I attended my first Digital Hollywood in Los Angeles. Back then computer users and Hollywood were at “war.” Or so the Hollywood folks said. “Piracy” was the big topic. I didn’t raise my flag.

A little different now. Great session too, by the way.

If you want to keep something in orbit around the Earth, you need it to be flying parallel to the surface at speeds exceeding those of bullets. Get high enough above atmospheric drag, and stuff will continue to orbit as long as the moon does.

The moon has been around for 4,530,000,000,000 years, give or take.

Humans have been throwing junk into space, and occassionally blowing orbiting crap into countless smithereens, for about fifty years. As a result, the risk of impact to large objects such as shuttles, observatories and space stations is one-in-a-few hundred.

Or, in the case of the International Space Station, one-in-what? Today the ISS was evacuated, just in case.

#iss tweets.

Since it’s obvious that it’s a bad idea to fill the orbital environment with junk that’s damn near impossible to get rid of, why do we keep doing it?

Because every species operates in its own flawed self interest, I guess.

Love this line, from Dave: I have no idea how these guys got the idea that they could save the news industry by becoming the tech industry.

Dave’s the only guy I know who reliably schools both the journalism and the tech industries, often at the same time. Well done.

So our Verizon FiOS home bill has been about $160/month. We were looking to chop that down a bit when I called Verizon this morning.

To put it as simply as possible, it’s complicated.

What I care about most is keeping the 20/20Mbps down/up Internet service. That’s $69.99/mo.

What I don’t care about is POTS, or Plain Old Telephone Service. So I canceled that. We use cell phones, and we’ll find another way to fax, as rarely as we do that.

That leaves TV.

What we still call TV isn’t what it used to be: channels on a dial. They are digital program sources that are organized by “channels”, but that’s a legacy convenience. A few are available over the air, as DTV signals. Those are…

  • WGBH-DT (still called Channel 2, actually on Channel 19). It also has an SD (standard definition) version. These are called 2-1 and 2-2, or WGBG-DT1 and WGBH-DT2. Affiliated with PBS.
  • WBZ-DT (still called Channel 4, actually on Channel 30). Affiliated with CBS.
  • WCVB-DT (Still called Channel 5, actually on Channel 20). Affliiated with ABC.
  • WHDH-HD (still called Channel 7, actually on Channel 40). Also called 7-1, It has a second channel on 7-2 called This TV. It’s SD. Affiliated with NBC.
  • WFXT-DT (still called 25, actually on Channel 31). Affiliated with Fox.
  • WSBK-DT (still called 38, actually on Channel 39). Independent. Owned by CBS.
  • WGBX-DT (still called 44, actually on Channel 43). Four SD channels, labeled 44-1 through 44-2. Called WGBX, World, Create and Kids. Affiliated with PBS.
  • WYDN-DT (still called 48, actually on Channel 47) with a directional signal). The picture is SD. Affiliated with Daystar. Evangelical Christian.
  • WLVI-DT (still called 56, actually on Channel 42 with a directional signal). Affiliated with CW.
  • WMFP-DT (still called 62, actually on Channel 18 with a directional signal). Labeled 61-1 and 62-2. The second is currently dark. Affiliated with Gems TV. Home shopping.
  • WBPX (still called 68, actually on Channel 32, with a directional signal). It’s four channels in one, all SD: WBPX Digital Television, Qubo, Eye on Life and Worship. Identified on the tuner as 68-1, 2, 3 and 4. Affiliated with ION Television.

For what it’s worth, I get all those on my laptop with a little adapter. Meaning that I don’t need cable for them. They’re free. They cost $0.00.

Okay, so Verizon offers two channel lineups in our region: Essentials for $47.99/mo. and Extreme HD for… I can’t find it now. $57.99/mo, I think. Essentials has the about same minimun channel line-up I get for free over the air. Extreme HD has what you want if you watch in HD: all the main cable and sports non-premium channels. Add DVR rental (for which one has no choice) for $12.99 and I’m at $140 or so, if I want the Extreme HD.

TV now is an HD deal. If you want TV, you want HD, because that’s the new screen you’ve got, even if you’re watching on a laptop.

The problem is, HDTV costs you. Unless you want the minimal legacy lineup of local over the air channels.

Anyway, here’s what I want: a la carte. Across the board. I’m glad to do Pay Per View for everything.

And right now I’m thinking hard about cancelling the Extreme HD I just ordered. We like the sports and the movies, but we can go to a bar for the former and get the rest from Netflix or something.

Meanwhile, kudos to Verizon for providing fiber, and the 20/20 connection. Here’s another message: I’d gladly pay more for even more speed. Especially upstream.

[Later...] Now I’m looking at the Verizon Massachusetts channel lineup and it seems like the only thing extra I get with Extreme HD is some sports channels. Is that right? Sports-wise, all I care about are NESN, ESPN, TNT and other Usual Suspects.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Says here that sex came along at least 365 billion million years ago.

Magma roots

capitol reef

The problem with “grass roots” as a metaphor is that it reduces its contributors to the miniscopic. Not microscopic, because then you couldn’t see them without a microscope. But miniscopic, meaning they’re small. You have to get down on all fours to eyeball them and say hi.

So I’ve been thinking about alternative meaphors where large movements are involved. For that you have to go deeper. Not into the dirt, because that has connotations of filfth and death. Rock roots is okay, in the sense that serious rock for the most part is solid, or what geologists call “competent”. You can build on it, and with it. The largest slabs of it are “tectonic”.

But maybe we can go deeper than that, below the Earth’s crust. How about “magma roots”? That occurred to me while reading Ron Schott‘s post, Building a Google Earth Geology Layer. Ron is a hard rock geologist who has been a good source of wisdom (and occasional correction) toward my own geology obsessions. What Ron proposes (in both his posts title and its detail) is a great idea — for Google, for the geology field, and for the rest of us.

Ron’s goals are modest in manner and ambitious in scale:

What I’d like to do here, with the help of the geoblogosphere (via the comments to this post, initially), is to set out some goals, examples, and use cases that could guide the development of a Google Earth geology layer. If there’s interest in building on this idea, I’d be happy to set up communications tools, create KML tutorials, or do anything else to facilitate a coordinated effort to develop such a layer. Hopefully, by leveraging the knowledge and efforts of the geoblogospheric community, along with excellent new resources for developing KML, we can make a real start toward building a useful geology resource.

For now, what I’d like to do is to begin to collect best practices/examples of good uses of KML in illustrating geology in Google Earth. I’ll start by pointing out the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program’s collection of Google Earth KML files and another collection of geologic KML resources at San Diego State University. These should give you some idea of the sorts of things that will be possible. Also helpful would be use cases – how would you like to use a geology layer in Google Earth? Suggestions here will offer us guidance as to what the most important elements of a Google Earth geology layer should be.

I’m not a geologist, but I want to do everything I can to help raise this barn. Or, to keep from mixing metaphors, uncork this volcano.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Window blobs

Form the inside of a de-iced plane, it looks like they poured clear syrup all over it. Or so I was reminded when waiting to take off from O’Hare on Saturday night after a snowstorm. What I found, when I tried to shoot pictures through this rippled ooze, was some fun photographic effects. The shot above is one example among many.

Lights outside were optically exploded into large spongy-looking blobs that resembled models of the universe, cooled meteorites, series of vertebrae, asteroids from old video games…

Anyway, I shot a lot of them.

Tags: , , , ,

Q & Hey

What’s the tweeting protocol? An inquiry at Linux Journal. Lots of good and helpful responses. And thumbs up to Dave’s Where is Twitter’s WordPress?

As does the flat Earth

Great mind-opening post by David Reed:

  …the policy issue is that such systems for multiplexing such EM fields don’t fit the “law of the land” regarding sharing the medium. So, like UWB and spread spectrum underlay, and white spaces, all that capacity will evaporate in attempting to fit the technology into the procrustean bed of the FCC’s “property rights in spectrum” legal framework.

  The “property rights” model of spectrum allocation and radio regulation is based on physics-by-analogy, ignoring the reality of propagation. It’s time to end the ignorance of economists and lawyers, and replace physics-by-analogy with better physical analysis.

My concern is that it will be, like the Net as well, analogous to nothing we know — and in the meantime we’ll be stuck with the notion of spectrum as property, for the simple reason that most of us understand the model, and it works.

Bonus link.

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

In a meeting yesterday, somebody on the IRC shared links to “Re-identification of home addresses from spatial locations anonymized by Gaussian skew” and “Bregman divergences in the (m x k)-partitioning problem“, from Science Digest. Sez the abstract of the latter,

A method of fixed cardinality partition is examined. This methodology can be applied on many problems, such as the confidentiality protection, in which the protection of confidential information has to be ensured, while preserving the information content of the data. The basic feature of the technique is to aggregate the data into m groups of small fixed size k, by minimizing Bregman divergences. It is shown that, in the case of non-uniform probability measures the groups of the optimal solution are not necessarily separated by hyperplanes, while with uniform they are. After the creation of an initial partition on a real data-set, an algorithm, based on two different Bregman divergences, is proposed and applied. This methodology provides us with a very fast and efficient tool to construct a near-optimum partition for the (m×k)-partitioning problem.

Keywords: Confidentiality; Data masking; Fixed cardinality partitioning; Fixed size micro-aggregation; Bregman divergences; Pythagorean property; Convex partition

What’s extra wacky is that I actually spent time diving into this stuff, even though it’s about forty thousand leagues over my head. Still, it was fun trying to remember all that math I barely learned too long ago.

As I recall, the highest grade I ever got in high school math was a C. That was in Geometry. (Hey, I’m a visual guy.) The only math course I took in college was Statistics. The teacher and I couldn’t stand each other, and I dropped out, or thought I did. Turns out I was too late doing that and the guy gave me an F.

But I kept the book, which served me well years later when I was studying Arbitron’s ratings for radio stations. To my surprise, I actually liked the subject, and used what I learned from the book to develop algorithms for factoring out seasonal variations in station AQH (average quarter hour) shares, to aid in predicting which stations would do what in the next “book”. In addition to racking up billable hours for my company, and helping our client station sell advertising, I was able to win bets with friends in the radio business.

The biggest bet of all was that WFXC, the station with the weakest signal in the Raleigh-Durham metro, would kick ass in the first book after its programming went “urban” (that’s radio talk for “black”). The math was easy. The market was about 40% black, and no other FM stations addressed that population.

I won. Foxy was #1 in its first book. (And it’s still doing well, 2+ decades later.)

As it happens, WFXC “Foxy 107″ (a name I suggested to the owners before they picked the call letters, though I don’t know if I was the first to come up with that) was consulted at the time by Dean Landsman, whom I didn’t know at the time. We became good friends years later when we both haunted the late Compuserve’s late Broadcast Professionals Forum, which was run by Mary Lu Wehmeier, now a friend as well. She was the “Sysop” for that forum, where I occasionally came off the bench to help. Running the Sysop Forum was Jonathan Zittrain, who later helped found the Berkman Center, and now stars as a professor at Harvard Law School. Making things even more circular, Dean is now a valuable and diligent contributor to ProjectVRM. Dean, a closet math whiz, made a living for many years doing in-depth work around radio station ratings. I’ll be he knows, or could puzzle out, the quoted text at the top of this post.

By the way, my nickname is the fossil remnant of a radio persona called “Doctor Dave”, featured on WDBS, the prior incarnation of WFXC, which is still around (now with a somewhat better transmitter, and a second and much larger signal on another channel, covering the east side of the market). When I was there, in the mid-’70s, WDBS was owned by Duke University and had awful ratings to go with its awful signal. But it was a great little station. Still friends with folks from those days too.

Ah, I found the picture I was looking for, now at the top of this post. That was the WDBS staff in 1975, I’m guessing. I’m the guy with the wide tie and the narrow shoulders in the back row. There are many missing folks too. I’d love to follow this digressive path, but have too much work to do. At least I’ve left plenty of link and tag bait. :-)

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lay-on

That would be the opposite of a lay-off, no? Anyway, my friend Brian Benz is one of the too many people recently laid off from IBM. He tells the story here. What matters:

  I have until February 23 to find another position at IBM, so if any one knows of an opportunity inside IBM that I would be a good fit for, please let me know. Otherwise, I’m open to opportunities outside of IBM as well.

Testimony: Brian is one of those people who not only knows a load of tech, and has piles of constructive experience, but who gets what’s going on. Meaning he sees the big picture, in four dimensions — including beyond the horizon. Somebody should hire him soon.

This LA Times editorial says,

…when many of Santa Barbara’s most determined anti-drilling activists teamed up to back a deal that would allow an oil company to drill under state waters off the city’s coast, it was a jaw-dropping moment.
Just as surprising, given the deal’s powerful backing, was its collapse Thursday, when the State Lands Commission rejected it on a 2-1 vote. The failure shows that, despite high oil prices that turned “Drill, baby, drill” into a Republican mantra last year, it remains phenomenally difficult to expand drilling in California...
Under the publicly disclosed terms of the deal, Plains Exploration & Production Co., which owns a platform in federal waters just beyond the three-mile limit controlled by the state, would have drilled several wells from the platform into oil reserves on state property. In return, it would have closed that platform, three others it operates off Santa Barbara and two onshore processing facilities by 2022 and donated 4,000 acres of land for preservation. Over the life of the project, the state would have collected up to $5 billion in tax revenues.
Bizarrely, the company and the environmental groups that were parties to the bargain kept the rest of its terms confidential. It is not unheard of for environmentalists to sell out the public interest for political or financial reasons, and no elected official should ever approve a secret deal that affects public resources. The company finally announced that it would disclose the full agreement during Thursday’s Lands Commission hearing, but that was months too late.

To this Santa Barbarian, who loves views of the sea, the oil platforms have their charms. They protrude from the planar Pacific like little square islands with christmas lights. And, as infrastructural studies, they’re rather interesting. It turns out that they’re also welcome offshore habitats, as are scuttled or wrecked metal boats.

Which are worse — oil platforms, or the hills of Los Angeles prickling with pump jacks? Pick your poison. Both bargains are Faustian.

The environmental damage risked, much less caused, by offshore drilling, is not a large part of the whole. Lost in most arguments about drilling in Southern California is the fact that up to hundreds of barrels of crude seep into the ocean constantly there, most of it right by UCSB. It stains the water with long streaks of gray-blue oil, much of it spreading from methane — natural gas — bubblings, some of which are trapped and captured by underwater contraptions. Also lost is the fact that offshore drilling on the West Coast contributes a trivial sum to U.S. energy independence.

Civilization is an open laboratory of trade-offs, with a time horizon that is never geological — and human only to the degree that it considers the wants of the living.

I think the best energy bargains are ones involving sun and wind. But there’s not enough of either to satisfy the energy appetites of a human population that has swelled to many billions. So we must continue to eat the Earth until its dead stuffings fail to sustain us.

After that? Who cares? We’ll all be dead by then too. Maybe some successor species will mine our cemeteries.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Coal ranching

On Tuesday I got my first good look into the coal mines of Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. This is literally where the deer and the antelope played, until the human appetite for power began eating it up. Featured are the Jacobs Ranch and Black Thunder Mines. The latter is featured in John McPhee’s Uncommon Carriers. Great reading. Go get it. (The chapters appeared first in The New Yorker.) Black Thunder (that’s it, above) is the world’s largest coal mine. It’s owned by Arch Coal. About its Powder River mines, Arch says,

Arch had sales volume of 99 million tons of coal in 2007 in the southern Powder River Basin in Wyoming, the nation’s largest coal-supply region. This tonnage is produced at Thunder Basin’s Black Thunder and Coal Creek mines. Arch controls approximately 1.75 billion tons of reserves in the PRB.

I also shot Coal Creek, which is on the other side of another huge mine, Jacobs Ranch. Got many shots of that one too. In fact, I have all these shots in RAW, in case anybody wants a high-quality copy.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Good, tight story of what happened on . In the International Herald Tribune.

By the way, somewhere in this weekend’s Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor sings a delightful tribute to the crew of flight 1549. Heard it live yesterday. The show is running again today on many public stations. Public Radio Fan has times and stations. If you have an iPhone, catch it on your free Public Radio Tuner.

Speaking of which, our first planned VRM feature for the tuner is a “listen log”, to answer “What was that?” questions and to provide fun data that’s yours (not anybody else’s) to do with what you wish.

If you have other features you’d like, on this tuner or on future ones (not just on the iPhone — that’s just where you’ll see it first), let us know.

Barack Obama wants to wait on the DTV shift currently scheduled for 17 February. On the grounds that it’ll be a mess, this is a good idea. But nothing can make it a better idea. It’s not that the train has left the station. It’s that the new OTA (over the air) Oz is mostly built-out and it’s going to fail. Not totally, but in enough ways to bring huge piles of opprobrium down on the FCC, which has been rationalizing this thing for years.

I explain why in What happens when TV’s mainframe era ends next February?. Most VHF stations moving to UHF will have sharply reduced coverage. The converter shortage is just a red herring. The real problem is signals that won’t be there.

Most cable customers won’t be affected. But even cable offerings are based on over-the-air coverage assumptions. Those may stay the same, but the facts of coverage will not. In most cases coverage will shrink.

FCC maps (more here and here) paint an optimistic picture. But they are based on assumptions that are also overly optimistic, to say the least. Wilimington, NC was chosen as a demonstration market. Bad idea. One of the biggest stations there, WECT, suffers huge losses of coverage.

Anyway, it’s gonna be FUBAR in any case.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

So now my dream app is ready on the iPhone. It’s just the beginning of What It Will Be, but it’s highly useful. If you have an iPhone, go there and check it out. It’s free.

As you see here, I’m involved, through the Berkman Center, which is collaborating with , which is working under a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (). Major props go to the PRX developers, who have been working very very hard on this thing. Some of the most diligent heads-down programming I’ve seen.

An interesting thing. In the old days, when an app came out, in any form, on nearly any platform, there was this assumption that it was a Done Thing, and should be critiqued on those grounds. Not the case here. This is a work in progress, and the process is open. In the long run, we should see much more opened up as well.

Paranthetically, I think right now we’re looking at some cognitive dissonance between the Static Web and the Live Web, when the latter seems to look like the former. You have a website, or an app. These seem to be static things, even when they’re live. An app like the Public Radio Tuner is more of a live than a static thing. But it’s easy, as a user, to relate to it as a static thing. Because at any one time it does have more static qualities than live ones. Imagine a house you can remodel easily and often, and at low cost and inconvenience. That’s kind of what we have here. A cross between product and process — that looks the former even when it’s doing the latter. Anyway…

Though this grant is for an iTunes app, work is sure to go on to other platforms as well — such as Android. So, rather than criticize this app for coming out first on the iPhone, please provide feedback and guidance for next steps beyond this first effort (and join me in giving the developers a high five for delivering a functional app in a remarkably short time). And in the reviews section at iTunes, provide honest and constructive reviews. At this stage I’m sure they’ll be good. (Some of the bad reviews were on the very first version released, which has since been replaced.)

To VRM followers and community members, VRM is very much on the agenda, and we’re thinking and working hard on what the VRM pieces of this will be, and how they’ll work. This may be the first piece of work where VRM components appear, and we want to do them right. Also bear in mind that this is the first step on a long, interesting and fruitful path. Or many paths. Interest and guidance is welcome there too.

Tags:

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,.

Tags: , , , , , ,

I may be wrong, but I’ll betting that Esther Dyson is already the most frequent flyer on Earth.

Now she’s looking to fly at higher altitudes.

Here’s the latest on her Edventure site:

UPDATE: I’m currently living in Star City outside Moscow, training to be a cosmonaut as backup to Charles Simonyi. His flight launches March 25. For details of my EDventures, see the LINKS for Hpost and FS blog. (I’m cross-posting.)

And here is her latest at the Flight School blog. Plus an earlier post about committed to blogging as well. Among other things. Read around. Many links to follow.

Hat tip to Chris Locke.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Fears over earthquake ‘swarm’ at Yellowstone National Park says TimesOnline. (That’s the London one.) In a report on the same development, David Isenberg begins,

  The local (Cody WY) newspaper says that there’s “no indication the park’s famous caldera is likely to erupt.” But in Honolulu, where the reporters know something about volcanos, the paper tells a different story under the headline, Quake swarm at Yellowstone may signal blast.

This wouldn’t be a Mount St. Helens. This could be much bigger. More at Yellowstone Caldera, the B Bar Blog, and Time.

The more I fly, the more useful, or at least interesting, the NOAA‘s AviationWeather.gov service becomes. At any given moment it has dozens of different reports on weather at altitude, across North America. The one above is among the many that show potential or reported turbulence.

I also just discovered TurbulenceForecast.com, with the TurbulenceForecast Blog. There’s a lot of overlap with AviationWeather.gov, since it uses a lot of maps and data from there.

Here’s the FAA’s page on flight delays. Plus FlightAware, the best of a bad bunch — too much flash and other stuff that doesn’t work on too many browsers, especially ones in handhelds. Speaking of which, I’ve lately been appreciating FlightTrack. The list could go on, but I need to move on. See ya in Boston. (At IAD now. The last two paragraphs were written at SFO, where connectivity was minimal.)

Oh, click on the map above and check out the current maximum turbulence potential between here (Washington) and Boston. So far there’s just one pilot report, of moderate turbulence, over Connecticut.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

On New Years Day we had breakfast on the Wharf, then walked around the harbor to the breakwater, and then out across the rocks to the beach at the tip of the breakwater that forms one side of the opening to the marina. Part of our purpose was exercise and general sight-seeing, but we were also curious about the amazing explosion in the population of pelicans.

The birds have been common as long as we’ve lived here (since 2001), but outnumbered by gulls, which are by far the most common shore birds, pretty much everywhere in temperate climes. But here the gulls now seem crowded out by the California Brown Pelican, once an endangered species.

Thousands, it seemed, now all but owned the beach at the end of the breakwater. So the kid and I went out there to investigate the matter. This photo set follows the walk, and shares some of what we discovered.

I neglected to take my good camera with me, which is a bit of a bummer: no art shots or close-ups. But I still got some good-enough shots with the little pocket Canon, plus a video I’ll put up after I get back to Boston and better bandwidth.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The Daily Redux

For the second day in a row we couldn’t fly out of Santa Barbara. At least we have a home here, so I can get some work done. Lots of stuff due now or early next week.

Nova or lens flare?

I’ve been shooting stars and planets the last few nights (see here and here), as the Moon passes by Mercury, Jupiter and Venus. It’s the kind of thing obsessives do, when they combine devotions to astronomy and photography. Anyway, I thought it would be fun to identify a few of the stars in the neighborhood Venus was visiting, when I found a star where none should be.

Take a look at the two photos above. The original one on the right is here. On that one I note names and other data for all the main stars in the shot other than the bright blue one near the middle. It’s not on any start chart I’ve consulted. Sooo… what is it?

My fantasy was a nova of some kind. But I doubt that’s it. Judging from the color alone, I’d say it’s a lens flare. Meanwhile it was fun doing detective work with The Kid.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

One of the most common expressions in geology is “not well understood”. Which is understandable, because most rocks were formed millions to billions of years ago, often under conditions, and in locations, that can only be guessed at. One of the reasons I love geology is that the detective work is of a very high order. The work is both highly scientific and highly creative. Also, it will never be done. Its best mysteries are rooted too deeply in the one thing humans — relative to rock — severely lack: time

Anyway, I’m here to suggest that two overlapping subjects — infrastructure and internet — are not well understood, even though both are made by humans and can be studied within the human timescale. The term “infrastructure” has been in common use only since the 1970s. While widely used, there are relatively few books about the subject itself. I’d say, in fact, that is more a subject in many fields than a field in itself. And I think it needs to be. Same with the Internet. Look it up on Google and see how many different definitions you get. Yet nothing could be more infrastructural without being physical, which the Internet is not.

Anyway, as I write and think about this stuff, I like to keep track of what I’ve already said, even though I’ve moved beyond some of it. So here goes:

More from allied sources:

And now I have to fly to Paris, to have fun at LeWeb. We’ll pick up this and other subjects there.

Tags:

My son found the perfect way to interrupt my absolute concentration on work this evening: by pointing out that the Moon, Venus and Jupiter were forming a jewel-box of an arrangement in the evening sky. And sure enough, they were. So I took a bunch of shots, of which I kept the two that comprise this set here.

If you’re in the West, somewhere amidst the Pacific or the Far East this evening, you’ll see it too.

Tags: , , , ,

From Chris Brogan via JP, a call to re-tweet: Sew hoping for a miracle.

Here is an earlier picture (and post about) Marielle, by her mom, the blogger Sue (aka Sew), of The Domestic Diva.

Marielle is dying, literally, for a kidney match.

Pass the word along. Somebody somewhere should be able to help.

Tags: , , , , ,

According to this my geek cred is 27 out of 50. Like Alec (who scored 41), I come up short on the gaming and entertainment hacking front. I woulda done better if there were items like, “Have changed bulbs on a broadcast tower,” “Rembember Ohm’s Law,” “Built a Heathkit” or “Know what ‘millimhos’ are”. (Clue.) Except for Ohmian matters, most of the rest is obsolete knowledge or headed that way.

If you’re interested in music, or in radio — especially if you’re interested in both — listen (or watch) in on Tim Westergren’s talk, going on right now. Tim founded Pandora, and is its Chief Strategist. My notes…

“We want to fix radio. And we want to fix it globally. And do it for musicians as well as listeners.”

What they’re doing is heroic, actually.

Tim just talked about Pandora’s brief experience with a subscription model. They let you listen for awhile and then began to charge — and found out listeners would find workarounds to stay in the free zone. “Systemic dishonesty”, he called it. This makes me think that VRM is systemic honesty.

“There is going to be a flight to quality,” Tim just said. Good line.

Tags: , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

FORWARD WITH FIBER: An Infrastructure Investment Plan for the New Administration is my second essay at the Publius Project. The first was FRAMING THE NET.

This one is a bold proposal: putting $300 billion into bringing fiber to every possible premise in America. Unlike other proposals of this sort, this one goes out of its way to embrace rather than to exclude the phone and cable companies. It challenges them to look past “triple play”, toward supporting an infinitude of businesses and opportunities that will open up when we all break free of telecom’s regulatory boat-anchors and conceptual blinders, and start thinking about wide open connectivity and capacity as a new frontier: the 21st Century equivalent of the Louisiana Purchase. And about as cheap.

Against all the ways it might not work — expectations of government incompetence and industry provincialism correctly run high — the idea is easy to dismiss as naive. But I still think it’s worth considering.

The problem isn’t what’s wrong with the current system. It’s what’s not right with it yet. That’s where we need to start looking for solutions. And that’s the direction I’m pointing here.

ISPs are pressed to become child porn cops is a new MSNBC piece by Bill Dedman and Bob Sullivan. It begins,

New technologies and changes in U.S. law are adding to pressures to turn Internet service providers into cops examining all Internet traffic for child pornography.

One new tool, being marketed in the U.S. by an Australian company, offers to check every file passing through an Internet provider’s network — every image, every movie, every document attached to an e-mail or found in a Web search — to see if it matches a list of illegal images.

The company caught the attention of New York’s attorney general*, who has been pressing Internet companies to block child porn. He forwarded the proposal to one of those companies, AOL, for discussion by an industry task force that is looking for ways to fight child porn. A copy of the company’s proposal was also obtained by msnbc.com

But such monitoring just became easier with a law approved unanimously by the Congress and signed on Monday by President Bush. A section of that law written by Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain gives Internet service providers access to lists of child porn files, which previously had been closely held by law enforcement agencies and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Although the law says it doesn’t require any monitoring, it doesn’t forbid it either. And the law ratchets up the pressure, making it a felony for ISPs to fail to report any “actual knowledge” of child pornography.

*That would be Andrew Cuomo.

(An appeal to journalists everywhere: When you refer to a piece legislation, whether proposed or passed, please link to the @#$% thing.)

So I looked around, and believe that the legislation in question is S.1738, described by Thomas as A bill to require the Department of Justice to develop and implement a National Strategy Child Exploitation Prevention and Interdiction, to improve the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force, to increase resources for regional computer forensic labs, and to make other improvements to increase the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute child predators.

It was sponsored by Sen. Joe Biden and co-sponsored by 60 others, not including John McCain. But Thomas says S.519, A bill to modernize and expand the reporting requirements relating to child pornography, to expand cooperation in combating child pornography, and for other purposes, is a related bill (there are two others), and was sponsored by McCain. About that bill it says, Latest Major Action: 2/7/2007 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Note: For further action, see S.1738, which became Public Law 110-401 on 10/13/2008.

So I’ve read the text, and I see two things there. One is this Task Force business (which to me says “gather the wrong people for a noble purpose, and task them with creating a technical mandate that may not get funded, and if it does will be a huge kluge that does far less than it’s supposed to do while complicating everything it touches”). The other is a wiretapping bill for the Internet. I get that from Section 103, which says one Task Force purpose is “increasing the investigative capabilities of state and local law enforcement officers in the detection and investigation of child exploitation crimes facilitated by the Internet and the apprehension of offenders”. Hence the move by Andrew Cuomo in New York.

This is one more slippery slope at the bottom of which the Internet is just another breed of telecom service, subject to ever-expanding telecom regulation, all for Good Cause.

And we’ll see more of this, as long as we continue framing the Net as just another breed of telecom.

The Net is too new, too protean, too essential and too economically vital for it to be lashed — even by legislation that attempts to protect its virtues — to telecom law that was born in 1934 and comprises a conceptual box from which there is no escape.

Hat tips to Alex Goldman and Karl Bode.

Bonus wisdom from Richard Bennett: “The Internet is indeed the most light-regulated network going, and it’s the only one in a constant state of improvement. Inappropriate regulation – treating the Internet like a telecom network – is the only way to put an end to that cycle.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The satellite will be launched into orbit tomorrow, October 24, at 19:28:21, or 21 seconds after 7:28pm, Pacific time, from Vandenberg AFB in California. Says here that the rocket will be a Delta II, which puts on a great show. While the launch will be spectacular from nearby viewing locations, it will be visible all over the southwest U.S. and northwest Mexico. More from that last link:

COSMO-SkyMed, one of the most innovative Earth Observation programmes, is financed by the Ministry for Education, Universities and Scientific Research, the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the Ministry of Defence.
The programme involves the launch of a constellation of four satellites, equipped with radar sensors that can operate under any weather conditions and with very short revisiting times.
COSMO-SkyMed was conceived as a dual use programme intended to meet both civil and defence objectives. The application services that can be derived from COSMO-SkyMed will contribute significantly to the defence of the territory in areas such as fire, landslides, droughts, floods, pollution, earthquakes and subsidence, management of natural resources in agriculture and forestry, as well as monitoring of urban sprawl.

Guess this is the third in the series.

In any case, I assume that this one has a polar orbit, which is the only kind of orbit that allows scanning of the whole earth over the course of time. That means it will be launching toward the south. This is good. Even if it’s in that direction, it will still be impressive.

Here’s a photoset of two launches from Vandenberg AFB, and two launches there, both shot from Santa Barbara. And here’s a video of one of those.

One cool thing: As the rocket enters space, exhaust is no longer contained by atmosphere, and it expands into something shaped like an elongated light bulb. Then the exhaust drifts in strange and wandering ways, determined by edge-of-space movements in atmosphere, altered by the directions of rocket exhaust, and then space itself, where the exhaust moves win all the directions the rockets shoot (which in most cases is in four directions at once). It’s fun and strange to watch.

I’m in Boston now, so we’ll miss it here; but if you’re anywhere southwest of Utah, enjoy.

Hat tip to the SBAU for the heads-up.

Tags: ,

Identity Workout

IIW, November 11-12, 2008, Mountain View, CASo we’re coming up on our Nth IIW, which happens on November 10-11. I’ve lost track of how many we’ve had so far, which I think is a good sign. Every IIW has been new and different, and unusually productive.

The idea behind IIW is getting work done. Moving not only converations forward, but work as well.

The focus has been on what we call “user-centric” identity, but I prefer the term user-driven, especially as it relates to VRM. So much has come out of IIWs over the years, or has been improved by conversation and codework there. Cardspace, Higgins, Oauth, OpenID…

And the IIWs have been great environments for working on VRM as well. (Though I need to point out that VRM is not a breed of idenity. They overlap, and I’ve played a leading role in both movements, but the differences are essential as well.)

As usual this IIW is happening at the in Mountain View, which is an outstanding location. There is a huge floor filled with round tables for hosting conversations, and rooms on either side for meetings, all organized on the Open Space model.

Anyway, it’s a terrific event, highly recommended. Look forward to seeing many of you there.

Tags:

Two stories.

From 17 May 1999, The CRTC will not regulate the Internet.

From four days ago, CRTC to review new media broadcasting in February, and CRTC to examine broadcasting in the new media environment. (Both the same story.)

David Warren responds with Time to Say Goodbye. Sez he,

The CRTC already has powers of regulation over broadcasting content that are offensive to a free people; powers that go far beyond the simple and once-necessary task of apportioning finite broadcasting bandwidth.

Advances in technology have made it less and less necessary to impose rationing on the airwaves. We have got beyond the “rabbit ears” age. Digital technology for cable and satellite have moved far beyond this, and the Internet itself becomes capable of delivering a range of material unimagined only a generation ago. Nor is telephony what it was in past generations. The CRTC is a fossil relic from an antediluvian era.

By all means keep its archives in a museum, so that our children’s children may some day see how charmingly primitive our technology once was — in the “CReTaCeous” period of our national life, when such big blundering bureaucratic behemoths as this superannuated regulator roamed the electronic plains. But it is time now for the CRTC to become extinct.

We must demand this media censor be closed — not downsized, but permanently erased from our public life. If any remaining bandwidth tasks can be identified, they should be transferred to the secretarial pool in some corner of the Department of Canadian Heritage.

The problem for the CRTC is that it does seem to frame the Net in terms of broadcast. The FCC here in the U.S. does something similar, only by framing the Net in terms of telecom. It’s a subtle thing, but it’s of the “if all you’ve got is a hammer, everything looks like a nail” variety. Both frame the Net in terms of what they know best.

The problem is that the Net is not well defined. Go to Google and look up “The Internet is”. It’s all over the place. In Framing the Net I visited some of the reasons. But we need to go deeper and wider than the FCC or any ideological (or even rhetorical) corner can alone provide.

It’s so early. We’re so far from what the Net will be.

I was thinking this morning that it’s a shame that the term “cyberspace” has become passé. John Perry Barlow’s A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace said that we were creating a whole new world with the Net. This seemed true. In any case the essay changed my life. It was one of the documents that convinced me that the Net isn’t just a game-changer for everything it touches, but a subject of transcendent importance, so unique, so unlike anything that preceded it, that it wasn’t like anything. All metaphors are wrong, of course. That’s what makes them metaphors. They’re meaningful, but not accurate. Unlike simile, metaphor doesn’t say this is like that. It says this is that. Time is money. Life is travel. The Net is place. Or space. Or pipes. Or a service. I liked cyberspace because denoted a new kind of space, one with its own nature, its own new rules.

Could it be we’re all both right and wrong about it? If so, wouldn’t it be better not to regulate it as a breed of broadcast, or telecom, or whatever?

Anyway, I’m out of time here. Just wanted to dump this out of my brain while it was rattling around in there.

Rex is right

Older guys are smarter. More.

The best state-by-state, poll-by-poll rundown

Electoral College Predictions Tool. Dig.

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.

An asteroid is about to burn up over Africa.

Is there anything more phallic than a skyskraper? Other than, like, the Real Thing?

Anyway, Sky News reports plans in Dubai to build a skyscraper more than 1km in height. A kilometer is 3281 feet or so. That’s a lot taller than the .818 km (2,684 ft) Burj Dubai, currently around 707m high, and the record-holder.

The builder is Nakheel, he same outfit that makes palm-shaped islands and such. The site at that link has annoying music and nothing about The Plan, but I’m sure it’ll show up.

They say it’ll take ten years to build. Those of us who watched the World Trade Center go up (from ’65-74) recall a similar time frame.

You don’t have to wonder what The Point is. That’s what they’re building.

Joe Biden might not have been lying when he said global warming was “caused by man”, but he was at best only partially right.

The globe has been warming for the last 20000 years or so: ever since the last ice sheet began to retreat, leaving Long Island, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, Cape Cod, the Great Lakes and most of Canada behind — a process that’s still going on:

While there is plenty of evidence to support the belief that humans have contributed to global warming over the past couple hundred years, we’re talking about a phenomenon with a lot more geologic scope than that.

By the way, we’ve had seven ice ages in the last 650,000 years, and we’re probably in for another one after the current interglacial period passes. And by “we” I mean life forms. There’s no guarantee that humans will last that long.

Caffeine Nation

I was just standing on line at a Starbucks where the entire conversation, involving everybody in the line, was about their iPhones. Two topics: operations and applications. Operations was about managing battery life and connectivity by manipulating settings. Applications was about everything: Who has what and recommends what.

The lesson: this is a data device: a hand-held apps-runner. The apps can be anything. What matters most is what gets used most. Maps and navigation appeared to be a big one. We are now blue dots on the surface of Google’s World.

For now. Perspective: The iPhone is a window into The Future, even if (as am I ) you are creeped out by one company controlling everything. The iPhone is a prototype.

I really want to see what can be done with an Android.

Bonus fun.

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.

I’ve been obsessing about infrastructure lately, with help from Stephen Lewis, whose experience and scholarship on the matter exceeds mine. The Etymology of Infrastructure and the Infrastructure of the Internet is his latest post on the matter. An excerpt:

Within the concept of urban studies and the contemporary home ownership and loan flim-flam, defaults, and financial disaster in the US, I am looking at the tension between two historical approaches, i.e. housing as infrastructure and housing as commodity. As an analogue, I am also looking at the paradigmatic abandonment of socially financed public transport to privately-owned automobiles.

My own observation — that infrastructure is far more adaptable, plastic, replaceable, substitutable and repurposeable than the word itself implies — is substantiated by the relatively new, changing and variously understood meaning of the word itself:

Infrastructure indeed entered the English language as a loan word from French in which it had been a railroad engineering term. A 1927 edition of the Oxford indeed mentioned the word in the context of “… the tunnels, bridges, culverts, and ‘infrastructure work’ of the French railroads.” After World War II, “infrastructure” reemerged as in-house jargon within NATO, this time referring to fixed installations necessary for the operations of armed forces and to capital investments considered necessary to secure the security of Europe.

It is especially interesting to me that the Net is clearly a form of infrastructure, yet has no physical properties of its own. As a utility it could hardly be more useful (that is, be a utility in the literal sense), yet it is not a utility in the manner of a water or gas service. And while today most of us enjoy the Net thanks to phone and cable companies, the Net is not a breed of telephony or television. Quite the opposite, in fact. Telephony and television are today forms of data that happen to be carried over the Net’s protocols. One no longer requires phone wiring to get phone service, or coaxial cable to get television. But because phone and cable companies bill us for the Net, we think of it as a ‘service’ of those companies. In fact it’s a pile of protocols. Are protocols themselves infrastructure? Seems so.

The fact at hand is that on the whole neither Infrastructure nor the Net are well understood. In fact, they are poorly understood, even though they are widely used.

Do we want the Net to be regulated as if it were something physical? I suggest that we want the Net to be understood first, on its own terms. And to do that, I also suggest we visit anew the nature of infrastructure itself.

Bonus pix.

Sold American!

BuyMyShitpile.com. I like this one.

Cloud cover

The Bigger Switch is my Linux Journal column on Nick Carr‘s The Big Switch. It concludes:

  I don’t see utopian ideals behind what Alvin Toffler called the Information Age (in The Third Wave, which came out in 1980). Rather, I see practical ones, modeled on the construction industry, complete with “architects”, “designers” and “builders”. The difference is in the materials. In the physical world, we are bound by the laws of physics and the periodic table. In the networked world, we are bound by what the human mind can produce. We have no equivalents of rock and wood, because our raw materials are far less limited and far more abundant than both. This creates new problems and opportunities in equal profusion.

  But, for better and worse, the source is us.

Bonus link: Nick on Google’s Chrome browser.

Marc Canter and family stopped by a couple days ago, and everybody had a lot of fun. Naturally we talked shop as well. In the midst Marc shared a one-liner that I love: “Open is the new black”.

Which brings me to Google Earth. I have more than 22 thousand photos on Flickr. Of those, more than 6.5 thousand are tagged “aerial”. If I had the time or energy I’d go back and give another few thousand the same tag.

Yet, far as I know, I can’t add any of these to Google Earth — at least not in the way that Panoramio shots get added. Panoramio is a cool service, but its feature set is small compared to Flickr’s, and less appealing to me as both a photographer and a geology and geography freak. I’d much rather upload shots to Flickr than to place them on Google Earth (or any mapping service) using open APIs.

Yet, far as I know, I can’t (with Google Earth, that is). That’s how it looked the last time I tried to make a go of it. (Also, Google Earth doesn’t like aerial photos, which also isn’t helpful, especially in places where its own resolution is low.)

Anyway, I’m not here to carp about Google Earth, which is one of the most amazing and helpful programs ever. I’m here to carp about exclusivities. Services such as these should be maximally mashable. By favoring Panoramio over Flickr (and other services like it), Google does neither Panoramio nor Google Earth any favors. In fact it isolates both from competitive pressures that would lead to improvements in their own code and in the marketplace.

Adam Fields and Barry Welford have convinced me to try making a habit of searching with Clusty. No time to put together a research-driven case, but so far I find myself liking the results.

That said, I’ve felt from the beginning that search has always been something of a kluge required by the absence of a real directory for the Web — one to which anybody can add anything in a durably findable way. That’s why I’ve been intrigued by the possibilities of XRI/XDI since I first heard about it.

Someday somebody is going to base a deeply cool and useful product or service on XRI/XDI standards — an invention that mothers necessity for the standard. Just watch.

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

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

Bonus link.

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

Who new?

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

Check the results for Festus.

Hat tip to Leonard Lin.

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.

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

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

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

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

His bottom line:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More than six hundred homes were lost in that one.

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

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

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

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

Other items from the press conference:

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

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

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

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

Tag: sbgapfire.

Sky show

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

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

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.

So here I am at 3am for the second day in a row, taking a moment betwen hits of Dilaudid to do something that was for many years normal for me: writing something.

I have a new normal now, and it’s getting old. I’ve lost count of the wires and tubes running from my body to mechanical and electrical instruments. I haven’t eaten in close to a week, and my intake is entirely from bags of liquid dispensed by “smart pumps” that beep loudly and often for what seems most of the time to be no reason at all. I’m creepily cool now with being 90% helpless, even as I’m close to 100% hopeful that I’ll get past this thing, which remains pancreatis, with complications, the latest of which are fluids in my abdomen, with encroachment on my right lung: the same one that took a hit from a wayward embolus a couple months back, when I first made my acquaintence with this hospital.

It’s a Harvard teaching hospital, which means that a procession of young doctors come through, each with a fresh line of inquiry, few of which, when fulfilled, contributes to an institutional memory. Most of the doctors I’ve seen here have been only once or twice. Nice folks, all, however. And all less than half my age, it seems.

My new room is a solo one. I miss the company of other patients, but I do like some of the posh features, such as a toilet that has more than five square feet of flooor space. They moved me here so they could monitor me more closely. I do appreciate that. But the reason creeps me a bit: so I won’t get pneumonia or chronic pancreatitis of the sort Suzi reports here.

Well, that’s about all I have energy for. Look for another report in a few hours, I hope.

And thanks again for all your kind wishes. I’m really looking forward to returning to normal normalcy.

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.

Buy George

So we walked into the Boston public library this evening at 6:15 to return some books, and encountered a serendipitous bonus: A sign in the lobby said that George Lakoff was speaking upstairs at 6:30. So we intercepted George a few minutes later, sat in on a great talk (his sixth of the day), and then I enjoyed a long dinner with George and Andrew Dunn, a recent Harvard Law grad doing work on human rights. The whole thing was pure coincidence and lots of fun. I’ve been meaning for a long time to talk to George about Framing the Net, among other things — and here I didn’t need to go to Berkeley or try to sync our two complex schedules.

We covered much ground in the conversation, and I learned a great deal that I’d love to write down if it weren’t 1:08 in the morning and my wrist wasn’t killing me (where it was stabbed for an IV they used during an MRI earlier in the day). So that’ll have to wait.

Meanwhile, George’s new book is out. I already had it on order and look forward to reading it.

What the deaf can teach us about listening. The short version:

 
  1. Look people in the eye.
  2. Don’t interrupt.
  3. Say what you mean, as simply as possible.
  4. When you don’t understand something, ask.
  5. Stay focused.

I’d call all that common sense, if it were more commonly applied. Including by me.

I went in yesterday for routine bloodwork, which I do every few days, to make sure my blood maintains optimum clot-resistance. While there I also decided to ask the medical folks to listen to my chest again, since the pain that started this whole thing — and which turns out to have been a pulmonary embolism, a “moderate-sized” blood clot in the middle lobe of my right lung — never went away. In fact, I still feel like I’m nursing some broken ribs.

The diagnosis is nothing more than slow healing. The broken rib pain is actually residual pain around the scar tissue forming where the blood clot did its damage. The bubbling feeling I get near the pain is probably fluid still in the lungs, and air sacks making popping sounds as they heal, or get used in a new way, or something.

The upshot is that I need to exercise my lungs more. Ride the bike more. Walk. Get up, move around.

All this while I have more writing work than ever, all due approximately now, while also prepping for travel and speaking and event engagements over the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to all of it, but it’s wierd getting up and down a lot. I’m used to sagging into a chair and cranking on the laptop. Like I’m doing now, sort of.

Anyway, people have been asking for health updates, so that’s the latest.

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.

See-through Net Roots

The Glass Roots Revolution. A sample:

  Where it goes is the independent hacking together of everything: a convergence of cheap, mobile and hackable. Add to that the half-zillion open source code bases now populate the world of useful tools and building materials, and you have the ingredients — if not yet the recipe — for remaking infrastructure from the edges inward.

Comms hell

Here at the Westin in Los Angeles, connectivity is pretty good — about a megabit in each direction. (For a fee, of course.) But the last two days, at the Hilton in Loma Linda and the University of Redlands, were terrible. I’m not sure if it was just because they blocked stuff (as was the case with Redlands), or because the system was bad (as was the case with the Hilton), but I’ve come to the conclusion that two things cause these kinds of problems in general. One is charging for something that ought to be free. The other is subtracting value from something that doesn’t need it and only pisses off users.

In the long run it makes as much sense for hotels to charge for Internet as it does to charge for television. (Yes, they used to do that too. There were coin-operated TVs.) Or for using the toilet. But it’s a business because they know they need Internet service now, and because doing it themselves is too complicated. So they hire these outside outfits to do it for them. (In the case of the Hilton it was iBahn.) And too many of them just don’t do a good job.

Yet we saw in Loma Linda how easy it is to bring fiber to homes, and for anybody to hook by fiber to anybody. The cabling and conduit are progressing upwards in convenience and downward in price, to a point where it will be as easy to put in fiber as it is to install a drip irrigation system. What makes the Interent complicated is that it comes to most places as a secondary service to telephony and television. Yet it doesn’t have to be, and in the long run it won’t be.

Perspective

You are here.

In this comment to this post, John Quimby writes,

The people “vetting” our election haven’t been “vetted” themselves.

Try this thought on for size…

The reporters we knew and admired when we were young were educated in journalism and many of them served in the Army covering WWII. They invented broadcast news and had combat experience with average American soldiers all over the world. That experience gave them a keen sense of official BS and they weren’t afraid of the risks it took to get the story and send some truth home. They felt they owed it to the humble people they served to get it right. They knew how to tell a story.

See where I’m going?

While you’re following John’s thoughts about storytellers and stories (and please do: it’s a good thread), a few thoughts about the nature of the latter, and what any journalist, regardless of reputation and talent, will have a hard time telling.

In this post about journalism, I wrote,

The basic job of newspaper reporters is to write stories. In simplest terms, stories are interesting arrangements of facts. What makes stories interesting are: 1) protagonists (persons, groups, teams, “issues” or causes); 2) a struggle, problem or conflict of some sort; and 3) movement forward (hopefully, by not necessarily, toward a conclusion). Whether or not you agree with that formulation, what cannot be denied is the imperative. Stories are made to be interesting. It is not just coincidental that this is a purpose they share with advertising.

The story in WWII (John’s example, above) was a simple one. There were good guys (us, the Allies) and bad guys (the Axis powers). Countless war stories — good ones — came out of WWII. Those stories — along with stories about The Depression that preceded The War — were the prevailing narratives around dinner tables for kids growing up in the Fifties, when broadcast journalism was maturing under the influence of Fred Friendly, Edward R. Murrow and other exemplars. Wars won by everybody working together, and suffering through hardships, as happened with WWII, had many positive effects on the country and its citizens. Our fathers’ experiences in “the service” (as they called it then) during WWII made instant friends of countless strangers who had similar experiences. People meeting for the first time, regardless of class and race differences, often found common bonds in the ritual of exchanging data about membership and service in various military branches, divisions, boats, and battle fronts.

Our parents’ sacrifices gave them great moral authority — and of a kind that none of the succeeding generations would achieve again. Tom Brokaw was right to call our parents The Greatest Generation. They rose to the challenge, but they were also cast in the role.

Same with journalistic veterans of the same war.

Not only have we lost that whole generation of WWII journalists, plus many (or most) of the best of those that followed as well. Meanwhile, there is more journalism than ever, and much of it is good. Just harder to find, or to follow, in the midst of so much other stuff. Many more needles, much bigger haystack.

But the bigger problem is the lack of a single narrative, much less a heroic one. Worse, there is a narrative that needs to be woven, yet has few if any weavers, because it is not a happy one. That narrative is the inevitable decline of Pax Americana, and of our country’s ability to lead the world in the manner to which it has becomed accustomed, and which is proving ever more delusional.

This new narrative is required not only because the U.S.’s percentages of the global economy and populations are shrinking, and not only because its recent president(s) had foreign policy failures, but because what’s “super” about U.S. superpower — a near-limitless ability to make high-technology war, backed by a fighting force of finite size with few allies — is an anachronism. And it would still be an anachronism if most of the world didn’t already consider our approach to foreign relations tragic and absurd.

I’m not sure the people of any Great Nation are ever ready to face the fact that the height of their military and economic powers has passed. Or that the leadership they most need to assert is no longer only a military and economic one. But I am sure that we need leadership — journalistic as well as political — that is anchored in our true and enduring strengths as a people and as a polity.

The U.S. still stands best, and most credibly, for essential values the rest of the world desperately needs to respect: freedom, liberty, democracy, suffrage of women and minorities, and rule of law, to name just a few. The high value we place on eduction, on caring for others, on self-sacrifice, on economic well-being, on the worth of individuals, on respect for land and resources — the list goes on — are also ready-built platforms for leadership in the world.

I don’t know how to frame that new leadership narrative, much less express it. The best advice I’ve seen so far comes from George Lakoff and The Rockridge Institute; but we’re in a partisan season, and they’re naturally taking sides, lately on behalf of Barack Obama.

I believe Obama is in the best position to craft this new narrative, that his aspriational rhetoric has the best chance of transcending the partisan boundaries that divide us. But right now each remaining candidate’s focus is on beating each other rather than facing the challenge of changing our role in the world.

Obama and his people need to fight for the next nine months, and it’s likely that his rhetoric, no matter how well-expressed, will be mocked for its emptiness and the lack of track in his relatively short career. That mockery will get air time becaus we won’t be able to get out of sports and war journalism — and politics — until the election is over.

That’s when Then What? begins. I’m hoping the new president is good at telling the new story that needs to be told. But I’m not holding my breath. (Or my blather, or you wouldn’t be reading this.)

We’d hardly yearn for Net Neutrality laws if Comcast and other carriers truly understood that the Net is more than an interactive TV channel with troublesome users.

Unfortunately there are technical as well as busines and political reasons why they fail to grok the Net. A big one is DOCSIS, which is the standard framework inside which cable companies funnel Net traffic. DOCSIS all but requires that they think of the Net as just another TV channel. Because that’s how DOCSIS frames the Net. It’s something delivered over analog channels inside a coaxial cable. Carriers can “bond” channels to widen the bandwidth, but they’re still dealing with radio waves going down a coaxial pipe on one or more channels and back up on others. Asymmetry is built in, simply because the return upstream path is, by design, on lower frequency channels with less carrying capacity. It’s also useless to debate with a cable comapny the need (or lack of it) for QoS (Quality of Service), because QoS has been part of DOCSIS since 1999.

Fiber deployments have different capabilities and restrictions, although most of those are modeled on cable TV, for good business reasons. Verizon’s fiber (FiOS) system, for example, is not designed primarily for Internet users, but for couch potatoes. Those tubers are abundant and low-hanging (or ground-dwelling) fruit.

One can’t blame carriers for going after easy pickings; but one can blame them for wearing blinders toward the massive opportunities that appear when they deliver wide-open bandwidth on which nearly anything can run… and to discover their first-mover advantages there.

But, thanks to these ancient frames, the Net is seen by the carriers (and the FCC) as tertiary to their primary and secondary services: telephony and television, or vice versa. That’s why it’s still just gravy on your phone or cable bill.

Bonus link.

So here’s the concept: the end-to-end nature of the Internet is not about “access for consumers”. It’s about creating a in which all of us are at zero functional distance from each other — or close enough. That’s why I can listen in on the hearing right now from London, and IM and IRC with people all over the world. Right now, in real-enough time.

The Internet is the universal communications utility that connects us all. As a utility it will, in the long run, come to resemble roads and water systems — in the sense that all of us can connect to it, and to each other over it. The questions that matter most are the ones with answers that get us to this end state.

Right now they’re talking about competition. Two years ago at F2C, former FCC Chairman Michael Powell said that, as a former antitrust lawyer, he favored the “rule of threes” — that is, you tend to get productive compeitition when there are at least three competitors in a marketplace.

We have that at our home near Cambridge. We have Verizon FiOS, RCN and Comcast, all on the poles. The first two bring fiber to the home, and the third has a hybrid fiber coax (HFC) system, that brings coax to the home. Near as I can tell, the only one of those three bothering to compete for the Internet customer is Verizon, although its offering is hardly optimized. No “20 up, 20 down”, as I just heard somebody brag about in the ‘cast. (Was that Tom Tauke from Verizon? Think so.) We get 20 down, 5 up. Right now, if I want non-crippled service (one where I can run a server, for example, with my own IP addresses), I have to pay “business” rates, which are, in the phone company tradition, and without respect to whatever the actual costs are, a multiple of what I pay as a household — a consumer.

All three are going after TV customers primarily — trying to horn into each other’s cable TV business — and treating Internet as gravy on TV and phone service. That makes sense for providers of all three services, on a national basis, but not at the local level, where there is enormous room for innovation and real competition.

Message to Verizon and the rest: the Internet is not about “consumer choice”. We produce as well as consume. We need to be able to run our own servers. We need to be able to exercize supply as well as demand. We need symmetricality, not just neutrality.

It is essential not to frame the Net in FCC terms, or even in communications policy and law terms, which date back to the 1934 act, and beyond that to railroads. Or at least not those alone. The Net is a place, not just a shipping system for “content”, to which “the consumer” should have “access”.

Lot of back and forth about whether or not Comcast blocked BitTorrent. FWIW, I think that::: a) Comcast is still mostly right about the best efforts it makes, but is still weaseling a little bit; b) Comcast’s opponents are looking to paint its kettle black; and c) Talking about it soaks up too much time that would be better spent debating other subjects.

Tag: .

As with basketball

Mark Pesce notes,

  Jimbo has learned, through experience, that the “minor” language versions of Wikipedia (languages with less than 10 million native speakers), need at least five steady contributors to become self-sustaining. In the many wikis Jimbo oversees through his commercial arm, Wikia, he’s noted the same phenomenon time and again. Five people mark the tipping point between a hobby and a nascent hyperintelligence.

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.

While trying to make sense of some of what I saw out the window while flying from Los Angeles to Boston yesterday, I ran across Physical Geography of the U.S., an online summary of its subject that is so deep, interesting, well-written and well-sourced that it is hard not to keep reading it, and to follow its many links.

And it is not alone. It is one subject among seventeen at Bob Parvin’s Website, which is dedicated to literacies that range from the celestial to the household. Here they are:

Tutoring for Mastery of Reading and Writing and Arithmetic

Tutoring English Grammar and Composition

Finding and Reading eBooks

Beginning Urban Skywatching

Physical Geography of the U.S.

Economic Literacy

Global Warming and Warning

Approaching the Bible

Islam: One American’s Findings

DNA: Life’s Common Denominator

Nutrition: What should we eat?

Help for Microsoft Windows XP

Bread Machine Baking

Tips for No-Knead Bread Baked in a Pot

Links to Video Performances of Great Arias

The Home Library, an electronic home reference library

Recollections of an Old Farm Boy

I’ve had a few minutes more than the rest of you to explore all this, but what I’ve seen so far is just as engaging as the first item I found.

So, see what you think. I suggest starting with the last item.

Justin Karp: iPhone crushes the competition. All of them. That post sources this post buy jkOnTheRun, which sources this post by Daniel Eran Dilger, which sources Canalys, which says nothing on its site. So the closest I can can get to the source is Daniel, who says,

  In its first full quarter of sales, the iPhone has already climbed past Microsoft’s entire lineup of Windows Mobile smartphones in North America, according to figures compiled by Canalys and published by Symbian. That puts the iPhone ahead of smartphones running Symbian, Linux, and the Palm OS, but behind the first place RIM BlackBerry. The figures mesh with retail sales data already reported by NPD, which similarly described the size of the US market with a 27% chunk bit out by Apple’s iPhone.

But I’m wondering if “smartphone” is the right category here. Because when I look at how people use their iPhones — and the way Apple has restricted most development (so far) to what you can put in a browser — it seems to me that the iPhone is really a new kind of phone/browser hybrid, which I suggest calling a phrowser.

Just checked whois. Phrowser.com isn’t taken.

By the way, I got some hang time at the airport in Paris with one of the Swisscom engineers who worked on the job. He told me a new phenomenon at conferences is the huge number of iPhones that are contending for Net access over wi-fi alongside laptops. I suggest this also supports the phrowser categorization.

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’m supposed to be in Toronto today. Instead I’m back at home, writing from the Berkman Center. That’s because I forgot my passport. Used to be you could go to Canada and come back without a passport, but that hasn’t been the case ever since Canada has become a full-fledged foreign county, and not just one with prettier and more valuable money.

I forget lots of things in my life, but my passport was never one of them, until yesterday. As a result I not only inconvenienced the other folks in Toronto, but had to burn 25,000 miles to buy a ticket back to Boston. In the midst of that, I endured otherwise unhelpful interactions with people behind the counters at both United and Air Canada, on both of whose planes I was due to fly on the current itinerary. That unhelpfulness took the form of conflicting quotes on one-way Boston-Toronto ticket prices ranging from $700-something to $1500-something (U.S.), to list just two of the many prices I was ran out of patience trying to gather. That’s on top of the high ticket price I’d already paid for a trip I didn’t entirely end up taking.

Side question: Why would people behind airline counters at airports send you to “partner” airline counters, and/or their marginally-useful websites, rather than just give you the help you need? Yeah, we know the answer, but I just felt like asking it anyway.

On top of all that, I had to sit in seat 34A of a United 757, which is tied with 34F as the aft-most seat on the plane, as well as the most cramped, since the seat barely reclines at all. The upside was a relatively clear window, meaning I could get some nice photos, if I lucked into seeing anything other than clouds and darkness. Alas, the whole flight was clouded under the plane, except as the dark began to gather east of Lake Michigan. Still, I got a few nice shots in the gathering gloom as the plane began to descend toward Boston. Among those was the photoset linked to above — all featuring the Niagra River, with Niagra Falls marked by white mists. On the left, Canada; on the right, New York. I know they look similar, but sadly those who now traverse it must present their papers at the border.

Bonus link.

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.

Greenland in bluelight

Put up a tabblo of Greenland in blue light at sunset. Another take on this series here.

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.

Figures

Surfer dude stuns physicists with theory of everything. The new theory reported today in New Scientist has been laid out in an online paper entitled “An Exceptionally Simple Theory of Everything” by Lisi, who completed his doctorate in theoretical physics in 1999 at the University of California, San Diego.

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.

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.

It’s happening again, only this time it’s my right eye that’s giving me blue flashes and vision filled with floaters. Very annoying.

I ran into Jeremie Miller yesterday in an elevator here at the hotel where is happening in Denver. I last spoke to Jeremie while working on a story/interview with him for Linux Journal. Atlas: Hoisting a New World of Search is now up, and things have been moving along on the Atlas project, now titled Search Wikia.

Jeremie is the father of Jabber and its protocol, XMPP. I see he’ll be among those talking this morning. He’s always sensible and provocative at the same time. Looking forward to what he says. As for where he wants to take search, here’s an excerpt from one of his blog posts that I used in the piece I wrote as well:

  Meaning, the process of converting Information into Knowledge. To give meaning to information, is to make it useful, to have context, to enable understanding, to empower. Information simply exists, a commodity, dimensionless. When information has meaning it can become knowledge, and that is perhaps the most important process humankind has ever practiced, to learn…

  The future of search is in open cooperation (and competition) based on a Meaning Economy—create meaning, exchange meaning, serve meaning.

  My vision begins with an open protocol, allowing independent networks of search functions (crawling, indexing, ranking, serving, etc.) to peer and interop. All relationships between these networks are always fully transparent and openly published. Networks exchange knowledge between them, each adding new meaning to the information, each of them responsible for the reputations of their participants and peers. This is the very foundation of a Meaning Economy.

By coincidence last night I had a chance to talk with JC Herz about a range of topics that broadly revolve around what I’m beginning think is The Same Thing, though I’m not sure what that Thing is yet. Meanwhile JC will be speaking here as well today, on Visualization of Social Intelligence. Visualization is not a strength of search as we’ve come to know it. (Though I’m glad Technorati has brought its results-over-time chart back. Here’s the one for defrag conference.) So I’m imagining possibilities here.

Yesterday afternoon’s rapid round of mini-keynotes, by Dick Hardt, Esther Dyson, myself and Ross Mayfield (in that order) brought suggestions afterwards that we had attempted to talk about the same basic thing, which was people. At lest we all seemed to be coming at tech from the people perspective. There was, however, no collusion at all. Just coincidence, or something like it. For in-depth reports on this and other Defrag Stuff, look here, here, and here.

The high point for me, by the way, came early with David Weinberger’s opening talk, about what’s implicit, rather than explicit. David’s an outstanding speaker, and this was the best of his best. Deep, moving and just amazing. The first remark from the audience was from a woman who said “I didn’t expect to cry at a tech conference keynote”.

David outlines his talk here, concluding,

  Defrag — our generational project, not just this conference — isn’t about reassembling pieces. It’s not about clarity and simplicity. It’s about how we are finding ways to let the world matter to us together. For that we need to enable, cherish, and protect the unspoken between us.

Is there a thread that connects between all that he and the rest of us said, and are saying, especialy about search? I think so.

Meanwhile, here’s JP on the a rare convergence.

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.

Jewgenics: Jewish intelligence, Jewish genes, and Jewish values is the latest by William Saletan in Slate. If you can, ignore the ethnic side of the story and concentrate on this excerpt: Entine laid out the data. The average IQ of Ashkenazi Jews is 107 to 115, well above the human average of 100.

Note the word “data”.

Saletan accepts it without question. So do most of us. Since the dawn of the Industrial Education Revolution, we have accepted the notion that our most distinctively human quality — our intelligence — is measurable on a single scale. We speak of a person’s IQ (“Intelligence Quotient”) as if it were a measure of a fixed quantity, like body fat or hemoglobin, that each of us posesses in differing amounts. Thus we assume that and IQ tests no less diagnostic than blood pressure guages or engine dipsticks.

Yet IQ tests are puzzle-solving exercizes that in fact say no more about you than whether or not you’re good at solving those puzzles. Every Soduku or crossword puzzle is an IQ test as well. We just don’t use them to tell schools, parents, children and entire races or ethnic groups what they’re worth.

And that’s what we do with IQ tests. We do it as institutions, and we do it as individuals.

If I tell you I have an IQ of 125, can you forget that number? Can it not color what you think of me for the duration?

In fact my known IQ scores have an eighty point range (none of which is 125, for the nothing that’s worth). One of the high scores placed me in the “fast” group in kindergarten, and one of the low ones scores placed me on the loser track to vocational-technical high school at the end of the ninth grade. From the first through the eigth grade my IQ scores declined steadily, along with my disinterest in school itself. If my mother hadn’t been a teacher in the same school system, and if my parents hadn’t believed in my innate worth as an intelligent kid, I would have been shunted down the system’s loser track.

Today I’m sure I’d do much worse on an IQ test than I would have done in my teens or twenties. Does that make me dumber? Fact is, I’m a helluva lot smarter, and far better informed, even if my memory isn’t nearly as good and I’ve been losing neurons steadily for decades.

“I was never measured, and never will be measured”, Whitman said. “I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass.”

The measure of us all is what cannot be measured. And with it the ability to prove all measures wrong. We need to remember that.

See ya at Defrag.

Been following the Alum Rock #earthquake via Twitter. Not surprisingly, the USGS (United States Geological Survey) front page has no news about it, even on its newsroom page, where the most recent item is a promo for a podcast recorded Monday. But the USGS in fact has lots of stuff.

Here’s a map showing all the quakes, including this one, in the last hour/day and week:

Here’s the same data and graphics on a map of faults in the Bay Area.

Here’s the report for this earthquake, with lots of links to other pages, including shaking intensity maps.

ABAG, the Association of Bay Area Governments, has long had very helpful maps showing what earthquakes could do to you, where you live, depending on where the quake is located. I haven’t looked at it in years, but just did and found it is “best viewed with Internet Explorer”. Feh. The “static maps” work better anyway. Here’s one that shows what an earthquake on the North Hayward Fault can do to Oakland and Berkeley:

There’s much more I could point to, but it’s 4:49am here in London, where I need to give a talk in several hours that will upstage everything else until afterwards. Hope everybody’s okay.

The Universe is 13.7 billion years old, give or take.

Earth, and the Solar System, are 4.6 billion years old, pretty much.

That means our planet has been around for a little over a third of the history of the Universe.

The Sun is a Population I star: one with high metal content, formed from matter cast off by exploding Type III (oldest) and Type II (second oldest) stars.

The Sun is about half way through its life as a star, and will become a planetary nebula in about 6.5 billion years, and a white dwarf in about 9.5 billion years, more or less. At the end of that time, the Sun will have lasted well over half the age of the Universe.

The oldest rocks in the scene above were deposited in the Pennsylvanian epoch, which lasted from .325 to .299 billion years ago.

Researching all the above (on Wikipedia, of course) followed the utterance of the headline above by Yours Truly to The Kid over breakfast at the excellent Sarabeth’s Kitchen, on Madison near 92nd.

Sarabeth’s has been around for more than a third of the age of myself, and more than twice the age of The Kid.

Better hurry over.

[Later...] Two bonus quotes, courtesy of The Kid:

  Whether they find a life there or not, I think Jupiter should be called an enemy planet.Jack Handey
  Oh hai. In teh beginnin Ceiling Cat maded the skiez An da Urfs, but he did not eated it.Genesis I, LOLCat Bible.

1) Ignore traffic rules. They are advisory and not binding, unless a cop wants to get technical.

2) Drive in the middle. You need to keep your options open. If a rare dotted line actually marks a boundary between lanes, straddle it.

3) Don’t look for street signs. They aren’t there. Only side streets have signs. And only some of those.

4) Be ready to dodge pedestrians. They don’t look and are dumb as geese, crossing anywhere they feel like it, in complete oblivity to danger.

5) Block intersections. Otherwise the cross traffic won’t stop for you.

6) Pull in front of moving traffic. There are no breaks. You have to make them for yourself.

7) Don’t signal. You might give something away.

8] Park anywhere. There aren’t enough spaces anyway.

9) Don’t expect road names to make sense. The “Mystic Valley Parkway”, for example, appears and disappears in many places all across Boston. And not just in Halloween season.

10) Expect construction delays and detours. It sometimes happens that all bridges and tunnels in Boston are closed at once, with no signage hinting toward alternatives.

Tags: , ,

The map above is a .jpg I put together from this large .pdf at a link off the San Diego County Emergency page. It’s from 6pm today, Pacific time. I like this one because it gets down nearly to the street level, and answers specific questions in the minds of millions of people who either live there, or know people who live there (as do we, for example).

Other excellent maps are at taoe.org and map.sdsu.edu. Some are more recent than the one above.

The Ranch Fire also continues to grow. This map shows its perimeters. And this aerial photo, taken in January 2006, shows that same area, still covered with vegetation, now mostly burned off:

Quote du jour

Paul Watson: Software may let you have 3000 friends but your brain doesn’t.

A few years ago, when Orkut was new and hot, Rael Dornfest demonstrated the standare social software friend-confirmation protocol by walking up to people, pushing his face into theirs and saying “YOU ARE MY FRIEND! YES OR NO!” Nailed it, that.

Shortest wave

More than 100 times faster than WiFi? suggests that chips transmitting wirelessly in the 60GHz spectrum, where waves are milimeters long, would be a practical replacement for Wi-Fi, or other forms of wireless transmission.

I think the advantages here are high, but over very short-ranges — feet or yards — given the relatively low penetrating power of radio waves at frequencies that high. But… I dunno. My RF understanding grew up on waves ranging in lengths from towers to tonsils. Could be this new stuff has a lot more promise than I’m ready to guess.

Last night the kid and I drove back down to You-Do-It in Needham and picked up some thin RG-59u coaxial cable to run under the edge of the rug from one side of the living room to the other. Your standard fat black TV cable (the very stuff known as “cable”) would never do it; but it comes in thin versions too. Since both my wife and our landlady don’t want to see any wires, we had to get something we could hide. You-Do-It has approximately everything electronic, including what we needed to get his job done.

So anyway, hiding some cable under the rug made it possible for us to see watch TV in the standard way, for the first time since taking the apartment here near Boston. Our cable company is Verizon FiOS, which brings the signal to the outside of the house on fiber optic cable but runs the last sixty feet with standard co-ax.

At the far end of the cable is a Verizon set-top box (STB) made by Motorola. The “TV” consists of an LCD computer screen and a set of cheap powered speakers. We receive no signals over the air, or even over the cable. Instead TV has become nothing more than an application. “Channels” are nothing more than data streams.

Our channel line-up from Verizon is smaller than what we get from Dish Network on our setup back home. No HBO or Showtime, for example. The picture quality appears to be about the same, although in both cases the quality appears to be limited at the source. Much, or perhaps most, of the HD programming really isn’t. Some of it is plain old NTSC (low-definition) television. Some of it is HD but in a smaller area, surrounded by a large black frame. The user interface is a bit fancier than Dish’s, and appears to be faster, but if you hold down an arrow to scroll up and down the Guide, some of the lines change while others do not, which makes fast scrolling almost pointless. Dish also has star-type reviews (four being max) for its movies, while Verizon does not. Dish’s info from the guide is also better, I think. Hard to tell, without having them side-by-side. The music selection on Dish is also far better, since it also includes Sirius. The kid, who likes oldies, was especially annoyed that the category “gold” covers all of the fifties and sixties, while the service has a separate channel for each of the next three decades.

For some reason “Channel not available” shows up with disturbing frequency. Or so it seemed on our first evening with it, lasting about 20 minutes. The main missing one last night was WGBH, our top local PBS station.

The main reason I’m posting this is to pass along what the kid said after we did a scan from one end of the “dial” to the other.

“There’s nothing on”, he said. And walked away.

What would “something” be?

“Oh, you know. Like on YouTube”.

Phone Phun

Blogabarbara reports value subtraction by AT&T on its mobile service to the Santa Ynez Valley. Details:

  Until yesterday AT&T phones worked on a combination of AT&T and other provider cell towers. Without any notice to the customer, AT&T switched to their own cell towers only yesterday (10/2). Their “network engineers” have studied the area and believe this is acceptable. The switch means decreased coverage. For me, living in Santa Ynez, this means the closest tower is 8 miles away and everyone in the Valley is sharing it. Data messages (text, Blackberry, voice-mail notifications, etc.) seem to work fine. However outgoing voice calls fail about 90% of the time with a “Network Busy” error message, and most incoming calls go to voice-mail.

  AT&T said if enough people complain they’ll consider reconnecting with those outside provider towers, but it may take up to two weeks.

I tried to post a comment, twice, but it doesn’t appear to have taken. So here it is:

  Hmm. Back when Cingular acquired the old AT&T Wireless (which was really a re-branded CellularOne), you could go to your phone’s settings menu and choose which of the networks you wanted to use: one, the other, or both. (Why not just both? I dunno.) Since Cingular became AT&T not by merging with another provider but rather by being acquired by a company called AT&T (actually SBC and now known among phone types as FATT, for “Faux AT&T”), there was no need — to my knowledge, anyway — to make technical changes in the network, least of all to subtract out parts of it. But the “New AT&T” shows few if any signs of being better than any ofl the old ones. Alas.

  To my knowledge the only “partner” compatible with AT&T’s GSM transmission technology is T-Mobile. I doubt that’s a settings choice, even if T-Mobile is the “partner” involved here.

  For comparison, here is AT&T’s coverage page, and here is T-Mobile’s.

  Look’s like T-Mobile’s is smaller than AT&T’s, but your suckage may vary.

  In Europe, where every provider uses GSM, they don’t have these kinds of coverage problems. All of the providers’ systems work the same. In my experience the coverage is generally much better than in the U.S., generally.

  Here there’s GSM and CDMA, which are incompatible. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM while Verizon and Sprint/Nextel use CDMA. In the last year I began working more in Europe. Since I’m a Verizon Wireless customer, and since CDMA doesn’t work in Europe, I find myself carrhying to carry two phones around: an AT&T one and a Verizon one. Both services suck, but with differing rosters of annoyances.

Enlightenment and correction welcome.

Uv cawse

Sez here my accent is Northeastern.

Between our Sirius satellite radio receiver, the MP3 player, breaks for public radio and talking to each other, I didn’t have much time to indulge my interest in exploring the high soil conductivities that make AM radio so anomalously advantaged in the plains states. But I did notice that KOA/850 from Denver carried halfway across Kansas by day, and WNAX was audible across all of Kansas, from one end to the other — from Colby to Kansas City and beyond that well into Missouri — with just 5000 watts on 570am from Yankton, South Dakota. (The max power on U.S. and Canadian AM stations is 50000 watts.)

Long disatance AM is no big deal at night, when stations bounce off the ionosphere. But in the day AM stations need to carry along the ground. In most places the ground conductivity is low. In the entire East, much of the midwest, and nearly all mountainous areas, ground conductivity is very low. The lowest of the low are around Atlanta and in Long Island. But in some prairie regions, parts of Texas and Oklahoma, and in flat places near San Franciso and California’s Central Valley, the ground conductivity is remarkably high. For that reason a 5000-watt station at the bottom of the dial (like WNAX/570 and KFYR/550 in Bismark) can go hundreds of miles along the ground. My mother grew up listening to both WNAX and KFYR in Napoleon, North Dakota, which was near neither station. WNAX is helped also by having a full half-wave antenna, which on 570KHz is around 900 feet high. So it’s using an unusually efficient radiator. Most stations at that end of the dial use shorter towers. Signals at those frequencies carry so well that going for the full antenna length would bring diminishing returns. (On AM, the whole tower is the antenna.) And by now they’re all grandfathered with whatever facilities they put up way back when. AM stations require a lot of real estate, so the costs are now, in most cases, prohibitive.

Still, while listening to these effectively huge stations, while driving across the plains, I realized why talk radio — especially the right wing sort — sank roots here. Though I gotta say it was great that WNAX was highly focused (at least when I listened) on “the markets” for agricultural commodities. Made me think the country’s agricultural base was somehow still intact.

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.)

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 one of the yellow areas in the dopper radar map above. My wife and kid are in a rental car in a dark red area, driving into BWI for a flight home that I suspect may be delayed. Meanwhile power is out at my daughter’s family’s house. I’m sitting in a chair on the front porch, enjoying the thunderstorm, connected to the Net by EvDO on the cell system. It’s an old neighborhood, so the yard and road are shaded by large old oak, maple and elm trees. The rain drips twice in front of the porch, once from the sky onto the house and trees, and once from the leaves onto the ground. I don’t see much lightning, but the thunder is a low, almost constant rumble, tumbling across the sky, as if vast boulders were rolling around on an invisble metal ceiling. Tire treads from cars rolling by make long kissing sounds on wet pavement. These too have doppler effects, rising in tone on approach and dropping as they depart. There is an urgency to driving I don’t share here on the porch. We are in two different Newtonian states: bodies in motion and bodies at rest. Observation by drivers is mandatory, but only through narrow cones of relevance, one constantly oncoming, the other receding in rear-view mirrors. Observation by trees and porch-sitters is optional. Which makes this post an indulgence.

I have Linux Journal work to do. That’s fun too, watching from afar what’s happening at Linux World Expo in San Francisco. The Net too is a natural environment: a true public marketplace of the ancient type — a noisy place where people gather to do business and make culture. Yet even as we enlarge this place more every day, it seems we understand it less. The Net, for all its finite and fully revealed complexities, is no less mysterious the rest of Creation. Life is nothing if not extravagant and original and mysterious at its original core — on the Net no less than ground soaked by rain.

Recently at Harvard we had a meeting where the subject of the Internet as a “public good” was discussed. For all the excellent thought and conversation we shared, it seemed to me we failed, unavoidably to grip a fundamental question from which all answers must be gounded. Namely, What is the Net?

We have knowledge of this no less than we have knowledge of life. We know it, we experience it, yet we cannot explain the origins of its origins, which are neither chicken nor egg. Whitman writes,

The press of my foot to the earth
springs a hundred affections.
They scorn the best I can do to relate them.

These are the thoughts of all men in all ages and lands.
They are not original with me.
If they are not yours as much as mine
they are nothing or next to nothing.
If they do not enclose everything they are next to nothing.
If they are not the riddle and the undying of the riddle
they are nothing.
If they are not just as close as they are distant
they are nothing.

This is the grass that grows
wherever the land is and the water is.
This is the common air that bathes the globe.

Is the Net no less a globe than the one on which we walk? I wonder.

We made the Net. We are its gods. Yet our voices are not those of burning bushes. They are the buzz of the public marketplace. Is this place — where you and I are now — any less holy, or even primeval, than a forest floor? I suggest it isn’t, because at its core is a fecund nothingness: a zero-distance void between you and I and each of us who choose to connect on it. The working distance between you and I right now is less than between myself and the family inside this house — a fact that slightly bothers me. Yet, when I shut the lid on this laptop, the distance between you and I will return to the finite: no less close than that between readers and the authors of books. Now the proximal is returned to advantage: I will step inside a door to visit a baby just a few days old: a full self where a year ago there was none. When he becomes conscious of his own original mysteries, what will he see?

Here’s what Whitman saw:

Rise after rise bow the phantoms behind me.
Afar down I see the huge first Nothing,
the vapor from the nostrils of death.
I know I was even there.
I waited unseen and always.
And slept while God carried me
through the lethargic mist.
And took my time.

Long I was hugged close. Long and long.
Infinite have been the preparations for me.
Faithful and friendly the arms that have helped me.

Cycles ferried my cradle, rowing and rowing
like cheerful boatmen;
For room to me stars kept aside in their own rings.
They sent influences to look after what was to hold me.

Before I was born out of my mother
generations guided me.
My embryo has never been torpid.
Nothing could overlay it.
For it the nebula cohered to an orb.
The long slow strata piled to rest it on.
Vast vegetables gave it substance.
Monstrous animals transported it in their mouths
and deposited it with care.

All forces have been steadily employed
to complete and delight me.
Now I stand on this spot with my soul.

I know that I have the best of time and space.
And that I was never measured, and never will be measured.

I tramp a perpetual journey.
My signs are a rainproof coat, good shoes
and a staff cut from the wood.

Each man and woman of you I lead upon a knoll.
My left hand hooks you about the waist,
My right hand points to landscapes and continents,
and a plain public road.

Not I, nor any one else can travel that road for you.
You must travel it for yourself.

It is not far. It is within reach.
Perhaps you have been on it since you were born
and did not know.
Perhaps it is everywhere on water and on land.

Shoulder your duds, and I will mine,
and let us hasten forth.

Humans are traveling animals. More than upright walkers, we are runners. I have read that a healthy young adult, or a small pack of them, can run almost indefinitely, and surely exhausted many a meal. The human diaspora spread out of Africa like a stain across everywhere on water and land, all in in the span of a few dozen millennia. Now our shouldered duds are laptops and cell phones, and no longer just staffs cut from wood. Is this bad? I suggest it is no less natural. We are less “digital natives” than beings that extend their senses and powers by making tools and then making things from those tools that further extend their senses and powers. By powers of indwelling our vehicles become extensions of our greater selves. It is not for lack of fact that drivers speak of “my fender” and fliers speak of “my wings”. We are skilled at being far more than our fleshy sleves. And we lean toward movement, always hastening down the public road.

Whitman concludes,

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me.
He complains of my gab and my loitering.

I too am not a bit tamed. I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

The last scud of day holds back for me.
It flings my likeness after the rest and true as any
on the shadowed wilds,
It coaxes me to the vapor and the desk.

I depart as air.
I shake my white locks at the runaway sun.
I effuse my flesh in eddies and drift in lacy jags.

I bequeath myself to the dirt and grow
from the grass I love.
If you want me again look for me under your boot soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean.
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless.
And filtre and fiber your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged.
Missing me one place search another
I stop some where waiting for you.

Here, for example. Wherever this is.

Friends have been turning me on to Zaca Fire perimeter pictures. Here’s one:

GeoMac is another.

This too.

That’s in additon to news such as this and this and this.

Ray Ford at the Independent added this, with lots of maps and detailed coverage.

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.