Travel

You are currently browsing the archive for the Travel category.

Kiglapait Mountains

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

Flickr stats

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Found

Getting out of a Taxi in Madrid yesterday, by mistake I picked up a coat that a prior passenger had left on the seat. Here’s the label:

The coat wasn’t exceptional except in respect to the apparent antiquity of that label. Rather than take it with me (since I’m moving on), I left it in our restaurant, the amazing Cisne Azul, which specializes in mushrooms. Highly recommended.

On the very small chance that the coat is yours, that’s where it was last spotted.

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

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

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

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

That’s what I’m here for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s the Rose Bowl?”

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

“Oh yeah.”

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

“Is that where the Hollywood sign is?”

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

“Where was the Whittier Earthquake?”

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

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

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

“Where are you from?”

“New Jersey, like you.”

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

“I study maps.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enhanced by Zemanta

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Your late-model car knows a lot more than its dashboard tells you. It knows how fast you’ve been going on every trip, your fuel mileage, your tire pressures and much more. It even knows what your engine light really means — before it comes on. In fact your car has hundreds of sensors with interesting stuff to tell you, if you only had a way to listen.

Soon you can, with Fuse, a kool new Kickstarter project.

Your Fuse is three things in one:

  • A sensor gizmo that plugs into your car’s diagnostics outlet
  • A smartphone app that gives you a second dashboard
  • A personal cloud to connect your car with the rest of your life

Fuse’s gizmo routes all your car’s data from a plug under your dashboard to your smartphone app, and adds GPS data as well, so you can see exactly where your car has been — and combine that information with anything else it would be good to know.

For example, Fuse can learn your driving patterns and automatically classify repeat trips, such as a carpool. It can associate your contacts with a carpool pickup, and automatically shoot over a message as you leave home and again as you approach the stop. You can even share your location with your pickup, so they can see where you are on their own map.

Fuse can associate trips with business, charity or other tax-deductible purposes.

Fuse can keep track of what your car is doing when it’s on the road without you — for example when your teenager is behind the wheel. You can learn more about your driving habits and those of others, and score them for safety, smart fuel use and other measures.

Fuse connects to other apps, for example ones that tell you gas station locations and prices. By watching that data and your own fuel levels, Fuse can tell you when and where you’ll get the most for your money by filling up.

Fuse keeps a log of your car expenses, and can share those with your financial apps. It can also work with your calendar app to schedule oil changes, tire rotations, registrations, and inspections.

Fuse also solves clues behind your dashboard’s engine light, so you know more about what’s going on, and you can share the same information with your car’s mechanic.

Best of all, Fuse is all-yours. Its data lives in your own cloud, not in some centralized service. In that cloud are all the connections between your car and any variety of apps and databases on your computer and smartphone.

I could go on, but I’m busy and would rather just urge you to go lay a few bucks on the Kickstarter to help make it happen.

It’s from Kynetx, a leading VRM developer. (Also one of the many I consult.) Read more about it at Phil Windley’s blog.

 

In this comment and this one under my last post, Ian Falconer brings up a bunch of interesting points, some of which are summarized by these paragraphs from his first comment…

Here in the UK most people over 40 will remember placing calls via a human operator. A real life person who had a direct interaction with both caller and receiver when reversing the call charges. In smaller towns and villages this meant that the operator knew who was phoning who, when and often, given their overarching view, could assume why.

This was socially accepted as the operators were usually local and subject to the same social norms as the friends and neighbors they ‘surveilled’.

But they were also employees of the GPO (General Post Office) with a national security obligation and had a direct reporting route into the national security apparatus, so that, if they felt that something fishy was afoot (especially in times of war), they were assumed to be both reliable and honest witnesses.

No-one assumed secrecy in an operator-mediated system. They assumed discretion on the part of the operator.

Is an ISP any different just because the data is package-based rather than analogue ? It conducts all the same functions as the old operator.

The shift from public ownership to private and from land-lines to mobile has not changed the underlying model of presumed access (as far as teleco users are concerned) and assumed responsibility (on the part of the national security apparatus). And though both are now legally defined under the license terms of privatised telecos, few of the UK’s public know how their comms systems actually work, so often assume a similar design ethos to the US, where constitutionally defined rights are a starting point for systems organisation.

That British Telecom evolved from the GPO is no accident, but neither is it necessarily a designed progression intend on increased surveillance.

… and these from his second:

Against most evidence US Congress doesn’t set UK law. The EU & UK governments do that. And against most evidence the US doesn’t set global social norms. So while I’m not saying Brits explicitly like spies and respect code breakers, there is a history here that forms a backdrop to the national mind set and it looks towards Bletchley Park, Alan Turing & James Bond rather than The Stasi, Senator McCarthey or Hoover’s G-Men.

The time and place to look for a failure of oversight is the sale of rights to spectrum access but a global technological fix for a perceived lack of communicational security, especially a US-led one, seems unlikely. The righteous indignation with respect to Huwei hardware looks like a starting point rather than an end point right now.

To me these events and discoveries more likely to work to fragment the rough and ready constellation of networks into national gardens once more. This would force comms through regulated conduits making in-out surveillance even easier and I tentatively suggest that in the legislation of whatever-comes-next those carrying out oversight do a better job, if legally-enshrined privacy is their aim.

I am somewhat familiar with the UK, having spent a number of years consulting BT. I have also spent a lot of time in the EU, mostly studying and collaborating with VRM developers, a large percentage of which are located in the UK and France.

Here in the U.S. many of us (me included) still had “party lines” and required operator assistance for long-distance calls as recently as the mid-’70s. With party lines phone connections were shared by as many as six other homes, and people could listen in on each other easily. Operators could listen to anything, any time. Thus, as Ian says, discretion rather than secrecy was assumed.

And discretion is The Thing. As it was with the old phone system it also was with spying, which every government does, and we have always assumed was going on — much of it outside the laws that apply to the rest of us — and hopefully for some greater good. Thus whatever we end up with on the Internet will rest on a system of manners and not just of laws and technologies.

Ideally law, technology and manners work in harmony and support each other. What we have had so far, in the era that began with personal computing and grew to include the Internet and smart mobile devices, has been a disharmonious cacophony caused by technology development and adoption with little regard for the incumbent systems of manners and law. And it is still early in the evolution of all three toward working harmony such as we have long experienced in the physical world.

Of those three, however, manners matter most. It seems no accident, to me at least, that the Internet is defined by protocols, which are nothing more than mannerly agreements between network operators and among the human and organizational operators of the network’s billions of end points.

Security of the telco-like centralized locked-down sort was never in the DNA of the Internet Protocol, which is one reason why it never would have been invented by the very companies and governments through whose local, national and international networks the Internet connects us all.

So it should be no surprise, aside from all the privacy concerns currently on the front burner of popular consciousness, that telcos, cablecos, national governments and institutions such as the ITU have busied themselves with stuffing the Internet, in pieces, back inside the regulatory, billing and nationally bordered bottles from which it more or less escaped, at first un-noticed, in the 1980s and early 1990s.

J.P. Rangaswami, when he was at BT, famously noted that a telco’s main competency was not communications but billing. It still is. China’s censored national subset of the world wide Internet is for many countries a model rather than an aberration. And the drift of Net usage to cellular mobile devices and networks has re-acclaimated users to isolated operation within national borders (lest they suffer “bill shock” when they “roam” outside their country) — something the landline-based Internet overcame by design.

All these things play into our evolution toward privacy in the virtual world that is recognizably similar to what we have long experienced in the physical one.

National mind sets are important, because those embody manners too. Public surveillance is far more present, and trusted, in the U.K. than in the U.S. I also sense a more elevated (and perhaps evolved) comprehension of privacy (as, for example, “the right to be left alone”) in Europe than in the U.S. I am often reminded, in Europe, of the consequences of detailed records being kept of citizens’ ethnicities when WWII broke out. Memories of WWII are much different in the U.S. We lost many soldiers in that war, and took in many refugees. But it was not fought on our soil.

There is also in Europe a strong sense that business and government should operate in symbiosis. Here in the U.S., business and government are now posed in popular consciousness (especially on the political and religious right) as opposing forces.

But all these things are just factors of our time. What matters most is that the whole world will need to come to new terms with the three things I listed in my earlier Thoughts on Privacy post: 1) ubiquitous computing power, 2) ubiquitous Internet access, and 3) the unlimited ability to observe, copy and store data. All these capacities are new to human experience, and we have hardly begun to deal with what they mean for civilization.

I suspect that only the generation that has grown up connected — those under, say, the age of 25 — begin to fully comprehend what these new states of being are all about. I’ve been young for a long time (I’m 66 now), but the best I can do is observe in wonder those people who (in Bob Frankston‘s words) assume connectivity as a natural state of being. My 16-year old son feels this state, in his bones, to a degree neither I nor my 40-something kids don’t. To us elders, connectivity is an exceptional grace rather than a natural state.

Manners among the connected young, however, have barely evolved past the reptile stage. In Report: Every Potential 2040 President Already Unelectable Due To Facebook, The Onion was not fully joking (it never is) when it said “A troubling report finds that by 2040 every presidential candidate will be unelectable to political office due to their embarrassing Facebook posts.”

I just hope that the laws we are making today (protecting yesterday from last Thursday, as all new laws tend to do) will be improved by new generations made wiser by their experiences with technologies made ubiquitous by their elders.

Route 66A year ago I entered the final demographic. So far, so good.

@Deanland texted earlier, asking if I had a new affinity with WFAN, the New Yawk radio station that radiates at 660 on what used to be the AM “dial.” Back when range mattered, WFAN was still called WNBC, and its status as a “clear channel” station was non-trivial. At night clear channel stations could be heard up to thousands of miles away on a good radio. Other stations went off the air to clear the way for these beacons of raw 50,000-watt power. As a kid I listened to KFI from Los Angeles in the wee hours and in California I sometimes got WBZ from Boston. Now even “clears” like WFAN are protected only to 750 miles away, which means any or all of these stations also on 660 splatter over each other. Reminds me of a fake ad I did once back when I was at WSUS: All the world’s most beautiful music, all at once. We overdubbed everything we could onto one track.

Funny, a few months back my 16-year old son asked what the point of “range” was with radio. He’s a digital native who is used to being zero distance from everybody else on the Net, including every broadcaster.

He made his point when we were driving from Boston to New York on a Sunday afternoon last month, listening to the only radio show he actually cares about: All A Capella on WERS. While WERS is one of Boston’s smaller stations, it has a good signal out to the west, so we got it nearly to Worcester. Then, when it went away, the kid pulled out the family iPad, which has a Net connection over the cell system, got WERS’ stream going, and we listened to the end of the show, somewhere in Connecticut, with the iPad jacked into the car radio, sounding great.

Meanwhile here I am with a giant pile of trivia in my brain about how AM and FM broadcasting works. It’s like knowing about steam engines.

But mostly I keep living in the future. That’s why I’m jazzed that both VRM and personal cloud development is rocking away, in many places. Following developments took me on three trips to Europe in May and June, plus two to California and one to New Zealand and Australia. Lots of great stuff going on. It’s beyond awesome to have the opportunity to help move so much good stuff forward.

Speaking of distance, the metaphor I like best, for the birthday at hand, is “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66.” Composed in the ’40s by Bobby Troup, the jazz composer and actor, it has been covered by approximately everybody in the years since. The Nelson Riddle sound track for the TV show Route 66 was evocative in the extreme: one of the best road tunes ever written and performed. In addition to that one I have ten other versions:

  • Erich Kunzel
  • John Mayer
  • Chuck Berry
  • Nat King Cole
  • The Cramps
  • The Surfaris
  • Oscar Peterson & Manhattan Transfer
  • Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby
  • Manhattan Transfer
  • Asleep at the Wheel

My faves are the last two. I’ll also put in a vote for Danny Gatton‘s Cruisin’ Deuces, which runs Nelson Riddle’s beat and muted trumpet through a rockabilly template of Danny’s own, and just kicks it.

Anyway, my birthday is happy, so far. Thanks for all the good wishes coming in.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot Death from Above

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

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

West Fork Fire

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

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

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.

[Trieste, Italy, 12:02am Friday 21 May 2013 — As I say in the comments here, Airbnb has responded to this post, explaining that a bug in the system was involved. While they're rebuilding the bridge with us, the bridge remains burned with other customers as long as their Verified ID system retains its current requirements. So I still think they need help and that good hackers and loyal customers should provide it. — Doc]

My wife and I are veteran Airbnb customers who have been happy with the company from the start. We like the prices, the experiences, the whole thing. As happy customers, we have also been spreading the love far and wide, pitching many new customers on Airbnb as a better way to stay when traveling. We want to continue spreading that love, even though we — and many other loyal customers — are now on the far side of a bridge Airbnb burned when it launched its new identity Verified ID system, which they explain (at that link) this way:

Verified ID provides a connection between the online and offline spaces. Airbnb users can earn a “Verified ID” badge on their profile by providing their online identity (via existing Airbnb reviews, LinkedIn, or Facebook) and matching it to offline ID documentation, such as confirming personal information or scanning a photo ID. The name provided by both channels must match for verification to succeed.

Starting today, Airbnb will require a random 25% of users in the USA to go through the Verified ID process. Soon, we’ll expand this requirement to users around the world. We hope that hosts and guests worldwide will see the benefits of interacting with users who complete Verified ID. Our goal is for all Airbnb members to have Verified ID eventually.

Any Airbnb host can now require their prospective guests to obtain Verified IDs before booking. Trust runs in both directions, so any host who requests this condition must also get verified.

Some of the comments under the post were positive, but many went the other way. Here are a few…

Jon:

I am an Airbnb host. Naturally, safety is always a concern. Despite that, I find this move objectionable, dishonest, misguided, and outright offensive.

  1. As a host, it is up to me to choose who I allow in my home. I like that I can decide how many requirements to place on my guests. Should I choose to place strict requirements, I get more protection and probably fewer bookings. I like having the choice. Airbnb just took the choice away from me and I’m not happy about it.
  2. You are making it substantially harder for guests to book on Airbnb. These standards will reduce the number of bookings we receive as hosts. You reduce our bookings and remove our ability to choose. Hosts should have the ability to choose.
  3. You want people to send you their photo ID / passport? Are you out of your *&#%& mind? Banks lose customer data all the time and they have some of the most stringent standards possible. Despite that, you pretend that you all are immune. You claim that having people send some of their most personal information over the internet will make them safer. You don’t make them safer; you make them MUCH LESS SAFE. When you have your data breached and you get sued, you will deserve every bit of the penalty.
  4. Why did you require a random 25% of users? Why not all users? Because you know you’d get too much negative feedback all at once and you could control the situation better if you phase it in. Either you are lying or you are putting hosts at risk. Shameful either way.
  5. “enhanced trust” I hate your Orwellian crock of sh&# phrasing. You should help the prison system rebrand their “full body cavity search”
  6. As a traveler myself, I was one of the 25% selected for “enhanced trust”. I have over 50 positive reviews from guests and hosts alike. You know where I live! There is no more trust that could possibly be had. Use a little common sense. This is the kind of nonsense I’d expect from the DMV, not from a blossoming enterprise.
  7. When the hell did facebook become an authority on people’s identities? I suspect that you have much more interesting motives for forcing people to connect their profiles to facebook. Quit trying to mine data under the guise of trust.
  • Deborah:

    my Facebook account did not work for Airbnb so they asked me to make a personal video talking about such things as why i like my neighborhood. I’m sorry, but I find this creepy. think of the inevitable steps up: photos of tattoos or birthmarks? proof of baptism? defense of fashion choices? that fragrant blend of californian cumbayah and capitalism. yechh….

  • Also from Deborah:

    I was just trying to book a short stay and the rigmarole and emails this verification process generated was ridiculous, but what caused me to cancel the reservation was this weird audition video request. Nor will I ever have anything further to do with Airbnb; not because of the hassle, but because this new verification process is invasive and puts my identity at risk. I have never encountered any comparable vetting for any purpose and it’s depressing to realize people will unthinkingly accept this kind of exploitation of information. I guess the thinking is if you value your privacy and identity above “trust” you don’t measure up to the Airbnb “community”. And is it a “community”? Really??

  • kim:

    well this is irritating. i have neither a facebook nor linkedin account, nor do i want either. i’ve been a positively-reviewed airbnb member for 2 years. although this article says it will look at positive reviews as online verification, it does not seem to be the case.
    and as for the 24/7 customer service? at this moment there is NO chat available, phone number is reserved for emergencies, and they are not responding to e-mail. so my booking is in limbo. if you’re going to implement this new feature, at least have the customer service to support it!<

  • Mle Davis

    Agree with others that the new verification process is insane and insulting. I have used your service for two years. My “reality” has been verified by my hosts and my guests: people in four countries have left feedback about their experiences with me. We have talked on the phone. You have my social security number from when you sent me tax documents. You have my credit card on file. I”m happy to send you my drivers license, but don’t see why you would need it, when you already have the rest. There is just no way I”m linking up my facebook account so you can datamine my friends, keep an eye on my day to day activity, or examine my relationships. There are enough safety checks on me through the relationship we’ve already developed. Please reconsider this stupidity.

  • E:

    Just had a reservation cancelled tonight because I did not complete the verification process. I inadvertently skipped the second step in the process which is give them access to my facebook account and contacts. I guess it doesn’t matter that I have been a member for almost three years and have rented through airbnb more than 15 times and have ALL positive reviews. I see this as an attempt to gather data for marketing purposes. Why else would they need access to facebook or linked in. Airbnb is going down hill. I have had more and more problems with them over the past 6 months. It was a great idea in the begining, but I think they are imploding!

  • Tony:

    I’m new to airbnb and I’m not crazy about the idea of scanning my driver’s license or passport and sending that to you. How do I know the faceless employees of whatever company which gets this information can be trusted with it?…
    … before you go to these extraordinary steps, why not fix the site so that friends can give me references. As I said, I’m new and (per your instructions) have asked friends through the site (both by email and facebook) to provide me with a reference. No one has done so yet and three have written back to say that they click the link and then don’t see any way to provide me with a reference. Two of these people are now concerned that this was just a way for someone to get their email addresses and add them to a spam list.

  • Lisa:

    I am so relieved to hear all these comments about the verification process. I am feeling DEEPLY resentful of this. I used Airbnb successfully this year, and am horrified to see what they’re asking. It is so invasive I can’t believe it. Like most people here, I’m sure, I’ve done vacation rentals, car rentals, bought tickets, booked everything and anything without this level of scrutiny. I finally capitulated to four levels of the scrutiny. This is ABSURD. If they want to offer this, then fine. But let the users decide how much they’re sharing and let hosts decide what they need.

Well, it was our bad luck to fall into that 25% when we booked an Airbnb place in Rome last weekend. My wife, an experienced and savvy traveler (with more than two million miles on one airline alone), always books our reservations, and expected the usual smooth and pleasant process when she was suddenly faced with this crazy new verification routine. Here’s how Airbnb explained her options after she declined to login with Facebook or Linkedin (neither of which she belongs to):

If you’re unable to verify your online ID using Facebook or LinkedIn, or if your account does not automatically satisfy the online ID requirements, you can create a video profile to serve as an alternative.

Your video will be visible on your profile as a live introduction of yourself to other Airbnb community members. To create your video profile, visit the “Photos and Video” section under Edit Profile. Consider using your first name, your current city, what you like about your neighborhood, and what you are looking for in a travel experience! Please do not include information about your government-issued ID, payment information, email address, last name, or any other personally identifiable information in your profile video.

After you’ve created a video profile, please email  trust at airbnb.com and we’ll help you complete the verification process.

I’ll pause to note here that my wife and and I have been around identity systems development for a very long time. In my case I’ve keynoted nearly ever Digital ID World, and have co-hosted all sixteen Internet Identity Workshops. Neither of us have ever seen an identity verification routine that required making a video to share with others.  We were, like… what?

So, after she declined to make the video and Airbnb cancelled our order, she sent an email to  trust at airbnb.com that included the following:

I’m perfectly happy to verify through a personal cloud provider ie: Personal.com, Virtrue, OwnYourInfo, Mydex, Gli.ph, or a trust network like Respect Network or Qiy. I suggest that you take a look at some of these services that work on the side of the customer, without exposing them to further surveillance and tracking of their personal data.

Airbnb replied,

Thank you for your email. Please accept our apologies if our verification process caused you any distress. As we are constantly working on improving our product and services, I’ll pass your feedback on accordingly. In the future, you can also submit your opinions or ideas on www.airbnb.com/feedback. Even when we are unable to accommodate all requests, we always value feedback from the community.

Airbnb is a platform for connecting individuals interested in having unique and personalized experiences. This is how Airbnb differs from the norm, as not everyone on Airbnb operates their business outside of Airbnb the way a normal bed and breakfast would. Please consider that you will be staying in the home or residence of another individual. At Airbnb we’re constantly striving to improve the level of trust between our users to instill confidence in the transactions between our users. Our verification process was designed to help improve that level of trust and allow users to fully enjoy their experience on Airbnb.

At Airbnb we’re constantly striving to improve the level of trust between our users to instill confidence in the transactions between our users. Our verification process was designed to help improve that level of trust and allow users to fully enjoy their experience on Airbnb.

Recent positive reviews do count towards verifying your Online identity but the reviews you received did not satisfy our system’s verification requirements. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a Facebook or LinkedIn account, the video profile is the only alternative available at this point. We offer several alternatives in hopes that one will work for you, but we understand that these situations do arise. That’s why we offer you the opportunity to verify your account by recording a 30 second video in which you can introduce yourself to the Airbnb community.

Please know that if you don’t want your video profile to be public, you can also record the clip using a digital camera or a smartphone and attach it to your response to this message. We’ll then verify your account without publishing the video.

This makes no sense to me. Are they saying Airbnb operates a social business, meaning one that places a premium on people exposing themselves to others, rather than on minimizing exposure? Are they saying that everybody in the Airbnb community is a potential “friend,” and thats’s why it makes sense to login with Facebook or Linkedin? And why the video? What’s to keep any community member from copying that video — or any personal information exposed through social media — and spreading it out on the open Web? Why would anybody trust Airbnb to keep that kind of thing from happening?

Given that Ghostery finds Airbnb using only six tracking systems (Facebook Connect, Google AdWords Conversion, Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, MixPanel and New Relic) — a relatively small number for a commercial site — I doubt that Airbnb just wants to play the same advertising game that B2B companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other “social” sites play. Why should they, when they operate one of those very rare things in the “social” age: a real B2C business, for customers who actually pay for goods and services. That’s an enviable and valuable thing. And they’re screwing it up.

The “Verified ID” program fails because it alienates both the supply and the demand sides of the marketplace. It turns away good, loyal, paying customers, and denies hosts those customers’ bookings. Worse, it filters through only those customers who are comfortable exposing themselves through social media and in video performances. Do they really want to do that?

At some point it will dawn on Airbnb that this new system is worse than broken. When that dawn comes I suggest they do three things:

  1. Look into the list of companies and projects my wife mentioned above
  2. Join the Personal Identity Ecosystem Consortium (PDE.cc)
  3. Follow what’s happening with VRM and personal clouds — and get involved with those too

I also invite readers to weigh in with their own positive suggestions. No complaints or put-downs, please. We’re here to help.

Tags: , , , ,

Los Angeles at nightFirst, time.

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

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

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

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

What have they done to the Earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and
Ripped her and bit her.
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn and
Tied her with fences and
Dragged
Her
Down.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, space.

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

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

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

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

Bonus link.

And more on the Anthropocene:

Enhanced by Zemanta

Springing in Paris

Parc de la Villette

That’s the Parc de la Villette, also variously known as Parc La Villette, Parc Villette, or just Villette, here in Paris. I shot it two days ago, when we got here and the weather was clear. It got cloudy and wet after that. But it looks like things will clear up for:::::

OuiShareFest

From the About page:

The first major European event dedicated to the collaborative economy.

This three-day festival will bring together a global community of entrepreneurs, designers, makers, economists, investors, politicians and citizens to build a collaborative future.
Paris, May 2-3-4, 2013.

Not just another business conference.

Co-designed with its community, OuiShare Fest will feature a wide range of hands-on activities and great live music.
Day 1-2 will gather 500 professionals and public officials.
Day 3 will be free and open to the public.

Can’t wait.

I’ll be speaking there on Friday morning at 9:30. The title: Markets are Relationships. I’ll be there for most of the rest of the show too. Great line-up of topics, speakers and attendees. After that, it’s Silicon Valley for IIW.

See ya theres.

 

6:42am — Flights are starting to land at JFK, I see by Flightaware. Not yet at LGA, EWR or the New England airports. More links:

It’s getting light out, and the snow has stopped.

6:10am — Dig:

5:58am — Fittingly (given the local coverage concentration below), Maine appears to be hardest hit, though farthest from news outside the area. CNN and The Weather Channel are all about Boston, Providence, Hartford and New York.

5:30am — Looking for live local coverage from TV stations. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

That’s it. One in New York, one in Hartford, none in Boston and three in Portland. Maine wins! Corrections, of course, are welcome.

Also: the NYTimes and the Wall Street Journal have both dropped their paywalls for storm coverage. The Boston Globe‘s is still up.

03:30am — This is as quiet as New York gets. No traffic flowing. No horns blowing. No jets on approach to anywhere, or taking off. From our encampment in “upstate” Manhattan, there is just the sound of snowplows scraping Broadway clean.

The Weather Channel (aka Weather.com, aka TWC on my Dish Network channel list, aka @WeatherChannel), calls the storm #Nemo, as they said they would last Fall. The National Weather Service, aka Weather.govisn’t playing along. Neither is AccuWeather.

They should. I’m sure the success of the Nemo nickname has their sphincters in a knot, but they should loosen up. This isn’t just another nor’easter. For parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts, it might be the biggest storm since the last glaciation, named after Wisconsin. (Probably not, but still.) Earthquakes get named after epicenters. And hey, we live in networked times. These days the vernacular wins, fast. Best to get ahead of that curve.

Here’s a view of aviation, as of 3:00am this morning:

Normally thin anyway at this hour, it’s absent in the Northeast entirely. The nearest named flight is a United one inbound to Dulles (UAL981). An un-named plane is passing over Philadelphia, and another over Binghamton. That’s it. (The green color is not for rain, by the way. It’s precipitation density. That’s snow there.)

One day, back around 15,000 BCE, half a mountain in Southern California broke loose and slid out onto what’s now the Mojave desert. The resulting landform is called the Blackhawk Slide. Here it is:

It’s that ripple-covered lobe on the bottom right. According to Robert Sharp’s Geology Underfoot in Southern California, it didn’t just flow off the mountain, as would happen with a typical landslide. It actually slid intact, like a toboggan, four and a half miles, on a slope of only two to three degrees. It could not have traveled so far, and have remained so intact (with rock layers preserved, in order, top to bottom), if it had merely flowed.

Geologists can tell it slid because it didn’t just heap at the base of the mountain from which it detached. Instead it soared, at low altitude, four and a half miles, on the flat, on a cushion of air, out across the desert, before plopping down.

To get some perspective on this, here are two facts to consider. First, we’re talking about ten billion cubic feet of detached mountain face here. Second, in order to travel that far out onto the desert, shattered but essentially in one piece, it had to glide on a cushion of air, at speeds up to 270 miles per hour. Or so goes the theory.

One wonders if humans were there to see it happen. Ancestors of native Americans were already on the continent by then, thanks to the last glacial maximum, which still had several thousand more years to go. There may have been some ice on the mountains themselves, and perhaps that helped weaken the rock, which was already raised to the sky by pressures on the San Andreas Fault, which lies on the back side of the San Bernardino Mountains, a couple dozen miles from here.

I came along a bit late, but was glad to get my first chance to gander at the slide, the day after Thanksgiving, on a United flight from San Jose to Houston. I was shooting against the sun, and it was a bit hazy, but I was still able to get a good look, and this photo set too.

Additional links:

On the way back from a concert in Brooklyn yesterday we shared the subway with a well-known filmmaker. He’s one of those people who look ordinary enough to blend in with the rest of us, which is lucky for him. Still, he’s not anonymous. We know his name. We’ve seen his movies. We also did our best not to pay him special attention. That is, to let him have the form of privacy we call anonymity. Even if he is hardly anonymous.

I thought it was cool that he took the subway rather than a taxi. There was a woman with him, obviously a friend. They had an energetic conversation. His voice also was familiar. She got off one stop before he did, a couple stops later.

Our home base since ’01 has been Santa Barbara. If you hang out on State Street in Santa Barbara, or on Coast Village or Valley Road in Montecito, you’re bound to run into celebrities fairly often, since lots of them live there. The correct and courteous thing to do is ignore them: to pretend, as best you can, that they have not made the Faustian trade of anonymity for fame. I’ve known a few celebs in my time and without exception they’ve found being known to everybody mostly a drag.

This stuff is close to my mind these days because privacy is a Big Issue. See, online we are all celebrities to the advertising personalizers. That’s why sites plant cookies and tracking beacons in our browsers to follow us around like invisible paparazzi. Fixing it won’t be easy; but we will fix it, sooner or later. Simple courtesy demands it. And it is on simple courtesies that civilization stands.

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.

Take a look at these screenshots of maps on my iPhone 4, running iOS 6:

maps

On the left, maps.google.com, made mobile. On the right, Apple’s new Maps app, which comes with iOS 6. The location in both cases is Harvard Square, not far from where I am right now.

Note how the Apple app not only lacks the Harvard Square T stop (essential information for any map of this type), but traffic information as well. (Not to mention a bunch of other stuff, such as landmarks and street names. (Neither is perfect at the last two, but Google is way better.)

This is beyond inexcusable, especially now that it’s going on two months since Tim Cook apologized for Apple’s Maps fail and promised improvements. How hard can it be, just to add essential subway info? Very, apparently.

I go a bit deeper in this response to this post by Dave a few hours ago. To sum it up, I think only two things will save Apple’s bacon with maps. One is that Nokia/Navteq, Google and others provide maps on iOS that are better than Apple’s, saving Apple the trouble of doing it all. The other is crowd-sourcing the required data, simply because Apple by itself can’t replicate the effort both Google and Nokia/Navteq have put into what they’ve already got. But with the rest of us, Apple can actually do better. It’ll take a sex change for them to un-close their approach to mapping. But they’ll leapfrog the competition in the process, and win loyalty as well.

[Later...] Here is a screenshot that helps enlarge some points I make below in response to Droidkin’s comment:

apple credits and feeback

Note how dim, dark and hidden the small print is here. “Data from TomTom, others” goes to this list of credits. Also “Report a Problem” is simplex, not duplex, far as I know. You can tell them something but it’s like dropping a pebble into the ocean. Who knows what happens to it?

Hurricane flag

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

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

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

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

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

9:54pm TV stations with live streams online:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funnel #3, Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New York at night

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

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

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

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

Mobile maps matter, and Apple now has the worst mapping you can get on a phone. The best, one would think (given the Apple vs. Google coverage) is Google’s. But maybe not, because Nokia has NAVTEQ, which rocks. Or so says Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic, in a fascinating piece that visits just some of what NAVTEQ has been doing since 1985. For example, providing most of the maps you see on Garmin, Magellan and other legacy GPS companies.

This should be tempting for Apple. Here’s Alexis:

…if a certain tech giant with a massive interest in mobile content (Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo) were looking to catch up or stay even with Google, the company’s Location & Commerce unit might look like a nice acquisition they could get on the cheap (especially given that the segment lost 1.5 billion euros last year). Microsoft and Yahoo are already thick as thieves with Nokia’s mapping crew, but Apple is the company that needs the most help.

Tristan Louis makes the case as well:

So maps are now essen­tial to one’s mobile strat­egy and Apple is behind. When you’re as far behind as they are, there are two ways you can get back to the table: you can either run like crazy and try to iter­ate your prod­uct at light speed or you can buy your way back at the table.

And what bet­ter com­pany than the mar­ket leader if you are to make the invest­ment? On top of it, Apple would get some inter­est­ing sup­port for its AppleTV product.

Apple would get Nokia’s huge mobile tech patent portfolio, which includes a license to Qualcomm’s impressive collection. Tristan suggests that Nokia’s idle patents on mobile TV tech would also help Apple. No doubt it would. Let’s also remember that Google bought Motorola Mobility a short while back pretty much for the same reason: to get an edge in the “nuclear showdown” that patent-based tech wars tend to be. And mobile, alas, is a patent-based game.

The downside would be owning a struggling giant with lots of baggage Apple surely does not want. But Apple has to do something.

Nokia and Microsoft are deeply in bed, however, and both are unlikely to consider selling out to Apple, an enemy in the marketplace. (One can easily imagine Steve Ballmer going nuclear at the very thought of it.)

Eric Bleeker at Motley Fool responds to Tristan while laying out a number of possibilities. His conclusion: “The simple reality is that Apple will probably continue taking smaller bets on emerging technologies.”

Such as? In Yandex to Power Apple Maps, Alexander Vostrov of Russia Beyond the Headlines writes,

Russian software fans are glowing with pride, while analysts make the most improbable assumptions: the Russian IT giant Yandex has entered into a partnership with Apple and will have its Yandex Maps location service integrated with Apple’s new iOS 6 operating system.

This piece from June in The Verge also points to an attribution list at Apple. The page is copy-proof, so just go look at it. The list of data sources is long.

So how about OpenStreetmap? I don’t see them in the above list, but this OpenStreeMap Foundation blog post by Harry Wood on 2 October offers confirming evidence. Says Harry,

Apple’s new maps for iOS6 make use of OpenStreetMap in some parts of the world. We’re not sure how extensive this use is, but it’s fair to say they are mostly using other sources. Apple have used TomTom as a key supplier of data for example. This means that inaccuracies in apple maps are probably not the fault of OpenStreetMap (contrary to some commentary!) However OpenStreetMap is mentioned in apple’s credits, and we have spotted some areas where we think we can see our data in use.

This means your contributions to OpenStreetMap at least have a chance of helping Apple, along with everybody else. But, if you want to go direct to Apple, here’s the trick:

  1. Open Maps on your iOS device
  2. Go to a map view with a problem in it
  3. Lift the lower right (turned up) corner of the map
  4. Look for the very small gray-on-gray text above the Print button that says “Report a problem.” Click on that.
  5. Fill out the short form

I just reported one of Apple’s absent subway stations, just to see how it works. (In fact, they’re all missing, and not just here in New York. I also saw none in London or Paris.)

Meanwhile, I continue to believe selling their own map apps on iOS would be good for Google, and Nokia as well.

[Later...] eWeek has what may be the best suggestion yet: get out of the maps business entirely. Let the Maps companies give away or sell a maps app on the phone. If Nokia and Google decided not to, that would hurt Apple, but it would make them (especially Google) look like silo-building schmucks playing passive-agressive games against a competitor.

Probably too late now. But maybe the open game is the only one for Apple to play now. Dunno though. Food for re-thought.

Toronto

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

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

Here’s a slideshow of the whole series.

Charge for them.

Let users be customers and not just consumers. Let demand engage supply the old fashioned way: by paying for goods and services, and making the sellers directly accountable to buyers in a truly competitive marketplace.

Here’s the thing. We, the customers of Apple and the consumers of both Apple’s and Google’s free map services, are getting screwed by value-subtracting games played by both companies.

Millions of us are highly dependent on our phones’ primary maps app. From the beginning on the iPhone that app has been Google’s — or at least seemed to be. By replacing it with a shamefully lame app by the same name, Apple screwed its customers, hard. Why? Because it wanted to screw Google. And why screw Google? Because Google had been screwing both Apple and iPhone/iPad customers for the duration.

Or so I assume. I really don’t know.

A few days ago I asked A question about Apple vs. Google maps. Noting that Google’s Maps app on iPhone lacked at least two features found on Android versions of the app — adaptive turn-by-turn directions and vocalization — I wondered out loud if Google was playing a passive-aggressive game with Apple by crippling the iOS version of the app. One commenter said it was Apple’s choice not to include those features; but in a New York Times column a few days ago, David Pogue confirmed my original suspicion:

After poking around, here’s what I’ve learned.

First, why Apple dropped the old version: Google, it says, was saving all the best features for phones that run its Android software. For example, the iPhone app never got spoken directions or vector maps (smooth lines, not tiles of pixels), long after those features had come to rival phones.

Hey, if that’s the case, and if I were Apple, I’d be pissed too — and I’d want to offer a better maps app than Google’s. As an iPhone and iPad user, I’ve been annoyed for years at Google for obviously crippling its iOS Maps app. (Datum: I’m also an Android user.) But now it bothers me a lot more that Google hardly seems to mind that Apple killed the Google-sourced Maps app for the entire iOS 6 user base. Why would Google be so blasé? One big reason is that Apple’s users pay nothing for the app. And, because users pay nothing, Google can ignore those users’ suffering while relishing the sight of Apple embarrassing itself.

To fully understand what’s going on here, it is essentiall to respect the difference between customers and users (aka consumers). Customers pay. By not paying, and functioning only as a user, you have little if any economic leverage. Worse, you’re the product being sold to the actual customers, which are advertisers.

This Google vs. Apple thing reminds me of my days in commercial broadcasting. There too consumers and customers were different populations. Consumers were listeners and viewers whose ears and eyeballs were sold to advertisers, who were the real customers. Listeners and viewers had no leverage when a station or a network got in the mood to kill a format, or a show. We’re in the same spot here, at least in respect to Google.

With Apple it’s different, because iPhone and iPad users are actual customers of Apple. Now chagrined, Apple is pressing that advantage, starting with Tim Cook’s open letter to customers. An excerpt:

We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

If you buy an iPhone you’re already paying for the Maps app. So this post is mostly for Google. While I think an apology is owed to iPhone and iPad users, for withholding features just to disadvantage those devices against Android (if in fact that’s what happened… I still don’t know for sure), I’d rather see Google offer Google Maps for sale, at a fair price, in the Apple Apps store. And I’d like to see Apple approve that product for sale, pronto.

Trust me: plenty of customers will pay. Google will not only drive home the real value of its Maps app (and all the good work behind it), but get some long-overdue practice at doing real customer service. Google’s high dependence on a single source of revenue — advertising — is a vulnerability that can only be reduced by broadening the company’s businesses. The future of selling direct has been looming at Google for a long time. There is a great opportunity, right now, to do that in a big way with Google Maps.

Data wants to be free, but value wants to be paid for. Let us pay. We’re the damed market. Let us help you work out the kinks in your products. Develop real relationships with us, and provide real customer support that’s worth what we pay for it.

[Later...] Some tweets, sort of threaded:

@Owen Barder@carlkalapesi @dsearls seems to be wrong to say that Google has until now had it’s app in IOS. It was an Apple app. [Link.]

@Kevin Marks: No, @dsearls, the old Maps app on iPhone was written by Apple, using Google APIs. Apple vetoed Google’s own app in ’09. [Link]

@Jamie Starke@kevinmarks @dsearls citation needed [Link]

@Kevin Marks: @jamiestarke @dsearls http://wireless.fcc.gov/releases/9182009_Google_Filing_iPhone.pdf … Google Latitude was rejected because Apple believed it could replace the preloaded maps app (p3) [Link]

So are you (Owen and Kevin) saying David Pogue got bad info from Apple in the piece quoted above?

Either way, the question then is, Who crippled the old Maps app? Was it Google, Apple, or both? Also, Why?

I still stand by my recommendation that Google offer the map for sale on iOS. And on Android too, for the reasons I give above.

Meanwhile, somebody ought to put up a post, or a site, explaining the particulars of this case. Such as whose app Maps was, and is now. Most stories (seems to me) about the fracas say the old app was Google’s. If it wasn’t, and was instead an Apple map fed by the Google API, that needs to be made clear. I’m still fuzzed around the details here.

[Later (1 October)...] Christina Bonnington in Wired says it was Apple’s decision not to include turn-by-turn directions in the Maps app. She writes,

When iOS first launched in the iPhone in 2007, Apple embraced Google Maps as its mapping back-end. But over the years, rivalry between the tech giants increased to a fever pitch. So it’s likely that Apple decided some years ago to eventually abandon Google Maps, and create its own platform. And because Apple knew it was eventually going to drop Google as its back-end, there was no point in pushing further innovation or integration with the system doomed to a limited lifespan.

But do I believe her, just because she’s writing for Wired? Do I believe David Pogue, just because he’s writing for the NY Times? Obviously, they don’t agree. At least one is wrong about whether the Maps app was crippled by Google (says David) or Apple (says Christina). At this point I can’t believe either of them. For that I’ll need. at the very least, a quote from a source who knows. I mean, really knows.

Mother Jones‘ original slogan was, “You trust your mother. But you cut the cards.” So here’s my card-cutting: I want hard facts on exactly what happened here. Who made the decision not to include turn-by-turn and voice directions in the Maps app on iOS? It had to have been Apple, Google or some combination of both. Which was it? How? And why?

[Later (2 October)...] In Voice navigation killed Apple-Google maps talks, John Paczkowski of Fox News does the best job I’ve seen yet of pulling the covers back on what actually happened:

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said Apple should have continued to use Google’s mapping application in iOS 6 instead of swapping it out for its poorly received home-brewed replacement, and given the sour reception Apple’s Maps app has been given, he may have been right.

But multiple sources familiar with Apple’s thinking say the company felt it had no choice but to replace Google Maps with its own, because of a disagreement over a key feature: Voice-guided turn-by-turn driving directions.

Spoken turn-by-turn navigation has been a free service offered through Google’s Android mobile OS for a few years now. But it was never part of the deal that brought Google’s Maps to iOS. And sources say Apple very much wanted it to be. Requiring iPhone users to look directly at handsets for directions and manually move through each step — while Android users enjoyed native voice-guided instructions — put Apple at a clear disadvantage in the mobile space…

Apple pushed Google hard to provide the data it needed to bring voice-guided navigation to iOS. But according to people familiar with Google’s thinking, the search giant, which had invested massive sums in creating that data and views it as a key feature of Android, wasn’t willing to simply hand it over to a competing platform.

And if there were terms under which it might have agreed to do so, Apple wasn’t offering them. Sources tell AllThingsD that Google, for example, wanted more say in the iOS maps feature set. It wasn’t happy simply providing back-end data. It asked for in-app branding. Apple declined. It suggested adding Google Latitude. Again, Apple declined. And these became major points of contention between the two companies, whose relationship was already deteriorating for a variety of other reasons, including Apple’s concern that Google was gathering too much user data from the app.

“There were a number of issues inflaming negotiations, but voice navigation was the biggest,” one source familiar with Apple and Google’s negotiations told AllThingsD. “Ultimately, it was a deal-breaker.”

There’s more from John Paczkowski in All Things D.

So maybe we’ll never know. “Sources” will, but the rest of us won’t.

 

 

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Newtown Creek

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

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

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

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

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

Airport wi-fi isn’t the biggest business, or the smallest. I’m not even sure it’s a discrete category. Some of it is a phone company side business (T-mobile, AT&T). Some of it is a business in itself (Boingo). Some of it is just a supply of overhead to airports or lounges that want to provide free wi-fi or to charge for access under their own brand.

Here in Boston, Logan Airport has a complicated thing where you have a choice of many for-pay access options, or free access if you jump over a small hurdle. For my phone it was watching a video that the phone wouldn’t play. But at least the Web page said “If the video doesn’t run, click here to connect.” I did and it worked. But it was not so easy on my computer, where it provided a choice of watching the video or answering a survey. The video, an ad for BMW that has been running for months (I fly a lot out of here), was followed by a page with an error code. I closed the window, re-started the browser and did the survey. Same result. So I changed browsers. This time there was just a video, provided by HP, and “powered by AWG” it said. I muted the sound and watched the video, which promoted an HP netbook. Without the sound the ad was fairly worthless. More interesting was the countdown to the connection, which ran above the ad. After running from 30 seconds to zero, I got a page with a big spinning wheel that ran and ran. Another fail.

Then I saw there’s an access point called AWGwifi and tried that. It failed too.

Meanwhile here at the United Club, the T-Mobile access they’ve provided for many years also failed as soon as I clicked on the link for club members. Of course the people behind the desk are not in charge of that. All they can do is report the problem, which I guess is one of the many that have come up through the long slow merger between United and Continental.

So I’m getting on through my phone’s 3G data plan. But I won’t be uploading the photos I had wanted to, because I don’t want to hit a cost jump if I go over my monthly allotment of bits.

The best airport wifi system I’ve seen so far is the one at the Continental club, and a few scattered airports I don’t recall: the wi-fi just works. It’s open, free and requires no logging in or going through a promotional gauntlet. Maybe that’s not “secure,” but are any of these paid systems secure either? One can be a bad actor over any of them.

I would think there is a market opportunity here for a creative approach — one that might be paid but doesn’t require becoming a member of something. Making it possible to just get on the Net with no hassle and no promotional BS would make a lot of travelers happy.

Subway car interior

When I was young, New York subways were dirty, noisy and with little risk of improvement. But, even if the maps weren’t readable (as with this 1972 example), there were lots of them.

Now the subways are much nicer, on the whole, and being improved. But there is now a paucity of maps. In fact, I notice an inverse relationship between the number of maps and the number and size of ads in subways and on subway cars. Some of the cars, such as the one above, have an all-advertising decor, in addition to the usual cards in frames.

Since loud panhandlers are also common past the threshold of annoyance in subway cars, I found myself yesterday tempted to stand up and say,

“EXCUSE ME, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. I’M NOT HERE TO ASK FOR YOUR MONEY, BUT JUST TO DRAW YOUR ATTENTION TO A SHORTAGE OF SUBWAY MAPS AND AN ABUNDANCE OF ADVERTISING. THANK YOU VERY MUCH AND HAVE A GOOD DAY.”

… and then sit down. Who knows? Might help.

So our family of three is sharing a hotel room while doing some holiday stuff. The hotel charges about $20/day per device to use its wi-fi. We have seven devices that are Net-enabled, but so far have only one (my laptop) paying the fare — and the quality of the connection gets a D+ from Speedtest.net. Our two phones (my wife’s and mine) with cellular data plans are left to the mercies of AT&T, which barely provides phone service. (Among the few calls that came through yesterday were several in which the other person could hear nothing that we said.) Cellular data works only in the wee hours, when demands on AT&T’s system are at low ebb. Without a Net connection, my wife, whose new laptop is tethered to Apple’s iCloud, is SOL for email and calendar updates.

There are dozens of wi-fi hot spots showing up on our lists, but all of them are closed. If this were eight years ago, at least half of them would be open, but the popular default in the world is now for closed hot spots, so those are also not options.

I’m sure in the long run The Market will fix this, but meanwhile “The Cloud’s” promise and reality are way out of sync. Since most of The Market outside our homes is comprised of pay services over wi-fi and cellular data systems are sure to suffer traffic jams as more of our lives require tethering to data banks and services in clouds, I’m not holding my breath for ease in the short run.

Remember “the information superhighway”? Would be nice to have that now.

Rochester, Vermont

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

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

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

Relief For Rochester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some additional links:

@marklittlenews (mark little) tweets,

Soaked to the skin but awed beyond words by explosive lightning storm that just engulfed Manhattan #Kapow

So I looked at the map and saw that there’s a line of strong thunderstorms in a line from New York to Washington. Quite a show. Of JFK, Flightaware says,

John F Kennedy Intl (KJFK) is currently experiencing:

  • departure delays of 2 hours 31 minutes to 2 hours 45 minutes (and increasing) due to weather
  • inbound flights delayed at their origin an average of 1 hour 12 minutes due to wind
  • all inbound flights being held at their origin until friday at 08:30p EDT due to thunderstorms

Similar reports at Newark (KEWR), LaGuardia (KLGA), Washington/Baltimore’s Reagan (KDCA), Dulles (KIAD) and kBWI. Philadelphia (KPHL) too.

I’m just hoping it clears up for my early morning drive to and from northern Vermont from Boston. Should be cool: it’s a cold front, after all.

106 degrees That’s how hot my car thought it was today. I understand it hit 103° at Logan. Right now it’s 10pm and still 95° on our back porch. It’s hotter indoors. Up in the attic, where I work, two window AC units bring the space down to about 82°. They can’t do much better. We have another unit in our master bedroom, and that one can make the space actually comfortable. Little window fans take care of the other spaces as best they can.

So we’re among the lucky ones, if not the greenest. (To be that, we’d turn the ACs off.)

I got back from a month in Italy yesterday, flanked at the ends by a day each in Paris. It was a great trip. Details later when I put some pix up. Meanwhile, some observations on differences, in respect to heat.

First, it was hot much of the time in Italy, but nothing like this current heat wave in Boston. I think the hottest it got was in Rome, when it hit about 35° Celsius, which is about 95° Fahrenheit. Our little apartment there had AC that was pretty good, though not great. But other places didn’t. As in France, a lot of places have some AC, but not much. Or just none. Two of the places we stayed had no AC, and the AC at none of them was as aggressive as any $100 U.S. window unit.

In Florence the Uffizi (English version) had no AC that I could tell. All those old paintings just cooked away, along with throngs of visitors. [Update in 2013: the Uffizi folks found this post from the distant past and told me that the museum is now air conditioned. Cool!] The Accademia was a little better, but not much. None of the churches had any, understandably. The Duomo’s museum had pretty good AC. The San Marco monastery and convent, decorated by abundant paintings and frescoes by Fra Angelico, is kept at a constant cool room temperature and low humidity, and is quite comfortable, at least indoors. Same with the Vatican Museums.

So why do some of these places go to great effort to control temperature and humidity while others do not? I’m only guessing that it’s too much trouble in some. I mean, look here:

When your building dates from the 13th century and has walls made of thick stone blocks (and that’s probably what’s under the stucco here), you do the best you can on a room-by-room basis. The shot above is of the only three window AC units in a building that had many more windows than you see here. At some point the thinking becomes, “Hey, if you want to cool off, ride a scooter or buy some gelato.”

But one gathers also that sometimes things just don’t work. The apartment we rented in a former Palazzo (still called that) in Florence had two AC units, and the main one just moved air without conditioning it a bit. Several attempts were made to fix it, but we finally gave up and lived with AC just in one bedroom. The elevator also bounced on the end of its cable and one time broke off pieces of something in the shaft on the way down. We could hear stuff clatter and fall down the shaft below. At other times the elevator made creepy noises we attibuted to the “‘vator demon.”

I wondered if ice had anything to do with it. Here in the U.S. we not only love AC, but piles of ice in everything that needs to be cold. A drink on the rocks better have more than two little cubes, which is about what you get when you ask for ice in most places I’ve been in Europe (each cube is transfered carefully to your glass by a small tong). When we got back yesterday, one of the first things I wanted was a tall glass of iced tea — the kind that’s a glass full of ice with tea poured over it. On the whole, they don’t have that in Europe. When I got one, it was heaven.

Why do we like ice so much? One reason might be that we invented the big-time ice shipping business here in the U.S. (especially here in Boston, where Frederic Tudor made a fortune at it, starting on Fresh Pond and Spy Pond, near where we live), and, as a result, we love lots of the stuff. I’m guessing it was cheaper here too, so we splurged. But, I dunno. Corrections welcome.

In any case, it’s good to be back. Lots of work to do, heat or no. (And I do miss the gelato already.)

The first time I heard the term “Sepulveda pass,” I thought it was a medical procedure. I mean, 405I was still new to The Coast, and sepulveda sounded like one of those oddball body parts, like uvula or something. (Not speaking of which, I no longer have an uvula. No idea why. It used to be there, but now it’s gone. Strange.)

Anyway, Carmageddon is going on right now, and the Sepulveda pass, a section of the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles, is shut down. My fave links on the matter so far are here, here and here. One of which is that to which Tony Pierce points.

It’ll all be over on Monday. When it comes to fixing freeways, L.A. doesn’t fuck around. No ‘fence, but the Bay Area does.

We had a controlled study of the difference with a pair of earthquakes. In 1989 the Loma Prieta quake dropped a hunk of freeway (called the Cypress Structure) in Oakland, plus a piece of the Bay Bridge. It also damaged several freeways in San Francisco, including the Embarcadero Freeway and the 101-280 interchange. So, what did they do? They got rid of the Embarcadero and the Cypress Structure, took more than a few days to fix the Bay Bridge… and then took years to fix the 101-280 interchange. Years. Lots of them. Meanwhile, when the Northridge quake dropped a hunk of the Santa Monica Freeway in Los Angeles, they got the thing back up in a month or something. (If I have time later I’ll add the links. Right now I’m in Florence, where traffic is Cuissinart of pedestrians, motorcycles, taxis, bicycles and stubby busses. Kind of like the rest of urban Italy, only with a higher ratio of tourists to everything else.)

By the way, the best video you’ll ever see about The 405 is called 405, and was done in 2000 by Bruce Branit and Jeremy Hunt, who also stars in it. The whole thing is just three minutes long, and it’s perfect. Especially right now. Dig.

All the statues eat there

All'antico Vinaio

… so you know it’s gotta be good.

(All’antico Vinaio, on Via dei Neri, in Firenze.)

Tags: , , ,

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

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

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

Here’s a photo set of the place.

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

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

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus link.

 

That was shot (and enjoyed) here, at Banco Giro, a triangular plaza by the old marketplace. This was roughly where The Merchant of Venice was set, where Marco Polo did his business and where Luca Pacioli learned about and then shared with the world the essentials of double-entry bookkeeping — in a form that hardly changed over the centuries that followed. Think of it as Ground Zero for trade and commerce in the Western World.

We visited caves in Slovenia today, as well as Trieste, courtesy of Paolo and Monica Valdemarin. Alas, I lost my card reader, hence no photos, yet. Tomorrow, the Dolomites.

The best Romans we ever knew were former ex-pats there: Charles and Doris Muscatine. We didn’t know them well, having met only once, for dinner in the early ’90s, at their son Jeff’s house in the Bay Area. But it turned out we were going to be in Rome at the same time, not long after that dinner, so we arranged to hook up there for lunch. We felt like we were imposing a bit, but hey: both were authorities on Rome, and Doris was the author of A Cook’s tour of Rome, among many other books on food and cooking.

They told us to meet them in a small alley-sized street next to an obscure church in a part of town that was all cobblestone and stucco over brick that went back to the days of empire, if not earlier. There we would find a restaurant with no sign, they said: just a curtain for a door. It was, literally, a hole-in-the-wall. It was also their favorite. Just about the only patrons then were locals, and the food consisted of Roman staples, perfectly prepared. It was wonderful.

But Chuck and Doris are now both gone; and, when we arrived in Rome a few days ago, we had  no memory of the restaurant’s name, much less its location, since Rome has no shortage of old narrow streets and obscure churches. Instead the first place we aimed for was one we read about in an airline magazine.

To our astonishment, it was the same place. The curtain was replaced by red ropes (see above), but otherwise it was unimproved. Margherita herself is now too old to cook there, we learned, but it’s the same home cooking as ever. The fried artichokes (“carciofi alla giudìa”), which have leaves as delicate as potato chips but infinitely more character, are a must if you’re ever in town.

The name is Sora Margherita and the church next door is Santa Maria del Pianto. It’s located in the Jewish ghetto district. Highly recommended.

When in Rome…

Coliseum

So we’re in Rome and I’m thinking about Alcatraz, Fisherman’s Wharf and cable cars…

When I lived in the Bay Area and hung out in San Francisco, I did like all the other locals, and stayed away from the tourist stuff. Sure, right after we arrived from North Carolina in 1985, when the kids were twelve and fifteen, we hit all required tourist to-dos, in one day, and that was about it. After that we were locals, which meant we did other things.

But this is Rome, and we can’t resist doing The Usual, and also a bit more.

“More” for me began on the way in, when I got this series of aerial photos. The Coliseum, above, is a close-up from this shot here.

More soon, I hope.

 

Tags:

Friday, 24 June… Heard from @VodafoneIT that there had been a “ticket” in Rome yesterday, and that the problem is fixed now. Usage (considered below) was not the issue. Hat tip to @VodafoneIT for getting back to me with the answer on that. Grazie.


Not being a reader of Italian, it’s hard to tell* why the Net got cut off here at our rented apartment; but I think the reason is that there is a usage limit. Does anybody know? If so, please give us a page explaining Vodafone landline plans, so our non-technical landlord can review it when he gets here tomorrow and tries to solve our problem. Not having the Net isn’t the worst thing while we’re here; but we do have business to conduct, so having it is helpful when we’re not enjoying the city. Grazie.

*The error message only appears when we are offline, so getting an online tranlation (in, say, Chrome) isn’t possible then, and we neglected to copy it off, to try translating it when we’re back on. Next time we’ll do that.

Ford River Rouge plant

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

Says Wikipedia,

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

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

I know Chicago well — from the air. I’ve flown in and out of O’Hare countless times, always enjoying the view from my window seat. I’ve also flown over Chicago a lot, en routes from cities east and west. And I’ve shot a lot of pictures, which I usually used to put up on Flickr; but I’ve slacked off since concentrating on a book and getting the willies about Flickr’s own survival.

I’ve also studied its roads, its infrastructure, usually by looking at the pictures I’ve taken and studying their subjects. Examples here, here and here.

Yet I’ve spent very little time in the town itself. Back in the early ’90s, when I consulted the late Zenith Data Systems, Bruce Fryer once took me downtown to show me around. Linda Hayes (also with ZDS at the time) once took me on a tour of the Lake View area. And I think I went to exactly one trade show at McCormick Place (the white thing near the bottom of the shot above). That’s about it.

So I’d like to fix that, one of these years. Meanwhile, I thought it worth sharing the latest fly-by, en route from Salt Lake City to Boston by way of Phoenix. Click on the shot above for the whole series.

 

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.

I don’t envy anybody in the airline business. There is so much to do right, and the costs of doing things wrong can be incalculably high. Required capital investments are immense, and the regulatory framework is both complex and costly. Yet the people I’ve met in the business tend to be dedicated professionals who care about serving people, and not just about making a buck or putting in time. And the few bad experiences I’ve had are so anomalous that I’m inclined to disregard them. So, on the whole, I cut them all some slack.

By now I have close to a million miles with United, which is now the largest airline in the world, thanks to its merger with Continental. As it happens I’m sitting in a Continental lounge right now, though I’ll be flying in a couple hours to Salt Lake City on Delta. My original flights with United (from Boston through Chicago) were delayed by snow (yes, it’s snowing here, on the first day of Spring). The Continental club lounge is available so here I sit. For what it’s worth, the Continental lounge is nicer than United’s. In fact, pretty much everything about Continental is nicer, by a small margin. That’s a pat on Continental’s back, rather than a knock on United, which I’ve come to regard with some affection over many years of flying with them. One reason for all that flying is that they made lifetime membership in their club lounge available for a good price two decades ago, and that’s been a tie-breaker for us — in United’s favor — ever since. (Sadly, the offer was discontinued.)

The merger is moving slowly. Most of both airlines’ planes now say United on the side and keep the Continental globe symbol on the tail. (Minimal paint jobs for both, basically.) But the operations are still separate, which in some ways they have to be, since in many locations they occupy separate airport terminals. Their computer systems are also surely different and hard to merge. But, while there is some time left before the merger completes, I thought I’d put out a few public suggestions for both airlines as they gradually become one. Here goes:

  1. Keep Channel 9. That’s the United audio channel that carries cockpit air traffic audio. Like a lot of frequent fliers, aviation is a passion of mine, and listening in on that chatter is a familiar, comforting and engaging experience. Sharing it with passengers is up to the pilots, and I always go out of my way to thank the pilots who choose to share the channel with passengers. I’ve met many other passengers over the years who also love the service. In many cases these passengers are either current or former pilots themselves. Of course it’s not necessary to keep it on that same audio channel; but at least make it available.
  2. Make seat choices easier online. Say what kind of airplane the flight takes, and whether or not there are actually windows by the window seat (on some planes there are some window seats with blank walls). Consider providing links to SeatExpert or SeatGuru.
  3. Allow more conditional choices for upgrades. I like window seats on the shaded side of the plane, and usually choose those seats with great care. So, for example on a United 777, where all the premium coach seating with extra legroom is in seats over the wing. I’m willing to sit in the back with less legroom, just to have an unobstructed view out the window. But often I’ll get an automatic upgrade (as a frequent flyer) to a business class seat that is either an aisle seat or a window seat on the sunny side of the plane, where the view is never as good. In those cases I’ll usually prefer to stay in coach.
  4. Provide Internet connectivity by wi-fi. Put it on all but the small short-haul planes.
  5. Power outlets are nice too. Some airlines have them for all seats. United should be one of them.
  6. The DirectTV system on some Continental planes is nice. So is the completely different system on some other Continental planes (one I flew from Houston to Frankfurt had a zillion movies, but no easy way to navigate all the choices). Whatever you standardize on, make it relatively open to future improvements. And make the headset plugs standard 1/8″ ones, so passengers can use their own headsets.
  7. Get apps going on Android, iPhone and other handheld devices. Continental has some now. United doesn’t yet, though it does now have the paperless boarding pass.
  8. Get Jeff Smisek to cut a new merger progress announcement to run for passengers. The old one has been talking about “changes in the coming months” for about a year now.
  9. In the lounges, upgrade the food, or provide better food you charge for (like you do for drinks at the bar). Right now in the Continental President’s club, there are apples, three kinds of chips in bags, bottom-quality shrink-wrapped cheeses and tiny plastic-wrapped sesame crackers. The United clubs will have the same apples, plus maybe the same crackers and chips, and some nut/candy mixes in dispensers. This Continental club doesn’t have an espresso/cappuccino machine, while United club at the same airport does. (And it’s a much better model than the awful one they had for a decade or more.) Meanwhile at Star Alliance lounges, and in lounges of international airlines such as Scandinavian, there will be a spread of sandwich makings, pastries, fresh baked breads and other good stuff. United and Continental charge a lot for the lounges, yet don’t allow food to be brought in. So at least offer something more than the minimal, food-wise. Free wi-fi in the lounges is also cool. Both United and Continental offer it, but Continental makes it simple: it’s just there, a free open access point. United’s is a complicated sign-on to T-Mobile.
  10. Go back to Continental’s simple and straightforward rules for device use on planes. United’s old rules were ambiguous, all-text and hard to read. Continental had little grapics that showed the allowed devices. That’s what persists in the current (March) Hemispheres magazine is the United text. You almost need to be a lawyer to make sense of this line here: “Any voice, audio, video or other photography (motion or still), recording while on any United Airlines aircraft is strictly prohibited, except to the extent specifically permitted by United Airlines.” Only twice in my many flights on United have I been told not to shoot pictures out the window from altitude, and in the second case the head flight attendant apologized later and offered me a bottle of wine for my trouble. From what I understand, photography is specifically permitted, provided it is not of other people or equipment inside the plane. I’ve also been told “It’s at the pilot’s discretion.” Whatever the rules are, the old Continental ones were much better, and unambiguous.
  11. Email receipts for onboard charges. This especially goes for ones where promos are involved and one can’t tell otherwise if the promo discount went through. For example, Chase bank customers were supposed to get $2 off on the $6 charge for using a Chase bank card to pay for watching DirectTV on the flight I took two Thursdays ago from Boston to Houston. Did I get the discount? I still don’t know.
  12. On the personal video screens, provide flight maps with travel data such as time to destination and altitude. Love those, especially when they aren’t interrupted with duty-free promos on international flights.
  13. Avoid lock-ins with proprietary partners. Example: Zune on United: http://www.zune.net/united. Right now over half of the devices being used in this lounge are non-PCs (iPads, Androids, Macs, etc.). Why leave those people out? And, of course, Zune is a dead platform walking.

Anyway, that’s a quick brain dump in the midst of other stuff, encouraged by conversation with other passengers here. I’m looking forward to seeing how things go.


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.

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

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

Tags: , , , , ,

This morning, while freezing my way down 8th Avenue to Piccolo on 40th to pick up a couple of cappuccinos, I paused outside the to admire its stark modern lobby as delivered the latest storm news from Los Angeles through my phone’s earbuds. In the midst of reports of fallen rocks, traffic accidents and fears of mudslides, KNX said an actor had been seriously injured during last night’s latest preview performance of Spider-Man, on Broadway, three short blocks from my very ass.

This wasn’t the show’s first injury. In fact, the show had already earned “Troubled” as its adjectival first name.

So, after I got back to our hotel room, we brought up the Times’ website on our iPad (the paper’s own application crashes) and read Actor Injured in Fall During ‘Spider-Man’ Performance, by reporters Dave Itzkoff and Hamilton Boardman. Also contributing to the story were —

  • actress Natalie Mendoza, “who plays the spider-goddess Arachne” and “wrote on her Twitter feed: ‘Please pray with me for my friend Chris, my superhero who quietly inspires me everyday with his spirit. A light in my heart went dim tonight.’” The story adds, “She appeared to be referring to her fellow cast member Christopher Tierney, who is an aerialist and ensemble member in the musical. Bellevue Hospital Center confirmed that on Monday night it had received a patient by that name.”
  • Steven Tartick, an audience member. “‘You heard screams,’ Mr. Tartick said. ‘You heard a woman screaming and sobbing.’
  • An unnamed “New York Times reader” who shot a video of the accident, which ran along with the story. (That’s my own screenshot on the right.)
  • Audience members Scott Smith and Matthew Smith
  • Brian Lynch, an audience member who “described the scene at the Foxwoods Theater on his Twitter feed, writing: ‘Stopped short near end. Someone took nasty fall. Screaming. 911 called. No idea what happened, kicked audience out.’ He added: ‘No joke. No explanation. MJ and Spidey took what seemed to be a planned fall into the stage pit. Then we heard MJ screaming.’”
  • Eyewitness Christine Bord, who “described events outside the theater in a blog post on her Web site, onlocationvacations.com, and “In a telephone interview,” said “two ambulances and a fire truck were already waiting outside the theater when most audience members exited. The actor was quickly brought out on a stretcher, wrapped in protective gear and wearing a neck brace. He acknowledged the crowd which clapped for him before an ambulance took him away.”
  • A New York Times reader who supplied a photo “showing a ‘Spider-Man’ actor being transported to an ambulance outside the Foxwoods Theater.”

The story concludes,

The “Spider-Man” musical has faced several setbacks during its preview period, with one of its actresses suffering a concussion and two actors who were injured by a sling-shot technique meant to propel them across the stage. On Friday it was announced that “Spider-Man” was delaying its official opening by four weeks to Feb. 7 so that creative changes could be made to the show.

A press representative for “Spider-Man” said in an email message: “An actor sustained an injury at tonight’s performance of ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.’ He fell several feet from a platform approximately seven minutes before the end of the performance, and the show was stopped. All signs were good as he was taken to the hospital for observation. We will have more news shortly.”

The comments are a snarky icing on the story’s cake, some calling to mind the late and very great Mystery Science Theory 3000:

“Will a vending machine be selling insurance if the audience cares to purchase any?”"There is a reason why this stuff is done with CGI.”

“Didn’t I just read this story?”

“Not so amazing now, are you, Spidey?”

“Dude, this show is getting better all the time! I gotta get me a ticket before it gets shut down.”

“Whoever gave the video to the Times should be commended. That is one brutal fall. If the actor’s neck isn’t broken he’s lucky. We all understand that in today’s world the investments of a group of millionaires in a Broadway show are more important than actors lives but it’s time for the grownups to step in and shut this nonsense down. Look, of course it is sad when someone is injured, but this is the price you have to pay if you want to create great theater. Everyone knows that great theater is about launching people across stages using slingshots. It is what Ibsen did, it is what Shakespeare did, it is what made Sondheim famous. To all the haters posting here, how do you expect to be enlightened at the theater if you can’t see shows that launch actors into the air using slingshots? Mark my words, in one hundred years High School’s will require their students to read Hamlet and to construct slingshots with which to launch each other. That obviously justifies these injuries.”

We live in liminal times, on the blurred boundary between What Was and What Will Be. The formalities of Reporting as Usual, which the Times has epitomized for more than a century, are What Was. What Will Be is Version 2.o of The Press, which will mash up stories (among other news provisioning units) from many sources, which will be credited, linked, and kept current in as close to Real Time as humanly and technically possible.

On Rebooting the News yesterday, @Jay Rosen revisited his excellent distinction between The Press and The Media. Here’s my compression of it: The Press is where we get capital-J Journalism at its best—that is, through goods that truly inform us. The Media is an advertising business.

Nice to see the former keeping up with the Times. And vice versa.

And I do hope that Chris Tierney and the show both recover.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

woman, dog, car

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sez the About page:

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

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

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

Bonus link. Another.

Ten years ago this month, I gave the opening keynote for the International Retail Conference of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Instutut, in Lucerne, Switzerland. The venue was the amazing Culture and Congress Centre, which had opened just two years earlier. Designed by the architect Jean Nouvel and esteemed for its acoustics, it was the most flattering jewell box into which the stone of my rough self has ever been placed as a speaker. My warm up act was a symphony orchestra. While they played I whispered to my wife, “Not one of those musicians has played a wrong note in years. How many seconds will pass before I flub a line?”

Less than ten, it turned out. But somehow that relaxed me, and the rest of the talk went without a hitch, even though many in the audience were wearing headphones, so they could hear me translated to another language, and their reactions (some nodding, some laughing, some shaking their heads) came several seconds after I said whatever it was they were reacting to. It was weird.

I had mostly forgotten the talk, and wasn’t even sure I had put it up online anywhere. But in fact I had, right here.  Since that’s inside a site that’s not indexed by search engines (my choice, so far back that I’ve only recently re-discovered that fact, explaining why nothing there ever shows up), and I don’t plan on fixing it soon (I’ve got other stuff there I really would rather not get indexed), I’ve decided to post the whole thing here in the blog. As one might expect, it was right about some things, wrong about others, set in a context that has long since changed, addressed to an audience that has mostly moved on, and with arcana that may in some cases no longer make sense. Yet I think it still says some worthwhile things that invite probing and discussion. So here goes:

Why Markets Will Once Again Consist of People
(and why this is good news for Retailing)

This speech was given on the Gala Evening/50th Anniversary Celebration of the Gottlieb Dutteiler Institute, in the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern – Konzertsaal, Lucerne, Switzerland.

The subheads were put there mostly to make it easy for me to keep my extemporizing close to the text, and to make live translation a little bit easier.

25 September, 2000

By Doc Searls


Opening

People ask me why The Cluetrain Manifesto has 95 Theses. The reason is that Martin Luther did our market testing for us. It seemed to work for him, so we figured it would work for us.

But lately I’ve been wondering why he chose 95. I think the answer is that he was really a retailer at heart.

I figure he had 100 theses, but then decided more people would buy it if he knocked off 5 theses and offered 95 as a discount. It was kind of a sale price. Worked pretty well.

The priest

Speaking of priests, I have a friend, an Irish priest who for many years did missionary work in East Africa. After he read The Cluetrain Manifesto, he called me up and said “I love your book. Especially that first thesis: markets are conversations. It’s brilliant.”

I was the original author of that thesis, so this was fun to hear. But the brilliance he praised was his, not mine.

Village market story

This became clear when he told me the story of a visiting friend he once took to a traditional African village market. His friend wanted to buy a rug displayed in one of the merchant’s stalls. With the priest serving as an interpreter, the customer asked for the price. When merchant responded, the customer said, “That’s too much,” and began to walk away.

The priest then explained to his friend that he had insulted the merchant. So they turned around and went back. The customer then indicated that he wanted to go ahead and buy the rug for the stated price. Now the merchant became upset.

The priest now told to his friend that he had insulted the merchant twice – first by refusing to discuss the value of the rug, and second by offering to pay full price. The customer was completely confused. Clearly he didn’t know how to buy a rug in this town.

Then the priest said to his friend, “What do you think the rug is worth?” The friend responded with a number, and a conversation between the three parties followed.

After a while the customer arrived at both an education about the rug and a price everybody agreed was fair.

The point: markets really are conversations

Now this, the priest told me, is an example of how markets really are conversations. In traditional markets like this one, the only way for a seller and a buyer to discover the true value of the seller’s goods is together – by talking about them and coming to an agreement.

In other words, all value is discovered inside a conversation.

This is why the idea of a fixed price set by a merchant is as silly as talking to oneself. It makes no sense. In traditional markets like this one, conversation starts with the merchant’s asking price. It doesn’t end there.

Tech exec conversation

A few days later I shared this story with a group of government technology executives. After my talk, one guy came up to me and offered another insight. He said that here in the industrial world we do negotiate prices, but only for the most expensive goods and services, such as automobiles, houses and large service contracts.

Then he added another observation. We can only negotiate when there’s a balance of power between supply and demand – when neither side has enough advantage to name the price and end the conversation.

We don’t have that situation in mass markets, including the retail world that is familiar to all of us. In that environment, the supply side has been in control for a very long time.

Learning more about prices

So I began to wonder: when did the idea of fixed prices, set by the supply side, take root and became standard?

Sure enough, in another conversation, I learned that the price tag was invented in the late 1800s in Philadelphia. The inventor was John Wanamaker, the man who opened the first department store in the U.S.

History of retailing

This increased my interest in the history of retailing. Since then I have learned that department stores were pioneers in the use of all kinds of technologies, including –

  • telegraph
  • electric lights
  • telephones
  • radio

Retailing was also the first industry to provide employee benefits, such as health care and paid vacation time.

It was also the first industry to take orders by telephone and to offer customer refunds.

In fact, the whole concept of “customer service” comes from the retailing industry.

Adding value to the conversation idea

You see, what’s happening here – for me, and for all these people I talked to – is that we all added meaning to this one idea – that markets are conversations.

What is it about this idea that attracts so much interest? Why does it make people think about the deeper ways that markets really work?

Finding the answers is a discovery process – something that we do together, as I’ve just shown.

I want to continue that process here, tonight.

The four clues

To start, I will share four insights – let’s call them clues – that have come out of conversations we’ve had since The Cluetrain Manifesto came out in January. I choose these because I think each is especially relevant to retailing.

The first clue is that metaphors matter. If conversation is the best metaphor for markets, what’s wrong with the other ones, and why?

The second clue is that the companies we least expected to get our clues are the ones that seem to be doing the most with them. This is a very relevant surprise.

The third clue is that the Internet, like a real market, is a place, not just a medium.

The fourth clue is that there really is not a new economy. Instead there is a new dynamic in the investment economy, where a river of money flowing from venture capitalists into new companies. This is extremely distracting, and I’ll tell you why.

Finally I will talk about how all four of these clues bring us to the subject of this speech: that markets consist of people – and why this is good news for retailing.

Language warning

A brief warning. I am going to be talking about language here. Unfortunately, I am fluent only in English.

  • Ich habe drei Jahren auf Deutch im Shule lehrt, aber… I took two of them twice – and I gave them all back when I was done.
  • I have worked in France, but not long enough to learn any more French than it takes to apologize for mangling that beautiful language. Pardon moi pour vous derenger. Je nes comprend pas le Francais.
  • I also know a tiny bit of Spanish – though far less than my own three-year-old son.

So forgive my lack of multilingual skills.

I trust that what I tell you will still be relevant, not because technology is forcing far too much English into better languages, but because all expression arises from unconscious sources. And those sources are what I’m here to talk about.

Clue #1

My first clue is that metaphors matter.

In English we have an expression: “in terms of.” In fact, we are always speaking in terms of one metaphor or another. Metaphors supply the words we use when we talk about a subject. When we speak in terms of a metaphor, we bring in a box of words from that metaphor, and speak in terms we find in that box.

To demonstrate what I mean, I’ll start by asking a question about life. When we talk about life, what metaphor do we talk in terms of? In other words, what box of words do we use when we talk about life? Again, the answer is not obvious, because it’s almost totally unconscious.

In a word, the answer is travel. When we think and speak about life, we are inside a big box of travel words.

Birth is arrival. Death is departure. Choices are crossroads. Goals are horizons. Careers are paths. Ambitious people move ahead, or move into the fast lane. Lazy people fall behind. Confused people get lost in the woods. Drunkards fall off the wagon. Saintly people follow the straight and narrow path. Sinners stray.

The travel metaphor – this concept that life is a journey –is so deep, so common, so unconscious and so powerful that we almost never think about it. Yet it is nearly impossible to speak about life without using our handy box of travel words.

One more example. Let’s look at the main metaphor for time, which is money. We budget, spend, waste, lose, gain and invest time. We literally think of time in terms of money.

Metaphors for business

Now: let’s look at business. What’s our favorite metaphor for business? What do we think about business in terms of?

There’s war, of course. And sports. We speak of other companies in our business as competitors. We battle them for territory that we try to penetrate, defend, capture, dominate or control. But war and sports are obvious metaphors – we are conscious of them. What’s the biggest unconscious metaphor for business?

In a word, shipping. We often think and speak about business in shipping terms. We call our goods content that we package and move through a distribution system that we also call a channel.

We often talk about delivering products and services that we address to consumers or end users. Both those consumers and end users are positioned at the far ends of the shipping system we call business.

Marketing also uses shipping language when it talks about addressing, sending and delivering messages through media which are also conceived and described in transport terms.

How long have we been talking about business in shipping terms?

The age of industry

The answer is about 200 years – ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

Starting about two hundred years ago, when we began to build the great textile, mining, manufacturing and transportation industries, we also built an enormous distance between production on one hand and consumption on the other.

We spanned this distance with “value chains,” most of which fanned out from a small number of producers to a large number of consumers. And we began to use that label – consumers – for the first time.

Every business had a place somewhere along one of these chains, where it would “add value” to goods the way parts are added to a car on an assembly line.

This distance between production and consumption – and the power enjoyed by producers over consumers – made it easy to think of markets not as places full of real human beings, but as distant abstractions.

Abstractions for markets

Today, two hundred years after the Industrial Revolution, we use the term “market” to mean five completely different kinds of things, none of which derive from what markets were in the first place. Lets go over the list –

1) Markets are product categories. We speak of automobiles, cosmetics and home electronics as “markets.”

2) Markets are geographical areas such as Stuttgart, Philadelphia and China. It’s amazing to me that in the U.S. we can talk about “penetrating” the Chinese “market.” As if we were throwing spears at a map, rather than selling goods to a quarter of the world’s population.

3) Markets are demographic populations. Men, 25-44. Middle-class women. Volvo drivers. Wine conoisseurs. We call each of these “markets” too.

4) Market is a synonym for demand. This is what we mean when we say there is a “market” for Italian wines, parabolic skis, or impolite books like The Cluetrain Manifesto.

5) Market is also a verb we use to label the pushing of goods from supply to demand. This verb “market” is the root word for the noun marketing. Not surprisingly, marketing is concerned almost entirely with the first four abstractions I just talked about

Ancient markets

Now let’s go back and look at the original meaning of markets.

The first markets were places in the middle of town. People gathered in the marketplace to make culture and do business. These places were the hearts of their cultures. Civilization began in the marketplace. Philosophy, mathematics and democracy are all Greek words born in the agora – the Greek marketplace.

In markets like the agora, all the economic relationships we know so well – supply and demand, production and consumption, vendor and customer – were a handshake apart. In these market places, people who sold goods usually also made them.

Names

In fact, people were often named after what they made, or sold. Many of our surnames are fossil remnants of the roles our ancestors played in their marketplaces. Names like Smith, Hunter, Shoemaker, Farmer, Weaver, Tanner, Butcher…. Lehrer, Jäger, Weber, Schuhmacher, Drucker, Händler… Fermier, Marchand.

The noun “market” – which differs little in German, French, Italian and Spanish – derives from the Latin word mercere, which means to buy. In the Roman marketplace, there were no “consumers,” only customers, who came there to shop. Even today in America we call malls “shopping centers.” Not “selling centers.”

Restoring the handshake

In The Cluetrain Manifesto we said the Industrial Age was a long interruption in our understanding of markets as places where people gather to sell their goods, to shop, to talk, and to enjoy public culture.

The Internet ends that interruption by putting everybody within one handshake of everybody else. First sources and final customers are now one mouse click apart.

The Internet restores an even balance of power between supply and demand.

Consumers are customers again. They are people with names, faces, tastes and rich personal histories.

Retailers have known this since Day One, but many companies farther back in the old value chains are beginning to witness this for the first time.

Smart markets

What they witness is markets – conversations – that are becoming smarter and more powerful by informing themselves. And those markets consist of everybody who wants to contribute to the conversation..

Clue #2

This brings me to our second clue. What kinds of companies want to talk about the issues Cluetrain brought up?

Would it be the dot-com start-ups, which were supposed to be changing the world, and putting these big old industrial companies out of business?

No, it was the big old industrial companies. Those were the ones looking hardest for clues. Companies with names like Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Omnicom, Johnson & Johnson, Citicorp, Conoco, Rohm & Haas, Prudential, IBM and Migros.

The Coke example

Recently I’ve been talking with an executive with Coca-Cola who has the unlikely title of Chief Innovation Officer. In fact, the two of us were recently scheduled to serve on a panel where he would explain how Cluetrain is transforming his company.

Before this event was scheduled, I didn’t know Coca-Cola was subject to any kind of outside influence. They seemed to be more a force of nature than a company in the usual sense. The formula for Coke seemed to be on the periodic table of elements.

Why could the #1 brand in the entire world find guidance in a book that attacks the whole concept of branding?

I found that the answer is simple: Coca-Cola knows it can’t tell customers what they want any more.

However, Coca-Cola also knows it has a long-standing relationship with its customers – because it has led the conversation about soft drinks for more than one hundred years. That’s an advantage.

Procter & Gamble

Not long after the Cluetrain book came out, one of my co-authors, David Weinberger, got a call from Procter & Gamble. They wanted him to talk about Cluetrain with them at their headquarters in Cincinnati.

We were amazed. Procter & Gamble was the company that invented branding – a concept it borrowed from the cattle industry more than seventy years ago.

It quickly became clear that P&G was at least starting to get the clues. They knew branding wasn’t what it used to be. They knew this was no longer a world where one company could put one kind of soap in seven different boxes and sing about the difference.

Today, just four months later, P&G has a new CEO and – at least in some cases – an approach to rolling out new products that starts with the Internet.

We see this with a new hair styling product called Physique. In the past, Procter & Gamble might have spent 90% of its new product promotion budget on television advertising. For Physique they’re spending 30% on TV and the rest on the Web. The Web site says “Welcome to the Physique Stylezone: select your country. Underneath that it says, in French, choisessez votre pays. It’s an international campaign.

In the United States alone, more than half a million people (nearly all women) have signed up – on the Web – for free samples and membership in the Physique Club.

The campaign was developed by Saatchi & Saatchi, a global advertising agency headed by Kevin Roberts – a gentleman from New Zealand. Recently Mr. Roberts bragged about Physique’s results. He said, “The average time people spend on the Web site is 11 minutes… We’ve got the consumers. We’re talking to them, they’re talking to us.”

The retailing advantage

So here we have two of the top marketing companies in the world – Coke and Procter & Gamble – that are not only discovering that markets how conversations, but putting that idea to use, perhaps for the first time.

This is easier said than done. Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, has a Net-based internal campaign called “destroy your business.” It isn’t much of an exaggeration. These are fundamental changes.

But some businesses will have less to destroy than others, because they already know what it means to be in conversation with their customers.

This is why I believe that the industry with the biggest conversational advantage is retailing. For retailers, customers are real. There is a limit to how much a retailer can treat a customer as an abstraction. For a retailer, a customer is more than a consumer, a seat, an eyeball, or an end user. Customers are real people.

As retailers, we know customers by name. They shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, trust us with their credit cards and return to shop again because they know who we are too. In fact, they probably know us better than we know them.

This is no small matter. This is a huge advantage. But what is the relevance of the Internet to that advantage.

This brings me to my third clue

Clue #3

The Internet, like a market, is a place, not just a medium. We go to it, not just through it.

When the Internet came along, it was easy to see it as yet another mass medium – as a vehicle (there’s another shipping term) for delivering messages to consumers.

Mulitple metaphpors

Like a newspaper, the Web has pages that we write or author or publish.

Like telephone directories, which are also publications, it gives us ways to look up stores, services, and each other.

Like radio and television we can “deliver content” in the form of audio and video files and streams.

Sometimes we also use theatrical metaphors at the same time. That’s what Web page designers do when they talk about delivering an experience to an audience.

Places

Now let’s look at this the other way around. To us – to people sitting at their computers – the Internet is more like the telephone than any other medium.

Like the telephone, the Internet is profoundly personal. When we are on the phone, we are in a personal, private space, which is why telephones are a lousy medium for commercial messages.

The messages we want on the Net aren’t the ones that “deliver an experience.” They are the ones that come by email, from people we know.

In other words, what matters most is what we hear from each other. What matters most is conversation.

Even our Web pages have a private, personal quality about them. That’s why we call our main pages “home.”

Home is a place.

By that same metaphor, we also speak about that place as a site that we put up on the Net and call a location. We also call that location an address.

The virtues

Now: who built this place? It’s interesting that the Net was not built by or for business. It was built by computer programmers, who did it not just for themselves, but for all of us. A perfect example is the World Wide Web, which was invented here in Switzerland by Tim Berners-Lee: an Englishman who had little interest in business at all.

What was it that made this place so appealing? What were the core virtues that these programmers built into the Net when they created it. There were three:

  1. Nobody owns it
  2. Everybody can use it
  3. Anybody can improve it

You won’t hear those virtues advertised by any of the big technology suppliers. If it were up to them, the Net would never have happened. All of them would have wanted to own it, to restrict access to it, and to improve it only by themselves.

But it didn’t happen that way. Because nobody owns it, everybody can use it, and anybody can improve it, the Net is much like a commons, a plaza, a town square, for the whole world.

This is our world. We have help from the technology suppliers, but they cannot command the way we build it out.

Back in 1955, Gottlieb Duttweiler said “What is happening is the higher valuation of the man in the street as a power in business life, and more, important, as a human being.

By more than forty years, he anticipated a remarkable development:

The most important market place in the history of civilization is designed to value the man on the street. The individual human being.

The new world

One of the greatest thinkers on the subject of the Internet is my friend Craig Burton, who was responsible for much of the success enjoyed by a networking company called Novell, in the 80s. Craig Burton’s thinking has always been many years ahead of his time.

Recently he described the Internet as a sphere, like a bubble, that constantly expands as more people are added to it.

In fact, he suggests we think of the Net as a bubble comprised entirely of people, all looking inward and all visible to each other across the empty space in the middle.

At the speed of light, the distance between any two points – any two people – is zero. And it’s true: in practical terms, it takes me no longer to send an email to Prague than to a co-worker in the next room. A Web page in Milan usually comes up just as fast in my browser as one from Miami, Singapore, or an office down the street.

Craig Burton says the Internet is the first world we have created entirely on our own, as a species. In fact, he believes that the Net is the biggest social, cultural and scientific transformation since the Renaissance, and that it is just beginning.

In this new world, our most fundamental resource is each other – and the conversations by which together we know more than we can know alone.

Clue #4

The fourth clue is that there is no “new” economy. There is only a well-funded distraction from the real economy, which is the economy of conversation we call the marketplace – an economy that has been with us for thousands of years.

To illustrate the problem, let me tell you one final story.

Not long ago I was at a party in San Francisco. There I talked with a young man who was already a veteran of several start-ups. When I asked him what his new company did, he said “we’re an arms merchant to the portals industry.” I had no idea what he meant.

But he answered every one of my questions with more buzzwords. They were “networking eyeball paradigms,” “portalizing B2B solutions,” “scaling strategic synergies” and so on. Finally I asked a rude question: how are sales?

He said, “They’re great. We just closed our second round of financing.”

Two kinds of markets

Suddenly it became clear to me that every company has two kinds of markets: one for its goods and services and one for itself. In other words, it is in two conversations: one with its community of customers, and the other with its community of investors.

In Silicon Valley, we have confused the second one with the first. We have made a “new” economy out of selling huge promises to investors, rather than goods and services to customers.

The best wisdom on this subject comes from Stewart Brand, who says form follows funding.

One reason nobody owns the Net is that it was originally funded by governments and universities. But this is not a well-funded story.

The best-funded story is the one being told by every company whose category begins with an E or whose name ends in a.com or .co.

Nearly every one of those companies was funded by venture capital.

Now, venture capital is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very good thing. But it is also a very influential and distracting thing, which is why I want to talk about it.

Looking at size

Let’s look at the size of this distraction.

Last year venture capitalists invested around fourteen billion dollars in Silicon Valley alone. This year they are headed toward investing twice that much. The amount of money we’re talking about here is staggering. I have been told that more than half the countries in the world have a smaller gross domestic product.

This money continues to flow like a river. Even when demand for dot-com stocks began to falter early this year, this money river continued to flow through new dot-com start-ups – not only in Silicon Valley, but around the world. Last week Bertelsmann set up a billion-dollar venture capital fund.

Burning money

Where is this money going?

Much of it goes into building staffs, offices and developing technology. But a huge percentage of it goes into marketing, mostly through advertising in every media you can name.

This both attracts and funds enormous amounts of media attention. Magazine displays in the U.S. are being crushed under the weight of fat new business publications. Their very existence testifies to a “new” economy at work. It’s a lot of smoke, suggesting a very big fire.

But what’s burning is money. We don’t have a new economy here. We have a flood of combustible money – a kind of petrol – that is made to be burned.

Dot-com start-ups are very different kinds of businesses from the ones we’ve been building for thousands of years. They don’t have “overhead” or “expenses” in the usual sense. They have “burn rates.” And burn is exactly the term that they use. In this economy – if you can call it that – spending is a good thing. Burning is a good thing.

Perspective

But again, it’s a distracting thing, because most of the time it talks about itself. For a long time, it also disparaged traditional businesses.

So: how can we keep from being distracted by these huge fires and all their smoke?

With some perspective.

The new conversation – about burning money and huge payoffs when these companies go public – is only a few years old.

The old conversation – about vendors and customers selling and buying goods and services – is as old as civilization itself.

In fact, it is civilization.

And we are not in civilization just for the money.

This is what we are learning from companies like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Nortel Networks and. The surprise – and it shouldn’t be one – is that people don’t work at these companies just for the money.

I am amazed at how many people I meet at these companies are not interested in getting rich at dot-com start-ups. Instead they are looking deeply at why they want to work where they do.

I believe we are finding that these companies have souls. They have human purposes that transcend mere economics. These purposes have little to do with short-term opportunities, and nothing to do with cashing out or starting another business.

I believe retailing has more soul than of any other industry. I say this because retailing is deeply involved in culture itself: the culture of the marketplace. Retailing was here for thousands of years before the industrial age. And it will be here for thousands of years afterwards.

Retailers are not just here to sell. They are here to serve.

Gottlieb Duttweiler said, “The constant will to serve has something irresistible about it – conveying mysterious powers over one’s fellow human beings and making interrelationships visible which would otherwise remain hidden.”

He would have loved the Internet.

Conclusion

Clearly, he loved people. Because he also said, “Whoever forgets that people are the dominating factor in business and politics and thinks only in old-style dollars and francs has got his calculation wrong.”

Herr Duttweiler had it right. Retailing is about people. Markets are about people. The Internet is about people.

For Herr Duttweiler, it took extraordinary insight and courage to state this principle so simply when there was no Internet, deep in that long interruption we call the Industrial Age.

What he said was no less true then than it is today. But today a new age has begun: one that belongs to Herr Duttweiler’s dominating factor: people. Now customers and retailers together can finally agree that this is our world, these are our markets, and we are going to make them together – for ourselves, and for each other.

What can we do to improve this new world that nobody owns, everybody can use, and anybody can improve?’

I look forward to hearing the answer – from you.

Thank you very much.

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.

This graphicapple revenue progress, of Apple’s revenues per quarter, broken down by products, tells several stories at once. One is that the iPhone remains huge. (I was amazed by how many I saw in the UK and France.) Another is that the iPod may be getting a bit stale. But the big one is the sudden size of the iPad business.

We have one, a 3G model that arrived when we were in Paris in June. It was nice-to-have but something short of its full promise until a friend in Paris got us a 2Gb SIM so the unit became useful outside of our apartment’s wi-fi zone. (Orange, Apple’s carrier partner in France, requires of Americans a French bank account — just one of many vexing problems with 3G outside anybody’s home country. It’s a freaking mess.) With that SIM, the difference became absolute. Now we could look at maps, shop, and read about topics of immediate local interest, live and on the spot, anywhere. (Even in the subways.) The iPad is much faster than the iPhone and much more convenient than a laptop or a netbook. Form-factor wise, it’s a whole new category.

The question is, can anybody else top it, or even compete with it? Certainly somebody should. Here’s what I’d recommend.

First, a second unit with a smaller form-factor: about half or two thirds the size of the iPad. There’s a need for something that’s bigger than a phone but smaller than the current iPad, which is a bit too large for most purses.

Second, freedom from anybody’s silo. Apple has done it’s vertical thing here. Now it’s time for the horizontal one. In product categories, the horizons are always wider than the skies are high.

Third, featuring the 3G or 4G model, rather than regarding it as a premium exception. This also means working energetically to expose and break down the national boundaries to mobile carrier data plans. We desperately need the phone system to become a data system that also does telephony, rather than the reverse. (More about those in another post.)

Fourth, better speaker(s). The iPad actually sounds quite good, for a speaker that talks out of the same flat hole that’s plugged by the power connector (just like the iPhone).

Fifth, two microphones, for binaural recording. This is hugely under-rated as a feature, and generally ignored by portable gear makers. With binaural recording, you get a you-are-there sound field when listening to the recording with headphones. Related idea: two cameras, for shooting in 3D. The latter would also be a cool peripheral.

Sixth, make the ‘pad a production and not just a consumption device. Shooting and/or editing video, and uploading it to a server on the spot, would be a way cool use for the thing.

Of course, consumer electronics makers are notorious copy-cats. But what they need to do is zig here where Apple zags. There’s infinite room.

From June 13 to July 21, I lived in France. This was the longest I had been out of the country, ever. And, while I loved just about everything about being there, what I’m liking best at the moment is what I failed to take back with me: about ten pounds of fat.

I still wiegh too much. My Withings scale, which produced the graph above, says I’m still carrying around about fifty pounds of fat, with a body mass index of 28.3.

I weighed about 140 when I got out of high school, and about 150 when I got out of college. I gained slowly after that. Except for a couple of diets (McDougal and Atkins), each of which knocked off about 25 pounds, my weight went steadily up. So, on the advice of tweets from @bobmetcalfe, I got the Withings, and started just paying attention. I began on March 26 at 196.2 pounds. I didn’t do much to change my eating habits, though, and I pretty much stayed even. Then, before heading to France, I started purposely eating a bit less. Going without. That’s where you see the decline to 192.1 before we left.

What was different about France? Here ya go:

  1. No breakfast. Usually one of us went to the corner bakery for a baguette, and I’d have a hunk of that, and not always with butter.
  2. Not much lunch either. We’d eat one sometimes, but we were usually too busy.
  3. Great dinners, late at night, by U.S. standards. Peak dinner time in France is 9pm. For the most part we were on what we called “Icelandic Time.” We’d dine late, catch up with the East and West Coasts on our computers after we got back, turn in about 1-2am, and sleep late. The dinners, of course, were full of fat and carbs, but on the whole were just good food. And without the default American obligation to engorge one’s self.
  4. Experimentation. The best tasting anything I had there was rongnon* d’agneau: lamb testicles. My wife talked me into them, at a restaurant that specialized in offal.
  5. Wine. My body doesn’t like alcohol much, though I do enjoy drinking it. But in France I had wine with most of my meals. Not sure what difference that made, but it was a difference in behavior.
  6. No crap food. We ate no chips, no soft drinks (except for the occasional Orangina), no dips. No burgers from McDonalds. No milk shakes. Not much that’s “processed,” as they say, far as I know.
  7. Lots of cheese. France is fromage as much as it is vin.
  8. Walking. Even though we took public transportation to most of the places we went, we also walked a lot — probably several miles per day.
  9. Sweating. Air conditioning isn’t valued or practiced much, at least in the older parts of Paris. And certainly not in the Metro or the RER, the two main underground trains there. Our apartment there also didn’t have it, though it stayed relatively cool with its thick stone walls (the structure dates from the 1600s) and shade. And it was quite hot most of the time I was there.

After we got back, we went shopping. On the list went lots of fruit and off of it went breakfast sausage and other former staples, mostly of the crap food variety. My appetite for them is gone, at least for now. Meanwhile, I like getting into pants I outgrew last year. Next steps: getting into the pants from two years ago, then five years ago…

* This is how I remember it, though I’m told that rognons are kidneys. Maybe somebody can correct me. I know the menu did not say testicules, which is the literal translation. By whatever name, they were lamb nuts.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

paris in the rain I don’t think I’ve ever loved Paris in the rain more than I do right now. It’s 6:40am, and I’ve been up since 5am, when I got tired of failing to sleep on sweat-soaked sheets. Last night was one more to endure in the heat wave that has been with us for nearly the whole month we’ve been here.

There’s no AC in our little apartment, as there isn’t in the Paris Metro, the RER (the other main underground train), most apartments, and most restaurants. One of our favorite restaurants has only been making salads and other cold food arrangements, because the heat in the kitchen is unbearable for the staff.

But about 20 minutes ago a thunderstorm rolled through. Bright blue flashes blink down the two shafts that comprise our view (one is a small courtyard behind a library, the other is floored by the back work areas of two restaurants), thunder rolls, and rain plinks on surfaces above and below.

The wind is cool and a huge relief. I’m keeping the windows open (they’re the size of doors and swing open the same way), and covering the sills with towels. Hope it stays cool after the storm blows over. That will make working on a hot laptop a little easier.

I’ve been wondering why AC is so rare here, and I think the attitude is about the same as the one that non-tropical Southern U.S. cities have toward snow-removal equipment. The irony is that it does get hot in Paris, and it does snow in Greensboro and Richmond.

Anyway, the storm is fading now, and I’m going to try sleeping again.

Tags: ,

Flying wide

I’m at CDG in Paris, about to depart for LHR in London, and the AirFrance plane I’ll be flying in is one of the new Airbus A380s. The plane was over-sold, so there are no windows — a low-percentage shot anyway with a plane that flies 550 or so people at a time. Got a middle in row 91 (of 94), on the upper deck.

The person at the ticket counter said they like to fly these short-hauls so the pilots “get practice.”

Well, we know they work in theory, no?

[Later...] Got in fine. The plane leaves late, but arrives on time. It’s like flying in a building. Although I missed my customary window seat, I did get to enjoy three different views, from three cameras: one underneath, one on the nose, and one looking forward from the tail. (That one produced the picture above, on approach to London.) Also had a fun conversation with a gentleman from the Isle of Man — a place about which I learned a good deal in a short time, with the help of interactive maps on the seat-back display in front of me.

Since then I’ve been on three trains, finally arriving in Suffolk for meetings that will run the next four days.

Top speed, 3km/h

A canal in Lorraine

That headline is the posted speed limit where we are at the moment: relaxing on a canal in rural France. I bought two hours of slow Internet over wi-fi at a marina, and that will be about it for connectivity until next time, if there is one, on this trip, which we are enjoying totally.

Hitting the road, or actually the canal. Or a canal, somewhere east of Paris, in France. For a week.

The plan was to have some kind of data connectivity either through our new Android Nexus One or our new iPad 3G. Alas, five days of trying have failed to get the Android to work as more than a generic phone. (In spite of very competent and generous help from at least one techie better than moi.) My sub-minimal French is sure to blame, but the perversities of Orange (our mobile telephony provider here), and of mobile phone “plans” in general deserve some blame as well. Hell, maybe the Android too, but I doubt it. It seems quite fine.

Meanwhile the new iPad is in the purgatory of a customs warehouse. It has cleared, but there is no good estimate about when it will be delivered, and we have been advised not to push it. We won’t be here in Paris anyway, so I won’t worry about it until I find it still hasn’t come by next weekend.

So, what the hell. I’ll just use the whole thing as an excuse for a long-overdue data diet.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with David Siegel’s Open Letter to Steve Ballmer. Should be a good conversation-starter.

Typo du jour:

I think what I ordered was the souris d’agneau à l’estragon (lamb testicles with estrogen).

When I got my first French consulting client in 1994, I found an indispensable guide in the book French or Foe, by Polly Platt. So I made sure we had hauled it east from my office bookshelf in Santa Barbara, and took it with us to Paris, where I began reading it again today, the first full day of our Summer here.

The book was fresh when I got it, and is now sixteen years old. Many of the companies mentioned are long gone, and the Internet was still off in the future when she wrote it. (She instead gives praise to Minitel, a brilliant and doomed creation of French telephony.) But still, the book is brilliant and — for Americans new to France — useful to a degree that verges on the absolute.

So I wondered if she was still around, and looked her up on the Web. Alas, she died on 26 December 2008, in Vienna. But I also discovered that in 2000 she published a companion to French or Foe titled Savoir-Flair: 211 Tips for Enjoying France and the French. I’ll pick that one up tomorrow, if I can find it.

Tags: , , , ,

Tomorrow we fly to Paris, where I’ll be based for the next five weeks. To help myself prep, here are a few of my notes from conversations with friends and my own inadequate research…

Mobile phone SIM recommendations are especially welcome. We plan to cripple our U.S. iPhones for the obvious reasons AT&T details here. Our other phones include…

  • Android Nexus One (right out of the box)
  • Nokia E72 (it’s a Symbian phone)
  • Nokia N900 (a computing device that does have a SIM slot and can be used as a phone)
  • Nokia 6820b (an old Nokia candybar-shaped GSM phone that hasn’t been used in years, but works)

Ideally we would like to go to a mobile phone store that can help us equip some combination of these things, for the time we’re there. The iPad too, once it arrives. It will be a 3G model.

Au revoir…

[Later...] We’re here, still jet-lagged and settling in. Here are some other items we could use some advice on:

  • “Free” wi-fi. This is confusing. There seem to be lots of open wi-fi access points in Paris, but all require logins and passwords. Our French is still weak at best, so that’s a bit of a problem too. One of the services is called Free, which also happens to be the company that provides TV/Internet/Phone service in the apartment. Should this also give us leverage with the Free wi-fi out there? Not sure. (Internet speed is 16.7Mbps down and .78Mbps up. It’s good enough, but not encouraging for posting photos. I’m also worried about data usage caps. Guidance on that is welcome too.)
  • Our 200-watt heavy-duty 220/110 step-down power transformer crapped out within two hours after being plugged in. We want to get a new one that won’t fail. The dead one is a Tacima.

Again, thanks for all your help.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: , , ,

Dissing Vulcan

Phoebe Kilgour, a Dickinson College junior, said the trip taught her about how a country prepares for a natural phenomenon. “I learned that something that seemed insignificant at the time, like a volcano erupting, can have a huge impact on local travel,” she said, “especially when you’re stuck on an island.”

That’s the last paragraph of a PennLive.com article titled Dickinson College students leave Iceland after being delayed by volcanic eruption.

Hat tip to @dankennedy_nu.

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

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

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

Important stuff, and highly recommended.

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

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

Tags: , ,

weathermap

The mudslides we feared in Southern California didn’t materialize when I posted about the topic on January 21st. Now they are feared again, as a new wave of winter rainstorms passes through. Some slides have already happened. More will. Count on it. (And if you’re at serious risk, really please do GTFO.)

Meanwhile, back here in Boston, a winter snowstorm is headed our way, after treating D.C., Maryland and the surrounding regions to another heavy layer of snow, atop the deepest in memory, which hasn’t had a chance to melt. (One relative there went for many hours without power, looking out on a scene where his car appeared only as a low hill in snow through which only trees and houses protruded.)  We’ve mostly been spared this winter, as have the ski areas to the north. Those will probably be spared again, since this storm is expected to do its heaviest dumping south of here. Bummer, that.

On Friday we fly back to Santa Barbara for The Kid’s winter school break. There are mudslide risks there too, though not as severe as in Los Angeles. (Our hills are mostly rock. L.A.’s are mostly dirt. Think of L.A.’s hills as sponges — because that’s what they are. Place a dry sponge on a steep incline, drip water on it, and see what happens when it fills.)

Maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll miss the rain there, and get treated to some of those sunsets we’ve been missing. Hope so.

[Later...] I just got a call from my wife, awakened at 3:3oam in California by a call from the school here. A snow day has been declared. Doesn’t look like it yet, though. There are details in the clouds, like scales on a mackerel. But, as we can see from the radar, it’s coming.

[Later still...] It’s now 2:30 in the afternoon, not long before school gets out, and there has been approximately no snow at all. Just a mix of light flakes and drizzle. Good, I guess.

Tags: , , , , ,

Hospitality story

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

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

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

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

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

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

Passive Assistance

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

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

Tags: , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

rotenboden_sleds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

newyear_zermatt_fireworks

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

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

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

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

Tags: , , , , ,

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: , , , , , , , , , , ,

matterhorn-gornergrat_pano

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

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

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

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

So I just followed this tweet by Chris Messina to Mike Arrington‘s The End of Hand Crafted Content. The tweet-bite: “The rise of fast food content is upon us, and it’s going to get ugly.” Meaning that FFC “will surely, over time, destroy the mom and pop operations that hand craft their content today. It’s the rise of cheap, disposable content on a mass scale, force fed to us by the portals and search engines.”

Just as an aside, I’ve been hand-crafting (actually just typing) my “content” for about twenty years now, and I haven’t been destroyed by a damn thing. I kinda don’t think FFC is going to shut down serious writers (no matter where and how they write) any more than McDonald’s killed the market for serious chefs.

Mike explains, “On one end you have AOL and their Toyota Strategy of building thousand of niche content sites via the work of cast-offs from old media. That leads to a whole lot of really, really crappy content being highlighted right on the massive AOL home page… On the other end you have Demand Media and companies like it. See Wired’s ‘Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model‘… They push SEO juice to this content, which is made as quickly and cheaply as possible, and pray for traffic. It works like a charm, apparently.” By “works” I suppose Mike means that they make money.

His penultimate point:

My advice to readers is just this — get ready for it, because you’ll be reading McDonalds five times a day in the near future. My advice to content creators is more subtle. Figure out an even more disruptive way to win, or die. Or just give up on making money doing what you do. If you write for passion, not dollars, you’ll still have fun. Even if everything you write is immediately ripped off without attribution, and the search engines don’t give you the attention they used to. You may have to continue your hobby in the evening and get a real job, of course.

Good advice. In my own case, I sometimes make money writing, but usually I don’t. I do get paid well for my counsel (and my speaking), mostly because of what I’ve been writing in places like this. SEO for me is linking and crediting generously. That works like a charm, too. And I have fun doing what I trust is good work in the world. That has SEO qualities as well. (None of it is a hobby, though. At least I don’t think of it that way. And if I don’t, it isn’t.)

Mike concludes, “Forget fair and unfair, right and wrong. This is simply happening. The disruptors are getting disrupted, and everyone has to adapt to it or face the consequences. Hand crafted content is dead. Long live fast food content, it’s here to stay.”

Well, no. Nothing with real real value is dead, so long as it can be found on the Web and there are links to it. Humans are the ones with hands. Not intermediaries. Not AOL, or TechCrunch, or HuffPo, or Google or the New York Freaking Times. The Net is the means to our ends, not The Media, whether they be new disruptors or old disruptees. The Net and the Web liberate individuals. They welcome intermediators, but they do not require them. Even in cases were we start with intermediation — and get to use really good ones — what matters most is what each of us as individuals bring to the Net’s table. Not the freight system that helps us bring it there, no matter how established or disruptive that system is.

The title of this post plays off the 1971 poem/song “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, by Gil Scott-Heron. The passage that stands out for me is this one:

The revolution will not be right back after a message
about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.
You will not have to worry about a dove in your
bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.
The revolution will not go better with Coke.
The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.
The revolution will put you in the driver’s seat.

The lyrics were not addressed to me, a white guy from the suburbs, but they spoke to me all the same. Especially that last line.

We still seem to think that progress on the Net is the work of “brands” creating and disrupting and doing other cool stuff. Those may help, but what matters most is what each of us does better than anybody or anything else. The term “content” insults the nature of that work. And of its sources.

The revolution that matters — the one that will not be intermediated — is the one that puts each of us in the driver’s seat, rather than in the back of the bus. Or on a bus at all.

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

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

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Catching up

I’m back in Boston after a great few days in Utah at the Kynetx Impact conference, where VRM and related stuff was brought up and discussed at length. It was an inaugural effort by Kynetx, which has what I think is a novel and profound take on the future of the Web.

The only bad thing that happened on the trip was a crash on my laptop that trashed my email and some other files. One result is that much of the email sent to my Berkman address  cyber.law.harvard.edu) since late Monday was lost. (Glad I back up almost constantly here at home. I do offsite as well, but lacked the connectivity speed during the trip to fix the problem.)

So if you sent me any email that mattered during that time, please send it again. Thanks.

[Note: Jump to the bottom first, to see how this went... and may keep going.]

So I called SuperShuttle to book a ride to the airport in Denver. The first thing the robot voice said was that I could also book this on the Web. So I thought, cool, I’ll do that. It’ll probably go faster, and I can copy the confirmation information directly onto my calendar.

No luck there. I had to register, and the registration never went through. I’d fill out the form, click to make it go, and my browser window would say, “https://www.supershuttle.com/Membership.aspx?content=AccountSettings”, completed 29 of 31 items… and then raise the __ of __ items gradually over time until it said no more and I wasn’t registered. It just sat there with a completed form that had no use. It also annoyed me that I had to opt out of their promotional email newsletter.

So I called their 800 number again. The following isn’t far from verbatim. I’ve done my best to preserve the surreality of it.

Hello SuperShuttle.
I’d like a ride to the airport.
What would you like?
I’d like a ride to the airport here in Denver. I’m in the Hyatt Regency downtown.
Which airport are you flying from?
Denver International. DEN.
When does your plane depart?
Eight twelve AM. It’s a United flight.
Where will you be coming from?
The Hyatt Regency.
What is the address?
650 15th Street in Denver.
Which airline will you be flying?
United.
What is your hotel’s address?
650 15th Street. In Denver. Colorado.
When is your flight time?
Eight twelve AM.
What is your airline?
United.
Your pick-up time is 5:30am.
Can you make it 5:00am? I like to be early.
5:00am. Will you be paying by credit card?
Yes.
What kind of card?
Visa.
What is your card number?

I gave her my number. Slowly. She got it wrong. I corrected it. She asked for my expiration date. She said the card was expired. I said no, the expiration date was in 2011. She finally gave up on the card, and went back to completing the rest of the surreal dialogue.

What is your name?
David Searls. S E A R L S.
S E R L E S?
No, S E A R L S. Like PEARLS, only with an S instead of a P.
S E A R L E S?
No, just S E A R L S.
S E A R L … S?
Yes.
Okay. Here is your confirmation number…
Thanks.
Your pick-up time is 5:30.
I thought we said 5:00am.
Your pick-up time is 5:30.
Can we make it earlier?
Your pick up time is 5:15am.
Five-fifteen.
Five-fifteen.
Okay, thank you.
I am sorry, sir, but our equipment isn’t working well. That’s why I’m having trouble.
Sorry to hear that. Thanks for your help.
Thank you. Good bye.
Bye.

There’s gotta be a better way.

[Later...] And there is. I just got a call from SuperShuttle’s Senior VP of Global Marketing, looking to debug what went wrong here. It was a helpful conversation for both of us. Naturally, I suggested he take a look at what we’re doing with ProjectVRM. Once it’s ready for prime time, what VRM developers are doing can help improve what’s happening on the CRM side of markets such as SuperShuttle’s.

Tags: , ,

saltpond

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

Here’s another series.

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

boreray

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

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

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

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

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: , , , , , , ,

I blog by grace of something I hardly expected to find: a free open wi-fi hot spot in London. Way back in (it says 1969, but it was actually) 2002, I had a ball discovering many free wi-fi hot spots in London, got to make many new friends, and enjoy, for a brief shining year or two, the grace of public wi-fi by countless distributed private means.

Somewhere betwen then and now that ended. So now I’m sitting with  newer friends where Blackfriars Bridge crosses the Thames, on Riverside Walk (or is it Southwalk?) in the Spring. Except it’s Autumn.

It’s been beautiful all week here. Guess I brought nice weather with me.

[Later...] Now it’s the next day. I’m at Heathrow, Terminal One, at the Star Alliance lounge, where the wi-fi is “completely down,” they tell me. Fortunately I have a BT OpenZone account, and I can get a signal from BTOZ just inside the door of the lounge, where my bum is parked now.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

bypassbridge

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

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

Tags: , , , , , ,

Fire from above

stationfire_from_above

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

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

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

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

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: , , , , , , , ,

, for which I am a 1K (>100,000 miles per year) flyer, and which I fly so close to exclusively that I’m almost too familiar with their methods, has in the last year added a number of opt-out inconveniences to booking and check-in systems. Here is one for bonus miles that shows up both online and on-screen when going through the “Easy Check-In” process at the airport. Now the passenger has look carefully at the small print before saying no to something he or she doesn’t want.

Worse, one can’t opt out once for this stuff. One has to do it every time.

When I ask people behind the counter how they feel about it, they always say they hate it. It’s one more thing to straighten out with customers who meant to say “no,” but hit “accept” by mistake. Which is, at least partly, the idea.

Here we burn again

The country behind Santa Barbara is burning again. This one is the LaBrea fire, east of Santa Maria. It has grown past 36,000 acres and is 10% contained. This is far north of the fire in Santa Barbara earlier this year. Still, it’s a big one.

Here’s a mashup of MODIS data with Google Earth:

labrea_fire11

The view is toward the east. The LaBrea Fire is on the left, on the north side, and the little dots along the coast on the right are visualizations of MODIS data from the height of the Jesusita Fire earlier this year. In the foreground along the coast is Vandenberg Air Force Base, plus lots of sand dunes, advancing southeastward.

Bonus link.

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

One of the best things about living in (or just following) Santa Barbara is reading Nick Welsh’s Angry Poodle Barbeque column each week in the Independent — one of the best free newsweeklies anywhere. This week’s column, El Corazón del Perro, is a classic. One sample:

For those of us without the heart to pursue our own dream, or even the imagination to have one, Jackson provides cold reassurance. If someone so rich, so famous, and so hugely adored could wind up so agonizingly wretched, maybe the moral of the story is that one’s bliss was never meant to be followed.

This, however, isn’t just another knock on the late Jacko. It’s a column about afterdeath effects in Santa Barbara County, which was home to Jackson through his Neverland years:

This past Tuesday, a coterie of key county executives from law enforcement, public works, fire protection, public health, planning, emergency response, and communications spent the better part of the day shuttling from one emergency meeting to the next, trying to figure out what was real and what to do about it. No less than five employees of the Sheriff’s Department spent their day fielding calls from media outlets around the world. Associated Press dispatched a reporter to stake out the County Administration Building all day. By 7 p.m., Tuesday, no actual communication had taken place between county government and the Jackson camp. Instead, Sheriff’s officials relied upon contacts they have with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for whatever vague rumors and rumblings they could get. Somehow through this opaque and osmotic chain of communication, county officials are hoping to persuade the Jackson clan to call it off, if in fact it was they who started something in the first place.

Some in the Sheriff’s Department expressed confidence that the whole thing has been an exceptionally expensive and elaborate fire drill. Personally, I like the idea that the whole thing is a big fake-out, an angry practical joke on the county that prosecuted Jackson. When Paul McCartney’s former wife, Linda McCartney, died several years ago, I remember how rumors were strategically planted that she died in Santa Barbara County. In fact, she did not. The County Coroner complained he spent so much time fielding media calls that he couldn’t get any work done. Cadavers, he said, were piling up in his coolers like firewood. Ultimately, we would discover the whole thing was an elaborate dodge so that the McCartney clan could grieve unmolested by the paparazzi. But not before Santa Barbarans — ever willing to embrace the rich and famous, even if they never lived here — held a solemn and tearful candlelight vigil at the County Courthouse’s Sunken Gardens.

Some of the worries in the piece are stale now (a Neverland funeral appears unlikely), but it’s still a good read.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

For reasons I don’t have time to trouble-shoot, there is too much latency between my house and Cox, my Internet provider here in Santa Barbara.

On top of that, re-setting my SMTP (outbound email) to smtp.west.cox.net, which has always worked in the past, doesn’t work this time. So mail isn’t going out. I don’t have time to trouble-shoot that either, because I’m already late for the Live Oak Festival, where we already have a tent set up. I’m just back at the house picking up some stuff.

See ya’ll Monday.

Tags: , , , ,

column

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

madison-at-dawn

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

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

Tags: , , , , ,

See ya on the Coast

Heading to the first VRM West Coast Workshop. Runs the next two days in Palo Alto. Should be fun. Free too. If you’re up for putting your shoulder to some of the wheels we’ve got rolling, come on down. Instructions for signing up are there at that link.

Getting into the plane. (Man, the connectivity is slow today at Logan. Grr.)

Tags: , ,

Flying larger

I want to fly in one of these — an Airbus 380. From the looks of the interior shots here, it’s an upscale airport lounge that flies. But that’s not what interests me. What I like are the positions of the lower deck windows, which line up below the equator of the fuselage. For passengers like me, who like to look at the ground below, that provides a better angle.

Many of the shots here and here were made out the windows on either side of the rear galleys of a United B777, next to the space where people wait to use the toilets. These windows are lower than the ones by seats, and taller. That makes them ideal for shooting pictures. They are also why I would rather have a seat in the back of coach than in the “premium” coach seating on that plane, all of which is over the wings. Or even in business or first class. Flying for me is about flying. That requires a view. Not nice food and television at altitude.

On the A380, as on all jumbo jets, the wings are huge. Also, the whole top deck (the plane has two floors) has windows that angle skyward. So the percentage of windows that look down is not large. But I’d love to try it out.

Right now only Emirates is flying the A380 as a commercial plane. (<strike>There are cargo versions already in service.</strike>) So I’ll need to find an excuse to fly to one of that airline’s destinations. On the right plane. Might not be easy. (See comments for corrections.)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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: , , , , , , , ,

jesusita_google_modis8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jesusita_google_modis9

Thanks, nathan. 10:19am

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

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

jesusita_google_modis4

The shot above, a screen capture of a Google Earth view, with a .kml overlay from MODIS, shows the first fire detections (that I’ve seen at least), south of Foothill/Cathedral Oaks and west of 154. It also shows the first detections across the spine of the Santa Ynez Mountains. 3:02am. (All times Pacific.)

These detections do not mean fire spreading. During the Tea Fire, there were many detections that didn’t spread, at some distance from the fire itself. Still, this map gives a good visualization  of the growing fire perimeter. 3:03am

KEYT/3′s 3:00am video report. 3:04am

Far as I know, only KTYD is covering the fire live right now, at 3:10am. All the talk is about evacuations. Nothing about homes burning. KTYD’s four sister stations are also carrying the same audio. Click on “Listen Live” on the website. 3:13am

The latest from the Independent:

The fire is only a few hundred yards from Foothill in the San Roque area, but doesn’t appear to be burning any houses at the moment thanks to the firefighters concerted effort to hold Foothill Road.

Firefighters extinguished a small spot fire at Steven’s Park and trying to save homes at Canyon Acres off Ontare. One structure is already burning there; firefighters requested three to four extra engines to protect approximately 12 houses. 3:28am

Collected Independent coverage. 3:28am Copied from a byline: Ray Ford, Matt Kettmann, Chris Meagher, Ben Preston, Nick Welsh. These guys are doing a great job. Near as I can tell, the Indy is the only news organization with reporters working the fire around the clock. Outstanding work.

Hats off to Edhat as well. There are 328 comments so far to Ed’s latest report. 5:32am

From among the Edhat comments, this collection of GOES-10 satellite photos. Interesting to see where the smoke goes. 5:35am

John Wiley has lots of photos. 5:41am

I listened to the first three or four speakers in the 8am press conference, and then made the good chap I had an appointment with wait while we both listened to see if anybody would say what listeners most wanted to hear: what homes were lost, and what homes were most in danger. I hate to be critical of people doing heroic and much appreciated work, especially when it is quite true — as these speakers said — that many more homes were saved than lost, and at great risk and effort. I’ll just say it was frustrating not to get specifics about homes. Maybe they came around to it eventually. I don’t know. Eventually I had to turn off the radio (actually an iPhone tuned to KTYD) and get on with my meeting.

On the positive side, dig what Matt Kettmann (Contact), Sam Kornell , Ben Preston (Contact), Ethan Stewart (Contact) of the Independent wrote in Assessing What’s Burned: Damage Report, Updated Friday:

Although the task can be difficult in a wildfire zone — especially one with as many twists, turns, and long driveways as the foothills of Santa Barbara — The Independent’s reporters are trying their hardest to deliver what everyone who’s evacuated wants to know: the addresses of homes that have not survived the Jesusita Fire.

And deliver they do. First, the disclaimer:

We are fully aware that mistakes in this sort of reporting could be horrible for homeowners who get the wrong information, so we’ve strived for the utmost accuracy. Furthermore, based on responses we’ve already received during this fire and others, we believe that this public service is one of our most valuable roles as a media entity, and hope you find the information useful.

As of 1:30 p.m. on Friday, the following is what The Indy’s team of reporters has been able to put together.

Then the list, with very careful qualification. Excellent stuff. If the Indy doesn’t get an award for its fire coverage, there is no justice in Officialized Journalism.

Here is a recent Google Earth shot with a MODIS overlay of fire spottings by satellite. Note the difference between this one and the shot at the top from early this morning:

jesusita_google_modis5

The nearest red spot is above San Jose Creek in the canyon above Patterson Ave, near some orchards or vineyards. This is in or below the area burned by the Gap Fire in July of last year. Perhaps more scary is the set of new red squares advancing northwest toward Painted Cave, which is on the left edge of this shot. Here’s a better view:

painted_cave

The last big fire in Santa Barbara — and the biggest ever in terms of home loss — was the Painted Cave Fire of 1990. More than 600 homes were lost. But none in Painted Cave itself. The fire started near there, but advanced straight down toward the sea. Many of the houses you see on this picture between the 101 and 154 symbols on this shot were burned in that fire. 5:09pm

There’s a press conference going on. I’m listening on KNX/1070. Also KCLU/1340/102.3. The KCLU stream (which is what I’m now listening to, here in Boston) is here. 5:14pm.

30,500 are evacuated. (That includes us, by the way. We’re kind of extremely evacuated, staying about 3,000 miles away.) “There will be no re-population tonight.” Shelter is available. Room left at the Multi-Activities Center at UCSB. Find it off Mesa. “A supurb evacuation center.” Special needs folks should go to the Thunderdome on the campus. KCLU is summarizing now. KNX continues to carry the audio of the conference. Surprising since KNX is a Los Angeles news station that covers all of SoCal, and needs to run advertising every few minutes. So they’re eating that income. KCLU is back to its regular NPR program. 5:22pm

Inciweb has a Jesusita Fire incident page now. For earlier fires, Inciweb has been the canonical (if unofficial) source of data. KNX just directed listeners looking for non-Santa Barbara news to KFWB, its sister station in Los Angeles. KNX has a strong signal in Santa Barbara. KFWB has none and is much more local to L.A. itself. 8:27pm

They’ve been using “multiple arial assets” including a DC-10 that can deliver large payloads.5:32

Getting close to posting addresses and other “assessments”. “Confident we’re moving towards” posting those. In the next two days. Close to 2500 personnel. More than 200 fire engines. Massive mutual aid program. 5:33pm

Can somebody ask about Painted Cave? 5:34pm

Pictures from Mercury Press. 5:40pm

Ray Ford has another excellent piece in the Independent. To answer a commenter, below, Cocopah was okay. Ray names names on other streets as well. 7:31pm

Here is a view toward MODIS fire findings. I’ve added Gap and Tea Fire perimeters as well. When this thing is over, we’ll have a charred mountain face, but not a bad fire break. For a short while, anyway. 7:38p

jesusita_google_modis6

Okay, that’s enough pictures for your browser to suffer. I’m heading for bed. It’s 10:39 here and I need to be up early. 7:39pm

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

2009_05_07_jesusita

The above shows the situation, somehat. It’s a MODIS overlay on a Google Earth terrain view looking north from over downtown Santa Barbara. Go to that shot and mouse over for more.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that at least some hot spots have spread into the back country, above the city. But if those fires are still big, and the winds come strong toward town, we’ll be in very high danger.

Tags: ,

With all due respect to the good jobs that most of the legacy media are doing, their coverage could be much, much better if they paid respect to those listening and watching online, which includes their smart phones. What they need are plain hard facts, rather than the vague, boiled-down or sensationalized stuff that was News As Usual for the duration. Here are a few clues that should help:

  1. Make your audio easy to get. If you stream audio, do it in .mp3 and link to the actual IP address or URL of your stream. Don’t force users to open a “player” in a window. Many of us are listening online with other programs or on phones with sofware tuners. I’m listening to KNX right now using WunderRadio on the iPhone. I listen to KCLU on there too. (They’re not yet on the Public Radio Tuner, alas) Also feel free to use lower bandwidths. 24Kbps or 32Kbps deliver good-enough audio and make it to listeners who aren’t on wi-fi or 3G cell signals. The online equivalent of a 50,000-watt “flamethrower” (yes, they called them that) is a low-bandwidth .mp3 stream.
  2. Remember how many people are listening on hand-helds. Over 1.6 million copies of the Public Radio Tuner alone have been downloaded so far. Cell phones are the new radios. (They’ll be the new TVs soon. Count on it.) And they are much easier for listeners to “tune” than websites that hide means for listening. Which brings me to…
  3. Uncomplicate your damn websites. Without exception, legacy media have websites that are far too complicated and jam-packed with visual noise, including promotions of junk that is highly uninteresting to visitors looking for hard facts about their homes and neighborhoods. Look at Craigslist. Its “design” fails to qualify for the noun. Yet it succeeds because it’s it’s in simple HTML that loads instantly. It also confines itself to facts, and is easy to figure out. In other words, it is 100% helpful. Not 90% promotional.
  4. If you read emails on the air, or take phone calls, put your email addresses and phone numbers in places where they can be found on your websites, and say them on the air. KTYD last night kept reading emails from people, but I couldn’t find an email address.
  5. Remember you’re not alone. Your tweet stream is not the only one, or even the main one. Neither is your audio or video stream. The people who matter most — the ones listening, reading and viewing with the most interest — aren’t just paying attention to you. They’re jumping around looking for best sources. They’ll be watching Twitter search expecially closely. They don’t need you to boil down the story, or just to show one thing and say how awful it is. Let them do the boiling, and do your best to get them the ingredients they need.
  6. If you’re running Incident Command or otherwise in charge of Official Communications, set up your own live stream for your press conferences. That’s because police and fire chiefs, plus communications directors, tend to drone on in Officialese and that causes radio stations to drop the feed, summarize and move on. In the most recent of these (the one Saturday morning, May 9), KCLU and KNX both bailed, summarized and went to their usual programming. Only KTYD stayed for the whole thing (and kudos to them). In fact, I’d suggest setting up your own blog and Twitter accounts.
  7. For TV stations with helicopters on the scene, several key points:
  • Carry a map or a GPS and use it. KSBY’s reporter and pilot (and/or cameraman) seemed to have no idea where they were. (Wouldn’t they have a GPS that could tell them?) The streets are not hard to identify. Tell us what the hell streets they are. “This is Lauro Canyon Reservoir. The fire we’re seeing is north of it on Holly.” Not just “Look at this house that’s burning out of control in the foothills.”
  • Don’t just report on the flames. Tell us more about what else is happening. Where are they dropping water and retardant? Where are the power lines down? What escape routes are being used?
  • If you’re running a live feed, remember that everything you’re saying is going out there. I don’t know if we were hearing the pilot or the cameraman, or both. But most of what they talked about was getting interesting shots, not reporting good information for viewers for whom these guys were the only source of information about what’s actually happening on the ground where they live, or where their friends and neighbors live. Several times the guy talked about one large house that appeared to be getting an unusually high level of protection, saying “That must be the mayor’s house.” Well, we know where the mayor lives, and it’s not a fancy house in the hills. The firefighters were defending that house for a good reason: because it was defensible. When they are forced to make choices, they’ll always go for the high percentage shot.

I really hope, if KSBY folks read this, that they don’t react by shutting off the live feed from their helicopter. Even though the talk was about going to the Elephant Bar and other irrelevancies, it was far more real and interesting than anything the reporter said. I’m guessing that the pilot was not an employee of the station. Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t matter. What matters is getting hard about real stuff out there. Not just a few sound and sight bites for news breaks.

On a big plus side, KSBY is set up already (at 7:13am) to carry the official news conference at 9am here. I remember listening to one of the key news conferences after the Tea Fire on KSBY while driving up to San Francisco from Santa Barbara, last November. KSBY is on Channel 6. The audio for Channel 6 is on 87.7 FM. After June 12, no TV stations will remain on lowband VHF, which include Channels 2 to 6. They will all be broadcasting digitally on other (mostly UHF) channels. Even if they’re still branded with their old channel numbers. All the more reason to recognize that we’re all just tributaries of vast digital rivers pouring the Live Web into the Static Web sea.

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: , , , ,

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

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

Tags: , , , , , ,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gag me with a shovel.

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

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

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

Yep. Later Steven adds,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

<!–
google_ad_client=”pub-6571540676126435″;
google_ad_host=”pub-1556223355139109″;
google_ad_width=468;
google_ad_height=15;
google_ad_format=”468x15_0ads_al_s”;
google_color_border=”000000″;
google_color_bg=”FFFFFF”;
google_color_link=”AADD99″;
google_color_url=”AADD99″;
google_color_text=”000000″;
//–>

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

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

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

Other stuff…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Hanging in The Cities on (what wants to be) a Spring Day (a little snow still on the ground), talking deep blogging trash with Sharon Franquemont and Mary Jo Kreitzer. They’re both new to the practice (which isn’t quite a discipline, at least in my case). So bear with me as I show off some stuff.

For example, I just looked up personal health records on Google. As it happens, I already had Greasemonkey and the twitter search script installed. Thanks to that neat little hack, a pile of Twitter search results from the live web appears at the top of a Google search. Here’s a screen shot:

Note that among the Twitter results is one from adriana872, who is none other than my good friend Adriana Lukas, who I see also has a tweet that says “targetted advertising is visual spam”. Which resonates with me totally, of course. She links to her own post on the subject, which sources this post by Brian Micklethwait.

Which is all cool and conversation-inducing as well as expertise-spreading and authority-building and stuff like that. (Remember I’m showing how to blog here. Bear with me.)

I’ll also tag the shit out of all the above. Not sure if the tags appear here (I blog in too many places and I forget), but they exist.

I also just tweeted this post, with a #blogging hashtag, and instantly, we get this:

The Live Web indeed.

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

The Internet Identity Workshop , aka IIW, started as the Identity Gang way back in ’05, and has since grown (thanks more to Kaliya and Phil than to yours truly) to become a fixture event in the calendars of many developers and other folks supportive of development work toward working user-driven identity systems. (These today include…

(That’s somewhat abbreviated from the list here.)

What’s cool about IIW is that we have a large bunch of individuals and outfits working in converging directions, creating and/or mashing up solutions to problems faced by individuals needing to control and assert their identity information in the digital world. For all the activity going on here, the whole field is still brand new, with lots of work left to be done before it’s ready for Prime Time, which has been going on in any case since the commercial Web was born 1.5 decades ago. More importantly, much effort is made by everybody involved not to foreclose progress or lock out other solutions where development vectors converge or cross. it’s the only thing like it I know.

What also rocks is that progress happens at every single IIW, sometimes a great deal of it. The whole thing is about doing. We have participants, not just attendees.

There is, however, urgency. Making sure we get our usual space at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View depends on getting enough registrants today.

Do that here.

Tags: , , , ,

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

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

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

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

We were driving somewhere the other day when the kid asked if he could play around with the iPhone for awhile. Among the podcasts I subscribe to is The Best of YouTube — although, as with most of the too-many podcasts I subscribe to, I hardly ever watch it.

I wasn’t paying much attention to what the kid was doing until I heard the unmistakable sound of a country farmer from piedmont North Carolina. My kid was mostly amazed that this farmer could do with a sling-shot what most people can’t do with a rifle: hit nearly anything, whether it was moving or holding still. I was just trying to guess where this guy was from. The announcer was from somewhere in the region, I figured. Probably Greensboro. But the farmer had to be from somewhere, maybe, south of there.

I had the kid re-play the piece, called “Sling Shot Man” (that’s on Best of YouTube; on YouTube itself the full title starts with “Carolina Camera:”). Turns out the farmer lives “past a one-lane bridge on a dirt road south of Asheboro”. In Greensboro — at least when I went to college there in the ’60s — that town was pronounced, (as by this feature’s announcer), “Ashburra”. Locally it was “Aishburra”. Announcers suppressing their local accents would say “Grainssburra”, with elongated s’s and r’s. Otherwise they’d just say “Grainsbura”.

Which leads me to Bob Oakes, the morning host on WBUR here in Boston. The way he pronounces his surname “aOkes” (with a tiny long a in front) and calls NPR’s early show “Mo-ar-ning Edition” sounds Southern to me. According to his bio at that last link, Bob has been around New England for quite a while. But I’m willing to bet he’s from pretty far south of here. I’ll write to him and ask. (Hi, Bob!)

By the way, NPR’s Karl Kassell is from Goldsboro, though you’d never know from hearing him talk.

Oh, and you can hear (and see) a much younger me talk in piedmont dialect on this YouTube video here.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Fasting and foods

I haven’t eaten today, and it’s well past noon. I spent much of the last couple hours enjoying a long Skype call with Stephen Lewis, who is currently in Turkey, and whose latest post dilates deliciously on an old Mimas Foods bag — “a relic of a turning point in the economic and social history of Bulgaria and much of Eastern Europe.” Makes me hungry for any of the “Flafel, Humberger, Shaourma, Ships Pataos, All Kind Of, Meats” offered by Mimas. Steve writes, “it is the use of international English that catapulted the fare of Mimas from the improvised and local into the realm of coveted, truly international, fast-food.”

By the way, the only result for a “Mimas Foods” search on Google is Steve’s post. As of today, anyway.

Just got a survey from OMNI hotels, inquiring about my stay there during SXSW in Austin earlier this week. Here’s what I wrote under “Please provide more details on the missing amenity in your guest room. “:

  The wi-fi signal strength went up and down, and most of the time was unusable. Twice I was told that perhaps a “wi-fi bridge” could be given to me, but was told later that they were all loaned out. I was there four days during SXSW and really needed a solid network Internet connection. I asked every day if the problem was being resolved. It never was. On the last day they told me they had “escalated it to the manager.” I also had to join the loyalty program to get free wi-fi. A quibble: the sign-up survey’s question about newspaper preference suggested to me that a newspaper would be delivered outside the room door, which is customary in many hotels. I never saw one.

Another quibble: the desk height was too high. This is standard in most hotels. Still, if you’re going to serve business customers, you should have a desk with a top that’s low enough to type comfortably on.

Otherwise it was a fine hotel. As I said before, I’d recommend it to people who don’t care about Internet service.

Igo 2 Oggi

Deep in the nerve center of Harvard University, in the building called Holyoke that overlooks Harvard Square, is a corridor which in some ways resembles a public marketplace. There’s a pharmacy, a book store, a Harvard schwag shop, and windows through racks of pastries into the Au bon Pain next door. In the middle of the middle of this is an Oggi Gourmet restaurant, with stools at stone counters, tables on the small plaza outside, and friendly folks behind the counter, making the best pizza in New England.

I say that only because it’s the best pizza I’ve had here so far. I’m sure there must be better, just given the odds. I’m also operating in the tradition of proclaiming as universal one’s limited but vividly remembered personal experience. In my case that experience began more than sixty-one years ago in parts of New Jersey close enough to New York’s center to qualify as boroughs. This, I submit, qualifies me as an expert. There is no better pizza than that you’ll find in my memory of New Jersey’s best, which consists entirely of Aroma Pizzaria off Route 23 in Wayne, in which I have not set foot since the early 1970s. Something by that name is still there, but I kinda doubt it’s the same one that Joe and Louie DeFrederusso ran, now more than a third of a century ago. In fact, I can’t get a match on that surname on Google, so I’m sure the spelling is wrong. (Although the phonetics are right.) Their Sicilian pie still makes me salivate, after all these decades.

Anyway, I’m also writing this by grace of Oggi, which has a wi-fi hotspot called OGGI Gourmet, and which does not even bother with a spash page. I love that too.

Okay, off to work.

SXSW this year is the first big conference I’ve ever attended where the wi-fi is not only solid, but fast. I’ve meaured a steady 20Mb upstream and down, over and over. HUGE high five to Hugh Forrest and the crew for making that happen.

At the same time, this is the first conference I’ve ever attended where a cellular provider has just flat-out failed. In this case it’s AT&T, and I’ll bet it’s because the majority of attendees are packing iPhones. I’m one of them.

Om said on Sunday that AT&T was to have added capacity to their downtown Austin cell facilities. It made no difference, far as I could tell, by the end of Monday. Today (Tuesday) I’m at my hotel on phone calls until late this morning.

Meanwhile my hotel, the OMNI, isn’t doing much better. While I’m getting okay cell service here from AT&T, my Sprint data card is getting very slow data rates over the Sprint 3G network. But that’s the best I can do because wi-fi at the OMNI is terrible. Once in awhile I’ll get a good wi-fi signal, but then it goes away. Sometimes the speeds are good (up to 5Mb up and down), then: nothing. I arrived last Friday night. When I told the front desk about it, they said they were aware of the problem, and were working on it. Meanwhile they woud try to find me a “wi-fi bridge”. Never used one of those. May never, either, because they never got me one. “All of ours are loaned out,” they told me a few minutes ago. When I pressed the woman behind the counter for hope that the problem would be solved, she told me “we’ve taken it all the way up to the manager.” My message for that manager: this is unacceptable. For many customers, especially during shows like SXSW, Internet access is as essential as a working shower.

At least it’s free for guests who sign up for the hotel’s loyalty program, which at least allows you to opt out of promotional junk. But it also raises expectations, for example by asking you to check off which of four newspapers you like to get. I checked them all, expecting to see the now-customary USA Today outside my door in the morning. Alas, it wasn’t there. Putting a USA Today outside one’s door has become pro forma at higher-priced hotels, of which the OMNI is one. I suspect that’s one reason why USA Today is one of the very few papers with increasing circulation. But I dunno.

For what it’s worth, the OMNI is excellent most other respects. Very comfortable beds. Good shower. So, if you don’t care about the Internet, I recommend it.

A well-hacked planet at work

Ran straight into Wes Felter at #sxsw yesterday right after he sent me an email I hadn’t seen yet suggesting we sit and talk. Which we promptly did. Very productive conversation.

Wes will also have cool ideas to share at the FSF Libre Planet 2009 Conference this coming weekend at Harvard’s Science Center. I’ll be there too.

Digging KGSR

Until I hit SCAN on the little radio I carry with me on trips, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed KGSR/107.1 the last time I was here at SXSW. They’ve added some power since then (up from 39kw to 49kw), but their stream still plays hard-to-get. There appears to be no .mp3 stream coming from the station (so forget using it on iPhones*), and one can only listen live in the browser, with a pop-up window that doesn’t work (at least for me).

They do note that they are in “HD”, which is audible only on a few expensive radios that almost nobody has, since the radio industry decided that HD needed to be a proprietary play, coming to the world only by grace of a company called Ibiquity. I could get started, but it’s not worth it. (Go here and click on “buy a radio” and see what happens.)

Anyway, if you’re in town, give it a spin. As I said three years ago here, great radio lives.

*[Later...] Thanks to Rod K, I am now listening to KGSR on my iPhone. WunderGround Radio did cost $5.99, and it took me awhile to find where in the app’s vast directory tree the radio listings were stored, but once I got there I was very impressed. And quite surprised that one can listen to a Windows Media stream. I sit corrected on that.

I still wish KGSR also had an .mp3 stream, but it’s still good to be able to hear them in any case.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Kathy Moran has a great line — “Blogging about productivity began to feel like drinking about alcoholism” — that somehow comes to mind as I point to The Free Beer Economy, which I just put up at Linux Journal, in advance of SXSW, where I’ll moderate a panel titled Rebuilding the World with Free Everything. The panel will happen next Tuesday, right after the keynote conversation between Guy Kawasaki and Chris Anderson, whose book Free: The Future of a Radical Price is due out this summer, and who will join our panel as well.

The gist:

So we have an ecosystem of abundant code and scarce imagination about how to make money on top of it. If that imagination were not scarce, we wouldn’t need Nicholas Carr to explain utilities in clouds with The Big Switch, or Jeff Jarvis to explain how big companies get clues, in What Would Google Do?

More to the point for us blogging folk, I’ll add Dave’s How I made over $2 million with this blog.

His point: He made money because of it. As I have with mine. Neither one of us, more than coincidentally, has advertising on our blogs. Neither one of us burdens our blogs with a “business model”. Nor do we feel a need to hire some outfit to do SEO for us. Good blogs are self-optimizing. That can go for their leverage on income as well, even without cost to one’s integrity.

As with so much on the Net, it’s still early. Much future is left to unfurl. The millipede has many more shoes to drop. So there is much fun left to be had, and much money to be made, even in a crap economy.

But hey, I’m an optimist. What else can I say?

Look forward to seeing many of ya’ll in Austin. I fly down tomorrow, back on Wednesday.

[Later...] I tweeted a pointer to the post earlier, and did something I’ve never done before, which was ask people to digg the piece. It’s kind of an experiment. Curious to see how it goes.

I’ve only had one post dugg to a high level before. It was fun for the few hours it lasted, but I’m not sure it did anything substantive (other than drive traffic to Linux Journal, which was more than agreeable). What I mean is, I’m not sure it drove a conversation about its subject. Hence, the next experiment. Applied heuristics, you might say.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

So I shot a bunch of pictures of Niagara Falls from 35,000 above, on a trip last week from San Francisco to Boston. Click on the pic for the whole set.

Interesting to think that the falls are only about ten thousand years old. A blink in geologic time.

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

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

Sitting by Gate 88 at SFO, waiting to board United’s next Boston flight. I just took my chances and ordered a short dry decaf cappuccino. I figured I had a good chance of getting what I wanted because the coffee shop at the gate is Peets, of which I am quite fond because more often than not they make them right.

Not this time. Even with careful instruction (“just some foam and a tiny bit of milk on the espresso”), I got what remains the default for coffee shops everywhere, and which I’ve complained about before.

It’s cool. I just met Tony Mamone, founder of Zimbio, who introduced himself after he heard my name called for an upgrade. Fun coincidence.

So now I’m sitting in seat 1a: a biz class window on the shady side of the plane with no obstructions. The window could be cleaner, but it’s not too bad. The shooting should be good.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

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

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: , , , ,

Bye ‘Bai

I’ve been wondering, What happens to Dubai in a worldwide depresion? Smashing Telly says goodbye. Fun writing. A sample:

  Dubai is a place for the shallow and fickle. Tabloid celebrities and worn out sports stars are sponsored by swollen faced, botox injected, perma-tanned European property developers to encourage the type of people who are impressed by fame itself, rather than what originated it, to inhabit pastiche Mediterranean villas on fake islands. Its a grotesquely leveraged version of time-share where people are sold a life in the same way as being peddled a set of steak knives. Funny shaped towers smatter empty neighborhoods, based on designs with unsubtle, eye-catching envelopes but bland floor plans and churned out by the dozen by anonymous minions in brand name architects offices and signed by the boss, unseen, as they fly through the door. This architecture, a three dimensional solidified version of a synthesized musical jingle, consists of ever more preposterous gimmickry – an underwater, revolving, white leather fuck pad or a marina skyscraper with a product placement name that would normally only appeal to teenage boys, such as the preposterous Michael Schumacher World Champion Tower.

On not skiing

Shows here in EdHat that there’s snow on Mount Baldy. That means there’s skiing in Los Angeles. Or close enough. Mt. Baldy is the highest point in the San Gabriel Mountains, which overlook Los Angeles from the North. Imagine a 10,064 mountain on Staten Island and you get the picture.

Skiing on Mt. Baldy is a trip. Mainly, a short one. Ignoring traffic (which you can do if you leave early enough), you can be there in under an hour from most of the L.A. basin. On a clear day you can see it from nearly anywhere there too. Its the big snow-capped one.

Here’s a photo set that gathers a few of my shots of Baldy, both from the ground and from airplanes.

And here’s a post I put up after a day of not-very-good skiing there. The snow wasn’t too bad, considering. The main problem was rookie snowboarders who crashed into the kid and I when they weren’t sitting on their butts like a bunch of traffic cones. From that post…

Rules for snowboarding on Mt. Baldy:

1. Fall on your ass.
2. Sit on your ass, for as long as possible.
3. Wait for your friends to come and fall on their asses next to your ass.
4. Sit on your ass with your friends on their asses, for as long as possilbe.
5. Do all this in the middle of a trail. The narrower the trail, the better.
6. If possible, fall on your ass in the path of somebody else.
7. Have no skills. Other than falling on your ass.
8. When actually snowboarding, run into people.
9. When running into people, fall on your ass again.
10. Bonus: get the people you run into to fall on their asses too.

Anyway, the kid is skiing this weekend in the Sierras somewhere, while I work in Atlanta. That’ll be fun too, but not quite the same.

Tags: , , , , ,

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: , , , , , , , , ,

Peelings

The Onion on the Inauguration:

Funny shit.

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.

The soft white silence is settling outside on a cold winter mornng. I’m guessing about two inches so far, atop the eight or so that remain from last week’s storm.

The above is from Intellicast, my fave new online weather toy.

Talked to a friend in San Diego last night. He was taking a break from playing tennis. Back home in Santa Barbara, it’s been in the 80s lately. At one point a couple days ago, the temperature difference between there and here was close to 80 degrees.

Still, this is a kind of loveliness I grew up with. There’s still a 10 year old inside me who sees this and wants to go outside, go sledding down the hill, build snow forts and not do a damn thing that isn’t fun.

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Afterposts on (more popularly, just )…

Bio of the pilot, Chesley B. Sullenberger, aka “Sully”, the captain of flight USA1549 yesterday afternoon. Via TheSmokingGun.

Charles Bremer, pilot and editor for the London Times, on the flight. Includes interesting background, such as why Airbuses can float “in the unlikely event of a water landing”. Expect Boeing planes to be fitted retrofitted soon with the same feature. Hat tip to Andrew Leyden for that one. (Note: This comment says I have my facts wrong here, and offers corrective details. Interesting stuff. Go read it.)

Airbus 320 fact sheet. Includes interesting safety record info.

Sully’s Facebook fan page.

Nice series of photos and a graphic from one commenter on this FlightAware discussion page.

Lots of folks in China get around the Great Chinese Firewall by using circumvention tools. But at what risk? That’s one of the biggest questions raised by Hal Roberts in this post here.

Seems the Global Internet Freedom Consortium, or GIFC, which offers this laudable PR…

… is also selling users up who-knows-what rivers. At least that’s what Hal finds when he checks the FAQ at the Edoors Ranking Service, which lets you browse the “top anti-censorship sites”. The FAQ begins,

Q: Who is the owner of this service?
A: This service was developed by World’s Gate, Inc. with help from other Global Internet Freedom Consortium (GIFC) partners.

Q: Where did you get the raw data for the analysis?
A: The raw data came from the server log of GIFC member companies. Right now, data from three of the five tools of GIFC (DynaWeb, GPass, and FirePhoenix) are included for analysis.

Which sounds okay, so long as the data used is of the aggregate sort. In other words, as long as it’s not personal.

Alas, there is this smoking gun, pointed right at the heads of DynaWeb, GPass and FirePhoenix users:

Q: I am interested in more detailed and in-depth visit data. Are they available?
A: Yes, we can generate custom reports that cover different levels of details for your purposes, based on a fee. But data that can be used to identify a specific user are considered confidential and not shared with third parties unless you pass our strict screening test. Please contact us if you have such a need.

That means they track browsing data of individual users, and sell it. Hal adds,

…the data about circumventing users is much more sensitive than the data about most ISP users. These are the histories of users browsing sites that are not only blocked (and therefore mostly sensitive in one way or another) but blocked by an authoritarian country with an active policy and practice of persecuting dissidents. The mere act of anyone, let alone projects proclaiming themselves for internet freedom, storing this data is very bad practice. Any data that is stored can be potentially be shared or stolen. The best way to make sure that dangerous data like this does not get into the wrong hands is not to store it in the first place.

But these projects are not only storing the data. They are actively offering to sell it. None of the projects has anything like a privacy policy that I can find, and none of them provides any notice anywhere on the site or during the installation process that the project will be tracking and selling user browsing activity.* But all of the sites have deceptive language…

I’m sure what these companies are after is advertising money from companies wanting to “target” individuals personally. That’s what it smells like to me.

We live in a time when personalized advertising is legitimized on the supply side. (It has no demand side, other than the media who get paid to place it.) Worse, there’s a kind of gold rush going on. Even in a crapped economy, a torrent of money is flowing into online advertising of all kinds, including the “personalized” sort. No surprise that companies in the business of fighting great evils rationalize the committing of lesser ones. I’m sure they do it it the usual way: It’s just advertsing! And it’s personalized, so it’s good for you!

Ah, but what happens if one of those advertisers is a front for the Chinese governent, looking for dissidents to jail — or worse? If you’re one of those (or anybody) would you trust the “strict screening test” at Edoors Ranking Service?’

Me either.

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: , , , , , , ,

That might be an overstatement, but it’s how we felt yesterday after four days of efforts to surmount canceled and delayed flights finallydelivered us back to Boston: our alt.home sweet home.

So we went out to breakfast at a new place for us: the plainly named Neighborhood Restaurant & Bakery, in Somerville.

My wife and I are both foodies of sorts (she more than I, since she has been in the restaurant biz and is an excellent cook), and we couldn’t remember a better breakfast place, anywhere. Sure, there are excellent spreads at four-star hotels, and some favorite places to chow down egg and pancake variants (the Cajun Kitchen and Shoreline Grill are two in Santa Barbara), but nothing better than the NR&B. Even Johnny D’s Jazz Brunch, also excellent, and also in Somerville.

My wife had a Portuguese special with perfectly cooked linguica (homemade? not sure. but outstanding), while I had an omelette also with linguica and other ingredients, plus crab and cod cakes, all outstanding. I’m an egg freak, and I like them soft. That means I like runny yolks in my fried and poached eggs, wet scrambles and omelettes that aren’t browned and hard. I looked around at other omelettes in being served in the tiny restaurant, and all of them were perfectly soft and un-browned. The kid had crepes crusted with something, and filled with large fresh strawberries and blackberries, among other things. It was perfect too.

They start you off, regardless, with fresh fruit or cream of wheat sprinkled with cinnamon. We opted for the latter. Great stuff. I even grabbed a few bites of the kid’s, which he didn’t finish, after it was cold. I called it “desert”. It was that good. I could go on, but I won’t. Suffice to say it’s worth the trip, even if you don’t live around here.

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: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

We were supposed to fly out of Santa Barbara on Thursday. New Years Day. That flight was cancelled. We rebooked for Friday. That flight was delayed for so long that we would have missed connections. We rebooked for Saturday: today. That flight was delayed beyond our connection as well. Now we’re sitting at the airport, waiting for a flight to San Francisco in time to catch a red-eye to Dulles in Washington. After that, a flight to Boston. If we arrive on time, it will be four days after we were to depart from Santa Barbara.

I have driven across the country in less time.

Part of the problem is timing. It’s winter. There’s lots of weather, and lots of weather-caused delays and cancellations. And it’s the end of a holiday season, with lots of people travelling home from trips.

And part of the problem is traveling as a family. There are only three of us, but that’s enough to exclude us from many flights that a single passenger, especially one with a high frequent flyer status, could make.

So I’m not complaining. Aviation has made the miraculous mundane. But I do regret slowing down all the work I was going to get done over the weekend. That already replaced earlier plans to go skiing with The Kid after we got back.

C’est le vol.

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: , , , , , , , , , ,

Taking it slower

We were supposed to be on a plane for Boston right now, but our flight was cancelled. Gave us another day to enjoy Santa Barbara.

JD Lasica at Social Media has put up a list of front-line 2009 conferences.

For what it’s worth, I’ll be attending fewer of those kinds of conferences this next year, while I get more heads-down with and Linux Journal work. The current calendar includes several VRM-related conferences (plus the usual IIWs), Public Media ’09, Supernova, LinuxWorld, OSCON, Reboot and Lift. When VRM takes off, it will become a topic of other conferences as well — and that alone should push me past another 100,000 miles on United next year.

That’s actually small potatoes compared to what many other business travelers compile, especially ones who travel frequently across oceans. I flew to Europe four times last year, from Boston to London, Paris and Amsterdam (hubbing through Frankfurt, Zürich, Warsaw, Chicago and Washington). That seems like a lot, and it is; but I’m guessing that two trips from anywhere in the U.S. to anywhere in Asia would yield the same sum of miles, or more.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to make travel better with VRM: by providing passengers with the tools required to improve airline service. I might have more to say about that in the next few days, or after we get back to Boston from our very pleasant family vacation in Santa Barbara. (Which is just a  paradise right now.)

Bonus link to an old but still relevant Conor Cahill post, plus the comment I just appended to it (currently pending approval):

I realize this is an old thread, but it comes up at the top of a search for United Global Services, so it’s still current in that respect.

I’ve been 1K for three years running, and flew at least two full-fare business class flights overseas from the U.S. in 2008. I’m also rather publicly a United flier, with over a dozen thousand photos taken from the windows of United planes. (Plus thousands of photos tagged United, UAL and United Airlines.)

Before that I was a Premier or Executive Premier flier on United, going back to the early 90s.

But in the current economy no clients are funding business class flying for the near future, and my total miles with United are still a bit short of a million. So I figure if I reach GS, this will have to be the year for it. Otherwise, ain’t gonna happen.

By the way, my experience with United has included nothing bad in all the time I’ve been with them. My only persistent complaint is an odd one: I don’t want upgrades to business or first class if it’s not to a window seat. I’ve been offered several upgrades this past year to aisle seats and have turned them all down. (I accepted one that did go to a window seats.) One time this past year I was upgraded to an aisle seat and it annoyed me badly because the seat I gave up in economy had a windwow. Yet I still managed to shoot this set in a hurry while the woman with the window seat next to me was asleep.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Picture These

So I’m here in the Bolt Bus from Boston to New York. There’s wi-fi on board, and power outlets in the backs of most seats. But the wi-fi is slow, so I’m on a Sprint EvDO card. Getting about 1Mb down and .6Mb up. Not bad.

Anyway, I’ve recently uploaded a pile of photo sets to Flickr, where my inventory of photos is now approaching 26,000. Here is a list of just a few sets, mostly shot from airplanes and other moving vehicles:

Wow. It’s snowing now. Hard. We’re still in Connecticut, approaching the Westchester border. The Weather.com map is quite colorful:

Hm. Not taking. Guess I need a separate post for it.

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

Wahyd of Manifest has an original idea for saving the Out of Town News landmark at the heart of Harvard Square.

Stephen Lewis has made a decades-long study of both the charms and absurdities of national and ethnic legacies. His most recent essay on the matter, Apple’s iTunes, NPR, Barriers to Giving, and the “Appliancing” of National Boundaries, unpacks the growing distance between the ideals of the Internet and the realities of dysfunctional nationalisms, and the failures of the former to transcend the latter.
He begins by describing his frustrations at trying to obtain podcasts of This American Life while overseas:

As it does with its iPhone, Apple “appliances” its services to geopolitical strictures inherited from the pre-Internet age and to a jingoistic concept of national identity quite contrary to the expansive spirit of This American Life and to the “worldwide” as in Worldwide Web. Podcasts of This American Life are available for purchase and download via iTunes only from IP addresses within the boundaries of the United States. Also, even within the US, Apple does not accept for payment credit cards issued by overseas banks. Last, even when listeners from within the US attempts a purchase a credit card issued by a US bank, Apple will not sell them podcasts if their iTunes Stores accounts were originally registered from abroad.

By jigsawing its services to fit national boundaries, Apple fragments the efficacy and global scope of the internet and denies NPR broader listenership, international impact, and potential revenues. By outsourcing exclusive sales of podcasts of the This American Life to Apple’s iTunes Store, NPR denies the benefits and insights of listenership and the pleasure of contributing to the support of Public Radio to Americans living and working abroad, not to mention citizens of all other countries.

Meanwhile, you can hear This American Life for free over the Net on hundreds of streams from the U.S. based public radio stations to which NPR wholesales the program for the stations to sell to listeners (who contribute on a voluntary basis), making the restrictions even more strange. Steve continues:

The Internet — in its role as prime infrastructure for the formation of community and conveyance of the information, entertainment, knowledge and transactions — is intangible and without physical location.  However, the infrastructure that supports it is quite physical, an ad hoc non-purpose-built amalgam of fiber, copper, and wireless  strung together, enabled, and animated by protocols.  By resting on a “borrowed” infrastructure, the Internet has inherited the “gatekeepers” that own and control, charge for, and regulate these legacy elements – telecom operators and service providers, cable TV companies, governmental authorities, etc.).  Such organizations still carve up the world according geopolitical entities and borders defined between the late-eighteenth century and the mid-twentieth and gerrymander services and access accordingly.  Apparently, so does Apple.  Apple’s method of “appliancing” country-by-country reinforces anachronistic borders and undermines the potential of the internet to transcend past divisions.

Steve also spends a lot of time in Turkey, a country where his own blog (the one I’m quoting here) gets blocked along with every other blog bearing the .wordpress domain name. Lately YouTube and Blogger have also been blocked. (For more on who blocks what, visit the Open Internet Initiative.)

These sites and services are easy for governments to block because they’re clustered and silo’d. Yet on the Internet these clusters and silos, once big enough, take on the character of countries. In this New York Times piece, Tim Wu says. “To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king”. Talk about retro.

Steve continues,

This has turned Google, a private company with no accountability to any constituency, into a negotiating partner of national governments whose laws or policies do not  reflect or respect the ethical stance claimed in Google’s own slogan.  Thus, Google now functions on a diplomatic level with the ability and clout to forge country-by-country compromises affecting internet activity and the free flow of information and opinion, Turkey’s YouTube and Blogger ban not least among them.

Well, Google does have accountability to its customers, most of which are advertisers. Which makes the whole thing even more complicated.

Meanwhile the promise of the Net continues to be undermined not only by wacky forms of counterproductive protectionism, but by our own faith in “clouds” that can often act more like solids than gasses.

Tags: , , ,

I don’t envy providers of wi-fi at conferences. Nor do I envy anybody else in a risky business, even when they charge a good buck for it. But I do appreciate them. I forget the name of the outfit that provided wi-fi at PC Forum in days of yore, but they delivered the goods. Wi-fi nearly always worked there. Bravo to Esther and her suppliers. We miss them.

On the other hand, wi-fi at most conferences sucks rocks. There are all kinds of reasons, usually boiling down to demand hosing supply. Sometimes it’s because the hotel just doesn’t have the pipes for it. Sometimes it’s incompetence, equipment failure, software failure, or some combination of the three.

Last year at here in Paris, the wi-fi failed on Day One, and worked on Day Two. While waiting for a plane afterwards (which I’m doing again now), I talked at some length to a young guy who worked with Swisscom, which provided the Net to LeWeb. He told me that they hadn’t anticipated all the iPhones that would be trying to connect at the same time as all the laptops.

This year I was told that Swisscom was again the supplier. But this time Day One and Day Two both sucked. Connectivity was occasional at best, and completely down at worst. I found it useless. The startup competition was hampered severly by it, since the companies couldn’t strut their stuff.

Some context: LeWeb was bigger this year, and I would guess that well over a thousand laptops and other devices were trying to get on and do stuff simultaneously, much of the time. Yet Swisscom no doubt promised to deliver, and Loic and crew had every right both to expect them to deliver — and to refuse payment should Swisscom fail.

I haven’t talked with Loic about this, but I would hope that he could collect damages for Swisscom’s failure. Because when you’re putting on a show caled LeWeb, your Net provider should guarantee that Le Web is available to attendees and participants. I dunno if Loic got that guarantee, but I hope he did. Because what happened was surely damaging to a bunch of people, including both attendees and organizers, who didn’t deserve it. They put on a great show.

Here are pix from Day One. I’ll put up Day 2 after I get back home to Boston.

[Later, now in Boston] Here’s LeWeb’s post on the same topic. Its bottom line: Nothing worked basically, it has been totally unprofessional and unacceptable from a major supplier such as Swisscom.

On departure from Zürich to Paris yesterday the ground was shrowded in gloom and haze, but above it the sky was clear and crystalline. I sat purposely on the left side of the plane to get a view, even though I knew I’d be photographing the scene against the sun, which would be low in the early afternoon on a day approaching the Winter Solstice. Worse, the window looked like it had been cleaned with fine-grit sandpaper. Still, I got some nice shots with my old Tamron zoom and the Canon Rebel Xti (borrowed from the excellent and generous Rebecca Tabasky, a colleage at the Berkman Center).

I’m guessing the plane was about a hundred miles from the shot above. Closer for some of the early ones, and much farther for some of the later ones, some of which feature Mont Blanc, the only peak I could easily identify. I’m hoping some of the rest of you can fill in the blanks.

Tags:

Going from San Francisco

Got some nice shots of San Francisco and Marin on Sunday, as we flew off to Chicago on the first leg of the trip home from Thanksgiving in California. Actually, my kid shot most of them, since he had the window seat. Shot some other stuff too, which I’ll put up later.

Mount Tamalpias (better known as Mt. Tam) looms in the background, and Mt. Beacon in front of it.

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Grinding at the hub

We left SFO at 11am yesterday, and got into BOS at 3am. The delay in the middle was at ORD: O’Hare. We arrived at 6pm to find that our 7pm flight had been delayed to 9:10. After going to dinner at the Macaroni Grill (chosen after tweeting a request that was answered nicely by Todd Storch), we parked our butts at the gate, where the departure time kept moving back until it was nearly 11pm. For a long time there was no gate agent at all. But the board behind the counter kept rolling the departure time outward. I finally became one of those travellers who stretches out and sleeps with head on knapsack.

The plane for our flight never arrived, so United put us on another one with fewer rows, which made for even more fun. I felt sorry for whoever didn’t get to Chicago on the plane we couldn’t take.

I did sleep for the whole flight to Logan, then got to bed at 4, and up at 6. Now I’m back in the saddle, at my desk in our apartment.

The biggest relief here is Internet speed. On the road everything seemed slow. The hotel in Morgan Hill, CA barely cleared dial-up speed. The house where we hung out was okay (about 500k up and down), but seemed to take forever to bring anything up. My Sprint data card outperformed every wi-fi connection I encountered.

Here at the apartment we have 20Mb symmetrical service from Verizon FiOS. The hub-router thing craps out a lot, but otherwise it’s rock-solid and makes Net access into a relatively wide smooth highway. The only better connectivity I’ve experienced is at universities.

Anyway, good to be back. Now off to work.

Signs of the Places

I was early for a talk by Irving Wladawsky-Berger at Harvard Law School a couple hours ago (just one among many terrific talks that go on around here) when I got in a conversation with Victoria Stodden about localities. Both of us have lives and affections split between Cambridge and California. As the weather gets colder and more miserable here in the Northeast, long-time Californians yearn for the warmth and ease of our western homes. She spent twelve years at Stanford. I lived in the Bay Area for sixteen years (all within a couple zip codes of Stanford) and in Santa Barbara for another eight. In fact, I still live there. And here. Makes for fun comparisons.

In the midst of the conversation Victoria brought up Cities and Ambition, a piece by Paul Graham from May of this year. I brought up what Paul wrote about Silicon Valley — not in that piece (which is still terrific), but somewhere… maybe in a talk at eTech or something… about how you can get off a plane at SFO and sense an invisible generator nearby, like the one in Star Wars that sustained the ice planet Hoth. It’s the tech generator that energizes the Valley and makes it a produce tech and wealth like nowhere else.

But Victoria made the more important point, about what makes Cambridge so amazing, and why I feel just as energized here as I did in Silicon Valley when I lived there — but in a different way. Paul explains:

  I’d always imagined Berkeley would be the ideal place–that it would basically be Cambridge with good weather. But when I finally tried living there a couple years ago, it turned out not to be. The message Berkeley sends is: you should live better. Life in Berkeley is very civilized. It’s probably the place in America where someone from Northern Europe would feel most at home. But it’s not humming with ambition.

  In retrospect it shouldn’t have been surprising that a place so pleasant would attract people interested above all in quality of life. Cambridge with good weather, it turns out, is not Cambridge. The people you find in Cambridge are not there by accident. You have to make sacrifices to live there. It’s expensive and somewhat grubby, and the weather’s often bad. So the kind of people you find in Cambridge are the kind of people who want to live where the smartest people are, even if that means living in an expensive, grubby place with bad weather.

  As of this writing, Cambridge seems to be the intellectual capital of the world. I realize that seems a preposterous claim. What makes it true is that it’s more preposterous to claim about anywhere else. American universities currently seem to be the best, judging from the flow of ambitious students. And what US city has a stronger claim? New York? A fair number of smart people, but diluted by a much larger number of neanderthals in suits. The Bay Area has a lot of smart people too, but again, diluted; there are two great universities, but they’re far apart. Harvard and MIT are practically adjacent by West Coast standards, and they’re surrounded by about 20 other colleges and universities. [1]

  Cambridge as a result feels like a town whose main industry is ideas, while New York’s is finance and Silicon Valley’s is startups.

I moved to the Bay Area in 1985 from Chapel Hill, another college town. I had lived for most of the previous eleven years there and in nearby Durham. Upon arriving in the Bay Area I looked with my teenage kids at Berkeley, Santa Cruz and Palo Alto, and decided to land in the latter for two reasons: 1) my company’s office was there, and I didn’t want to commute; and 2) my kids took one look at Palo Alto High and said “This is Stanford High. We want to go here.” And it was done. (One kid went on to UC-Berkeley and the other to UC-Santa Cruz, for what that’s worth.) All due respect for Chapel Hill and Durham, Carolina and Duke — places I still love and miss — Palo Alto and the Bay Area are a whole different game. There my horizons opened in many directions, and so did my kids’. It was energizing and stimulating in the Xtreme.

Then came the opportunity to come to Cambridge.

Wow. When we were thinking about getting an apartment here, and putting the kid in a local school, David Weinberger advised thusly: “Just remember that this is the most intellectually stimulating place in the world.”

He was right. I remember one rainy day walking across the Harvard campus, between one interesting gathering and another, and saying to my wife on the phone, “It was clever of God to hide all this great stuff under such shitty weather.”

Paul again:

  One of the exhilarating things about coming back to Cambridge every spring is walking through the streets at dusk, when you can see into the houses. When you walk through Palo Alto in the evening, you see nothing but the blue glow of TVs. In Cambridge you see shelves full of promising-looking books. Palo Alto was probably much like Cambridge in 1960, but you’d never guess now that there was a university nearby. Now it’s just one of the richer neighborhoods in Silicon Valley. [2]

  A city speaks to you mostly by accident — in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It’s not something you have to seek out, but something you can’t turn off. One of the occupational hazards of living in Cambridge is overhearing the conversations of people who use interrogative intonation in declarative sentences. But on average I’ll take Cambridge conversations over New York or Silicon Valley ones.

Me too. But the Silicon Valley ones are way above average, and cover topics no less interesting. Same goes for the Santa Barbara ones. (UCSB turns me on too, and that’s just of SB’s many charms.) Or the London ones. Or the Copenhagen and Amsterdam ones. No place has cornered the market on Interesting.

Nor is Cambridge the extent of it here. As I write this my ass reposes in a leather chair in a reading room at the Boston Athenaeum, where our family goes often to feast on books. (One librarian calls our twelve-year old the library’s “best reader.” Based on consumption volume alone, I wouldn’t dispute it.)

Anyway, I’m just enjoying being amazed at both Cambridge and Boston, and appreciative of my time here. And of Paul’s provocative observations. Need to chew on those a bit. Good conversational fodder there.

There wasn’t much to see during the redeye from Boston to Zürich and on to Amsterdam yesterday. Too bad, because the Swissair window was one of the cleanest and clearest I’ve seen yet. But I did get a nice quick series of the East Sussex coast, with its white cliffs, from Brighton to Beachy Head, along the English Channel.

Tags:

Looks like the evacuation notices have been lifted. And The Map (which is very well done) now has two pages showing the status in the area, including (near as I can tell) all 211 burned structures, nearly all of them homes.

My shots of the aftermath are here.

Hard to believe I’m in Boston now, and about to be in Zurich, then Amsterdam. See some of ya’ll there.

This is @#$% insane.

I’m at the Lufthansa lounge in Boston’s Logan Airport, where T-Mobile provides wi-fi service, just like it provides wi-fi service in countless other places around the U.S., including (near as I can tell) most airports and airport lounges. The “welcome” page looks normal. I try to login. It doesn’t work. Then I notice that I can login as a “visitor” from T-Mobile USA. But I’m IN the @#$% USA. I pay T-Mobile $29something/month to use their @#$% service already in the U.S.A.

It’s bad enough that I have to pay $.18/minute to “roam” on T-Mobile when I’m overseas. But in the U.S.? Why? Because T-Mobile wants to shake down customers held captive by the conveniences of an airport lounge? I’m guessing. I don’t know.

Really, I don’t care if the lounge is operated by Lufthansa, and Lufthansa is a German airline, and they have their own deal with T-Mobile Deutschland, which treats this little outpost as some kind of consulate or whatever. I’m guessing that’s the reason, but I don’t know. I can only guess. What is clear is that The System is rigged to trap and shake down customers.

So I’m on with my Sprint datacard. It’s not free, but it’s also not T-Mobile. To its credit, Sprint hasn’t screwed me yet. T-Mobile has. It’s not much of a screw. Just $.18 per minute. But that’s $.18 more than I’m already willing to pay.

Let’s see. I’ve been with T-Mobile (and MobileStar before that) since MobileStar first began serving wi-fi to Starbucks customers. I forget what I paid, but let’s say it’s averaged $25/month since November 2001, or seven years. Comes to $2100.

“Life is for sharing”, T-Mobile’s slogan says.

I now plan to share less of my life, and my money, with T-Mobile.

If they want me back — and other customers like me — they’ll have to stop thinking like an old telco and start thinking like the Internet service company they’re going to become anyway.

This afternoon at 4:30 I’ll be talking (though not alone… it’s a discussion, not a lecture) at the in Cambridge (the new one with and , born in 1630-something; not the older one The topic will be The Intention Economy: What happens when free customers prove more valuable than captive ones.

Are you tired of carrying around “loyalty cards” for retailers who speak to themselves about “acquiring,” “owning” and “controlling” their “relationship” with you? — and do little more than clog your wallet and slow down checkout lines?

Are you tired of login and password hell? In the everyday world you don’t have to become a “member” of a store to shop there, or to click “accept” after not reading “agreements” that are anything but.

Wouldn’t it be cool to rent exactly the car you want (for example, one that seats six and has an AUX input for your iPhone), rather than whatever the rental car agency decides to give you?

If you answer Yes to any of those questions, you should know about VRM, for Vendor Relationship Management. It’s how we manage them at least as well as they manage us.

VRM tools are being developed right now by a community of developers and other volunteers, organized around ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center and led by Doc Searls, the originator of the VRM concept and a fellow at the center.

More here.

That same pitch would also do for the in Amsterdam on Thursday. I’ll be there too. Big thanks to Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald and friends for putting that together, even as Maarten continues to withstand medical insults in the midst.

The fire in Santa Barbara is officially called the Tea Incident, because it started near (or at) a (or the) tea house, on Mountain Road in Montecito. (Here? Ah, no, here.)

There are lots of good places to see what’s happening. One of the best is this Google Map. KEYT, Edhat, the Independent, Noozhawk and others are helpful. Inciweb has nothing so far, perhaps because the Tea Incident is not yet an official wildfire. It’s usually very helpful once it gets rolling on a fire. And the MODIS maps are great. That’s a screenshot of one, above.

It’s also a little too interesting that temperatures will be as high as 90° today (unusually hot for here) with strong winds from the northeast. Which will be bad, if any of the fire is still going. Some of it will be, but it’s clear that this is not a rolling conflagration like the Oakland fire in 1990 or the San Diego fire last year. Watching the Montecito and Santa Barbara fire chiefs and Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum in a press conference right now. The phrases “damage assessment” and “mopping up” are being used. Also “narrow window of opportunity” to contain the fire.

So right now the top thing people want to know is, Which houses have burned down? Can we be exact about what has burned? Saying “over a hundred homes” gives us a quantity of nothing.

If anybody has something exact — streets and neighborhoods, if not addresses — let us know in the comments below. Meanwhile I’ll be headed out shortly to check things out, or at least to sit at a coffee shop and hang out with concerned and/or evacuated neighbors.

[Not much later...] The County Sherrif is on now, and giving specifics. The Mount Calvary Retreat House and Monastery is completely distroyed. (A beautiful place, and a terrible loss.) Areas where many homes burned: Las Canoas, East Mountain Drive, Gibraltar Road, Scofield Park. Mostly inside a triangle between Westmont Collage, the East Riviera and St. Mary’s. (By Rattlesnake Canyon.) Over 100 homes lost, but many also saved.

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

I got to use my minimal Deutsch this morning: “Der Bahnhof ist Kaput.” The train is broken.

The only way to get from Terminal A to Terminal B was to go through security twice and passport control once. Then began the hunt for Gate 62, from which my connecting plane to London will depart, presumably. My ticket says that. The departure listings do not. They just say “B”. Gate 62 is identified by a hand-drawn sign. One needs to go through passport control to get to it. Right now it’s closed. Along the way I followed directions to “go downstairs” on an escalator. There were two. Neither were well-marked. I took the one on the right and realized halfway down that it went to the street. So I ran up the moving stairs, got to the top and took the other one.

That’s on top of a flight in a cramped seat in an overheated Lufthansa 747. Am I wrong or are Lufthansa’s steerage seats extra narrow? For what little it’s worth, the “entertainment” system was broken too.

Food wasn’t bad, though. Service, good. Inside the plane, anyway.

Oh, my iPhone says “Searching…” So much for a GSM phone working in Europe. Guess I needed to clear something with AT&T first. Not sure how to do that from here. Or London.

And I’m paying 18¢/minute to “roam” on the t-Mobile system to which I pay $29.99/month already. Nice.

Anyway, cheers.

Tags: ,

Hitting the road for a long road trip, with just a brief visit back home in Boston next Friday. I’ll be hitting…

See some of ya’ll in some of those places…

Rich Sands posts Cluetrain Derailed? I respond here.

Tags: , ,

Steve Lewis writes, Obama’s “Homeostasis”: It must be the Roedjak! — a deep and wonderful detour from the usual punditry about a candidate’s temperament, informed by Steve’s years working in Indonesia, as well as his exposure to many countries and cultures unfamiliar to most Americans. I hope Steve doesn’t mind my lifting most of his post to repeat here. Dig:

So far, Obama’s seeming detachment has been exploited by his opponents as proof that “we don’t know who he his” or as a sign of his supposed smugness and intellectual superiority.  And, for, quite a number of Democrats Obama’s politeness and fixed smile are an unsettling suggestion of a lack of the politically requisite instinct to go for the jugular.  I would suggest something quite different and far more positive … namely, that Obama knows how to eat Roedjak.

Roedjak is an Indonesian fruit salad, slices of not yet fully ripened tropical fruits served with a sauce of sweet thick soy ketjap, tamarind paste, crushed chili papers, and a dash of dried dessicated shrimp.  Roedjak’s harmonic fusion of superficially contradictory tastes is more than culinary.  Roedjak restores equilibrium even while exciting the senses.  Preparing and eating Roedjak is a tonic during moments of personal emotional turmoil; domestic disagreements and work conflicts are calmed by sharing Roedjak when tensions to escalate. On the symbolic level, Roedjak embodies all that is positive of the values and social mores of southeast Asia.

Political commentators — other than those Republican cranks who have accused Obama of having attended fundementalist Muslim Koranic schools — have overlooked the “Indonesian” facet of the Democratic presidential candidate, his formative years on the island of Java, and his being a member of a family with Indonesian connections as well as Kansan and Kenyan ones.

In Java, outward emotional evenness and display of respect are inherent to the workings of families and of villages.  Frontal confrontations are avoided and adversaries are given room to retreat.  Such stances are central to the the stylized conventions of Java’s traditional complexly hierarchical society and to the realities of domestic, social, and political life on an overpopulated agrarian island and in crowded mega-cities such as Jakarta.

On the surface, Java is devoutly Muslim but Javanese Islam rests on older strata of Hindu and Buddhist culture.  The characters of the Buddha and of the heroes of the Bhagavad Gita still resonate as strongly as those of the Prophet Mohammed and Ali.  In Java, one learns that displays of restraint are incumbent on leaders and are signs of strength in people at all levels of society.

And so, for the sake of the US and the world, I’d rather see the American presidency in the hands of a Roedjak eater than a heart-beat away from the rule of an eater of mooseburgers.  Join me for a mango, anyone?

I dunno if Roedjak explains Obama, but I do like getting an interesting new angle on an exceptional man.

Tags: , , ,

Sailing the Charles

The moon rose while the sun set yesterday evening as we were treated to steady 12-knot winds, tacking back and forth in an MIT sailboat on the Charles. Cambridge to the north, Boston to the south. Skylines all around. Perfect.

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.

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.

In September I took two flights across the country that featured lots of clear views of the sights below. I think I took 700+ pictures on each of them.

I’ve been posting them to Flickr in slow motion, trying to minimize the labors involved in tagging and captioning them. It helps that many of these sights I’ve seen before, so I could just copy and paste from one shot to another.

This set is of Comb Ridge, in southeastern Utah. Other sets I put together, all in Utah and Arizona, are of Goosenecks, Lake Powell and Navajo Mountain.

Funny thing, when I went to look up Navajo Mountain on Wikipedia, I saw that one of the pictures there bore a strong resemblance to one of my own because that’s exactly what it is.

Just a pause in the midst to express appreciation for ‘s storm-tracking services, and handy pile of Good Stuff, such as the WunderMap. Their site is far less crapped up with junk than Weather.com.

Right now we’re getting a late summerlike storm, complete with thunder. Thanks to the map’s animation and storm tracking features, I can see exactly what’s happening, and educate my judgements about whether to walk to the bus or the train — and when.

Anyway, dig it.

In his comment here, Mike Warot encourages me — and the rest of us — to watch this video by Karl Denninger, whose blog is here.

I did. It’s good. But I’m not sure Denninger is right. Or all-right, let’s say. Just somewhat.

Here’s the problem as I currently see it. (And I’m no economist. This is just me, one citizen trying to make sense of something that I’ve hardly paid attention to in the past. So take this with an acre of salt if you like.)

Yes, the system is rigged and corrupt. Yes, the Fed and Treasury have been messing up for decades. (As Kevin Phillips will tell you.) Yes, federal power has gone over the top here. Whoever heard of the Office of Thrift Supervision before it swooped in and sold WaMu to JP Morgan Chase? At least there’s some common sense involved with banking, and “trift” (a term that now feels euphemistic in a statist way, like “corrections”). Banking got sucked into runaway shell games, in which empty vessels multiplied and divided, as whole institutions with MBA-packed buildings grew to manage and manipulate them. Solidity and liquidity were both replaced by gasseosity — but in sectors of Xtreme Arcana that nobody outside fully understood. Thus we’ve had inflation for years, and have put off facing it, because it was hidden and the System seemed to be working.

Meanwhile the whole country became infected with the sickness of making money only for its own sake, backed by little resembling work or manufacture — a trend we’ve been seeing since the Carter administration.

The “free market” in finance has always been rigged by its Alpha beasts, its lobbied legislators and its regulators, to favor growth. But lost in this long round has been elementary horse sense about what’s actually valuable, what actually produces goods and services, what’s free and what’s not. Growth in this long round has had many costs, and we’re not even close to visiting all of them.

Perhaps it’s in our nature, with economic evidence going back to tulip bulbs. But I think it goes deeper than that. Our species pestilential and rapacious on a scale the planet has never seen before. It can rationalize chewing irreplaceable valuables out of the ground and seas, using them up and spreading its wastes everywhere. This cost-blind nature — is made manifest in a financial system that best rewards games built on games that are almost nothing but rationalizations — worse, of a sort that only its rationalizers can understand. The financial sector has become a casino in which the highest rollers have bought the house and rigged every game to pay off by splitting winnings to bet on other rigged games, while the rest of us say “Great!”, because we’re in there playing too: betting on worthless stocks, buying overpriced houses on easy credit with negative equities, running up credit card bills while thinking nothing of paying monthly interest rates north of 20%.

This “free market” was a free-for-all in which even its hands-off regulators participated. All while the country went from being the world’s leading manufacturer and creditor to the world’s leading out-sourcer and debtor — with the load now running into the dozens of trillions of dollars. Remember that we voted for the people who presided over that.

It’s tempting to blame and punish, but that isn’t what we need now. What we need is for credit to keep moving while the financial sector gradually shrinks to sane dimensions, with value that rises from 1/1 relationships between reality and perception — or at least a fair chance that good ideas will turn into good business. (I don’t want to throw smart investor babies out with the dumb investor bathwater.)

I don’t know if this $.7 trillion bill will do that. I do have a strong hunch about what will happen if it doesn’t. Or if we do nothing and let nature take its course. The entire financial sector will collapse, and the government won’t be able to print enough money to pay off its own and everybody else’s creditors, starting with China. Businesses of all kinds will close, and all but a few public utilities will cease to run smoothly. With weak manufacturing, absent small farming and other graces of traditional functioning societies, we’ll fall into a depression as bad or worse than the Great one. Cities will fail and crime will go rampant. And we’ll bore our grandchildren with stories of what it was like to hike ten miles through the snow to work at the only shit jobs that were left.

I believe this is what Warren Buffett also sees when he compares the current crisis to Pearl Harbor. I believe Buffett because he got wealthy by being sensible and prudent, and very much not of a type with those that have made a mess of the financial system.

Or so it seems to me on a Sunday morning just short of the precipice.

Oh, and I don’t hear either candidate talking about what’s really going on here. Nor do I expect them to.

A High Fly Five…

… to McCarran International Airport, for providing free wi-fi.

And dig the speed:

Nice.

Guess I can upload some photos while I’m busy with actual work here (at 4:49am).

What knew?

I love , by by G. Nolst Trenite’ a.k.a. “Charivarius”, it says at that link. And I thank , sitting next to me in the speaker room at Blog World Expo, for turning me onto something fun and old that I’m amazed not to have run into before. Speaking of which, I just turned her on to BuzzPhraser, one of the Web’s oldest still-functioning instruments of linguistic fun.

.

Smarty pants

Apple has applied to patent the ‘smart garment’.

Nick Carr explains:

  Apple views tennis-shoe DRM as a way to head off what it sees as a potential plague of sneaker hacking. “Some people,” the patent application observes, “have taken it upon themselves to remove the sensor from the special pocket of the [iPod-linked] Nike+ shoe and place it at inappropriate locations (shoelaces, for example) or place it on non-Nike+ model shoes.” Oh my God: Geeks are ripping the sensors out of their sneakers and sticking them on their shoelaces! Unleash the shoe nazis!

Say ______?

Twice in the last half hour, John Wayne Airport asked everybody to observe a minute of silence in honor of the airplane strikes against the World Trade Center exactly seven years ago, to the minute. On the way here I heard on the radio that this is now a regular thing in New York, but it’s the first time I experienced it at an airport.

I looked around to see what people did after they heard the message, announced following what must hold the record for Most Loud And Annoying Alert Sound (MLAAAS) at any airport on Earth: three long blasts that sound like a brontosaurus bellowing into a bad microphone. The answer was, mostly, nothing different. People in conversation kept talking, to each other or their phones. People behind counters continued to deal with pressing issues. A page for a list of passengers also came on immediately after the call for silence by the PA announcer.

Is it just how it goes here? Dunno. Just thought it was worth observing.

It can happen

Ordered a double short decaf cappuccino at the Starbucks in John Wayne Airport a few minutes ago. “I’ll have to charge you for a tall,” the woman behind the counter said. “Okay”, I replied. Turned out to be perfectly made and much more tasty than I tend to expect from decaf. The ratio of espresso, milk and foam was close to ideal. The foam still in the cup, ten minutes later, looks like coffee-marbled shaving cream, and still tastes delicious, cold. I don’t think I’ve had a better cup from an airport coffee vendor, including Peets. Was it worth the $4.85 I paid for it? ($3.50 for the cap, $1.00 for the extra shot and $.35 tax, the receipt says.) Guess so.

Capitol Reef and its amazing rock suite

I shot more than 500 pictures out the pitted and blistered windows of the United Airbus 320 I took from Chicago to Orange County, day before yesterday. The shot above is one of them. It’s part of this series here, all of Capitol Reef National Park in Utah.

What I’m hoping is that somebody somewhere has troubled to identify all the rock strata on display here. If not, I’ll do it eventually. Meanwhile, I’ll at least tell you that the lightest color rock — the spine of the “reef” that stands out most in the larger feature known locally as the Waterpocket Fold — is Navajo Sandstone. Read more about it at that last link.

Airhopping

I’m at O’Hare, en route from Boston to Orange County for DIDW, where I’ll be speaking on Wednesday. Beautiful day in Chicago, just like it was in Boston when I left at dawn. In the plane now with one of those rare bulkhead seats that give you lots of legroom and room to store a carry-on under the seat in front of you. The only bummer is the windows, which are not ideal for shooting. I actually have three of them, but they’re all pitted and blistered.

Interesting to observe an unintended consequence for airlines now charging for checked luggage: everybody is carrying on board the largest possible bags. This slows things down and screws the people last on board. That was me out of boston. My carry-on bag was taken from me and checked as luggage. Hope it gets there. I kept my back pack, though.

The lesson: get as close to the front of the boarding line as you can.

See ya on the far coast.

Moving along

From The Long When:

  Either we get green or our layer of the lithosphere wraps early. We have to learn to respect a scope of time that geologists and too few others even begin to conceive. That’s why I love what the Long Now folks are trying to do. Our species has been operating on a free lunch program for the duration. We’re a start-up species, exploiting everything we found when we came here, and giving back approximately nothing. If we don’t come back from lunch pretty soon, lunch is what we’ll be.

Wrote that 7.5 years ago.

Flight hackers guide

I fly a lot, and I’m delayed a lot, including now, sitting in the terminal at Santa Barbara (waiting to take a redeye that will land me in Boston at dawn tomorrow). So I’ll take a few minutes to share some of what I’ve learned along the way.

First, dig . Not the best UI, but a very handy resource. It was via FlightAware that I found that my plane wasn’t only “delayed” (as the board said at the airport), but that the plane that would become my Denver flight was still on the ground in San Francisco, and would be an hour and thirty-seven munutes late taking off. Since I only had an hour layover in Denver, I had to seek alternatives.

Second, and . Since the Long Tail fills in blanks that the airlines miss, I was able to get a seat with extra legroom on the United Airbus 320 I’ll be taking tonight.

Third, if you’re waiting on line, call the airline and get business out of the way while you’re idle. I was able to do that in this case, and it was a merciful break for the passengers queued up behind me.

Fourth, dig AviationWeather.gov. All the links are interesting and rich with informative maps. There’s even a space weather link. Handy if there’s an aurora going on and you’re flying a route within sight of a magnetic pole. Here’s an example, complete with Space Weaher screen shots.

Power Trip

(Note: this post was made mistakenly as a page, and didn’t go up at first. Now it’s here. Thanks to commenters for the help.)

I’ve flown over these coal in New Mexico and Arizona many times, but never checked to see what was up with them. Or down. Or choose your direction.

Turns out the one above, a giant W in the Arizona landscape, is the Black Mesa Mine, and it has been mothballed since 2005 when the destination of its coal (via an unusual route), the Mojave power plant, was shut down. The Kayenta Mine is still running, as are the other mines I saw off to the east around the Four Corners areas.

I’m flying back to Boston today. Weather looks bad for shooting over the West. It’ll be dark over the rest of the trip anyway, though sometimes I get some good city shots at night.

Flying out here on the 19th, I sat on the sunny side of the plane, which never makes for good shooting, but I still got some decent shots of Gloucester Bay, Mt. Blanca in Colorado’s Sagre de Cristo range, Great Sand Dunes National Park, center-fed farms (such as the one above) in the San Luis Valley, the San Juan River running through a hogback, Shiprock, the painted desert, the Black Mesa Mine, the Kayenta Mine, the Grand Canyon, salt evaporators, Mt. San Jacinto, Mt. San Gorgonio, mountains of coastal southern California and Los Angeles freeways. Some are good. Enjoy.

Off we go

Well, approximately nothing mechanical or electical is working right. Both laptops are flaky and both cameras are screwy too. But the car works, so I’m taking the boys on a trip to the Antelope Valley Fair. We have tickets to Wierd Al‘s show tonight as well. See ya on the far side.

[Later...] Pix.

A slolam

Lots of pretty thunderheads between Phoenix and Salt Lake City. We’ll be dodging those shortly.

I grew up in New Jersey, which I think of as “New England without the universities”. There are many places in New Jersey with beauty equal to, say, New Hampshire’s. But New Jersey never had the same ethos of preservation, the same not-quite-a-mythology that explains why Norman Rockwell and his sentiments fit New England like a shoe while to the rest of the country they remain a maudlin approximation of bygone times elsewhere.

I transferred my state citizenship from New Jersey to North Carolina in early 1974, when I left our small rented house on Route 94 in Yellow Frame, out in Sussex County, the beautiful northernmost county of the state. Back then Sussex County had more cows than people, and featured fall colors and pastoral scenes worthy of calendars and post cards. Best of all it shared the with Pennsylvania. The shores of the river were settled first by the Indians and later by the , descendents of which continued to farm the islands and lowlands alongside the river, right up to the point in the 1970s when the United States government, with help from both states, condemned the land, including perfectly good towns such as Dingman’s Ferry, and let it all fall to ruin while fighting and failing to build the unnecessary. It was, and remains, a disgrace.

Can you imagine the feds, or Vermont and New Hampshire, doing the same to the ? Of course not. We’re talking about New England here.

The difference was brought home to me this past weekend when we picked up The Kid from camp in Vermont and took our time heading back to Boston. We visited Middlebury, Waterbury (including the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream headquarters), the Rock of Ages Quarry near Barre, and various towns along the Connecticut River before having some okay Thai food in Keene. New England is truly a beautiful region, even with almost no available hotel rooms.

Much of that was recorded photographically. Here’s the set. Here’s the slide show.

Nice to know New England is there. Less nice to know that much of the same beauty has long since been paved or otherwise profaned in other states. (Of course, I also realize that much has been lost in New England as well. Just less of it than elsewhere.)

The shot above is of the Congregational Church in Middlebury, Vermont. I shot a series of photos of the church, most with white and grey clouds boiling up in the sky beyond. I wasn’t sure which was best (which is why I kept them all), but I am sure that several are better than the one the church uses for its own website.

I also did some experimental shooting with this brick building in downtown Middlebury, which is about as nice a little college town as you’re gonna find anywhere. The best of those shots, by the way, were taken not with my Canon 30D SLR, but with a little Canon Powershot SD850is. Partly that’s because the little camera likes to yield more vibrant colors than the big one; and partly it’s because the big one wasn’t fixed right and read the light wrong.

Anyway, I’m back out in California, where I am now a citizen, even though most of the next year will be spent back at the Berkman Center in Cambridge.

Green Mountains, blue sky

A perfect day in Vermont. In Middlebury at the moment. At Carol’s Cafe. Perfect coffee. Before that, lunch at Mama’s Cafe. Also outstanding. I have a feeling nothing sucks around here.

Not sure what’s next, but we’re doing that.

[Later...] I don’t know why, but this text disappeared, and the comments under it now appear under the one following it, which now appears to precede it, because I was able to recover the text, and post it again. Not sure what went wrong there, but … whatever. Better just to enjoy life. And sleep. I gotta crash now. Tomorrow: something in New Hampshire.

Several weeks ago, while we were walking around Mystic Seaport, in the mist of shooting these pictures, I dropped my camera, a Canon 30D — a workhorse that has served ably for more than two years. Afterwards it seemed to work fine mechanically, but it could no longer read light properly. For whatever reason, it overexposed shots by two stops or more. (All the shots I took with it after that were in manual mode using guesswork about light, trial and error.)

So I took it in to a camera repair shop near Boston, and they sent it to Canon. On Friday (yesterday) I got it back. It was an almost entirely new camera. New back, new top, new electronics. I didn’t have time to test it out before hitting the road for the weekend in Vermont and New Hampshire, but I didn’t expect any problems.

I was wrong. The problem wasn’t fixed. It still reads light wrong and overexposes by two or more stops. How could they replace so much of the camera and not fix the one thing that was wrong with it? Amazing.

I suppose I should bring the camera back on Monday and repeat the process, but I really want to have it in California this next week, and on the trip that follows that one. In fact, the first day I’ll be able to pick it up is September 12.

Right now I’m hoping that Samy’s in Santa Barbara (where I bought it) will be able to send it into Canon and expedite a fast turn-around on a fix.

Meanwhile I’m wondering if I should just go ahead and get a soon-to-be-discontinued Canon 5D, which is getting down around $1000 now. It’s a great camera, much better than the 30D. And use the 30D as a second camera. But… I dunno. Probably not, mostly because I’d also have to invest in all those good lenses that will make the 5D sing. Right now I have only one really good lens for the 30D. The other two are cheapies: a Tamron 18-200 (sharp, but not fast, and with fuzziness at the long end and barrel distortion at the wide) and a Canon f1.8 you can still get for just $80 or so.  They do a good job for the money, but they’re not real good lenses.

I’m a pretty good photographer. Not great, but pretty good, on the whole. And I feel like a pretty good musician using an almost good instrument. The 5D is a good instrument. Not the best, but close enough. To get a 5D and the “glass” that would do it justice… say, three primes (fixed length lenses) and a zoom would cost several thousand dollars. That’s out of my range, at least until my get-rich boat comes in.

I’m sure it will. And for that to happen, I need to focus on other work.

Mark-up

In May of last year I flew from London to Los Angeles and shot a lot of pictures out the window. While still ascending toward the sky over Scotland and beyond I shot a city I later discovered was Manchester.

Since then the photo has acquired 21notes by 3 different people. Go through the 49 shots at that last link and find many more notes from more people than I can count. Amazing. I love that kind of help.

Speaking of which, many shots like this also serve duty in Wikipedia. I just discovered where they live.

When you charge somebody for a service, your charge embodies your costs. That’s just the way business works. You bear the costs of overhead, and you charge enough to make a profits above that overhead. So, if you’re a hotel, your room rates embody the costs of heating, air conditioning, water, electricity, maid service and other necessities. Those are all overhead.

It’s time to look at Internet service the same way. Providing it should be as astandard at hotels as providing water and electric service.

Actually, more and more hotels are starting to realize this. Oddly, they’re mostly low-end hotels. But bravo for them. At least in those cases they seem to have worked out the kinks. I’ve had many fewer problems getting online over free Internet at cheap hotels than I’ve had getting online over paid Internet at expensive hotels. In fact, the costs of running a pay toilet business around Internet service are themselves pretty high, I’d reckon. You’ve got all these labor-intensive value-subtracts to maintain, starting with servers that throw login pages at users, and bump users offline if no activity is detected. These things are Murphy bait.

Of course I’m in the middle of one such mess right now, in San Francisco, where I’m paying $9.95 per day, per device, to not get online. (Luckily I have a Sprint EvDO card. But I’d rather get on a solid Net connection with more upstream speed than the EvDO card can muster.)

There is nothing wrong with a hotel hiring some outside company to make sure guests have working Internet service. But there is something wrong with a hotel offloading the entire service, and then charging guests for it. Can you imagine a hotel charging extra for water or electricity — and then sending you to some outside company to get it running if it isn’t working?

I’ve said it before and keep repeating it until it sinks in: Charging for Internet in hotels is like charging for toilets. Hotels need to get out of the pay toilet business.

What are some companies that help hotels provide free Internet to guests? Let’s have their names and pass them along. I’ll start with my hotel right here. (Where I’m currently waiting for a call from this hotel’s outside company.)

[Later...] So, at least empirically, we’ve found the solution that is also the problem: the hotel’s wi-fi system was only tested with Internet Explorer. We couldn’t get it to work with a Mac laptop or with a Linux one, each running Firefox and the former also running Safari. But when the Mac laptop fired up an ancient copy of Internet Explorer, it worked. How lame is that?

Right now I can’t log into this blog. Not through the WordPress browser dashboard, anyway. For some reason, my logged-in state was lost, just like my password to it.

My outliner knows the login and password, though. So I’m able to blog that way, which is how I post generally. But I need to be logged in to make comments as myself, or to post pictures.

Anyway, it’s a weekend, and I don’t think I’ll be able to get stuff staightened until Monday. Meanwhile I’ll be flying and driving a lot, as well as working. So, happy trails.

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

Big Business Idea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is there foreshadowing here too?

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

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

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

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

Getting around

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

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

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

Getting up and tripping

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

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

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

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.

Fires, cont’d

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

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

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

Firefighter Blog is another very good source.

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

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

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

Anyway, just a grr in the midst.

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

Tag: sbgapfire.

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

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

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

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

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

Tag: sbgapfire.

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

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tag: sbgapfire.

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

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

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

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

Other items from the press conference:

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

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

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

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

Tag: sbgapfire.

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

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

(tag: sbgapfire. Hashtag: #sbgapfire)

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

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

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

Other items from the press conference:

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

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

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

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

Tag: sbgapfire.

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

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

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

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

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

Sky show

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

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

The trip across the country on Friday yielded very little photography, at least for me: a set just 26 shots long. Our 3-person family had row 12 on the left side of a United 757-200. That’s one of the rows with a blank wall where a window might otherwise be. Our only window was usable only if we reclined the seat, and then it was pitted and dusty, and on the sunny side of the plane as well, which makes for terrible aerial photography. (Here is a shot that focuses on the window itself. Amazing we got anything through that.) Also we were on the leading edge of the wing, with the left engine intruding into much of the view of the land below. On top of all that, it was pretty hazy and/or undercast from coast to coast. The main exception was our flight path southwest across the Wind River Range of Western Wyoming, which features more than 40 named peaks in excess of 13,000 feet. Many of those are in the shot above, along with Willow and Boulder lakes on the far side of the mountains. I am sure Gannett Peak, highest in Wyoming, is near the center of the shot, which also takes in the Continental Divide

The Kid shot nearly all the pictures, by the way. He had that seat.

Could be worse

Sitting with the family between planes while delayed at SFO. One good thing: checked the speed and I’m getting 2841kbps down and 3670kbps up. Not bad for airport wi-fi.

Can’t wait to get back home to Santa Barbara. The Kid calls our Cambridge place “alt.home” or “SHIFT_HOME”. But, much as I love Boston (even the weather), SB is still Home.

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.

Two days ago I had a colonoscopy. The doctor found and removed a polyp. Routine stuff. Today it was what I guess is called an endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography. The first looked up my ass, the second down my gullet, in this case to look inside my pancreas to see if cystic lesions appearing in an MRI were communicating with the pancreatic duct. Nothing was found. Not sure what that means. Probably nothing.

Both involved so much sedation that I remember approximately nothing from either. Well, I remember waking up enough to see the polyp on TV. It looked like a sea anemone. I slept through the second procedure entirely, or forgot it thanks to the drugs’ amnesiac effect.

There is a risk of pancreatitis with the latter procedure. Makes for icky reading. It does concern me that my tummy hurts a great deal — enough that the work I hoped I could get done tonight is nowhere near my mind. My tummy always hurts when I’m hungry, and it hurts the same way now, so I don’t know what the deal is there. All I can eat is sherbet; and all I can drink are broth and water, neither of which leave me feeling filled.

I can’t sleep. And all I can think about is health shit. Or vice versa. So I blog. Comes naturally.

Got a lot of travel coming up. Supernova in San Francisco. VRM-related stuff in Utah. “Home” for a day in Santa Barbara before going to London and Copehagen for business and more VRM-related stuff. (Reboot is at the latter.)

People tell me that travel is bad for me, but the truth is that I love it. The thrill of flying over and studying the Earth never leaves me. In fact it only gets more interesting every time I fly somewhere because every flight is a chance to learn more about what’s on the ground — and whatever else is in the sky. Such as rainbow ice and auroras.

Anyway, all this stuff is about getting older. The failings of the body and the enrichment of the mind. Another of life’s wonderful ironies.

[Later...] Meanwhile it turns out that Maarten’s tumor is a mediastinal germ cell one. It’s treatable, and he goes in for chemo shortly. As cancer goes, that’s good news.

I didn’t really know Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald before this last week, except by emails and a delightful interview he did with me at in December. But I fell in love with the guy after he and his associates brought me to Amsterdam to talk at Mobile Monday and do a couple consulting gigs there (which he set up for me). Besides being a smart guy and a great host, Maarten is just a good dude and a true mensch. Gracious, caring, upbeat and much more. You can see it in these two photosets from MoMo. Maarten, his family and whole social network made my visit to Amsterdam a joy from start to finish. It’s a great city anyway, but it’s lucky to be graced with folks as good as this whole bunch.

On Wednesday, the day I flew home, Maarten went to the doctor to check out a coughing problem. Turns out he had a tumor, bigger than his heart, right in front of it. Since then he’s not been far from my own heart, as well as my mind.

I wasn’t going to write about it, because I didn’t know how private Maarten wanted to be. But it turns out he’s both tweeting and blogging what he calls his new journey. So is his wife, Lori. So we’re together with him on this thing. Such is the nature of what Twitter calls following.

He’ll find out more about the tumor tomorrow. I’m praying hard it’ll just be an oddball thing they can cut out and be done with.

Something about 3/4 of the way into this here. From last week in Amsterdam.

Here are my still shots from the show. Also from Maarten’s barbeque the night before. I’ll have more Amsterdam shots up when I’m done dealing with life & stuff.

[Later...] Here they are.

Sooner or later we all have to face the proctologist. My turn is tomorrow. So I’m fasting, sort of. In preparation. Drinking nothing but clear fluids, chased this evening with half a gallon of magnesium citrate. That’s the cocktail I’m having right now at a Starbucks. On ice. Fun.

It’s fairly routine stuff. By coincidence my lower digestive performance has been sub-par since last Wednesday evening, when I got back from Amsterdam. In that time I’ve eaten so little, and so carefully, that I’m sure I’ve knocked off seven pounds already. At least that part’s good.

You fly enough and they bump you up to Business Class whether you want it or not. That’s how United Airlines works, and for most passengers that’s not a bad thing. In my case I often don’t want it because it means giving up a window seat I’ve carefully chosen back in what we used to call Coach.

But that’s what happened last Wednesday, when I flew from Amsterdam to Chicago. I got bumped to an aisle seat in the Business Section. Worse, nearly everybody with a window seat closed their shades. For viewing we might as well have been in the cargo hold.

The “air show” system that displays flight progress on a map was also down, although a couple times I was able to tell where I was with my GPS, which (amazingly) was able to pick up the 4+ satellites required to to quadrangulate our location 38,000 feet over the Earth.

So I knew when we got to Greenland — my favorite place to shoot from on high . I asked my seatmate, who had the window, if she’d mind if I took some pictures of the land below. She said okay, we opened her shade, and that’s how I got these shots here.

The conditions were less than ideal. It’s never good to shoot out the sunny side of a plane in any case, because the direct light illuminates all the scratches, debris depositions and other imperfections in the windows, which are optically awful to begin with. This window was average or worse in those respects, and on this day Greenland was also hazy, with lots of clouds amidst the mountains. Still, I got some decent shots — enough, at least, to slake my thirst for geographic and geological spectacle and knowledge-building.

I took more shots a bit later, after we crossed the white expanse of Greenland’s middle (at just above the 63rd parallel, which is just 3 degrees south of the Arctic Circle), but need to work instead. Meanwhile, if any Flickr freaks want to help me name some of the mountains, glaciers and other features I shot in that series (or any of the others), please do. I found a few details on Google Earth and filled them in.

The caption for the above reads,

The water body is a glacial bay called Norrivig. Behind it is an island in the midst of which is “Azimuthbjerg” lat=63.4333333, lon=-41.6666667. Here is NotSoGreen on the same area, which also points to this Jason Sloan photo on Flickr. This is all in the Tunu or East Greenland, one of four large Greenland counties, or administrative districts. East Greenland is known natively as Ostgrönland. The glacier or gletcher emptying into Norrivig Bay is Thrym. The mouintain beyond is Hvidbjørn Bjerg, at
N 63° 31′ 0” W 41° 49′ 0”, or 63.51667 / -41.81667, with GeoNameId : 3423410.

Hope that helps the curious find out more.

If you’re interested in Greenland — and I would highly recommend it, because it’s not only beautiful but melting — check out NotSoGreen. Wonderful service.

Tropical Massachusetts

It was a clear morning yesterday when I flew out of Boston, and almost identical when I landed in San Francisco. For  oddball reasons of season and perspective, many of the sights on the outbound looked like the coast of Mexico or Brazil. In fact the above is Plum Island and its inlet on the North Shore near Ipswich.

Anyway, a fun set. Many more coming. See the slide show version here.

Click on the above for a nice series of shots I took while flying out of Chicago in the evening, looking east toward the skyline with the sun behind me in the west. Early on is a nice series of the Bensenville Yard, one of the most impressive, and busy, rail yards in the world.

Here’s the slide show.

Shot this series of pictures, mostly of islands in Boston Harbor, while ascending to the skies out of Logan on Sunday, en route to San Francisco. The one above is Rainsford Island. (And my shot is a lot prettier than the one at that last link