Props to Pop on Memorial Day

pop Thinking today, with great appreciation, about my father, Allen H. Searls, who served twice in the U.S. Army, first in the Coastal Artillery and again in the Signal Corps, during World War II. As I put it in the caption under that photo,
Pop hated not fighting in The War. So he re-enlisted even though he had already served in the Coastal Artillery. Grandma wrote on the back of this picture… “Pvt Allen H. Searls, 42103538, Camp Croft, S.C., Spartanburg, March 1, 1944.” He was promoted to corporal thanks to having served once already, and assigned to the Signal Corps in part because he scored 159 on the Army’s IQ test. He never bragged on that, by the way. (Though I will.) It was also very hard to get it out of him. Not that we needed to. We all knew how smart Continue reading "Props to Pop on Memorial Day"

Where the nickname came from

docdaveMy given name is David. Family members still call me that. Everybody else calls me Doc. Since people often ask me where that nickname came from, and since apparently I haven’t answered it anywhere I can now find online, here’s the story. Thousands of years ago, in the mid-1970s, I worked at a little radio station owned by Duke University called WDBS. (A nice history of the station survives, in instant-loading 1st generation html, here. I also give big hat tip to Bob Chapman for talking Duke into buying the station in 1971, when he was still a student there.) As signals went, WDBS was a shrub in grove of redwoods: strong in Duke’s corner of Durham, a bit weak in Chapel Hill, and barely audible in Raleigh—the three corners of North Carolina’s Research Triangle. (One of those redwoods, WRAL, was audible, their slogan bragged, “from Hatteras to Hickory,” which is about 320 Continue reading "Where the nickname came from"

Saving High Mountain

  highmountainI’ve long thought that the most consequential thing I’ve ever done was write a newspaper editorial that helped stop development atop the highest wooded hilltop overlooking the New York metro. The hill is called High Mountain, and it is now home to the High Mountain Park Preserve in Wayne, New Jersey. That’s it above, highlighted by a rectangle on a shot I took from a passenger plane on approach to LaGuardia in 2008. The year was 1970, and I was a 23-year-old reporter for a suburban daily called Wayne Today (which may still exist). One day, while at the police station picking up copies of the previous day’s reports, I found a detailed plan to develop the top of High Mountain, and decided to pay the place a visit. So I took a fun hike through thick woods and a din of screaming cicadas (Brood X,
wayne-today-editorial
Continue reading "Saving High Mountain"

The biggest bust in Santa Barbara is about to go down

bigbust Emanuele Orazio Fenzi, better known as Francesco Franceschi (1843-1924), was an Italian horticulturist responsible for vastly increasing botanical variety of Santa Barbara (introducing more than 900 species). He was also for awhile the primary landowner on the Riviera, which is the loaf-shaped hill overlooking the city’s downtown. Most of that hill is now covered with houses, but a large part that isn’t is what remains of the Franceschi estate: 18 acres called Franceschi Park, featuring a crumbling mansion and the bust above, carved from the top of a boulder on the property. The city doesn’t have much to say about Franceschi, with a website devoted to the park that goes one paragraph deep. Which makes sense, because the state of neglect in the park is rather extreme. I won’t go into details, because they’re well presented all these stories:

Shooting the Bluecut Fire

BluecutFireTo get away from the heat today, into a little less heat and an excuse to exercize, I drove up to Mt. Wilson, where I visited the Observatory and walked around the antenna farm there. As it happened, the Bluecut Fire was also visiting the same San Gabriel Mountains, a few miles to the east at Cajon Pass. Starting at 10:36 in the morning, it was past 10,000 acres with 0% containment by the time I observed it in the mid to late afternoon. Here’s a photo set. If anybody wants to use any of them, any way they please, feel free. The view is to the east, across 10,064-foot (3068m) Mt. San Antonio, also known as Old Baldy. I’d say more, but I’m fighting flying insects back at the house.

Desert warfare training in live ghost towns, seen from the sky

I’ve been fascinated for years by what comes and goes at the Fort Irwin National Training Centerfortirwin —in the Mojave Desert, amidst the dark and colorful Calico Mountains of California, situated in the forbidding nowhere that stretches between Barstow and Death Valley. Here and there, amidst the webwork of trails in the dirt left by tanks, jeeps and other combat vehicles, fake towns and other structures go up and come down. So, for example, here is Etrebat Shar, a fake town in an “artificial Afghanistan” that I shot earlier this month, on June 2: etrebat-shar1 And here is a broader view across the desert valley east of Fort Irwin itself: etrebat-shar2 Look to the right of the “town.” See that area where it looks like something got erased? Well, it did. I took the two shots above earlier this month, on June 2. Here’s a shot of the same scene
etrebat-shar3
othertown
Continue reading "Desert warfare training in live ghost towns, seen from the sky"

BYSMD

4-1-06 detroit & ccs 005 web Once, in the early ’80s, on a trip from Durham to some beach in North Carolina, we stopped to use the toilets at a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere. In the stall where I sat was a long conversation, in writing, between two squatters debating some major issue of the time. Think of the best back-and-forth you’ve ever read in a comment thread and you’ll get a rough picture of what this was like. So I sat there, becoming engrossed and amazed at the high quality of the dialog — and the unlikelihood of it happening where it was. Until I got to the bottom. There, ending the conversation, were the penultimate and ultimate summaries, posed as a question and answer: Q: Why do people feel compelled to settle their differences on bathroom walls? A. Because you suck my dick. That story became legendary in our family and social Continue reading "BYSMD"

Oil and Water on California’s South Coast

Oil from the Coal Oil Seep Field drifts across Platform Holly, off the shore of UC Santa Barbara.

Oil from the Coal Oil Seep Field drifts across Platform Holly, off the shore of UC Santa Barbara.

Oil in the water is one of the strange graces of life on Califonia’s South Coast. What we see here is a long slick of oil in the Pacific, drifting across Platform Holly, which taps into the Elwood Oil Field, which is of a piece with the Coal Oil Point Seep Field, all a stone’s throw off Coal Oil Point, better known as UC Santa Barbara. Wikipedia (at the momentsays this:
The Coal Oil Point seep field offshore from Santa Barbara, California isa petroleum seep area of about three square kilometres, adjacent to the Ellwood Oil Field, and releases about 40 tons of methane per day and about 19 tons of reactive organic gas (ethane, propane, butane and higher hydrocarbons), about twice the Continue reading "Oil and Water on California’s South Coast"

Speeding on the Subway

subway-speedtest At the uptown end of the 59th Street/Columbus Circle subway platform there hangs from the ceiling a box with three disks on fat stalks, connected by thick black cables that run to something unseen in the downtown direction. Knowing a few things about radio and how it works, I saw that and thought, Hmm… That has to be a cell. I wonder whose? So I looked at my phone and saw my T-Mobile connection had five dots (that’s iPhone for bars), and said LTE as well. So I ran @Ookla‘s Speedtest app and got the results above. Pretty good, no? Sure, you’re not going to binge-watch anything there, or upload piles of pictures to some cloud, but you can at least pick up some email, look some stuff up on the Web, or otherwise tug on your e-tether to everywhere for a few minutes. Nice to have. So I’m Continue reading "Speeding on the Subway"

Where the dead receive guests

trainor-biz-cardThat’s what cemeteries are, presumably: places where the dead await those who miss them, or who wish to honor and respect them. I suppose the original purpose of burial was to hold the stink down, or to recycle nutrients where the process can’t be seen. (Beats watching vultures and less grand creatures do the job.) Anyway, I found myself thinking about that when I decided to visit my Irish ancestors at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York. Long familiar to drivers as a vast forest of monuments and headstones flanking the intersection of the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (I-278) and the Long Island (I-495) Expressway, it is also the largest cemetery in the country, with more than three million idle occupants. Nine of them are relatives, most of which died more than a century ago. The main one is Thomas Trainor, my great-great-grandfather, one of seven children of John or
trainor-headstone
all-the-trainor-dead
Continue reading "Where the dead receive guests"

What are the the balls on Prague’s spires called??

prague-balls-question One of the things that fascinates me about Prague are the skewers atop the spires of its many iconic buildings, each of which pierces a shiny ball. It’s a great look. I am sure there’s a reason for those things, other than the look itself. I am also sure there is a word for the ball. The skewer too. I know it’s not spire, because that labels any conical or tapered point on the roof of a building. Prague is said to be the city of a hundred, or a thousand, spires. Most of those have these balls too, and I’ve become obsessed, while I’m here, with finding out what the hell they’re called. I’m sure more than a few people out there on the lazyweb know. So tell me. Thank you.

Valley Fire losses

Here is the current perimeter of the Valley Fire, according to the USGS’ GEOMAC viewer: ValleyFire 2015-09-13 at 3.10.24 PM_a As you see, no places are identified there. One in particular, however, is of extremely special interest to me: Harbin Hot Springs. It is where I met my wife and more friends than I can count. It is also one of the most lovely places on Earth, inhabited and lovingly maintained by wonderful people. I just matched up a section of the map above with Google Maps’ Earth view, and see that Harbin and its neighborhood are in the perimeter: Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 3.12.19 PM Still we’re talking about a perimeter here. Not everything within one burns. Harbin is mostly in a valley. Could be the fire jumped from ridge to ridge and missed it. But I suspect that instead we are looking at very sad news here, especially after seeing this picture here, which looks northwest
COyGRRHVAAEwC4w
Continue reading "Valley Fire losses"

Idea: nets from the Nets for Brooklyn’s schools and playgrounds

a Brooklyn Nets netHere is a simple idea for the Brooklyn Nets that will do a world of good for their borough and their team: provide new nets for every net-less basketball hoop in every school and playground. The cost of few thousand team color (black and white) nets probably wouldn’t be more than the cost of one player hired at minimum salary. The good will coming from it will be immeasurable. Think about team members going out to playgrounds and helping install fresh nets on empty hoops. The photo opportunities are a lesser benefit than bonding between the team and its borough — or the whole city, if they want to take the program all the way. You’re welcome.

Fun with tropo

Right now every FM and TV station in Santa Barbara and San Diego can be heard in both places. Between them lays more than 200 miles of ocean across a curved earth. I’m not there right now, but I see what’s happening remotely over my TV set top box. (Thank you, SlingBox.) But, more importantly, John Harder‘s tropo map tells me so: sb-sd-tropo Tropo is tropospheric refraction of radio waves across a distance. Atmosphere has refractive properties that don’t matter most of the time. But we can see changes, for example, with mirages ahead of us above a hot road, which causes the air above to refract light at a low angle, essentially reflecting the sky, other cars and landscapes on the horizon. Something like this also happens over land and water. I see by the map above that tropo is happening in other parts of California, Nevada, Utah and
nc-sc-tropo
wholecountry-tropo
Continue reading "Fun with tropo"

The untold pirate radio story in New York

The radio dial here IMG_8116in “upstate” Manhattan and the Bronx is packed with pirate radio signals. Many are smack next to New York’s licensed landmarks. Here’s what I’m getting right now on our kitchen radio…
  • 88.1 “Romantica New York” Spanish announcers, music in English and Spanish. Right next to WBGO (@wbgo), New York’s jazz station (licensed to Newark).
  • 89.3 Spanish. Right next to WFDU and WNYU (@wnyu), the Fairleigh Dickenson and NYU stations that share time on 89.1.
  • 89.7 Spanish. Talk. Call-ins. Right next to WKCR (@wkcrfm), the Columbia University station on 89.9.
  • 91.3 Spanish, as I recall. It just popped off the air. Right next to WNYE on 91.5.
  • 92.1 Spanish, currently playing traditional Mexican (e.g. Mariachi) music and talking up a Mexican restaurant. Right next to 92.3 WBMP “Amp radio” (@923amp)
    Continue reading "The untold pirate radio story in New York"

The Giant Zero

The Giant ZeroMany years ago, Craig Burton shared the best metaphor for the Internet that I have ever heard, or seen in my head. He called it hollow sphere: a giant three-dimensional zero. He called it that because a sphere’s geometry best illustrates a system in which every end, regardless of its physical location, is functionally zero distance away from every other end. Across the nothing in the Net’s hollow sphere, every point can “see” every other point, and connect to it, as if distance were not there. And at no cost. It doesn’t matter that the Net’s base protocol, TCP/IP, is not perfect, that there are costs and latencies involved in the operation of connections and routers between end points — and that many people in the world still do not enjoy the Net’s graces. What matters is that our species’ experience of the Net, and of the world Continue reading "The Giant Zero"

Internet.org is a failed exercise in misdirection

The Internet is one thing. It is comprised of everything it connects. By nature it is as neutral as gravity. It favors nothing and is not partial to anything. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, in the way Net access is provisioned, but the basic nature of the Net — as a free, open and neutral shared space in the world — is by now obvious to pretty much everybody who doesn’t have an interest in limiting it in some way. This is why Facebook’s Internet.org is pure misdirection: a partial private fraction masked as a complete public whole. And also why it’s in trouble. The misdirection isn’t working. The site calls itself “a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, non-profits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.” But India isn’t buying it. See here, here, here, here, here, here — and every other place you’ll find piles of stories about it. (Start with the Critique section of the Wikipedia article on Internet.org, and a search for India+Facebook+Internet.org.) They’re rejecting Internet.org for one simple reason: it’s not Neutral. Naturally, Mark Zuckerberg disagrees, and explains how in this post on the matter, which went up yesterday, and I’ll respond to, piece by piece:
Over the past week in India, there has been a lot written about Internet.org and net neutrality. I’d like to share my position on these topics here for everyone to see. First, I’ll share a quick story. Last year I visited Chandauli, a small village in northern India that had just been connected to the internet. In a classroom in the village, I had the chance to talk to a group of students who were learning to use the internet. It was an incredible experience to think that right there in that room might be a student with a big idea that could change the world — and now they could actually make that happen through the internet.
Those students should know the whole Net. Not just a subset of it.
The internet is one of the most powerful tools for economic and social progress. It gives people access to jobs, knowledge and opportunities. It gives voice to the voiceless in our society, and it connects people with vital resources for health and education. I believe everyone in the world deserves access to these opportunities.

Fine. Then either give them the whole thing, or call what you give them something else that’s clearly less: Facebook+, perhaps.

In many countries, however, there are big social and economic obstacles to connectivity. The internet isn’t affordable to everyone, and in many places awareness of its value remains low. Women and the poor are most likely to be excluded and further disempowered by lack of connectivity.

Don’t confuse access providers with the Internet itself. The Net itself has no cost. That’s one of the features of its inherent neutrality. As Steve Kamman explains, “Bandwidth is dirt cheap. And bog-standard… This isn’t Continue reading "Internet.org is a failed exercise in misdirection"

This is why you want a window seat

Screen Shot 2015-04-15 at 12.22.17 AM I’ve seen auroras on red-eyes between the U.S. and Europe before. This one over Lake Superior, for example, on a July night in 2007. And this one over Greenland in September 2012. But both of those were fairly dim. Sunday night’s red-eye was different. This one was a real show. And I almost missed it. First, my window seat had no window. It was 33A on a United 777: an exit row, with lots of legroom, but a wall where other seats have a window. But I got a corner of the window behind me if I leaned back. The girl sitting there shut the window to block out the sun earlier in the flight, but now it was dark, so I opened the window and saw this: a green curtain of light over the wing. So I got my camera, and wedged it into the narrow space at the top right corner of the window, where I could get a clean shot. And then I shot away. All the times on the shots are Pacific US time, but the local time here — looking north across Hudson Bay, from northern Quebec — were Eastern, or flanking midnight. None of the shots in the set have been processed in any way. Later, when I have time, I’ll add a few more, and edit them to bring out what the naked eye saw: the best reason to have a window seat on the polar side of a red-eye flight.    

The best 3-point shooter you never saw

I remember the first time I saw Dwight Durante shoot. It was in the old Guilford College gym, where Catawba College was the visiting team. Guilford then was a small college basketball powerhouse, ranked among the top NAIA schools. We had three players that would be drafted by the pros (Ed Fellers, Pat Moriarty and Bob Kauffman, who went on to become an NBA all-star and coach). Our coach was future hall-of-famer Jerry Steele. Catawba was good but not quite great, and sure to lose. Not far past the half court line on Catawba’s first possession, Dwight Durante fired up a shot. It went in. For the rest of the game, Durante perforated the Guilford defense with artful moves, but mostly blew everybody’s mind with these extremely long shots. I forget the final score, but I remember that Guilford lost. All those long shots were worth just two points. The three-point rule didn’t arrive in college ball until 1986. From a 2007 story by Mike London in the Salisbury (NC) post:
Eighty amateur basketball stars gathered in New Mexico in the spring of 1968 for the Olympic Trials.  Only 12 would be chosen for the USA team that would compete for a gold medal in Mexico City.  Pete Maravich, Charlie Scott, Rick Mount and JoJo White were there.  So was the nation’s most famous little man, 5-foot-9 All-American Calvin Murphy, who could dunk two balls at a time.  But the sensation of those trials was a 5-8 junior from Catawba who scored 44 points, tied Murphy in knots and led the NAIA all-stars to three straight victories. His name was Dwight Durante, and while the selection committee wasn’t going to put a 5-8 NAIA kid on the team, Durante proved he could play with the best.  “I had a great tournament,” Durante said at Catawba’s basketball reunion.  “I almost made it.” Durante’s name is still whispered on the Catawba campus four decades after his heyday.  He was a lefty scoring machine with lightning in his legs.  He shot often, connected often. The Catawba record book remains his personal property: most career points (2,913), most points in a game (58), highest scoring average for a season (32.1).  He averaged 29.4 points per game for his career.  He scored 777 more points than Bill Bailey, Catawba’s No. 2 all-time scorer. Durante did what he did despite an unfortunate suspension that cost him nearly half his sophomore year and an injury that hobbled him for a month his senior year.  And he did it without benefit of the 3-point shot. “I figure 60 percent of his field goals would have been 3-pointers,” said Sam Moir,  Durante’s coach at Catawba.  “His teammates have told me, ‘No, Coach, it would have to be 70 percent.’  Dwight had great legs — he wore ankle braces in practice — and he could elevate and shoot accurately from 25, 26 feet.” …”He was Allen Iverson, Continue reading "The best 3-point shooter you never saw"

Local jazz radio coming to Kansas City

mutualmusiciansSo I just learned that a Kansas City Jazz station is headed toward existence. If you love any of these musicians, this should be very good news. The story begins,
By this time next year, Kansas City-style jazz might be bebopping out of a new radio station near you. The Mutual Musicians Foundation in the 18th and Vine jazz district announced this week it’s been granted a construction permit for a noncommercial, low-power FM radio station. The foundation is hoping the KC jazz station, at 104.7 FM, will be on the air by next January.
It will be called KOJH-LP. LP stands for low power, or what the FCC calls LPFM. Here’s the application for what’s now a granted CP, or Construction Permit. In fact there is a jazz station called KOJH already — a streaming one in Oklahoma. Though it’s not a licensed radio station, it may have inherited those call letters from one. (I’ve looked, but haven’t been able to tell. Maybe the lazyweb knows.) Here’s the station’s mission, filed with the FCC. Continue reading "Local jazz radio coming to Kansas City"