Plantings in pictures

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

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

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

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

Some perspectives in time and space

Los Angeles at nightFirst, time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, space.

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

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

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

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

Bonus link.

And more on the Anthropocene:

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And Earth is a bigger target

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

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

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

By Doc Searls
March 6, 1997

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Following Nemo

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.)

Digging Blackhawk Slide

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:

Catching up

Some links and thoughts on a Saturday night…

The Matrix is still my favorite movie of all time. I explained why here in Linux Journal, back in 2006.

Spoke to the Chief of Naval Operations Strategic Studies Group, of the U.S. Naval War College earlier this week, in Southbridge, Mass. The session was three hours long, with additional conversations before and after. The challenge was to present a view of the connected world from five decades back in the past to several more into the future. The discussion was one of the best I’ve had with any group, which wasn’t surprising, given the high level of competence and curiosity required of CNO fellows and other personnel, starting with Admiral Hogg, who runs the show there. Sometime soon I’ll put up an essay summarizing what I came up with there.

Google Maps for iOS rocks. I’ve tested it driving from Southbridge to Manhattan, and for walking and riding public transportation around Manhattan as well. On the way down in the car it had me going from 84 to 91 to 95 — my usual route — but then re-routed me over to 15/Merritt Parkway when traffic started to back up on ’95 thirty miles ahead. I assume that was the reason, anyway. Oh, it also vocalized. Huge improvement over the old Google and the new Apple Maps app. And today it got us to Brooklyn, the Village, Eatery on 23rd & 5th, and then back home to “upstate” Manhattan, with precision and clarity. Well done.

I also want to give Nokia’s NAVTEQ-based Here.com and its Here app props, even though, as of today, Google’s Maps app beats it. That’s because  NAVTEQ welcomes user input. I suppose Google and Apple do too, at least to some degree. But my fantasy here is making a connection between Open Street Map and Nokia/NAVTEQ. The timing wasn’t right for that in the past; but I think it might be soon — especially after Nokia (inevitably) starts offering Android-based phones.

Google’s Lost Social Network, by Rob Fishman in BuzzFeed. Long piece, still sinking my mental teeth into it.

Season Has Changed, but the Drought Endures, by John Eligon in the New York Times. I took some shots of the dry Mississippi last month on a flight from Houston to Boston. Here they are. Compare those to Google Earth’s view of the same scene in wetter times.

How Much It Would Cost Google To Become A National Cable Company Like Comcast? asks the headline above Jay Yarow‘s story in Business Insider. How about … To Become a National Internet Company Like Comcast Never Will Be? The answer, from Goldman Sachs, is $140 billion. So how about Google and Apple chipping in and doing it together? Hey, why not?

In a related matter, here’s Time Warner Cable: Demand Not There for Google Fiber: Insists That if People Want 1 Gbps, They’ll Provide it, by Karl Bode in Broadband. This reminds me of a conversation Craig Burton once had with a honcho at a BigCo to whom Craig explained a huge opportunity. The honcho at the BigCo said, “We’ll do it when there’s a demand for it.” To which Craig responded, “When somebody says something like that, they mean one of two things: either ‘Over my dead body,’ or ‘I don’t understand what you said.’” With Time Warner, it’s the first of those. By the way, I just ordered Time Warner’s Internet service here in New York City, after it became clear that Verizon FiOS, which provides me with 25Mbps symmetrical service in Boston, won’t be coming through here for a few more months. I want more than the 5Mbps upstream that Time Warner provides, so there is at least one customer’s demand for something better what they offer with their best package — at least from me. And I’m sure I’m not alone. Not if “the cloud” means anything. (The cost for 50/5Mbps, btw: $85/month.)

Federal agency wants black boxes in every new car by September 2014, by Cyrus Farivar in ArsTechnica. The idea is to help the car companies and feds toward “understanding how drivers respond in a crash and whether key safety systems operate properly.” Correctly, Cyrus asks in a subhead, “Who owns the black box data?” How about the car owner? Here ya go:

As per NHTSA’s proposed rule, the collected data would include vehicle speed, whether the brake had been activated, crash forces at the moment of impact, the state of the engine throttle, airbag deployment timing, and whether or not seatbelts were in use.

Since 2006 the NHTSA established recommended guidelines for EDRs, but did not mandate them. As we reported in April 2012, car manufacturers have been required to disclose the presence and physical location of an EDR in a car’s owner’s manual since 2011. Seven years earlier, California became the first state to mandate such disclosure.

The NHTSA has a policy that EDR data would be treated as the property of the vehicle owner and not accessed without his or her permission. The agency also noted in its new 56-page document (PDF) that it “does not have any authority to establish legally-binding rules regarding the ownership or use of a vehicle’s EDR data.”

Copyright: Holding back the torrent. In TheNextWeb. Grist for many mills.

The Power of Selling Out: Customers as Political Capital. As only The Onion can put it. Close to home.

D.O.A.: Death of Advertising, by Edward Montes in MediaPost. It lauds RTB, without explaining what it is. (Answer: Real Time Bidding.) The gist (just to pick one paragraph among others like it):

RTB empowers the tailoring of every aspect of a brand’s communication with a consumer, transforming mass media to direct communication between brand and consumer. The ability to buy individual advertising impressions, based on large quantities of data about that impression and inevitably about the consumer of that impression, enables the concept of “customization at scale.” This notion is not advertising as most recognize it using mass media, but rather the death of advertising, because it alters the interaction in the intermediate communication layer between brand and consumer. This level of close interaction imposes a tremendously more difficult environment for marketers, as every single media brand exposure has the opportunity to be definitively more valuable and thus requires much more detailed planning and purchase. It also rewards marketers able to learn, adapt and generally be dynamic. Interestingly, this does not pose a new paradigm for publishers or producers of content — but rather, in maturity, should place even higher values on publishers that can deliver high value audiences via quality content and quality environments.

Speaking as the human target of this kind of shit, let me put it the way The Cluetrain Manifesto did, almost fourteen years ago:

we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

The next Web will grow faster. By Dave Winer. Comment there by yours truly.

And with that I’m going to bed. More in the morning.

 

 

The biggest picture

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.

The only issue that matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One of the world’s great craters

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

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

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

 

Circular quoting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Many years of now

“When I’m Sixty-Four” is 44 years old. I was 20 when it came out, in the summer of 1967,  one among thirteen perfect tracks on The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. For all the years since, I’ve thought the song began, “When I get older, losing my head…” But yesterday, on the eve of actually turning sixty-four, I watched this video animation of the song (by theClemmer) and found that Paul McCartney actually sang, “… losing my hair.”

Well, that’s true. I’m not bald yet, but the bare spot in the back and the thin zone in the front are advancing toward each other, while my face continues falling down below.

In July 2006, my old friend Tom Guild put Doc Searls explains driftwood of the land up on YouTube. It’s an improvisational comedy riff that Tom shot with his huge new shoulder-fire video camera at our friend Steve Tulsky’s house on a Marin County hillside in June, 1988. It was a reunion of sorts. Tom, Steve and I had all worked in radio together in North Carolina. I was forty at the time, and looked about half that age. When my ten-year-old kid saw it, he said “Papa, you don’t look like that.” I replied, “No, I do look like that. I don’t look like this,” pointing to my face.

Today it would be nice if I still looked like I did five years ago. The shot in the banner at the top of this blog was taken in the summer of 1999 (here’s the original), when I was fifty-two and looked half that age. The one on the right was taken last summer (the shades on my forehead masking a scalp that now reflects light), when I was a few days short of sixty-three. By then I was finally looking my age.

A couple months back I gave a talk at the Personal Democracy Forum where I was warmly introduced as one of those elders we should all listen to. That was nice, but here’s the strange part: when it comes to what I do in the world, I’m still young. Most of the people I hang and work with are half my age or less, yet I rarely notice or think about that, because it’s irrelevant. My job is changing the world, and that’s a calling that tends to involve smart, young, energetic people. The difference for a few of us is that we’ve been young a lot longer.

But I don’t have illusions about the facts of life. It’s in one’s sixties that the croak rate starts to angle north on the Y axis as age ticks east on the X. Still, I’m in no less hurry to make things happen than I ever was. I’m just more patient. That’s because one of the things I’ve learned is that now is always earlier than it seems. None of the future has happened yet, and it’s always bigger than the past.

World wide puddle

is ahead of his time again.  nailed computing as a utility, long before “the cloud” came to mean pretty much the same thing. His latest book, , explored the changes in our lives and minds caused by moving too much of both online — again before others began noticing how much the Net was starting to look like a handbasket.

Thus The Shallows comes to mind when I read Alice Gregory’s in . An excerpt:

I have the sensation, as do my friends, that to function as a proficient human, you must both “keep up” with the internet and pursue more serious, analog interests. I blog about real life; I talk about the internet. It’s so exhausting to exist on both registers, especially while holding down a job. It feels like tedious work to be merely conversationally competent. I make myself schedules, breaking down my commute to its most elemental parts and assigning each leg of my journey something different to absorb: podcast, Instapaper article, real novel of real worth, real magazine of dubious worth. I’m pretty tired by the time I get to work at 9 AM.

In-person communication feels binary to me now: subjects are either private, confessional, and soulful or frantically current, determined mostly by critical mass, interesting only in their ephemeral status. Increasingly these modes of talk seem mutually exclusive. You can pull someone aside—away from the party, onto the fire escape—and confess to a foible or you can stay inside with the group and make a joke about something everyone’s read online. “Maybe you keep the wrong company,” my mother suggests. Maybe. But I like my friends! We can sympathize with each other and feel reassured that we’re not alone in our overeager consumption, denigrated self-control, and anxiety masked as ambition.

Here’s Nick:

On the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from tap to tap. We transfer only a small jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream.

Psychologists refer to the information flowing into our working memory as our cognitive load. When the load exceeds our mind’s ability to process and store it, we’re unable to retain the information or to draw connections with other memories. We can’t translate the new material into conceptual knowledge. Our ability to learn suffers, and our understanding remains weak. That’s why the extensive brain activity that Small discovered in Web searchers may be more a cause for concern than for celebration. It points to cognitive overload.

The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it. There’s the problem of hypertext and the many different kinds of media coming at us simultaneously. There’s also the fact that numerous studies—including one that tracked eye movement, one that surveyed people, and even one that examined the habits displayed by users of two academic databases—show that we start to read faster and less thoroughly as soon as we go online. Plus, the Internet has a hundred ways of distracting us from our onscreen reading. Most email applications check automatically for new messages every five or 10 minutes, and people routinely click the Check for New Mail button even more frequently. Office workers often glance at their inbox 30 to 40 times an hour. Since each glance breaks our concentration and burdens our working memory, the cognitive penalty can be severe.

The penalty is amplified by what brain scientists call . Every time we shift our attention, the brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources. Many studies have shown that switching between just two tasks can add substantially to our cognitive load, impeding our thinking and increasing the likelihood that we’ll overlook or misinterpret important information. On the Internet, where we generally juggle several tasks, the switching costs pile ever higher.

The Net’s ability to monitor events and send out messages and notifications automatically is, of course, one of its great strengths as a communication technology. We rely on that capability to personalize the workings of the system, to program the vast database to respond to our particular needs, interests, and desires. We want to be interrupted, because each interruption—email, tweet, instant message, RSS headline—brings us a valuable piece of information. To turn off these alerts is to risk feeling out of touch or even socially isolated. The stream of new information also plays to our natural tendency to overemphasize the immediate. We crave the new even when we know it’s trivial.

And so we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us in ever more varied ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the fragmentation of our attention, and the thinning of our thoughts in return for the wealth of compelling, or at least diverting, information we receive. We rarely stop to think that it might actually make more sense just to tune it all out.

Try writing about the Net and tuning it out at the same time. Clearly Nick can do that, because he’s written a bunch of books about the Net (and related matters) while the Net’s been an available distraction. Meanwhile I’ve spent most of the past year writing just one book, fighting and often losing against constant distraction. It’s very hard for me to put the blinders on and just write the thing. In the last few months what I’ve succeed in doing, while wearing the blinders and getting most of my book writing done, is participating far less in many things that I help sustain, or that sustain me, including projects I’m working on, time with my wife, kids and grandkids, and this very blog. (Lotta white spaces on the calendar to the right there.)

On the whole I’ve been dismissive of theories (including Nick’s) about how the Net changes us for the worse, mostly because my own preoccupations, including my distractions, tend to be of the intellectually nutritive sort — or so I like to believe. That is, I’m curious about all kinds of stuff, and like enlarging the sum of what I know, and how well I know it. The Net rocks for that. Still, I see the problem. I can triangulate on that problem just from own struggles plus Alice’s and Nick’s.

used to say, “Great minds discuss ideas, mediocre minds discuss events, and small minds discuss people.” (Attributed, with some dispute, to Eleanor Roosevelt.) The Net feeds all three, but at the risk of dragging one’s mind from the great to the small. “What else are we doing on the internet if not asserting our rank?” Alice writes. (Would we ask the same about what we’re doing in a library?) Later she adds,

Sometimes I can almost visualize parts of myself, the ones I’m most proud of, atrophying. I wish I had an app to monitor it! I notice that my thoughts are homeopathic, that they mirror content I wish I weren’t reading. I catch myself performing hideous, futuristic gestures, like that “hilarious” moment three seconds into an intimate embrace in which I realize I’m literally rubbing my iPhone screen across his spine. Almost every day at 6 PM my Google Alert tells me that an “Alice Gregory” has died. It’s a pretty outdated name, and most of these obituaries, from family newsletters and local papers, are for octogenarians. I know I’m being tidy-minded even to feel a pang from this metaphor, but still . . .

It’s hard not to think “death drive” every time I go on the internet. Opening Safari is an actively destructive decision. I am asking that consciousness be taken away from me. Like the lost time between leaving a party drunk and materializing somehow at your front door, the internet robs you of a day you can visit recursively or even remember. You really want to know what it is about 20-somethings? It’s this: we live longer now. But we also live less. It sounds hyperbolic, it sounds morbid, it sounds dramatic, but in choosing the internet I am choosing not to be a certain sort of alive. Days seem over before they even begin, and I have nothing to show for myself other than the anxious feeling that I now know just enough to engage in conversations I don’t care about.

The internet’s most ruinous effect on literacy may not be the obliteration of long-format journalism or drops in hardcover sales; it may be the destruction of the belief that books can be talked and written about endlessly. There are fewer official reviews of novels lately, but there are infinitely more pithily captioned links on Facebook, reader-response posts on Tumblr, punny jokes on Twitter. How depressing, to have a book you just read and loved feel so suddenly passé, to feel—almost immediately—as though you no longer have any claim to your own ideas about it. I started writing this piece when the book came out at the end of July, and I started unwriting it almost immediately thereafter. Zeno’s Paradox 2.0: delete your sentences as you read their approximations elsewhere. How will future fiction work? Will details coalesce into aphorism? I wonder if instead of scribbling down in my notebook all the familiar aspects of girls I see on the street, as I used to, I’ll continue doing what I do now: snapping a picture and captioning it, in the words of Shteyngart, “so media.”

I’ll grant that we have problems here, but is literacy actually being ruined? Is long-format journalism actually obliterated? The New Yorker is as thick as ever with six to eight thousand word essays. Books still move through stores online and off. Our fourteen year old kid still reads piles of books, even as he spends more time online, watching funny YouTube videos and chatting with a friend three time zones away. Is he worse for that? Maybe, but I don’t think so. Not yet, anyway.

What I am sure about is this: Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr are temporary constructions on the Web, like Worlds Fairs used to be, when we still had them. The Internet is a world where all four seasons happen at once. New sites and services are like plants that germinate, grow, bud, bloom and die, over and over. Even the big trees don’t grow to the sky. We need their fruit, their shade, their wood and the humus to which they return. Do we need the other crap that comes along with it those stages? Maybe not, but we go for it anyway.

Last Tuesday gave an excellent Berkman Lunch talk titled Status Update: Celebrity, Publicity and Self-Branding in Web 2.0. The summary:

In the mid-2000s, journalists and businesspeople heralded “Web 2.0” technologies such as YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook as signs of a new participatory era that would democratize journalism, entertainment, and politics. By the decade’s end, this idealism had been replaced by a gold-rush mentality focusing on status and promotion. While the rhetoric of Web 2.0 as democratic and revolutionary persists, I will contend that a primary use of social media is to boost user status and popularity, maintaining hierarchy rather than diminishing it. This talk focuses on three status-seeking techniques that emerged with social media: micro-celebrity, self-branding, and life-streaming. I examine interactions between social media and social life in the San Francisco “tech scene” to show that Web 2.0 has become a key aspect of social hierarchy in technologically mediated communities.

I’ve been in and out of that scene since 1985, and I know personally a large percentage of Alice’s sources. One of them, , provided Alice with some terrific insights about how the status system works. Tara also punched out of that system not long ago, moving to Montreal and starting a company. She has also been very active in the development community, for which I am very grateful. She’s on a helluva ride.

Listening to the two Alices,  comes to mind:

A Route of Evanescence,
With a revolving Wheel –
A Resonance of Emerald
A Rush of Cochineal –
And every Blossom on the Bush
Adjusts it’s tumbled Head –
The Mail from Tunis – probably,
An easy Morning’s Ride –

Speaking of which, here’s Bill Hicks on life’s ride:

The World is like a ride in an amusement park, and when you choose to go on it you think it’s real, because that’s how powerful our minds are. And the ride goes up and down and round and round, and it has thrills and chills and is very brightly colored, and it’s very loud. And it’s fun, for a while.

Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they’ve begun to question, ‘Is this real, or is this just a ride?’, and other people have remembered, and they’ve come back to us and they say ‘Hey, don’t worry. Don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.’ and we KILL THOSE PEOPLE.

“Shut him up! We have alot invested in this ride! SHUT HIM UP! Look at my furrows of worry. Look at my big bank account, and my family. This has to be real.”

It’s just a ride.

But we always kill those good guys who try and tell us that. You ever noticed that? And let the demons run amok. But it doesn’t matter, because … It’s just a ride.

And we can change it anytime we want. It’s only a choice. No effort, no work, no job, no savings of money. A choice, right now, between fear and love. The eyes of fear wants you to put bigger locks on your door, buy guns, close yourself off. The eyes of love, instead see all of us as one.

(Watch the video. It’s better.)

Social media, social networking — all of it — is just practice. It’s just scaffolding for the roller coaster we keep re-building, riding on, falling off, and re-building. That’s what we’ve been making and re-making of civilization, especially since Industry won the Industrial revolution. (That’s why we needed world’s fairs,  to show off how Industry was doing.)

You go back before that and, on the whole, life didn’t change much, anywhere. Most of our ancestors, for most of the Holocene, lived short, miserable lives that were little different than those of generations prior or hence.

Back in the ’70s I lived in a little community called Oxbow, north of Chapel Hill. My house was one off whats now called Wild Primrose Lane, in this map here. In those days the bare area in the center of that map was a farm that was plowed fresh every spring. One day while we were walking there, I picked up a six-inch spear point that looked like this one from the (one county over):

(Hmm… I’ve been wondering what happened to the one I found. Could this be it? The more I look at it, the more I think so.) Anyway, I brought it to friends in the anthropology department at UNC — associates of the great Joffre Coe — who told me it was a Guilford point, from the Middle Archaic period, which ran from 6000 to 3000 B.C. (The original color was gray, as you can see from the chipped parts. The surface color comes from what’s called patination.)

What fascinates me about this date range, which is similar to the range for other kinds of points everywhere in the world, is how little technology changed over such a long period of time. Generation after generation made the same kinds of stone tools, the same way, for thousands of years. Today we change everything we make, pretty much constantly. There was no operating among the Guilford people, or anywhere, in 5000 B.C. Today Moore sometimes seems slow.

I don’t have a conclusion here, other than to say that maybe Nick and both Alices are right, and the Net is not so ideal as some of us (me especially) tend to think it is. But I also think the Net is something we make, and not just something that makes us.

Clearly, we could do a better job. We have the tools, and we can make many more.

 

Been there, still doing that

 

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.

Earthquake turns TV networks into print

An 8.9-magnitude earthquake that struck Japan yesterday, and a tsunami is spreading, right now, across the Pacific ocean. Thus we have much news that is best consumed live and uncooked. Here’s mine, right now:

aljazeera

Not many of us carry radios in our pockets any more. Small portable TVs became passé decades ago. Smartphones, tablets and other portable Net-connected devices are now the closest things we have to universal receivers and transmitters of live news. They’re what we have in our pockets, purses and carry-bags.

The quake is coming to be called the 2011 Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami, and your best portable media to keep up with it are these:

  1. Al Jazeera English, for continuous live TV coverage (interrupted by war coverage from Libya)
  2. Twitter, for continuous brief reports and pointage to sources
  3. Wikipedia, for a continuously updated static page called 2011 Sendai Earthquake and Tsunami, with links to authoritative sources

I just looked at ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CNN, CBC and BBC online, and all have recorded reports. None have live coverage on the Net. They are, after all, TV networks; and all TV networks are prevented from broadcasting live on the Net, either by commercial arrangements with cable and satellite TV distributors, or by laws that exclude viewing from IP addresses outside of national boundaries.

Television has become almost entirely an entertainment system, rather than a news one. Yes, news matters to TV networks, but it’s gravy. Mostly they’re entertainment businesses that also do news. This is even true (though to a lesser degree) for CNN.

At NBC.com, you won’t find that anything newsworthy has happened. The website is a bunch of promos for TV shows. Same with CBS.com, Fox.com and ABC.com. Each has news departments, of course, which you’ll find, for example, at Foxnews.com (which is currently broken, at least for me). Like CNN and BBC, these have have many written and recorded reports, but no live coverage (that you can get outside the U.K, anyway, in the case of BBC). Thus TV on the Net is no different than print media such as the New York Times. None. Hey, the Times has video reports too.

NPR has the same problem. You don’t get live radio from them. Still, you do get live radio from nearly all its member stations. Not true for TV. Lots of TV stations have iPhone, iPad and Android apps, but none feature live network video feeds, again because the networks don’t want anything going “over the top” (of the cable system) through Net-connected devices. This is a dumb stance, in the long run, which gets much shorter with each major breaking news story.

Here’s the take-away: emergencies such as wars and earthquakes demonstrate a simple and permanent fact of media life: that the Net is the new TV and the new radio, because it has subsumed both. It would be best for both TV and radio to normalize to the Net and quit protecting their old distribution systems.

Another angle: the Live Web has finally branched off the Static Web (as I wrote about in Linux Journal, back in 2005), and is fast becoming our primary means for viewing and listening to news. To borrow a geologic metaphor, the vast tectonic plates of TV and radio are being subsumed along their leading edges by the Live Web. Thus today’s wars and earthquakes are tectonic events for media old and new. The mountain ranges and civilizations that will build up along the new margins will be on the Live Web’s plate, not the old TV, radio and print plates.

A plug… Those  worried about how to pay for the change should support the VRM community’s development of EmanciPay. We believe the best consumers of media will become the best customers of media only by means that the consumers themselves control. For free media that’s worth more than nothing (as earthquake and war coverage certainly are), the pricing gun needs to be in the hands of the customer, not just the vendor (all of which have their own different ways of being paid, or no means at all). We need a single standard way that users can say “I like that and want to pay for it, and here’s how I’m going to do that.” Which is what EmanciPay proposes. The demand side needs its own ways and means, and those cannot (and should not) be provided only by the supply side, or it will continue to be fractured into a billion silos. (That number is a rough estimate of commercial sites on the Web.) More about all this in another post soon. (It’s at the front of my mind right now, because some of us will be meeting to talk about it here in Austin at SXSW.)

Meanwhile, back to your irregularly unscheduled programs.

[Later...]  I’ll add notes here…

  • Joey Trotz reports that http://cnn.com/live has four live streams. And, as others say below, so does the BBC. All can be viewed on a browser with Flash, and a disabled popup window blocker. Therefore some laptops and Android devices should also be covered, to a degree; but it’s all bit of a kluge. To me the standard is a live stream using at least a relatively open standard like .mp3 for audio and whatever-it-is that Al Jazeera is using for video (on the iPhone and iPad, at least, it can’t be Flash, so what is it?). The key: ease of viewing (fewest clicks) or listening. This means an app, usually, as of today. Note that nearly all smartphones in use today will be old hat two years from now.
  • I just downloaded and added the CNN app to my iPhone. It has “live” in its tabs, but the picture isn’t moving for me. Not sure what that means.
  • Thanks to Danilo, in the comments below, for suggesting that I make clear some distinctions that at least a couple commenters have missed. I do that in this comment here, and I’ll say it here as well. This post is not a slam on the good work that broadcasters do. Nor am I declaring the death of TV and radio as we know it. I am using AND logic here, not OR. When I say the Net is subsuming radio and TV, and that broadcasters need to normalize to the Net, I am saying that the Net is becoming the base medium. Broadcasters need to be streaming online as well as over the air and over cable. Back when he renewed his contract with SiriusXM, Howard Stern said as much about satellite radio. The new base medium for Howard’s SiriusXM channels, as well as all the other channels in the satellite radio lineup, is the Internet. Satellite distribution will become the backup live stream service, rather than the main distribution system. This is why Howard has been out stumping on TV talk shows for the SiriusXM smartphone app. Yes, it is true that the satellite system will cover many areas that the cell and wi-fi distribution system will not. But the reverse will also be true. SiriusXM on the Net is a global service, rather than one restricted to North America. The service is also not capacity-limited in the number of files and streams that can be offered, which is the case with satellite alone. Another point I’m making is that TV networks especially are restricted in their ability to stream by the deals they have with cable companies, and (in the case of, say, the BBC) by blocked use over IP addresses outside national boundaries. These are severely limiting as more and more viewing moves to hand-held devices. And those limitations need to be faced. Al Jazeera shows what can be done when the limits aren’t there.

Geology by plane

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.

Geography forever

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

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

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

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

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

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

Igor vs. Bermuda

Hurricane Igor

It’s a safe bet that most people don’t know where Bermuda is. Here’s the answer: In the middle of the ocean, close to nothing. It’s not like the Bahamas, or the islands of the Caribbean, which are arranged in chains, or near to a continent. Instead Bermuda pokes above the Atlantic eight hundred fifty miles straight east of Charleston and the same distance south of Halifax. Its nearest neighbor is Cape Hatteras, still close to seven hundred miles away. So there is no land nearby to protect Bermuda, or to which its residents can run for safety.

Bermuda is also tiny, with a land mass is 20.6 square miles. That’s about 4.5 miles square. You could fit two Bermudas in one San Francisco, with room to spare. Its highest point is Town Hill, at about 250 feet above sea level.

Hurricanes usually circle around Bermuda, attacking Caribbean islands or land along the the Gulf or the Atlantic Coast of the U.S. But Hurricane Igor is different. Hurricane Igor is aimed for Bermuda. (Here’s a great looping animation from the National Hurricane Center, showing Igor’s path. And here’s another, with layers you can turn on and off.)

Since what remains of U.S. mainstream media generally don’t give a shit about the rest of the world — especially when the subject is hurricanes (see this Onion story for more on that) — Bermuda remains downgraded as an Area of Interest. Until, of course, it’s obliterated. You know, like Haiti or New Orleans.

But Bermuda is still there, and it does have media, including tweeters and bloggers. (Well, it’s kinda short on bloggers. Look up Bermuda bloggers on Google or Bing and the top results are pretty depressing. At least there’s Global Voices: Bermuda, where I just learned about Bermuda Blog. And there are others I’m sure to hear about, soon as this is posted.)

There’s the Bermua Sun (@BDASun), The Royal Gazette, BermudaNews (@bermudanews.com), Bermuda Online, .bm emergency tweeters (@edenrichardson, @BermudaDCoffice, @smexpress, @Blonde_In_Bda, @CollieBuddz, @FairmontHam, @JImCantore, @letonnerre @shaeyd @jessicanrowe, @amonteleone, @piecesofsleep…) And, of course, everything that shows up in a search for #bermuda, #igor or both.

I can’t find a single radio or TV station in Bermuda that streams on the Web, other than ZBMradio, which doesn’t seem to be working (at that link, which goes to the stream). But here are the Twitter search results for streaming bermuda.

The last major hurricane to strike Bermuda was Fabian, in 2003. That one killed eight and caused $355 million (2010 USD) in damage. Not bad, considering peak sustained winds of 145mph. (See Roland’s comment, below.)

Meanwhile, heres the action plan, via the BDA Sun. I’ll add more below as news comes in.

Bomb sights

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.

Hey Jules, bring me another fifty skulls


Walking around Paris for the last month, I’ve been fascinated by the highly fossiliferous limestone that comprises so many of its iconic structures. 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.

Perspective. Without abundant death we wouldn’t have asphalt, concrete, marble, travertine, chert, oil, coal or other graces of civilization. Still, there seemed to be an unusual abundance of limestone in use here, and I wondered where it came from. Natually, from my 21st century perspective, I guessed that all the stone had been quarried from some other place: hills outside of town somewhere. A relatively new rock (it’s only only a few dozen million years old –  younger than dinosaurs) it’s called Lutetian limestone, and it’s quite the fashion lately.  What I hadn’t figured was that nearly all of this building stone, for many centuries, was quarried out from underneath 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 of the quarries, mostly in the first several centuries of the last millennium. It must have been quite a project, since it 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. Above them are the city’s ewers. Above those, just below the streets, is the city’s extensive subway system.

Fossils are bones of stone, I explained to my kid. And limestones are stones of bone. And here in the Catacombes, down hallways that go on and on and on and on, the bones of dead Parisians are stacked like stone walls, with an artistry that makes one wonder what was going on in the heads of the masons. Walls behind which lie piles of random bones 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. Here and there some arm bones might be used, but femurs and skulls were clearly the preferable building material.

The masons were priests. The bones were gathered from the city’s cemeteries, which has 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 project went in waves, from the late 1700s to the middle 1800s. And priests, whose jobs included exceptional respect for the dead, did the work.

The pictures in my collection (such as the one above) aren’t the best I’ve taken. The light was very weak, flash was forbidden, and I had the wrong lens with me. After I get back to the states I’ll fill in some captions under the shots. Meanwhile, here are a pile of fascinating links:

Since one tours the tunnels in the company of others, many lighting the scenes with their cell phones, its less creepy than you might think. And, after awhile, endless aisles of bones tends to make the subject ordinary. Still, one almost can’t help coming to some sobering conclusions, beyond personal reconciliation with absolute fact of mortality.  One is that, 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 look at them and 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.

You know what characterizes animals? Eating 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 is death.