#ThomasFire live

MODIS fire data, plotted on Google Earth, current at 3:45pm today. You can see the Thomas Fire advancing through the back country,westward toward Santa Barbara, and already encroaching on Carpinteria:

Those are fire detections. Radiative power data is also at that first link.

Here is a collection of links to facts about the #ThomasFire:

 

United Wifi: How Can It Be So Bad?

United-WifiI just flew United non-stop from Seattle to Washington D.C. (Dulles) and back. I realized too late after booking the trip that this was the airline on which I had never successfully connected to their in-air wifi. Since it was a five hour flight, I decided I would bear down this time and finally fix the problem (after all, I’ve worked in the Internet business for over 20 years).

So, on the outbound trip, I literally spent TWO HOURS trying everything I could to get a connection. Absolutely nothing worked. After I gave up in frustration, a helpful flight attendant (who I could tell had spent many hours trying to debug wifi connections for passengers) make the suggestion to forget the United wifi network at the end of the flight.

So I did that and then tried to forget all about the whole experience—too many other things to worry about after missing

Continue reading "United Wifi: How Can It Be So Bad?"

A miracle of flight

That was the view to the south over center of Greenland a few hours ago: a late afternoon aurora over a blue dusk.

I departed London about four hours before taking this shot, and am writing this in Santa Barbara. According to my little hand-held GPS, we were just above 70° north when I took that shot, or about four degrees north of the arctic circle. The flight as Air New Zealand 1, and that same plane is now en route to Auckland.

We were also inside the auroral oval:

Normally on transatlantic flights between Europe and the U.S., one looks north at the aurora, but in this case I was looking south.

Even after flying millions of miles as a passenger, it still blows my mind what one can see out the window of a plane.

I’ll put up the full series of shots after I get Continue reading "A miracle of flight"

A dark review for United’s Boeing 787

I’ve been wanting to fly on the Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” ever since I missed a chance to go on an inaugural junket aboard one before Boeing began delivery to the airlines. But I finally got my chance, three days ago, aboard United Flight 935 from London to Los Angeles.

Some context: United is my default airline by virtue of having flown 1.5 million miles with them, which has earned me some status. Specifically, I get on shorter lines, don’t get charged for bags, and have some choice about where I sit, which defaults to Economy Plus: the section of Economy that features a bit more leg room and is typically located which is behind business/first, now called Polaris.

I should add that I actually like United, and have had few of the bad experiences people tend to associate with big old airlines. And plenty of good ones. And not

Continue reading "A dark review for United’s Boeing 787"

Some new ways to look at infrastructure

Nothing challenges our understanding of infrastructure better than a crisis, and we have a big one now in Houston. We do with every giant storm, of course. New York is still recovering from Sandy and New Orleans from Katrina. Reforms and adaptations always follow, as civilization learns from experience.

Look at aviation, for example. Houston is the 4th largest city in the U.S. and George Bush International Airport (aka IAH) is a major hub for United Airlines. For the last few days traffic there has been sphinctered down to emergency flights alone. You can see how this looks on FlightAware’s Miserymap:

Go there and click on the blue play button to see how flight cancellations have played over time, and how the flood in Houston has affected Dallas as well. Click on the airport’s donut to see what routes are most affected. Frequent fliers like myself rely on tools like this

Continue reading "Some new ways to look at infrastructure"

Great Coffee vs. Meh Marketing

favorite-peets My loyalty to Peet’s Coffee is absolute. I have loved Peet’s since it was a single store in Berkeley. I told my wife in 2001 that I wouldn’t move anywhere outside the Bay Area unless there was a Peet’s nearby. That pre-qualified Santa Barbara, where we live now. When we travel to where Peets has retail stores, we buy bags of our favorite beans (which tend to be one of the above) to take to our New York apartment, because there are no Peets stores near there. When we’re in New York and not traveling, we look for stores that sell bags of one of the bean bags above. Since our car died and we haven’t replaced it yet, we have also taken to ordering beans through Peet’s website. Alas, we’re done with that now. Here’s why: screen-shot-2017-06-22-at-11-34-17-pm I ordered those beans (Garuda and New Guinea) two Thursdays ago, June 16, at 7:45am. A couple Continue reading "Great Coffee vs. Meh Marketing"

Being human vs. rating people

starI’ve hated rating people ever since I first encountered the practice. That was where everybody else does too: in school. Because rating people is what schools do, with tests and teachers’ evaluations. They do it because they need to sort students into castes. What’s school without a bell curve? As John Taylor Gatto put it in the Seven Lesson Schoolteacher, the job of the educator in our industrialized and compulsory education system is to teach these things, regardless of curricular aspirations or outcomes:
  1. confusion
  2. class position
  3. indifference
  4. emotional dependency
  5. intellectual dependency
  6. provisional self-esteem
  7. that you can’t hide
It’s no different in machine-run “social sharing” systems such as we get from Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. In all those systems we are asked to rate the people who share their cars and homes, and they are asked to rate us. The hidden agenda behind this practice is the same as the one Gatto describes above. Continue reading "Being human vs. rating people"

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"

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"

A fine suburban #sunrise and a vexing #CS6 issue

Sacramento SunriseMade a dawn run to the nearby Peets for some dry cappuccinos, and was bathed in glow on my return by one of the most spectacular sunrises I have ever seen. It was post-peak when I got back (to the place where I’m staying in Gold River, California), but with some underexposure and white balance tweaking, I was able to get the shots in this set here. Alas, the shot above is not in that set. It’s a screen shot I took of an adjusted raw file that Adobe Photoshop CS6 simply refused to save. “The file could not be created,” it said. No explanation. I checked permissions. No problem there. It just refused. I just checke, and the same thing happens with all files from all directories on all drives. Photoshop is suddenly useless to for editing RAW files. Any suggestions?

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.

Newsstands are à la carte. How about online as well?

I travel a lot, and buy newspapers wherever I happen to be. That would be true online as well, if I could do it. But I can’t, because that’s not an option. For example, my butt is in California right now, but my nose is in Boston, where I’m reading the Globe. I don’t want a subscription to the Globe, but I would like to pay for today’s paper, or for at least the right to read a few stories from it. Not easy. Or even possible, after the first one or two. Because, soon enough this paywall thingie comes up: Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 7.13.36 AM It’ a subscription come-on, modeled after the one the New York Times has been using for years, and I wrote about back in 2012, here. (The switch after the above bait: “$.99… That’s less than $1 for 4 full weeks! Then pay the regular low rate of $3.99 per week.”) I had some advice for the Times at that last link, and I’ve got some for all papers today: create an à la carte option. I know there are lots of reasons not to, all of which arise from system-based considerations on the sell side of the relationship with newspaper buyers. What I’m saying is that the newsstand option has worked fine for more than a century in the physical world, and should be an option in the networked one as well. At least think about it. Constructively, as in Let’s see… how can we do that? Not “It’s too hard.” Or “People only want free stuff.” Those are all echoes inside the old box. I want us to think and work outside of that box. People are willing to pay value for value if it’s easy. So let’s make it easy. The ideas I vetted three years ago are still good, but don’t cover the à la carte option. Let’s just focus on that one, and consider what’s possible.  

Figuring @Flickr

Here’s a hunk of what one set (aka Album) in my Flickr stream looks like: Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 7.57.58 PM And here are what my stats on Flickr looked like earlier today (or yesterday, since Flickr is on GMT and it’s tomorrow there): Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 1.02.09 PM I ended up with 32,954 views, with no one of my 49,000+ photos getting more than 56 views. More than 95% of those views arrived via Flickr itself. The stats there are spread across 87 pages of results. Pages 1 to 63 go from 395 views (#1) down to 2. From page 64 to 87, all the results are for 1 view. I just pulled the searches alone, and got this:

1

Searched for: bay area aerial

395

2

Searched for: doc searls

307

3

Searched for: los angeles aerial view

206

Continue reading "Figuring @Flickr"

Shooting my escape to Paradise

Here is how New York looked through my front window yesterday at 3:51am, when I was packing to fly and drive from JFK to LAX to Santa Barbara: Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 7.37.38 AM I shoveled a path to the street four times: the first three through light and fluffy snow, and the fourth through rain, slush and a ridge of myucch scraped in front of the driveway by a plow. By the time we got to JFK, all the pretty snow was thick gray slush. It was a good time to get the hell out. Fortunately, @United got us onto the first flight out to LAX flight in the morning. (We were booked on a later flight. To see the crunch we missed, run the FlightAware MiseryMap for JFK, and watch 2 February.) The flight to LAX was quick for a westbound one (which flies against the wind): a little over five hours. For half the country, the scene below was mostly white. This one… Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.14.24 AM … of the ridge country between Beaver Dam Lake and Columbus, Wisconsin, said far more about snow than the white alone suggested. Those linear hills are were left by the departing Wisconsin Glacial Episode, which ended only about ten thousand years ago — a mere blink in geologic time. And here’s the snow-covered Mississippi, by Prairie du Chein, on the Wisconsin-Iowa border: Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.14.39 AM Then, a couple hours later, we flew straight over the Grand Canyon, which has a horizontal immensity one tends to miss when gawking at the canyon’s scenic climaxes from the ground. One of my favorite scenes is the Uinkaret Volcanic Field, which poured like syrup over the Canyon’s layer cake of 290-1700-year old rock only 70,000 years ago:
Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.13.47 AM
Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 8.13.30 AM
Screen Shot 2015-02-03 at 7.40.01 AM
Continue reading "Shooting my escape to Paradise"

Let’s bring the cortado / piccolo to America

There are ideal ratios of coffee and milk, if you don’t want the flavor of either to fully prevail. To me the closest to the ideal ratio is what Italians call a cortado and Australians call a piccolo (short for piccolo latte). The latter looks like this: piccolo To me this is roughly what a cappuccino should look like in a clear glass. But what we usually get in the U.S. (especially from Starbucks) is ten ounces of milk and one ounce of espresso in a twelve-ounce cup. Or maybe two ounces of espresso. Peets cappuccinos, when done right (which is about half the time, in the small size), get the ratio about the same (~1:1 coffee and steamed milk, and poured so the two mix into a creamy combination). Anyway, most coffee shops in the U.S. (and the U.K., which I also visit often) don’t know from a cortado or a piccolo. So I say let’s educate them. Here’s a goal: by the end of 2015, most coffee shops in the U.S. will know what you mean when you order either one. Continue reading "Let’s bring the cortado / piccolo to America"

The Google Flight Info Trick

When I first stumbled across this, I thought I was the only one who hadn’t heard about it. Now I find myself telling other travelers about it all the time and am consistently surprised that they don’t know it. If you want to see the current departure and arrival time, terminal, and gate for any flight, just type the following into the Google search box:
flight info [airline] [flight-number]

Where [airline] is the name of the airline and [flight-number] is the number of the flight. Example: google-flight-info-search-box-text Here’s an example of what you get back: google-flight-info-search-box It works from any browser on any device and for every airline and flight number I’ve ever tried. Good job, Google.

The Most Spectacular Place You’ll Never See

Unless you look out the window. When I did that on 4 November 2007, halfway between London and Denver, I saw this: baffin Best I could tell at the time, this was Greenland. That’s how I labeled it in this album on Flickr. For years after that, I kept looking at Greenland maps, trying to find where, exactly … baffin1 all these mountains and glaciers were. Then, two days ago, I found out. They were just north of the Arctic Circle on the Cumberland Peninsula of Baffin Island, an Arctic landform almost twice the size of New Zealand. I had just finished photographing everything I could of Greenland, en route from London to Los Angeles in a United 777, looking back out my dirty and frosty window near the trailing edge of the wing. After we finished crossing Davis Strait, and started seeing the islands on the Baffin Island coast, I realized that the scene was familiar. My GPS and the plane’s own map filled in the gap I’d been mulling for most of a decade. Cutting through the center of the peninsula was a 75-mile long Yosemite-grade valley called Akshayuk Pass, connecting the North and South Pangnirtung Fjords. Feeding into the valley were glaciers slowly sliding off ice caps. On the west side of the pass was the Penny Ice Cap, a mini-Greenland icing a spectacular cake called Auyuittuq National Park, almost all north of the Arctic Circle, meaning that it will be in darkness around the clock a month from now, when the Winter Solstice comes. Wikipedia: “In Inuktitut (the language of Nunavut‘s aboriginal people, the Inuit), Auyuittuq (current spelling: ᐊᐅᔪᐃᑦᑐᖅ aujuittuq) means ‘the land that never melts.’” Nobody lives there. On the first trip I was fascinated by a mountain that looked like an old tooth with fillings that had fallen out. It’s in the lower left side of this shot here: asgard So I recognized it instantly when I saw it again. Here’s the same scene after seven years: agard2 The mountain is Asgard, and named after the realm of Norse gods. From below it looks the part. (That link is to some amazing photos, taken from Turner Glacier, above Asgard in the shot above. One of the great James Bond ski chase stunts in history was also shot here. See this video explaining it. Start at about 1:33.) A bit before I started shooting these scenes, a flight attendant asked me to shut my window, so others on the plane could sleep or watch their movies. Note that this was in the middle of a daytime flight, not a red-eye. When I told her I booked a window seat to look and shoot out the window, she was surprised but supportive. “That is pretty out there,” she said. Later, when we were over Hudson Bay and the view was all clouds, I got up to visit the loo and count how many other windows had shades raised. There were eight, out of dozens in the long Economy cabin. No wonder one cynical term used by airline people to label passengers is “walking freight.” The romance and thrill of flying has given way to rolling passengers on and off, and filling them with bad food and “content” from entertainment systems. But there’s more than meets the shade. Much more, if you bother to look.

Some thoughts on App Based Car Services (ABCS)

I started using Uber in April, and (according to my Uber page on the Web), I’ve had fifteen rides so far. Given all the bad news that’s going down, my patronage of the company is at least suspended. As an overdue hedge, I just signed up with Lyft. I’m also looking at BlaBlaCar here in the U.K. (where I am at the moment), plus other alternatives, including plain old taxis and car services again.

But here are a few learnings I’ve gained in the meantime.

First Uber isn’t about “ride sharing.” That’s just marketing gloss at this point. Instead Uber is what’s coming to be called an “app-based car service.” Let’s call it ABCS. I mean hey, if that’s what the New York Attorney General calls it, that’s what it is. At least for now.

ABCS is a new category, growing within and alongside two existing categories: taxis and livery. These are both old, established and connected enough to be regulated, in New York City for example, by the Taxi and Livery Commission.

My first few Uber drivers were dudes picking up some extra bucks, or so it seemed. The rest — including all the recent ones — have been livery drivers taking advantage of one more way to get a fare. Some had as many as three dedicated cell phones on their front seat: one for Uber, one for Lyft, and one for whatever car (livery) service they otherwise work for. Here are their names, in reverse chronological order: Jeffrey (whose real name was Afghanistani), Heriberto, Malik, Abdisalam, Fernando, Jourabek, Maleche, Namgyal, Mohammad, Rafael, Maged, Shahin, Imtiaz, Shaafi and Conrad. That last one was my first, in Santa Barbara.

Rather than being a new way to “share rides,” ABCS is a great hack on dispatch — a function of taxis and car services that has long been stuck in the walkie-talkie age.

But it also hacks much the whole car category as well. Why spend $300/month on a lease, or $30k for a car, plus the cost of gas, tolls, insurance and upkeep, when you’ll spend far less just calling up rides? And every ride is friction-free and fully accountable? (Even to the extent that every charge is easy to post in an expense account.) Cars are already becoming generic. And already we have a generation coming up that gives a much smaller damn about driving than did previous ones — at least in the U.S. All that aspirational stuff about independence and style doesn’t matter as much as it used to. How long before GM, Ford and Toyota start making special models just for Uber and Lyft drivers? (In a way Ford did that for years with Lincoln Town Cars. Not coincidentally, several of my Uber drivers in New York and New Jersey have been in black Town Cars. Another fave: Toyota Avalons.

Anyway, I think we are amidst omany disruptions that caused by app-based ways to shrink the distance between supply and demand. Changes within ABCS are happening rapidly and in real time. Example: SheRides. Here’s one story about it.

Whatever else ABCS does, driving still won’t be a way to get rich. At best it will be a stepping stone to jobs that pay better and involve more marketable skills. So to me one question is, What are the next stones? And, Does the emergence of ABCS give workers on the supply side — other than those running the companies — a lift?