Archive for June, 2008

inferno in paradise

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

All Hell is breaking loose here in Mendocino County… where to begin?

Well for starters, the weather. We had a very wet January, but from the middle of February on, it’s been frightfully dry. Pretty much all Spring, it’s been dry, windy, chilly, and dry.

Last Friday evening, I noticed some interesting clouds; it looked like we were going to have a nice sunset. I wanted to go out and do some photography, but I had to do some chores a couple of miles inland. As the chores dragged on and on, a strange thing happened: distant, and not-so-distant, rumblings of thunder. We don’t get thunderstorms here very often. On the rare occasion it rumbles we usually get lots of rain with it. But this was different. I usually love thunderstorms, but this was scary. Lotsa thunder and lightning, hardly any rain.

I did manage to get out for some tail-end-of-the-sunset photography. Here’s a shot of the Mendocino Presbyterian Church:

Later on the Mendocino Headlands, I shot a series of frames with different exposure and focus values for this composite:

Mendocino Headlands after Sunset

Ah, peace and tranquility on the Mendocino Headlands!

The next day I started to hear reports of the fires from friends whose houses were near fires, from news reports, overheard conversations, etc. More than a hundred fires in Mendocino County alone, with many, many more in nearby counties. Whole towns with (voluntary) evacuations. So few government resources that many of the fires were burning without crews even trying to slow them down. Local fire departments running out of gas money.

But still, the feds are in the area in force, busting pot farmers. Priorities, people!

It’s almost a week later now, and we’ve got 87 active fires in Mendo County (some fires have merged with other fires, few are out). Even here on the coast, with most of our air blowing straight of the ocean, the Sun is an eerie orange color.

The scariest thing is, it’s only June. It may not rain significantly until October.

the most universally interesting blog post ever

Friday, June 20th, 2008

Well, uh… you see it’s like this:

my girlfriend was talking to one of her 653 sisters about her/our new camper. Sister wanted to see pictures of the inside. Girlfriend said to look at my website. So, I’m posting these two pics, courtesy of the folks who sold it to her.

1993 palomino popup

1993 Palomino popup

the stampede of technological progress, part 3

Friday, June 20th, 2008

In 1979, I moved to Berkeley and began attending school there. I was originally planning to major in astronomy, since I thought Carl Sagan was cool and it was fun to tell people I was going to be an astrophysicist. It seemed like a good idea to have a fall-back; a possible major that actually included job skills. So I took some classes in Computer Science.

I learned to write programs using Fortran IV. I don’t remember what the programs did, but I remember long hours of typing punch cards. When we were done, we’d hand the stack of cards to an operator. An hour or so later we’d get a printout with the results of the run. No program ever worked the first time, so we’d try to fix the problem, punch some more cards, lather, rinse, repeat.

The mainframe which used punch cards was old even in 1979. The next semester we moved on to Pascal and a Unix system with actual CRT terminals. This was the first sytem I used which bore a resemblance to a modern computer. It could process words. It had a system-wide proto-email capability. The terminals looked sorta like modern computers.

One of the interesting things about comparing technology then and now is just how bad the prognosticators were. I clearly recall one of my professors saying “we’ve made great strides in recent years in storing more and more information in less and less space, but we shouldn’t expect that trend to continue. We’re running into real physical limits.” Yup, sure enough, a 5-1/2 inch floppy disc with a capacity of 110KB is still state of the art. Yessiree.

The newer, more powerful computers were going to usher in a new era of artificial intelligence. Previously intractable computing problems were going to be solved very soon. We were going to have robots which walked gracefully on two legs, could play catch, could speak and understand natural languages, and could recognize faces. Alas, the intractable problems of artificial intelligence remain pretty much intractable, although Big Brother uses the latest facial recognition software to find people who look sorta kinda like bad guys so they can ship them off to Egypt to get tortured. Progress. Not always good.

the stampede of technological progress, part 2

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

This chapter of the Great Historic Epic of our Generation will be brief. While technology was stampeding away during the late seventies, I had relatively little contact with it. Due to forces beyond my control, I found myself attending high school in Wayne, Nebraska. I remember this as more the era of the calculator rather than the computer. I think my high school had some computers, but they were used in the business classes, and I didn’t take any business classes. During this period I bought a programmable calculator, a big wow at the time. It had functions for trigonometry and logarithms plus a fifty step program memory.

One of my high school classes took a field trip to the big mainframe at the local college. There I had my first contact with computer proto-graphics. I got to type my name onto a punch card, which was fed into the computer. It spat out GARTH in giant letters, with each of the giant letters composed of carefully arranged small versions of the same letter, so the great big G was composed af a bunch of little Gs. As crude and primitive as that sounds, it was impressive, way-cool stuff at the time.

when did i move to florida?

Thursday, June 19th, 2008

Dang, I don’t remember moving to Florida, but it looks like I have. It seems like with each election, Mendocino County becomes more and more Florida-esque. A coupla years back, Mendo County closed most of its precincts and went to mail-in ballots. I hear this has to do with handicapped access—they can’t get penalized for precincts that aren’t accessible if the precincts aren’t open at all—or something like that, I guess.

Howzabout a system where people who want/need mail-in ballots can get them, but people who like to vote the old fashioned way can? Dang, I hate mail-in ballots.

But for true-blue Florida-ishness, just look at the “results” of Measure B. More than three weeks after the voting, we still don’t know the results. Maybe they’ll announce the results Friday. Maybe. They’re still counting 10,000+ “absentee” ballots. In a sparsely populated county like Mendocino, that’s a good chunk of the total. For crying out loud, how long can it take even a small staff to count 10k votes?

The Measure B foolishness is further compounded by the fact that the California Supreme Court threw out California’s limits on medical marijuana before the election. These are the same limits that Measure B seeks to inflict on Mendocino. Nobody seems to know if Measure B will mean anything if it passes.

If the county ever bothers to count the votes, and the measure passes, it’ll be up to the courts to figure it out.

the stampede of technological progress, part 1

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

I thought it might be interesting to somebody-somewhere-somewhen if I were to assemble a series of anecdotes on the theme of my encounters with the rising tide of computer technology. I wrote my first computer program about 34 years ago. It would be a wee little understatement to say that things have changed a lot in over that span of time.

In 1974 (give or take a year) I was enrolled in an electronics class at Roosevelt Junior High in Eugene, OR. Our school district was on the cutting edge of the newfangled computer technology: it had a computer. One building-filling mainframe for the whole district. Wow.

Our school had a terminal which connected to the mainframe. It looked like an old news teletype machine. You typed your query, and the computer typed its reply. There was no monitor; the whole exchange was printed. Our electronics class got to use the monitor a few times for our programming projects. I recall writing a program (in BASIC) which asked for the radius of a circle, then calculated the area of that circle. Mighty complicated stuff, but that state-of-the-art machine could handle it. The machine also had a few games. We didn’t get to play them much, as computer time was severely precious and limited, but I remember a football game where you typed in the play you want to run, and the computer typed the results of the play and the down and yardage.

We also made a field trip to the building housing the mainframe. We got to ooh and ah at the flashing lights and big reels of magnetic tape. The guy leading our tour said something like: “I don’t know what many of these lights mean, but I know that this one means that the processor is idle at the moment.” Even with all of the action from all of the schools in the district, that light was on quite a bit, probably a third of the time.

adventures in yolla bolly land

Friday, June 6th, 2008

I just got back to civilization after a brief camping trip to the Yolla Bolly Middle Eel Widerness and its neighborhood. We were camping with a pop-up tent trailer, a whole new style of camping to me. Hardly anyone drags a trailer up the rugged dirt roads to Yolla Bolly Land; in fact hardly anyone goes there at all. In three days, we say absolutely nobody outside of our group. While that’s mid-week, it’s also early June, the best time, overall, to visit the area. From July to September it’s frightfully hot and dry there. The Fall is the most visited time, as people go there to kill things. In the Winter months, the area is completely inaccessible.

The core of Yolla Bolly Land is a 150,000 acre wilderness; the surrounding area has great opportunities for car camping. One reason so few people visit the area is difficult access. One single-lane paved road approaches the northwest corner of the wilderness; the rest of the place must be accessed via long and bumpy dirt roads.

For this trip, we used the Indian Dick Road, a forty-some-odd mile trek from the town of Covelo, which is a pretty remote little town already. Since it was early June, and the mountains are not as high here as in other California wilderness areas, only the highest part of the Wilderness still had snow. We started encountering patches of snow on the Soldier Ridge Trail at about 6500 feet the Minnie Lake trail and the French Cove trail were very snowy and difficult to follow. The highest summits in the area barely touch 8000 feet. Most of the Wilderness is between 3000 and 5000 feet; in May it’s paradise, in August it’s frightfully hot and dry.

On to the pics:

yolla bolly panorama

I used PhotoShop to merge four frames to make this panorama. It was taken from the Soldier Ridge Trail looking southeast.

shooting stars, Dodecatheon hendersonii

Shooting Stars, Dodecatheon hendersonii gowing in a rock crevice

Western Pond Turtles

buck fence, castle peak

popup camper

Our camp. That’s Castle Peak in the distance

turtle pond reflections

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