26 March 2020

Hyperlocal birding

Many of my usual birding sites have closed because of COVID-19, and others present challenges for social distancing. I decided to stay as local as I could, and went out around my house. One doesn't have to go far to see, hear, and enjoy spring happening. Even a short walk is worth doing.

22 March 2020

Spring is (still) coming

I saw my FOY tree swallows yesterday, and have always thought that they seem happy and playful as well as purposeful as they fly about.
 I was glad to be able to get outside (in a socially distant fashion) and see spring starting to emerge.

15 February 2020

Primordial man makes controlled fire

Cold morning today; woke up to 3 F. Made coffee, lit woodstove, sat in rocking chair and browsed laptop while observing flames, warming feet, and periodically getting up to check attached thermometer and adjust air intake as appropriate. It seemed the thing that needed to be done when I saw the outdoor temperature. Technology and fine control tweaking, yes, spanning eras from cast iron to catalyst, but there's a deeper and more fundamental attraction to maintaining the home fires which is hard to understand. Actively warming shelter for family, perhaps? Maybe it's also like the satisfaction some gain from grilling on barbecues; while I don't eat many of the primary grilled foods in any case, that process doesn't really grab me anyway. I do like woodburning, and the view of moving (though reassuringly constrained) flames is hypnotic, but I would find it burdensome to tend and attend as a primary heat source.

08 September 2019

NYC High Line views in contrasting directions

I walked the most recent section of the NYC High Line and noted a striking contrast within the course of a minute. On one side, the reflecting silver and glass of Hudson Yards and parked LIRR trains:

And on the other side, the painted scrollwork of a streetlight overhanging the West Side Highway:

I hope that their contrasts will continue to coexist.

01 September 2019

Increasing cloudiness

I've been a long-time Dropbox user, mostly for making files conveniently movable and accessible to myself and family members across Linux, MacOS, iOS, and (less frequently) Windows platforms. I wanted something based outside my local LAN, so that I could synchronize when away from home. Dropbox's free service seems to be becoming more restrictive, notably in terms of Linux file system support and with regard to numbers of synchronized devices per account. The lowest paid tier provides 2TB of storage, which is far more than the few GB I need for my usage model, where I don't use the cloud storage as a long-term repository for massive amounts of data. Apple's iCloud offers a reasonably-priced package with 200GB, but lacks a native Linux client. So, I looked into other alternatives, and quickly gravitated to a quasi-DIY approach.

I've had good recent experience with DigitalOcean, as I discussed a few months back. It was easy to create another small droplet hosting a snap of Nextcloud and, "viola", I've instantiated my own cloud storage facility, with available clients for all of my platforms and enough storage within a minimal 25GB droplet to satisfy my current usage requirements. Even with a new domain name registration to address it, the additional $5/month droplet cost is fine to satisfy my purposes, and I like having my own control over it.

11 July 2019

People used to pay like that to talk? Really?

The idea of time- and distance- based charges for communications is fast fading into memory, and newer generations may find it as curious or odd as rotary dials. I was recently asked whether it would have been feasible for family members to talk to each other across the Atlantic in the 1950s rather than writing letters, which led me to undertake the little history project graphed above. For many decades, telephone service was available in principle but staggeringly expensive in practice, a precious resource usually reserved for rare, rushed occasions or critical business negotiations. As an illuminating report observes, "In 1930, the cost per minute for a 200 mile call was about 10 times the cost of sending a first class letter." Also in 1930, a 3-minute call between the US and the UK (which would have been routed by radio, as the first telephone cable across the ocean didn't come into service until 1956) would have cost about $450 if expressed in 2019 dollars. Technological advances (and, later, increased competition) pushed the numbers down the logarithmic scale through the years. And, yes, the downward trend continued beyond 1990, eventually approaching zero with Internet telephony, but competitive and complex discount plans make it harder to extract accurate and representative data for later dates. The overall conclusion's clear, though; it's become a lot cheaper to communicate electronically.

A note on sources and data: while I won't attempt to enumerate a full set of bibliographic citations for a blog post, I was impressed to find the Internet Archive's downloadable collection of telephone directories dating back to the early 1900s; thanks, Brooklyn Public Library, for scanning them. Also, thanks to Andrew Odlyzko for his excellent papers and articles on communications history. And, to the US FCC for their 1997 reports discussing communications costs and their evolution over time. And, to the Internet itself, for bringing such sources to my laptop quickly and without need for paper correspondence or physical travel to remote libraries. The numbers as graphed reflect peak-hour ("standard") rates as I found them, with some adjustments like using nearby years based on availability and scaling where lengths of rated calls were different. I applied inflation adjustments using the BLS CPI calculator.

14 June 2019

Puffin love and more

I went on a Mass Audubon trip to far Downeast Maine last weekend - out where the population thins and the cell phones roam to Canadian carriers in New Brunswick - and got to visit the unique and amazing Machias Seal Island which is officially disputed territory between the US and Canada but which Canada administers as a migratory bird sanctuary. (No passport required to visit, interestingly.) Fortunately, the day's weather was perfect; many would-be visitors are disappointed to
find, after booking their spots well in advance, that the conditions aren't suitable for getting out towards the island or to get ashore. I took many close-view pictures of the trademark Atlantic Puffins (who seem affectionate in this view),
as well as other species like Razorbills, Arctic Terns, and Common Murres (as depicted below: I think the Murre looks like an orchestral conductor for the Razorbills below, though I'm clearly anthropomorphizing that...)
Quite the site!