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!

12 June 2019

My birds in the cloud

As I mentioned a few posts ago, I recently embraced my inner geek by building a small site with Python and Django, in a DigitalOcean droplet. The result may be a bit extreme ('ya think?) for its purpose of organizing and displaying a personal collection of bird photographs, but I've been enjoying it as it's been running for a few weeks. I like being able to use the uploader to add new pictures and species into the database and display, and the ability to specify search terms and ordering. Django makes such facilities easy to implement (along with the ever-popular automated species count!) but I'm still working with the challenge of layering multiple search criteria (e.g., month and name) in a way that presents an intuitive UI. I've written up some tech-oriented notes about the site's technology and development for anyone who may be curious, but the photos themselves may have more general interest.

30 April 2019

I've always found the skyline impressive

I was glad to be on the left side of an airplane yesterday looking down at Manhattan, and was pleased and rather surprised to see how much detail I could get in a picture taken through an airplane window. Contrast enhancement definitely helped.

24 April 2019

Cameras like to focus on high contrast images

... and this Black-and-white Warbler could almost be a living test pattern!