Category Archives: Highlights

Whale Call

We watched Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home last night. It holds up better than I thought it would. At the end, I found myself trying to imagine the conversation between the whales and the probe. Probably something like this:

— Hey! We’re still here! Or, we’re back, anyway!
— Oh, good! What happened to you? We’ve been trying to reach you for ages.
— Apparently the humans killed us all.
— Wait, they did WHAT?
— Well, some of them did. But some of them brought us forward through time to make up for it. They won’t kill us now.
— They’d BETTER NOT!
— I think we’re OK now.
— *sigh* OK, good to know. We’ll go report back. Keep in touch.
— Thanks!

And I also imagined their reactions at the end, as they frolic in the 23rd-century ocean:

Wow! We’re in the open sea! And we talked to aliens! And the humans have stopped hunting us! And they’ve stopped polluting the oceans! This is AWESOME!

Well, except for the whole thing with us being the only humpback whales on the planet. But it’s not like we were really able to talk to much of anyone from the aquarium to begin with.

Seriously, though, it’s encouraging to know that, decades after the ban on hunting went into effect, the humpback whale population has rebounded so successfully that most populations are no longer threatened by extinction. I found articles citing a worldwide population of “over 80,000” and “just under 100,000” in 2016 — an order of magnitude more than the less-than-10,000 that were left in the 1980s!

Tech Giants’ Core Strategies

The Verge makes an interesting point about Microsoft’s acquisition of Bethesda: for the most part, Microsoft doesn’t care what hardware you run their stuff on, they just want you to buy the software. So it’s less likely to be about trying to gain Xbox exclusives and more likely to be about getting more games for Game Pass.

It reminds me of a blog post I read a few years back comparing the core businesses of various major tech players:

  • Apple sells hardware, and their software and media stores are a way to give you something to do with the hardware.
  • Microsoft sells software, and the hardware is to give you something to run their software on.
  • Google sells ads on services, and their hardware, operating systems, and software (Android, Pixel, Chromebooks, Chrome, etc. ) are there to connect you to their services.
  • Amazon sells stuff, and their hardware is a way to sell you virtual (and sometimes physical) stuff.

That’s why, for instance, you can run Gmail on anything, and Microsoft Office on almost anything, but iTunes, the main Apple program that actually runs on a non-Apple system, is designed primarily to hook you up with an iPhone (previously an iPod). And it’s why you can read Kindle eBooks on a Kindle device, or a Kindle app on an Android or iOS device, and they make it really easy to buy e-books from them, but really inconvenient to import anything from another eBook store.

Facebook is similar to Google in that their core strategy is a service with ads, and their apps and (when they branch out into it with things like Portal) hardware are ways to keep you using their services. Heck, they’re even tying the Oculus headsets to Facebook accounts now.

The post predates the rise of smart speakers and doorbells…but remember how the Echo was originally mostly a way to voice-order things through Amazon? Or Amazon Key, whose primary purpose was to allow delivery services to drop off packages inside your house so you wouldn’t have to worry about porch pirates?

Plus of course everyone wants to sell you subscriptions now!

And yet…it still fits remarkably well.

Looking Back at Camp Myford

A gate across a two-lane road heading downward through the hills.

I’ve been looking through photos from back when we could, you know, go places and found a set from the hills above North Tustin during a year that we got enough rain to turn the hills green. There were some really clear shots of Peters Canyon, Saddleback, and even some south Orange County hills that I couldn’t identify. There was a spot that I remember being a turn-out that’s finally eroded away to the point that it’s been fenced off.

And there was this gate, which I think might have been across the road to Camp Myford, a Boy Scout camp on the Irvine Ranch that closed back in the late 1980s. I remember working as a camp counselor for a Cub Scout day camp during the last month — possibly the last week — it remained operating, before the bulldozers came in.

I remember lots of eucalyptus trees, hiking trails and dirt roads, a couple of buildings (though I couldn’t tell you what was in them), a fire ring, and a whole lot of giant pipes that were going to become the sewers and storm drains of the housing tract that was going to be built any moment now. And I remember being told in no uncertain terms that we were supposed to watch our language around the impressionable younger boys (who were, of course, a lot more foul-mouthed than we were).

And I found this article from the Tustin Area Historical Society, summarizing the history of the canyon as far back as the Mexican Rancho system, when it was named Cañon de las Ranas (Canyon of the Frogs) because it drained into the Newport Back Bay, known then as the Marsh of the Frogs.

Old photo of Camp Myford gate and sign over a dirt road.Peters Canyon was once Canyon of the Frogs
Camp Myford, an Irvine Co. gift to the Orange County Council Boy Scouts of America, was named for James Irvine’s youngest son. Peter’s Canyon Regional Park offers a well-used oasis of wilderness amid the sprawl of development in the North Tustin area…

Democracy or Republic? Yes!

“We live in a republic, not a democracy” is a false binary. The United States is a representative democracy in the form of a republic. It’s both.

It’s like saying you’re not in a car, you’re on a road. You may be driving yourself (direct democracy) or choose someone who’s going your way (representative democracy). Or you may be tied up in the trunk…but hey, you’re still on the road, right?

When someone says we live in a republic, not a democracy, they’re downplaying the importance of representation in favor of structure. China and Russia are structured as republics too.

At best, it’s the Dunning-Krueger approach to being pedantic: look at the first definition in the dictionary, think you know enough to pull a “Gotcha!!!” on someone, and stop reading before you find the second, third and fourth definitions.

At worst, they’re actively telling you that you don’t deserve and shouldn’t expect representation in government. And considering that it’s usually said in response to someone complaining about a lack of representation, well… 🤔

Hawkspotting

I’ve been seeing hawks lately when I’m out walking, which is new. I know partly it’s that I’m actively looking for suburban wildlife, but I’ve been doing that since last June when I started participating in iNaturalist. I started noticing how many squirrels and sparrows and phoebes and finches were around (in addition to the crows and pigeons and seagulls) right away. Maybe it’s seasonal? Maybe it’s the time of day I’ve been looking?

Whatever the reason, I’ve logged four observations over the last month or so. First, two red-shouldered hawks I spotted while hiking.

A hawk with brown feathers surrounded by mostly-bare leaves.

This is the best photo I managed to get of any of them, because it was perched in a relatively short tree at Madrona Marsh Preserve. Maybe only ten feet off the ground, just off the trail and not too far ahead of where I was standing. When I saw it, I stopped and took about five photos. It looked around, no doubt trying to spot some of the zillion tiny frogs I could hear (but not see), and then flew up to a higher tree, presumably for a better view.

A brown hawk perched on the end of a long, bare branch, a few twisted branches nearby, but mostly empty gray sky.

This one’s not as detailed, but I like the way it came out. I saw it from a few hundred feet away in a tall tree at the South Coast Botanic Garden. Yay for zoom lenses! (Though I still cropped the heck out of this shot.) It stayed there for a while, but I decided not to try to get a closer view and just continue hiking.

And then on two occasions I’ve spotted red-tailed hawks up in the same electrical transmission tower while walking along a bike path. In both cases I spotted them from a distance, perched up in the metal struts, not sure what kind of bird I was looking at until I could get closer.