Category Archives: Highlights

Social Squirrel

I swear I’m not trying to turn this into a squirrel-themed blog, but here’s another encounter that I thought was worth sharing.

Most of the squirrels I see are really skittish around people. This one, in a city park, walked up to me and posed. I’m not sure what it was doing in the first shot, because it can’t have been trying to psych out a boxing opponent. But a few seconds later, after I’d knelt down with the camera for a better shot, it adjusted its pose into a perfect Oliver Twist, “Please sir? May I have some more?”

Tough Squirrel and Please, sir? on Flickr. Originally posted on Pixelfed and on iNaturalist.

The Visible Housing Timeline

I saw an article about open space preservation efforts in Newport Beach, and decided to look up the area on maps’ satellite view. Looking around nearby areas in Newport, Laguna Beach, Irvine, Tustin, Orange, etc, I realized: the timeline of residential development in central Orange County is actually visible.

  • Newer neighborhoods have bigger houses than older ones.
  • Older neighborhoods have varied muted colored roofs. Newer ones are almost all red tile.
  • With some exceptions, older areas were built on flatter land & newer areas have crept into the hills, so grids are mostly older. The one newer area that’s flat-and-grid is all red tile roofs.

I don’t know how well it tracks for other areas. I’m less familiar with southern Orange County, for instance, and areas from Santa Ana northward into the LA Basin are much flatter and were largely built-up by the time I started paying attention.

Online Permanence: Host Your Own or Use a Service?

Yahoo Groups is shutting down, taking years’ worth of users’ writing and discussions with it. It’s the latest reminder that if you don’t host it yourself, your stuff is at the mercy of someone else’s business decisions. Or whims.

And yet…

My old blog posts are full of dead links to sites where people were hosting their own stuff, but it’s gone now. I’m sure some was taken down deliberately, but I’m sure there’s also a lot that was lost because they couldn’t maintain it.

Self-hosting isn’t just a matter of knowledge. It’s a matter of time. It’s a matter of being able to update things that need to be changed (like TLS certs or software). And there are ongoing costs: Domain name registration. Hosting service, if you’re using a hosting provider. Bandwidth if you’re using your own server.

And if for some reason you can’t keep those ongoing costs going, guess what? Your stuff goes offline. But you’re still on Facebook!

There’s a character in Les Misérables, Pere Mabeuf, who gets left out of most adaptations. He’s an old man who, for a time, eked out a living from a book he’d published years earlier. Eventually he’s so strapped for cash that he has to sell the printing plates, so even if someone wanted to buy a print run, he couldn’t do it. Essentially, he was self-hosting his work until he couldn’t afford to anymore.

Imagine one of these scenarios:

  • You’ve got some nice photo gallery or CMS, and you can afford the storage and bandwidth…and then financial trouble hits.
  • You have a site for a hobby that you don’t keep up with anymore. You don’t mind leaving it online, but it gets to be a pain to keep going, and starts feeling like it’s not worth the effort.
  • You die, and your family has to decide how long to leave the FreedomBox plugged into the network.

On one hand, a social network site might close down like Google+, purge accounts like Tumblr, change pricing drastically like Flickr, lock down access like Instagram or Photobucket, change their algorithms for what people see like Facebook… On the other, you can keep using a service like Mastodon or Twitter or Facebook even if you lose the resources to maintain your software, your VPS, your internet connection that allows incoming HTTPS, etc.

The trade-off is not just convenience vs. control. It’s host your own stuff to protect it from the whims and misfortune of (and exploitation by) third-party services. Or use the cheap/free third-party services to protect your stuff from your own misfortune.

I still think, on balance, it’s better to host your own online presence if you can, at least the parts you want to be long-term. Have your conversations where other people are, and put your art or work somewhere you control. But as a backup, I think every CMS should incorporate an “Export to static site” feature*. That way, you (or your next of kin) can quickly produce a fully-functional static site to toss on cheap shared hosting as an archive.

*You can use wget -m in a pinch, but you probably also want to remove things like comment forms in the process.

Ring! Ring! Who’s There? *handcuffs*

Cnet has a report on how police departments are being inundated with false alarms from Amazon Ring alerts because people have freaked out over the camera footage of innocent activities. In one case someone called to report footage of themselves walking into the door!

I’m reminded of a case that happened nearby just a month ago. In Manhattan Beach (near Los Angeles), police from five cities — and an LA Sheriff’s helicopter — descended on a neighborhood because someone panicked over Ring footage of a food delivery sent to the wrong address. It took them an hour and a half to confirm that there was no crime in progress.

The story basically filled a bingo card:

  • IoT doorbell camera (and of course it was Ring)
  • Gig/app delivery service
  • Upscale neighborhood
  • Paranoid reaction to, you know, people
  • NextDoor posts quoted in article (because of course they are)
  • Massive police over-response
  • SMS alerts sent to neighboring cities

It was absurd. Fortunately no one was hurt or arrested, so it remains an absurdity, but between the waste of resources, the increase in fear, and the risk that something could have gone wrong, it fits right in with these other cautionary tales. As Fight for the Future puts it:

Ubiquitous, privately owned surveillance camera networks are NOT going to make our neighborhoods safer. They just make us all paranoid. Soon we’ll be snitching on our neighbors Red Scare style. Enough

Art or Eyesore?

A few miles from Hearst Castle, a trash collector spent fifty years cobbling together his house out of junk and found objects. As Cambria became more trendy in the 1970s, neighbors wanted him to tear down the multi-level “eyesore,” while others saw “Nitt Witt Ridge” as a folk art monument. It’s still there, and still a controversy within the city and its historical society.

This seems like the kind of roadside construction that would fit in with American Gods’ cosmology. More like The House on the Rock than Hearst Castle, despite the proximity.

And it turns out that the first of Wyland’s 100+ whale murals, on the wall of a Laguna Beach hotel, was later painted over as an “eyesore.” (C’mon, really?) But since then, a friend of his bought the building, and he’s recreating the original mural. On canvas this time, so he can move it if anything happens to the wall!