Category Archives: Life

Smoke rises from Mt. Wilson

Smoke rises from Mt. Wilson above Los Angeles on Tuesday around noon. The wildfire has threatened the observatory and critical communications towers. Today it’s too hazy to see anything but the barest suggestion of the downtown skyline, much less the mountains behind it. Not that it looked quite this clear even on Tuesday – I ran the photo through auto white balance to make everything easier to see.

I’m reminded of the last time the mountaintop complex was threatened by fire, during the 2009 Station Fire… and the photos I scanned from a 1992 tour of the observatory, wondering if that had been my only chance to see it.

Thread 1/

I don’t like Twitter threads.

In most cases, if something takes more space than one or two tweets to say, it’s easier to read as an article. It’s especially bad with very long threads, and those that aren’t crafted to make each tweet a unit. When sentences continue on from one tweet to the next as if they’re only line breaks, it makes it hard to pick out a statement to highlight, or where to start.

On the plus side: Tweets are more likely to be seen, more easily shared, and people can interact as they’re posted, like a live conversation. A thread that’s crafted to fit in 140-character chunks has a rhythm to it, like a daily comic strip collection vs. a comic book. And an unplanned tweetstorm gives both the writer a chance to get their ideas down quickly and the reader a chance to see them unfiltered.

Compared to an article, a tweetstorm provides immediacy, and any Twitter thread provides reach. But they’re still a pain to read.

Also written (of course) as this twitter thread.

California Burning

A fire is raging in the hills and canyons of Orange County. It’s nothing compared to the devastation in Northern California, where 160,000 acres have burned, killing 21 people and wiping out whole neighborhoods in Napa and Santa Rosa — but a dozen homes have been lost and about as many damaged in the 8,000-acre blaze near Anaheim.

Even though I live farther away now, the smoke still reached the coast on Monday, the first day of Canyon Fire 2 (so-named because it picked up where the Canyon Fire left off last month). It turned the sun orange and the sunlight yellow, like sunset but at too high an angle. The smoke is a lot more diffuse now, looking more like typical smog, and firefighters are getting the fire under control as the weather changes.

The evacuation maps and the photos of Peters Canyon remind me of the Santiago Fire ten years ago this month. That fire burned for nearly three weeks and scorched 28,000 acres. I wondered whether they ever caught the arsonist who set it. As far as I can tell from a quick search, they never did. The most recent article I found was on the five year anniversary of the fire. At that time, they had “narrowed the search to three suspects, he said, but no arrests [had] been made.”

October is always a bad month for wildfires in California. Plants have been drying out all summer, the winter rains haven’t started yet, and the hot, dry seasonal winds of fall — Santa Anas in the south and Diablos in the north — whip up the flames and drive them long distances. But in the last decade, more and more fires have burned large areas in summer, spring, and even winter, to the point where “fire season” may as well be year-round.

Why am I still blogging? (And why about this stuff?)

This blog has been around 15 years. Social media has mostly moved on, to silos like Facebook and Twitter. People don’t follow random personal blogs. Topic-focused sites are what people actually read, and even that mainly following links from silos.

Meanwhile there are so many major things going on that make the things I post about here — comics, fandom, photos of things I found interesting, random tech thoughts — seem trivial.

So why keep a blog going? And why write about trivialities, and not big things like the battles over civil rights, healthcare, environmental protections, war?

As for the first: Some of it is stubbornness. And some of it is wanting to keep part of my writing/photo presence somewhere “permanent” (to the extent that anything online is).

As for the second: I’ve never really liked talking news and politics online. I rarely feel like I can add anything that hasn’t already been said (probably better) by someone else. Also, online conversation has gotten way too toxic. On the other hand, while the little things may be trivial, they add up. They add up to your life. It feels like I might actually have something to say that’s not already been said a thousand times by people more familiar with the issue than I am.

Plus it’s a way to assert some normality in a world that feels decidedly abnormal.

I’m not likely to come up with anything super-profound on the most important topics, but I can make short statements, and I can amplify other voices. And I’m trying to come to grips with the fact that that’s important. I’ve been reading a lot more and posting a lot less over the past year or so, but even if I can’t say anything profound, I shouldn’t stay silent.

So I’ve been microblogging, and linking, and reposting — all things that are better suited for a service that’s built around those use cases. When I have something longer to say, I do try to pull it in here, because a blog post is better than a Twitter thread… But I think more people probably see my retweets than my blog posts, anyway.

Recycling the News

The practice of recycling old news articles still throws me off at times. For instance: here are two recent LA Times articles using big disasters as springboards to talk about possible giant earthquake scenarios in California. They start out talking about the Houston flooding from Harvey and yesterday’s quake in Mexico, then segue into Los Angeles disaster planning. By the end, they’ve segued into the same text. I was reading today’s and thinking, “I just read this, recently.” A ten-second search turned up the older article.

It’s not plagiarism. It’s the same reporter at the same newspaper. It’s basically the equivalent of stock footage, and it’s hardly the only example. It’s probably not even a new practice, just a lot easier to find now that everything’s online and searchable.