Oakland to Asheville

In April our family moved 2600 miles across the country from Oakland, CA to Asheville, NC. Like many others, the pandemic influenced our timing but we are also part of the first wave of US climate migrants. We moved because the wildfires in California were causing smoke that made our lifestyles less enjoyable. Our son had just started walking, and we had 30 days in a row where the air quality was too bad to go outside. Covid made it unsafe to share indoor spaces, so we basically stayed at home and went insane.

At the end of those 30 days we flew to stay with my family in Atlanta for two months. In order to get a break from a very full house (my brother, his wife and their two kids were also staying with my parents) we took a trip up to Asheville to see the leaves change. Three trips later and we had put an offer in on a house in West Asheville! This lot is literally 7x the size of our lot in Oakland, for less money.

We have been here five months, and are now finally feeling settled in. We got a dog, and have been taking her on hikes and to play with other dogs in the neighborhood. We also have been taking our kiddo out canoeing on the nearby lakes, and soon on the river. We know the restaurants, we know the easy places to get out and see nature, and we are starting to turn our kudzu covered lot into a working garden. Our chickens (which we got in June) are now giving us eggs. We have also turned our backyard into a stage and had musicians play!

We are very happy with our relocation, and while we miss the community back in the Bay Area, we don’t miss the smoke. It also seems like people we know from California are headed this way every few months, so the community is growing on this side of the country as well.

 

King Dream

Jeremy Lyon from King Dream

Chicki Minaj gives up her first egg

Keeping your sanity with Mute Filters

I still use RSS to pull information from the internet to my eyes. It is the most efficient way of gathering information from multiple sources without having to manually dig, and it avoids the brain killing viral balloons from Facebook and the like.

However, there is one endless source of “news” that I am done hearing about daily. Trump. I don’t care to give any of my attention to this national reality show anymore. Enter the Mute Filter.

The news reader I have used since Google reader shut down is Feedly. It has a mute filter that removes all articles from your feed containing key words. I made a test filter for “Trump”, set it to last for 7 days, and then forgot about it.

It filtered 1561 articles in 7 days!

Today, it turned off and my feed went back to garbage. Example A below. (I know Gizmodo is a rag, but I like their tech product features…)

Example A

The Mute Filter is going back on and going to stay that way. Any actual big news related to this trumpster fire I will hear about on NPR or via email or from friends.

Cost of Newspaper Subscriptions

My brother Matt asked why there is no useful comparison of the cost of newspaper subscriptions. Some Googling made it clear – this consumer comparison does not exist. So, I took a few minutes to knock one together.

I think the real reason is most people are looking to get a specific paper, and are not shopping around for which paper is most affordable. If you want the WSJ, you want the WSJ, and the cost of USA Today doesn’t factor into it.

I’m not going to keep this updated as the cost seems to shift around depending on the season, which ads you have viewed in the past, and the content of Trump’s last tweet.

California is burning while everything else floods.

 

Active fires in California as of Sep 1, 2017.

There have been 30% more individual fires this year in California than there were last year. Many more in Oregon and up into Canada. A few have been near our place in Nevada City.

Multiple regions experianced disaster level flooding in the past two weeks. South Asia (40 million people affected), Nigeria, and Texas.

Update 9/1/17: San Francisco just had its hottest day ever. 106 degrees.

Crossing the country for the Eclipse

Taken by Matt Hanna, on an iPhone

The first solar eclipse Mandy and I saw was in October of 2014. That one was a partial eclipse, but nobody seemed to care. We grabbed glasses from the Lawrence Hall of Science, and joined crowds in the Berkeley hills to watch it happen. Shadows went wild, and it was a fun afternoon.

The first lunar eclipse I saw was in College in North Carolina. Since then I have seen a few and even observed one through my telescope, which was a lot of fun.

None of them compared to the totality of the 2017 eclipse. Mandy and I joined the great migration by flying to South Carolina to spend the week with my family in Hilton Head, with the plan to drive up an hour to Charleston to observe the totality.

The Migration

On Monday morning, we loaded up into a rented minivan with my family and our 10-month-old niece, and headed out at 7:30am. It was getting cloudy, so four of us kept an eye on different live cloud maps, all trying to figure out the best spot to go. Citing the lake effect (clouds don’t form as consistently over water in summer months) we aimed for a lake in the middle of the state. Traffic was not as bad as we were expecting, and the drive in took around three hours. This put us in Lexington, SC a few hours before the main event.

The town was packed. It was in the “Path of Totality” and had been preparing. Cafes were giving out eclipse cookies (Oreos and MoonPies) and every law enforcement agent in the county was on duty. We scoped out a few sites, and ended up parking near the lake, and joining thousands of people on the shore as the moon started crossing the sun.

We watched while swimming, and Mandy saw totality start while in the water. The clouds completely dissipated in the 20 minutes before totality, and then it happened. The diamond ring exploded around the moon, and we had a clear view of the sun’s atmosphere streaming out. The crowd cheered, then became silent as our brains tried to cope with what we were seeing. Darkness had fallen instantly, stars were out, and the sun had turned into a ring of fire. Sunset was visible on all sides around the lake and the colors were beautiful.

The totality was only two minutes and 33 seconds long, but it seemed both far longer, and much shorter. I’m still trying to parse out how it affected me, but I felt minuscule on the cosmic scale and part of something massive for humanity. Estimates say that 200 million people watched the eclipse in the US on Monday. On that field thousands of us were struck with awe at the same moment, and shared a powerful experience.

Interesting Data

On the way to the eclipse, people had trickled in over the weekend in small, but constant streams. Once it was over, it was like a pulse bomb was set off in the road infrastructure. Look at the traffic patterns below that follow the eclipse trajectory – some of those red and orange lines stretch for hundreds of miles.

Traffic heading back to the island took six hours. I-95 was slammed with everyone who came up from Florida. When we got back, my brother Matt looked up the effect the eclipse had on solar output in California. Interesting curves here:

Also, people on the path cared much more about the eclipse than those who were far away as Google search trends shows below:

 

Santa Cruz and 5000 pound Mammals

Sea Elephants in the Background

This weekend Mandy and I went down to her college town of Santa Cruz and walked among 5000 pound Sea Elephants. Santa Cruz is about an hour and a half south of San Francisco if you take the freeways for most of it. We did not take the freeways.

Between San Francisco and Santa Cruz runs a section of PCH-1, the Pacific Coast Highway. If you grew up going to east coast beaches and have never been to California you might need some context. The east coast (at least the southern parts) has long gradual slopes out to the beaches. The sand stretches out, and people can ride bikes, walk, and even drive cars along them.

Contrast this to much of Northern California,where the mountains ram up against the ocean, then plummet in 200 foot cliffs directly down into thrashing waves and rocks. It is breathtaking, and leaves you reeling from the power of nature.

PCH-1 skirts the very edge of these cliffs for hundreds of miles all down the Pacific coast, until the cliffs give way to beaches somewhere near Los Angeles. In some sections, the aforementioned power of nature has beaten the road into temporary submission, and covered in it a rock slide or washed out parts underneath it.

Along PCH-1 is a state park called Año Nuevo. It is here that thousands of Sea Elephants beach themselves and make the sand dunes their mating grounds between December and March. We have been meaning to go see them for a few years, but you can only go out to where they are on a docent guided tour that needs a reservation “up to 56 days in advance”.

With the recent rain and storms, we bet people would not show and there would be extra tickets — we were right. Mandy brought rain pants. I did not. By the end of the two hour hike out and back, I had learned: That these things are born weighing 70 pounds, and then gain 230 pounds in 28 days. Their mother’s milk is 55% fat. They can get up to 5000 pounds and live 14-20 years. An alpha male will fight all the other males, then control a harem of up to 40 females. There are multiple harems spread out along Año Nuevo’s sand dunes.

We got to walk in and among them, but not to close to the main groups – just around the outcasts and “bachelors” who were not alpha that year and the young pups.

We saw a female sea elephant start to leave for the season, and then four 5000 pound males chased her into the ocean and get into a massive fight over who had the right to her. It was surreal.

The Twitch

A few times a year my lower eyelid starts to twitch. It is annoying, but not painful in any way. It is happening now and I looked up the different reasons it can occur:

Computer eye strain
Caffeine
Alcohol
Tiredness
Stress

Yup, yup, yeah, uh huh, right. All of the above. Boozy wedding party in LA last weekend, no sleep, running a startup, drinking lots of coffee.

I often do not notice when I am stressed out and overtaxed, so I am glad my body has developed relatively harmless way of letting me know to take it easy.

I got a robot to clean my floors

Mandy and I are notoriously bad about sweeping up our floors. Our dog sheds like crazy and this leads to little dustbunnies building up in all of the corners. We had resigned ourselves to living with it until I started seriously looking at Roomba robots. 


The newest versions have rubber rollers that do not allow hair to get wrapped up in them, and are perfect for pets. For years I have heard people that hate the robots or love them. I think it depends on your house.

Our place is all one level, with hardwood floors throughout, and is basically perfect for these things.

Since we got it, our floors have been dog-hair free and we don’t even have to think about it. It is scheduled to run while I am at work, and I am sure it keeps our dog entertained.

It never finds its way back to the charging station, but I don’t care. It is inevitably stuck under our bed or couch. I just find it when I get home and put it back, ready to go the next day. 

Self Selected News

man-coffee-cup-pen-large.jpg

I am starting to feel a problem, exacerbated by the election coverage, and I don’t know the solution…

Unless you live in a state controlled society, you probably get news from self selected sources. TV, Twitter, blogs, Facebook — you choose the channel, source and content. This self selection leads towards a self-enforcing bias. How do you break the cycle?

But – very aware of the self selecting point of view here – I don’t want to spend a lot of time reading material from views I don’t agree with. What I actually want is a diff of the opinions and facts from both sides.

Does anything like this exist?

 

Afterthought:
Facebook is a stream of news shared by:

  1. People who you already know and have something in common with.
  2. People who may or may not have a BS filter.

How is that a good way to get news?