Monthly Archives: December 2009

Track the Hydraulic Frack: ProPublica mini-site on oil/gas wells per state, and the few staff that regulate them

My colleague Jeff Larson made this very cool site that shows how many more gas/oil wells there are per state since 2003, and the relatively small change in staff to inspect them. All done with jquery’s flot.

frack track for Texas

Related story by Abrahm Lustgarten. Abrahm has pretty much been the journalist at the forefront of covering the important, yet under-the-radar issue of whether the drive for natural gas will threaten our water supplies. Essentially, the technique for drilling – hydraulic fracturing – involves injecting millions of gallons of chemically tainted water to crack open the ground to allow the gas to escape. Yet the process is exempted from the Clean Water Act. And there are currently no realistic ways to treat the billions of gallons of wastewater this drilling is expected to produce.

hydrofracking graphic

Click to see larger graphic

ProPublica’s complete coverage here.

Akira Kurosawa on Netflix Instant Play: Seven Samurai, Rashomon, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, The Hidden Fortress, Ikiru

As recently as last month, I was disappointed with Netflix’s Japanese film selection on Instant Play. But it looks like they’ve remedied the shortage a bit with these classics from Akira Kurosawa, perhaps Japan’s finest director. I’ve seen most of them already. I own Ikiru on Criterion DVD but haven’t even opened it yet. I know it’s one of those movies you have to be the right mood to watch. Actually, having these movies on Instant Play probably isn’t that helpful…IP’s quality isn’t nearly good enough for the best movies; I feel sorry for anyone who has their first viewing of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly on it.

Seven SamuraiSeven Samurai RashomonRashomon YojimboYojimbo

Previously, there were a few good Japanese gems on Instant Play, including Twilight Samurai and The Great Happiness Space, a fascinating and ultimately depressing documentary about the male escort/geisha service.

The Great Happiness Space

The Great Happiness Space

NYT’s John Tierney: Pleasure yourself, now.

Still from the movie "Sideways"

John Tierney’s latest column covers the phenomenon of procrastinating pleasure. Just last night I was complaining how I didn’t use any vacation time (except for a trip home on Thanksgiving, which is barely a “vacation”) this year. But it was my own fault for not going through the motions of picking a place, date, and flight, thinking that I’d get around to it next month. And now it’s a few days till New Years.

For once, social scientists have discovered a flaw in the human psyche that will not be tedious to correct. You may not even need a support group. You could try on your own by starting with this simple New Year’s resolution: Have fun … now!

Then you just need the strength to cash in your gift certificates, drink that special bottle of wine, redeem your frequent flier miles and take that vacation you always promised yourself. If your resolve weakens, do not succumb to guilt or shame. Acknowledge what you are: a recovering procrastinator of pleasure.

It sounds odd, but this is actually a widespread form of procrastination — just ask the airlines and other marketers who save billions of dollars annually from gift certificates that expire unredeemed. Or the poets who have kept turning out exhortations to seize the day and gather rosebuds.

I thought this was the most eye-opening revelation about prolonged pleasure-procrastination:

Once you start procrastinating pleasure, it can become a self-perpetuating process if you fixate on some imagined nirvana. The longer you wait to open that prize bottle of wine, the more special the occasion has to be.

Remember the advice offered in the movie “Sideways” to Miles, who has been holding on to a ’61 Cheval Blanc so long that it is in danger of going bad. When Miles says he is waiting for a special occasion, his friend Maya puts matters in perspective:

“The day you open a ’61 Cheval Blanc, that’s the special occasion.”

Flickr Snowball Fight post-mortem: A lesson in being first

IMG_The photo that briefly led the Flickr blog
The photo that briefly led the Flickr blog

I’ve had a basic Flickr account for about a year now and before this past weekend, I don’t think I had more than 2,000 hits across the 150 random photos in my stream. After Flickr spotlighted my photos of the Times Square snowball fight at the top of its blog, I received about 71,000 hits and hundreds of comments in three days:

Flickr Stats

The funniest part of it is, is that I had uploaded pretty much the exact same set of photos more than 30 hours before. After work, while at the office, I noticed that CNN had spotlighted freelancer Doug Kim’s excellent B&W photos of the incident on his blog; I didn’t realize until I saw the reaction he got how amazing this event was to anyone who hadn’t been there that night, possibly even more interesting than for even those of us lucky to be there. I re-uploaded those same photos at a slightly larger size so I could post them “Big Picture” style to my blog. I’m pretty sure the important tags (“snow”, “snowball”) were in both versions (in fact, the picked-up version lacks “snowball fight” as a tag, which is the term that the Flickr blog post links to.

Apparently, I had good timing. Maybe ten minutes after I uploaded the larger-sized photos, I started noticing a stream of comments…and when I finally noticed that the thumbnail of my photo was not just showing on my Flickr page, but on everyone else’s…I hastily did a quick edit of the hundreds of other snowball fight photos I took that night and uploaded them. My two favorite of the secondary bunch…actually, of the whole bunch period, and I only bothered to look at them again because I figured Flickr users were OK with slightly more quantity than quality.

Snowstorm and snowball fight in Times Square, Manhattan, New York (larger size)

Times Square during the snow storm

According to the NYT’s City Room Blog, one of the earliest popular mentions of the event was on BoingBoing, which linked to a Tweeted mobile phone photo. It wasn’t the clearest, but making something known is more important. I’m kicking myself a little for editing my photos when I got home but then only posting them to a private online album for friends. I’m glad Kim’s excellent photos got huge play when CNN’s iReport gave it a spot on’s homepage.

Two days after the snowball fight, I didn’t have much to add to from what Kim’s photos had shown, so I figured the least I could do was license my photos under Creative Commons so that everyone could freely share them. I’m lucky enough to have a steady job now, so I’m just happy to show as many people as possible the cheery, smiling side of New Yorkers (or, at least its tourists’).

Some of my favorite comments, on Flickr and this Reddit post, which made it to the top of r/photography. I forget that not everyone knows what Times Square has been like since the pedestrian-calming measures took effect (and now I realize that this snowball fight probably wouldn’t have taken place any other year beforehand), or even what a snowstorm is.

This made me feel a little bit better about the world, so thanks! When I think of NYC, the last thing I expect to see is people laughing and having fun! 😛

Gets way too much crap for being an unfriendly city. Glad these photos show how untrue that reaction can be sometimes.

kevinbhookun Pro User says:
Reminds me of a Scene from Gangs of New York, except this is much cleaner :)

judo_dad1953 Pro User says:
I’m listening to Franz Schuberts Unfinished Symphony No.8 in B minor; as I’m wandering through your photostream. Its a perfect combination; it draws me to the image, making me wish I could pass into it and experience the moment wholly. Still, doing so vicariously is no small thing. Its an enviable record of an enviable moment. A tip of the hat to you for posting such a beautiful photo!

Kyle_Butler Pro User says:

I was so excited when I saw this picture I did a back flip. However, I was in a sleeping bag…so it got really weird. My cat looked at me as though he no longer accepted me as his owner. Then I realized I had no cat, and wondered why this creature was in my home!
See, your photo has set off a chain of events that not even Ashton Kutcher could fix!

Eric Austria Pro User says:
i was just there last nov. what a difference a day of snow is. if i’m gonna be stranded from a snowstorm this would be the ideal place.

Ta_nya says:
hah) “snowstorm”…for us it’s really fun to hear such a word. I know that you are not used to the weather like this and it’s really a storm for you, but here in Moscow we would have called it like “huh, snowy again”)) anyway, amazing pics)

Well, if spotlighting my photo was Flickr’s roundabout way to get me to sign up for a Pro account…well, it worked. I had a vague sense of the Flickr ecosystem work…but when no one stops by your photostream, you don’t see it in practice. Having interacted with dozens of other photogs and spending some time seeing the other great work out there…I’m seeing a lot more utility for a Flickr account than just providing people a repository for the random CC-images I have. And I’m going to try it out as the hosting service for my images. Dreamhost’s recent spottiness as of late didn’t give me confidence that it could handle serving up pages with multiple large images to thousands of visitors.

So lesson learned: when you have a nice camera, don’t keep the good memories to yourself. Happy Holidays.

Times Square during a snowstorm: hunker down and throw some snowballs

IMG_8659, originally uploaded by zokuga.

Snowball fights, slow traffic…if Times Square was like this everyday, the Manhattanites would fight to take it back from the tourists. See a bigger version of these photos on this page, where I’m slowly experimenting with WordPress’s templating…ouch, php, ouch. Also, my photo made it at the top of this Flickr post.

I hadn’t used my 5dm2 since I got the S90. I love the S90 but I became accustomed to not getting decent images in any kind situation where the ISO was at 800. In the snowstorm, I had a rain-jacket improperly fitted on the 5d2 and blindly hit the autofocus button…I didn’t expect to get anything but these didn’t turn out so bad.





Update: Some reflections about the “social media” aspect of what I thought was just a good-ol fashioned large-scale snowball fight

Snowball fight in Times Square, Dec. 19, 2009

Snowball fight in Times Square, on 12/19/2009, during the big blizzard of 2009 from dan n on Vimeo.

Some video of the spontaneous snowfight, mostly among patrons who had just gotten out of their Broadway shows, using my 5dm2. Not exactly the best quality considering I was sloppily using a rain jacket and haven’t ever really used the video function. But I was impressed that it’s slightly in focus.

Apple has 46& of Japanese smartphone market

From TUAW:

Impress Corporation of Japan is reporting that Apple now controls almost half the smartphone market in Japan with over 3 million iPhones sold to date. Keep in mind, it has taken the iPhone little more than a year to accomplish this.

Impress reasons that the major shift towards the iPhone is because of its ease of use and the Japanese App Store.

One of the predictions I distinctly remember an analyst making a the iPhone announcement launch was that it would reach Apple’s 1 percent of market share goal but it would have no impact in Japan, where the phones were so allegedly advanced.