All posts by joe

In Memoriam: Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin died this week, one of my favorite novelists.

Her parents studied and worked extensively with the last member of the Yahi people, who occupied territory in the Sierra Nevada until they were massacred in the Gold Rush. I have never seen Le Guin say exactly how that influenced her, but a lot of her themes are about interactions between different cultures, and imbalances of power and domination. She was excellent writer, in both character and plot, always taking points of view that are unusual but very recognizably human.

My favorite stories by her are the Hainish Cycle: The Left Hand of Darkness, which explores fluidity of gender; The Dispossessed, which contrasted capitalism and communism; and the novella The Word For World Is Forest, which has environmentalist/anticolonialist themes. But the themes are rarely overt; there is nothing polemical. The storytelling approach is always a kind of “what if there was a place with people like this?” that sucks you in from curiosity. But then as you reflect afterward it’s like “wait, the world is kind of like that, at least parts of it, although I hadn’t thought about it like that before.” The Left Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed each won Hugo and Nebula Awards.

She also clearly planned stories very well: while you’re reading, the stories cruise along, driven by plot and character. But then at the end, while you also have the usual climax and dénouement to process emotionally, there’s also this intellectual process you often have to go through to reconstruct exactly how the whole thing fit together. Sort of like the same feeling you get at the end of movies like Memento or Donnie Darko where you have to reconstruct some of the plot structure and parallel threads yourself at the end. May the world have more novelists like her that make readers study the world and imagine all the different perspectives within it, and all the ways it might be.

Gallery: Normandy Bike Tour

This is a gallery of photographs I took to accompany story proposals about bike touring in Normandy. The ones that have me in them were taken with a tripod.  This post is un-indexed and un-categorized, so for all practical purposes these pictures have not been published. — Joe

Jet lag makes for a very early start on the second day of the trip.
Southern Normandy is full of national forests (forêts domaniales) that have many kilometers of low-traffic roads.
Southern Normandy is full of national forests (forêts domaniales) that have many kilometers of low-traffic roads.
Multiple croissants and a “petit cafe” — French the breakfast of champions – is available at most campgrounds.
Taking a rest in front of the Basilique Notre-Dame de Montligeon, an enormous church built in the middle of nowhere to accommodate 19th century pilgrims that flocked to the region for a charismatic priest.
One of many nearly-empty forest roads in southern Normandy.
Navigating one of the national forests with old signs and new.
Camping provides a low-cost way to stay while bike touring.
Greenways or “voies vertes” like this resurfaced railway are car-free and often stretch for hundreds of kilometers.
This family of four from Caen rode several hundred kilometers together on a voie verte. [I have their contact info for a release if necessary]
Mont Saint Michel is one of the top attractions of Normandy, for travelers on bikes or otherwise.
A perspective on Mont Saint Michel from the dam on the Couesnon River.
Riding around the back side of Mont Saint Michel abbey.
The typical French countryside scenery: clouds and fields.
Roads are always an option, but the unpaved route makes it easier to get away from all traffic and tourists. This is a segment of Eurovelo 4, a cross-continent bike trail. 
Riding alongside Omaha Beach.
Roadside haybales not far from Monet’s summer residence. [This is a composite of two bracketed exposures: one for sky and one for the rest.]

Bird Portraits

I have been working on taking pictures of birds using a portrait lens. These are all taken usually next to a dish of seed. Gear is a Olympus Micro Four Thirds camera (EPM-2) with Oly 45 mm f/1.8 lens (90 mm on a 35mm); Pixel Oppilas remote; Amazon basics tripod or Smallrig clamp tripod. 

 

Book Review: For The Soul of France

Sometimes it feels like it is hard to write engaging history books for any era that predates the 20th century. There is less cultural context for the modern reader: so much has changed that it makes it hard to imagine events, nevermind relate to them. Plus more details have been erased by the sands of time, so often the level of generality goes up. Brown does a good job getting around this. He uses a lot of newspapers and personal letters to give the reader primary sources to relate to: what people were actually writing and reading at the time. He often uses the universal expositions, which happened approximately every decade, to anchor things in time.

Based on the presence of “Dreyfus” in the title, I was expecting this to be more directly about anti-Semitism. The primary theme of the book is Catholic-Royalist versus Republican-Enlightenment, and Continue reading Book Review: For The Soul of France

Book Review: The Unwinding by George Packer

Something changed in America around 1970. If you read political economists, it might be variously characterized as the end of the New Deal, globalization, national productivity separating from average pay, deindustrialization, the beginning of the income inequality spike, or the rise of neoliberalism. Those are hard to digest in the abstract. Packer tells the story of these changes, but through biography. The chapters are fairly short and mostly independent, although some characters recur as the book progresses from 1978 to 2012. Each chapter is told as the stories of people: mostly ordinary people who were in a position to be particularly representative of a particular part of the power cycles of American life.

Tammy Thomas is a Black woman in Youngstown, Ohio, born at the apex of Black inner-city success, when well-paying blue-collar jobs in steel factories had been a fact for a generation; during her lifetime Youngstown collapses due to jobs moving to lower-pay locations, the short-sightedness of local elites, and the indifference of far-away capital that dismembers its industry. Continue reading Book Review: The Unwinding by George Packer

Book Review: Sebastian Junger’s “Tribe”

“Tribe”. Going in I found that title off-putting, especially coming from a journalist best known for his reporting of the society of the military: offhand the word “tribe” conjures for me ideas of race, segregation, warfare, and social superiority of a martial class of warriors. This book is (for the most part) not really about any of that. It is also a very quick and compelling read, although it’s a bit longer it felt like reading, say, three New Yorker pieces in a row. The editing is very tight, with interlocking themes and each paragraph pulling its weight.

Instead, this is a book about grappling with the social atomization that comes along with industrialization and modern society. It could almost be a companion to Putnam’s Bowling Alone; it also brought to mind the “Rat Park” experiments that show that drug addiction is vastly increased with social isolation; and Dan Buettner’s “Blue Zone” work with National Geographic, which is about environments that make people happier, which also often involves making people more social.

Junger’s three main storytelling devices are: Continue reading Book Review: Sebastian Junger’s “Tribe”

Finding campsites using OpenStreetMap and Overpass Turbo

Update May 2018: The OSMAnd application accomplishes this task better than Overpass Turbo; see this post for more info.

*******

Campgrounds make for a quick cheap place for a bicycle tourist (or other tourist) to stop for the night, pitch a tent, and get a warm shower. Sometimes, though, it can be hard to tell where all of them are.

For any given region, there are usually some campground associations or governments that list a certain sets of campsites. However, in planning an upcoming bike tour around Normandy, I wanted to have a single map of campsites that cast a wide net. In Europe, the open-source mapping service OpenStreetMap is quite popular and often is the best source of data for geographical features. It’s not perfect. It is sort of like the Wikipedia of cartography: inclusive, but also prone to the occasional error or out-of-date information. Still, it’s exhaustiveness can be helpful for planning: it will tell you all the places there might be a campground.

To get one particular type of map feature out of OpenStreetMap, the best tool is a service called “Overpass Turbo“. It allows you to make a request for one type of feature, and then shows all of them that appear on the current map. Making requests looks a little bit like computer code, but even folks who are not computer nerds can make simple ones. Like for campsites.

Here are the steps:

  1. Go to https://overpass-turbo.eu/.
  2. Find the geographic region that you want to search in. You can either do that by dragging the map, or typing in the name of a geographical location (state, region, etc.) into the search box on the map.
  3. Replace the entire query box with this (borrowed from this example for parking lots):
<query type="node">
 <has-kv k="tourism" v="camp_site"/>
 <bbox-query {{bbox}}/>
</query>
<print/>
<query type="way">
 <has-kv k="tourism" v="camp_site"/>
 <bbox-query {{bbox}}/>
</query>
<union>
 <item/>
 <recurse type="down"/>
</union>
<print/>

Then click “run”.

The search may take a while. The more territory you had displayed on the map, the slower it goes. A search for all the campgrounds in a city will take a few seconds; a search for all the campgrounds in a region or state will take a couple of minutes or may not complete at all. You may need to reduce the size of the map that is displayed, to make the request in smaller chunks.

You can get a shareable link for the map you’ve created, but it will have to re-run the query when someone else clicks on it. I found it most useful to use the export button to export my data as a GPX or KML file, and then importing it into a Google “My Map“. I then changed  the style (click “uniform style”, “All items”, then the little paint bucket) so that the campsites show up as green tents. You can see that map here.  Either on Overpass Turbo or in the Google Map, where there is additional information about a campsite, like its name or website, that information will appear when you click on the icon. That can help in evaluating whether the information is current and other information about it. Now as I am planning my route, I can take into account where the campsites (probably) are.

You can also get this information through OSMAnd, which (I’m updating this post after the tour) is what I actually ended up doing most of the time in Normandy. Tap the “layers” icon in the top left, tap “POI…”, tap “Search”, type “camp” and choose “Camp site” (make sure you do not tap “former prison camp” which also shows up and which would be a very different experience). It will initially give you a list of the closest campsites; click on the map-with-pin icon in the bottom right.

OSMAnd campsites example

Grafting Citrus

Today I grafted several kinds of satsuma mandarin to my Oakland, California, backyard orange tree (some kind of Navel) and Eureka lemon tree. I followed several Fruit Mentor videos: mostly this one, but grafting to cut-off branches rather than a whole tree; and I did one t-graft (but with a stick rather than a bud; which I now see is perhaps not actually a proper method at all, but we’ll see what happens) and one cleft graft, just in case one works better than the others.

I did not have citrus parafilm so I used a combination of electrical tape pulled taught, then Glad Press n’ Seal (sort of like kitchen version of parafilm, but not as strong), then more electrical tape and a rubber band, then foil on top to keep sunlight from drying it out. I ordered the budwood from CCPP; it was $18 for six buds of four varieties, plus whatever FedEx shipping is; they haven’t sent me an invoice yet. Maybe I don’t know how to count buds properly, but it seems like in many cases they sent me twice what I ordered, two sticks rather than one. I used ’em all, why not have more chances at success.

Here’s the gallery of grafts, we’ll see how they are at the end of the summer.

Sunol and Coyote Hills Birds

These are all from either Coyote Hills Regional Park, or the Maguire Peaks Loop Trail in Sunol Regional Wilderness, except for the scrub jay who was in my backyard.