Monthly Archives: December 2011

Missing maps lead to gas leaks in PG&E network

The San Francisco Chronicle has a story about how important it is to keep an accurate set of maps: Missing maps mean PG&E lines weren't inspected. The story is from December 31, 2011:

Pacific Gas and Electric Co. failed to check nearly 14 miles of gas distribution pipelines for leaks for up to two decades when it lost track of 16 maps needed to guide mandated safety inspections of its system in eastern Contra Costa County, company officials acknowledged to state regulators Friday.

 The result of the missing inspections: long-overdue discovery of seven leaks along over 13 miles of pipeline, including one repair that was "urgent".

Read more:



5 most popular maps of 2011 for this blog

Here’s the 5 most popular mapping pages on Vacuum over the past 12 months – these are all in the top 10 most popular pages on this blog overall in that time span.

1. Power outage maps for 50 states. I only really have about 44 states with maps, but the collection is otherwise excellent, and it gets lots of search traffic when there are big storms. Peak storm action of Hurricane Irene and of the Halloween snowstorm that hit the Northeast both saw 3000+ visits per day of people looking for outage maps for their area.

2. Australia flood maps for January, 2011. Brisbane got socked with floods in January, and the maps capture the weather at the time plus links of the day and some astounding flood footage.

3. Vermont flood maps for Hurricane Irene. When Irene hit Vermont, roads were washed out, travel was disrupted, and towns were cut off from the world. A number of organizations put together rapid response flooding maps, and some of these are saved here.

4. Tsunami maps and maps of Fukushima after the nuclear disaster in Japan. It was easy to be glued to the net for news in March about the Honshu earthquake and its impact on Japan; this post was put together the day of the quake as news slowly emerged about tsunami risks.

5. Central Texas fire maps. Put together for friends and family near Austin, Texas, this collection of maps includes the Weather Underground fire layer map, one of the best near real time fire watching tools out there, as seen for the Bastrop County, Texas fires in September.

What do I conclude about this?

If all I wanted to do was maximize the number of page views that I got, I would be consistently pulling together maps about every modern day meteorological disaster. Fire, flood, power outage, tsunami, hurricane, snowstorm, have at it – every single one of them has a map to go with the story, and every time there’s a story someone looks for the map to go with it.

Most news reporting doesn’t pull in anywhere near the richness and detail that a good set of map searches will do, and most map sites that display real time data don’t save every possible newsworthy map event. Combine these two, and you can be certain that the maps you collect will tell a story that’s otherwise hard to illustrate.

Pasta with leeks, cashews, and feta

Dinner tonight was surprisingly good, especially because I didn't have a recipe. All measurements approximate.

  • one leek, white parts only, cleaned and cut into thin strips
  • olive oil
  • oregano
  • rice wine 
  • cashews
  • feta, cubed
  • pasta (we used farfalle)

Heat the olive oil. Add the leeks to the pan, with a sprinkling of oregano on top. Cook the leeks until just browned. Deglaze the pan with a little rice wine. Add cashews and feta, return to the heat, and cook until the feta is warm and just starting to melt.

Serve over pasta.

Yum! Serves 2.

Addicted to feedback

If I read Facebook for too long, I want to post short quips, "like" things, and generally let people know that I exist.

If I read Twitter for too long, I want to post short quips, "favorite" things, and generally let people know that they exist.

When I sit in front of Typepad ready to type, it's not always for the short post, and often it's not even for an audience. My working assumption is that unless I'm writing about something that the world cares about, only a handful of people will see it. The other working assumption is that I really don't know before I write it how it will be received, so it better be good enough for me to want to refer to again just for myself.

I've referred to Vacuum as an unpolished open notebook. It's also a place to capture "interior stories", internal monologue that makes sense about how you do things.

(Christina) Baldwin says that if people aren’t attached to their interior stories, they get addicted to feedback. Although I would have considered myself attached to my interior story, I also recognize a social-media feedback addiction in myself. I’m always curious about what kinds of comments that my, for example, Facebook status updates, have generated. (from A Storied Career,  a blog by Kathy Hansen).

Sometimes you write to inform yourself, and the goal isn't to create or please your followers, or to get new ones, or to up your page view count or close a new lead. It's just to write, and to capture what's going by in your head to the level that you can recreate it later.

Writing in a blog has always been for me an exercise in locating other people's words to help illustrate my point. That gives it some measure of similarity to a commonplace book, a traditional way to copy out bits of prose that you wish to make your own into a kind of clippings book or scrapbook of words.

I'm content, really, to be "addicted to feedback", but I reserve the right to look for the right kind of feedback to tune into. The feedback of blogging is the long, low rumble of old notebooks that have just the right relevant bits to tune into, and not just the shrill, high ping of social media contacts.


Anoche cuando dormía – three translations of the Antonio Machado poem

Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt – marvelous error! –
that I had a beehive
here inside my heart.
And the golden bees
were making white combs
and sweet honey
from all my old failures.

(Antonio Machado, translated by Robert Bly)

Last night I had a dream—
a blessed illusion it was—
I dreamt of a hive at work
deep down in my heart.
Within were the golden bees
straining out the bitter past
to make sweet-tasting honey,
and white honeycomb.

(Antonio Machado, translated by Alan S. Trueblood)

Last night while sleeping
I dreamt, – blessed illusion!
that a beehive  
within my heart;  
and the golden bees  
were making,  
from my bitter disappointments, 
white wax and sweet honey.  

(Antonio Machado, translated by Chris Cavanagh)

Anoche cuando dormía 
soñé, ¡bendita ilusión!, 
que una colmena tenía 
dentro de mi corazón; 
y las doradas abejas 
iban fabricando en él, 
con las amarguras viejas 
blanca cera y dulce miel.

The full text, in English and in Spanish, is here at Goodreads. Thanks to Joanna Hastings for taking note of it in a post to Facebook.

Power outages follow Christchurch, New Zealand earthquake #eqnz

Ann Arbor, December 22, 2011 – Three strong earthquakes of more than magnitude 5 hit Christchurch, New Zealand today, disrupting the power and telecommunications networks in the area and damaging roads and structures because of liquefaction of the soil. Damage and injury estimates are incomplete as of this writing.

According to USGS, three earthquake hits christchurch today , 5.8 at 01:58:36 PM, 5.3 at 02:06:25 PM and 5.8 at 03:18:02 PM #eqnz

Power grid operator Orion New Zealand is providing network updates via Twitter on the status of the electrical grid during the aftermath of the quake; follow @OrionNZ for details. The updates via Twitter are happening in addition to their normal reporting on their web site:

Due to the extent of outages on the Orion network at present, we are unable to update this page.  We will resume usual updates as soon as possible.  In the interim, please see our home page for general updates about power supply following the December aftershocks.

5:20pm: We are unable to update the outages page at at present, as we are still scoping #eqnz works

Telecom New Zealand issued this update, also via Twitter

Full update from us – some congestion, some sites on battery backup, pls txt instead of calling if you can: #eqnz ^RI

The NZ Raw weblog has photos and video of the damage, which includes liquefaction of the soil.

(A geologist) was keen to use the photos in a paper he was writing and said (and I more-or-less quote) “I’ve been to substantial earthquakes all over the world for the past 30 years and I haven’t seen liquefaction anywhere near as bad as it is in Christchurch. You guys are pretty interesting right now!”

The hash tag in common use for the event is #eqnz, and usage of that tag is nearly universal.