All posts by ben@harding.boulder.co.us

The Dolores: My way.

It would have been sometime around 1979 or 1980. I left from my house on Darley, so buying that house (my first) marks the early limit, and construction on the dam, which was definitely not going on when I ran, marked the latest limit.  Work on the dam started in earnest in the fall of 1980, with construction of the river diversion.  I think I can figure this out, someday.

El Rio de Nuestra Señora de Dolores, River of Our Lady of Sorrows.  The greatest sorrow for the river, and a great sorrow for me, was coming.   I knew I needed to run this river before they built the dam.  I needed to run it through the “take area” and, while I am at it, I should run it to its mouth.  I knew I didn’t have much time.  No one else wanted to go just now.

And now, the end is near,
I’ll do it my way.

That was, without a car.

I caught a ride to the FibArk slalom race with my housemate Linda Hibbard. I raced, though I have no recollection of how it went. This may have been the year I paddled almost solely C-1 (for a new challenge). If so, then I finished third (as I recall), which was probably also last. There were not a lot of C-1 paddlers in CO.

After the race I caught a ride to Durango with another racer. Can’t recall who, but it was one of those guys who beat me regularly. That is, a good slalom racer. I hauled my touring boat and paddle, and all my gear (pretty lean); Linda took my racing boat and paddle back to Boulder.

I remember that I stayed with Pres Ellsworth, a river outfitter, in Durango. I met Pres through opposition to the Dolores project, and probably also opposing  the Animas La Plata Project. I probably would have gotten together with the ALP women, led by Jeannie Englert, but I think that by then Jeannie and Tim might have moved to Lafayette.  Both efforts at opposition were futile but worthwhile.

So far, so good, but the really good stuff was about to begin. The next morning, Pres dropped me off on CO160 on the west edge of Durango. I stood there with my huge Lowe Expedition pack, kayak and paddle for…not very long.  Amazingly,  I had only been standing there a short time when an orange-ish VW van with a family going to Mesa Verde stopped and picked me up. Recently, I think I found a vestige of that ride–a note or something that I connected by inference–with a name. (Maybe somewhere there is a journal, but I was not good at that. And, I didn’t take a camera–maybe the Olympus XA had not yet come into my life as a camera I could carry in a ziplock bag.)  Maybe someday I will figure this out, too.

The family in the orange-ish van dropped me off at the exit to Mesa Verde. It was an exit–two-lane 160 expanded into four lanes for a short time, so rather than battle across oncoming traffic from a left turn lane, you could exit and go under the highway–very deluxe, and probably the same structure that is there now, but embedded in miles and miles of four-lane roadway.

I’m still not sure what prompted me to do it, probably that traffic was sparse, this being a Monday (Slalom races ran on Sunday; course setting and practice was on Saturday), but I ran (sort of) up the ramp, toting my boat on my shoulder and my pack on my back. I didn’t want to miss a car, even though the odds were low that anyone would pick me up. My idealized memory is that the first car stopped, and that fits into the serendipity of this trip, but that’s probably too good to be true.  In any case, I did not wait long until a young fellow stopped. A teenager, high school age as I recall. He lived in Dolores! That’s my put-in.

My plan only went that far–I did not know for sure where or when I’d sleep. I probably had Plan A, Plan B and Plan C. A being an afternoon launch and camping down the river a ways. B would have been staying in or around Dolores, and C would have been back on 160 somewhere.

The Kid worked at the Pizza Hut in Cortez, and he was going to work. He told me he would take me down to Dolores after he got off work, sometime in the evening. So, Plan B it was. I remember going to a movie and then going to the Pizza Hut to eat, and to leave a tip. l probably left my boat and gear on The Kid’s car. God, do I wish I’d had a camera to boost my recall. That evening, The Kid dropped me at the park in Dolores with assurances that the sheriff would not roust me.  The next morning I ate across the street and set off.  It was roughly 200 miles to the confluence with the Colorado, only a little shorter distance than the usual run through the Grand Canyon.

I had little gear–probably no tent, just a tarp, a very light, compact down sleeping bag, stove, one pan and a water bottle.  Filip and I pared down gear when we ran the Chixoy-Rio Negro-Salinas-Uscumacinta a couple of years before.  It all fit into three or four large heavy plastic bags, which in turn fit into light, ripstop nylon bags (enormous stuff sacks, I had made).  The Lowe pack went behind the seat.  All the bags would fit into the pack, so a portage involved jumping out of the boat, pulling the pack, stuffing the bags into the pack, shouldering that and the boat and tottering off, using the paddle for balance.  I didn’t plan to portage anything on this trip, but Filip and I had finely choreographed the portage in Guatemala.

There were several landmarks on this trip.  The first was Bradfield Ranch, the usual put-in to run the Upper Dolores.  Next was Snaggletooth Rapid.   There were more, but this day all that counted was Bradfield Ranch and Snaggletooth.  I had no idea how many river miles it was to either.  Nobody ran this upper-upper stretch, and there were no maps.

Probably there was a map–somewhere the Bureau of Reclamation had a mile-by-mile map of the river that showed all the dam sites.  I didn’t have this, though.  The only map I had was a Xerox from a EIS on something like oil development, which showed the lower river, from somewhere near Snaggletooth to Bedrock, where it enters the Paradox Valley.   That is, it covered the Slickrock to Bedrock run, AKA the Lower Dolores.   I was running past there, to the Lower-lower Dolores, and on to the Lower-lower-lower Dolores and to its confluence with the Colorado River, just above the departed and much-missed Dewey Bridge.

I knew from reports that I could run the river all the way from Bradfield to the confluence, but there was Snaggletooth.  The rapid was described with respect–Ron Mason had once carried it when he ran the Dolores in a wildwater boat–but by now I had been kayaking seriously for five years or so and I’d run the Grand Canyon two or three times and much class IV and even V water.  I was not concerned.   Mason was a ninja, but he was in a long and tippy wildwater boat.

Snaggletooth was no factor the first day.  As I am wont to do I probably lingered over breakfast and coffee, getting a late start, and the river mileage was longer and the gradient lower than my idealized notion.   I stopped somewhere above Bradfield Ranch, I really didn’t know where.  The next morning, I got an earlier start and set off.  Perhaps I stopped at Bradfield–I don’t recall–but my mission was to get to Snaggletooth.  That that was my mission does reveal that I was at least paying respect to the rapid.  I was really probably anxious about it, as it was an unknown, and Mason had walked.

I said to myself that I would stop and pee when I got to Snaggletooth.  Maybe I was planning to get out to scout it, rather than scout it from the boat, or maybe this was an excuse to allow me to get out without admitting any weakness.   Anyway, I stayed in the boat and paddled onward below Bradfield. And I paddled and paddled and paddled.  I’d run a number of sharp but not stressful rapids, and I’d gone what felt like a long way.  I should have been to Snaggletooth by now, and I really had to pee.  I convinced myself that Mason had had a weak day and that I had passed the rapid, and I got out and peed.  But, it’s easy to overestimate how far you’ve traveled on a river in a narrow canyon, and I am an optimist.

Snaggletooth, in its reality, is no-shit rapid.  It’s equal to rapids on the Selway.  That’s the first impression I had when I came around a sharp corner and heard the roar.  There is no option to scout from the boat, at least at the water level that day–there is a horizon line, and big splashes come above it from a surging hole below.  That’s the style of approach you have to big rapids on the Grand Canyon.

Scouting big rapids leads to two states–tranquility or bowel-loosening vigilance.   There are three ways to get to those two states.  Category 1: At your first glance you see that the rapid is easy.  Category 3: At first glance you see that it is clearly unrunnable.  Like most things in life, it is the middle, uncertain situation where the hard decisions must be made.  Snaggletooth fell into Category 2: clearly runnable, but demanding a near-perfect run.  That day, for me, then, it fell into Category 2.  Now, for me, very likely, almost certainly, yes definitely, it would fall into Category 3.

The run was not notable.  At least, I don’t have any recollection of it, so I infer it was not notable.  No missed strokes or miscalculations.  No rogue waves, flipping me over or surfing me to the hole formed by the snaggletooth rock.  I’m sure I was exhilarated.  Jubilant.  Relaxed.  More odd serendipity was around the corner.

Not far below Snaggletooth, the Ponderosa Pines appear at river level, and the Dolores begins to embed itself into the massive Wingate sandstone.   Quite suddenly it feels like a desert river.  It’s no coincidence that the next road crossing is at the town of Slickrock.

Very near Snaggletooth–memory fails, but the circumstances dictate “very near”–I was paddling lazily along, probably looking for a place to eat lunch.  I was along the right shore when I saw something bright on the river bottom.  The Upper Dolores watershed is reasonably mature, so the upper river is clear–its gradient and water are somewhat reminiscent of the Middle Fork of the Salmon.  Not crystal clear, but pretty darn good.  That would change downstream, but right now, on the receding limb of the hydrograph, I could see the bottom, and there was something odd there.  I paddled over and reached down, still in my boat, bracing myself with the paddle. Aluminum.  More brushing, more aluminum.  Digging.  More aluminum.  I got out of the boat and dug more.  A big, flat surface.  A rounded edge.  It became apparent as a very large commercial saute pan.   I found a handle and pulled it out.  That stirred up a lot of mud, but not so much that I could not see another, nested pan.  Pulling that one out revealed another, and then another.  Four in all.   Some commercial rig had flipped in Snaggletooth on the high water, and here was where the inadequately stowed frying pans finally fell off the inverted raft.

Damn do I wish I had a selfie of me and those crazy frying pans.  But, I still have three.

Three of the frying pans I found below Snaggletooth. I gave the fourth to Mary Margaret Golten

One of the central problems of my personality is the feeling, about just about anything, that “this might come in handy some day”.  I’m sure this is a residual of parents who lived through the Great Depression.  When we cleaned out their house after Mom died, we found a drawer half full of rinsed, dried and neatly smoothed and stacked plastic bags.   The frying pans were clearly going to be mine, but the question was, how?  By now I was within the domain of my Xeroxed map.  I could see that a side gulch a few miles down led, with a climb of a couple thousand feet, to a place on the rim where an old uranium road came near.  So, I sat the pans on my lap and paddled on.  The road was there, just as my map said, and I stuffed the pans into a rock cavity and covered them up.  I took a good look at the details and walked back to my boat.   I would be back, but it would be years.

Where I went next I don’t recall.  Downstream, of course, but how far escapes me.  I probably passed Slickrock and camped.   Slickrock is the normal put-in for the Lower Dolores–its the first bridge below Bradfield–but no one was there that day.  I doubt I worried much, because I would be returning from the Dewey Bridge on Utah 128, along the Colorado River, and the usual river runners would offer no logistical advantage.  In fact, it might have been a bad thing to run into another trip there, because they would very likely have been getting out at Bedrock, and I would have been tempted to join them.  (I might have been able to snag a beer or two, though.  Beer was not in my spare commissary.)

The next place I remember is just inside the entrance to the Dolores Canyon on the downstream side of the Paradox Valley.   It’s a paradox because the Dolores flows across the valley, cutting into the valley through one wall and out of the valley right through another.  These are Wingate walls–cliffs–so the entrance and exit are spectacular.  The river was probably once superimposed on a rising dome, in a continuous set of meanders, but then the underlying salt collapsed forming the valley, and the river stayed on its course.  There was no other way to go–either end of the valley is up hill.   The river’s exit from the valley is dramatic, and it promised nicer camping than in the cow-pulverized, shit-strewn, unsheltered valley bottom.   Shortly after I turned the corner I hunkered down below a cliff and out of sight of the road that ran along the river.  Serendipity was about to strike again.

The Y11 road above my camp ran from CO 90, just east of Bedrock, across the floor of the Paradox Valley, and along the Dolores to the mouth of the San Miguel River.   Y11 had been used to haul uranium ore from mines on the exposed strata of the north rim of the Paradox Valley, thence up the San Miguel to Uravan, where there was a notoriously dirty mill.  Uravan is now just a site, with just a couple of buildings standing.  They may be off limits.  At the time I passed through, the mill at Uravan was running, as it had since the early parts of the 20th century.  It began refining radium ores, and then switched to uranium ores in support of the Manhattan Project, and during the cold war.  It was a sloppy, grown-like-topsy operation, and much radioactive contamination escaped and was left.  Eventually, it was cleaned up, as much as is possible, through the Superfund program.   In the oughts I worked as an expert witness on litigation between residents of the company town and Union Carbide.  Gerry Spence was the plaintiffs’ attorney.

After the Y11 road turned up the San Miguel, the Dolores Canyon looked untouched for a bit, but in a short distance the remains of the Hanging Flume came into view.   I’d forgotten about this, so it was a bit of a shock.  The flume carried water from high up the San Miguel and then along the Dolores to alluvial deposits of silver, preserving enough head to allow for hydraulic mining.  It’s a crazy thing–it clings to the sheer Wingate walls.  Now it has been restored in reaches, but then much of the remains were fragmentary.   A little bit further CO 141 comes into view.  I’d crossed under 141 at SlickRock–It begins in Dove Creek and then takes a big, S-shaped route, first eastward, then back westward to the Dolores, following it to Gateway.  When the Dolores turns west and cuts its way between Steamboat Mesa and Polar Mesa to the Colorado, highway 141 heads northeast, up Unaweep Canyon to  Whitewater, along Highway 50, just south of Grand Junction.  A geologic instant from now Unaweep Canyon will capture the Gunnison, confounding Colorado Water rights holders.

The Dolores Canyon along 141, from the San Miguel to Gateway is national-park spectacular.  Like UT 128, there are parts of the road that rival Zion.  The road is an unwanted intrusion onto the river, but in those days it had little traffic, so you could mostly ignore it.

Sometime that day, below the San Miguel, I came around a corner and saw a couple of rafts.  They were small below the vast Wingate cliffs, but they were very interesting to me.  No one ran this stretch–what were they doing there?  As we approached there was a moment of puzzled half-recognition.   Did I know this guy; he was asking himself the same question.  In a moment, replacing the context, I recognized Tom Bryant, a young hotshot kayaker from Boulder.  We had paddled together only a couple of times, but kayaking in those days created tribal bonds.

Tom, it turns out, had organized this raft trip for a bunch of friends  to run this lower-lower canyon of the Dolores precisely because it is seldom visited .  Wonder of wonders, lightning strike of serendipity, they were going on to run the lower-lower-lower canyon from Gateway to Dewey Bridge.  Here was my ride home.  To my front door in Boulder, as it turned out.

 

Captain’s Log, March 23, 1916

Stamp issued by Great Britain's Royal Mail on January 7, 2016, honoring the centennial of the Endurance Expedition.  Frank Hurley on left, skinning a penguin; Sir Ernest Shackleton on the right.
Stamp issued by Great Britain’s Royal Mail on January 7, 2016, honoring the centennial of the Endurance Expedition. Frank Hurley on left, skinning a penguin; Sir Ernest Shackleton on the right.

‘Land in sight’ was reported this morning.
South!, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

The land sighted on March 23, 1916 was the ragged ridges of Joinville Island, and it was the first land the Endurance crew had seen in sixteen months.  They had been on the ice since October 27, when Endurance was crushed, living in rotting clothes and eating seal meat, their dogs, and even the undigested fish found in the stomach of  a leopard seal.  In very cold weather, each man got an extra ration of seal blubber.

Moving across the ice was not impossible, but it would have meant sure death by exhaustion, given the jumbled, broken surface.  This they had learned by bitter experience.  So, there was nothing for them to do but stay alive and wait for the slow gyre of ice to move them to it’s edge.  How did they all not go crazy, just waiting?

They passed the autumnal equinox, the beginning of winter, in a fierce blizzard–surely taken as a warning that time was running short for an escape.  When the blizzard relented, the weather turned bitterly cold, and then stormed again.

In our weak condition, with torn, greasy clothes, we felt these sudden variations in temperature much more than we otherwise would have done. A calm, clear, magnificently warm day followed, and next day came a strong southerly blizzard. Drifts four feet deep covered everything, and we had to be continually digging up our scanty stock of meat to prevent its being lost altogether. We had taken advantage of the previous fine day to attempt to thaw out our blankets, which were frozen stiff and could be held out like pieces of sheet- iron; but on this day, and for the next two or three also, it was impossible to do anything but get right inside one’s frozen sleeping- bag to try and get warm. Too cold to read or sew, we had to keep our hands well inside, and pass the time in conversation with each other.

“The temperature was not strikingly low as temperatures go down here, but the terrific winds penetrate the flimsy fabric of our fragile tents and create so much draught that it is impossible to keep warm within. At supper last night our drinking-water froze over in the tin in the tent before we could drink it. It is curious how thirsty we all are.”South!, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

By now their sextant showed that they had drifted north of Paulet Island–it, and the stocked hut on it, were now out of reach–and they had no hope of crossing the sixty miles or so of rugged ice that separated them from Joinville Island, which they were now drifting past.

For the next two or three days we saw ourselves slowly drifting past the land, longing to reach it yet prevented from doing so by the ice between, and towards the end of March we saw Mount Haddington fade away into the distance.

Our hopes were now centred on Elephant Island or Clarence Island, which lay 100 miles almost due north of us.

If we failed to reach either of them we might try for South Georgia, but our chances of reaching it would be very small.
South!, Sir Ernest Shackleton.

 

Flying cars

When I was young, probably in my pre-teens, I had an old Zenith “tombstone” radio next to my bed (probably a Zenith 5S-228).   I’d listen to comics late at night and news early in the morning.   At some point, probably in the late 50’s Dad bought Becky and me new Motorola portable radios (probably the 5P32R; mine was bright yellow).   This deco-style portable radio used vacuum tubes, and would run off of AC or off of 90-volt and 7.5 volt batteries.  (Remember, although the transistor was developed in 1948, the very first transistor radio was not produced until 1954.  It sold then for $49.95, equivalent to $440 in 2015 dollars.)

By the time I was in high school I was listening a lot to KIMN, the top-40 station in Denver, but in those earlier years I listened almost all the time to KBOL at 1490 kc on your dial.   KBOL was owned and operated by Russ and Ann Shaffer.  (Their son, Rusty, who was a year behind me at Boulder High School, took over the station upon his father’s death.  The KBOL license finally found it’s way to Colorado Public Radio under the current call sign KCFC.)

Anyway, the important thing is that Russ Shaffer would offer an editorial every Friday morning, and one of those has stuck in my mind.  Russ envisioned a day when we would commute around town in our personal helicopters.   Even at that age I’d begun to develop a certain realism (that has since evolved into cynicism) and I remember vividly that I snorted out loud at the thought:  People can’t even handle driving, where they are constrained to two dimensions, how could they handle flying in three?  In bad weather personal helicopters would be falling out of the clouds at the points where popular routes intersected.   Looking before “backing out of your driveway” would take on a life-or-death importance.

I didn’t fault Russ for being a dreamer, however.

Which brings me to today and Sean Mayer.  Mayer is the CEO of the local business development organization, and he offers a column in the local pull-out business section each Friday.  It’s fair to say that I don’t usually think much of Mayer’s columns, since they usually focus on, well, parochial positions favoring business development.   But, today, I found myself in almost-full agreement with him (A Big Idea for Boulder in 2016.)   He sees the future of electrified and automated vehicles, and appreciates the impact that will have on transportation.  And, he advocates that Boulder offer itself to Uber, Google and others as a site for testing developing these emerging technologies.  (You know, sort of a “living lab”.)

I love this idea.  Let’s do it.

But, where Mayer comes off the rails, so to speak, is at the end:

2015 was a divisive year in Boulder as we argued about traffic, transit, bikes and the general difficulty in getting around town. These are 20th Century challenges which could be largely solved by the 21st Century technology of autonomous cars. Let’s think big in 2016 and bring the future to Boulder by embracing this next great technology disruption.

It’s the “largely solved” part that I disagree with.

Electrified transportation will reduce emissions and computer-operated cars will be safer (probably much safer) than those operated by humans (this is realism), but traffic is traffic, whether it consists of electric vehicles or not.  So, let’s dial back that enthusiasm a bit.

Just overlaying the new technology on our existing behavior won’t do the entire job.   For example, applying the Uber model to driver-less cars could make traffic worse–each round trip from my house, for example, would require four vehicle trips.

But, if we are able to change our behavior (a big if), we could end up far better off.   Putting on my dream cap (and dialing back the realism), I could envision a time when a family (at least middle-class families) would have one recreational vehicle, and routine, around-town transportation would happen through an integrated system of mass-transit and Uber-like autonomous vehicles.   The autonomous vehicles would serve as the “last-mile” link to mass transit (itself probably autonomous), and for trips that don’t conform well to the mass-transit system.   Autonomous vehicles would be staged around the community in optimal positions that vary with time of day and predicted demand.  A reservation system could make transportation highly predictable and even more efficient.

Providing the capability for ride sharing for the hoi polloi  would be big efficiency multiplier. (You could program your profile to pass up that sullen and scary woman or that chatty man, or have them pass you up, no matter where they were encountered.  Did I mention privacy concerns?)  And, because these vehicles could be designed to take up less space, both when stored and on the roadway (due to smaller size and the ability to tailgate safely) space currently devoted to the automobile could be re-purposed to other uses.

It is important to recognize if we were to adopt the Uber model using autonomous vehicles we would really be talking about  “supervised autonomous vehicles”.  This model leads to one more operational advantage.  Have you ever been sitting at the departure gate on a flight when the captain comes on the PA and says “Folks, things are bit congested out there in Denver, so ATC has given us a fifteen minute traffic hold.  Sorry about that; we’ll try to make up the lost time.”   The purpose of these traffic holds is to have you sit safely on the ground at your departure airport instead of flying in circles near your arrival airport, in bad weather and in proximity to a lot of other airplanes.   In other words, it reduces congestion thus improving safety.   The Ubermind could do the same thing for local transport, thus reducing traffic delays.  Perhaps you could get a discount for accepting the “traffic hold” or pay a premium to ignore it.

This model, or something like it, could change other aspects of our lives.  Because automated vehicles would “go home” at night to otherwise unused parking facilities, the problem of “too many parked cars” would become less of an obstacle to allowing high-occupancy residences.  Perhaps this would allow us to open up the potential for auxiliary dwelling units that would 1) improve the jobs/housing balance in Boulder and 2) give middle-income couples, singles and small families some income to offset high home prices.

But perhaps more culturally significant, the relegation of the fancy car to the status of a recreational vehicle would make routine transportation a commodity instead of a statement of style, self-worth and independence, and separating speed and noise from the accelerator pedal, in fact eliminating the accelerator pedal entirely, would decouple transportation from illusions of power and control.  That is, this big idea could change our entire relationship with the automobile.

With that relationship healed then perhaps, sometime in the 21st century, Boulder will pry the car out of the cold dead hands (heh, heh) of drivers and follow hundreds of examples in many dozens of  truly innovative cities that will have put their streets on a four-lane-to-three-lane “road diet”, aka “right-sizing”.   Perhaps sometime in his career, Mayer will be able to advocate this as an example of how Boulder can embrace the trailing edge of innovation.

The 2 percent

Over the last thirty years I’ve kept in my mind the fact that there are about 3,500 counties in the U.S.  I learned this when we developed a CD-ROM streamflow database and needed to code in the county in which each stream gauge was located.

But, my recollection was off a bit–there are 3,144 counties and “county equivalents” in the U.S.  I learned this a few days ago from the Los Angeles Times, along with a more disturbing fact–two percent of those counties account for more than half the executions in the U.S.

2_percent
From The 2% Death Penalty

I’ve long opposed the death penalty, but that opposition was hard to maintain in the face of some of the cruel crimes people commit.  Some people just need killing, is how a not-liberal friend put it, crudely.  Even after I’d come to my opposition, I would find myself throwing horrible crimes up in front of my more dogmatic friends to try to shake their certainty, and perhaps mine.   The death penalty, war and abortion are not easy things to be thoughtful about–it’s much easier to be dogmatic.

What initially brought me to opposition to the death penalty was the certainty that it would be, that it had been, applied in error.  By error I mean the clear case where the accused was not even involved in the crime.  Many people have been exonerated from death row, proving that convictions have been made in error.  I’ve heard people argue that there is no proof that the wrong person has ever been executed, but that notion is laughable.  I  am certain that by now someone has established error in execution “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Later I came to understand the bigger problem with the death penalty: when you did do the crime, your likelihood of receiving the death penalty depended on your race, the race of your victim, your wealth and where you lived.  Some argue that the relatively small chance of erroneously executing someone is the price we pay for safety or deterrence or accountability or whatever.  But, the effect of jurisdiction, at least, is huge and systematic–those two percent of counties contain only about 16% of the U.S. population, but commit 52% of the executions.  At a finer scale, the differences can be even greater:

[T]he probability that a notification to seek death will
be filed in Baltimore County is over 13 times higher than in
Baltimore City, even after taking into account important
case characteristics. The probability of being death
notified if a case is in Baltimore County is over five
times greater than if it occurred in Montgomery
County and three times greater than if it occurred in
Anne Arundel County.

R. Paternoster et al., “An Empirical
Analysis Of Maryland’s Death Sentencing System With Respect To The Influence Of Race And Legal Jurisdiction” (2003) (most easily available in The 2% Death Penalty (pdf))

As long as we allow any discretion in the application of the death penalty these differences will remain.   It’s human nature.   I now believe that having to forgo revenge is a relatively small price to pay to maintain our morality.

With respect to the veracity of eyewitness identification, read Picking Cotton, by Jennifer Thompson, Ronald Cotton and Erin Torneo.  This is a story that demonstrates the cruelty, the failings and the beauty of human beings.

 

Dropbox: Low disk space. Dropbox cannot sync…

mac_lowdiskspace

If you get this message and you still have free disk space, perhaps a lot of free disk space, then what follows might be your salvation.

Your problem might be that you have a file on your Dropbox.com site that is larger than the space you have available on your hard disk.  This happened to me when a friend and colleague shared a folder containing a compressed archive of several VirtualBox virtual machine files.  The archive file was 28 gb while I only had about 13 gb left on my drive.  I kept deleting files until I had something like 22 gb, and Dropbox would still give me the same error.

Of course, once Dropbox raises the low-disk-space error it throws up its hands and stops syncing altogether.   Other, smaller files that you may really want to get remain in the cloud.  In my case those were a few relatively small photos that the Dropbox app on my iPhone had helpfully moved to camera uploads folder in the cloud.  I was frustrated.  Eventually (over the course of many days) I became very frustrated.  Much Googling revealed many wrong suggestions, most of them from Dropbox themselves.

The solution: Simply use the Dropbox.com interface to download the offending big file manually to a different drive, and then delete it from Dropbox.com.  In my case I downloaded the offending file to a usb drive.  Relief was instantaneous. (I am refraining from making analogies here.)

I should say at this point that Dropbox works quite reliably and painlessly almost all the time.  But…

There are some aggravating things about the driver interface (reached by clicking on the Dropbox icon on the task bar):

toolbar-synced

First among those is that the recently changed list, which is the main aspect of the interface, is worthless for diagnostics.  The only way I found a clue to my problem was an evanescent image of a truncated file name like VirtualB…tar.gz presented once by Dropbox.  This led me to search my Dropbox folder. No joy (apologies to Jerry Pournelle).  Then a vague recollection of the file sharing popped into my mind and I searched the cloud.  No joy.  Again.  But I eventually found it by brute force and in the process learned that searching for virtual on Dropbox.com will not find VirtualBox VMs.tar.gz but searching for virtualb will.

The other acutely aggravating thing (the interface is a chronic aggravation) is that the selective sync file list presented by the driver interface (usually a helpful feature, described here) would stop responding after one selection when the Dropbox workload was high (which it apparently is when it is obsessive about trying to find disk space for a big file.)

The other aggravating thing is that Dropbox themselves are wrong about the behavior of their software.   They claim it syncs the smallest files first (which makes sense) but in my case the software seemed possessed by this 28 gb file and lost sight of the several 2-5 mb photos I wanted to get.  Perhaps the system’s obsession was because the big file had been shared.  Who knows.

The bottom line is that no one in the ether had published the actual solution to my problem.  So, here it is for you.

WordPress: Using a child theme

Before I forget about it, I want to mention that if you do anything that is not “plain vanilla” in your theme, it is a good idea to set up and use a child theme.

By “not plain vanilla” I mean things like separating posts onto multiple pages.  To do this you need to modify a file of computer codes named home.php, and add another file of php code.  These custom files may get overwritten or deleted if you update your style.  But, if you separate them into a child them they will survive an update.  (They may need to be modified if you change styles, but that will be easier than starting over.)

When I have a bit of time, and figure out a way to represent code in this theme, I will provide details about how to do it.  For now, look here for the official description.   Some example child theme files can be found on quirm.net.

WordPress Tech

I’ve been clawing my way up the learning curve of WordPress.   Here are a few things I’ve learned that might help you.

<rant
The WordPress forums are populated with people who are often wrong, never in doubt, and ready at a moment’s notice to misinterpret or dismiss a question.   Whew, I feel better.

I’ve never posted a question, but I can’t count the number of times that I’ve found that someone asked about exactly the same problem I was encountering, only to get “You are posting in the wrong forum”, or RTFM.  But, what else do you expect on the net, where people who otherwise live oppressed lives of quiet desperation get to seem important.
/rant>

OK, I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush.  There are some smart, helpful people out there.   The problem is that you have to go through a lot of dross to find a nugget.

An illuminating exchange is here, where one relative newbie thought that the Worpress Codex (the supposed canons of the codes) was wrong on a small but sometimes important point.   How many angels can dance on the ?>

One technical thing I’ve learned is that despite all indications in the admin interface, and lots of advice to that effect on the forums, your blog post page will not use a custom template, no matter how many times you try to convince it to.  It will always traverse the standard page template hierarchy.   Actually, it probably does use the custome template, but it just doesn’t look like it is using it.  Confused.  Me to, over many hours until I ran across this classic blow-off on a WP forum.  When you follow the bug posting you actually get a useful answer.

I’ll add information later, particularly about how I was able to display posts on two separate pages.   That is, I will once I am sure I understand the subtlety that finally made it work.

Creepy?

In a classic piece of ethnography from the 1940s, William Whyte carefully watched the interactions among Italian immigrants on a street corner in Boston’s North End.  Technology today has made the world like the street corner in the 1940s—it is now possible to make detailed observations on the behavior and interactions of massive numbers of people. These observations come from the increasing  number of digital traces left in the wake of our actions and interpersonal communications.
Mobile Phone Data for Inferring Social Network Structure, N. Eagle, A. Pentland & D. Lazar (pdf)

After several years of futile resistance I was assimilated by Facebook this week.  Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to keep in touch with friends, many of whom I’d lost contact with over the years.   I finally overcame my concern that I would come to know too much about some of them.   I get friend requests as my “circle” expands.  At this writing, I have twenty four friends.   FB also suggests “People you may know.”

Sometimes those suggestions can seem a little too good.  Caitlin Dewey wrote in the Washington Post last spring about how Facebook does it.  In Dewey’s telling, it’s all good math.  But, just how paranoid should I (we) be?

Last night I went to a very small party, where I met Jean for the first time.  This morning FB suggested Jean as a person I may know.    Dewey’s “good math” explanation would have that suggestion be the result of matching information from our profiles and our network.  But, my profile discloses nothing more than where I live (Boulder, Colorado) and where I went to school.  Jean’s profile has not much more.  We have no mutual FB friends.  We have no mutual FB interests (I have disclosed no interests to FB explicitly.)  I have not allowed FB to see my contacts.   It would actually make more sense for FB to suggest Jean’s husband, with whom I worked briefly in an exotic location, though not within the same organization.

So, is the timing just a coincidence, or did FB know or infer that we were at the same location last night?   I have installed the FB app, but I have turned off the location option (at least that’s their story).   Or, does FB know that I searched for the party address on Google Maps shortly before I left my house last night?  Did Jean do the same?

Association by proximity is ho-hum.  FB offers opt-in proximity alerts in its Nearby Friends service, but wondering about PYMK is a small industry on the internet and a few folks have seen evidence that physical proximity prompts PYMK suggestions.  But FB does not have permission to use my location, and in 2014 they denied that they use location data for PYMK (though the wording is such that FB could deny the denial if they are caught actually using location info).  Is FB inferring proximity from other information?  I don’t know.  I don’t know, but I am going to do a little experiment.

From OpenBeacon.org. This is really just eye-candy, since it was developed using an active-sensor approach.
From OpenBeacon.org. This is really just eye-candy, since it was developed using an active-sensor approach.  It’s a neat visual, though.

Let me offer up an idea I had several years ago that is even creepier–it is completely passive and there is no opt out.  It was such an evil idea that I thought about patenting it, but intelligence agencies are probably already doing this, so going through the expense and brain damage of applying for a patent would probably be a waste of time (and a source of trouble.)

Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a technology where a small transponder transmits an identification code upon interrogation by radio.  There are a variety of technologies, but some are small enough and inexpensive enough to be placed in clothing.  I have an RFID transponder on my car that allows automatic tolling on a nearby highway.  The RFID unit is a small windshield sticker that replaced a cell-phone-sized active, battery-powered transponder.   Passports issued since 2007 have an RFID transponder, as do many new credit cards.  There are real concerns about privacy with RFID, so standards have been developed that are intended to protect your identity from nefarious interrogation of a transponder.

But, as RFID tags used for inventory control become smaller and more common, even ubiquitous, the combination of RFID codes in the collection of clothes a person is wearing will provide a practically unique signature.   A particular RFID code is not necessarily unique, but a combination of several codes becomes virtually unique.   Of course, people will wear different clothes from day to day, but it is not difficult to imagine a data mining approach that would categorize different sensed combinations as being the same individual–I have not done the math, but detecting even two codes together would likely be a very  reliable signature.   Of course, once a set of signatures has been associated with Person X, then that individual can be tracked, and can be associated with other people by proximity in space and time.   RFID interrogators placed in airports, train stations, bus stations or even on streets or in shops, could provide a rich data set from which associations could be inferred.  Figuring out who Person X really is will not be too hard.

If you think this is far-fetched, take a look at what Disney is doingJust replace “object” with “person”.

What makes this seem particularly evil is that it is not opt-in, and you cannot opt out.  (Though you may be able to destroy RFID tags in your clothing (using a microwave oven–look it up), you won’t be able to do that with electronic equipment, your passport or your credit card.  Some technologies that vary returned codes according to an algorithm known, in principle, only to the manufacturer could also make social network discovery through RFID more difficult, but only if used in all RFID transponders.)

You are probably not crazy if you are a little paranoid about all of the information you are leaking.  My advice for your peace of mind:  Don’t try using face recognition in Picasa or Google Photos (or now Lightroom).  It’s creepy good and sometimes scarily wrong.