A five mile mostly out and back trail (one small loop element) near the Carquinez Strait.
Start at the parking area close to Eckley Pier (worth a quick detour, be careful crossing the train tracks). Follow Bull Valley Trail up to Carquinez Overlook Loop Trail and down to Port Costa. Go through Port Costa (I'd download the route for this bit) and follow an unnamed (as far as I can tell) trail up to the top of Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline Park for dramatic views over to the Benicia-Martinez Bridge and Mt. Diablo. The whole hike is pretty exposed but very attractive with great views and a nice town in the middle. Highly recommended.
Timelapse video of the super flower blood moon lunar eclipse on May 26, 2021:
I left my GoPro Hero 8 out overnight in the hopes that the San Francisco fog would cooperate. It did, somewhat! There is some cloud cover scudding by but you can see the eclipse pretty clearly. The advantage of the GoPro is that it has a wide field of view to capture the entire eclipse and is water (fog) proof and so unconcerning to leave out all night. The disadvantage is that you can't really nail the exposure. In nightlapse mode the shortest shutter speed you can set is five seconds in raw mode - way too long. In regular timelapse mode you can't set the shutter speed at all. I dialed in 2 stops of exposure compensation but that wasn't really enough. Better than the last one I accidentally caught on a dropcam so progress at least.
Google Pixel 4 XL 4mm f1.7 1/3,900s ISO55
There is some controversy at the moment over the great highway in San Francisco. Should it stay closed to traffic as the pandemic eases? I enjoy walking and cycling here without cars, but it must be a pain to live nearby with all that traffic shifted to residential streets. It might be moot if the sand keeps flowing inland...
Google Pixel 4 XL 6mm f2.4 1/1,400s ISO40
Photo of downtown San Francisco including a view down Market Street to the ferry building shot from Twin Peaks.
Get rid of social
I want to be well informed and, to the greatest extent possible, free from any kind of filter bubble. Hard to do that on Facebook. So the first step is to delete Facebook and Twitter. Now you have some time to design your news consumption.
To me the very best part of the web is RSS feeds so I can quickly skim through hundreds of sites with a consistent interface and no ads. I used to do this with Google Reader but since that was killed I've found Feedly to be an awesome tool and I happily pay for the Pro version. The Android app is great. The web version sometimes gets lost in the list but is fast to use with keyboard shortcuts for cruising through your list. I keep Feedly stocked with news sites, hobbies, work related niche publications and everything I know I want to keep an eye on. The only gap is those unknown unknowns.
Google News is my current fix for finding the stories and context that I don't get through RSS.
As a learning system Google News pretty quickly figures out what you're interested in. It's not perfect so you have to spend some time training it. Once in a while it will decide you need every word written about Ina Garten, but you can easily tell it that it's wrong. A more subtle tip is to often click sources that you violently disagree with. Google News has some tendency to surface different angles but it definitely helps to signal that you are open to uncomfortable takes on a story. This is a powerful filter bubble burster.
Having escaped most social media (I still have LinkedIn which is the cockroach of platforms) I really hate the feed based approach that Google takes with News. I understand it but I hate it. Probably the worst usability crime is that it will often refresh without being asked. I'll be halfway down the list, spot an interesting article, get distracted, and then when I switch back I see that tempting story for a fraction of a second before the whole feed reloads. Often that story is then nowhere to be found. There is a feature to save for later, but I try to avoid this because future me isn't likely to have time either and it adds the burden of yet another to-do list to keep track of.
Don't make me read it twice
Related to the feed is the tendency to show me the same story again, and again, and again. Other than ignoring a topic or publication there is no mechanism to just dismiss a story. I know that the algorithm has worked really really hard to find it but I don't need to see it every day for a week or more. It's OK, in fact desirable, to be done with the news. As with the feed I know that it's someone's job at Google to work on engagement and my time is an externality to their optimization algorithm. It's a big irritation all the same.
Lastly for me I also get a lot of context from podcasts. I use Podkicker Pro on Android (also worth paying for). We live in peak podcast times and I don't have enough time to listen to everything that I want to.
Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian: A growing chorus of scientists and philosophers argue that free will does not exist. Could they be right?
This is an interesting and profound question. Do we live in a block universe where every action we take is predetermined or are we actually capable of making choices. It certainly feels like choices are possible, but reality doesn't care about feelings and it could be the case that free will is an illusion. Unfortunately Burkeman repeatedly makes this mistake:
""For the free will sceptic," writes Gregg Caruso in his new book Just Deserts, a collection of dialogues with his fellow philosopher Daniel Dennett, "it is never fair to treat anyone as morally responsible." Were we to accept the full implications of that idea, the way we treat each other – and especially the way we treat criminals – might change beyond recognition."
The presence or absence of free will is presumably a global phenomenon. If the criminal has no choice then we also have no choice in how we treat criminals. It gets worse:
"Smilansky is an advocate of what he calls "illusionism", the idea that although free will as conventionally defined is unreal, it’s crucial people go on believing otherwise – from which it follows that an article like this one might be actively dangerous."
This might be a dangerous article, but not for this reason. If there is no free will then people are going to believe what they were always going to believe. The risky proposition that could actually lead to bad consequences is that people believe that there is no free will when there actually is. Even if we prove conclusively that reality is completely deterministic then nothing changes (that wasn't always going to change that way in the first place - see my (somewhat) tongue in cheek solution to the Fermi Paradox).
So what should we believe? I think it's important to consider that we don't understand enough biology and we don't understand enough physics.
"And from the 1980s onwards, various specific neuroscientific findings have offered troubling clues that our so-called free choices might actually originate in our brains several milliseconds, or even much longer, before we’re first aware of even thinking of them."
These results are fascinating but have never troubled me. It actually takes the brain a little while to process all the data from our senses but we live in a physical reality that doesn't hang around waiting for this latency. So of course we need to respond quickly to events, often before we're aware of them. This leaves plenty of room for free will in how we train ourselves to respond. The brain simulates likely situations and how it should react to them. This could be an inevitable consequence of the big bang, or it could be that free will has a meaningful influence. I don't believe that we have enough evidence to say either way.
We don't even understand the biological basis for consciousness. It's called the hard problem for a reason. Consciousness is (presumably) expensive and it seems odd that evolution would have selected for it if it has no purpose. Of course in the block universe it's possible that this doesn't matter. It's a mistake that was always going to be made. It could be that we decode the algorithm and can run it on a computer and that if we start with the same conditions we always get the same results. Consciousness is classical and we can prove that it is deterministic. Or it could be that it hinges on quantum effects that mean we can't understand the biology without understanding the physics.
""This sort of free will is ruled out, simply and decisively, by the laws of physics," says one of the most strident of the free will sceptics, the evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne."
Maybe, but doesn't that depend on what the laws of physics actually are?
There are different interpretations of the physical basis of quantum mechanics. Is decoherence truly random? If so this might be a basis for free will. Run the same starting conditions twice and you get a different outcome. Or is the many worlds interpretation correct? In this case we potentially still live in a block universe, just an unimaginably larger one where every permutation of every decoherence event exists at the same time. Every possible version of you is out there, but each one is trapped in their own predetermined path through the multiverse.
I can't wait to see further progress in both areas. Until we know more the free will question seems impossible to answer. If we prove it's a fiction then nothing matters and nothing can be changed. Absent proof it's probably best to assume that free will exists and that this post was written because I chose to.
This short timelapse video shows three Starlink satellite trains passing over San Francisco.
I use findstarlink to look for good viewing conditions after a launch. It's tough to get both a good pass and reasonably clear skies but last night was excellent for both. According to the site the first train is Starlink-18 and the second is Starlink-25. The third train wasn't listed. It certainly looks similar but I guess it could be something else. The timelapse shows all three as they happened and then zooms in for a better view of each.
Shot on a Sony A7C, 20mm f1.8 1s ISO800 (2s interval) and then post processed with LRTimelapse. Lightroom Classic, DaVinci Resolve and Filmstro Pro.
(Previously: Starlink Train)
Kidlapse, the service I launched a little over a year ago to make timelapse movies of your child growing up, is shutting down on May 31, 2021. At that time all accounts, photos and movies will be deleted. If you use Kidlapse please make sure that you have downloaded anything you need by the end of May.
The main innovation in Kidlapse was generating a good looking movie from any photos of a person. The system used machine learning to recognize a face, and then zoom and rotate as needed so the face is in the same position in each photo. From there a timelapse movie was created with tween frames generated to cross-fade between each photo. While this was a lot easier than doing this work manually I think it was still too much time and effort for most people and so the product attracted few paying customers. It's too expensive for me to continue to run as a free service. I love the movies that the product creates, and I hope to release the underlying system as a downloadable software package at some point.
I learned a lot launching Kidlapse and I'm sad to put it in my own personal deadpool. When something isn't working though it's time to clear the space and time to launch something new. Subscribe to find out what.
(Previously: Kidlapse - Make a Movie of Your Child Growing Up)
Kidlapse - Make a Movie of Your Child Growing Up
Kidlapse is now live. This is a service I've been working on that uses machine learning to recognize faces and then rotate and zoom you so get pretty good alignment between each photo. You upload one photo per month and Kidlapse then creates a timelapse movie of your child growing up. If that sounds like something you'd be interested in sign up and give it a try.
I'm working on a project to generate a timelapse of a kid growing up. I wasn't organized enough to shoot my kids in the same pose on the same background so it's quite a tough problem. To fix this I'm using machine learning to recognize faces in photos and then automatically rotate and align them so the face is in the same place in every shot. From there it's just a matter of generating frames that fade between the different photos and stitching them together into a video. If this sounds interesting check it out at kidlapse.com and sign up to get notified when the service launches.