Category Archives: nature

On unwiring

For the last decade, I’ve thought about going offline like Paul Miller. Turn off, drop off, tune in to life offline.

I’ve never done it. Thinking back, I don’t think I’ve been fully offline more than a month since 1999. I do periodically unwire. A night out here, a long bike ride there, a long weekend in the woods.

The last time it truly happened for more than 24 hours was in January in Anguilla, where I took long hikes, paddles, swims or went sailing without a connection. (I didn’t attempt a tweet during my kite boarding lesson.) Or last August, up in Cape Cod. Vacation is now virtually defined for me as being offline, without commitments. Before that trip, the last truly offline time was my honeymoon, in Greece, where, again, there was (often) no connection to be had.

I may still choose to share my experience and stay connected while I’m on vacation, or “paid time off,” as my former employer calls it, but doing so was always on my own time, at my own choosing. Each time I disconnect, I’ve learned something valuable about myself, both in terms of the person I’ve always been and the man I’ve become.

I’m glad Paul Miller did this and shared his experience. I think such reflection is important and the insight derived from it has always helped to shape and guide my subsequent choices about using technology.

In particular, his shift to finding other distractions, from games to television, was a reminder that we have agency in our own lives. We can choose whether and how to maintain our relationships, our minds, our bodies and our professional, intellectual or recreational pursuits, whether we’re connected or not.

It’s tempting to blame “the Internet” for poor choices or bad habits — and there are reasons to be cautious about how games or social networks tap into certain innate aspects of human behavior — but my personal experience with the network of networks has been enormously empowering and uplifting.

Your mileage, of course, may vary.


Filed under art, blogging, microsharing, nature, personal, photography, social bookmarking, social media, technology

Morning in Maine

I’m working on the front porch this morning, sipping from a hot cup of coffee while the rain beats on the roof above, falling in fat, heavy drops along the drip line in front of me. A hundred yards out, a loon quietly paddles by, immune to the rain cascading down all around it, cocking its head when I move too quickly from the door to the sofa along the house’s outer wall.

The sky and bay are nearly the same color of grey this morning. The demarcation between the two is barely visible along the horizon line, called out by the dark shapes of islands crowned with pine trees and ringed with granite and knotted wrack.

It’s these quiet early morning moments in Maine that I tend to remember most when I’m surrounded by people, planes and tumult over the course of the year, immersed not in the sound of thousands of rain drops hitting leaves and weathered shingles but rather machines and men, their voices raised in anger, happiness, frustration and joy on the course of whatever task or journey that day’s course sets before them.

For now, it’s enough to simply be, disappearing into the words of a past interview, drinking deep of the cool, clean air and thinking of an older world that has long ago disappeared into the annals of a quieter age.

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Giant Pacific Octopus Hatch Offers Poignant Reminder of Nature’s Wonders [VIDEO]

It’s unlikely that I will ever see the hatch of a giant Pacific octopus’ eggs in person. Thanks to YouTube, Twitter, a underwater high definition camera and the work of the SeaingGreen dive team, I was able to watch this extraordinary natural event.

From the shownotes on YouTube:

A giant pacific octopus mother who lived just across from downtown Seattle had her hatch right under the noses of local divers. Her den was sequestered in Cove Two in West Seattle, in a location that spared her from predators and over-visitation by humans. On September 4 (aka early, early on September 5), 2010, the eggs began hatching. It’s a time of mixed emotion; joy at the hatch, and sadness at the knowledge that this event means the mother’s life will end. The hatch lasted a full week, after which the mother died. Spoiler alert: Best footage comes starting at 3:24.


[Hat tip: Andrew McAfee]

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Distributed collaborative birding? Yup, there’s an app for that.

My friend Ed shared something me that’s pretty nifty if you’re a geeky birder, like me: an iPhone application that gives you instant access to reports of birds near you.

As Mary Esch wrote in an “App in the hand” for the AP, the BirdsEye bird-finding app “gives users instant access to recent reports of birds spotted near their location, tells them where to look for specific birds, and keeps track of their lists of all the birds they’ve ever seen.”

As Mary also observes, the BirdEye app makes its debut just ahead of the National Audubon Society’s annual Christmas Bird Count.

If fellow birders are going to take it out and about with them, I hope they bring along an Otterbox or the like. The count tends to be a squishy slog that’s more conducive to hardy clipboards than sensitive consumer electronics.

That said, BirdsEye looks nifty.

Good thing, too, since at $19.99, the app isn’t cheap. I suspect, however, that many avid avian chasers might just be happy to fork over for it.

It uses the iPhone’s GPS to calculate your location and then displays a list of either all of the birds ever displayed in the area, sortable by recent activity. You can also filter for birds that aren’t on your lifetime sighting list, if you’ve spent the time on inputting that information from the back of your dog-eared and battered Petersen’s Guide. (For iPod Touch owners walking fields with no nearby wifi access — imagine that — there’s an option to  manually enter locations too.)

Birdseye includes some nifty interactive features, including tie-ins to maps, recorded bird calls, photos and spoken explanations by Kaufman about whether a given bird is likely to be spotted in trees, waterways or in the fields.

The application was developed by Birds in the Hand, LLC, of Virginia, and brings together content from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, the Academy of Natural Sciences, and field guide author Kenn Kaufman.

BirdsEye is now available on the App Store. (Direct link)

That collaboration of ornithologists means users have access to some of the best birding resources on the planet. According to Brian Sullivan at the Cornell lab, as quoted in the AP story, about 40,000 birders enter up to 2 million sightings every month into eBird.

And if people decide to spring for it this holiday season, you might well see some of my fellow geeky birders using a bird in hand to identify two in a bush.

For more on Birdseye, check out:

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