Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Lightning Struck a Tree

Recently lightning struck a tree near by the building I work in. I took a few pictures of the lightning damage to the tree before they cut it down. The tree is very old and UNC was considering removing it anyway, but with this much damage they will just have to remove it as soon as possible. I spoke briefly with someone who works for the grounds crew and he said, "The tree is already dead, it just doesn't know it yet."

I would like to point out the distinct spiral pattern of the lightning strike. From all the trees I have seen that have been struck by lightning, they all have the same distinctive spiral pattern. I don't know why follows the spiral pattern, but I do know why lighting causes trees to explode like this. If the tree is dry (i.e. no rain has fallen) then the lightning will travel down through the living part of the tree, where the sap and water is. The water super-heats and expands rapidly (it literally explodes) causing the outer layer of the tree to blow out. In some cases, such as this, the damage is extensive enough that it will kill the tree outright or do enough damage to severely reduce its ability to survive.

You can see two separate spiral patters here where the lightning traveled down the tree.
If you look carefully you can see the splintering going all the way up the tree.
From the exact opposite side of the tree from the previous picture.
A close up of where the lightning traveled down the tree. The section where the bark has been removed is about 8-9 inches wide, and you can see two groves where the lightning actually traveled. One is at the extreme left of where the bark has been stripped, and the other is slightly off to the right from the middle of the stripped area.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Why Google+ Gets Human Relations and Facebook Fails Miserably

A couple of years ago I signed up for Facebook. I had been resisting it for a while, even when people kept asking me if I was on Facebook and promptly treating me like a leper when I told them I wasn't. It wasn't until one of my roommates (who was also staunchly anti-Facebook) got on Facebook that I broke down and got my own account. For a while I only had one Facebook "friend" (my roommate) but eventually I got more. At first I was slightly amused, but mostly annoyed with the trivial tripe of Facebook such as the pokes, surveys, polls, games and flashing lights (some of that has toned down over the years).

But eventually I sort of stopped using Facebook because really it was just one more thing to bother with when I had other things (such as two blogs) to think about, and that fulfilled my "social networking need". So I kept up with a once yearly update on Facebook and called it good, and if I ever needed to actually get in contact with someone, I could look them up on Facebook and find their email address. That worked for me.

One of the things that I could never really get into with Facebook was the way everyone I knew was thrown into one big pot. Everyone, from my wife, to my parents to my in-laws, to high school or college friends to that random guy in my class were put into the same big pot of "friends". It was kind of like Facebook couldn't conceive of anyone having any relation other than "friend". At some point they kind of implemented this thing where you could declare someone as part of your "family" but other than being cosmetic I could see no use to it.

If I wanted to post a status update I had to keep in mind that everyone from my parents to high school friends to graduate students that I work with could see it. If I wanted to post about family reunion stuff, why would my high school friends want to read about that? Everyone was being blasted by the same fire hose and there was little that could be done to redirect that stream so that it could be manageable. Over time Facebook was working on improving that but it seemed that they still functioned with one driving principle in mind, that one person had one status and one stream of thought to the entire world. And that all human relations are fundamentally equal and indistinguishable. That there is nothing inherently different in a human relation between a parent and a child than there is between two associates at work. Human relations, according to Facebook, are a nondescript pipeline of information flow (or at least a flow of stuff, if you don't want to call what happens on Facebook information) with information constantly flowing from one person to another, and the more the information flows the stronger the human relation.

This way of thinking may make sense in a college setting where everyone is meeting someone new and people are forming new relations, but in the real world there are pre-made relations that are formed for different reasons. Some relations are not based on information flow but on other things, such as marriage or blood relation. I may be "friends" with my wife's aunts and uncles on Facebook, but I would not characterize our relation as one based on information flow, or even on a desire to network. I have interactions with them because I married their niece, not because we met and decided that we should be "friends" (that doesn't mean  I have a problem with them, it just means that the connection was made for reasons other than the ones the Facebook team think of as being fundamental to human relations). The thing is Facebook fails to comprehend this. To them the connection to my wife's cousin's husband (who I have never met in person) is considered to be of the same order, or importance, as the connection I have to a roommate that I lived with for 3 years, or that mission companion that I was with for 3 months, and survived dog attacks, torrential downpours, floods, cold weather, broken ribs, and several unforgettable teaching experiences with. How does that compare? Yet Facebook fails to understand that and just wants to lump everyone into one big group of "friends" and you are given one fire hose to turn on them and drench them with your pictures, status updates and stuff.

Today when I got onto Google+ the first thing I noticed was that I could very easily put people in different categories. I could also control the streams of status updates, photos and stuff. I could separate the photos of family from friends, and from acquaintances. That way the pictures of my nieces and nephews would not be mixed in with the pictures of "that one guy" from high school playing guitar at some random party. In short, the Google team made it so that my interactions on a social network could be organized into real human relations that reflect the real world. That right there puts them light years ahead of Facebook.

I don't know much else about how Google+ works, but that one feature of being able to separate friends from family, acquaintances from people I know from work, and my 20+ aunts and uncles-in-law from my cousin that I haven't seen for about 20 years, is enough to make me want to give it a shot. And I might just stick with it because it may actually be useful.