Wednesday, October 1, 2003

A moving view of the California fires

COMPUTING UNPLUGGED SITE OF THE MONTH

By David Gewirtz

In the panoply of natural disasters, fire has got to be one of the most terrifying -- and yet most beautiful at the same time. I've always been something of a pyro, a fire bug, and so my awareness of the fire's incredibly destructive nature would conflict with my artist's appreciation of the epic beauty inherent in the flames, as shown in Figure A.

FIGURE A

We're not sure who took this photo, but it was up on the TextAmerica site. The caption: "The view from my apt... smokey." (click for larger image)

Sadly, large areas of southern California are in flames. While dry weather often leads to fires, this batch appears to be much worse than normal. Our best wishes and hopeful words go out to all of those dealing with this latest act of Mother Nature.

Into this very personal story of beauty and disaster comes a new class of personal story: those living in the experience, and who are able to report on it, literally from the heart of the fire.

And this is a Computing Unplugged story, for the way these folks are able to share is via the digital experience. As you're no doubt aware, cameras and PDAs have started to sport a funky new accessory: a digital camera. For those dealing with security and privacy, having a camera disguised as a phone can be quite the challenge.

However, there's also an amazing freedom that comes with having a camera with you at all times. Add to that the freedom to transmit images from the camera, and the ability to share images online, and you've got something quite special (or quite silly).

Enter the "moblog," or mobile Web log. This new, uh, movement has resulted in far more family pictures than most of us can stomach. There are some Web site operators (including one called TextAmerica) that make it possible for a phone user to instantly upload a picture to his or her moblog, and share it with the world (or her three friends named Heather). Yes, that's an obscure movie reference. Work it out.

As is often the case with technology, sometimes the silliness gives way to the absolutely stunning. And that brings us to this month's Computing Unplugged Site of the Month, at http://fire.textamerica.com/. Here you can see page after page after page of what's really happening in the fire zone, from folks who are really there.

Hang in there, folks. We're all thinking about you!