embers in the hills

It is a bit surreal when your drive home consists of barricades and smoke and embers. I left Long Beach before 5 p.m. today and got home to Diamond Bar just before 8 p.m. This is usually a 30 minute drive.

But I am very lucky that I have a home to go to. I have seen California wildfires in the past, but I have never seen a blaze from the hills near my house as I have today. The Yorba Linda fire stretches for longer than my eye could go and there are small blazes in many parts of Brea. Here in Diamond Bar, we have a canyon between us and the fires that will hopefully protect our city, but I saw a small stray blaze near Tonner Canyon Road being put out by a police officer on the way home.

The immediacy of the information being put out is very helpful though. In addition to local radio, Twitter feeds are offering very detailed information about hot spots, traffic and general information. (Twitter is a service that allows people to text message or post online short statements or news, a kind of microblog that can be read like an RSS feed.) The Los Angeles Fire Department created a hashtag, #LAFIRE, and there is a similar one for Orange County, #ocfire. I’ve been particularly impressed with the California Public Utilities Commissioner Rachelle Chong and her dedication to twittering the news. To get a feel for how people are reacting, I suggest Monitter (pictured below). I searched for tweets within 10 miles of Brea, CA and used the search terms “fire,” “evacuation,” and “canyon.”

The Orange County Register provides a good map of the flames. Our house sits right on the border of Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights and Brea. Things are ok now, aside from dismal air quality and the ash falling out of the sky. I hope it stays that way, and that, for our Brea neighbors, these fires come under control.

monitter-fires.jpg

word cloud analysis?

Every major newspaper needs a clever multimedia way to cover speeches at the Republican and Democratic National Conventions. Nytimes.com scores with its streaming video, transcript and hyperlinked outline all in one. But I noticed today that newspaper websites are using word counts to add graphical interest. But what can you tell from the fact that Republicans used the word “God” 43 times and Democrats used the word “McCain” 78 times during their conventions? I’m not completely sure — but it’s nice to look at.

Again, nytimes.com wins for design — they go the extra step to provide numerical breakdowns, and breakdowns by speaker. Washingtonpost.com wins for interesting content — they compare buzz words across history. It’s fascinating to see what has changed over the years, and even more so to see what hasn’t. My hometown paper, latimes.com, unfortunately suffers from not putting word clouds side by side, leaving in links to nowhere, and generally not providing much more than an automatically generated tag cloud, with generic text below it. Here are the screenshots, linked to their sources.

nytimescloud.jpg
washpostcloud.jpg
latimescloud.jpg