Everglades National Park

I was in Florida visiting family last weekend, and took off one morning to go check out Everglades National Park. It was more interesting than I expected, and I only had a chance to see a small portion in Shark Valley, and some areas between there and the Gulf Coast visitor center. There were gators everywhere. In some of the swamps there were dozens swimming around. I’ll try the airboats next time.

Here are some highlights:

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Two Ways to See Active Lava Flow in Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

One of the things I was excited to see in the National Park was molten lava flow. This is something that you can only experience at a few places in the world at the moment, and Volcanoes National Park is one of them.  After some research, I found that active flow has been relatively consistent in two places, with great visibility.

The first option is easy. A couple miles from the park entrance is the Jaggar Museum, which has a viewpoint overlooking the active Kīlauea Caldera. The caldera is about a half mile away, so you can’t get close, but it’s still an incredible view. It’s best to go at night, as during the day it can be difficult to see the lava itself. Even with the distance, you can still see quite a bit activity, especially with binoculars or a zoom lens:

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The second site requires a bit more planning. The Puʻu ʻŌʻō crater on the eastern side of the park has been active for some time, and most recently lava flow from a branch called 61g has been spilling into the ocean. But unfortunately, it’s not easily accessible from the park. You can see the fumes from the end of Chain of Craters Road, but the best way to actually see the lava is by hiking from the other side. It’s an 8 mile round trip walk or bike ride, which begins outside the park, but you re-enter mid-way.

To get there,  it’s about an hour drive from Volcano, HI to the end of Highway 130 in Kalapana:

There’s plenty of parking, and lots of people selling water and flashlights and renting bikes for $20. It opens at 3pm each day (although some reviews say this isn’t enforced), and the best time to go seems to be a little over an hour before sunset. This way you can see the landscapes and lava while there’s still light, and then watch as it gets more impressive in the dark.

We chose to walk, and it’s relatively easy terrain on a gravel road. At the very end you need to maneuver over some lava stone to get to the area where the lava can be seen flowing into the ocean.

Here are some shots from the walk there:
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After about an hour and fifteen minutes, we arrived at the lava flow location. Check the next post for the photos.

CO2 Emissions by Country

Yesterday I was searching for some public data, and stumbled upon some good carbon emissions data from the European Commission. I decided to toss it into Tableau to visualize CO2 emissions by country – current state and trend. It’s been a while since I’ve done any data visualization outside of work. Here’s what I came up with after a couple beers.

Check Out Startup from Gimlet Media

I’ve listened to NPR on a regular basis for years, but hadn’t gotten into the habit of subscribing to shows using a podcast app until recently. I would typically listen to RadioLab, The TED Radio Hour, and Planet Money, all through the NPR app. And I’d sometimes catch This American Life on the radio. All this probably makes me an extremely typical casual NPR listener.

To me, good online radio has always been synonymous with NPR, and I had never seen a compelling reason to explore further. Not because I didn’t think there was other interesting content out there, but I figured that if it hadn’t found me, it probably wasn’t worth the effort.

That has changed. I’m now a podcast person, and it began with a new series called Startup.

I first learned about it a few months ago when a friend told me about how my business school classmate, Matt Lieber, was a cofounder of a venture backed startup. I asked what they do. He said they are a podcast, but also a podcast platform. I asked him to elaborate.

He explained that it was a bit confusing, and that they might be a technology platform, but they definitely have created a podcast about their startup. And he thought they were trying to make more podcasts, but he was also almost certain there was a tech play, likely with an app. I told him that this made no sense to me. He said he was still trying to figure it out as well, but they definitely had momentum because they raised a bunch of cash. So I was very much confused, but intrigued.

It took me a while to finally look into Matt’s startup. When I did, I understood the initial vision after listening to two minutes of the first episode of the Startup podcast.

In short:

-Alex Blumberg used to be involved with This American Life and Planet Money

-He contributed to the success of these shows, and understands first hand what it takes to build awesome audio programs

-While there are many great audio programs out there, he thinks it’s a shame there aren’t even more, as he believes the market could be much larger if there were more organizations innovating and catering to a diverse range of interests/topics

-His vision is to build an ad supported for-profit audio content company that thinks up and produces a bunch of awesome new audio programs

-He decided to document his journey building this company, and so he started Startup, a podcast about building a podcast company

Startup received a good amount of media attention, which ultimately helped facilitate an initial round of funding at a very favorable valuation. At some point along the way Alex realized he needed help from someone with business experience, and he found Matt.

After listening to the first episode, I was hooked and went through the next nine over a span of a few days. There are a few angles to its appeal. To start, it’s a good story. Alex is a talented storyteller, and he’s woven together his experiences taking this company from an idea into a funded business in a compelling way.

It also offers a rare glimpse into the process of raising a round of funding, and getting a startup off the ground. Regardless of the industry, many of the challenges Alex and Matt face – pitching investors, coming up with a name, negotiating equity with a cofounder, hiring employees – are relevant to most startups.

And finally, it’s really honest. Throughout the series, Alex walks through many of their mistakes, challenges, and fears. Botched investor pitches, a bad start to the equity negotiation with Matt, a really embarrassing advertising mistake, burned out employees. Many startups go to great lengths to hide or spin their mistakes and worries, and to inflate their success. Alex and Matt aren’t, and it’s refreshing.

The story also really evolves as their business grows. By episode eight, the company had hired a team to launch another podcast, and Alex introduces their second show, Reply All, which is also worth a listen.

Here’s the first Startup episode, give it a shot:

A Dog that Rides the Bus Alone

Continuing with my above average quantity of dog-related posts, my friend Jenny recently sent me this article, about a dog in Seattle:

Commuters in Belltown report seeing a Black Labrador riding the bus alone in recent weeks. The 2-year old has been spotted roaming the aisles, hopping onto seats next to strangers, and even doing her part to clean the bus — by licking her surroundings.

“All the bus drivers know her. She sits here just like a person does,” said commuter Tiona Rainwater, as she rode the bus through downtown Monday. “She makes everybody happy. How could you not love this thing?”

When the dog got off the bus – without an owner – at a dog park last week, it piqued the curiosity of local radio host Miles Montgomery of KISW-FM.

“It doesn’t really appear to have an owner. The dog gets off at the dog park. I just look out the window and I’m like, ‘did that just happen?'” Montgomery asked. “She was most concerned about seeing out the window, and I couldn’t figure out what that was. It was really just about seeing where her stop was.”

I recommend just watching the video:

3D Printing at CES

In my second hour at CES, after spending some time looking at health trackers, I stumbled into the 3D printing area. There seemed to be hundreds of firms showing off their 3D printing skills, and all of the plastic things they printed. I was struck by how many firms are eagerly competing and innovating here.

The first printer I saw, and maybe my favorite, was Zeus: A 3D scan, print, copy, fax machine:

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When pressed, the Zeus guy admitted the fax button just sends a copy of a scan to any other connected Zeus machine over the internet, but still. I was impressed. I asked about resolution, and learned that it’s measured in layer microns, and the highest (smallest) resolution of this machine was 80 microns, but it could print more quickly to other resolutions. Here they made a copy (left) of a Zeus figure (right):

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And here’s an elephant, printed at 200 microns. The picture doesn’t quite do it justice, but it has a number of moving, interlocking parts, all of which were printed in one go, with no need for assembly:

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Another printer we spent some time looking at was the Cube, which offers a range of consumer-focused 3D printers
2015-01-06 12.02.50 Cube 3D printer

While I know 3D printing technology has come a long way in the past few years, going from an interesting idea to an effective way to illegally make guns or to send tools to the international space station, the sense I got from the conference is that this is only the beginning, and quality keeps rising while prices have dropped to the point where you can easily buy a 3D printer for less than $1k. Good stuff.

The Best Combination of a Map and a Chart

I love maps and I love charts. So I was particularly excited to find this great chart of the world’s population by latitude, which obviously resembles a map (because most people live on land):

europe_smlThis is a much more eloquent way of combining latitude and longitude population charts, as I’ve previously posted about here.

At the bottom of the post, the creator links to whackdata.com, where Ryan Brideau posted some R scripts that take publicly available data and create similar population map charts. Ryan does a great job describing why the chart is so interesting:

“What I love about it is that, in the absence of any traditional map features, the outlines of countries and continents are immediately apparent. And as long as you are familiar with what the land masses of the globe look like, you know exactly what the plot is without even needing to be told. Another interesting feature is that the peaks also give information about both the population and and the density: the area under the graph represents the total population, while the higher the peak, the more dense it is. (Hence the huge peak of Tokyo, and the low, wide peak of Mexico City.)”

Having only a little experience with R, I thought this was a good opportunity to see if I could use Ryan’s scripts to make something similar for the Boston area.

After a bit of tinkering, here’s what I came up with for Massachusetts:


And here’s greater Boston:



Not bad. Thanks Ryan.