Sunday Oct 28, 2007

songs for today

Music recommendations for today: Season of the Witch, by Donovan; followed by Handel's Water Music, both available on


Saturday Oct 27, 2007

more good news on San Diego fires

SDG&E restored the power lines knocked out of service by the fires, so San Diego's power crisis is over. We're doing our little part too, with our solar panels restored to full production. That is, I made the trip up on the roof with garden hose, gentle soap, and soft brush on a long pole, to clean the ash off the panels. That was after lots of sweeping and scrubbing the balconies to remove the ash and gain access to the roof without tracking in more ash.

 As I worked I heard music coming from many houses around the neighborhood, jazz, salsa, rock, children's Halloween music, all mixed together in a cacophonic mess - and sounding wonderful! It's the sound of a neighborhood come back to life, happy, and celebrating our escape from danger. And then I felt a drop of rain, then a light sprinkle. It probably won't even become measurable precipitation, but it's great news for the people still in danger from the fires, and the hundreds of firefighters still hard at work.. Though this little rain won't put the fire out, it means high humidity and a welcome change from hot Santa Ana winds.

AT&T is providing free WiFi in hundreds of locations across southern California to help people affected by the fires. I know how important this can be since our evacuation hotel had WiFi which allowed us to get the latest news on the fires and our neighborhood and friends. Thanks, AT&T!



Thursday Oct 25, 2007

San Onofre down

Earlier I wrote that the Camp Pendelton fire didn't threaten the nuclear power plant. But my photo did show the fire burning underneath the power lines, and fire under the lines caused them to shut the plant down. This contributed to the power shortages prompting SDG&E to call for more energy curtailments, and for Sun to take steps to reduce our power load. With so many power lines taken out by the fires, we narrowly avoided blackouts with some help from the Navy.

Here at home I continue better than self sufficient during the peak hours of electricity demand, but by a much smaller margin than usual. With a layer of ash coating my solar panels, efficiency is way down and I'm only generating 1 to 1.3 kW. Soon I'll have to venture up on the roof with a garden hose again to rinse them off, and think some more about my remote solar panel sprinkler project.

All this makes me think that San Diego really could be energy independent, and we ought to be. Start with lots more solar power, and wind power, which have different time-of-day power curves. Add some giant batteries, as developed by E.ON AG. And modernize the natural gas plants to use primarily as peakers in times of high demand. Power lines are great to move energy around for small adjustments in supply and demand, but are just too vulnerable to rely on for a large fraction of the region's power.

how to evacuate a city

The weather continues to be favorable for fire fighting, and the Witch Fire is 20% contained. More firefighters and equipment keeps arriving to help us, so prospects look pretty good. Some areas, like Julian, are threatened if the west wind gets too strong and begins pushing the fire back up the mountain.

Here's a photo of the fire at Camp Pendleton as we drove through yesterday. It was burning right next to the San Onofre nuclear power plant, though I don't think the plant itself was ever in danger. There was fire all along the top of the ridge. This fire is a bigger concern than before because it has split into two active fronts, but so far firefighters are keeping the freeway open in both directions.

More than 500,000 people evacuated our homes in San Diego, more than evacuated from Hurricane Katrina, and over ten times as many who evacuated from the Cedar Fire four years ago. I could grumble over being ordered to leave, only to have the authorities change their mind two hours later. Other than being sealed up indoors to keep most of the smoke out, we would have been fine had we ignored the evacuation order. Many did, although to do so is a (misdemeanor) crime.

Police found the bodies of two people who ignored their evacuation order. Property isn't worth that much. Though these fires are much worse than the 2003 fires, the death toll so far is lower. I think a big part of the difference is the reverse 911 calls to order evacuations of specific areas. Reverse 911 even works on cell phones if you register your number with the county so they'll know what geographic area to associate it with.

Our drive to Santa Ana was remarkably smooth, because targeted areas were evacuated one after another, rather than dumping hundreds of thousands of cars onto the roads all at once. That also meant that fire trucks and other emergency vehicles could get through.

I once tried to evacuate from a hurricane in Houston. After four hours in the car, and burning most of my fuel, we were not even close to the city limits, let alone onto an open highway on which we could have escaped the storm. With no gas stations open, and little prospect of outrunning the storm, we turned around and hunkered down at home instead. Evacuating a major metropolitan area is no easy task, and they did a great job here.

Wednesday Oct 24, 2007

back home in San Diego

We're back home. There was heavy smoke through Camp Pendleton with many fires burning on east side of I-5 and a few fires burning on west side, but road is now open in both directions. The sky here is clearer today than in the Santa Ana / Tustin area, which is the southern most location that is more or less out of the smoke. I hope we can all safely stay put this time. The last I heard the Witch Fire was only 1% contained, but with calm winds and more firefighting resources it seems likely they will be able to contain it, and tomorrow Mother Nature is supposed to help with some sea breezes. In fact right now the wind has already shifted (weakly) to WNW.

I heard Governor Schwarzenneger thanking all the states that had sent firefighting crews to help, and I am certainly thankful also. But he did miss thanking our neighbor city Tijuana which sent 60 firefighters to assist. Gracias!

The Sun campus emergency team has been great with information and offers of support. We even got mail from Jonathan Schwarz pledging Sun's support, and reminding us that family comes first and our Sun colleagues will fill in for us as needed. On the campus alias there are offers to take in people who lost their homes, and Sun has set up a wiki for everyone to communicate regarding the fires, tips, and help. It's a great place to work in good times and bad.



We got the evacuation order Monday night, after having spent the afternoon watching news and deciding what is most valuable in our lives - one car full only. That includes the kid and the cat. Not the computers, but the data. Is your backup current? An hour out we heard a city press conference and they decided to make our area's evacuation voluntary. We kept going to Santa Ana - a 5 star evacuation center. Rated as an actual hotel it would do rather worse.

Monday Oct 22, 2007

San Diego fires

Though many are not so fortunate we are fine. Santa Anas worsened overnight. There are now not 2 but 7 fires. More evacuations ordered. Del Mar fairgrounds near us is an evacuation shelter for large animals like horses from east county. Fire is near Wild Animal Park. I don't know what they could do with rhinos. Schools are closed. Sun campus is okay but employees told to put family first. I'm working from home and watching news and sky. We're getting ash fall but the sun isn't blacked out as it was in 2003.


I am a software engineer in San Diego, president of the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (, formerly a mathematician and a violist.


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