About Me

My photo
Facebook says I live in the Bay Area. Twitter boasts that I like puns and bad jokes (@The_PUNisher_SF), and then Reddit upvotes and says I LOVE puns and bad jokes. And this blog tells you about my experiences using social media sites and learning to fit them all together into my life.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Is Your San Francisco Home Safe from Disaster?

When looking for apartments in San Francisco's competitive housing market, there are several factors to consider.  Budget, size, roommates, pets, parking, location...it can be a daunting task.  With all of that it's easy to overlook another real factor: safety.

Assuming we spend an average 40-60% of time in our home (including sleeping), whatever place we decide to call home should be looked at from all angles of safety.  This is especially true in the Bay Area, where there's a 63% probability of a major earthquake in the next 30 years (from the USGS earthquake probability site).

This is not meant to scare anyone, but rather to make everyone aware of the real risks that exist when living in San Francisco.  This education should help you make an informed decision on you and your family's safety.   I created the maps shown below to highlight the various safety concerns by location, and used data compiled mostly from government websites.  These maps are a high-level summary, and aren't intended to provide a thorough or comprehensive look at the data.  For deeper research, please follow the captioned links which bring you to the source data.

The first consideration is whether the home is built over a landfill.  Because landfill contents are more likely to shift and compact during an earthquake, they aren't as structurally safe as homes built on bedrock.  When this soft soil starts moving during an earthquake, it becomes like quicksand (known as liquefaction), and can shift the structural integrity of the building.  Besides damaging the building, it can also lead to water/gas pipes bursting.

Here's a map I created using data from the USGS site, showing areas at liquefaction risk in the event of a major earthquake:

Data compiled from USGS Liquefaction site

Non-retrofitted buildings
Several years ago, San Francisco's Department of Building Inspection made a preliminary list of buildings that might be structurally unsound in the event of an earthquake.  This was done with a basic street-view inspection, so the numbers are not confirmed.  But the investigation flagged a potential 2,929 houses that are possibly unfit to survive a disaster (see listings by address here).
Image from Bay Area Structural Engineers

One risk in particular are what's known as "soft-story buildings". This is when the building has a garage on the ground level.  Even though it is built to withstand the building's weight, these levels are still not as structurally sound in an earthquake.

Here's a map of data from the SF Public Press site, where they showed all addresses listed from the inspection:
Data compiled from the SF Public Press website

In the aftermath of an earthquake, there's some risk of a tsunami coming in from the Pacific Ocean.  This risk is mostly for perimeter areas of San Francisco, as you can see in this map of data from the State of California's Department of Conservation:
Data compiled from the Department of Conservation website

Besides the risks associated with a natural disaster, there's also the day-to-day risks associated with living in a high crime area.  The website Trulia has created an interactive map of high crime areas, and I've compiled that data into this map:
Data compiled from www.trulia.com

Or, you can always check the crime safety of your neighborhood by seeing if Amici's Pizza delivers there.
Map available at www.amicis.com

Destruction in Films
And since art imitates life, we can also analyze the San Francisco hazard areas that have been destroyed in various Hollywood films (most famously of course is the Golden Gate Bridge, which for some reason filmmakers love destroying in movies).  This map is just for fun:
Data compiled from SF Gate article

When all is said and done, we can combine these maps together and get a hideously ugly map of bright colors.   Based on the criteria we've outlined, anything you see in yellow below would be considered a lower risk area.  Initial analysis would show the safest areas seem to be the Presidio, Cole Valley, and Inner Sunset neighborhoods.

Compilation map of all data shown in this site (created by The Big Social Picture)

Additional Resources
  • The most useful thing you can do for you and your family is get educated.  Did you know there's a free San Francisco training course taught by the fire department?  It's all about being prepared in an earthquake, and it will give you the choice to help others as well.  Find out more at the NERT website.
  • I wrote a post about what I learned from NERT training.  Check it out here for tips on what to do before, during, and after an emergency.
  • San Francisco also offers an alert-based text service called AlertSF.  You can sign up for text message notifications which can help you avoid certain areas of the city.  
  • Follow @Emergency_In_SF on Twitter for updates as well.
  • Want to see a more thorough breakdown of your location?  Check out this interactive search page (thanks Redditor brendapie!)

And again, I hope this is the most helpful information you never have to use.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Bitcoin: The Future of Money?

If you've been paying attention to the stock market lately, you've likely heard mention of Bitcoin, a new digital currency (also known as crypto-currency).  Bitcoin was Internet-born, has no centralized government backing, and has no people claiming ownership behind its creation.  In the last month it has seen huge gains and losses, with the value of one Bitcoin (BTC) rising as high as $266 (USD) and falling as low as $105.

The number of Bitcoins in existence is somewhere around 10.5 million, with 25 new Bitcoins being introduced every 10 minutes.  According to the business plan written by pseudonym Satoshi Nakamoto, that number will grow until it reaches 21 million Bitcoins in the year 2140 and then no new currency will be made.

Check out this helpful video from WeUseCoins
So What's the Appeal?
The main appeal of Bitcoin is that it allows you to quickly and directly transfer money among peers, with a minimal transaction fee and without the need for a middle-man bank.  It is also pseudo-anonymous, which makes it popular among less-than-legal Internet activities (it is an accepted form of currency for the black market drugdealing site, Silk Road).  It allows the Internet to have one global form of currency regardless of location, and is popular among freedom enthusiasts who advocate against the banking industry.

And What's the Downfall?
The biggest concern with Bitcoin is its volatility and market instability.  Since its inception in 2009, the perceived value of 1 Bitcoin has fluctuated between $0 and $266 USD.  Bitcoin is highly referred to as a pyramid or Ponzi scheme, because of its risky and uncertain status.  Like any currency it only works if people have faith in it, but because it's so new and unpredictable, its stakeholders are less likely to trust it entirely.
"The only thing that gives Bitcoins their value is people believing they have value."
-Jason Bellini, Wall Street Journal (@jasonbellini)
Another concern is the moral and ethical dilemma of anonymous currency.  Like Pirate Bay, it sits outside of any government regulation and is mostly untraceable, which makes it ideal for illegal transactions and money laundering.

How do you earn Bitcoins?
To natively earn Bitcoins, you would need a sophisticated computer that can scan the Internet all day searching for Bitcoins.  As they are released, your computer "mines" for them using complex algorithms within dedicated software.  In reality, Bitcoin could have picked any way to distribute new Bitcoins so they chose to make it a mathematical puzzle for elite computer programmers to solve.

Because not everyone has the resources to mine for Bitcoins, you can use real cash to purchase them from miners.  There are Bitcoin exchange sites that handle these transactions, the most popular of which is Mt. Gox

Where are Bitcoins Accepted?
So far the early adopters for Bitcoin are online sites, startups and small businesses.  There are an estimated 180,000 users, so businesses accepting the currency are likely to see a rise in customers who are looking to spend their Bitcoins, like this New York bar hoping to capitalize on the trend.

There are also a few well-known companies that have started accepting Bitcoin:

The Crash
On April 10th, 2013 Bitcoin had its biggest surge to date, going as high as $266 per Bitcoin (a 300% increase).  Within hours, it crashed down to $105.  The crash started on Reddit when someone known as bitcoinbillionaire started giving away money to users, totaling over $13,000.  It was a throwaway account and there are theories that this user knew it was going to cause mayhem and was trying to crash Bitcoin intentionally.  Luckily though, it bounced back fairly quickly and closed the day around $160.
Fluctuation chart from Coinbase (wallet site)

In conclusion, Bitcoin presents a unique opportunity and challenge to the future of currency.  As the Internet continues to push the boundaries of social behavior, it will be interesting to see if Bitcoin becomes a widely adopted currency.  With the right companies backing it, it could become more stable and relevant in the real world.  And if that is the direction it's heading, some of us might kick ourselves for not buying in sooner.

Additional Resources
If you're interested in learning more about Bitcoin, here are some resources:

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Using Social Media in an Emergency

Photo from MSN
As we saw this week, social media can be a quick "call to action" in an emergency.  It can help gather quick information and provide a snapshot of the incident from several vantage points.  But conversely it can also lead to misinformation, false reporting, and harmful snap judgments.

When using social media during an emergency, here are some suggestions to consider:
  1. Share only information that is confirmed to be true.  Misinformation is a huge problem with the Internet, and catchy news stories can become sensationalized quickly.  Confirm stories with two sources before sharing, and only retweet posts from verified Twitter accounts (recognizable by the blue checkmark).

    After the Boston attacks, a fake Twitter account named @HopeForBoston started spreading this rumor that a young girl from Sandy Hook was killed in the explosion, and was retweeted 50,000 times before the account was suspended.  In another rumor, people thought celebrity Denise Richards was the mother of the 8-year-old boy who was killed (the mother is named Denise Richard).  People spreading rumors may be doing it to achieve quick fame and attention, and often can do a lot of harm.  These small bursts of information are known as micro-reporting, and are likely to continue as we get more intertwined with social media and technology.

  2. Aim to be respectful of the victims and their right to privacy. Follow the Golden Rule and remember that anything you post on a public account can be picked up by a news source and shared around the world.

  3. Never compromise your safety for the sake of micro-reporting.  As a spectator in any incident, you should be far enough away that you can hold up your thumb and block your view of the entire incident.

  4. Connect with loved ones via Facebook to keep phone lines open.  Phone lines can become overwhelmed quickly.  Every phone call you make might prevent an urgent 911 call from getting through, so seek alternatives when possible.  You can also change your outgoing voicemail to tell loved ones you’re okay.
  5. Share websites designed to help connect people in the tragedy.  Sites like Google Person Finder and the Red Cross' Safe and Well pop up in response to a disaster and are made to help people communicate with loved ones and make sure they're ok.

If you want to pass along these guidelines, here is a shareable image.

In response to last Monday's incident, there was a great quote written by @rolldiggity:

It is a great summation of Twitter's greatest strength and weakness. 

Also, in the wake of this week's incidents I want to share some tips and advice to help you and your family be prepared in an emergency situation.  I was lucky enough to take free emergency preparedness training in my community, and it offered a lot of useful information.  The training is a nationwide program called CERT/NERT, and is often free to anyone interested in becoming certified as an emergency responder.  Also feel free to check out my image gallery of things I learned from the NERT course in San Francisco.

Planning Ahead
In your home and car, always keep food and water supplies to last 72 hours for your family.  After natural disasters, utilities are often shut off and food options become limited.  Having 3 days worth of essentials can keep your family safe and together until help comes.  You also should have a battery-powered or hand-crank radio, a flashlight in close range to your bedroom, and a first aid kit.  Try to always keep half a tank of gas in your car along with cash, in case you need to get out of town fast.  Arrange a meeting point with your family in case you can't get in touch with each other.

The Red Cross website has a full list of essentials, as well as several phone apps to download for emergency preparedness (First Aid, Tornado/Hurricane/Earthquake/Wildfires, and Shelter Locations).

Always be aware of your surroundings, and report any suspicious activity or unattended bags to 911.

During an Emergency (sorry, these tips are mostly for earthquakes)
The most important thing during an emergency is to keep yourself safe and try to remain calm.  This depends on the incident, but if you're indoors, stay away from windows in case of shattering glass, and try and find a sturdy table or desk to hide under in case of falling debris.  If you're outdoors, stay away from overhead wires and transformers, and get close to building walls so you're not in the fall zone for shattering glass.  If possible, wait until the risk is minimized before moving.

After an Emergency
After an emergency it is very important to stay calm.  Check yourself and those around you for injuries, and then assess your household/building.  Locate and turn off any utilities if you're concerned about leaks or explosions (only do this if needed, because you won't be able to turn it back on afterward).

To help someone who's injured, clear any airway obstructions, minimize any bleeding, and calm them down if they're in shock.  If you're concerned they're losing too much blood, find their brachial (arm) or femoral (leg) arteries and apply pressure to reduce blood flow.  Try to elevate the injured part above the level of the heart.  This isn't going to save their life, but might buy them time until emergency personnel are able to see them.  You can also download the Red Cross phone app for step-by-step instructions.

In a crime scene, observe conditions around you and note anything worth reporting to the authorities. 

Remember not to use your phone unless it's an emergency.  As we saw this week, phone lines can become overwhelmed quickly and stop service for everyone.  Imagine that the phone call you're making is preventing a 911 call from getting through, and decide if it's really necessary in that moment.  It's a good idea to change your outgoing voicemail to say you're ok, and designate one out-of-town family member that you will contact to give updates.

Ways you can get involved

In Summary

Hopefully these tips will help you start your journey to education.  There are plenty of ways to learn more and get involved in your community.  A little education can go a long way in helping you deal with and respond to emergencies.

I hope this is the most helpful information you never have to use.



Friday, April 12, 2013

Today is NOT the day from Back to the Future

One of the dangers of the Internet is how quickly misinformation can spread.  While news reporters usually fact check before releasing a story, most people share content through social media without even thinking to check the validity.  With information spreading online so quickly, it's no wonder people think false claims of celebrity deaths are true, or that "today's the day they traveled to in Back to the Future".  I can't say how many times I've seen people post the one about Back to the Future.  And they're always wrong!
 Daily image from www.MartyMcLIE.com

The real date is October 21st, 2015 and anything that says otherwise is Photoshopped.  Here's the clip from the movie to prove it:

So how did this widespread Internet hoax start?
On July 3rd, 2010, Back to the Future was celebrating its 25th anniversary of its original release from 1985.  This true fact was acknowledged by Twitter user @lateandsoon:

The line he's referring to is in the first movie, when Doc is trying to flee to 25 years into the future before he's shot down by the Libyans.
Excerpt from Back to the Future script

As this tweet was repeated around the Internet, it got misconstrued and 2 days later resulted in a slightly less true tweet from the magazine Total Film:

Original tweet from Total Film

The Total Film followers knew enough to call foul play, and Total Film realized they had shared some bad information.  To acknowledge their mistake, they Photoshopped this image and posting it along with a description:

Photoshopped image created and posted by Total Film
"We got it wrong.  Apparently 5th July 2010 isn't mentioned in Back to the Future.  So we went back and changed it."

This was meant to be a tongue-in-cheek joke to admit they were wrong, but the photo got taken out of context and went viral within 24 hours, with lots of people foolishly thinking it was real.  The next day Total Film wrote a follow-up explaining what happened, but the damage was already done.

Since then this has happened several other times, including another on June 27th, 2012, started as a marketing ploy by Simply Tap.

 I'm hoping this won't happen again because, I mean, come ON:

But in case it does happen again,  you can always check out www.MartyMcLIE.com for a daily updated image to see if it's legit.

Here's another site with a live clock countdown:

I really hope people learn to fact check and be accountable for the furthering of information.  The Internet is a powerful tool when used right, but an equally dangerous tool when misused.  So just for that, I'm also including a link to this Bill Murray video.

And a special thanks to these sites:
Ignore this:
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Could you walk 50 miles in 24 hours?

Last year, a friend told me about an event in the Bay Area called The Commute.  It is a 24-hour fitness challenge where you walk from San Jose to San Francisco, for a total 52 miles.  It's not a competition and it's not for a charity - it's just a well organized event to bring people together and help them walk a ridiculously long distance.  It seemed random and crazy and right up my alley, so I happily signed up!

During the walk, I posted a few Facebook status updates of my progress and people wrote comments wishing me luck and telling me I could do it!  I started re-reading the messages as the walk got more difficult, and they became a big source of motivation for me.  I ultimately walked 46 miles before I had to stop, just 6 miles shy of the finish line. 

The Commute was important because it taught me that limitations can be self-imposed and, more importantly, can be broken.  I walked further than I ever thought possible and suddenly it felt like everything in my life was within reach.  In the months that followed I went skydiving, ran a half marathon, and raced in my first Tough Mudder.  The Commute motivated me to do all of that, and changed my perspective on what I thought was possible.  And I have to wonder, if my life changed that positively from failing to finish the course last year, what would happen this year if I succeed?

This year, along with aiming to cross the finish line, I also have set a goal to use social media to keep my friends and family up-to-date on my progress.  Leading up to the event, I will be researching different apps and websites that can help me post real-time location and health stats along the way.  I think this could be a fun experiment for using the Internet "in the field", and I'm hoping I'll learn a thing or two along the way (besides how to treat blisters).

If you have any suggestions for web tracking apps or solar powered USB chargers, I welcome any messages!  Also if you're in the Bay Area and want to learn more information about the event, check out www.walkthecommute.com.  It is a great personal challenge and a wonderful eye-opener, and is definitely worth asking yourself the question, "Could I walk 50 miles in 24 hours?".

The route from San Jose to San Francisco
My personal finish line
My feet after walking for 24 hours
My view of the sunrise as I made my way into San Francisco's Mission district