The U.S. military mission in Iraq continues to wind down, and is scheduled to completely do so at the end of the year unless the Government of Iraq asks for U.S. troops to stay and the United States agrees. While that’s up in the air, it seems a force of about 10,000 may remain in the country after December 2011, perhaps mainly in a training capacity.

One thing for sure, we’ve been there for many a sunset…

U.S. Army photo by Sgt. 1st Class Kristina Scott - The setting sun’s reflection is seen from Z Lake on Baghdad’s Camp Liberty.

Cpl. Robert Morgan, 2nd Marine Logistic Group Public Affairs - U.S. Marines with the 1st Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion take a break to watch the setting sun after a dismounted patrol in Al Abtakh, Iraq

Keep reading for more photos…

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It’s natural to want to compare something known to something new in order to form an opinion. As such, a lot of the discussion about Google+ has been about how it compares to Facebook, Twitter or other online social communities. While that line of thinking is useful to a degree, the more important questions revolve around how Google+ is not like these other platforms, both now and in the future.

Some soft thinking on the latter part of the issue has provided 5 theoretical scenarios involving Google+ going forward that exemplify what may emerge as a functional difference between Facebook, Twitter, and similar. In all instances I am making the following assumptions: that Google will use Google+ to harness all of the various (and growing) Google tools in a “one-stop shop” manner; and that the idea of circles will be expanded outward from just Google+ into associates like YouTube.

  • Disaster relief: A future Hurricane Katrina hits. Teams of responders with Google+ capable (any smartphone) devices head out to save lives. As the search continues, each team member uploads geo-tagged imagery of their findings (a virtual red X) as they go. These images, beamed back to HQ, become a real-time tool for broadly analyzing the situation. Complicated for a social networking company, but not for one with Google maps and Google Earth platforms. Similar uses – both public and private – are too numerous to mention here.
  • Beyond e-mail: Your first dog just did its first cute thing, it rolled over and went to sleep – fortunately you got it on your Android (yeah, iPhone too–I own one) device. You could go to your computer, edit it and then try and remember everyone to send a copy by e-mail attachment (if it’s not too bulky) or public link (hoping you set the privacy settings right). But this is cute dog stuff — it has to go out now. Upload from your device to Google+ connected YouTube, with your pre-set privacy settings, and blast it out to your circle including everyone in the world who likes dogs.
  • Getting good eats: You’re on the run in a place you don’t know, and your stomach is getting rumbly. Taco shack or fine dining on the cheap? Open up the Google voice search application on your mobile device. Say “food,” and be instantly directed to Google+ user ratings, local restaurants offering different specials via Google+, and more. When you don’t end up with food poisoning from 3-day old sushi, you’ll thank Google+ for saving you.
  • Quick help for buying stuff: You’ve made it to the outdoor store on the edge of town — it’s almost uncomfortably quiet browsing the bicycle section. Open up your Google image search application and take a picture of that bicycle your friend told you to buy. Within seconds, Google+ owners of the bike, their thoughts about its useability in urban areas and other key information appears. And if you really didn’t do your homework before leaving, you can always check the +1s on it.
  • +1s building a better search engine: Examining an issue and can’t  find exactly what you’re looking for to give that last bit of depth? There’s only so much algorithms can figure out on their own. Now, don’t get me wrong, Google is pretty darn good at this. But, it can be better. While +1 can be viewed as a copy of Facebook’s “like” feature, it in reality can become much more by allowing the user to help refine what is most important. Building a network of +1′ing circles that includes experts on the issues (even if they have no clue who you are and never circle you back) may relieve you from re-inventing the wheel.

This handful of possibilities is just a small example of the directions G+ could go. One way or another, it’s pretty clear that Google+ will end up something more than just another place to keep track of that person you met once but don’t really care to get hourly updates from.

I’m sure I’m missing plenty. Feel free to share your thoughts here or on my Google+ post on the subject.

This article has been updated to cover all 100F+ readings observed through August 1, 2011 when National Airport hit 100F and the other locations remained in the upper 90s.

While the Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Md. area averages about one 100-degree day each year, it is not a super common occurrence, and stretches of years without them are — or, someday, where? — to be expected. Yearly numbers and a few other facts for both Washington and Baltimore follow, as does a quick look at the atmospheric setup for the area’s most extreme of extreme heat.

Washington, D.C. averages 1.2 days of 100F+ or above as of the 1981-2010 climate period. The long-term average is less than one day per year, with 109 days (including five so far in 2011) at D.C. that have hit or topped 100F. The highest temperature ever at D.C. was 106F, and it was reached on August 6, 1918 and July 20, 1930. A breakdown of all days 100F+ at D.C. is heavily skewed toward the lowest numbers. 44% hit 100 on the nose, 22% made it to 101, 17% to 102, 7% to 103, %6 to 104 and 2% each to 105F and 106F. The most recent “super heat” temperature came on July 29, 2011 when D.C. reached 104F, the highest temperature observed there in over a decade and tied for 5th hottest all time.

July 19-22, 1930 make up the longest string of days 100F+ in Washington at four, also featuring the hottest temperature on record. Washington has dealt with three other 100F+ streaks of three days, most recently in 1993. The most 100-degree days in any year was 11 in 1930, when two major streaks of 100F+ lasted for the record four days and three days (with a two day break in between) each. For 10 years in a row, in 1888 through 1897, no 100 degree or higher readings were recorded at Washington. The longest streak of sub-100F years in recent times was the seven years from 1970 through 1976.

Keep reading for additional stats on 100-degree days at Baltimore and Dulles as well as a look at the atmospheric setup for extreme heat in the Baltimore/Washington corridor…

Now, I don’t consider myself the biggest devotee to social networks, though I do appreciate their value and/or importance. I was on MySpace (briefly), hit Facebook when it was only offered to a select group of schools, joined Twitter after a bit of hesitancy, and now I’m on Google+ as well. Yeah, I’ve probably missed one or two, but I don’t feel like I’m losing out on much.

I’ve always been a Google admirer. I say admirer instead fan as I’m not sure I agree with all of Google’s practices, but it’s hard to ignore all the innovation that has come from that company. My favorite “told you so” story is reminding my father, and anyone else who is bored enough to listen, that I said he should get in on the IPO. Alas, it was “overpriced” – and sure, it might have been, but there’s some value added since!

As a regular user of both Facebook and Twitter, and having helped bring Twitter into a major policy organization here in D.C., I have seen the strengths and weaknesses of both. After just a few hours of playing around in Google+, I can see that Google has managed to largely pull the strengths from each platform, while giving it a few unique new twists that will surely keep people interested and also most likely send competitors scrambling for comparative enhancements to their services.

Circles (so easy yet so important): A simple concept that could revolutionize how people communicate online by making it more like how we communicate in person. On Facebook there are some ways to limit how you send things, but in general your friends are your friends. If we’re being honest, those with 1,500 friends don’t really consider all of them close friends.

Though less personal than Facebook, and thus perhaps better for promotion and general interaction, Twitter has its disadvantages too. One is also probably its greatest advantage, simplicity. Simplicity is great for certain activities, and when combined with the multiple add-on services that feed out still and video imagery it can of course be a very powerful tool. But unless you want to log into several sites to get there, you’re largely  sending a text message that disappears into an abyss after it’s made.

With Google+ there are zillions (ok, maybe that’s an exaggeration) ways to categorize both what you send, what you view, and how you manage that information in a way that can be easily referenced again in the future. Speculation is that organization pages will follow a similar format, allowing for targeted messages to multiple audiences.

The “hangout”: I know I sure don’t want to sit in a video chat with tons of people I don’t know, but businesses, organizations and public figures do. Social media has made the idea of accountability and availability paramount in any successful large-scale endeavor. Being able to hold virtual town halls with ease will not only bring more people together that would otherwise remain disparate, it will allow more voices and the ideas shared on them to be heard.

Integration: Google is a behemoth of a company. It’s the best or headed there when it comes to search (duh!), interactive mapping, sharing video (YouTube), mobile computing, and so much more. It’s hard to imagine an Internet without everything that Google brings to it — in some ways, Google is the Internet. With the multi-faceted and always growing Google platforms, the edges of Google+ seem basically limitless. The integration factor can also drive business to other parts of Google or Google affiliates. For instance, I use and like flickr for photo storage and sharing, but now I’m wondering if Picassa (soon to be Google Photos) is a better avenue given how it’s tied to Google+.

+1: When a +1 feature recently came to the message board I helped create many years ago, I hated it.  In fact, it never really worked and we removed it as the “buddy system” proved too strong. It’s highly likely that similar will occur on the Google+ platform itself, but as a feature throughout the Web it can be harnessed as a tool to build stronger artificial intelligence in search and “preference” algorithms. Since about 70% of Web searches originate at Google, the multitudes of +1s should, in theory, give us a better product wherever user information is valued (not just for search!).

What is missing right now: These all seem to be mostly growing pains in the preliminary “pre launch” phase. As Twitter has taught (or at least reminded) us, real-time search is a must. It’s coming. Even though some companies such as Ford have gone around the “user must be a person” policy, organization/company/public figure pages are a must. They’re coming. An iPhone app is a must – living in the real world of social networking means being able to share images and video away from your desk. It’s coming, and expected to be similar to the application for Droid which has received good reviews.

Of course, the downside to all this might be that Google ends up building an even more comprehensive database on all of our lives. Well, in the spirit of congeniality, I welcome our Google overlords – it’s probably better than some of the alternatives.

I’m sure some folks who follow my Twitter feed, or even my general thought process, seem a bit confused. I jump around from weather, to war, to random photography and probably even into other realms at times. Sometimes it’s unbalanced. I work in an environment where foreign policy and politics is always in my face, so in my “free time” I like to focus at least a little on other subjects.

Over the years — after residing in a desert, the southern Plains, the snowy Connecticut hills and now D.C. — I have grown fonder and fonder of understanding my environment, both on a human and natural level. While maybe “I should have been” a meteorologist, I have always been content to keep it a hobby (for the most part). Still, I’ve learned a vast amount in my lifelong love of the weather. Briefly dropping my humble hat — I know about as much as many degreed forecasters.

Now, why am I rambling? The point is: I enjoy explaining what I know to others who share in the interest at hand be it weather, politics or otherwise. Much of the analytical framework for understanding the weather is similar to understanding foreign policy, or even a highly technical art like photography. I’ve never been content to just see something happen. I want to know why. Once I find out why, I want to know other ways that same scenario could play out, and of course the alternatives.

Therefore, in some odd way it’s all tied together. Here, and elsewhere, my writings are almost all about fulfilling a desire to share information and, if lucky, expand the knowledge base. I can only hope that some of what I personally share is of interest and strive to make it so. If it is not, please do let me know… And if it is, I love to hear other viewpoints, as I’m only right most of the time!

In the July installment of a year-long series of D.C. climatology posts on Capital Weather Gang, I included a graphic showing the averages for thunderstorm days by month in Washington over the last 30 years. Why 30 years? That’s the National Climatic Data Center standard for climate normals, and they just released a new set. This information, however, comes from additional research through daily records posted on the Weather Underground.

Thus far, I have only looked at the last 30 years, but may build back as far as I can at some point. Either way, this post will be updated at least a bit with data already obtained, but see below for some of it for now:

D.C. averages 32.8 thunderstorm days per year. 18.8 occur during meteorological summer (June-August). July is barely the statistical winner, though for real purposes it is tied with June for the most thunderstorm days per year. The curve is almost surprisingly normal, with a quicker drop off in fall than rise in spring thanks to lacking upper-level cold air of the winter prior that gives spring an extra boost in both storms and severity of storms.

Keep reading for additional stats on thunderstorm days in D.C….

Well, another one down — four years (see previous). When it comes to pictures, the Washington, D.C. fireworks show never fully disappoints. Of course, I’ve forced myself into some of the best (if known) locations available. As I found in 2010, reflections off the Potomac River really make the shots! Maybe next year I’ll watch from D.C. proper, but it’s tough with all the views Virginia has to offer. I uploaded a few shots to flickr and have created this year’s set which will eventually house more photos.

I was fortunate enough to have Kevin Ambrose along on the photo shoot again, so we got great side-by-side comparisons of our differing techniques for various scenes — with me it’s mostly hoping for the best. In addition to the flickr set, check out these posts (“Quick look” and “2011 fireworks“) on Capital Weather Gang, and see Kevin’s gallery of his shots and mine combined.

First of the show

Ground burst

Golden scenery

Updated July 6.

I have a new article out in the July/August issue of the Journal of International Peace Operations (view PDF). This is my first (well, technically second if you don’t count graphic artists) piece without a co-author attached. I was selected to write an article for my work on the Pakistan Index. I must admit that after seeing the other authors I feel a bit like a newbie on the subject!

The piece is titled “Social and Political Structures in Pakistan: Fighting for stability in a fragile state,” and the intro to this month’s special section on Pakistan reads:

Ian Livingston opens our Pakistan feature section with a discussion of the social and political structures of Pakistan as contributing factors to its continuing instability. Chronic turmoil continues to plague its development. Pakistan’s youth is facing a dim future and a backwards economy. Livingston argues, however, that Pakistan is not any worse off than it was before the financial crisis and its people are resilient. But, he is careful to point out that feelings toward the U.S. are overwhelmingly negative.

For now, it’s only available as a PDF (see pages 11-12 — though, really, the whole issue is worth a read!). If/when the article I wrote is available as a standalone page online I will add a link directly to it both here and on my publications page.

7/6 Edit: Here’s a direct link to it online.

The 4th of July is coming, and it’s perhaps the best time of year to be a D.C. resident. This will be my sixth Independence Day in the city — I’ve taken photos of the fireworks show the last three years. It looked like I might not make it out this year, but plans have shifted, so it seems I will indeed get to add to my photo collection. While I think about where to set up for 2011, I figured I might as well share some shots from 2008-2010 as well as links to fuller sets.

2008 - From the Marine Corps War Memorial

2009 - From the Netherlands Carillon

2010 - From the banks of the Potomac River

Sets on flickr: 2008 | 2009 | 2010
Photo posts on washingtonpost.com: 2008 | 2009 | 2010

Photo by ISAF Public Affairs - Italy RC-W commander free falls from a helicopter near Herat.

Photo by ISAF Public Affairs - A Special Forces soldier observes a valley in Uruzgan as a Blackhawk circles above.

Keep reading for more photos…

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