Saturday, December 31, 2005

Wicked. Wicked Good.

Karen, the girls, and I traveled over to Washington DC yesterday for a matinee performance of the touring company of Wicked. It was in the Opera House at the Kennedy Center.

The Opera House is a palace of a theater. Very nice.

Our seats were well up into the sky, but the view was fine. We were in the second row of the highest tier. There was a family of boobs sitting in front of us, several of whom insisted on leaning forward on the railing, thereby blocking parts of the site line for everyone behind them. This was a particular problem for Christina, the shortest among us. At the intermission, Karen traded seats with her, so that she and I were the ones behind the leaners.

I did ask, politely, if they wouldn't mind sitting back. The woman told me, rather nastily, that if she sat back she wouldn't be able to see. Perhaps. She was short, but not that short. She and her husband were the only people leaning forward like that. Boobs.

That glitch to one side, the show was wonderful. Strong cast, great music, great story. I had read the novel on which the show is based. I think the musical version does it justice.

The role of Glinda was played by an understudy, Emily Rozek. She was wonderful. Several times now we have seen understudies in lead roles on Broadway and in touring shows. There's something about the energy that these folks bring to the roles on the few occasions that they get to play them. Somehow it adds a little extra sparkle.

I like that.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Minor Housekeeping

I've set the site to allow anonymous comments again. I had set it to require Blogger registration for commenting some time back in response to a series of nasty comments. I guess it's time to open up to the world again. Hopefully, no one will be creepy this time.

Of course, I can always ruthlessly delete any poopy-ness anyone tries to drop on the site.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

When a Door Opened

Matt Haughey is creator of MetaFilter, one of the better group-blog sites. His personal site today includes an anniversary remembrance of his entry onto the web:

Ten Years | A Whole Lotta Nothing
In spring of 1995, while using a borrowed computer (I didn't own one myself) in the undergraduate lab, I noticed a new icon in the main window. It was a blue globe with a snake-like S shape around it. It was labeled Mosaic.

Monday, December 26, 2005


Accordion 2
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

My nephew Nick brought this lovely old Accordian to my parents' house for Christmas this year. I'm not sure where he found it, but he's taught himself to play it well enough; he's rather a decent musician of the pick-it-up-and-figure-it-out-enough-to-play-it sort. I loved the details on this instrument and tried a few macro shots up close.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Chrismakwaanzakah

Merry Christmas!

Happy Chanukah!

Good Festivus!

Happy Kwaanza!

Does the Flying Spaghetti Monster have a Winter Solstice Holiday?

Saturday, December 24, 2005

What's In A Name?

It seems that the New York Times has the perfect reporter to cover the newest New York Yankee. There's a story in the Times today (REG. REQ.) about Johnny Damon's having hacked off his famous long locks and full beard in deference to the sartorial law laid down by Yankee owner George Steinbrenner.

The byline is"Damon Hack."

My first thought was that it had to be a joke. Maybe a hacker had attacked the Times' web site?

But no, Mr. Hack has written almost 600 stories for the Times. So far.

Now he has a Yankee all his own to focus on.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Let's Hear It for The British Medical Journal

The British Medical Journal special Chistmas Double issue is a treasure. They've published a great collection of scholarly papers. Here are just a few.

There's a study that shows that people tend to put less alcohol in drinks mixed in tall glasses than in short glasses. It's called Shape of glass and amount of alcohol poured: comparative study of effect of practice and concentration (PDF).

Then, there's Epidemiology and prognosis of coma in daytime television dramas (PDF) which found that "The portrayal of coma in soap operas is overly optimistic. Although these programs are presented as fiction, they may contribute to unrealistic expectations of recovery."

And another that found that regular playing of the didgeridoo is an effective treatment for sleep apnoea. That's Didgeridoo playing as alternative treatment for obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome: randomised controlled trial (PDF).

Maybe my favorite, though, is Harry Potter Casts a Spell on Accident Prone Children (PDF), which finds a reduction in the incidence of traumatic injuries in children that coincides with the release of new Harry Potter novels.

Monday, December 19, 2005

It Doesn't Take Much to Make Me Happy, Sometimes

I had the great pleasure yesterday of watching the Washington Redskins dominate the Dallas Cowboys, win a game 35 to 7, and sweep the season series between the two teams.

I am a life-long Redskins fan. I grew up outside of Washington DC and became fully aware of football when I was 10 years old. It was 1972 and the Redskins were good enough to get to the Superbowl, in January of 1973, and lose to the perfect 1972 Dolphins.

That season was a fitting introduction to the emotional reality of being a 'Skins fan. There were hope, pride, excitement and disappointment. This is not unique to 'Skins fans. True fans, in all sports, know these feelings if they find a single team and maintain their relationship with that team over time.

If you stay with your team long enough, there will be seasons of hope and pride. This year, after many years of disappointment, the Redskins are showing promise. It's fun to be a fan again.

Among the positive signs has been the emergence of new young stars with talent and personality. Stars like Chris Cooley, who caught 3 touchdown passes against the Cowboys.

I was reading a story on Cooley in today's Washington Post (Cooley Shakes (Off) Cowboys All Night Long) and was tickled by this quote:
"This is the funnest game of my career," he said, unconcerned that funnest is not a word.

"I never scored three touchdowns before. Not at any level. This rates number one in my career. All time. Ever. Best ever."
Cooley is a bright spark, if not a Rhodes Scholar. He's fun to watch and fun to read about.

And he led the Redskins in a victory over the Dallas Cowboys. I grew up a Redskins fan. That means I grew up loathing the Cowboys. I still feel that way.

Yesterday's football game made me happy. At least a bit.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

In Old New Castle

Bike Ride
Our Office Christmas Lunch on Friday was at a small restaurant in the oldest part of the City of New Castle, on the Delaware River. After we ate, a few of us took a brief stroll around the town. It was another bright, though cold, day and I wanted to get some photos of the town for possible use in our Livable Delaware web site. And, of course, I love to take pictures of places like this.

New Castle is a gem. It's very colonial; it was one of the first (European) places in the first state. There are old buildings, the river, a sense of history, a village green, and cobblestones.

The photo above is from Battery Park, which fronts much of the town along the Delaware River and features a scenic walk, piers, and a beach. This is how cities and towns should grow.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

I Have The Name, Now I Just Need The Rest of My New Band

I heard the phrase that will be the name of my famous rock band this week. I was listening to NPR's story, (The Secret Court of Terror Investigations) when the three words I've been waiting for my whole life were uttered, as part of this sentence: "While radical militant librarians kick us around, true terrorists benefit from OIPR's failure to let us use the tools given to us."

"Radical Militant Librarians"

Just picture it. Me, backed by a band made up of slender, severe- looking women dressed in gray wool skirt-suits (with skirts reaching at least mid-calf), accented by combat boots and bandoleers bristling with books.

Now appearing, Mike and the Radical Militant Librarians.

A Basic Question

Yesterday on the road from New Castle to Dover, I was behind a sedan at a red light. On the back deck of the sedan was a baseball cap, with the following slogan: "God is my Boss."

It must be tough, figuring out what to get God for Boss's day.

It got me thinking.

"God is my Co-Pilot"

Does that make you God's superior officer?

"As God is my Witness."

How do you swear God in?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Fear Can be a Good Thing

I stopped by Beebe Hospital's off-site Lab Express this morning and left behind a fist full of vials of my blood for a variety of you're-approaching-middle-age-man-just-deal-with-it tests. This afternoon, Doctor Robinson called with some of the results. Generally good news.

My cholesterol, which had been running a little bit high over the last few years, is down. Just slightly, but down. Further, my good cholesterol is slightly up from my last test and my bad cholesterol is slightly down.

This is the result of improving my diet and increasing exercise lately. I'm finally getting serious about this and I owe it all to fear.

Over the last few weeks, I let myself think too much about my health. I'd had a few aches and pains and decided that they meant a return of a blood clot, more pulmonary embolisms,
heart problems, stroke, cancer, etc. It turns out that if you think about this stuff too much, you can generate a serious level of anxiety. Which makes your heart race, and makes your blood pressure rise, and makes your chest hurt. Which feels like it might be.... You get the point.

I had various tests that have satisfied me that I'm actually fine. This summer's blood clot is shrinking on schedule. I don't have a new one. My heart is fine. My lungs are clear. I'm fine. Relax.

But I'm also convinced that if I don't make some changes, I may not be fine next time. So? Less salt. Less fat. Less food. More exercise. More relaxation. Proper priorities.

Seems to be working. I think I'll stick with it.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

The Lewes City Dock

Lewes City Dock
This is one of my favorite spots in Lewes. The City Dock is just off the main part of town. It floats along the bank of the Lewes-Rehoboth Canal where the canal widens out into a harbor.

I once caught a filleted flounder here. I dropped a line on a hot summer afternoon and snagged a flounder that had been caught by someone on one of the head-boats that sail from Fisherman's Wharf, across the water from this spot. It had been cleaned on the dock over there and the remains dumped overboard into the canal.

That may have been the biggest fish I ever caught in my brief fling with fishing. Even without most of its flesh.

Friday, December 9, 2005

Another Loss for Lewes

I was saddened this week to learn that Howard Seymour has passed away. Howard died at home on December 4. He was 79.

Howard was a member of the Lewes Board of Public Works and sat as an ex-officio member on the Lewes Planning Commission. So, for the last several years I've spent about one evening each month with him. He was a cranky-seeming guy, but he knew all about the city and the utilities that serve the city.

He liked to appear crusty and cantankerous, but at heart he was a sweet, kind, wise man. He will be missed.

We're losing too many of our city's characters. Howard was one of the people who made Lewes unique and special. We've lost Howard. We lost Mayor Smith. It's been a rough year.

Tuesday, December 6, 2005

British Car Club?

British Car Club?
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

I couldn't help noting that the British Cars in the Lewes Christmas Parade this past week-end was led by... a Japanese truck.

Sunday, December 4, 2005

Arts in Education in the News

Two stories caught my eye in today's News Journal. Both touch on issues around the Arts in Education.

The state leaders from around the US gathered in Wilmington this weekend for the Council of State Governments meeting heard about the importance of Arts Education from Daniel H. Pink. Pink is the author of A Whole New Mind, a guide to navigating the shift from the Information Age to the Conceptual Age. He told the group of the importance of teaching students to take advantage of their artistic and creative strengths as well their ability to read, write and calculate.
The challenge, he said, for state governments -- especially in an era of federal- and state-mandated academic accountability tests and graduation standards geared toward English, math and science mastery -- is to make room for and encourage students to take part in arts programs that hone those skills.
What pleased me most, though, was to see Delaware's Governor picking up on that theme.
Pink's arguments rang true to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, who said she's been toying with the idea of adding an art requirement for high school graduation.

"It's not something I've really discussed with my staff yet," Minner said. "But I've always thought that the arts were important to be a well-rounded person."

Karen and I have been supporters for many years now of a choice school -- the Southern Delaware School of the Arts -- that was set up to use a focus on the arts to support the academic goals of students in first through eighth grades. Both of our girls are students there and Karen is a part-time teacher. The last few rounds of state testing I think have borne-out the efficacy of the school's approach; SDSA students are among the leaders in test scores.

The sports section of today's paper had a profile of Darnerien McCants, former Washington Redskins receiver and now a back-bencher for the Philadelphia Eagles. McCants also attended Delaware State University, in Dover. I became a Darnerien fan when he joined the 'Skins partly because he had been a Delawarean, partly because he was an underdog, and partly because when he did get a chance to play, he exceeded expectations.

Darnerien never did quite fit into the current plans of once and present Redskins Coach Joe Gibbs. I like to think that that is just because of the bigger-named receivers that have been brought in this season. He was released by the Redskins and picked up by the Eagles. His playing time for the Philadelphia team has also been limited.

And yet, as the newspaper profile makes clear, Darnerien McCants has more to do in life than just catch footballs.
When it was mentioned to Darnerien McCants that he's an athlete who also is an artist, the Eagles wide receiver smiled and shook his head.

"You got that backward," he said. "I'm an artist who's also an athlete. My football career could end at any time, but I'll be creating art as long as my hands and my brain are working. Art is forever."
He credits his teachers in the arts program at Delaware State with awakening the artist in him. And he's not limited to one medium, as his web site makes clear. Darnerien McCants paints, draws and sculpts, he writes poetry and music, and he sings.

I was interested to note, though, that it wasn't until he got to Delaware State that McCants found an arts program to engage his native talent. There'd been no support in the schools he attended growing up in Maryland. This is no knock on Maryland; I grew up there myself. I think it's more a function of the times than the state.

Now, McCants is looking ahead to the inevitable end of his football career.
McCants is thinking about his life after football, but he knows trying to make a living off his art would be difficult. So his goal is to become a high school art teacher and also coach at that level.
If he follows through on that idea, I'll be a fan of Darnerien McCants for a long long time.

Friday, December 2, 2005

Irony, Thy Name is... Irony

Life is good. The Village President of the suburban Chicago village of Justice has been charged with fraud.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Secret Desire to be an Outlaw #45

There's a growing trend towards PhotoCakes -- birthday cakes whose icing features images, sometimes copies of old baby pictures, cunningly rendered in the many-hued icing now available.

Often these are the sheet-cakes favored for office birthday gatherings for co-workers. And they sit there by the mailboxes all day as people wander by sneaking small slices throughout the day.

I've noticed that people tend to avoid cutting into the photo section as long as possible. As a people, we must have some deeply ingrained reluctance to cut into a baby's face with a kitchen knife. I think this is a good thing, by the way.

I find I have this slightly disreputable desire to arm myself with a small tube of cake-decorating icing that I might whip out when no one is looking and draw cartoon mustaches on those pictures.

I must have some anti-social tendencies. Anti-cake, anyway.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Home for the Holidays

For Thanksgiving, we headed over to the suburbs of Washington DC and spent a night in my childhood home. This is the view out of the front windows.
Trees Out the Window 2
I grew up among trees, and hills. Fall was truly a time of fallen leaves for me.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

A Local Focus

I was a bit surprised today to read a story on the Michael Scanlon plea agreement in my local bi-weekly newspaper, the Cape Gazette.

Scanlon pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy stemming from the Justice Department's investigation into high-powered Washington lobbyists. He's a former member of former House Speaker Tom DeLay's staff, and is a big-time lobbyist.

Now, I was once in news broadcasting in a small market. I know that, to effectively report on a national story, you sometimes have to find the local angle. But I was surprised today to read this headline:
It turns out that Scanlon is also a former member of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol. A lifeguard. So the story included a discussion of how the charges, and the unfolding scandal in Washington, might reflect on the resort town.
Buckson said there is no connection between Scanlon'’s federal conspiracy charges and his work as a lifeguard. "I don'’t think they'’re related. I don'’t think they're connected, Buckson said.
That's Rehoboth Beach Patrol Capt. Kent Buckson.

It seemed odd to me to be reading about this story in terms of the Rehoboth Beach Patrol. What do the worlds of resort-town lifeguards and Washington insiders have in common? More than I thought, apparently.

While Scanlon was known as ruthless in Washington, he was also a generous friend to many Rehoboth Beach lifeguards.

He allowed friends and lifeguards to use his house in Dewey Beach and his vehicle. Rehoboth Beach Patrol Capt. Kent Buckson said that in 2004, several guards were shuttled from Georgetown to Daytona Beach, Fla., for the U.S. Lifesaving Association National Championship aboard Scanlon'’s private jet.
Lifeguards with private jets. Who knew?

Monday, November 21, 2005

Tagging Our Christmas Tree

We Marked Our Tree
On Saturday, Karen, the girls and I were at Sposato's Tree Farm to tag our Christmas Tree. We head out each year around Thanksgiving Weekend to find a tree on this farm. We tag it and return a week or so before Christmas to collect it, cart it home, trim it and decorate.

Sposato's is a middle-sized tree farm between Milton and Lewes. They have a landscaping business and, I think, a Bed and Breakfast.

The tree farm is starting to be surrounded by subdivisions. I worry that its field of trees may be replaced by another collection of cul-de-sacs.

But, for now, it is still the Christmas Tree Farm that gets our business each year.

Our approach to choosing a tree is chaotic. We spread out among the rows of trees, each looking for those that meet our own preferences. Colleen likes tall trees. Christina likes cute ones. Karen likes well-formed, symmetrical trees -- though she also has a fondness for Charlie-Brown trees. Me? I wander around unhelpfully, taking experimental, expressionistic photos.

Eventually, though, we end up with a couple of candidates. Then, we have to negotiate. We post a guard in each tree. Tree-tagging is a competitive sport; we don't want some other family snagging one of our candidate trees. We hurry back and forth between the two, comparing and contrasting and discussing.

We work it out. There are compromises and concessions. In the end, we tie our family tag to the chosen tree and head back home.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

RIP: Link Wray

Link Wray
Originally uploaded by rustovision.

Link Wray has died. He was 76 years old and living in Denmark, where he appears to have (sort of) retired.

Link Wray was a pioneer of early rock music, and recorded some of the great pre-punk, pre-grunge music that helped give rise to gritty forms of rock in every generation since.

Link Wray had ties to the Washington, DC, area, where I grew up. I learned about him as my playing in a high-school punk band led me to the ripe Rockabilly scene in the DC area in the 1970s.

Hearing his very simple, but growlingly powerful tune "Rumble" for the first time remains a powerful moment in my life.

The House Hearing Room

Friday morning I hosted a meeting of the Delaware Geographic Data Committee in the House Hearing Room at Legislative Hall, in Dover.

This group gathers quarterly to talk about the use of geospatial information in Delaware. It's a diverse group of state, county and local government people, academics, and folks from the private sector.

As host, I arrive at least half an hour early to set things up and make sure the room is ready to go. I was struck by the light coming through these windows as I entered the darkened room. I had to take a few shots.

This is in the newer part of Legislative Hall; the result of an addition a few years ago. This is a lovely big room with huge windows and very nice woodworking details.

I like to have meetings here. I like to take advantage of the grandeur of the place, to be honest.

Friday, November 18, 2005

An EFF Guide to Student Blogging

I realize that the Great Cape Henlopen High Student Blogging Hubbub of 2005 has mostly died down, but I thought it might be interesting to point to a Guide to Student Blogging from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).

The Guide, part of a larger collection of legal information for bloggers, looks at several free-speech issues for student bloggers and goes through some of the legal precedent. There's clear-eyed, cautionary, and reality based information that young bloggers would do well to heed. It's an interesting read, and may hold some value for older bloggers as well.

The "Hubbub" link, above, is just a random grab of one of many posts from Delaware bloggers from when this issue blew up here in southern Delaware. There were many to chose from, I just grabbed the first that I tracked down.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

A Drive in Eastern Kent County

Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

I took a brief drive around the eastern part of Kent County today, just beating a midday shower. I had a chance to take some fall-themed photos.

I found farms, and country roads, and large jets heading in for a landing.

I swung quickly through Leipsic before heading back to my office.

Sometimes, it helps to get out and away and look around a bit.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Wrong Name

The Wrong Name
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

I've been wanting to take a picture of this sign for some time now, but I've usually been driving by it in the dark.

The State Transportation Department has been putting these signs up naming the various subdivisions around the state. Well, somewhere, someone added an extra "E" turning Beaverdam Estates into "Beavere Dam."

I just wonder when they'll catch this?

Friday, November 11, 2005

Delaware's Own Punkin Chunkin is Now an International Story

The deeply serious, international news magazine The Economist has a story on World Championship Punkin Chunkin this week.

The story (Pumpkin-shooting: The meaning of America) starts by placing Punkin Chunkin squarely into an international context:
IF THE United Nations were to send weapons inspectors to Delaware, they would find a surprising number of superguns being assembled in backyards. If interrogated, the unshaven men tinkering with these enormous weapons would say they were building devices for hurling pumpkins great distances. The men from the UN would doubtless find this hard to believe.
It's great to see Punkin Chunkin getting the wide attention it has gotten lately. It's a quirky sport born here in my home town and one of its earliest stars was Karen and my next door neighbor for a few years at the start of our marriage.

We don't attend anymore; Punkin Chunkin has gotten too big and I miss the days when the rickety rotary-arm pumpkin flingers were the most powerful entrants. My beef with compressed-air cannons is simple: they fire the vegetables so fast that you can't watch the flight of the pumpkin.

But it's fun to track the event from a short way away. I watch for mentions in the press and follow the box-scores (so to speak).

This is the first time, though, that I've seen Punkin Chunkin used to sum up what it means to be an American:
All in all, Punkin Chunkin is a symbol of what makes America great. Only in the richest country on earth could regular guys spend tens of thousands of dollars building a pumpkin gun. Only in a nation with such a fine tradition of inventiveness, not to mention martial prowess, would so many choose to. And only in a land of wide open spaces would they be able to practise their chunkin without killing their neighbours. Alas, the 285-acre cornfield where Punkin Chunkin has been held for the past 20 years is soon to be sold and developed. But the chunkers will probably move to Maryland.
Final note: Punkin Chunkin won't be moved to Maryland. The developer has promised one more year on the farm near Millsboro and has another large farm under contract that can probably host the event in 2007.

It is true that the pace of development around here does threaten the long-term availability of Punkin Chunkin sites. On the other hand, one can perhaps infer from the developer's recent generosity that the pace at which lots are selling in the many subdivisions that are being approved is starting to slow.

Wednesday, November 9, 2005

Marsh Walk in Fall

On Tuesday, I took my lunchtime stroll on the Marsh Trail at the Delaware National Estuarine Research Reserve (DNERR).

The trail is in the Lower St. Jones River portion of the DNERR. It crosses parts of the salt marsh and meanders along farm fields and through the woods at the edge of the Marsh. If you follow it to its end, you wind up at Kingston Upon Hull, an historic site. I didn't have time to get that far in a lunch hour, but managed to wander a mile out and a mile back (or so).

My main purpose was to get some photos before the foliage fades. It was a good day to take pictures.

On the boardwalk section of the trail I came upon a pair of painters also out for the fall colors.

The Reserve is just south of Dover Air Force Base. A large, four-engine military prop plane was intermittently overhead while I walked, practicing landing approaches, touching wheels down to the runway and then taking off again and circling back. This is a practice move that pilots at the Base go through called "touch and go."

There were also airmen and women at the firing range at the south end of the Base, practicing small-arms fire. As I walked I could hear distant, hollow bangs and pops.

I wasn't able to wander away from reminders of the city in which I work, but it was a refreshing walk.

Tuesday, November 8, 2005

Funny, But Painfully So

The News Journal Opinion section included a very brief editorial note this morning: Go about your day and don't bother to vote in Delaware.

There was a nasty election in New Jersey this fall. Hopefully, it ended today. Delaware doesn't have any broadcast television stations of its own; we're part of the Philadelphia/New Jersey market and we are treated -- or is it subjected? -- to all the election advertisments run in New Jersey races.

We suffer through those elections, but don't get to vote. Apparently, that fact may be lost on some folks.
According to the New Castle County Department of Elections, dozens of people have been calling to determine their Delaware polling places and voting times. Even poll workers have called to ask which election district they've been assigned. Apparently no one has bothered to ask who is running against whom in Delaware.

Do We Really Have More Acreage in Lawns Than in Corn?

A researcher with NASA has published a study that suggests that we now have more land area in the United States invested in growing grass than in growing food for humans to eat.

As part of her PhD work, Christina Milesi went looking for a national estimate of land area dedicated to lawns, but found that no data were available. She then got herself grant to study the problem and came up with a methodology, using a variety of satellite imagery and aerial photography data sources, to create "a national estimate of lawn area and the impact of those lawns on ecological factors like the carbon and water cycles."
"Even conservatively,"” Milesi says, "“I estimate there are three times more acres of lawns in the U.S. than irrigated corn."” This means lawns -- —including residential and commercial lawns, golf courses, etc -- could be considered the single largest irrigated crop in America in terms of surface area, covering about 128,000 square kilometers in all.
I find myself floored by that notion.

The entire article is fascinating on several levels.

First, it speaks to that tendency we have to carry with us as we migrate around the country an idealized notion of what our yards should look like, leading to the proliferation of created, non-native lawns in areas that are not meant to have open grasslands. Witness the irrigated oddities of lawns in subdivisions carved into the western deserts, or the patches of lovingly, painstakingly and horribly expensively maintained green alongside the sand dunes and salt marshes of the Atlantic coastline here in Delaware.

Second, the work Ms. Milesi and her team put in to find ways to deduce the amount of lawns around the nation from data sets that don't directly show lawns was instructive. I work in the world of spatial data and often am asked questions for which aerial photos, satellite imagery and GPS -- all now so popularly featured on TV and via Google -- don't provide ready answers. This story reminds us that sometimes we have to be creative; to mix different data sources and rely on intuition to find ways to calculate things that are not easy to measure.

On the issue of lawns, however, I'm proud to say that my otherwise abysmal record on lawn care means that I am, at least by default, maintaining a somewhat native habitat in my yard.

Monday, November 7, 2005

His Master's Dash

His Master's Dash

Christina and I found ourselves parking next to this vehicle on Saturday when I dragged her along while I got a haircut. I had to take this photo. In fact, at least one other person parked in that section of the lot had pulled out her camera as well. Her shot would be a bit more head-on to the truck.

I like the way the photo came out. The haircut will need a day or two more to grow into acceptableness.

Sunday, November 6, 2005

Freudian Typo #469

Blogger New Alb Annie Googled herself the other day and was surprised to find her name in the minutes of the "Board of Pubic Works and Safety" of New Albany, Indiana. It got me thinking that this must be a fairly common typo, and one that most spell-checking software will politely ignore.

Apparently it does happen.

A quick set of searches found 149 mentions of a "Board of Pubic." There were only 44 mentions of "Pubic Accountancy," though we could probably use more of that.

I found 9,260 mentions of "Pubic Education" and 256 of "Pubic Ed," for those who like to get right down to it. I suppose that this is one area where it really does make life easier to proof-read very carefully and thus avoid protracted media investigations.

There were 695 mentions of "Pubic Utilities" but there were 16,900 mentions of "Pubic Works." While I'm tempted to be clever here about those two areas of endeavor, I'll leave it alone.

While Google in each case demurely suggested searching for the "Public" version instead of the "Pubic," it did dutifully perform the searches as I had typed them. The sponsored link ads, however, stayed stolidly in the public realm, ignoring the pubic entirely.

Thursday, November 3, 2005

An Anachronism

An Anachronism
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

Visiting the New Castle County Government Center today, I had occasion to visit the Gent's. I was interested to note, as I looked around me, that the building's bathrooms (the Men's anyway) are still provided with individual, wall-mounted ashtrays.

We've had a ban on indoor smoking in Delaware for several years now. The building proudly proclaims itself smoke-free on signs posted at the entrance. And I am anti-smoking in the annoying way that only we ex-smokers have mastered.

And yet... I found the continued presence of these cute little shaped metal ashtrays somehow charming.

Wednesday, November 2, 2005

A Walk in the Park

Trees and a Walking Trail
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

Today at noon I put on my sneakers and, still in my khakis and (semi)dress shirt, I took a leisurely photo-stroll in Breck Nock Park. It was a warm, yet crisp, fall day.

Breck Nock is a Kent County Park just south of Dover. It was an historic farm that has recently become a park. There's a large playground, a football field, soccer fields, volleyball courts, a nature center, and a trail through woods and fields.

It was a nice way to spend an Indian Summer lunch hour.

Tuesday, November 1, 2005

A Pair of Prii

My car has a twin that also lives at my office building. Mine is on the left; it is the dirtier, more dented, beat-up looking car.

There's a third Prius whose driver works at my building. That one is that nice blue color. It doesn't rank as a twin. I think of it as my car's brother from another mother.

And there is an older cousin, a Honda Insight, that parks nearby.

I think the four of us should get a special parking area.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Outsiders, Indeed

I had a chuckle this morning when I read a story on the Washington Post web site about a group of modern-day "Minutemen" patrolling the US-Canada border in northern Vermont.

The article -- On Patrol in Vt., Minutemen Are the Outsiders (registration required, I'm afraid) -- details the story of a group of folks from Massachusetts who have taken to watching the northern border in the same way that a group of what appear to be vigilantes has begun "guarding" the US-Mexico border in Arizona.

It was amusing to read that they are not sure exactly where the border is, that they have at least once mistakenly wandered into Canada, and that they were reduced to sitting in lawn chairs and watching a field.

What struck me most, though, is how they are missing the fact that the real citizen guards on the northern border are the people who live on that border. Families and friendships in that region straddle the border. The local folks may at times treat the border as their own private passageway, but they also make sure that it is only locals who may pass.

We spend time in northern Vermont each year. I've gotten to know a few farmers and landowners on the border. They have ways of moving things across the border but they also know who and what should move across the border. If anyone not in the community tries to get across, they'll sound the alarm. They know how to contact the federal authorities. And there is no other group that knows the whole of that border as well as the people who live there.

I understand, of course, that the "Minutemen" are just trying to make a point about what they see as a failure of the federal government to secure the borders. But they are insulting the people who live there and who already take their stewardship of their border very seriously. And, to me, the Minutemen look silly.

Three Pumpkins

Three Pumpkins
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

Colleen's, mine, and Christina's. What you'll see at our house this evening.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Rehoboth Beach, Off Season

A Beach Hotel
Christina is playing with the Youth Bell Choir at Epworth United Methodist Church, in Rehoboth Beach. As a result, I have about 45 minutes of free time in Rehoboth each Thursday evening and have started collecting off-season, beach at evening photos.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Your Chance to Vote for One of Our Own

Congratulations to Carl Giffels, of Rehoboth Beach, who is one of the finalists for the October 17 edition of the New Yorker Cartoon Caption Contest (Contest #23). Voting is open now.

Contest #23 features two butterflies on a branch, talking. One is a traditional monarch-type butterfly. The other has wings inspired by Mondrian.

Mr. Giffels' caption is
It's not traditional, but I find it attracts a more mature type of female.
I'm jealous. I've entered a caption in almost every contest. I haven't made the finals yet.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

We Won't See Much More of This for a Few Months

Tree and Sun, Medium View
This is the tree in our side yard last Sunday at about noon. The leaves were just starting to turn. Now, with a northeast storm and the remains of a hurricane converging off the coast of the Delmarva peninsula, we've had just about enough wind and rain to strip many of these leaves away. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think we'll see much fall foliage on this one this year.

In the spring, this tree will put out a multitude of purple buds along its branches for the space of a week or so. It is briefly glorious.

I have no idea what this tree is called in polite society. We call it the purple tree and we are rather fond of it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Update: Progress at Woods of Mahaffie

I was pleased to see a comment today from the Realtor developing the Kansas neighborhood I posted about back in March, the Woods of Mahaffie. This is the new development bearing my family name that is going up in Olathe, Kansas, where my geat-great-grandparents ran an Inn and Stagecoach Shop that is now a county historic site.

The Realtor took exception to the characterization of the plot map as "kinda cookie-cutter." That was the reaction of some of my land use planner colleagues.

The comment led me back to the Woods of Mahaffie web site where I was pleased to see that roads are in place, models have been put in, and lots are starting to sell. The plot map has been prettied-up and there are now pictures of the neighborhood's progress. Scroll down for the pictures and be sure to click the link for the larger format plot map.

It's not really that bad-looking a neighborhood. It looks like it ties into the developments around it and would be a walkable part of the community.

I joked in March about getting my family to buy up the lots. I still think at least one of us should invest. I was rather tempted by Lot 16.

I guess I'd need to do the due diligence and find out what the market in Olathe looks like, long-term, before investing. I doubt we'd be able to get the girls to agree to a move out to Kansas, but maybe Karen and I could retire there. I doubt they have hurricanes, northeast storms, or other coastal flooding threats.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Wisdom From Tom Starnes

Tom Starnes is a retired United Methodist Minister who lives in Rehoboth Beach and attends the Church that Karen attends. He served briefly as an interim minister there and occasionally returns to the pulpit on a fill-in basis. I know him mostly from fellowship golf outings, social occasions, and as a minister whose sermon style and substance Karen respects.

Tom is also a member of the News Journal newspaper's Community Advisory Board. He had a "Community View" column in this morning's paper, Aging brings realization that truth often straddles the line, that caught my eye and confirms Karen's opinion.

Tom starts with the biblical story in which a judgmental crowd is dispersed by Jesus with the admonition, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." It's certainly a story we've heard before, whether we are Christians or not. Tom focuses, though, on a detail that is not a part of our collective awareness. He quotes the disciple John: "They went away, one by one, beginning with the eldest."

Tom's point is that as we get older, we become more aware of our own faults and more aware that the world is not a place of black and white, pure good and evil, or perfectly clear situations. There are shadings.
Age does this -- to most of us, anyway. It opens us up to new truths and experiences, making us less judgmental and less sure of some of our cherished opinions.
In a few short paragraphs, Tom Starnes applies this wisdom to a gentle admonition of the President over the nomination of Harriet Miers. He applies it to the question of gay rights. He uses it to warn us to soften our cherished opinions with a pinch of self-doubt.

This, I think, is the nugget:
...for most of us, as the years pile up we come to understand that more often than not, truth isn't out there at either extreme. It's generally found somewhere in the middle.
I keep thinking of this as I read the varied opinions and counter-opinions of blog writers in Delaware and around the world. So many of us are so tightly tied to what we think that we fail to test, to probe, to question our certainties.

The truth is often in the middle. If we continue to use only language that precludes the existence of a middle, we may never speak it.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Art in Motion

An artist named ChiaNi, who posts some of her work on Flickr, has been working on a series called Mona Lisa step by step.

The start of the seriesIt is based on her recreation of the Mona Lisa, using her own face. ChiaNi paints on a digital canvas, combining digital photos and mouse-strokes in PhotoShop.

She most often creates self-portraits in a variety of styles.

I recommend having a look at the slideshow version of her Mona Lisa series. Set the timing to 1 or 2 seconds. It's rather cool.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

On the Road Today

MonkeycycleSome days, the roads of Delaware have so much to offer, if you keep your eyes open. (Don't tell me these roads aint got no heart, you just have to look around.) Today was one of those days for me.

This motorcycle/monkey combination, for example, was at a small shopping center off Route 10 near Dover Air Force Base.

It seems like there must be some reason for this, but I can't figure it out.

Meanwhile, out on Route 10, I found a dedicated young pooch acting as co-pilot in this car.
Mother's Little Helper
There were actually two of these guys, the other one ducked down just before I got my camera up.

Finally, on my way home, I spent some time behind this van.
Spongebob Square Van?
I found myself singing the rest of the way home:
Who lives in a pineapple
Under the sea?
Could it be, SpongeBob Square Van?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Too Many Meanings

This morning, I stopped by the Beebe Hospital off-site lab to get a vial or two of blood drawn. I get blood tests every month to make sure that my blood's clotting properties are what my doctor wants them to be as we treat my blood clot problem. This is minor, health maintenance stuff.

This morning, as I sat waiting for the technician to (delicately) shove a needle into my artery, I found myself looking around at a collection of Halloween decorations. The room was tricked-out with a cardboard skeleton and a mess of fake spider-web, complete with tiny plastic spiders, tacked up in several corners. There may have been paper pumpkins and black cat cut-outs pinned to the walls as well. I was only there a moment or two and don't clearly recall.

It got me thinking (as I tend to do). My health issues are not dire; I'm responding well to treatment. But I know there are folks dealing with serious health problems who must frequent that place. Are Halloween skeletons really as light-hearted in that office as they are in others?

I'm fairly certain I saw no cardboard tombstones tacked to the walls, thank goodness. That would be a bit too close for comfort.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Guests Usually Are Temporary

I attended a statewide technology conference at the Sheraton Inn, in Dover, today. The Sheraton is getting a bit of a make-over and has shifted things around during construction.

When I rolled up this morning I was greeted by a sign directing me to "Temporary Guest Registration."

I knew what it meant, but I was troubled every once in a while during the day by the notion that there might also be permanent guests.

Another Lovely Evening

A Mackerel Sky
I looked up from a parking lot near Five Points this evening and saw this wonderful Mackerel Sky. It was a pretty day today, with bright blue skies. I like that.

The two weeks we had of gray and rain and drizzle put a damper on photography for a while. We were lucky, of course, compared to other folks who got too much rain too quickly and are still dealing with flooding.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Anonymous Web Posting Can Lead to Abuses

I try to track as many Delaware weblogs as I can. I do this partly for work and partly out of my own interest in what's going on in my home state.

Every once in a while, though, I come across a site that makes me cringe.

I've been watching the "community blogs" offered by the Delaware State News' Newszap site. This site used to suffer from embarrassingly bad web design and was almost unreadable for that. Lately, they've done a very nice update, creating what could be a valuable community resource. Unfortunately, the level of input -- for the most part -- is painful.

The site allows completely anonymous posting. Users can register, but don't have to. In general, I don't think that anonymous blogging is a major problem. Many bloggers work behind screen names. They often have their own sites or at least take part in moderated on-line forums and are registered somewhere. If nothing else, a site administrator can ban them (until they invent a new sock puppet).

But completely anonymous and un-moderated blogging -- apparently the case on the Newszap site -- can lead (warning: links lead to hate-filled invective) to posts such as "How Diversity Dumbs Down DelDOT" and "More FACTS blacks dont want you to see."

These are ugly and deeply negative web postings that serve only to fuel argument and reciprocal hatred. They cry out for moderation, both on the part of the posters and of the site itself.

As far as I can see, there's little or no site moderation on the Newszap site. I'm not surprised. The State News has long published an anonymous comments section in their print editions. They call it "Sound Off" and it too has had its share of awful offerings. But with Sound Off, there is at least an editor to hold off the truly nasty comments.

That doesn't seem to be the case with the Newszap "Blogs." I think the site would be better for some regular moderation from the staff at the State News.

Friday, October 14, 2005

What Happens...

seeing through to the other side
Originally uploaded by clickykbd.

...when you set your camera for a long explosure, then toss it up in the air?

Thursday, October 13, 2005

An Obituary That I Find Charming

Rest in Peace, Theodore Roosevelt Heller, 88, of Illinois.

His Chicago Tribune Obituary Notice asks "in lieu of flowers, please send acerbic letters to Republicans." It also notes that he had been invalided out of the Army during World War Two but "forced his way back into the Illinois National Guard insisting no one tells him when to serve his country."

Mr. Heller's final wish has found an on-line afterlife; a Google Search this evening on "Theodore Roosevelt Heller" found over 300 hits. His obituary's on-line Guest Book is now up to 16 pages.

Update (slightly less than 24 hours later): Almost 600 Google hits and 19 pages.

Petty Complaint Number 3,576

Here is something I've noticed among drivers: leaving a full car-length between yourself and the car ahead of you when stopped at a red light.


Maintaining proper distance from other cars while riding down the road is important. It's wise to leave plenty of stopping distance. I think it makes sense to keep your distance when in stop-and-go traffic. But, while waiting at a traffic light?

It's not usually a major problem for me, of course. There are times when I'm blocked from entering the turning lane by the car that waits a car-length back. That has cost me a traffic-light cycle of waiting time more than once. But I am patient; I can handle this.

Still. Why?

Monday, October 10, 2005

A Theory of Relative Coolness

Driving today and listening to satellite radio, I heard a DJ fire off The Clash's version of I Fought the Law.

It's a great version of the old Bobby Fuller Five song and a fine rock tune, but I would have preferred some earlier, harder, punk-rock Clash.

Then I realized that it could have been worse, that he could have played Rock the Casbah, one of the few Clash songs you ever hear on commercial radio. That one is also a good song, but has almost been ruined through repetition.

It got me thinking about gradations of cool in choosing tunes to play by bands like the Clash or, for that matter, The Dead, Phish, or other popular but far-from-the-mainstream bands. (Note to younger readers: This will be true for today's great bands; it just takes a little time for things to get to this point. These are the ones I know about from my generation.)

If you really want to play a great rock song by the Clash, you should play something from an early album. I prefer things like Safe European Home or White Riot. But those are tunes for purists. I Fought The Law is a safe, middle-of-the-road choice. Those who don't really care will play Rock the Casbah.

There are levels of cool in cases like these.

Coolest is something from early days that shows the promise and potential of a band, but came out before they became widely known.

Pretty cool would be something from when a band started to make an impact on the larger audience.

A little lame is to play that first hit song, the one that brought he general public into the audience.

Lamest is to play the song that many people like, but a majority of those folks would hate the band's earlier stuff.

Yes, I am a music snob.

Eleventh Golf Game in 2005

A Bad Day of Golf...Andy Southmayd and I played 18 holes today at The Rookery, a few miles north of Lewes. As State employees, we get Columbus Day off. Our wives and kids, as teachers and students, do not. That is not particularly fair, but it does mean that we can play golf without sacrificing a day-off with our families.

I played badly, with the usual few good shots and a hole or two on which I scored par or only one-over par. Those holes are how the golf-gods hook you and make sure you'll come back for more.

It was a grey day, threatening rain but never really carrying out that threat. In fact there was some doubt, looking at the forecast, whether we'd be able to get out and play. It never did actually rain on us, but the course was soaking wet; by the end of the day, so were we.

A very wet course has some consequences. You don't get much of a fairway roll, just a short rooster-tail effect. In very wet spots, getting the club-head under the ball -- which should leave a large divot and a lofted shot -- results instead in a deadened, dredged muff as the mud sucks the power from the club. And, it can be harder to read the speed of the greens.

These are all excuses, of course. I'm a terrible golfer. But I do enjoy trying.

Sunday, October 9, 2005

A Trip to Atlantic City

The FerryKaren and I took an overnight trip to Atlantic City this week-end to see the John Mayer Trio in Concert. Colleen and Christina stayed with their buddies the Southmayds; we spent an expensive night in the luxury of the new Borgata Casino and Spa.

The ride across the Delaware Bay was rough. The weather was overcast, rainy and windy. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry was rocking as it steamed across the mouth of the Bay. Long, large waves were rolling in from the Atlantic. Towards the end of the ride I looked out and caught another of the Ferry fleet coming out of the mist from the Cape May side.

I found myself thinking of those old movies of merchant ships plying the stormy North Atlantic in defiance of German U-Boats during World War Two. I find romanticizing the view helps stave off sea-sickness.

Atlantic City itself was a whole new thing for us. We're not really casino-going people, Karen and I. The Borgata is one of the newer things in Atlantic City. It is said to be the tallest building in all of New Jersey and seems to contain a whole city indoors. There were people of every age, color, ethnic background, and level of taste wandering the Casino, the marble-paved shopping area, and palatial hotel lobby. Half of them were smoking.

Karen noticed that every second person seemed to be carrying a dress shirt, on a hanger. We haven't figured that out yet.

The John Mayer Trio was great. John Mayer is best known for a string of fresh, light pop tunes. He's also a demon guitar player with a strong sense of rock riffs. He'd been on tour as opening act for the Rolling Stones; we caught him on a rare night on his own. He was clearly having a blast, playing what he wanted when and how he wanted. There were really only two of his hits in the set (at least that I recognized). One was in the encore.

During the set, Mayer played, and channeled, Ray Charles, Jimmy Hendrix, and James Brown, among others. He mixed-in quotes from a variety of sources and was clear, fluid, and powerful as a guitarist. He has an interesting way of turning what he plays into a full-body dance, with the guitar as his partner.

It wasn't what we'd been expecting, based on what John Mayer music gets played on the radio, but it was a great show.

Now we're back and getting ready for another week of school and work.

Thursday, October 6, 2005

A Lovely Evening in Rehoboth Beach

I took a brief stroll down the Rehoboth Beach boardwalk this evening. I had dropped Christina at the Methodist Church for Children's Bell Choir practice and had a short while to myself. I thought it would be pleasant to have a look at the ocean. It was a lovely evening.

Sunset Flags, Rehoboth Beach Bandstand
It has been warmer than one would expect for October and, more to the point, still depressingly humid. It was raining on my ride home from Dover, but skies at the beach were mostly clear and the temperatures were low enough to make the humidity bearable.

It was good to take a gentle walk. It's just about time for me to start working back into some form of work-out. My blood clot treatment is coming along well enough that I don't really have the excuse to loaf anymore. I've started taking the stairs at work again -- some -- and I should start a regular program of walking to get back into something approaching shape.

This sort of walk will be just fine.

Tuesday, October 4, 2005

Somehow This Just Looks Wrong

I guess I just don't see this "mag-wheel" look (If that's the right terminology) on this car. Just strikes me as the wrong choice.

Sunday, October 2, 2005

My Niece Will be Living in Usti nad Orlici!­

My niece Isabel is moving to Usti nad Orlici­, a town in the Czech Republic. (My best guess pronunciation is ooosh-tee nod or-LI-chee)

Isabel is a year or so out of college. She's been casting about for the right way to share her gifts with the world and has decided to teach in the Czech Republic. I think she will be teaching English; she'll be learning Czech. She wrote recently to say she has almost finished her training in Prague and is looking forward to the "lovely flat" that she gets as part of her payment for teaching in Usti nad Orlici.

I think she'll do well. Isabel is an open, friendly, very likeable young woman. Her's is a good face for the US to present to the world.

Once She learns Czech, maybe Isabel can translate the rest of the Usti nad Orlici web site for us?

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Trip to Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls Side View
The major social event of this year's NSGIC Conference was a trip to Niagara Falls on Wednesday afternoon.

We took buses from Rochester to the big bridge just below the falls and into Canada. We spent a few hours wandering along the Canadian side, down into the tunnels below the falls, and out into the mist on the Maid of the Mist. We had a wonderful meal and then came back to Rochester.

The NSGIC Conference came to an end this afternoon. It has been a busy week and I've had little time to get online and blog. We started with meetings Sunday morning and have been going strong ever since, with only a few breaks like the Niagara Falls trip.

I'm pleased to report that I was elected to the NSGIC Board of Directors earlier this week. That means I will have another morning of meetings tomorrow before I fly home. I'll have regular teleconference over the next two years and may be called on to go into DC for meetings from time to time. I expect that being on the Board will mean a good deal of work, but it will be exciting and challenging and I am looking forward to it.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Picture Time

Taking the NSGIC Photograph
An annual feature of the NSGIC Conference is the group photo. Everyone in attendance is asked to gather in some spot chosen as large enough to hold them all. Each is given a sheet of paper with a number printed in large font. We write our name on that paper and hold it in front of our face for the first few exposures. Then we hide the papers and smile nice for the camera.

Rick Memmel, long the GIS coordinator for the state of Wyoming, is the trail boss of the conference as a whole and the group photo in particular. Rick knows how to tell large groups what to do. Above, he's giving us our orders while, on the ladder behind him, the photographer focuses.

After a few days of rain, today dawned bright and sunny. It was perfect for our photo. Afterwards, Sandy Schenck and I had a chance for a short walk around downtown.

Reflection of Rochester
There is some great architecture in Rochester. Some of it is going to waste, but there is still some to be seen.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Rainy Days in Rochester

Rochester in the Rain
It has been a rainy few days in Rochester. That makes no real difference, though. My world has shrunk to the Ballroom and meeting rooms, on the second floor, and my room on the 17th floor of the Hyatt Regency.

The annual NSGIC Conference really didn't start until this morning, but I was in meetings yesterday (Sunday) from 8:30 a.m. until 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. The official start was this morning at about 8:30. I left the final session early this evening. I was tired, so I called it quits at 10:00 p.m.

This is the plenary session this morning. The crowd will thin a bit each day until Friday morning when we finish-up with a closing Board meeting.

I hope to be in on that meeting. I am running for Board of Directors of NSGIC and had to stand up in this morning's meeting and ask for votes. I kept it light. I kept it short. I hope that works.

Tonight we heard a fascinating report from a County GIS manager from Ohio who spent time in Mississippi as a volunteer with the GIS Corps following Katrina. He was part of a team that went in to help local, state and federal officials respond by providing the kind of geo-enabled intelligence that only GIS can provide. GIS combines database information with maps to create pictures worth more than thousands of words.

We had also heard earlier in the day from a NASA staffer who lost his home in Louisiana in the storm and is dealing with most of his extended family having lost homes as well. He told us that this is his first trip back into civilization since the storm. He was still very raw and there is some anger there.

Now, it's late. I'd better get to bed. We start again first thing tomorrow.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

I Love Things Like This

News Journal Columnist Al Mascitti tells a story in his column today -- Grass-roots activist puts his finger on problems for government officials -- that reminds me what I love about people, and what I like about my State's Governor.

The column tells about Richard Schneider, a new-comer to the ranks of Delaware environmental activists, who got himself onto the schedule of Governor Ruth Ann Minner's "Open Door" sessions in which she does quick meetings with anyone who signs up for the available time slots.

He had quite an ice-breaker.
"I had my right hand all bandaged after I got my [index] finger smashed at work," Schneider recalled. "She asked me what happened, and I told her I was going to have to have it amputated." Minner became so concerned, Schneider said, that he wanted to ease her mind. "So I took my left hand and stuck my index finger up my nose and said, 'Don't worry, I can still do this.' She was just rolling. I'm pretty sure she won't forget me."
I can see Governor Minner have a hearty laugh at this. She's a real person. Yes, she is the Governor. Yes, she is a powerful politician. But she's also a real person; one who still remembers what fun can be had with the absurdities of life.

I like that.

And Here I Am In Rochester

The flight into the airport at Rochester, New York, can be very pretty. The landing glide-path, at least as I experienced it, is over rolling farmland with quilt-like patches of farm fields, barns and homes, villages and small towns. The afternoon sun was shading into evening, throwing long shadows that set the landscape in sharp relief.

This was at the end of a brief, pleasant flight on an under-crowded plane. An hour’s flight is just right. Long enough to foster that wonder and joy that comes when you realize that you are flying, but short enough to avoid the tedium and discomfort of today’s cramped, coach-class airline flights.

I flew-in yesterday afternoon for the annual conference of the National States Geographic Information Council, known as NSGIC. The conference doesn’t start until later this afternoon, but we’ve just finished the 8:30 a.m. session and are on a short break before the next session. This group will meet constantly for the whole of this week. There will early morning and late evening meetings and a great deal of policy and ideas will be tossed around.

I have WiFi here and will blog during breaks. I hope to get some good pictures, especially as we’re going to visit Niagara Falls later in the week.

We’re in a Hyatt Regency in downtown Rochester. The Daughters of the American Revolution are across the way in the large ballroom. I assume they’ll wrap-up today and we’ll move into that room in the morning when the main body of our conference arrives.

I proposed that we try to join up with them as the “Bastard Step-Children of the American Revolution,” but there were no takers.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

There's Irony Here. Is it Intentional?

I've noticed some puzzling stickers on the back windows of cars here in Sussex County lately.

You know the type: oval stickers with initials on a plain background that mark your pride in something. Our friends Andy and Lynn have a green oval with "VT" on their car, symbolizing their annual vacation to Vermont. Sometimes you see "UK" for Anglophiles, or "FR" for Francophiles.

Here's one that I've noticed on several cars lately:

At this scale, it's clear that these stickers reflect pride in living in "Lower Slower Delaware." But when you see this from a car-length back, at 25-, 35-, 45-miles per hour or faster, there's a certain level of double-take involved.

"LSD? Isn't that illegal?"

"Watch the road, honey. Never mind the stickers."

I had heard in the past about "Slower Lower Delaware." I think there were tee-shirts to that effect.

Why the change of word order? Is there a copyright issue? Or is someone combining pride in place, the profit motive, and a small amount of subversive hinting?

Update: Thanks to chrisubus who Googled-up a link with more background. I thought I had pretty good Google-skills, but I didn't find this. Looks like it was a copyright issue.

Here, from the linked discussion, is a phrase you don't hear/see around here very often:
My company owns the trademark on "LSD"...

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

So Much "Delaware-ness"

Harbor of Refuge (South) Breakwater Lighthouse
Originally uploaded by peggyt.

Peggy Tatnall, of Newark, posted this wonderful photo on Fickr as part of her great photostream. It's one of an impressive group she's taken at Cape Henlopen State Park lately.

This one seems to catch so many facets of the Cape; swimmers, surf-fishers, dogs on the beach, the Harbor of Refuge, and an oil tanker.

All together right there where the Delaware Bay meets the Atlantic Ocean.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Tenth Golf Game of 2005

I was glad to be back on the golf course this afternoon. I played with members of Epworth United Methodist Church for their annual fellowship golf scramble.

Golf with Ken and Evelyn
I played with Ken and Evelyn. We played a scramble format, in which we each played from the point of the best shot among the three of us. We kept one score per hole for the group. As a group, we had to use at least five drives from each of us.

We weren't great, we weren't horrible. Ken is a steady player and Evelyn, though she doesn't hit very far, always hits very straight. I am still not hitting them the way I would like, but I had a few decent shots.

I think we ended the day about 4 over par. But we had a very nice time.

Pimping My Prius

Yesterday I added a Sirius satellite radio receiver to my Prius. It was an anniversary gift from Miss Karen, though I did the research on which satellite radio system to go with and which receiver to use.

I choose Sirius over XM based largely on Sirius’ programming content. They had more NPR and other public radio choices and they had more of the sort of “hippy music” and folk music that I like.

I do regret that Sirius doesn’t have the same access to baseball games that XM has. Sirius sells on having broadcasts of every NFL game. XM sells on access to all baseball games. To me, baseball is a great game to listen to while driving; football doesn’t work so well on radio. In the end, however, music and news were the deciding factors.

I went with a receiver from Factory Interactive that installs permanently in the car and uses the Prius’ in-dash touch-screen as an interface. Many folks like the portable units, which can be hooked up to radios in several cars and in the home. That’s a cost effective way to go, but I understand that you make a slight sacrifice in sound quality. I like the idea of having a system that works as an integral part of my car’s sound system. The mounting hardware of the portables also might be a problem. In practice, at home I use my laptop and the web to access music; at work it’s not an issue. Eventually, I may look into a portable – or another installed system – for the van. But that is a decision to make after living with satellite radio for a while, to see if we really want to go in this direction for the long haul.

Installing the unit was an interesting challenge. It ate up all of Saturday morning. The unit came with written directions and a DVD containing a step-by-step how-to video. I watched that video all the way through back at the start of the week when the radio first arrived. Yesterday, I put the laptop on a chair in the garage and followed it faithfully, step by step.

I would watch the fellow on the video – Jon – take the first step, hit pause, and go do that step on my car. Then back to the laptop for the next step. In some cases I would stop what I was doing and go back to watch again. Better safe, and slow, then sorry.

The interior construction of the Prius is fascinating. The dashboard comes apart in sections, each held in with pressure clips and, in a few cases, a few screws. Bits just “pop out.” Wires plug in. Everything fits together.

For an experienced person, the installation probably takes less than an hour. For those comfortable taking their car apart, a first time installation would probably take an hour and a half. I am a beginner. I was careful. I took three hours.

I had thought about photographing some of the steps, and posting shots of the interior of my car. Doing the installation, though, was challenge enough.

So far (I’ve only made a few short drives), I’m happy with what I’ve heard. The folk channel gave me some tasty Dylan covers yesterday evening, vintage Arlo Guthrie, and several of the new artists that I like but who I rarely hear on broadcast radio, especially here in southern Delaware. I switched over to the Jam-Band channel at one point and hit on a nice, live, acoustic version of El Paso, by the Dead.

This will work.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Elevator Etiquette

I noticed something about elevator etiquette the other day. I've been taking the elevator at my office more often recently while I recover from my blood clot.

In this case, I was waiting for the elevator with another gentleman. When the doors opened, it happened that I was the first one through. And, without even thinking about it, I took on the role of "driver" and the other fellow the role of "passenger."

"Where to?"

"Second floor, please"

I punch the button for two; then for three, where my office is found. After some bumps and whirring and disturbingly clanky sounds, the doors slide open to the second floor.

"There you go. Have a good day, now"

"Thank you. You have a good day, too."

He steps out and I punch the button to close the doors and continue up the building.

Now that I know what to watch for, I've noticed this behavior on other elevator rides. Those there first almost always take responsibility for transporting any newcomers. When elevator passengers violate this rule, either by not offering to "drive," or by leaning past the driver to push their own buttons, the atmosphere gets ever so slightly tense, though no one is entirely sure why.

Big Pappi?

Big Pappi?
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

This is a small construction site on Route 9, between Lewes and Georgetown. This message appeared sometime in the last day or so. Soon to be covered with roof tiles.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Memorial: Former Lewes Mayor George H.P. Smith

My town lost a leader and friend the other day. George H.P. Smith, former Mayor, former City Council member, former educator, church leader and a man to look up to, passed way on Saturday at the age of 74. Mayor Smith had been battling ill health for some years. I was not surprised, though I am saddened, to hear that he has gone.

Mayor Smith is remembered in articles in the News Journal and in the Cape Gazette.

George Smith, a Lewes native, served on City Council for many years after retiring from 35 years as a teacher in local schools. In 1994, when long-time Mayor Al Stango retired, Mr. Smith was elected Mayor. He was re-elected four times before he retired from city government a few years back. He has been ably replaced by Jim Ford, continuing a City tradition of Mayors groomed for the position by the predecessors.

Mayor Stango had brought George Smith into the Council in 1976 and I recall Mayor Stango pretty much told us all to vote for George Smith to replace him. Mayor Stango had that kind of pull; he was also right. Mayor Smith was a great leader.

I owe my tenure on the City Planning Commission to Mayor Smith. He was the leader who asked me to join up, and I’ve been glad to serve.

I also was fascinated to watch George Smith run meetings and lead the City. Mayor Smith was always prepared, always quietly in charge, and able to quell unruly Council members and citizens with a simple, teacherly look – usually that appraising glance across the top of the spectacles that says “I know what you are up to youngster. Just settle down now.”

We have lost a leader. Lewes will not be the same without Mayor Smith, but it is also true that we were blessed to have him as a part of this town for the last 74 years. We’re better off than we would have been, and we can carry Mayor Smith’s legacy into the future.

Thank you, Mayor Smith. It was a great pleasure to know you.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Closing out the Summer

This past Saturday, Karen, the girls and I went out to Cape Henlopen State Park for a few hours on the beach. We went out to the same spot we visited back at the start of the summer.

Here's a shot from back on June 12, as we hiked up the dune crossing to start a season at the beach.
A Sunny Sunday at the Beach

As we headed down this same crossing on Saturday, I realized that I needed to take the corresponding "end of the summer" photo.
The End of Another Summer

I like the way these came out.

It was a good beach season. Both Colleen and Christina are now quite competent surf-swimmers. Colleen had been swimming well in the ocean for several years. This summer, Christina found her feet and is very comfortable and secure in the surf.

Both girls have been honing their Boogie-Boarding skills and practicing their lying-out-in-the-sun. Colleen is an organizer of many of beach-Newcombe. Christina can always be depended-on to shepherd her younger cousins on the beach.

Karen and I knew when we started having kids that they'd have some advantages growing up here, by the ocean. I think we're seeing them start to grow into Beach-kids.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Seventeen Years!

The lovely Karen and I had dinner at The Cultured Pearl, in Rehoboth Beach, this evening. Today is our 17th anniversary and we wanted a relatively fancy/romantic place for our anniversary date.

Seventeen years. Many marriages don’t last as long as ours, and yet we also know several couples who are well into five, six and even seven decades together. It gives us a target.

I’ve probably said here before that each of our anniversaries is an example of how patient Karen is; only partially in jest. We love each other and we have crafted a pleasant life together with two beautiful, bright daughters, two cats, a comfortable home and a sense of purpose.

I am a happy man. I am a lucky man.

We also spent part of our evening at the Bandstand, on the Boardwalk in Rehoboth Beach. The collected clergy of Lewes and Rehoboth had joined with several businesses and others to put on a “Music and Interfaith Candlelight Service” to gather donations for Hurricane Katrina relief.

It was a touching service, with short homilies from the ministers, priests, deacons and a rabbi. Jack Abel, of Epworth United Methodist Church, spoke last. I think he was a prime organizer of the event. I’m not much of a church-goer, but I respect leadership and Jack is a leader both spiritually and intellectually.

I wish I had a transcription of Jack’s message tonight. He spoke about what has come to be called “the blame game.” He noted how easy it is for us, as humans, to criticize others, but added that the noblest form of criticism is self-criticism. He pointed out that, as we look at the faults of others that led to the disaster on the Gulf Coast, we should also look to ourselves and examine where we have failed.

He was able to highlight the failures of government at all levels, of preparation, of personal responsibility, of the media, and of the informal ties of civil society. But he reminded us that we ourselves also play important roles in all of these areas. We are the government; we elect it and support it and it should answer to us. We have to be ready to help ourselves and others, we have to provide a voice to speak when the media fails, and we have to keep society together by taking responsibility for it every day.

Most importantly, though, we have to always remind ourselves and others that all people are our brothers and our sisters; whether they are gay or straight, white or black, rich or poor, educated or not.

We fail as people, as communities, and as a nation when we allow ourselves to objectify any group of people, when we stereotype people, or when we view a group as a mass of “others.” That, he preached, is the true sin.

I enjoy listening to Jack Abel preach.      

Friday, September 9, 2005

In the Delaware Resort Area This Week-end?

Why not join us for some music, community, and a chance to help out the folks down south?

Thursday, September 8, 2005

Tree, at Sunrise

Tree in Sunrise


From the Seattle Times comes a story that leaves me, well, uncertain. The story (Truth-in-campaign law struck down) details a decision by an appeals court in the state of Washington.

After the first paragraph, I was aghast.
A state law prohibiting political candidates from lying about their opponents is an unconstitutional violation of free speech and chills political discourse, a state appeals court ruled yesterday.
The court ruled that the law does not include some provisions of the related libel/slander laws that require that a plaintiff to prove that they were damaged by the false claims, and added that "because the law allows candidates to "proclaim falsehoods about themselves", the state cannot argue that the law meets its interest "in promoting integrity and honesty in the elections process."

So, I'm left sort of agreeing with the court; it sounds like this was a flawed law, especially if it allowed candidates to lie about themselves. But, still, shouldn't we expect some standards?

Apparently not. The appeals court used an earlier state Supreme Court Ruling in which the justices wrote:
"In this field every person must be his own watchman for truth, because the forefathers did not trust any government to separate the true from the false for us."
I guess I agree with that, but I'd still like some way to punish candidates who lie in election campaigns.

Stoning them seems too extreme. I guess we need to step up our efforts at public ridicule.

Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Here's an Idea....

From Idea a Day, the notion of a mouse that helps manage your time at the PC, to avoid things like... blood clots:
Develop a mouse for computers that has a timer on it which the user can set for the maxium [sic] period of time they would like to be sitting at the computer. Once this time lapses the mouse will begin squeaking like a rodent. If the user persists, the squeaks will turn into mutterings of 'computer geek' to warn the user that they are in danger of becoming an anorak.
Sounds like a good idea, but, how do you become an anorak?