Friday, April 29, 2005

Don't Panic!

Originally uploaded by Divisible Eye.

I dragged Karen out to see the new movie version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy tonight. It was not really her cup of tea, but Karen is an ever-patient partner and indulged me in this.

The original Guide -- radio show, book and TV show -- and its author, the late Douglas Adams, helped form my world-view; I had to see this movie.

I had to see it, but I was worried that it might not be up to the challenge. I have to say, though, that I enjoyed it. It works!

My only regret is that, if this is a hit, everyone will get the "so long and thanks for all the fish!" joke.

By the way. The re-make miners in Hollywood seem to have it a rich vein of my youth. We saw previews for a remake of The Pink Panther and Herbie Fully Loaded (remember the Love Bug?). Out in the lobby was a poster for a coming movie version of Bewitched.

It's a good thing I was paying attention back in the 60's and 70's. This feels like that one time I'd actually done the reading before class!

Thursday, April 28, 2005

In Which I Offer a Prayer for the President of the United States

Please, God. Teach him how to say the word "Nuclear."

Before I have to tear my ears out by the roots.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

We Keep It Tight, Apparently

The Town of Smyrna municipal election went down to the wire this week and the race for Mayor appears to have been decided by two votes. As the News Journal reported it this morning (Absentee vote gives Smyrna mayor win) it was a handful of absentee ballots, some handed out by the Mayor himself, that turned the tide.

Yes, it's another close race demonstrating just how divided we can be.

Smyrna has been growing, and growing fast. There was strong sentiment in the town that it has been growing too fast. In a state where incumbents used to be bullet-proof, it's interesting to see yet another very close call for an incumbent.

The question in this case, as in the earlier Sussex County Council race, is will the winners take the evidence of a divided and uncertain electorate to heart?

It's a question that applies at the national level as well. Of course, if you read this blog, you probably know my feelings on that score.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Why I Like Mark Helprin

Mark Helprin is one of those writers whose work I'll always make time to read. He's written some of my favorites and counts, for me, as a writer I tout to other serious readers. Other writers in that category in my book include Patrick O'Brian and PG Wodehouse.

Two of Helprin's novels -- Winter's Tale and A Soldier of the Great War -- I've read several times each. Grand, sweeping, magic, epic novels. The kind of novels in which one can climb and live for a time.

I've just finished a collection of Helprin's short stories, The Pacific and Other Stories. While I prefer the long-form novel, these were a delight. Here's an example of the kind of written gems I find in here. He's writing about what is special about the City of Venice, in a story called Il Colore Ritrovato.
It isn't because of the architecture or the art, the things that people go to look at and strain to preserve. The quality of Venice that accomplishes what religion so often cannot is that Venice has made peace with the waters. It is not merely pleasant that the sea flows through, grasping the city like the tendrils of a vine, and, depending upon the light, making alleys and avenues of emerald or sapphire, it is a brave acceptance of dissolution and an unflinching settlement with death. Though in Venice you may sit in courtyards of stone, and your heels may click up marble stairs, you cannot move without riding upon or crossing the waters that someday will carry you in dissolution to the sea. To have made peace with their presence is the great achievement of Venice, and not what tourists come to see.
That paragraph struck me and has stuck with me. I enjoy the depth of thought and the craft of writing like that.

Filed in:

Hilarious layout in a Texas newspaper

Originally uploaded by mathowie.

I know this is likely being posted everywhere. But I got a kick out of this, so I'm posting a link to it too!.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Second Golf Game of 2005

Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

Christina and I played nine holes on the executive-length Heritage Golf Course, between Lewes and Rehoboth Beach, today.

At nine years old, Christina is starting to learn the basics of the game. So nine holes was a nice practice outing for me and a lesson for Christina.

The day started with sunshine, but got more and more cloudy, windy, and cold as we played. The weather wasn't as nasty as it was for my first game of the year.

My game wasn't great, but I had a few good shots. Christina hit a fine shot just after this photo; a nine-iron that had that nice arc and decent distance. On the ninth tee, she hit another great shot that went at least 100 yards.

Now she knows about that one shot per game that keeps you coming back.

Cat Detente

Mocha and Shoe don't usually get along this well.

Mocha is the new cat in town. She gets on Shoe's nerves, chases him around, ambushes him and steals his food.

So it was a nice change to come home from playing half a round of golf today and find them sharing the big chair. More or less.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Hey! A Gravity-Monument Photo!

I was just doing a quasi-random search on Flickr. I searched on "Colby" and "Maine" to see what images there might be of my alma mater. I found a nice shot from gavinOB of the Babson Gravity Monument on the Colby College campus that was the subject of one of my earliest blog posts.

I too had to have a photo of this; but took mine back in 1989 when Karen and I visited the campus for my fifth reunion and I had only a film camera. That photo is in an album somewhere, waiting for me to get my old stuff scanned.

When I first met up with this bit of stone and the idea carved on it, as a confused 18-year old, I took great comfort from it as evidence that I wasn't the only deeply weird person in the world.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

A Fine Feline Evening

This is Buttons. She is one of a herd of cats that live in and around the stables at the Milton Equestrian Center.

At least once a week I spend an evening here while Colleen takes a riding lesson. Once a week for the last several years. I've gotten to know the cats fairly well.

Buttons is the most shy of the cats. She's rarely out in public like this. This evening, I guess, she just couldn't pass up the warm, clear evening light.

I couldn't pass up the chance to get a shot of her, but she had to be stalked.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Things That Bother Me

I noticed this sign yesterday. It marks the men's room on the main hall of ballrooms at the Princess Royale Hotel, in Ocean City, Maryland.

It's one of those things that bothers me just on the periphery of awareness; something is wrong but it takes a closer look to see exactly what.

Is this meant to be the possessive form of "Men?" Or the plural of "Man." The former of course is "Men's." The latter would be "Men."

But, "Mens?"

I really just meant to take a picture of the sign for use in this post. When I saved it to my laptop and looked at it full size, I realized that I have created "Self portrait in bathroom door."

That, also, is vaguely troubling.

Saturday, April 16, 2005


This is a very nice car, but is it really so nice that this driver had to take up two spaces in a crowded hotel parking garage?

We took the girls down into Ocean City today. They are competing in a dance contest today and tomorrow. The contest is at the Princess Royale, which has a smallish parking garage. It was hard enough to find a space without this ... person ... claiming two spaces in an effort to keep his or her precious car from getting a ding.

I have to admit, when I see a car parked this way, I face the following temptations:
  • Somehow wedge my car tightly in right next to the offending car so that they either can't get in the thing or can't get it out of the space.
  • Bump into it anyway. (Not really. Somehow this one, and scratching the paint with my key, are ones I won't even consider)
  • Leave a nasty note.
  • Take a picture with my digital camera and put it on-line.
The better move, I guess would be to inform the hotel manager. That, I think, is what the guy who was walking by when I took this picture seems to have done. When we came out later the car was parked properly.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Ah! So This is What They Were Going For

I had a chance to have another look at the Harvard House, in Lewes, the other day. The paint team was out adding the final coat to the paint job I questioned last week.

As it turns out, they were going for a dark purple, with a light purple trim and blue accents.

This might work well. It is the case that Victorian Architecture calls for rich colors and complex palettes. It won't be the only purple house in town, and it may be one of the nicer ones.

I'll have to watch for, and photograph, the finished product.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

This? This is Just Cool

Originally uploaded by chelajanenoto.

Wandering along in Flickr, and we find...

This is John Wesley Powell

Powell was the second Director of the US Geological Survey; he served in that post from 1881 to 1894. Before that he was an explorer and an emissary to the Native American nations.

This image is from an on-line collection of photos from the vaults of the USGS. There are some fascinating shots in there.

I've felt a connection to Powell since the Fall of 2003 when a team I was working with won the John Wesley Powell Award (PDF) from USGS, in recognition of our work on the Delaware DataMIL which was, briefly, on the cutting edge of on-line geospatial data.

We're not quite at the cutting edge anymore; things move fast in this on-line world. We'll get back out there. Eventually.

Where Have I Been?

I have been right here, in front of my laptop, cursing Comcast for lapses in our broadband signal every evening this week.

I did manage to get an e-mail off to them last night. They replied this morning:
We are currently experiencing an outage in your area. We apologize for this inconvenience and are working toward a resolution as quickly as we can.
Faster, people. Faster!

Monday, April 11, 2005

On Second Street

This is the main street of Lewes, Delaware. It's about three blocks of shops, restaurants, small bars and my friend Amy's bakery and coffee roastery.

That's the Rose and Crown across the way, there in the Walsh Building. It's modeled after a traditional English pub. It reflects our ties with Lewes, in England (our sister city, I think).

Second Street represents that small-town, mixed-use ideal that planners are trying to regain. Those are apartments and offices upstairs from the restaurants and retail. It is possible to live on this street and work here, eat here, and get a cafe mocha too.

I had the pleasure of living in a small apartment above a store down at the other end of the street in the year before Karen and I got married. When we maried, we moved into an apartment above a store the next street over.

I do sometimes regret that my State job, in Dover, keeps me from spending my days here. When Cafe Azafran installs their WiFi system, I may try to establish a Lewes branch of the State Planning Office.

Just a thought.....

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Remembering A Neighbor

This is Mary Vessels Memorial Park, a pocket park nestled between Second Street and Front Street in Downtown Lewes.

This is where you wander to sit and eat your King's Ice Cream when the porch in front of King's is too full on soft summer evenings.

Mary Vessels lived in the old Hall House across from our first house, on East Third Street in Downtown Lewes. We knew her for several years in the early 90's. She was a pleasant woman and a good neighbor. She passed away unexpectedly, and too young, at about the time that we had our first child and started looking for a larger home and ended up settling further towards the edge of town.

The Park was named in her honor a short time later.

A great pleasure of life in a town like Lewes is that every spot has history, people, and memories tied to it. As the people of the town, we're the links between those places and their stories. It's our responsibility to keep those memories alive; to keep the town connected to its past.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Feeling Blue? Why Not Go Purple?

They are repainting the Harvard House, in Downtown Lewes.

This is an historic (more or less) Victorian, next to the Buttery Restaurant on Savannah Road. Several years back it stopped being a residence and became an office. It was painted that nice blue you see up there where "Harvard House" is written.

It looks like it is changing hands and is being repainted purple; the purple you see up at the top.

My own jury is out on that color.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Reaching Out to Those Who Need It?

Originally uploaded by mmahaffie.

Karen was the first one to spot this. The sign in front of the Baptist Church at the entrance to our part of town now seems to announce that the church has started offering services at 2 in the morning.

My first thought was, "what a great outreach to those who stay out late drinking in the bars of Lewes on Saturday nights. Just think how many conversions and life-changes this new set of services may bring, as lost souls stumble in in the wee small hours?"

But Karen, ever thorough, read on and claims that the next line of text suggests that rather than offering 2:00 a.m. services, the church is telling us that it now offers two AM services -- 8:30 and 11:00.

I don't know; 2:00 a.m. services may be just the thing we need.

Tuesday, April 5, 2005

Can I Get a Wake-Up Call?

Today we got a letter from the Lewes Board of Public Works, the elected body responsible for lights, water and sewer services here in the first town in the first state.
Connectiv Power Delivery, with the permission of The City of Lewes, has scheduled a power outage of the Lewes tap for April 18, 2005, from Midnight to approximately 5:00 a.m. (rain date April 19th) to relocate Connectiv's electric transmission pole on Savannah Road near Quaker Road.
There's more, of course (Police are ready, Fire Department and 911 Centers notified, etc.) but that sentence is the meat of the thing: Midnight to just before dawn, on a Monday morning, no power.

Okay. I understand that every once in a while we have to do without for a bit to make it possible to maintain the infrastructure we depend on. But midnight to dawn on a Monday morning? Why not Friday night to Saturday morning? Why not Saturday afternoon?

A great many of the folks in this town are retired, but Karen and I have to get up on Monday mornings. In fact, she usually gets up first, at around 5:00 a.m. Then I get up. Then she gets the girls up. Then we eat breakfast and head out for work and school.

It all starts with an alarm clock.

A modern, electric alarm clock.

I guess what we'll do is leave all the lights, and radios, turned on when we go to bed. Or, more likely, we'll get up at about 11:45 Sunday night and turn them on. Then we'll lie awake hoping they get the power back on by 5:00, which is when we need to get started.

Of course Murphy's Law suggests two possible outcomes.
  1. The Connectiv crew is quick and, just as we hit deep-REM sleep at about 3:00 a.m., the lights and radios come blasting on, terrifying the cats who spring from the bed using our arms or faces as a handy, soft launching pads into which to sink their claws, and leaving us groping for the lights that blind us; or
  2. The Connectiv crew hits unforeseen snags and the power is still out at 8:00 a.m. when we slowly emerge from our deep, refreshing slumbers only to realize that we're hopelessly late, we'll never make to work on time, we'll lose our jobs, and our girls will never, ever get to Harvard.
Or maybe it'll be fine. But, still... Midnight to dawn on a Monday morning?

Monday, April 4, 2005

Post-Vacation Thoughts #3

When we landed in the Bahamas, we were at a very tourist-y port, Nassau; a place that derives most of its economic activity from tourism. When we left the ship we were almost immediately accosted from all sides by friendly people who simply wanted to sell us something; some service (hair braiding), some craft, some transportation, or some essential commodity (like bottled water).

We come from a tourist area. We live in the eastern part of Sussex County, which also derives much of its economic vitality from its tourist season. So why don’t we, here in coastal Sussex, take such direct entrepreneurial action? Why not wait at the end of Rehoboth Avenue for the buses from the Park-n-Ride with handicrafts, bottled water, beach chairs and Pedi cabs?

I’m tempted to say “licensing,” but many of the entrepreneurs we saw in Nassauappeared to be working within an organized, perhaps government licensed, structure. Some were outside that structure and had a more fly-by-night attitude, but most were working within either a traditional or a government-mandated structure that seemed to function fairly well.

Maybe it is the case that such direct, clear appeals to basic needs are outside of what are the accepted norms of politeness in this country. We perceive ourselves to be more restrained and so we invent more restraints on trade, on public displays of affection, and on our approach to selling stuff.

We’re no less interested in selling stuff; we just have some cultural need to always look like we’re not selling stuff.

Sunday, April 3, 2005

A Spray of Some Sort of Flower

A Spray of Some Sort of Flower
A Spray of Some Sort of Flower,
originally uploaded by mmahaffie.
This is another image from our trip. I have created an account on Flickr to post some photos when I feel I have good ones. I'll let that be where I publish the "arty" shots.

Of course I will continue to post shots here for story-telling purposes and will cross-post from time to time.

In this case, who can tell me what this flower is? I haven't a clue.

Some Images from a Quick Spring Vacation

Karen, the girls and I have just returned from a 4-day cruise to the Bahamas and Key West, out of Miami. A fine time was had by all. We were broiled by the sun and are still somewhat fried by travel. Here are a few scenes from our week in the tropics.

We sailed on the Majesty of the Seas, part of the Royal Caribbean fleet. We planned our trip late and ended up on about the lowest level of the ship, but were comfortable and glad to be there.

Our favorite part of the ship was the pool deck (Deck 11 out of 13).

Our first stop was at Nassau, in the Bahamas. That's not our ship in the background; it's one of four that were in the harbor that day.

We took a tour of a nearby reef in a semi-submersible version of a glass-bottomed boat. It wasn't great for taking photos, but we got a neat look at some sea life and enjoyed a cruise through Nassau Harbor.

We had a short time to explore the town. This included being mass-accosted by folks offering everything from taxi rides to hand-crafts to hair-braiding. We opted for the latter for the girls and spent an hour in a pleasant pavilion by the port entrance, watching the other tourists pass by while the girls were braided.

Colleen and Karen shared a quiet moment while Christina was being braided.

We also took a bus tour of Nassau, and stopped at the remains of a colonial fort at the top of the Island.

It gave a great view of the flotilla of cruise ships in the harbor.

Our next stop, after an overnight cruise, was at "Coco Cay" one of the smaller islands of the Bahamas that has been taken over as a private retreat by Royal Caribbean for its guests. It was originally Little Stirrup Cay and features pleasant beaches and broad, shallow reef areas.

That's our ship in the background. The foreground is entirely taken up by our fellow sun-worshipers.

We took a kayak tour of the waters around the Cay and saw stingrays, conches, sea cucumbers, starfish, and a great many finned fish. We also were visited by a single nurse shark which cruised directly beneath Karen and Colleen's kayak while Christina urged me -- as captain of the kayak we shared -- to keep a certain distance from the beast.

Colleen and Christina were determined to get in some Caribbean swimming, and they did.

We had a nice view of our ship on the shuttle-boat trip back from the Cay to where the Majesty of the Seas was anchored.

On board, we were delighted to settle-in late each evening for a form of dining we don't usually enjoy. We were in the second seating of dinner, and so ate at 8:30 each evening; past Christina's usual bedtime and very nearly past our fall-asleep-on-the-couch time as well. Still, we had great companions and wonderful service and we ate like kings, queens and princesses each night.

Our dinner-time crowd (from left): Davide and Veronica (newlyweds from Mexico), Christina, Colleen, Mr. Wayan (of Bali), Adrian Golinschi (of Romania), Karen, yours truly, and Tam and Angel (newlyweds from Florida).

Our next port of call was Key West, where our ship loomed over another tourist-filled port area.

Our planned outing here was canceled when the sailing catamaran that was to take us out for an afternoon of snorkeling broke down at the dock, but we took a walk through town to a nearby State Park for a swim.

There are some lovely places in this little town.

And that was the end of our Cruise.

Saturday, April 2, 2005

Post-Vacation Thoughts #2

The TSA (Transportation Security Administration) has earned some respect -- at least from me -- in the past week.

As much as I hate the fact that we've come to the state where we need a TSA, I have to say they did a good job in the airports in which I encountered them on our vacation.

We flew out of BWI on Easter Sunday. It was crowded and there was a long line to get to the security check. But the staff there was courteous and helpful and made it fairly painless to get my two kids through the checkpoint without apparently sacrificing the actual security check.

At Miami Airport at the end of the week I was pleased to see a TSA staffer go out of his way to help us out. We were stuck in front of an airport map, trying to figure out how best to kill several hours before our flight, when a TSA guy came over with advice on what eateries were in the airport and where we could comfortably settle for a while.

We were nowhere near a TSA checkpoint and he was on his way somewhere else. His stopping by was entirely out of friendliness and a desire to help out some regular folks.

You can't buy the good will that is generated by that sort of simple courtesy.

Post-Vacation Thoughts #1

I made a conscious effort over the last week to disconnect entirely; from work, from thinking about work, and from the web. I believe we have to cut ourselves off from time to time to renew and refresh.

I think it was a successful effort. We did occasionally tune in to Headline News on board our cruise to follow major developments in the Terri Schiavo story and in the Pope's health. But I gave no mental energy to work or to the web and I feel better for it.

Of course, as soon as I arose this morning, I was back on-line... but I can claim that I took a week off.

And.... We're Back

We pulled back into our driveway at 1:45 a.m. today. We were off of our cruise ship by 8:30 yesterday morning and started on a long, long day's journey back home.

Several hours killed in the Miami Airport playing Hearts in the food court (props to Colleen for a good idea and carrying the cards, and to her cousin Isabel for getting her hooked on the game). A bumpy and crowded flight to Charlotte and dinner in the airport. A crowded and very bumpy flight to Baltimore. And a long rainy drive back to Lewes.

Word to the wise? Never travel back from Florida on the last day of spring break. If that young woman in the row behind me had cracked/snapped her gum one more time.....

Oh well. We had a great time. There will be photos. First there's unpacking, laundry, mail, cat boxes, and stuff like that to deal with.