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?

Tuesday, September 6, 2005

First Day of School, 2005/2006

First Day of School
Colleen and Christina strike their traditional first-day-of-school poses as they get ready to start the 2005/2006 school year. Here's that same pose from last year.

Today was the fist day of school for the girls. Colleen in 8th grade and Christina in 4th grade. Most schools started last week, but the school districts closest to the resort areas on Delaware traditionally hold off until after Labor Day.

Happy Birthday, Mike's Musings!

This blog started one year ago today. I began, as one does, with a test post. I also tested uploading a picture (this was well before I discovered Flickr), linked to an odd story I found out on the web, and late that night discovered that I’d chosen a name too much in haste.

Over the past year I’ve had a great deal of fun with this thing. I have reviewed books and movies and blogged about music. I have tracked and memorialized old friends. I have touched on issues, both local and national. I have lamented lamentable events such as the tsunami and the recent hurricane.

I’ve explored my family history. And reported on family present. I have given weather reports. I have given travelogues.

I have become a braggart.

I have bragged about my car, bragged about my kids and the neat things they do, and bragged about my work. I have (painfully) documented a year’s worth of health and dental woes. I find that bragging about forbearance helps me bear up in the face of things that otherwise scare me.

Behind all of it is the patience and love of my wonderful wife, Karen. It is her considered opinion that I spend too much time on line. She’s right of course, and I will try to mend my ways.

As soon as I finish this post!

Monday, September 5, 2005

I Know it Seems Odd, But I'm Proud of This

My Syringes
Today, I took this collection of used syringes back to the pharmacy for proper disposal. These were the syringes I used to give myself injections of one of the drugs my doctor had me on in the first phase of my treatment for my Blood Clot. I'm done with that now and on a daily pill.

I really didn't think I would be able to give myself shots, but I could. I know it's not much, but I'm proud to have overcome my needle-phobia.

Which Worker's Rights?

Someone paid for a pro-union message to be flown over the Delaware beaches on Labor Day week-end. No one specified spell-checking, though.
But Which Worker's Rights?
The banner reads "ABC 7 DESPARATE TO DESTROY WORKER'S RIGHTS." (And no, I have not changed anything. Click-though to the larger size to check my reading of this.)

We assume this refers to Channel 7, which is the ABC affiliate in the Washington, DC, television market. Many of the people on the beaches of Delaware on a holiday week-end would be from the DC area.

The effect is spoiled, though, by a glaring misspelling and a misplaced apostrophe. Karen was the first to notice that they had mangled "desperate" into "desparate." It was Dad, I think, who caught the wandering apostrophe.

Unless it is the copy editor whose rights are threatened?

Is It Time to Redefine Labor Day?

There's an editorial in today's New York Times (A Day On [Reg. Req.]) that suggests we change Labor Day from a day off to a day on, a day on which we work as communities on projects that benefit our communities, those less fortunate, or he nation as a whole.
It may be time to recycle the idea of Labor Day. Instead of a day off, perhaps it should become a day on, a day devoted, across the nation, to helping out - a day, in fact, of national service. Many Americans already volunteer their time in good causes. But what was lost with the sacrifice we were never asked to make after 9/11 was a sense of collective effort, the awareness that this was something we were all in together. That feeling makes a difference, and it helps us to make a difference. Labor Day is now just a pause at summer's end. Perhaps we can turn it into something more important.
The editors suggest, rightly I think, that this would be a sizable departure from our current take on Labor Day which, for most, is a day to "take the day off and consider ourselves entitled to do so."

They also suggest, less strongly, that their idea may conflict with the original intent of the holiday to celebrate unions and the labor movement. I think that a day of community work, properly organized, would be entirely within the spirit of the original labor movement; working together, we are stronger. Working together, we are a community.

I think this is a great idea.

Sunday, September 4, 2005

Friday, September 2, 2005

I've Been Here

This is a photo that I found in one of the fascinating collections of pictures from the group of network administrators at who stayed in New Orleans to keep their company's web-hosting systems up and running. They have also been blogging their experience and have attracted thousands of readers and comments.

This shot struck me and I had to post it because the fire that's burning is just behind Mother's Restaurant, the first place Karen and I visited when we went to New Orleans six years or so ago. That's Mother's there, on the corner. It's a cramped little deli that served (and I hope will serve again) a sloppy mess of a sandwich called a Po'Boy. I admit that food is my weakness; this place impressed me.

Off to the right, just out of the picture, is a large, newer hotel (I can't remember which) in which Karen and I stayed for that week-end. Straight ahead, down the street, is the French Quarter.

I've been heartbroken by what I've seen and read out of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. We've donated to the Red Cross and our prayers have gone out. This photo brought me back to my few visits to New Orleans; with Karen and for a conference. My sadness deepens.

Thursday, September 1, 2005

It's Time to Donate

Please consider donating to the American Red Cross to help folks recover from Hurricane Katrina.

I've been astounded by what I'm seeing on television from the Gulf Coast. Our southern neighbors have been hit hard by what may be the worst natural disaster in our history.

What frustrates me is the sense that we're only seeing part of the story. I don't think the media is hiding anything. I think this story is so huge that they can't get their cameras, microphones, and talking heads really around it.

I wish I could do more to help. My friend Dorothy's husband is a linesman and he's already down south helping out. I see stories of young folks spending a few days helping with the relief effort. I guess my health, at this time, is such that I shouldn't even consider it, but I'm sorry that I can't head south to help out too.

But I can donate. And so can you.