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.