Saturday, December 30, 2006

I've Gotta Get Me One of These!

Today I had the opportunity to take a geocaching trip to Cape Henlopen State Park with my brother Matt, his wife and daughters, and my parents. Matt and family were given a geocaching starter-kit by Matt's sister-in-law and her partner for Christmas.

This isn't quite the first time I've tried this. For the last several years we have organized a GPS-based or geocaching-style activity as part of the Delaware GIS Conference. I helped field-test a set of way-points tied to Cape Henlopen's World War II history interpretation.

I am surprised that I have not yet gotten myself a GPS unit. GPS has become a tool in geospatial data development, which is my field. On the other hand, I'm in data coordination and not in field data collection.

I'm thinking about getting a GPS now, though. I'm not sure that geocaching is my sport, though it is fun. What I'd like to do is use a GPS to collect point locations of the various neat things I find in my wandering around Delaware.

The Park was active today. The weather was warm and there was bright sunshine. Lots of folks were out enjoying the dunes and pine woods of the Park.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Quiet Please! I'm Eating

This will have to become a year-end tradition: The British Medical Journal late December edition, which seems to always feature research from out on the edge.

Last year was the first time I ran across this fun site. Last year at this time, the BMJ included studies looking at the effect of the shape of a glass on how much alcohol people pour, and at the effects of reading Harry Potter on accident-prone kids.

This year, the December 23 edition includes a paper entitled "Sword swallowing and its side effects."

A finding? "Major complications are more likely when the swallower is distracted..."

And: "Sword swallowers without healthcare coverage expose themselves to financial as well as physical risk."


By the way, did you know that there is a Sword Swallowers Association?


Thursday, December 28, 2006

Storming Times Square

Karen, the girls and I made a flying visit to New York City on the Wednesday after Christmas. Irene the Organizatrist put together a bus trip for students and families of the Dance Studio. We sent away for Broadway tickets, booked our bus seats, got up hideously early, and drove over to Millsboro to catch our motor coach.

By chance, one of Colleen's friends from Academic Challenge was in the city with her family, from Seaford, for a few days. Against all odds, we managed to meet them for lunch at the Times Square Hard Rock Cafe. Afterwards, they helped us take Standard Tourist Family Portrait #32.

Mahaffies on Times Square

After a short wander around Times Square, checking out the buildings and people, we headed to a matinée of Hairspray. That's a great show: bright, funny and rocking. We loved it.

Waiting in line outside the Niel Simon Theater, I enjoyed watching a young woman from Fox 5 in New York (Vanessa Alfano, maybe? Looking at this again, I think maybe it was Toni Senecal) doing takes for some sort of story. She would walk towards the camera, bouncy and animated, saying whatever the line was supposed to be for her report. Then she would stop, turn on her boot heel, and stalk back to her starting point, fuming and discontented. Next take? Bouncy and happy again.

Everyone in line enjoyed that.

After the show, with dusk falling, we headed up 52nd Street to Fifth Avenue, stopping to shop and take pictures. The girls had a strong urge to check out Saks Fifth Avenue. I thought it a good place to try for a new self-portrait.

Evening on Fifth Avenue, a day or two after Christmas, is crowded. Really, really crowded. We had to play old-fashioned, NFC-style, ground-attack football just to get through the crowds to meet the bus.

Then it was a creep through the streets of Manhattan, out the Lincoln Tunnel, down the turnpike and home. We pulled back into our garage just at Midnight.

It was a long day, but fun.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

It Is An Ill Blog Post That Yields No New Words

I was going to swear-off pointing to "I Hate Delaware" blog postings, but one of the several that have resulted from Christmas traffic back-ups on I-95 in northern Delaware offers a word I had not heard: Shunpiking.

I found that word in a set of links on avoiding the Delaware Turnpike at the end of a post entitled "Ban Delaware" on Backwards City.

Shunpiking refers, of course, to finding ways around toll routes. The drive-around for the Delaware Turnpike has been the subject of some on-line conversation lately.

The fuss, by the way, tends to arise from traffic back-up associated with the toll plazas on I-95. Complainers advocate doing away with those tolls, or with Delaware altogether.

We can't get rid of the tolls, though. Our state runs on cash from out-of-staters. It's worked well so far; why change now?

Sunday, December 24, 2006

A Very Merry Christmas to You All

Christmas Tree

In Which We Head Down a Familiar Road (But Get Lost Anyway)

I maintain Google alerts for a few topics, one of which is "Delaware." I'm curious to know what's being written about us out there along the back roads of the information superhighway system.

The results have focused mostly around two aspects of Delaware: the resort area and our roads. Neither subject area is surprising. Our beaches are our pride and our roads are sometimes our shame (as they are for many states).

This morning, Google alerted me to what may be a definitive "roads" site, a blog called On the Road that focuses entirely on the minutiae of American highways. It's the blog of a "roadphile" collective known as All About Roads, co founded by a former Delawarean named Alex Nitzman who had been collecting an posting photographs of Delaware Road signs.

Mr. Nitzman returned to northern Delaware recently and has written a comprehensive critique of recent road improvements and signage changes.

He has things to say about new road work and alignments, such as the new Route 141 Spur, which he argues is not a spur.
So much for the new “Delaware 141 Spur” being an actual spur. Instead the “Spur” is a relocated Delaware 141 mainline. Why is it so difficult to get the nomenclature right in the state of Delaware?
And he has many thoughts about the highway signs that have been replaced along upstate highways.
Not only are new signs installed everywhere, but the signs installed display exactly the same thing that the editions in which they replaced did! I believe DelDOT was quoted as stating that each sign costs between $25,000 to $50,000 each in 1997, and that cost most certainly has gone up since that time. So with that kind of expenditure, was it necessary to replace 80% of the guide signs along Interstate 95 north from Delaware 141 to U.S. 202 given the fiscal crisis?
I was interested to note that he also calls attention to the use of "Must Exit" on some signs in Delaware instead of the "Exit Only" that appears to be a highway signage standard; at least based on the the surprised looks I read about here and in other Delaware highway rants.

TINGB wrote about that wording in her report on driving home to DC through northern Delaware this fall:
Julie: Here's the exit.
Me: Why does it say "Must Exit" instead of "Exit Only?"
Julie: Because this is Delaware, and Delaware is stupid.
I did a little desultory Googling this morning on this "Must" vs "Only" thing. I was unable to find any definitive "standard" language that sets one as the right verbiage to use. I did find a marvelously incomprehensible discussion of research on highways and exits at the Federal Highway Administration's Highway Research Center. It may be in there, but please don't make me read any more of that. If there are any highway engineers in the audience, please leave a polite note correcting me.

This standards-confusion is not unusual, by the way. In government I find many things that are assumed to be "standard" by everyone, even though there's been no official "finding," because almost everyone is following the assumed standard. And, conversely, when there is a standard officially declared, most folks in government will ignore it.

Here are two items that need additional research:
  1. What in the name of all that is oily is the derivation of the phrase "exit gore area" that I kept finding in my highway standards spelunking? The definition is "The area located immediately between the left edge of a ramp pavement and the right edge of the mainline roadway pavement at a merge or diverge area." But why "gore?" It can't be why I think it might be, can it?
  2. Why do I always type "standrads" instead of "standards?" Is it Freudian?

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Don't You Mean....

A headline on the WGMD News RSS feed caught my eye yesterday. They ran a short news item about a fire in a local chicken house.

The headline -- Millsboro poultry house fire - chickens spared -- left me thinking, "Yes, but for how long?"

I think the lede could be re-written. They ran:
Fire crews saved 35,000 chickens from becoming dinner after fire broke out in a poultry house in Millsboro Wednesday afternoon.
It more accurately might read:
Fire crews saved 35,000 chickens so that they eventually will become dinner after fire broke out in a poultry house in Millsboro Wednesday afternoon.
I think we all know that those chicken houses aren't housing pet chickens.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Me? I'm Tickled. Tickled Pink.

I am happier than I probably should be about this, but I am quite pleased that Mike's Musings is recognized in the January issue of Delaware Today magazine in a brief list of "10 Delacentric blogs you've got to see."
Mahaffie waxes poetic on many subjects with a high degree of grace and humor. His subjects run the gamut from art to politics to family life, but we especially enjoy his musings on Sussex County culture.
That's very nice. I do try for grace and I value humor.

The list includes a few of my favorites: Down With Absolutes, Delaware Watch, Kilroy, Hube and the boys at Rhodey, and Pulp Culture.

It left out some of my favorites too: TommyWonk, Sneaking Suspicions, First State Politics, and Delawareliberal (where they were somewhat miffed).

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Curve of Your Laugh

Driving the girls to dance this evening, I was half listening to an interview on the World Café. A performer started a gentle, acoustic love song with a phrase that sounded, to my partial ear, like "the curve of your laugh."

That can't be the actual lyric, but I think it paints a great sound. It made me think of Karen's sometimes out of control laughter when something catches her just right.

Years ago, my youngest brother Bob and his fiancée, also a Karen, brought home a new family member: a black lab puppy named Sasha. She was a pedigreed dog, a new thing for Karen and me; we're used to mutt cats and mixed breed dogs.

We eagerly read through Sasha's papers, tracing her line back until we reached a forebear named "Quiver of the River."

That's minor silliness, but it started Karen's laugh, an open, joyous, eyes shut, head thrown back giggle-laugh that lasts until the air runs out, then pauses, almost in disbelief, re-gathers itself, and takes off again.

That laugh has lasted for years, as Sasha grew from a gangly young pup, through her frolicking prime, and into a white-muzzled canine crone. All I had to do was say "Quiver of the River" and the laugh would pick up where it left off.

Now, though Sasha is gone, the laugh remains. It can be triggered by the many wonderful and silly things our girls do, or by comic improv (God bless Ryan Stiles), or by a chance gift of goofiness from the cosmos.

And it still has that lovely curve.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Neologism #1 (Updated)

  1. (adj) : The state of being badly messed up or having gone seriously wrong as the result of two or more related things having gone wrong.

    "First the car wouldn't start, and then it started raining; my morning was, like, totally confunktified!"

  2. (adj) : Made funkier by the combination of two or more instances of funkiness.

    "When the bass joined the drums, things got confunkified."

Etymology: This word was first coined by my colleague Dorothy Morris' teen-aged daughter Rebecca. (Circa 2006) May be derived from "funkified" (to make funky).

I believe that this word may actually count as a protologism.

Update: I checked with Dorothy and found that I had gotten the word slightly wrong. I was thinking "confunkified", rather than "confunktified." The former may indeed suggest "becoming more funky," but I think confunktified, with its slight odor of disaster, offers a richer (almost olfactory) imagery.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Phone Call for Mr. Leghorn! Foghorn Leghorn, Call For You!

The universe will provide all the laughs we need if we are but open to it.

There's an article posted this afternoon on the News Journal web site about a dispute over a proposal for a cell tower disguised as a tree in Western Sussex County.

There are opponents. There are supporters. Chief among the supporters is Byard Layton, on whose chicken farm the tower would be placed.

According to Mr. Layton, the area needs more cell coverage: “If you go in the chicken house, you don’t get any reception.”

Friday, December 15, 2006

Could This Be Blogging's "Shark"?

There's a story on Federal Computer Week today about a new utility to allow Congress-people to create blogs. The story, House makes blogging easy, is about a new centralized "House Web Log Utility" that let's Congressional offices create and manage blogs on their official Web sites.

I was tempted to make jokes. In fact, I gave-in and used one in the title of this post. But the more I think about it, the more I like the idea.

I like the notion of making it easier for elected officials and, by extension, government agencies, to adopt the blogging ethos of constantly adding information to the web.

Government web sites get stale. Agencies are parts of hierarchies. They have chains of command. Everything has to go through that chain. Web sites are usually maintained by IT staff, or by PR folks, rather than by the people who make decisions and work with constituents.

It would be great to enable those people to add regular and frequent content and updates to web pages. Maybe this will work?

I'm staying positive.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Grant Me Patience? Too Late.

I rarely do this, but let me take a moment to point, aghast, to a letter to the editor in today's Coast Press newspaper.

One Maria Johnson, of Georgetown, has written a letter asking "Is AIDS education a sly 'agenda'?"
Is it true that there's a poster contest in the middle and high school sponsored by CAMP Rehoboth to recognize HIV and AIDS? Do other organizations like heart or cancer foundations, pregnancy care centers, Alcoholics Anonymous, or domestic abuse groups go into schools and tie up young people's emotions, energy and brains with their stuff?
Okay. First let's check on that "is it true?" question. A Google search finds the CAMP Rehoboth web site, where a small amount of perusing shows us that, yes, CAMP Rehoboth did sponsor a Student Art Contest this fall as part of the local World AIDS Day activities.

The contest was one of two activities added by local sponsors for this year. The other was a Wall of Healing, Remembrance and Prayer at Epworth United Methodist Church.

The Art Contest wasn't intended to "recognize" HIV and AIDS, though. It was designed to call attention to the risks of HIV infection that young people face. Here's what the organizers had to say:
CAMP Rehoboth chose to sponsor the Student Art Contest out of deep concern with the latest statistics released by the Centers for Disease Control. The data establishes that 50% of all new HIV infections occur in young people under the age of 25. In addition, national case surveillance data for people ages 13 to 24 revealed that the burden of HIV/AIDS falls most heavily and disproportionately on black and Hispanic youth. CAMP Rehoboth believes that accurate, age-appropriate information is our best hope for reducing these trends for our young citizens. By working with Sussex County school districts, CAMP Rehoboth hopes to ameliorate this situation.
And yes, Ms. Johnson, quite a few other issues-based organizations sponsor student arts contests, essay contests, and the like. My daughters have both been winners in fire-prevention essay and art contests, and young people we know have won citizenship essay contests and that sort of thing. It can be rather a positive experience.

Let's see what else Ms. Johnson had to say.
There's a whole page of support groups in the Delaware State News. If there's a private matter that a student needs help with, maybe a guidance counselor could direct the young person to a support group or a helpful foundation.
I'm not sure why you would limit yourself to the State News, but directing kids to guidance counselors makes excellent sense. I quite agree.
I am not a gay-hater, but this example demonstrates that the gay agenda is being slyly and forcibly taught to children in schools. I think people should be aware of this, and I think CAMP Rehoboth should be kept out of our schools.
You are not a gay-hater? Let's leave that to one side for the moment. I can say, though, that something can't be both "slyly" and "forcibly" done. I think those two adverbs are mutually exclusive.

If the "gay agenda" is to teach young people about the risks of unprotected sex and the dangers of making poor choices, then I say bring on the homosexuals as soon as possible.

And by the way, let us not suppose that HIV and AIDS are only a gay issue. We know well that AIDS affects gay and straight folks alike.

But this is silly. CAMP Rehoboth is not in the schools trying to turn young Sussex Countians into gays and lesbians. If you spend your time worried about this sort of thing, please get a clue. Or a life.

As it happens, I have gotten to know a few of the founders of CAMP Rehoboth over the years. The Executive Director, Steve Elkins, is in the Epworth Church bell choir with Karen. His partner Murray Archibald, CAMP Rehoboth President, is a lay leader in the church.

Both gents are much more religious than I am, but I am sometimes at the church and they have been most welcoming and friendly, despite my less-Christian status.

By the way, if you were wondering, CAMP Rehoboth stands for "Creating a More Positive Rehoboth."

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Darn that Pete Schwartzkopf, He's Such a ...

Radio Station WGMD now has a Team Blog, Talk of Delmarva, which appears to replace their WGMD Forums. A team blog means you get a variety of voices.

I was interested to see two different posts in the last few days that take very different angles on the 14th District Representative Pete Schwartzkopf.

Yesterday, Dan Gaffney wrote a post, Stuck in Sussex by Heroin Needles, which accuses Rep. Schwartzkopf of lying about the legislation authorizing a needle-exchange program for Wilmington.

Whether you approve of a needle-exchange program or not, the quotes that Dan pulls from a recent News Journal article on the program seem awfully selective to me. And even so, they don't suggest to me that Rep. Schwartzkopf was lying.

But I'm not really interested in arguing the point.

What does interest me is today's post, What Would You Give Your Neighbor For Christmas?, This one, by a Maria Evans (she is said to be "fiesty"), is about Pete's donating one of his kidneys to a neighbor.

So who is this "Pete Schwartzkopf?" A lying political manipulator who wants everyone hooked on heroin? Or an incredibly generous man, willing to sacrifice for his friends?

I've met him. I think I know which.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Virtual Fun?

Virtual Fun?I saw this sign at the Disney Downtown Marketplace in Orlando. We had a chance to have a walk around the place after a full day of meeting last week.

I've seen "virtual fun" advertised elsewhere and I am always puzzled by the idea.

If the fun is virtual, have you actually had any?

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Family Affair

Mahaffies 2
This weekend, Karen, Colleen, Christina and I performed together in the Sussex Ballet's production of The Nutcracker.

Well. Colleen and Christina performed. Karen and I helped fill-out the party scene that starts the ballet.

Karen played the part of a lovely lady party-guest. In Green.

I played the part of the old guy who appears to be the man of the house where the party takes place, but who doesn't really dance all that well.

It was cool to be on-stage again. I used to do lots of community theater back before we had children. I enjoy it.

This was particularly fun. I was playing a very small part, with no pressure.

And I had the opportunity, at least for the first scene, to watch my girls dance from on-stage next to them.

The Time Came

You may notice things looking just slightly different on Mike's Musings this week-end. My number came up in the "switch to Blogger Beta" lottery and I made the change.

There are differences between the old and new Bloggers. I am slowly tweaking my way through the various settings and layout options.

This week-end, though, I am also deeply involved in a production of The Nutcracker, featuring my lovely daughters (with cameo appearances by me and my better half). So, the tweaking will be slow.

Thoughts? Comments? Critiques? Requests?

Saturday, December 9, 2006

Word. Up.

TechCrunch pointed me to a new site today that is just my sort of place: Wordie.

Wordie describes itself as "Like Flickr, but without the photos." It provides a simple way to list words. Just words.

And I like words.

Of course I created an account. My first two words were entered in honor of my brother John, who, when I became a news-person at a local radio station many years ago, offered me this simple advice: "Eschew obfuscation."

The Wordie : Errata blog includes a succinct site history, the begins:
11/21: Idea pops into my head, gets dismissed as a joke.
That's my kind of site.

Friday, December 8, 2006

It Occurs to Me Lately That...

...if is there is a culture war, I must be a part of the Great Army of the Progressives.

And, if I am a soldier in that Army, I must be on detached service in a small, special unit.

And that small unit clearly focuses on the isolated skirmishes known as "irony."

Therefore, I'm a proud member of the Ironic Detachment.

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Wait. What Are We Talking About Here?

I spent the last few days at a strategic retreat of the board of the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC). It was an intense few days.

This morning we were talking about whether or not we had reached "consensus" on something. Uncertain about that, Cy Smith asked me to look up the word.

A Google search (definition: consensus) produced a variety of definitions, from "agreement in the judgment or opinion reached by a group as a whole" to "general agreement : UNANIMITY" (suggesting unanimous agreement).

Then we found a site with instructions on reaching consensus. It started with an exercise in which you have "each person write his or her own definition of consensus."

Uh oh.

To cap it off, we found a page on "Consensus for Small Groups." Here's the start of Section 2:
Definitions of consensus
There is no one widely accepted definition.....
So, in other words, there is no consensus on "consensus?"

Monday, December 4, 2006

And Did He Ever Return?

I see our old family friend Dick Wertheimer perched on a couch in my parents living room. There's a glass of scotch on the table in front of him and a 5-string banjo perched at a jaunty angle in his lap.

And he is singing:
Did he ever return?
No he never returned.
And his fate is still unlearned (poor old Charlie)
He may ride forever 'neath the streets of Boston
He's the man who never returned.
Charlie on the MTA was (and is) a standard at family and friends get-together dinners. When we were small, we all listened to Mr. Wertheimer sing and play the 1950's folks standards of his youth. As we grew, we joined in on the chorus. In recent years, we've hauled out guitars and hand-drums and played along.

The song dates from the middle of the last century. It was written for a political campaign in Boston to criticize an opponent for a subway fare increase.

Now, thanks to Governing's 13th Floor blog, I find that the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority -- the MTBA -- has, in a rare instance of a municipal sense of humor, named its fare-card after the fictional Charlie.

The CharlieCard will prompt a smile of recognition from Bostonians who know their history and from fans of mid-fifties folk-music.

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Would That all Village Weblogs Were as Fulfilling

With thanks to Miriam, I point with a chuckle to Little Frigging in the Wold, the official Little Frigging in the Wold village weblog.

This is not a site for the faint hunor, but does offer some delightfully silly writing, such as this, from a post entitled All-Nude Chicken-Intriguing:
Nasturtium Cheeseincident (1945 - 2006) began as a Chicken-Intriguer of the old school. She first learnt the ancient and noble art of Chicken-Intriguing at the knee, ankle and - on one memorable occasion - elbow, of the semi-legendary Great High Trilobite of Chicken-Intriguing - Gerrymander Ankletrouser, an adept at the once lost art of Turkey-Perplexing, as well as being the greatest Chicken-Intriguer this world has ever known.
Sometimes, I find that a stiff dose of absolute absurdity is just the thing.

Saturday, December 2, 2006

Literalists' Litany of Complaint: #367 -- At the End of the Day

I keep hearing various spokesfolks use the phrase "at the end of the day" to wrap-up a thought. As in, "of course the Iraqi army needs more training and support and yes, we shouldn't have disbanded that army, but at the end of the day the Iraqis will have to govern themselves."

At the end of the day? Why not at the start of the day? And what about over lunch?