Sunday, April 29, 2007

Watching the Words They Use

I did not watch the debate of Democratic candidates for president the other night. It really does seem too early. But I am interested and was pleased to discover a tag-cloud analysis of what the candidates had to say over at

A tag-cloud is a weighted list of words presented graphically to show frequency of use. I use two on this site (down in the left-hand sidebar), one of tags I've used to categorize my blog posts and one of the tags I use on

In this case, the tag-cloud is made up of the top 50 words used by each of the candidates (less the common connector words like "and," or, and "the"). They are arranged alphabetically and presented in different sized fonts, depending on the frequency of the use of that word.

I note that our own Joe Biden's tag-cloud shows that many words got similar attention from the Senator. Other candidates showed a marked preference for specific words. Senator Clinton, for example, was clearly focused on the word "president."

Commenters on the site have pointed out, correctly, that our focus should be more on the ideas that the candidates espouse than on the words they use to present them. But I am interested in words and language and I find this sort of analysis interesting.

A commenter also pointed, helpfully, to a tag-cloud of Attorney General Gonzales' recent Senate testimony.

And I was interested to find a link from to a tool for making this sort of word-visualization: TagCrowd. Perhaps I should use this analyze my own writing from time to time.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Light Green." Makes a Certain Amount of Sense

John Mayer has an interesting thought on global warming:
It seems to me that when it comes to this issue, we've been given only two sides to pick from: side one says the future of global warming does not present a doomsday scenario, almost chuckling the matter aside. Side two says it is a dire issue (which it is), and then goes on to inundate side one with so many separate nakedly-scientific points that they make naivete' seem cozy by comparison.
Mayer presents another approach. He calls it "Light Green."

Rather than try to change the world all at once -- or waiting for the world to change -- he argues that we should just take small steps, as individuals.
Pick one thing to change this year, and keep the rest of your life the same. After all, the only message the charts with escalating red lines are meant to send is that the red lines have to stop escalating, not that they have to drop to the bottom of the graph by next Tuesday.
Good point. Why not take small, positive, realistic steps?

I am reminded of Reinhold Niebuhr's Serenity Prayer.
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
Mayer promises to report back on his efforts in this regard over the next few months. I plan to keep an eye on his blog to see where this leads.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Some Things Never Change

Please forgive me for returning one more time to the Lewis Wickes Hine collection of early 20th-century photography, as posted on the photo-blog Shorpy.

I found this picture of girl factory workers in Cleveland in 1910 utterly charming; these could very easily be fourth-grade students at any school in Delaware today.

Little girls will always be little girls.

Please, Tell Me That This is a Joke

A letter to the editor published earlier this month in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette takes a closer look at the concept of global "warming" (though I prefer "climate change"). After an introduction noting that March of this year was a particularly warm one, writer Connie Meskimen continues:
This should come as no surprise to any reasonable person. As you know, Daylight Saving Time started almost a month early this year. You would think that members of Congress would have considered the warming effect that an extra hour of daylight would have on our climate. Or did they? Perhaps this is another plot by a liberal Congress to make us believe that global warming is a real threat.
Oh dear. He's onto us.

There's a lively debate on-line about whether this is a genuine letter or a deeply closeted, Onion-like parody. A commenter from Arkansas taking part in the discussion on this letter on MetaFilter, where I picked it up, votes with the "this is satire" crowd, noting:
...this particular newspaper swings pretty far to the right and regularly publishes letters that demonstrate weapons grade ignorance. Something like this letter does not look out of place to the regular readers of the Demizette.
I'm not sure. But I do plan to adopt the phrase "weapons-grade ignorance."

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Second Golf Game of 2007

Golf CartI was back on the golf course at The Rookery this afternoon. Andy and I were paired by the starter with a husband and wife golfing twosome. They were very nice.

We started at a bit past three. The course was crowded and things were moving slowly. We didn't finish until about 7:30. It was a beautiful afternoon; warm, not a lot of wind, plenty of sunshine.

My game is still not great. I had a few good shots, but my putting is still a mess and I had several "blow-up" holes. I shot 116. Again.

But I had fun.

Friday, April 20, 2007

My Name is Mike. Once I Had a Cap.

My cap was white, with grass stains, a pair of crossed US and Canadian flags, and the logo of the North Country Golf Club.

I bought my cap on a summer's day in Rouse's Point, New York, after a morning playing golf with friends.

I bought my cap just about a mile from the US/Canada border; about as far north in the US as I have been.

My cap traveled with me on water, up mountains, and onto golf courses in several states.

My cap flew with me to St. Thomas for a sun-filled, but fateful, vacation week.

My cap went to sea with me one Wednesday afternoon, flying over the chop on a jet ski.

My cap clung to my head as the wind and spray whipped past us.

My cap let go when I turned into the wind from Spring Bay and opened-up the throttle.

My cap flew away behind me. and was lost in the channel between Thatch Kay and St. Thomas.

My cap sank into the water about 1,900 miles -- as the crow flies, though crows don't wear caps -- from where I bought it.

My cap, bought almost as far north as I have been, was taken by the sea as far south as I have been.

My name is Mike. Once I had a cap, but I don't anymore.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Another Echo

The Atkins saga doesn't appear to be ending locally, and I'm hearing more echoes nationally.

WGMD and others are keeping an eye on the reappearance of John Atkins campaign signs in the 41st District. And, although the disgraced former Representative stepped down under pressure and under investigation for possible drunk driving, a minor domestic disturbance, and (to be charitable) mis-statements to the ethics committee, he has published what looks rather like a campaign letter in the Cape Gazette today (I agree with Dan Gaffney, film at eleven).

This is not to mention the brief attempt to oust the very mensch-like Dave Burris for daring to point out the relative nakedness of this particular demi-emperor.

Meanwhile, a blog on the web site of the National Council of State Legislators -- The Thicket -- has picked up the story with a meditation on how well our system actually works: an institution the Delaware House showed its collective wisdom and the strength of a democratic system based on due process, common sense and moral fortitude. The House Ethics Committee did it's job under tremendous pressure and public scrutiny.
Delaware prides itself on being "The First State." In this troublesome case of member misconduct, the House and the entire Delaware Legislature showed its First State pride, demonstrating through actions, not just words, the strength and integrity of our democratic institutions.
I don't disagree with this reading of what's gone on so far. I just don' think this is over yet.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Sun? Check! Sand? Check. Fun? Check!

Hotel Beach 2We spent our spring break in the US Virgin Islands. It is my job, as Dad, to get my girls to sunshine, heat, and beaches each year at this time.

This year, we traveled to St. Thomas and stayed at the Wyndham Sugar Bay. A nice place, with its own beach and several pools down about 100 stair steps from the hotel buildings. We got plenty of exercise.

Sea Turtle 2We spent part of our time sunning and swimming and purposely doing nothing. We also played tourist in a minor way.

We visited the Coral World Ocean Park, a small aquarium with the usual pretty fish, a shark tank, sea turtles, and reverse tower that goes down a few stories into the channel between St. Thomas and Thatch Cay.

The Aquarium is adjacent to a very pretty beach at the bottom of Coki Bay, where we spent did a bit of swimming and floating. This is a public beach, and very tourist-y.

 Coki BayAs you walk onto the sands, men come forward to offer you rental chairs and umbrellas and what-not. As you sit, you are approached by wandering waters working for the half-dozen or so make-shift taverns that shelter under the palms at the back of the beach. It's moderately annoying, but firm, polite refusals are respected.

We also spent a day on St. John. We signed-up for a guide-led tour of the island, which is mostly made up of the Virgin Islands National Park. We were driven on breathtaking mountain roads, saw colonial ruins, and had lunch at an open-air diner at Shipwreck Landing.

Trunk Bay 3The park includes Trunk Bay, a public beach maintained by the National Park Service and listed as one of the best beaches in the world. It features a snorkeling trail, perfect white sand, and warm clear water. We snorkeled together around a small island in the bay.

After a brief shopping stop, we enjoyed a sunny, scenic ferry ride back to St. Thomas.

I took about 600 pictures. I've distilled that down to 78 posted as a photo set. I've also created a map-based travelogue, using the new My Maps feature of Google Maps.

The US Virgin Islands are a great place to visit. They, like many travel destinations, remind me of our own Delaware beach resorts, but the pace is much slower and the geography is stunningly different. I was pleasantly surprised out how steep and mountainous the islands are; it looks like they are up-thrust sedimentary rock rather than accumulated coral.

Don't go there expecting speedy service. That's not the point. Slow down, look around, and enjoy one of the more beautiful spots on earth.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Home Again...

We pulled back into our humble non-Caribbean home at about 2:00 a.m. today (4/14). We've been unpacking, doing laundry, and posting vacation photos. I'll work on some detailed vacation reporting starting tomorrow.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Timing is Everything

Spring Snow 2
Today's spring snow shower couldn't have come at a better time ; for us, if not for our flowers and flowering trees.

We leave this evening for the sun-drenched waters of south-of-here. When heading for hot for a spring break, it's always nice to have cold to leave behind.

As is tradition, while on vacation I plan to disconnect. No laptop. No web. No blogging.

So.... see ya!

Friday, April 6, 2007

First Golf Game of 2007

My personal golf season started at noon today when Andy, Rich and I tee'd off at the first hole of The Rookery, just east of Milton, Delaware.

It was windy and cold and I had one of those sinus headaches that make you sort-of hope a miss-hit golf ball might hit you in the head. Not to kill or permanently maim you, just to try to knock something lose in your sinus cavity.

But I was pleased with my game. I was unable to putt at all (I pushed almost every putt well past the hole), but my drives and irons were much better than they had been. My score was 116; nowhere near my best, but not bad given the day and the fact that it was the fist game after a long lay-off. There's hope.

I was uncertain about playing this spring. After my sciatic episode in January, I have been worried about the state of my back.

Would I be able to swing and twist?

On Tuesday I hit a bucket of balls at a driving range near Dover. I wanted to try things out and see if a more gentle swing would work with my iffy lower back.

That turns out to be the right thing to do. I have long been guilty of trying to whale on the ball, particularly off the tee. As a result I slice and hook and top the ball and generally look goofy.

If I swing easy, on the other hand, I can often send a ball straight, up and out. Not as far as I might like, of course, but that may come in time.

One of the lovely things about golf is its long string of counter-intuitive truisms. Hit down on the ball to get it up. Swing easy to get longer shots. And the most important thing to think about while you swing is not thinking.

There are probably lessons for the rest of life here.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Whose Great-Grandads Are These?

I've been enjoying a photoblog called Shorpy which finds and posts photos from as close to the start of the 20th Century as it can get.

Today, the site featured as series of portraits by Lewis Wickes Hine of young boys at work in Wilmington, Delaware, in 1910. They were part of Hine's work for the National Child Labor Committee.

There are a 15-year-old newsboy found on Tatnall Street, a 12-year-old found at 4th & Pine Streets, a 14-year-old Western Union Telegraph messenger found on Linden Street, a 10-year-old newsboy found on West 5th street, and an 11-year-old peanut vendor.

Take time to read the descriptions, which appear to be taken from Hine's notes. They are fascinating. They include details such as "Don’t smoke but visits saloons."

It seems unlikely that I've ever met any of these boys' descendants, but I can't help but think that some of these faces look familiar.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

An Apparition

DelawareFor some, its the Virgin Mary appearing in French Toast. For me, it's the state of Delaware appearing in a puddle. I'll take what I can get.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Today Was a Day to Doubt Your Senses

April Fools Day in the internet age is a challenge. There are always any number of goofs out there on April 1; some subtle, some stupid, some sublime. But for those of us who wander the wide world web, the sheer volume of silliness can become overwhelming.

Google got into the act, of course, offering a toilet-enabled WiFi system and a de-evolutionary new way to archive e-mail.

The Delaware News Journal tongue-in-cheekily suggested a second chance for recently disgraced state lawmaker John Atkins.

A local Liberal false-outed a local Conservative.

On MetaFilter, the moderators crafted a special April-Fools' version of Ask MetaFilter (somewhat NC17) that collected a month's worth of fictional nightmare questions.

Technorati played anagrams with its own name.

And Flickr Scout told me that all 2,389 of my posted photos had placed in Flickr's vaunted Explore list of the most "interesting" shots posted. My little heart went pitter-patter; previously I'd only placed three in Explore.

There were hundreds more, of course. For all that, the most disconcerting Foolishness today was unintentional.

Karen had planned to head-out early today. The Bell Choir played early- and late-morning services at Epworth Church. I was planning to be up and around in time to get Colleen to church by 9:30.

But when I awoke and looked at the clock, I was horrified to see that it was already 8:30. I scrambled out of bed, woke Colleen the ungentle way, and leapt into the shower. When I came downstairs half an hour later, ready to drive her into town, Colleen was still in her PJs; she pointed to two clocks that both read 8:00. I had panicked and got us all up too early.

When I checked with Karen later, I learned that she had also been fooled and got up way too early.

Our fancy alarm clock is programmed to reset itself when power goes out. It also helpfully resets itself to account for Daylight Savings Time changes. Unfortunately, when Congress moved the spring-forward date up by a few weeks and away from April 1, they neglected to inform our alarm clock.

So. Early this morning, while we were deeply asleep, our clock stirred itself and sprang it's digital read-out ahead from 2:00 a.m. to 3:00 a.m., placing Karen and I an hour ahead of the day.

We were fooled. Who says Congress has no sense of humor?