Monday, March 31, 2008

Second Golf Game of 2008

I almost broke 100! I scored a 102 on the par-72 course at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club in Florida. Had I not had a complete blow-up on the par-5 14th, I might have done it.

It turns out that using the 5-iron, which looks remarkably like the sand wedge when you are flustered (5 vs. S) , in a green-side bunker is a bad idea. When you've already hit a tree, the water hazard, and a half-submerged log that bounced your ball right back at you, on the same hole, these things happen.

I was playing in my walking sneakers and with rental clubs (very nice clubs), but had a wonderful time (except for the 15th) I played the first nine with a dad teaching his 15-year old the game. I played the second nine with an older gent who plays that course regularly and either his son or son-in-law. These guys were playing very well and they helped me raise my game a bit, I think.

The course was built in the late 1920s and has been redesigned a few times since. It is mature and tree-lined and, though flat, fairly challenging. And nice folks, too.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

And... We're Back

We're back in Delaware after most of the last week at the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, in Florida.

We flew down to Tampa early on Monday and drove down to Naples from there. We stayed in a vintage hotel on the beach in Naples. We swam, we sunned, and we burned a bit. We visited the zoo and the everglades. I golfed. Th e girls shopped. We ate at a variety of restaurants, from a classic burger joint to a relatively fancy place.

I took about 380 photos, and Colleen took a few more. So far, I've only posted a few from the Naples Zoo and the beach view from the Naples posted at right. I'll get through the rest and post more in the next few days.

I liked Naples, but it struck me as very like the Rehoboth area on steroids. They have very large developments in Florida and the sheer volume of shopping malls and restaurants on the main drag was daunting.

But the weather is so nice. And the Golf of Mexico shows many moods. And I got to spend five days disconnected from the world and with my wife and children. I like that.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Aloha, Eh?

It's time once again for (our small part of) the Mahaffie clan to wander off into the world to seek a new climate and a different view of things.

Translation: We're going on vacation.

We'll be back when this great green globe has spun a full week's span around the life-giving bright sun.

Translation: We booked a week in a hotel.

Until that day, dear friends, I bid you a fond, if temporary, farewell and adieu.

Translation: I'm turning off the web now and staying disconnected until we get back.

Friday, March 21, 2008

A Lost Opportunity?

There was a bit of a stink this past week in the Indian River School District here in southern Delaware. I take a mostly cynical view of it, but a story in Time this week suggests that there could have been a very positive learning experience, if we had only looked for it ahead of time.

The requirements of the settlement of the Prayer in Schools lawsuit against the District had teachers and administrators reviewing an updated Religion Policy and a set of real-world examples designed to help them avoid unconstitutional proselytizing. Somewhere along the line, it was suggested that the School District had commanded a cancellation of the pre-Break parties set for this week; parties that traditionally have a Spring/Easter theme.

This caused something of an uproar, even after the District issued a statement saying it had not commanded any cancellations. It doesn't even really make sense, given the status of "easter" as as much a secular holiday as a religious holiday. I don't think it diminishes the special and deeply felt meaning of this holiday for true Christians to see other folks mucking about with the bunny rabbits and the eggs that symbolize new-birth and spring. So there isn't really a lawsuit-based reason to cancel such parties.

My inner cynic suggests that someone angry over the settlement of the lawsuit planted the party-pooping story to generate parental anger and protest. It wouldn't surprise me to see someone try that as a way to gather support for making the public schools more parochial.

But that 's just the voice of the little Elmer Gantry perched on my right shoulder. On my left shoulder is an angel holding up a print-out of the Time story about the many religious traditions that celebrate this time of year and the curious convergence of those holidays this year.
...on this particular Friday, March 21, it seems almost no believer of any sort will be left without his or her own holiday. In what is statistically, at least, a once-in-a-millennium combination, the following will all occur on the 21st:
Good Friday
Purim, a Jewish festival celebrating the biblical book of Esther
Narouz, the Persian New Year, which is observed with Islamic elaboration in Iran and all the "stan" countries, as well as by Zoroastrians and Baha'is.
Eid Milad an Nabi, the Birth of the Prophet, which is celebrated by some but not all Sunni Muslims and, though officially beginning on Thursday, is often marked on Friday.
Small Holi, Hindu, an Indian festival of bonfires, to be followed on Saturday by Holi, a kind of Mardi Gras.
Magha Puja, a celebration of the Buddha's first group of followers, marked primarily in Thailand.
Yesterday would heave been a perfect opportunity for comparative religion parties in the schools using the many holidays, traditions, foods, dances, music and art to explore a wide variety of cultures.
"Half the world's population is going to be celebrating something," says Raymond Clothey, Professor Emeritus of Religious studies at the University of Pittsburgh. "My goodness," says Delton Krueger, owner of, who follows "14 major religions and six others." He counts 20 holidays altogether (including some religious double-dips, like Maundy Thursday and Good Friday) between the 20th (which is also quite crowded) and the 21st. He marvels: "There is no other time in 2008 when there is this kind of concentration."
The article points out that, in fact, it's only nine times in 800 years that "Good Friday, Purim, Narouz and the Eid would occur in the same week" and only one time that they would ever happen within a two-day period.

I guess we missed a chance to teach. Maybe next time?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

99,999 ... and ... 100,000

I reached 99,999 miles on my 2005 Prius this morning at about 7:20 and just south of the St. Jones River on my way into Dover. I pulled over to take the traditional odometer-graph.

I have to say that I am most impressed with RSmitty, who predicted that I'd hit 99,999 on this very date in the Fun for Math Heads contest on Delaware Liberal back in November. There's no mention there of a prize, but we should all now do that polite little clapping noise your hear in golf broadcasts.

RSmitty used the data about miles per day that I've been tossing into these mileage posts to calculate his remarkable estimate. So here's the updated data: it took me 130 days to drive the 11,111 miles between 88,888 and 99,999. That's 85.5 miles per day, on average. It had been 145 days between 77,777 and 88,888.

I was so pleased with reaching this milestone that I immediately set out to reach 100,000 miles. By carefully driving another mile over the next few minutes, I was able to bring up a sixth digit on my odometer.

So. What should the next milestone be? An additional 11,111 miles from 99,999 would be 111,110 and my particular mania would insist on 111,111. On the other hand, I think 101,010 would look really cool given the way my odometer forms numbers. Based on what it looked like at 91,088, I think it would say "10 10 10."

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I Like it When Jon Stewart is Serious

For example, this evening as he wrapped his review of Barack Obama's speech in Philadelphia:
"And so, at 11:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, a prominent politician spoke to Americans about race as though they were adults."
The Wall Street Journal posted the text of the speech as prepared for delivery. It's worth a read, given that none of the news shows are likely to play the whole thing.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Sign of Trouble?

This is probably way too over-simplified an analysis, but I can't help thinking that this image, from the News Journal's story on risky borrowing, is symptomatic of what our basic mistake was.

If we can't get the grammar right, what makes us think we can handle complex financial affairs?

Sunday, March 16, 2008

More Delaware Boundary Monuments

I took advantage of my long drive home from Annapolis last week to visit a few more boundary monuments in western Sussex County. Inspired by finally making it out to see The Middle Point last month, I planned my drive in part by taking a look at the locations of Delaware boundary monuments using the Delaware DataMIL (zoom-in a bit on the border and select "Boundary Monuments" in the layer list).

I drove through Federalsburg and entered Delaware on Route 20 at Reliance, where one finds (what's left of) Boundary Monument 12. There's just a broken stub left and, according to the recovery information maintained by the Delaware Geological Survey, it has been moved 134 meters north of its original location (a road now covers the original spot).

From there, I worked my way north a bit to find the Oak Grove Crownstone (seen at right). This is one of the larger boundary markers placed every five miles by Mason and Dixon in the 1760s; the smaller ones they placed every mile. The crownstones have the coats of arms of the Penn family on the side that is now Delaware (but was Pennsylvania at the time) and the Calvert family on the Maryland side. This one is known technically as Boundary Monument 15.

Some years back, an Eagle Scout trimmed the brush from around the Oak Grove stone and erected a small fence. A historical marker has been added as well.

I plan to try to visit as many of these as I can. There are 179 of them, but not all are very accessible. Some are buried and some are deep into private (and protected) property. I can use the DataMIL, though, to find those that are close to public rights of way. I'll try to visit, and photograph, those.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

A Walk Around the Capitol

I had a few hours to wander around Capitol Hill on Wednesday; after a breakfast meeting and before boarding a bus back to Annapolis. A colleague and I played "tourists in ties" as we walked around the Capitol, past the Supreme Court and Library of Congress, and down the Mall a short way.

We walked around the new National Museum of the American Indian. It's a very cool-looking building, with a front designed to look like the sort of southwestern cliff areas where the Anasazi might have lived. Out front, there is a created wetland that mimics the look and feel of the Chesapeake region.

Looking at the American Indian Museum from the new outdoor garden at the US Botanic Garden, you almost lose the sense that you are in a city. It looks like a pretty cool place. I was curious, but we were too early for most of the public buildings to be open. A colleague from Arizona, who visits DC fairly often, has been inside and says it is very nice. I'll try to get back some time when I have more time.

We walked up the Mall to the old Smithsonian Castle, which was open that early. It features a very nice garden, between the Castle and the entrances to the African American Museum and an art gallery. We took a turn through the sculpture garden and walked briefly through the Botanic Garden, but found too many groups of small, scattering students.

We finished with a visit to the several statues that sit down the hill from the Capitol Building, facing the Mall. There's an equestrian statue of General US Grant, staring west towards the Washington Monument. There is a wide, shallow pool, steps and a terrace. There are lions on either side of the general, lying regally. There is also a group of bronze Civil-War soldiers in the midst of battle. One has fallen, another leads the charge.

The Mall and the Capitol are a wonderful center for our nation. There s a great deal of history just sitting there; it can be easy to take it for granted. I grew up in the suburbs outside of Washington DC and we used to wander around down there fairly often. As a small child, we went with our folks. In school, there were field trips. As a teen, there was the bus and later the Metro keeping us within easy reach of the Mall and the museums.

I feel like I know the place, and always have, but it is constantly changing and being updated. It's important to re-visit from time to time.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Testing: 1, 2, 3...

I'm typing this, rather gingerly, on our new One Laptop per Child laptop. It has a tiny little keyboard and a hinky sort of mousepad that will take some getting used to.

One Laptop per Child is a project to deploy inexpensive, durable laptops to kids around the world. I bought this as part of a promotion that allowed me to buy one of these for some child somewhere and also one for my family.

I'll admit that I wanted one around to satisfy my curiosity and test one out. I hope this will make a good travel laptop.

Where the Hell Have I Been?

It looks like March 2008 won't be one of my more prolific blogging months, at least not on this site.

I spent Sunday through Wednesday of this week at the mid-year conference of the National States Geographic Information Council -- NSGIC -- in Annapolis. But that doesn't explain my absence since Wednesday of last week. I guess I just got caught up in real life for a while there.

The NSGIC meeting as a whirlwind of busy, as it is usually the case. We hold the mid-year each year at about this time at Annapolis, so I have an easy trip and can linger a bit on Sunday morning before heading over for the first meeting of the day. And, since I'm so close, I can be back home, if needed, in just a few hours.

As I've noted in the past, the NSGIC crowd are nuts. They (we, I guess), start early and go late when we get together to discuss state and federal coordination of GIS and geospatial data. We did take an evening to dine at Paul's, on the South River, a bit west of Annapolis. We crossed this sunset-lit bridge to get there and watched it darken as we ate.

I decided to take notes during the sessions of this conference directly in the Blogger editor and so was able to post summaries of each session as it ended. It was an efficient approach, but it meant that I had to stay through each. Some were fascinating. Some were not. A few were fairly boring. I tried to keep a record, though.

On Wednesday, we joined another industry group for a breakfast on Capital Hill to discuss common policy issues. After, we had a few minutes to wander downtown. I'll have some photos in a few days. I also took advantage of a somewhat bright afternoon's drive home to get a few more shots of Delaware's border and the stones placed by Mason and Dixon.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Minor Observation #527

I think I have finally figured out why some of the top pop hits of today grate so fearfully on my nerves. I'm a kind Dad and sometimes let my daughters listen to Hits One on the Sirius radio. Some of the tunes played are quite good. Some make me want to leap screaming from my moving Prius.

It's not just the overtly sexual lyrics which would have given me pause even when I was a horny 18-year-old. It's not just the unimaginative melodies and over-processed, faked-up singing. It's not even the deliberate "stoopid-ness" of the personae adopted by the performers.

No, what really makes me cringe is the fact that, of late, producers have been sampling heavily from the most over-played pop of the 1980s to build the music-montages over which their singers rap, croon or mumble. They've appropriated songs that were big hits at a time when pop music was at its most fake, unimaginative and tedious. And the songs they are (re)using were horribly over-played in the 1980s.

There was some good music produced in the 1980s. But it wasn't what made it as "pop hits." I still listen to some music from the 1980s. But I was sick of these hit songs 20 years ago. Adding new lyrics and beats hasn't helped.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Minor Observation #524

Here's a thing I noticed today about what having a teen-aged daughter has done to me: I watch all drivers very carefully now. My eldest is 16 and about half-way through the first stage of Delaware graduated driver's license. That means she can only drive with her mother or I in the passenger seat. We watch the road; we watch her speed; we gasp and cringe and clutch at the dashboard. The usual parenting stuff.

This morning, I dropped my car off for its regular check-up, fluid fill-up and once-over by folks who know what the heck is supposed to happen in there. I took advantage of the dealership's offer of a ride to the office and rode into town with a gent who I know drives for a living and who has driven me quite safely numerous times before.

And yet, I found myself in the passenger seat acting just as I do when riding with my daughter. I craned my neck around to check oncoming traffic; I watched ahead for brake-lights; and I snuck glances at the speedometer.

You know, the usual parenting stuff.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Is This Who We Have Become?

I heard a story the other day that troubles me. Actually, it is more the reaction the story provoked that I find troubling. It says something about our tendency towards a "mobocracy."

The story was told to a group of civic leaders. It was about an issue before an elected body here in Delaware. The teller had been advocating an unpopular position to that elected body in a room filled with a raucous crowd in opposition. He reported that there was one person there who he knew agreed with him, but that person was afraid to speak up because of the vocal crowd.

He finished the story and the group all laughed. Open discourse on a public issue was stifled by fear of a mob and we found that funny.

It reminded me of some of the stories that have come out of the Indian River School District religion lawsuit. Families wanting to speak on an issue to the school board that is supposed to represent them were afraid of an angry mob.

It also brings to mind the very strong reaction that many folks had a few days back to what appears now to have been a doubtful report of anti-Islam/anti-Obama statements by an elementary school teacher. When folks thought that report was accurate, there were calls for direct, and rather stern, action against a school teacher. Subsequent reports that call the original into question got much less attention.

Are we a mob, ruled by our passions? That is not who we are meant to be. Yet recent events suggest that we may be on our way to becoming that mob.

I hope not. At the very least, I don't think it is funny.