Saturday, August 30, 2008

Dig Me. I Voted.

I have sent in an absentee ballot for the Democratic primary election here in Delaware. I'll be away for the whole week that includes the primary. This is the first time I've ever submitted an absentee ballot.

I had only three races to vote on: Governor, Congressional Representative, and Insurance Commissioner.

I don't choose to tell you who I voted for; if you are also a Delaware voter you can make up your own mind.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Word Clouds of the DNC Speeches (Some of Them)

I've been creating word clouds of some of the major speeches from the Democratic National Convention. That's Joe Biden's speech at right.

I'm using Wordle, which I've been having a great time with this summer both here and in a newsletter (PDF) I created for work. Word clouds present the most frequently used words in any body of text. They are often sorted by frequency of use, with the most used words in the largest font.

So far, I have created the following word clouds:
I find these things kind of addictive.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Another Way to Save Gas and Reduce Air Pollution Emissions

I've been looking for ways to off-set the effects of the larger amount of gasoline I'm burning now that I have shifted from a Prius to a Scion. I think I have found it in the state van-pool system.

As of August 6, I have become a member of a van-pool that runs between Five Points, about a mile and a half from my home, and downtown Dover. I don't expect to ride it every day, but I have been keeping track and find, so far, that I ride the van a bit more than three quarters of the time. (I'm curious to see whether or not the pie chart at right will update here as I enter new data in mycrocosm; adding it as a graphic here is partly an experiment)

UPDATE: The mycrocosm site has recently added the ability to post linked dynamic versions of these charts. I have replaced the old static version with the linked version at right. Though it is bigger, and technically dynamic, I am interested to note that the ratio of Car to Vanpool is just about what it was when I first posted this.

There are (I think) 14 members of this van-pool; we've never all been on the van at the same time, at least not in my brief experience. The members share a $525 monthly rental fee that covers the van, gas, roadside assistance and a guaranteed ride home (if something odd happens). A subset of members pay a bit less but share the driving chores. My cost is about $40 a month.

I have averaged 33.3 miles per gallon in the Scion over the first 1,488 miles I've driven. My cost, not counting oil and other maintenance, has averaged eleven cents a mile. My commute is about 80 miles round-trip. That costs me about $8.80 a day. Allowing a little leeway for the few miles I drive to the van-pool pick-up site, I figure that I've saved my monthly cost to take the van after the first five days I ride the van. The rest of the month is profit.

I'm also pleased to think that when eight or ten of us ride together it means 7 or nine fewer tailpipes adding to our air quality problem.

And I can read, or listen to music, or doze, or chat with my fellow passengers,

There is some irony, though. As a result of a reduction in the percentage of my driving time in the Scion that is highway driving, I'm seeing a slight drop in fuel mileage.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Trying Something New

I'm now an ubuntu user. My old laptop was on its last legs; it was overheating and slow and ready to quit forever. I wanted a new machine and I decided to take a step in a new direction.

Ubuntu is an open-source, community developed, linux-based operating system. It is an outgrowth of the Open Source movement which suggests that the community as a whole can build itself some of the tools that we have had to buy from others in the past.

I bought a modest little compaq laptop that came with windows vista. I dutifully, and patiently, made back-up discs for that operating system. Then I downloaded ubuntu and replaced vista with ubuntu. It felt liberating.

I owe thanks, by the way, to my friend and colleague Charles Wilmire who has shared advice and experience and some hands-on tinker-time to help me take this step.

Now I am working through configuration and settings based on my preferences and my needs. I don't want anything on here that I am not going to need to do what it is that I want to do.

This should be fun.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bragging: An Item for My Portfolio

I sold a photo to Delaware Today and they have used it as the cover of their fall Beach Guide. I am very pleased.

The picture itself was taken on Labor Day Weekend in 2005, on Sunday evening. It is a sunset view across the dunes and beach in North Bethany. This would have been after a family dinner at my parents' house.

We'd spent the day on the beach with my folks and my younger sister and her husband and kids. We showered and shared a leisurely meal, then wandered down to the beach to look at a quiet ocean and reflect on the passing of the day.

This has long been a common way to spend summer Saturdays or Sundays in our family. It is a tradition I love, but it is harder and harder to organize as all of our kids get older and more busy.

This, by the way, is my second photo in Delaware Today. I sold them a view of the Old State House in Dover for a Kent County Guide earlier this year.

I've slowed down my photography habit lately. But looking back over these shots, and the giddy pleasure of seeing them in print, makes me think I should head out with my camera again.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Visiting the Temples of Learning

I guess that title is a bit overstated, but it works with the picture. This is a reading room in one of the libraries at Boston College. We visited BC and Boston University last week with Colleen, who is entering her junior year at high school this fall and should start thinking about colleges soon.

We made a quick trip to Boston to visit campuses and spend some time with friends from the Tyler Place who live south of Boston. We drove up on Wednesday and came back Sunday.

The summer college visit set-up seems to be a meeting in a lecture room where a large group of parents and kids hear from an admissions officer and a student (or a panel of students) about the school. There's a chance to ask questions and then campus tours in smaller groups led by students tour-guides.

I notice that the prospective students don't ask as many questions as they should; parents ask quite a few. In some cases, perhaps they should sit back and let their kids do the asking. The student guides, on the other hand, are not shy at all; they can't be and also have that job. They are generally outgoing and impressive kids who represent their schools well.

There is a cynical part of me that finds these young men and women just a tad too high on their schools, but I keep that part hidden. These are nice kids.

BC and BU are lovely schools, if rather different from each other. BU is much larger and more urban. BC is a smaller suburban school, set off by itself. I could see my daughter at either; but the choice is hers and there are many more schools to consider. The cool thing is that we have started the process that will lead eventually to her selecting a college or a university.

It's another step taken.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seventh Golf Game of 2008

Andy, Rich and I played a storm-interrupted 18 holes at The Rookery Golf Club today.

We had to scamper off the course from the 13th hole when a huge thunderstorm that had been passing south of us paused and started drifting our way. It never hit the course full-on, but most of the golfers out there decided it was a good time for a short break; a beer and a hot dog.

Andy said, as we raced towards the clubhouse, "I have a rational fear of lightning."

I played badly, scoring an unacceptable 121. I want to apologize to golfers everywhere, to Ben Hogan, to the Calloway Golf Company and to the people of Scotland.

Golf is a mental game. You can destroy your swing by thinking about it too much. The first tee is the worst place, sometimes. You tee off in front of a "starter" who watches you, clipboard in hand, and seems to be thinking about just how much you are going to slow-down the flow of golfers. And there are usually a group of golfers behind you, waiting their turn, and watching every move you make. And so, you think about it. And thus you swing can be... rough.

So I flubbed my first drive and I tried too hard on the subsequent shots to make up for it. And I tried to be too fast, thinking about the group behind us. I started poorly on that first hole and never quite caught up over the next 17, though there were a few shots, here and there, to make me proud.

And yet I still had a very good time. I made small adjustments and fixed things a little. I had shots that felt and looked great. And I spent time with friends.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Sixth Golf Game of 2008

Andy, Rich (from Connecticut), and I played the Man O'War course at Glen Riddle, just west of Ocean City, Maryland, today. Rich and his family were down to visit and Andy and his crew. When they come to visit, it often means a golf-orgy for Andy and Rich; I'm pleased to join in sometimes too.

Glen Riddle Golf Club is part of the a large golf and residential development built on the old Glen Riddle Farm. This was the home of champion thoroughbreds Man O'War and his offspring War Admiral, who won the Triple Crown in 1937. Another of his offspring sired Seabiscuit.

There are two golf courses, named for the two most famous residents. They partly incorporate the old training track, which serves as a long sand trap at one point. That's my ball in that trap in the picture. In the background is an old starting-gate.

I don't recall which hole this was, but it was typical of my game today. I hit a solid, straight, if not hugely long first shot. My second was very nice as well, but fell short of the green (into the sand there). This is how I approached many holes; the problems started here. In this case I hit too firm out of the sand and flew over the green. I had to chip back on, and my putting is only so-so. The result, a two-over 6, if I was lucky. On other holes I was tentative on my chips and fell too short.

I ended with a 111. Andy kindly said that he thought I'd played better than that score. That was nice of him. I enjoyed the Glen Riddle course. Lots of challenges and changes and surprises.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

In Mahaffey, PA

We spent only about an hour in Mahaffey, Pennsylvania; we had a long drive back to Delaware. But I'm glad we stopped.

We found our way (with thanks to directions from my cousin Don Mahaffey Weaver) to the Borough of Mahaffey graveyard. There's a monument to Robert Mahaffey in the center of the graveyard. It is surrounded by several sets of Mahaffey family plots. There's a lot of history here.

The town of Mahaffey, the Borough, is quite small. The downtown, such as it is, is next to a bridge across the upper reaches of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. There is a restaurant, a gun shop, a funeral home and a few churches.

There is a town park, Scout Community Park, according to Google, though I saw references to a Mahaffey Park which was to host a fireworks show that evening. Scout Park includes a ball field, always a good sign in a small town.

I'm glad we had a chance to visit Mahaffey. It's a part of the history of a distant branch of my family, but I've been studying family history for a while now and I was excited to see the place.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Looking Out Over Johnstown

We made a flying visit to central Pennsylvania this past weekend. We were there for a family event in Karen's family and took the opportunity for just a small amount of looking around.

We drove out on Friday. Interstate 70 in western Maryland was packed and reduced to a crawl. After ghosting over one mountain at 10 mph behind a truck, we abandoned the interstate system and hooked up with the old National highway -- US 40. We took that through Hagarstown and then took back-roads out to Breezewood and on to Johnstown.

On Saturday, we had a family lunch at the City View Restaurant, overlooking Johnstown. The restaurant is next to the Incline Plane which carries people and cars up and down a substantial hill. We took the ride down; then back up. For a flat-lander, like me, this sort of elevation play is great fun.

Sunday, we took a quick ride up north from Johnstown to visit Mahaffey, the Borough founded by a second cousin of my great-great-grandfather. It's a visit I've been thinking about. I'll have a few photos from there later.

I will say that it was very interesting, and it was fun. And it was a great excuse to do more driving on two-lane highways in the hill country.