Saturday, November 29, 2008

...That Couldn't be Beat

We went to Bethesda, Maryland, for a Thanksgiving Dinner with my family. We alternate where we eat turkey each year, but always manage to spend time with my clan and with Karen's.

My folks hosted all seven of their kids, their seven sons- and daughters-in-law, fifteen of their seventeen grand-kids, and my brother Matt's in-laws. That's thirty-three people, including my Mom and Dad.

Everyone brings something. We had two turkeys, white potatoes mashed and sweet potatoes too. There were two kinds of stuffing. There were veggies and gravies and many, many desserts.

We had a tub of sodas and a tub of beer. I took responsibility for bringing the beer; I started with a mixed case of Dogfish Head beers and added another mixed case of other non-mainstream beers.

We arrived early and had a chance to admire the old family dining room (seen here backwards) before it filled with people. There were several different tables set up, from the long dining table of my childhood, to the round gate-leg table in the sun-room.

Soon the family started to filter in. My nieces and nephews range in age from their mid-thirties down to first grade. We have golden-haired little princesses and cow-licked rambunctious boys. We have dancers and swimmers and ball-players. We have aspiring writers, musicians, actors, and activists.

Among my siblings and their spouses are lawyers, librarians, and managers; teachers, writers, artists, accountants and librarians. We are all readers and talkers. It is never quiet when the Mahaffies gather.

We ate. We talked. We laughed and we shared. Eventually, we started to disperse. As we did, teams of kids gathered and stowed the folding chairs. We paired-up to move tables back into place. A brother started a first-load in the dish-washer. By bed-time the old family home was put back together and tolerably clean.

As the only out-of-state guests, we spent the night at Mom and Dad's. After a pleasantly quiet breakfast, we drove to Karen's sister's house where we ate left-overs with her parents and some of that side of our family. We watched our great-nephew and his half-brother play video games and wrestle good-naturedly. We got to play scrabble with my Mother-in-Law; she is the Michael Jordan of scrabble.

As dusk fell, we were headed back east across the Bay Bridge. Back to our cats. It was a fine Thanksgiving holiday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Time Travel: Remembering The Razz

An odd confluence of letters in my RSS reader led me to search this evening for a band I followed as a youngster back in Washington DC. This week's Monday Music entry on the NPR Monitor Mix blog included a video from the Nazz (Tod Rundgren's old group).

Seeing that "a-z-z" reminded me of The Razz, a DC band from back in the late 1970s. The Razz were a hard-rock band -- almost punk -- that played a snarling form of power pop. They put out a series of singles and an extended play (EP) single. I may still have several of these buried somewhere in my archive.

The group included Tommy Keene, who went on to a recording career starting in the 1980s. According to Wikipedia, his music is critically acclaimed but commercially ignored.

I insulted Mr. Keene one evening at a bar in Northern Virginia. I didn't mean to insult him. A group of us were there to see The Razz; we were fans. I was at the time a rhythm guitarist in a high-school garage band (The Ramblin' Beach Guys) and I was impressed by Keene's guitar playing. The group's other guitarist, Bill Craig, was playing a more obvious "lead guitar" role and I approached Keene during a break to tell him how cool it was to see a fellow rhythm guitarist (I was pretty young). He was not amused; he played parts just as complex as the other fellow, he was just less showy. That was my first lesson in the potential complexity in rock music.

That was one of two Razz shows that I remember specifically. I expect I probably also saw them play at the old Psychadeli at some point, but I'm not sure.

The other show that I remember clearly was a concert in November of 1978 at the University of Maryland Student Union. The Razz opened for Rockpile (Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe). Several of my bandmates and I got there very early and snagged a table at the very front of the hall. It was one of those great moments in youth when you are part of just the music you want to hear.

In looking around the web this evening, I also found that some of The Razz folks, including singer Michael Reidy, have recently been performing as The Howling Mad. Thirty years ago, I recall being told that Michael Reidy was a graphic designer and had done the artwork for The Razz' posters and record sleeves. In retrospect, I think it is the case that his graphic work, along with his group's music, influenced my tastes as a young man and is with me today.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Nutcracker Time!

It's just about that time of year again; time for traditional holiday shows. Among them is the Nutcracker, which has become a large part of our family life for a few years.

Our Nutcracker odyssey goes back at least to 2003. The girls are part of the Sussex Ballet and have also done the Nutcracker at the Southern Delaware School of the Arts. In 2004, they took to the streets of Lewes in Nutcracker costumes for the City's Christmas Parade. In 2006, we made it A Family Affair when Karen and I took on roles as extra adults in the party scene that starts the show. Last year, I took the part of Drosselmeyer, the kindly old coot who brings an enchanted nutcracker to the party.

This year, Christina is featured as Clara, the young girl at the center of the story. And Colleen is the lead dancer in the dance of the flutes for several performances and is the solo dancer in the Arabian dance.

Karen, as always, plays the part of the lovely, tall brunette in the green dress.

The shows are set for Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6, in the evening, and an afternoon matinée on Sunday, December 7. We're using the theater at Cape Henlopen High school, just outside of Lewes. Tickets are $16 general admission; $12 for seniors and students. You should call (302) 645-7855 for your tickets.

Friday, November 21, 2008


I spent Wednesday morning at the Air Mobility Command Museum at Dover Air Force Base. Wednesday was GIS Day, a day intended to celebrate the role of GIS data and tools in many aspects of modern life.

I was one of many volunteers from the Delaware GIS community hosting fifth graders from three Delaware schools for a GIS Day field trip at the museum. We squired them through a series of learning stations including activities teaching about maps and map data, weather emergencies and emergency preparedness, and using GPS to help locate accident victims.

As a centerpiece, we had the Earth Balloon from the Delaware Children's Museum. This is a 19-foot inflatable globe into which kids can enter with an instructor to see all manner of geography from the inside.

Wednesday evening, the event was open to the public. I had to miss that; I had a Lewes Planning Commission meeting that night. It wasn't the only GIS day event; the City of Dover GIS folks hosted an for city staff to demonstrate the ,many uses of the technology in the capitol city.

I spent my Wednesday morning with 14 fifth graders from McVey Elementary School, in Newark, a very nice bunch of kids. Fifth grade is an interesting age. We had little tiny kids and boys who had shot up above their classmates and whose voices have dropped an octave. There were young ladies of great self-possession with bright, inquiring minds. They worked well together. They listened. They were a pleasure to work with.

I was also very pleased with the work done by the folks who created the event, led by Megan Nehrbas, of Sussex County government, with help from Miriam Pomilio, of the Delaware Geological Survey. They have created a new educational resource that I hope will continue in the years to come.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Let There Be Good Beer

Originally uploaded by Troy
Dogfish Head's Sam Calagionne is featured in a long-form story in the November 24 issue of The New Yorker. In A Better Brew, author Burkhard Bilger examines the rapidly growing "craft brew" movement by tracing the steady rise of the Dogfish Head brewery to one of the top beer makers in the country.

Sam and Mariah Calagionne are Lewes folks. I see them at Lewes Planning Commission meetings sometimes and at other gatherings. Sam is one of our local celebrities; as The New Yorker notes, he has a knack for making a splash.
This is partly a matter of clever marketing and partly of a genuine creative temperament.
Early on, he rowed his first export of beer to New Jersey across the Delaware Bay himself. I remember hearing about that at the time. It made an impression.

Dogfish Head makes very good beer. Some of it is fairly odd; Sam will make beer out of almost anything, if he thinks it will be interesting. He is in a battle against sameness in beer.
“I’m not afraid to pay compliments where compliments are due. Anheuser-Busch’s quality—if quality is consistency—is second to none. But I’m frustrated that that one beer has been hammered down people’s throats. I mean, banana cream pie may be your favorite fucking food. But if you ate banana cream pie every day you would hate it, too.”
I hang out with other beer lovers. My family is a beer family; we drink it for taste and for pleasure. When I head to my parents' place for Thanksgiving next week, I'll bring about a case of various Dogfish head beers.

Many of my friends in the National States Geographic Information Council are also beer connoisseurs. This spring, when we held our regular mid-year gathering in Annapolis, I realized that I was perfectly positioned to bring great beer across the Chesapeake.

There's a lot you can say about beer. I admit that at one time I drank beer for the buzz. Now, it is for the taste and the companionship that can come with the sharing of that taste.

And beer is good food. It is made from grains and yeast. Like liquid bread. Here in southern Delaware we have a talented creator of this great food.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Wet Day at Moore's Lake

It was a wet day today. Not steadily rainy, like yesterday, but wet. At any moment today, the world looked like it had just been rained on, or was about to be rained on. Yet I never saw it actually rain.

It seemed like a good day to take my camera down to Moore's Lake, just south of Dover, to take some wet day photos. I had spent part of a lunch hour there back in 2005. That was a lovely sunny summer day and I took a set of sunshine-y pictures.

This time, I found myself photographing lots of leaves. Many were floating downstream; passing over reflected empty tree branches. Artsy.

Others were spread all around on the ground. And on the picnic tables. And the walkways. And the dam and spillway. and on the fish ladder that I photographed a few years ago.

One of the problems I face as an amateur photographer is a limited set of subjects. The world is vast and there are many cool things to photograph, but I have a day job, and kids, and other things to do. I take pictures on my lunch hour and on the week-ends and on business trips when I can find free time. And on vacations, but those are special.

And, I live in a small place. After almost four years posting digital pictures (my first were from spring break in 2005), I feel like I have photographed everything that I see in my normal round. Yet, on days like today, I get a chance to go back to a place I've already shot and try to find new photos in new conditions.

Sometimes the same old thing can be brand new all over again.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Mental Note: Don't Forget the Grain of Salt

It seemed like the only thing missing from this year's election was something to humble the media and the bloggers. That need has now been filled by a fake expert from a phony think tank.

The New York Times has the story -- A Senior Fellow at the Institute of Nonexistence -- about a counterfeit McCain advisor from an invented institute who cast fictions into the political waters and reeled in bloggers and media alike.

Remember the story about Sarah Palin not knowing that Africa is a continent and not a country? Almost believable... Seems in character.... Matches our shared experience of Mrs. Palin's qualifications... but not true.

The "source" for that story was a Martin Eisenstadt, of the Harding Institute, supposedly an advisor to the McCain campaign.
...Martin Eisenstadt doesn't exist. His blog does, but it’s a put-on. The think tank where he is a senior fellow — the Harding Institute for Freedom and Democracy — is just a Web site. The TV clips of him on YouTube are fakes.
Eisenstadt is really Eitan Gorlin, who created the character along with Dan Mirvish as part of a long-term hoax intended as a promotional stunt to develop a television show. According to the Times, they have fooled several newspapers, TV networks and many bloggers, even after some of those who had been fooled published warnings about the hoax.

The lesson we take from this is to not believe everything that we see, or hear, or read even when it is "on the news" or "in the paper." And, in the hyper-news-sensitive environment we find ourselves, in a time when anyone with a laptop, an ISP, and rudimentary spelling skills can become a part of the new media, caution is even more important.

On the other hand, Mrs. Palin's response to the fake story (prior our learning that it was a hoax), was almost as interesting. Here's what she told Greta Van Susteren, as quoted on ABC's Political radar blog:

I don't know, because I remember the discussion about Africa, my concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue, as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska's investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars, I wanted to make sure that that didn't happen anymore.

Wait... what?

I'm also tickled by the hoaxers' explanation of how they came up with the fake advisor character's name:

Mr. Gorlin said they chose the name because “all the neocons in the Bush administration had Jewish last names and Christian first names.”

And for the Institute? They named it after one of the least popular presidents in US history. That seemed believable.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Twelfth Golf Game of 2008

Andy and I took advantage of the Veteran's Day holiday to play 18 holes at Old Landing Golf Course outside of Rehoboth Beach. We got there early and were the second group out. We walked, carrying our bags. I don't know about Andy, but I needed the exercise.

Andy and I play old Landing one or two times each year. It's an older course with mature trees and several small hills in play. Taking care of the course seems to be a challenge. The fairways are often rough, but the greens have been nice this year.

I'm afraid I did not play well. I started poorly and never really caught up, though there were a few bright spots. I pulled out the driver from my set of clubs for today, for example. I had shelved it earlier this year in favor of an over-sized, square driver that I always thought looked like a metal ham sandwich. I thought I'd try the old driver, which has the same shape and shaft as my 5- and three 3-wood. It worked a bit better.

I'm also starting to have some success with my 3- and 4-hybrid "rescue" clubs. I'm now hitting them more like the irons. I sometimes top them embarrassingly, but when I connect I'm very pleased.

I ended the day with a 121. I had hoped to break 100 this year. I guess I'll do it in a sweater if I break it this year.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An On-Line President

Barack Obama's candidacy was one of the most web-enabled we've seen and it looks like his transition and presidency will be as well. The transition, for example, will be on line at

There are several cool spots on flickr that are focused on our president-to-be. There's a group called "A message for Obama" that invites users to post photographed messages for the President-Elect. I made mine with wordle.

There's also a fascinating set of photos from back-stage with the Obamas, the Bidens, and friends on election night. This photo of Joe Biden greeting Sasha Obama is my favorite.

I think this web-connectedness is part of why I'm so excited about Obama. It's not just that he's using the web the way it can and should be used. It's also the fact that it doesn't seem at all forced; his techie-ness is natural.

More Eyes on Delaware

It's not unusual that Delaware should be getting more attention now that our senior Senator is the Vice-President Elect. Web interest in Delaware had increased starting in the summer when Joe Biden was nominated to run with Barack Obama. I was a bit surprised by the sharp jump in views of my flickr pictures this week, though. Daily views have doubled since I posted photos of Joe at Return Day on Thursday.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

At Return Day

Joe Biden came back to Delaware today to take part in Return Day, there's no way I was going to miss that, even if it was a nasty, dark, rainy day. I dragged along my camera to see what I could see.

This is a photo of Delaware's Governor-elect Jack Markell, with my friends Claudia Walker and Rachel Southmayd. Young Claudia had plucked a flower while we were in the circle waiting for the parade and when Jack came over to shake a few hands, she wanted to give it to him. I could not quite catch that picture, but the three of them obligingly posed for me. Claudia is the daughter of my friends Kate and Geoff Walker. Kate runs the studio where my daughters dance and Rachel is one of the dancers, and is the eldest daughter of my buddy Andy. It's a small state.

Return Day is our biannual post-election gathering in Georgetown to close out the political cycle. Return Day dates back to early times when voters would travel to the county seat to cast their ballots and then return two days later to hear the results. These days it's a festival, a parade, a speech and the ceremonial burial of a hatchet.

This year's Return Day was not normal. Usually, Return Day is a laid-back affair at which politicians and voters mingle freely. There are numerous vendors selling food and drink. The parade is long and loose and fun.

Having the Vice-President-elect in the parade changes things. The Secret Service closed-down the town. We parked outside town and were bused-in. We had to go through a security check-point that was somewhat like airport security, if airport security was in a small tent set up on a sidewalk in the rain.

The were no vendors and no strolling politicians. The parade started late and was oddly disjointed. For security reasons, Joe Biden went first, and alone, and the rest of the parade had to wait until he was safely on the reviewing stand. He may have made a short speech, but if he did the PA system was insufficient to get sound to where I was standing.

The parade was smaller than usual, likely because of the weather and the security concerns. We heard that all participants had to be frisked. There were the usual politicians; tradition has them ride the parade sitting (in cars or carriages) with their election opponents. Christine O'Donnell, who had challenged Joe Biden for his Senate seat, rode alone.

Lattimer the Mouse was there. He's the new mascot of the state Department of state. Ironically, the guy standing next to me has "Lattimer" as his middle name.

There were antique fire trucks and cars. There were a few floats and more beauty queens, and princesses, than you could shake a tiara at. Did you know that there is a Mr. Delaware? and, of course, marching bands.

At the end, we were tired and footsore and wet. But we were part of a once-in-Delaware-history event.

Mo Dowd Muses on The Changes to Come

New York Times Columnist Maureen Dowd has a sobering take on the Obama presidency this morning. In her column, Bring on the Puppy and the Rookie, she starts with the scene outside the White House Tuesday night and considers the nation's history, our recent past, and the challenges that lie ahead.

She suggests that Obama has already taken on the needed mantle of leadership; that his Tuesday night speech was the start of his presidency:
His somber speech in the dark Chicago night was stark and simple and showed that he sees what he’s up against. There was a heaviness in his demeanor, as if he already had taken on the isolation and “splendid misery,” as Jefferson called it, of the office he’d won only moments before.
It is a hopeful, if thoughtful, column and stands in tonal contrast to the more usual mocking Maureen Dowd columns.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

An Election Collection

I picked up some interesting election-related items in my normal scanning routines today. I thought I'd offer some links here, in no particular order.

The text of both Barack Obama's and John McCain's election night speeches are on-line. I made wordles of each (yes, I am a great big techie-geek). As I've said, I was impressed by John McCain's speech, the wordle of McCain's speech does suggest that he puts (at least the word) "country" first. The wordle of Obama's speech suggests that he used the words "tonight," "people," and "America" most often.

There's a cool illustration of one of the changes that Barack Obama represents on the web site of Mathhew Buchanon. It shows, in a set of simple caricatures, the progression of faces of the 43 presidents so far, and the face of the 44th-elect.

I also enjoyed reading Matt Haughey's take on the election results. He used the graphic at left, which I have seen in a few other places. I like it.

Matt writes that he also missed the earlier version of John McCain:
I don't recall much of any talk from McCain from the last two months about his detailed plans or reasons why someone should vote for McCain, instead all I heard about was why I should against Obama. That's never a good path to take -- when you don't accentuate your positives and instead focus on negatives, even if you convince others to avoid the opponent you end up with followers that don't have much to be proud of.
Matt has a very young daughter:
I'm glad my daughter gets to grow up and will remember her first president being an inspirational guy that proves anyone can still make it in America.
Finally, there's an inspiring set of images of President-Elect Obama on the Boston Globe's "Big Picture" site. I particularly like this one (as a fan of artsy photography) and this one, because I like fist-bumps.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Today We Made History

I am happy, and proud, this evening. My country has made a change, I think for the better. We have made history and taken a step into a new generation of leadership.

I'm watching large celebratory crowds from all over the nation on television. I just watched a gracious concession speech by John McCain; I'm glad to see that that John McCain has come back to us.

This has been a good day.

Jack Markell's "Dewey Wins!" Moment?

I'm not sure anyone else noticed this, and it was quickly fixed, but I did catch Salisbury's WBOC television in a Chyron error during election coverage at about 9:35 pm. They had flipped the percentages for Jack Markell and Bill Lee in the local graphics running below Bob Schieffer (sorry about how I caught you Mr. Schieffer).

This was a "Wait... what?" moment for me.

Report from a Delaware Polling Place

Karen and I headed out to vote this afternoon around one. Our polling place is the Ninth Grade Campus -- the old Lewes School -- on Savannah Road, in Lewes.

As we walked up, WBOC's "Chopper 16" was overhead, taking video of folks voting there, at Shields Elementary School next door, and at the Fire Hall, down the road. Another TV camera-person was just leaving.

Our incumbent state representative was out front greeting voters. I went over to say hello, though I voted for his opponent. He's a nice enough fellow, but I support his challenger.

I had spotted a bit of a crowd when I went by earlier in the day, but things were quieter this afternoon. We walked in and voted with no wait.

Because we live on Delaware, where Joe Biden is also running for reelection to the Senate, we had the rare pleasure of voting for him twice on one ballot. As usual, I didn't vote a straight ticket; I voted for at least one Republican and an Independent.

Afterwards, we went downtown and grabbed a coffee and a tea at the Lewes Coffee Roastery and Bakery. While we were there a couple came in and greeted some friends.
"What are you guys up to?"

"We just voted and now we are going home to celebrate."

"Well, good luck!"

"We are hoping...."
We found ourselves wondering how they voted and what they were hoping for. But we were too shy to ask.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Please Vote on Tuesday

It is terribly important that you vote in this year's election. It is always important, of course, but this year even more so. I won't pretend to be neutral; I hope you will vote for Barack Obama in the presidential election. I trust you won't be deterred by the many lies that are being spread around about him. If you are a Delawarean, please also vote for my friend Jack Markell; he's going to make a great Governor. (Not to mention Matt Denn. Vote for Matt too.)

Make sure that you have all the identification required to vote in your jurisdiction. Bring more than you need; don't be surprised at the polls.

Make sure you know where to vote. Google has deployed a Voter Info tool that uses Google Maps to geocode your address and relate it to your polling place. Don't trust this tool alone.

The image at right is Google's voter tool telling me that our polling place is the Department of Transportation building in Georgetown. It is not.

Our polling place is the old Lewes School building on Savannah Road, in Lewes. I know this because that is where we have voted in every election since we moved to this spot 14 years ago. I also know this because I checked the Polling Place Locator (at left) provided by the Delaware Commissioner of Elections office, which is a simple database look-up tool. It is not as cool and geo-techie as the Google tool, but it is accurate. I am a long-time geo-geek, but where-you-should-go-to-vote is too important to use only the cool Googly thing.

To their credit, Google is quite clear that you should always check with your local elections officials. And they have included a link to submit corrections. I did so, politely.

I will also note that I checked the Google tool using my parents' address in Maryland and it got their polling place right -- Bannockburn Elementary School. At least, that's where I went to vote in my first-ever election back in 1980, when I still lived at home. I assume Mom or Dad will correct me in the comments if I am wrong.

So make sure you know what is required to vote. Make sure you know where to vote. Make sure you vote for Barack Obama (and Jack Markell, if you can). Most importantly, please make sure that you vote.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Eleventh Golf Game of 2008

ocean resorts golf course
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
Andy, Rich and I played 18 holes at the Ocean Resorts Golf Club in Berlin, Maryland. Andy and I had played there a few years back, but things have changed a bit. It is under new ownership after having gone out of business for a while.

Ocean Resorts is a mature course. It still has that "carved from a soybean field" for some holes, But others wind through the woods, there is plenty of water, there are tricky humps scattered throughout. It is a tight, tough course. For several holes, the scorecard recommends "a long iron, hit straight." I got the first part right...

This was one of my worst games of golf in some time. Or at least that's how it felt. I started strong, staying near par for a few holes. Then it all fell apart. I tried to rally, but was either mediocre or plain awful on many holes. I ended with a 124.

And yet, there were shots I was proud of, and some putts as well. And, it was a lovely day. Remarkably warm and sunny for November 1. I'm glad we had a chance to play.