Monday, June 30, 2008

Half a Year of Reading

We're at the end of June, the (more or less) halfway point of the year. This seems a good time to look back over my 2008 Reading Log for a bit of literatural accounting. I read 31 books in the 181 days between January 1 and June 29. That's an average of one book each 5.8 days. (Yes, I know it sounds like bragging, but I'm being anal about this stuff this year.)

Most of the books I read, 27 of them, were from the Lewes Library. Only four were books I own; most of those were gifts. I like my small-town library.

Twenty-eight were fiction. Two were standard non-fiction and one was a book of essays. I enjoy the escape of diving into a fictional landscape. I have always read more of fiction than any other category.

Seventeen were set in the United States and nine were set in the United Kingdom. One was set partially in India and one in Roman Britain.

I read two books set around the US Civil War. Two were mysteries. And two were fantasy. Fourteen were historical fiction.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Delaware Candidates' Web Sites In Focus

The politics-watching blog Political Realm takes a look this week at the campaign web sites of Delaware Senator Joe Biden and his republican challenger, Christine O'Donnell.

The entry is part of the site's "Web Grades" series, which has been looking at campaign sites since spring of 2007 when they reviewed the sites of the many contenders in the presidential primaries. Interestingly, those reviews, more than a year ago, gave top marks to the web sites of John McCain on the republican side and John Edwards and Barack Obama on the democratic side. Maybe there's something to this internet thing after all?

When I started reading this entry I found myself worried that Ms. O'Donnell, demonstrably younger and therefore potentially more hip than Senator Biden, would take the prize for best campaign web site. But I was pleased to find that the Biden site took the prize with a grade of B to Ms. O'Donnell's D-minus.

Neither site includes a campaign blog, which the Political Realm folks called a disappointment. Both had multimedia content, though Sen. Biden's site was considered stronger and more complete. The Biden site also outshone the O'Donnell site in social-network features.

One might question the objectivity of the Political Realm reviewers; they do not claim to be a non-partisan site. However, despite the fact that I am proudly-partisan myself, I do think they take an even-handed approach to reviewing political web sites. They are reviewing the sites themselves and not the candidates. And the criteria do appear to have more to do with communication and interaction than with policy or position.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

These Birds Have Flown

The mourning dove who nested this spring in one of our hanging plants has left for the summer, taking her chick with her.

The dove appeared in the hanging basket back in May. She was well-hidden while the flowers were alive. When the flowers died -- I didn't want to water them with the nest in there -- she lost her camouflage. At that point, we could see that she had two eggs to hatch.

In the last week or so, a chick appeared and started to put on weight. We watched it carefully. It didn't take long before it was ready to head out. Now our birds are gone.

We found the second egg, unhatched, in the nest. We're not sure why this egg didn't make it. Maybe it wasn't properly fertilized? An unfortunate mutation? Whatever it is, we have to assume that nature knows what it is doing.

This is Just Sad

The Washington Post has a story this morning on the increase in hate-group and white-power activity in response to the candidacy of Barack Obama. In Hate Groups' Newest Target, the Post reports that hate and white supremacist web sites are seeing more traffic and are giving the credit to Sen. Obama.
"I haven't seen this much anger in a long, long time," said Billy Roper, a 36-year-old who runs a group called White Revolution in Russellville, Ark. "Nothing has awakened normally complacent white Americans more than the prospect of America having an overtly nonwhite president."
I'd like to pause here, if I may, and marvel at the idea that someone can be "overtly non-white." Should he be more covert about his racial background? Would it be okay if Barack Obama tried to "pass" for white? I shake my head in disgust, but I have to admit I'm fascinated by the lengths folks will go to, and the pretzilization of the language that they will employ, to try to make a hateful point without seeming hateful.

The story notes the many hate-filled smears that have been floated on-line about Sen. Obama. There's no need to catalog them here, though I should note that they do turn up in the Delaware blogosphere from time to time.

On a positive note (though the term feels wrong in this context), the Post story does point out that the hate groups are also angry with John McCain "for his moderate views on immigration and his willingness to stick with the Iraq war."

And, the Post reports, they have a slight hope for a President Obama because, they feel, that could galvanize the hate groups into action and help them elect a president of their own (like David Duke, who ran for president in 1988 and got less than 1% of the vote). Or, they say, an Obama victory could be the final blow.
"Maybe people see him in office, and it's like: 'That's it. It's just too late. Look at what's happened now. We've endured all these defeats, and we've still got a multicultural society.' And then there's just no future for our viewpoint."
I think the white-supremacist movement is behind the times by a generation or two, frankly. The United States is already, and has long been, a multicultural society. It is what makes us strong. A President Obama would not be the end of "white-power," it would be the period at the end of the sentence that summarizes the historical footnote that was the white-power movement.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

New Blog (and New Radio Station?) in Delaware

I just stumbled across a new Delaware blog -- WKNZ - Z88.7fm, Harrington, DE -- which will chronicle the effort of a group of local Christian folk to build and run a "25,000 watt HD Christian radio station."

The blog appeared June 10 after the group got its FCC construction permit. That alone took 10 years; the FCC is a slow beast. How long the next steps will take is uncertain, but the permit itself is a large step forward:

We are humbled, blown-away, and a little over whelmed, but after nearly 10 years, the FCC has finally given us the approval to begin building a very powerful Christian radio station on 88.7fm in Delaware. The tower will be in Harrington and the studios in Milton, DE (at least that was the plan 10 years ago!). We are currently in the process of dusting off those plans. Lots has changed in 10 years!

The blog-writers are Bill, Andy, and Elbert (with an "E"). I think Bill is likely Bill Sammons, who I used to know in conjunction with the Delmarva Poultry Industry and who I recall was leading an effort to found a Christian station some years back. I assume this is he and this will be that station, but I don't always pay as close attention as I should and so may be completely wrong.

There's a survey up now, looking for input on what sorts of things to program. I think I'll take it. I'm not particularly Christian, though the Lovely Karen is a woman of faith and we have friends among the Christians, but I applaud diversity on the airwaves. And I don't think we should automatically assume that a Christian radio station will automatically hew to the worst extremes of the "christian right."

The musical choices could be interesting. I'll make the argument, for example, in favor of playing some of the Grateful Dead catalogue. Seriously. One of the things that fascinates me about the Dead's music is the widespread use of the Bible as lyrical source material and inspiration. And their deep exploration into folk music and folk traditions included mining a vein of moral stories and cautionary tales that could fit in the new station's format.

That's my view, anyway.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Mazeltov! Mama Bird!

We have a baby. The dove that has nested in one of the hanging plants outside our front door has at least one chick.

There were two eggs, though, and we're not sure what has become of the other. It could be that it hasn't hatched, or the chick is well-hidden by Mom. Or maybe that egg just didn't make it. Nature.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Fourth Golf Game of 2008

I played an early morning round of golf on the Sunday of my Boston visit. It was another very hot day, so I was glad to start my round at 6:40 a.m.

I had done a Google search of the Newton area on Saturday and found a few courses. I chose Newton Commonwealth because it was quite nearby and looked like an inexpensive public municipal course.

Newton Commonwealth started in the late 1890s as a 9-hole course. by the 1920s, it was an 18-hole course and had been redesigned by the golf architect Donald Ross. In the 1970s, as the Chestnut Hill Country Club, the course got into financial trouble and was bought by the City of Newton to keep the land from development.

View Larger Map

The course is a par-70 that straddles a valley with a small stream running across it. The 18 holes take you up-hill, across the stream, through several undulations and along the edges of a hill then back down again before repeating the same twice on the second nine holes. There are several short but very tricky par-3 holes that feature steep drops to small greens. The distance is easy; the risks, though, are great.

I played with a young man named Jason, his brother Brad, and their friend Brit. Jason is a New Yorker who met and married a local girl and settled in Newton to raise a family. Brad and Brit still live in New York City and were up for a visit. They were nice young men and fun to play with.

I started the round with my usual self-deprecation and an appeal to their sense of humor. And, of course, immediately sent a modest but straight drive up the center of the fairway, pitched onto the green and two-putted for par. That undercut my warnings about the state of my play. So when I then played hole number two poorly, it made me feel that much worse.

In the end, I carded a 104. I had a few pars and a few modest blow-ups. It was great fun to play a brand new (to me) course. The courses around here are mostly quite flat; any hills must be added. So it is great fun to play a hilly course. And I enjoy meeting new people.

Another Word Cloud

I wanted to try another of these wordle word-clouds. This one is a cloud of the tags I use in A more practical and clickable version of this has long lived at the lowest left-hand spot on this blog, of course, but I think this gives an accurate picture of what my focus is when I browse the web and mark things for further use.

I search mostly for items of and about Delaware. Many of these I find in my work for state government; I track land-use issues among county and municipal governments. Many of these I mark for inclusion on various pages of my office's web site; we use items relating to land-use planning, about proposals reviewed under the PLUS Process, on the US Census, and about the use and sharing of geospatial data (GIS stuff). I've also used tags to supplement an aggregation of state GIS coordination RSS feeds that I help maintain for the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC).

I still want to take another crack at a family-tree wordle. The one I did the other night was just a selection from among the Mahaffies on my tree. I'm trying to figure out a way to extract all 1,700 of the people on my family tree and make a wordle from that last.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Very Many Mahaffies

There's a neat light java tool out there called Wordle which creates colorful word-clouds. They are not the sort of thing that you can use for navigation, but they are loads of fun. 

I have created a few, including this one based on a bunch of names from my family tree. Have a browse through the gallery and see if you aren't tempted to make one yourself.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Hot Day in Boston

I took a long, hot walk through Boston on the Saturday of my stay in Massachusetts. I wanted to see a bit of the Freedom Trail and wander around Boston Common.

I was staying in a hotel that straddled the Mass Pike (I-90) in Newton. The nearest T (subway) station was about 2.5 miles away in Newton Center. The hotel staff recommended a $10 cab ride, but I had a whole day to kill, so I decided to hoof-it. I had a nice walk up through a very respectable residential area, past a private school or two, and into a nifty little downtown area.

The T is comfortable and fast and takes you right into the center or Boston. I got off at the municipal building (featuring a big "Beat LA"
banner in support of the Celtics) and walked along parts of the Freedom Trail. This winds through Boston, old and new, past many of the places where the United States of America was born. There are historic taverns, and statues, and several very old graveyards hosting American heroes and ancient enigmas.

I followed trail to Boston Common, a 50-acre park in the center of the city that dates from the 1630s. It is the oldest city park in the US and fronts the Massachusetts State House, which also proudly wore Celtics green. The Common was filled with picnickers and tourists, Tai Chi'ers and free-speech activists, and an old-format religious group singing and preaching to a crowd that included listeners and ignorers in about equal measure.

A part of Boston Common is the Public Garden, added in the 1800s and featuring a 4-acre pond with ducks and swans. The pond is bridged by what is said to be the world's smallest suspension bridge. On this day, it was host to an accordionist busker. At the far end is an equestrian statue of George Washington.

There was a watercolor painting workshop under way in the Garden. I kept wandering past painters hard at work and wise enough to stay in the shade.

The loveliest thing I saw was a pair of swans nesting next to the pond. I'd never seen swans nesting before. The nest was carefully fenced-off and folks watched from a respectful distance.

Leaving the Public Garden, I headed down Boylston Street to Copley Square where an older building was admiring its reflection in a newer neighbor. And there was a fountain in which families were cooling themselves and a group on a self-advertised field trip provided the music.

I caught the T back out to Newton Center and strolled back down the hill to my hotel, a float in the hotel's tiny pool, a light supper and so to bed.

Monday, June 9, 2008

"I Wished to Live Deliberately..."

On the Friday of my Boston sojourn, I went to Walden Pond to visit the site of the cabin that Henry David Thoreau built in 1845 as part of his experiment in simple living. He wrote about the two years he lived in that cabin in Walden, Or Life in the Woods, published in 1854.

I had not set out to visit this shrine to the transcendental movement; it was too rainy to be a tourist in Boston so I was wandering purposely aimlessly and found myself on the road to Concord. All of the sudden, I saw a pond on one side of the road and a parking lot entrance sign on the other. The word "walden" jumped out at me and I turned right.

I had found the Walden Pond State Reservation, maintained by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It surrounds the pond and includes a small swimming beach, beautiful views, and many trails leading to the site of Thoreau's cabin. It was here that Thoreau settled in to try a simple life.

I walked through the woods to the site of the hut. Thoreau abandoned the place after two years. It was salvaged into other uses; the boards went into other construction projects and the roof became a cover for a pigsty. The site was lost for years but was rediscovered in the 1940s.

Starting in the 1870s, friends and followers of Thoreau started to visit the site they thought had been where Thoreau lived and wrote (they were off by a bit) and began a tradition of leaving behind a stone in memory and tribute. There is now a sizable pile of stones.

Across the pond there is a steep bluff known as Emerson's Cliff. I found a small stone there to place on the pile by the hut.

Concord has a great deal else to see. The Minuteman National Historic Park is there. It includes the Old North Bridge where the American Revolutionary War started.

I'd like to head back there some time and spend more than an afternoon.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

At Fenway Park

I got a chance to see the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park last night. I'm killing time in the Boston area while Colleen plays bass at Berklee and I figured I might as well try to get a ticket to what turned out to be the 418th consecutive sell out of Fenway.

I'm an Orioles fan, but I do like the Red Sox. Besides, baseball is baseball, and we're talking about Fenway Park, one of the classic old ball parks.

I had pretty good seats (not as good as that picture would suggest; that was taken on my way to the men's room). I was in the grandstand on the first-base side and close to home plate. I was fairly far back, though, just a row in front of standing room.

I sometimes enjoy going solo to events like this. I've done several large rock concerts as a solo and now this ball game. There's a certain freedom to being an unknown.

The Red Sox lost this game, 8 to 0. They had had an emotionally active game the night before in completing a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays, a good team. There were fights and outbursts and drama. The game I saw was against the Mariners, not one of the better teams, and the Red Sox looked a little flat and made a few errors.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

In Boston

I'm typing this in a smelly smoking room in a Sheraton Inn in Newton, Massachusetts. I'm in the Boston area through the week-end. I brought Colleen up for a three-day "Bass-Lines" program at the Berklee School of Music. She's staying in the Berklee dorm and I have a cheap (and stinky) room just outside of Boston.

We drove up today. Colleen is almost done with the first 6 months of her graduated driver's license; she can drive with a parent along in the car and I used this trip as an opportunity to give her some (guided) experience driving on various kinds of highways. She has now driven Delaware's SR1, parts of the Garden State Parkway, several different interstates, and the Merritt Parkway. She did well.

We got into Boston in the late afternoon and got her checked-in at Berklee with no trouble. We then met some summer friends at Quincy Market for a nice dinner. After that, I dropped Colleen off at her dorm and headed out to this hotel.

I got terribly lost heading back out here. It was dark and Boston is tricky. I got here, though, after a few false leads. This hotel sits astride Interstate 90 -- the Massachusetts Turnpike -- Looking out my window I see three lanes of headlights and three of tail-lights.

I used Hotwire to book this place; it didn't have to be special, just a place to sleep for a few nights. My plan is to play tourist but be nearby if Colleen needs me. I didn't count on a smoking room, though. I hope they can move me tomorrow.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Seen Around Dover...

I took a brief walk around Dover this noon for my lunch hour. It was a pleasant day for a walk, with a carry-out Caesar salad from 33 West as my reward.

On Elm Terrace, I came upon a rose bush that has climbed up a neighboring tree. A group of pale pink blossoms were glowing in a shaft of sunlight at about second-story level.

I've mentioned before that Dover is a city of flowers. Delaware's Capitol City fills with tulips each spring. The city does a great job of maintaining flower beds and planters downtown. The residents do their bit too.

Later, over on Governor's Avenue, I spotted three young men running along in front of a Chrysler dealership. They appeared to be about high-school age. There were two out front; one carrying a soccer ball and one carrying a pair off cleats. The third fellow was carrying what looked like the goal and net. He was having a bit of trouble keeping up.

You never do know what you are going to see next.