Saturday, January 31, 2009

Shameless Self-Promotion #217

I was very pleased recently to have one of my photos chosen as the header image for the State of Delaware web portal. It's a winter image, so I assume it will eventually be replaced. But, still...

Most of my Delaware-based friends have already seen this, and kindly offered their congratulations. But I thought I'd brag on-line this afternoon for my non-Delaware friends and family.

This image was created, by staff at the Government Information Center, from a photo I took in February of 2007 after a moderate snow-fall had added to the picturesque-ness of downtown Dover. I had given them blanket permission to use any of my images on the state web site in any way they please. I think they did a great job of pulling out a part of the picture that looks cool in the portal-header format.

I understand that this was one of several options presented to staff of the new Governor in the lead-up to his inauguration. I was thrilled that it was the one picked to start off the new look of the portal when it was unveiled on inauguration day.

As I have mentioned before, the changes in leadership here in Delaware, and particularly at the national level, have made me happy and hopeful and determined to get back to work. It's nice to have a little personal accomplishment to celebrate as well.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Tool

I've built a new Yahoo Pipes tool to overcome a quirk in the News Journal's RSS feed collection that has been bugging me. I call it The News Journal Aggregator.

The News Journal, Delaware's top daily paper, offers a number of RSS feeds. I've come to depend on them, in my Google Reader, to track stories from the paper. But the various feeds repeat each other sometimes. The same story might appear in both the "news" feed and the "politics" feed. And sometimes they repeat within feeds; I think this has something to do with republishing for small changes.

I don't know what causes it, but I got tired of the same stories multiplying within my Reader.

So I have built a Pipe to collect the News Journal's news, updates, politics, business and opinion feeds; filter them to drop any sports stories (I have other sources); filter them again to remove duplicates; sort them by date and time published; and publish them in a single RSS feed.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

A Milestone

Though I did not realize this until a few days later, I passed a milestone of sorts as a blogger last week. My Monday, January 19, 2009, post about an echo of the "Dean Scream" found in a novel I was reading was the 1,000th Mike's Musings post I have written since starting this blog back in September of 2004.

As of the 19th, I had been blogging for 1,597 days. I calculate that over that span I averaged a blog posting every 1 and a half days. Obviously there were days of too many blog postings and weeks when I was away doing other things.

Of course this is not my only blog. Since January of 2006 I have been blogging for the National States Geographic Information Council on the NSGIC News blog. And during 2008 I mini-blogged the books I was reading. That is not to mention my new twitter addiction. All things considered, my desire to write has been well satisfied over the years.

And, as we move forward, I find satisfaction in the fact that the first posting of my next 1,000 set of Mikes Musings was about the start of Inauguration Day and the feelings of re-beginning that I was feeling.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

This is Me Being Terribly Petty and Picky...

...but it can't be helped.

I was behind this cab driving into Dover this morning. The mix of fonts on the back bugs me. I think City Cab needs to pick one font and stick with it. Having this many different styles and types on one car makes it look amateurish.

I've seen cabs from this company on the road for a while now, and I always get a slightly feeling about them. I think it is based entirely on this fontal confusion. I've never seen the drivers do anything unsafe. This one was moving at a stately, safe pace.

I just don't like the way this variety look reads.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Jack Markell's Inauguration

I got to go out at lunchtime today to see Jack Markell take the (ceremonial) oath of office as Governor of Delaware. Jack, and his Lt. Governor Matt Denn, actually took their oaths just after midnight on Tuesday so as not to conflict with Barack Obama's inauguration. On a cold Wednesday, then, they took ceremonial oaths and gave their inaugural addresses.

There were two bands; one from Dover Air Force Base and the other from Newark High School. A color guard brought out the flags. There were television cameras, newspaper folk, and radio reporters. I even got to say hello to WDEL's Al Mascitti.

A Rabbi gave the first prayer. I liked hearing a different religious voice in Dover. A cantor sang the national anthem. He had a great bass voice; I recommend having basses sing the anthem from now on.

Matt Denn went first. He gave a fine speech that was warm and humorous, but also sharply focused on the challenges ahead. I think he was developing the theme that Barack Obama introduced: "quit complaining, get up off your butt and get to work."

Jack Markell's speech was also bracing and honest about the challenges we face, but he gave us examples from Delaware history of how the people of this state have led the nation in difficult times in the past. His message was one of hope that, if we face up to the hard work, we can get it done.

After another prayer, and a bit more ceremony, the Governor and Lt. Governor were available in a reception line in the Governor's office in Legislative Hall. It was a great pleasure to shake their hands, share a word, and then head back to work.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

That was One Hell of a Speech

I've watched Barack Obama's inaugural address twice today and listened to it on the radio once and I'm still digging it. It is a hell of a speech and well worth reading as well.

This is the part that keeps sticking in my mind:

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness.

We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth.

And because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

I watched the speech as it happened on a television in a Dover restaurant this noon. I was with several work friends and we were all thrilled. I will always remember the tracks of tears down cheeks when I remember this day.

On my drive home this evening, NPR played the whole speech again. I listened as I drove south through the Delaware countryside.

Karen and I watched the whole ceremony this evening on Tivo. I had set it to record C-Span from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.; we were able to scroll ahead through the introductions of varied VIPs and stop for the cute things, like the Obama girls. We both wanted to hear the speech again and to hear the performance by Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill.

We also wanted to hear the Rev. Joseph Lowery's inauguration benediction. We loved this part:
Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back, when brown can stick around ... when yellow will be mellow ... when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen.
This has been a good day.

A New Day

I have no idea how to approach an Inauguration Day blog post. This is such a huge day. I'm killing time this morning at home before a visit to Dr. Amy to hear her words of caution about weight and blood pressure and things like that. And waiting for the inauguration of Barack Obama

My state already has its new leader. Jack Markell was sworn-in as Delaware's Governor at 12:01 a.m. today. Jack was joined by Matt Denn, his Lt. Governor, who is already being noted as a man of humor (which appeals strongly to me).

Mr. Markell has a huge challenge ahead of him. We have a large deficit and need a strong and wise leader. I think he is up to it and I, frankly, really like the guy.

Meanwhile, there are reports that hundreds of thousands are already on the Mall in Washington. I hope to find a spot near a television at mid-day. I expect I'll have tears in my eyes.

We are about to change, I think. The cynic in me cautions that politicians are politicians and the world will be as it has always been. But I still am touched. An hope-filled. And ready for a new start for our community, our state, our nation, and the world.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Echoes of a Scream

I just finished The Hakawati by Rabih Alameddine, a Lebanese American writer, painter and one-time engineer. This is a fabulous book, exploring modern and ancient Arab, Muslim, and Lebanese life and culture. It is filled with wonderful stories -- myths, fables, lessons -- woven into each other like the many peoples who made Beirut such an interesting melting pot in the years before its civil war.

Much of the mythological portion of the book is the long tale of the great Sultan Baybars, who rose from slavery to dominion over all of the Islamic world. He is opposed by Arbusto, who tries, and fails, many times to prompt the overthrow of the ruler he feels has unjustly taken the throne.

At one point, in trying to inspire an army to victory, he offers a familiar-sounding speech:
"This is the city of Aleppo," Arbusto said. "Not only are we going to thrash them here, we are going to Damascus and Homs and Hamah, and we going to Baghdad and Mosul and Jerusalem, then we are going to Cairo to take back the sultanate. Yeeeeaaaah."
In fact, this speech, or one very like it, appears twice in the book.

Interestingly, towards the end of the book it becomes clear that Baybars is, in fact, an unjust king and the many stories of his glory are ancient public-relations efforts.

Echoes within echoes.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Want to Flow Your Own Data?

For the last month I have been beta-testing a site called "" which uses the twitter API to create a simple data-tracker for personal information such as your weight and eating habits, your sleeping patterns, your feelings, and even your bowel movements. The site appears to now be out of beta-testing and open to all users.

I tried both "feelings" and "eating & weight." I didn't find much use for the "feelings" application, but I find it interesting to track what I eat and what I weigh as I try, again, to gain control of my personal mass. This is a simple application, but helpful as a regular reminder that what I put into my body has a connection to what I weigh and how I feel.

If you are interested in this sort of thing, and you are a twitterer, have a look and see what you think.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Really. Very. Cold.

The temperature was in the single digits when we woke up this morning. It was, I think, the coldest point of a strong cold snap that should linger for a few days. For my friend Will in Minnesota, or Jim, in Wisconsin, that's probably not that cold. But here in Delaware, single digits are rare.

I added a visit to the point at Cape Henlopen to my morning round of errands, to see if it had been cold enough, long enough, for the Delaware Bay to develop any ice. I'd found mini-floes on the beach at the Cape in February of 2007 after a similar cold snap.

The ice was not quite as extensive today. It looked more like a giant Slushie (the crushed-ice drink they used to sell at 7-11 when I was a kid).

It has warmed up a bit, but remains colder than is comfortable. We ate dinner tonight in a restaurant with large, plate-glass windows. They were not designed for this sort of weather and radiated cold into the restaurant. We kept our coats on; some folks only removed their gloves when the food came to the table.

This weather is better suited to curled up in front of a roaring fire, with a cat on your lap or perhaps a dog at your feet. A warm drink, and a good book. If only we had snow...

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Perfect Toy for the Moment

I give you, an on-line imagery toy that creates an iconic (Obamiconic?) version of any image you care to upload. It mimics that icon-like (Obamicon-like?) image by Shepard Fairey of the President-Elect seen recently on the cover of Time magazine.

I expect there to be a flurry of activity on this site. It perfectly captures both the mood of anticipation that marks this last week before the inauguration, and our national love of looking at ourselves. I know I found it charming.

And, we're just waiting. Sure, there are news stories to follow (if you are a political junkie), and football playoffs (at least in our region), but aren't we all just waiting for January 20?

So when an on-line toy that is appropriate to the time, we jump right in.

I tried a few different nihilistic inspirational posters, including the celebration of silly at right. I also tried for outdoorsy and for thoughtful. But I liked the goofy one the best.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Twitter and the Daily Devotionals

A comment from ShoreThings on my Buddha Machine post has led me into yet another twitter-related post. ShoreThings came to the post based on the title, which popped up in twitter, thinking it would be about the tinybuddha twitter account. Tinybuddha offers regular nuggets of Buddhist wisdom and related quotes. Here's the latest:
"Do not overrate what you have received, nor envy others. He who envies others does not obtain peace of mind." ~Buddha
That led me to wonder what twitter devotionals might exist. So I have done some poking around and found, in no particular order:
  • Bible In a Year
    Screw the rules & traditions, just get on with sharing the love, healing and power of Jesus Christ with those around you
  • The Daily Tao
    A good artist lets his intuition lead him wherever it wants.
  • ESV Daily Verse
    In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so
  • Daily Zen
    "It is better to practice a little than talk a lot."
  • Daily Buddhism
    “Neither from itself nor from another, Nor from both, Nor without a cause, Does anything whatever, anywhere arise.”
  • Daily Bible Promises
    Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven ... where thieves do not break in and steal. Matt 6:20
I didn't find any daily Koran verses, but twitter limits searches per day and I ran out before completing my poking around.

I know there must be others. Anyone have any recommendations?

Friday, January 9, 2009

There's a Tiny Little Buddha in There?

On the windowsill in my office, up there with a small chunk of New Hampshire granite, a logo Slinky, and a tiny ceramic turtle-shaped planter (why do I have that?), I have a small red plastic box. It looks like a 1960s-era transistor radio, with a single speaker, a switch and a volume wheel.

It is a Buddha Machine, from FM3; "a little plastic box that plays music." In fact it contains two short loops of music that repeat in a drone that can be conducive to meditation, or intense work, or just weirding-out your co-workers.

I bought mine on-line a few years back after reading about it in The New Yorker. They are made by a couple of musicians in China -- one Chinese, the other a Westerner -- who also perform with groups of the machines as FM3.

Sasha Frere-Jones has written about the Buddha Machine again, both in the magazine and on his blog. I think it was his tip before that led me to the original. The news this time is that there is an updated version of the Buddha Machine, with more loops and options. There is also, apparently, an iPhone application.

Frere-Jones also points to a page with samples of some of the loops and to a cool site that offers a virtual wall of loop-playing machines that can be mixed and matched and played in dizzying combinations.

Think how much fun I can have with my office-mates now!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


A tweet this evening from Daily Show producer Miles Kahn (meta #1) pointed me to an article on the New York Observer web site, All That Twitters, (meta #2) which looks at the growth of twitter through the recent twitter-recruitment of Mr. Kahn by Daily Show performer John Hodgman:
“Producer miles Kahn thinks twitter is a waste of human time and resources,” Mr. Hodgman “tweeted” on his account, titled @hodgman, from his iPhone. “Obviously I agree with him, but I still like him,” he added.

A few minutes later, Mr. Kahn gave in and started his own account: @mileskahn. Mr. Hodgman linked to Mr. Kahn’s page and, almost instantly, hundreds of the more than 25,000 of Mr. Hodgman’s fans who subscribe to his Twitter updates started following @mileskahn.

I have to admit. I am one of the Hodgman fans who started following Miles Kahn that day (meta #3). I followed that exchange, and the good natured banter it engendered, and I continue to enjoy their twittering. (Mr. Kahn had a story idea shot down today).

This does all seem very circular. And I fully recognize that I'm over-twittered. But I'm enjoying twitter and I follow many people in my profession whose tweets add to my regular environmental scanning.

It's all about communication.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

It's All In the Choices We Make

Sometimes the smallest details stand as editorial comments. Looking through Tuesday's front pages on the Newseum web site, I found several different photographs of a cute moment Monday in the Capitol Rotunda.

Mr. Obama was walking through the Rotunda with Nancy Pelosi and her crew. He stopped to talk to 5-year old Carter Metz, of Tennessee.

I was interested to see how that was played in different papers.

I was struck by the caption the editors of the Kansas City Star chose to put just above one version of the picture: "Obama meets with Capitol Hill leaders." Placed above this particular photo, this suggests that maybe the 5-year old is the leader.

By contrast, The Washington Times chose what I think is a cuter photo of Mr. Obama bending down to talk to young Carter and includes just a descriptive caption below. This highlights the fatherly Obama and the charm of the moment.

I may, of course, be reading way too much into these design choices. But that "meets with leaders" looks like the sort of thing I would have wanted to try to get away with.

I should also note that I Find the Times' version, with Pelosi and Rahm Emmanuel and the rest of the suits relegated to the background while the President-Elect speaks to a child, really cute.

Monday, January 5, 2009

What Music Do I Like?

I have eclectic taste in music. When I try to explain or demonstrate my taste, folks often simplify the discussion to one word "weird." I guess that's fair, my taste buds are spread all over the musical tongue.

I heard a piece on NPR this evening, however, that might help to illustrate what I love about the many different musics I like: an openness.

The story is about a group of Nashville session players who set aside their formulaic day-job playing once each week to play as The Time Jumpers in a regular Monday evening gig at a place called The Station Inn. They play standards from across the American music spectrum; generally as western swing. They play for love, fun, and friendship. They are not trying to be "successful." And they sound great.

The part of the NPR story that caught my ear was toward the end, when guitarist Andy Reiss explained what he likes about playing this way:
The beauty of music is [that] when your ears are wide open, your heart is wide open. You're not even thinking. You're listening and you're part of something, and everybody is doing that. When that happens, it's pure magic. And as a musician, you know how rare that is.
What struck me is how similar this is to the way that the members of the Grateful Dead, who play what would seem an entirely different sort of music, describe what they seek on stage. They talk in very similar terms in their 2009 tour announcement (which I linked to over the week-end).

Mickey Hart calls it the "mind meld." The group describes the process in a video posted on their site as "all about listening. You listen more than you play..." Phil Lesh says that that sense of surprise is why he keeps playing:
For me, it’s the question mark that’s really pulling me in...what’s gonna happen? When you walk out on the stage the possibilities are infinite every time. The musical possibilities are infinite: there is no end to it, there’s no back wall and there’s no ceiling, there’s no floor. It’s infinite and therefore you can still explore it till the day that you die.
So here we have two different sorts of music that bear striking similarities. They both draw from the deep well of American songs, they both exist somewhat outside the main stream, and they both are played by musicians who understand that the beauty of the music is found in the other players.

This is what I like. The genre doesn't really matter; I'm interested in the process and the surprise.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Books in 2009

I've chosen a tool to try out as my books and reading tracker for 2009. I was looking for a way to track my reading for the year; different from the WordPress blog I tried in 2008.

I did some poking around and looked into several different book-lover sites. I also considered creating a Google Docs spreadsheet to track my books. But when I took a look at goodreads, set up to "improve the process of reading and learning throughout the world," I decided to give it a shot.

It looks like it will allow me to maintain a list of books organized into "shelves." I'm starting with to-read, currently-reading, read, library-book, and owned. I may add more later. It comes with lots of metadata about books built-in and is set up as a social site, encouraging reviews and recommendations among users.

I've added a goodreads widget to the left-hand side-bar. It tracks books as I finish them. We'll see how it works out.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Heads Up!

Deadheads take note: The Dead will tour this spring! Bobby Wier, Phil Lesh, Mickey Hart, and Billy Kruetzmann will be joined by guitarist Warren Haynes and keyboardist Jeff Chimenti. It's the same line-up that toured in 2004.

The group had not gotten together much lately, but a few fund-raising shows for Barack Obama last year seem to have planted a seed among the band-members and they are ready to try on the full Dead thing again.

All four of the remaining original Grateful Dead have been busy on solo projects for years. They have grown and changed and I think want to hear what they'll sound like playing together again.

The tour will start in April in North Carolina and be mostly an east-coast affair, though it will head west, stop in Colorado and end in California in May. There will be five shows near me in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

I hope to make at least one.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

A Year in Books

I read 63 and one-half books in 2008, an average of one book every 5.7 days. That's one of the findings of my year-long Reading Log experiment.

Starting a year ago today, with Custer’s Brother’s Horse, and running through The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, which I started on December 29 and was halfway through as the ball dropped between 2008 and 2009, I have kept a blog-style reading list. I have recorded title, author, publication date, publisher and a few short thoughts about each book that I have read.

The word-cloud that decorates this post (thanks wordle!) is built from the tags I used for each post. It suggests that I prefer fiction to non-fiction and favor historical fiction and fantasy (often in combination). Most books I read are set in the US or the UK and many had to do with war or its effects on folks.

Just over 56% of the books I read (36) were from the Lewes Library. Of the remaining 44%, most were books I bought or was given as gifts, except for a few that were loaners from my brother Matt.

The overwhelming majority (60) were novels. Two were collections of essays, one was organizational self-help, and one was biography.

I'm not certain how to carry forward into 2009. I know I'll keep reading. I always have, as far back as I can remember. But I don't know that I still want to "blog" my reading. I have a day or two to consider, while I finish 2008's final book. Then I may create an on-line spreadsheet, or look for some twitter-like tool that will let me keep track.

Any suggestions?