Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Things Military

There's been a fair amount of military activity around life lately. There was a "welcome home" ceremony outside my office this afternoon for the 261st Signal Brigade. This is the Delaware National Guard unit that includes our State's Attorney General Beau Biden, son of Vice President Joe Biden.

There was a "send off" ceremony for the 361st almost exactly a year ago. In that case, VP candidate Joe Biden spoke. Today he was back as the sitting Vice President. In both cases, that meant a strong Secret Service presence and security details. Things were a bit more intense this time around.

Meanwhile, last week, my parents hosted my father's cousin Mary Frances and elements of her family for a few days for the burial, at Arlington National Cemetery, of her husband. He was John Dunn, a retired colonel who served, to great distinction, in World War II and in Korea.

Colonel Dunn was a remarkable man, and a great hero. His memory is sacred to the many soldiers who survived a Korean prisoner of war camp thanks in part to his leadership.

His burial was suitably impressive; I'm sorry I was not able to go. My brother John, who was there, summed it up well in a tweet he posted afterwards:
Full honors military service at Arlington today: horse-drawn caisson, band, bugler, 3-volley salute, honor guard, flag ceremony, plus mass
Karen and I had dinner with my folks last night. They regaled us with the story of the Arlington ceremony and the honors to Colonel Dunn. I was thinking about that as I watched the welcome home for the Delaware National Guard troops today.

Friday, September 25, 2009

New Blog!

I released a new blog into the world today. It is meant to serve as a communications tool for the Delaware Geographic Data Committee -- the DGDC -- which is a part of my set of responsibilities for the state of Delaware.

I already maintain a standard web site for the DGDC. The new blog gives me a chance to create an on-going conversation and regular news updates. I have also created a new twitter stream for DGDC; it is called DelawareGIS.

Both were created under a new social media policy (PDF) approved by the Delaware Department of Technology and Information. (Full disclosure: I sat on the committee that helped draft the policy)

The policy allows us, with approval from agency leadership, of course, to use some of the new tools known generally as "social media" to increase our communications among state agencies, with county and local government and other partners, and with the public.

I'm an information-pusher. Putting information out is what I enjoy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

I Thought She Looked Familiar

I've been watching the show Swords on the Discovery Channel. It's a documentary series about swordfishing boats and their crews working on the Grand Banks, in the Atlantic.

One of the Captains, Linda Greenlaw, has looked very familiar to me, but I could not figure out why.

Now I know.

My Alumni newsletter from Colby College in came in by e-mail today. The Out of the Blue newsletter for September 2009 includes a brief note that explained it to me:
Linda Greenlaw '83, author of The Hungry Ocean: A Swordboat Captain's Journey and five other books, is one of the captains on a new Discovery Channel series called Swords: Life on the Line, about swordfishing boats around New England.
She's an old school mate. I'm class of '84, so it's likely that I met this woman somewhere on campus a bit more than a quarter-century ago.

I had thought that she seemed familiar because of her New England accent. I had noted to myself that she reminded me of my college days and the sort of folks I new when I lived in Maine.

Turns out that I was right.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

A Barn in the Spotlight

This old barn, at the intersection of Clay Road and kings Highway, outside of Lewes, Delaware, has been much in focus lately. It is on a tract of land that is proposed to be turned into a regional shopping center.

This proposal is strongly opposed by most people in the Lewes area. It's an unpopular place for a shopping center and, I think, a bad idea from an economics standpoint -- we don't need more shopping and this could threaten existing retail outlets.

As a result of all the concern, I think, I've noticed a strong increase in people stopping along the road to take its picture.

Now, I note, local painter Kim Klabe is talking about making it the subject of one of her canvases:
...just in case the developers win and the barn gets torn down. Saw it from a different angle the other morning and had one of those AAAAAhhhhhh, look at that...moments.
It's a pretty barn. I'd like to see what Kim does with it.

When the development plan for that property first came forward, the developers talked about saving the barn and turning it into a restaurant. I thought that was a good idea. They've since backed away from that idea.

That's a shame.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Here's Good News

John Mayer is finishing work on a new album. I've been following him on twitter for some time and reading about the process of recording an album. This evening he wrote that, while he can't share the first single yet, he can share the cover art.

This means we should be hearing new music from Mayer soon. Karen and I are fans and I am not embarrassed to say I'm looking forward to it.

Each new record from this guy has brought something different. He started as a poppy, acoustic troubadour. He took a detour down the blues alley and became a Clapton-style guitar ace.

He has successfully mixed those personas in the past and I expect to hear another new direction with this record.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

They Got Me Again

I got rather a surprise when I went out to my car at lunchtime today. When I turned it on and started to drive, the song that came on my radio was exactly the same as that that had been playing when I'd parked there in the morning. And it started in right at the point where it had cut-off earlier.

It was the song Black-Throated Wind, performed by the Grateful Dead. It was part of a run of songs from a show (I think in 1977?) featured today on the Today In Grateful Dead History show on Sirius Radio's The Dead channel.

I had tuned in around 7:30 this morning (after listening to news for most of my commute). I came in during the jam between China Cat Sunflower and I Know You Rider (China/Rider to aficionados). The final song in the run was Black Throated Wind, but I had to cut it off during a second time through the chorus:
The black-throated wind keeps on pouring in.
And it speaks of a life that passes like dew.
It's forced me to see that you've done better by me,
Better by me than I've done by you.
That must have been at about 7:36 a.m. As it happened, I came back out just at 11:36 and turned the car on at exactly the same spot in the song. It freaked me out for a moment until I remembered that This Day in Grateful Dead History runs at 7 and 11 in the morning, and at 7 in the evening.

So I got to listen to the rest of the tune, including one of my favorite lines:
You ain't gonna learn what you don't want to know.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Twentieth Golf Game of 2009

I wanted to get back out to the golf course this weekend to redeem myself for my poor play last weekend. I did get out. Andy and I played at Old Landing this morning. And I did score better, but only marginally.

I could make excuses. The course was very wet. There were still puddles in the wooded areas. And on many fairways, and even some tee boxes, you could still see where there had been flooding from the debris left behind.

But really it was my poor play that let me down again. I had a few good holes and hit the ball well sometimes. but not enough and not consistently. I scored a 108.

Andy played well. He finished with a 97.

We walked the course, and carried our bags, which is good exercise, I think. We had a nice time.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

I Think There's Still Hope For Bipartisanship

Karen and I walked into town this morning to vote in the special election to fill a state representative seat vacated when Joe Booth won an earlier special election to replace a state senator who passed away. Maybe I need to make a diagram?

At the polls, we found our local state senator, Republican Gary Simpson (Booth's new seat is west of us), and Tim Willard, who I think is a leader in the Democratic Party, chatting together. That's Gary on the left and Tim on the right.

It was nice to chat with them and it was a good opportunity to register a complaint.

We've had plenty of attention from the political parties leading up to this. It was a short, but intense campaign. I took in one of the two candidate debates that were held. And we've been getting multiple robo calls for a while now. From both sides and from a few outside groups as well. We are, frankly, tired of getting calls.

Both gentlemen accepted the complaint with good grace. In fact, they said we were not the only ones to complain.

But chatting with them also reminded me of one of the things I like about where we live. There are still, among the leadership of the Democrats and Republicans, kind and friendly people who work well together, even as rivals.

To be sure, there are also jerks and blowhards, but they tend to be on the fringes. When you get one on one with folks, it's still generally nice.

This is why Gary still gets my vote, most of the time. And it is one of the reasons why I voted (and I think Karen did as well), for Rob Robinson in this special election. Rob's mom is a Republican. In fact she was a former candidate for Congress for the Republicans But they are of what I think of as the Neither-Right-Wing-Nor-Left-Wing branch of Delaware politics. They are interested in public service.

I think that's a good thing and I hope we can keep it alive through the dark times we're seeing lately.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Twenty-One Years of Happiness

Karen and I celebrate our 21st anniversary today. On this date, in 1988, I was kneeling next to this lovely woman in front of an alter at Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church in Potomac, Maryland. I was wearing a crown and trying to follow a very serious marriage ceremony, some of which was celebrated in another language. All I know is that, when it was over, I felt pretty damn married.

It must have worked. Twenty-one years later and I am just as married -- and just as happy, if not more so.

Ever since our marriage, and maybe even more so since the birth of our daughters, I find I am a great softy. News of weddings and births chokes me up. During the brief periods of openness recently when large groups of gay and lesbian couples were marrying, and the marriages were all over the news, I was a mess. Those weddings made me terribly happy. They added even more depth and joy to our marriage.

Our recent trip to Hawaii was, in part, a celebration of last year's 20th anniversary. We'd been talking about doing something big and special for that anniversary, but the planning worked out to put the trip into this past summer. I had talked, during our honeymoon, about celebrating 10 or 20 years by repeating that honeymoon, (with any kids we might have), but it was a hot-air ballooning trip to Switzerland and that just hasn't been practical (or particularly affordable). Yet.

So here we are, 21 years into marriage. Sometimes I complain that, after 23 years (if you include courtship), I have about run out of ideas for gifts and cards. But I find I always come up with something. And the search for gifts for Karen makes me happy, too.

This year, the gift is small, but pretty. And, of course, there are flowers. I traditionally place a call to Givens Flowers, in Georgetown, to order roses delivered to Karen at work. I've gotten used to the same woman who answers the phone there and who has always given me great service. This year, the message I asked for for the card included the fact of 21 years of marriage.

“Keep up the good work,” she said. “My husband and I just celebrated 50 years.”

When we married, Father Tom, who performed the ceremony, told us to try to surprise each other with something each day of our marriage – even if it is just a rock. We've done that. In fact, we have a tradition of keeping an eye out for heart-shaped pebbles on the beach – we spend a lot of time on the beach. We have several glass jars on our mantle in which we've collected years worth of pebbles – heart shaped, perfectly oval, or just interesting.

So I'll keep trying to be a loving husband. My parents have been together for more than 50 years, and so have Karen's parents. I hope to offer a 50th anniversary blog post -- or whatever the equivalent may be in the year 2038.

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Speaking of Presidential Word-Clouds...

After yesterday's discussion of word clouds related to the "back to school" speech by President Obama, I was referenced in a tweet by jamesparks101 who invited me to check out a wordle project he (I think) completed in August. He has created word clouds of every one of the 56 inaugural addresses from US history.

I've posted the word-cloud from William Henry Harrison's marathon inaugural in 1841, above-right. It is the longest inaugural address in history and Harrison made it hat-less and coat-less on a cold, wet, March day. After two hours speaking (yikes) he attended several inaugural balls. He caught a cold; the cold lingered, became pneumonia, and led to Harrison's death on April 4, 1841.

I find this interesting, though I do have to point out that jamesparks101 is being something of a pain by tweeting the same thing, over and over, apparently to anyone who sends a tweet making reference to word-clouds:
...take a look at this wordle project retweet if worthy.
I'll not re-tweet, but thought it worth a mention here.

Monday, September 7, 2009

An Anniversary

This blog -- Mike's Musings -- turned 5 years old yesterday. I almost missed the date; I'm more focused on Karen and my 21st anniversary coming up on Thursday.

I've made 1,100 posts since I started this thing with a "had to start somewhere" post on September 6, 2004. Based only on the labels I've given to posts over the years -- and labeling didn't become available until after I'd started -- most posts have had to do with Delaware, culture, photography, politics, blogging, history, golf, vacation, family, and travel. That seems to match my interests fairly, though not in that order. And music, which I'd have placed in the top ten, is at number 11.

Of course, given the limited on-line music-sharing (legal) choices, I've been less inclined to blog about it. And someone once said that blogging about music is like tweeting about architecture. Or something like that.

Looking back in a non-scientific way, I think I started out with a broader view and commented on a great many different things. I was often looking at politics. As the Delaware blogosphere has grown and matured, I found myself less and less inclined to talk politics, leaving that to the political blogs, which have had a fine run over the last few years.

I've also noted a down-turn in posting this past year. I'm not sure whether that has been due to a feeling that I've already commented on everything (and I'm too lazy to come up with new thoughts) or that it is due to the growth of LinkedIn, FaceBook and twitter and the move to posting more things using those tools.

I assume I'll find a balance and will report that back to you a year from now.

It's About "School" (Updated)

Pandora, over at DelawareLiberal has posted the text, as prepared for delivery, of the President's planned speech to students on Tuesday. I took the liberty of running it through wordle to see what the top 75 words would be.

Apparently, it's all about "School."

So much for "indoctrination."

There is an argument developing in the comments on Pandora's post that seeks to change the story about why there was an uproar. But one thing seems clear to me: It (the uproar) is pretty much just a load of crap and should be ignored. The problem I see is that uproar appears to be the preferred mode of public discourse these days.

It's a shame, really.

UPDATE: DelawareDem was kind enough to add a link to this post in another post on the subject on DelawareLiberal (turn-about=fair play?). The argument that ensued led me to try to do exactly the same wordle word cloud of a Ronald Reagan speech to students when he was president, back in 1988:

Please forgive the line on the left. I did a less accurate job with teh screen capture. It looks, from this, like Mr. Reagan's topic was a bit more political than Mr. Obama's.

Another Log From History

I'm not sure how it ended up on-line, but there's a fascinating short-entry log by a B-17 navigator in World War II posted as a PDF file.

The log covers 1943 and 1944. The writer is stationed in England and taking part in missions over Holland, France and Germany. It runs from the flight crew's journey to England and includes more than 20 missions before the narrator's B-17 is shot down over Holland.

The log ends with a recollection, written later, of the navigator's experiences "escaping and evading" in Holland and France after he bailed-out of the crippled B-17.

I found this fascinating, both as a student of history (mostly I enjoy the stories from history rather than catalogs of fact) and as the nephew of a B-17 navigator. My Uncle, Robert Farrar, was a navigator on B-17s in World War II. He never told us much about his wartime experience. If the scenes described here are some of what Robert saw during his tour of duty, then I guess I'm not surprised.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Nineteenth Golf Game of 2009

Andy and I played 18 holes at The Rookery, near Milton, on Saturday afternoon. We played with two fellows from the DC area who have places in Rehoboth and Lewes and were thinking about retiring here. They had lots of questions about living here.

I tend to consider The Rookery my "home course," but looking back over the past year I see that this has only been my second round there in 2009. That's a shame, it's a challenging course and very well cared-for.

I did not come close to my goal of breaking 100. I had four bad "blow-up" holes that pretty much crushed my round. I can think of specific shots and how they went wrong -- five trying to get to greens and another four or five simply poor putts.

In several cases, I let thick grass or tufts catch my club head and turn it, sending shanks off to the right. In one, I topped a shot and sent it into a pond. My follow-up, from a drop, went right and into a wetland area. My mistake there was not stopping, stepping back, and regrouping before trying again.

On the other hand, I did manage two pars on the back nine, so there's still hope.

I finished at 109, but Andy played very well and scored a 95. The photo above is where his drive landed on the par-3 ninth. He sank the putt for a birdie. And he had three pars as well.

It was a sunny day, but cool. There was a nice breeze blowing. The course was in fine shape, and it wasn't too crowded. The company was pleasant. All in all, that's not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Me? I'm On Section 25 Time Today!

I've taken the day off from work today, using one of five new days off that we Delaware state employees got with our 2.5 percent pay cut for fiscal year 2010 (which started in July).

Delaware's new governor, Jack Markell, was faced with an historically large projected budget deficit when he took office in January. He had to make some tough calls, including a proposed 8 percent pay cut for state workers and several other less public, but tough, belt-tighteners.

When you add in teachers, state workers are one of the largest voting blocks in the state. and they were not, as a group, very happy with the projected pay cut. I was not pleased, but working close to the budget as I do I also realized that some cuts were required.

The state workers' anger made the legislators nervous. They cut the pay cut back to 2.5 percent and they insisted on giving us something back for the pay we gave up. They came up with the idea of 5 extra days off.

These are not "furlough days," since we're getting paid for them. And they are not really vacation days, because they can't be banked and carried over to the next fiscal year. So what to call them?

As a good bureaucracy, we ended up calling them "Section 25 Days" because they are established in Section 25 of the budget bill.

None of us could take these days until very recently, though, because the legislation is complex. No one can take Section 25 time, for example, if it would cause someone else to have to be paid for overtime. Agencies had to work out how their workers would use the time and have those plans approved by the Office of Management and Budget.

Section 25 days are very special, complicated and much-discussed around the proverbial water cooler.

I am working now to add "Section 25" to state worker slang as a term for breaks taken for no apparent reason.

For example:
"Where's Johnny? He's supposed to be ramble-framping the sturggelblix."

"Oh, he's taking a nap in the parking lot. He's on a Section 25."
It might catch on.