Monday, April 27, 2009

I'm Amazed it Made It

This package arrived for me at the office today. It is a collection of goodies from the US Census Bureau intended to help me succeed in my role as Governor's Liaison for the 2010 Census.

Think "trinkets;" the kind brought by European explorers when they were trying to impress the locals in various unspoiled lands around the world. In fact, I think the Bureau staff has referred to this as a collection of "trinkets." I'll have to check my notes.

What astounds me is that the package made it at all. It has had a rough trip. I have not yet tried to unpack this thing. There's no telling what's happened on the inside.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Fourth Golf Game of 2009

I was unable to scare up a golf partner in Andy's absence (he was traveling), so I headed out this afternoon to Midway Par 3 to hit a bucket of balls (with the big clubs) and play 18 holes of par-3 pitch and putt.

I decided to make it another two-ball practice round. I kept a high score and a low score for each hole. My best ball score for the first 9 holes was a respectable 31. Over the second 9, I hacked and chopped my way to a 35, to finish 12-over at 66.

It was absurdly hot today. I think we hit 90 degrees on the course. According to Weatherbug, the high at the UD College of Marine studies, by the water, was 87 and the high at the Sussex County Airport, inland at Georgetown, was 94. I know that had some affect on my play. I walked the course and carried an almost full bag. By the turn I could feel the heat. I started losing my swing to fatigue.

I was happy with the bucket of balls that I hit. I concentrated on my woods and drivers, since those are clubs I leave in my car on the Par-3 course. I may have a decent driver shot this year, though it slices. My 3-wood is respectable, and I have found a comfortable place with the hybrid 4. Off a good fairway lie, this will be a good distance club.

But I need to work on short chipping and putting. And staying well hydrated. I had forgotten how hot hot weather can be.

A Return

The Dead have returned. And this time, I think, they are back to stay. This makes me happy.

For the non-cognoscenti, The Dead are the remains of the Grateful Dead -- after the losses of Ron McKernan, Keith Godchaux, Brent Mydland, and most recently, Jerry Garcia -- with the addition of keyboard player Jeff Chimenti and guitarist and singer Warren Haynes.

When Jerry Garcia died, in 1995, it was the end of "The Grateful Dead." They had survived the earlier losses with replacement members who grew and evolved with the band. Jerry, however, was a center and a prime mover and it made no sense to carry on without him. The other original members, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Bill Kruetzman, and Mickey Hart, weren't finished, of course. They all had solo musical identities and continued to play (check out the Evening Moods album by Bob's band Ratdog).

In 2004, the band hit the road for a tour as The Dead, with some of the same players, but it didn't work. The band members now admit that they weren't getting along very well, they weren't really committed, and the shows showed that. I made it to one, in DC, thanks to the kindness of my dentist (Thanks, Dr. B!), and I enjoyed it, but wasn't blown away.

I did not make plans to check the band out for this new tour. I'm not sure why. It might have been inertia, doubt, or general busy-ness. But I now regret it. Have a listen to the first show in the tour, April 12, in North Carolina, for evidence why. The widget above will get you started.

It came to me during the fourth tune -- He's Gone -- that this was a turning point. This song is about loss, and accepting loss and carrying on:
Like a steam locomotive,
rolling down the track,
He's gone, gone...
And nothings going to bring him back.
He's gone.
This song has had special resonance since the death of Jerry Garcia and you can hear it in the crowd's reaction and their singing along. I was also struck by the moment, starting about 9 minutes into the performance when the band performs a vocal "nothings going to bring him back" coda. Warren Haynes, who has the unenviable job of filling Jerry's role, starts to take an emotional lead both celebrating and replacing Garcia. It's the moment where I thought: this time for real.

This tour was inspired, it is said, by the group's pulling together a quick concert last fall in support of then-candidate Obama. They found that they enjoyed the music, and the sense of common purpose. In preparation for this tour they went into the woodshed for extended rehearsal.

This time, it seems, they are not just playing the old music by rote. They are playing the old tunes, but approaching them as new. And the set lists (I follow grateful__dead on twitter for updates) show that they are digging back into the early days of The Grateful Dead and trying things that had fallen out of the repertoire in the last days of the band.

This is good stuff.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Monday at JMU

We took a quick trip out to Harrisonburg, Virginia, for a campus tour of James Madison University this weekend.

We started with a family visit on Easter Sunday in Montgomery Village, west of Washington DC. My sister Margaret and her husband Lou host an Easter party most years at their home. We get to see most of not all of my family and lots of Lou's family as well. After loads of food and a great deal of conversation, we drove south to Manassas, Virginia, where we holed up in a Holiday Inn for the night.

Monday morning, we headed west on I-66 and south on I-81 to Harrisonburg and James Madison University.

JMU is a pretty cool school. It is a slightly sprawling campus; certainly walkable but spreading 100 years of architectural history across a series of hills. A young man from Karen's church is a freshman there and he joined us for lunch and gave us his own tour after we took the official tour.

Nice place. It might be worth an application for Colleen. If she wants.

I took a scenic detour on the ride home. JMU is in the Shenandoah Valley, between a pair of mountain ranges. It was just a short hop east off of I-81 to reach Skyline Drive, which follows the tops of the mountains through Shenandoah National Park. We got to drive the northern quarter of the park. It was late afternoon on a cloudy day, but worth the extra 45 minutes or so to it added to the drive home.

I am drawn to both mountains and water. I live near the ocean, but miss mountains. So I was happy to drive in even the low mountains of western Virginia.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Third Golf Game of 2009

Andy and I joined our friends Rich and Sandy for a round at Deerfield Golf and Tennis Club, in Newark, today. Rich and his family had come down from Connecticut for the weekend; they are old friends of Andy and his family. We decided to meet Rich as his family crossed into Delaware, and take him up to Newark. And, since my friend Sandy lives up that way, we had our foursome.

Deerfield was built in 1955 as Louviers Country Club. It was created by the DuPont Corporation as an amenity for DuPont employees. In 1994, it was purchased by MBNA and renamed Deerfield. In 2005, the state bought Deerfield and added it to White Clay Creek State Park.

The Deerfield course is quite hilly. Almost all of the holes feature elevation changes; down, up, over, around. For a golfer like me -- one who usually plays on the flat courses of coastal Sussex County -- this is a real challenge. Add the fact that this was our first outing on a real, full golf course, and you can imagine how rough things seemed.

As we left Lewes this morning, Andy and I stopped at Surf Bagel. There we ran into Emory Buck, a friend from Epworth United Methodist Church and a fine golfer. When I told him where were headed he said, "Better bring your A-Game." The thing is, I don't really have an A-game.

I did not play particularly well. I'm embarrassed to post the scorecard, but there it is -- a shameful 129.

My front nine was disastrous; a full 72. While I had some good drives (I have found a decent swing with my 3-wood), my iron work is still inconsistent. And I was misjudging my short irons. Ironically, the problem stems from the fact that I now hit my pitching wedge correctly. So I was hitting it too far and had to learn to dial back a bit. And my ability to get out of sand traps, while sufficient to the friendly traps we have around here, was no match for the deep traps I found at Deerfield.

The back nine was a bit better, I managed a 57. Now, if only I could putt.

While I'm not happy with my result, I was pleased with many of my shots today. When you catch the ball right, and watch it fly up and out and down the fairway, it feels great. That's why I plan to get out there again soon.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wait... What?

There is a discussion paper posted on the web site of the Open GIS Consortium entitled "Uncertainty Markup Language (UnCertML)."
The Uncertainty Markup Language (UncertML) is an XML encoding for the transport and storage of information about uncertain quantities, with emphasis on quantitative representations based on probability theory.
I believe that this is a serious paper, but I have to admit I looked to make sure the publication date wasn't April 1.

I'm just not sure how much of this I should read...

Sunday, April 5, 2009

It's Census Time!

I was out cutting the grass this morning. It was my first run at the lawn this year. The grass was thick. While I was working on the front lawn, I noticed a car driving slowly around the neighborhood, stopping in front of each house for a minute or so while the driver entered data on a small handheld computer.

He noticed my watching him and so stopped, stepped out, and let me know he is with the Census Bureau. I was not surprised; it was what I thought he was doing. I explained and we had a nice short chat.

As one of my responsibilities as a Delaware state employee, I serve as the Governor's Liaison for the 2010 Census in Delaware. I spent Friday of last week at the Regional Census Office in Philadelphia, discussing plans for the census with staff there and with state folks from Maryland, DC, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The Bureau let us know that address canvassing was about to start and that Delaware is one of the places where it is starting first in our region.

Address canvassing is a huge job and the first major step in the decennial census. Around 140,000 temporary census workers will fan out across the whole of the US and, block by block, check more than 145 million addresses. The census itself is a mail-based survey; everyone gets a census form in the mail (though there are non-mail ways to get information from those without addresses and such). If the Census Bureau does not have a comprehensive and accurate database of addresses, the census won't work.

So the folks out there now, checking addresses, are vital to the census, which is a key to our democracy. Be kind to them.

Meanwhile, when I broke for lunch and checked the web, I found a comment by Nancy Willing on Brian Shields' post about Google Streetview having recently added imagery of Seaford:
I think the Google Street lady stopped in front of my house yesterday. She pulled right up in front of my house, jumped out and (very energetically for her apparent age) and stood briefly in front of each house in the cul-de-sac, furiously writing something in a notebook before driving away.
While I did leave a correction comment (can't help myself), Nancy was not too far off the truth.

One of the important things that the address canvassers are doing is making sure that the addresses that the Census Bureau has are coded to the correct census blocks. and they are making sure that those blocks are defined by streets that are actually there (after all, things change). This information becomes part of the Bureau's Topologically Integrated Geographic Encoding and Referencing system -- known as TIGER.

TIGER is often referred to as a precursor to Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and the Bureau's TIGER data was for many years the base-map for most GIS applications in the US. Google Maps, and Google Earth, are the most recent outgrowth of GIS activities; they provide a common base map for access to a wide range of public geospatial data.

So the work of the address canvassers can be directly related to Google Maps, streetview and applications like that. In a way, that was "the Google Street lady" in front of Nancy's house.

More Disclosure: GIS and geospatial data are another part of my state job; I am State GIS Data Coordinator for Delaware.