Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shoveling the Driveway

shoveling the driveway
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
We don't really get a lot of snow here in southern Delaware, so when we do, we get pretty excited about it. That's one reason why I was all revved-up about shoveling the driveway this morning. The other was that it gave me an excuse to try a time-lapse photo thingy.

When I first came out and took a picture from the garage door this morning, Barry, from across the street, asked whether I expected photography to melt the snow away. He's originally from York, PA, and snow is nothing too special for him.

I took a picture from the same spot every two passes across the driveway. I tried to remain consistent as to angle and aspect; I used Mary and Barry's dormer window, in the upper left, as a reference point.

This sequence starts at about 9:30 a.m. and runs until around 11:15 a.m. I took my time, enjoyed my coffee and came in at one point to take a phone call.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

More Snow Video

Snow is still pouring down on us here in Lewes. We're probably up to 4 or 5 inches by now. So how to spend a snowy afternoon? Why not try out a video editing software tool?

This is video from our front yard, taken around 3:00 p.m. And this is my first-ever attempt at video editing. Be kind.

Backyard Snow

backyard snow
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
It started snowing at about 10:00 a.m. here in Lewes, Delaware. When I stepped out on the back porch at a bit past one to collect this minute of video, there was already about two inches on the ground. We're expecting a few more before this ends this evening.

It's pretty. There is nowhere we have to be today. We have enough food and firewood on hand.

I was trying to capture a sense of the peace that's possible in this situation and almost succeeded -- until the neighbor's air-pump kicked on.

Unforgiving Grammarian Moment #298

I know this is petty of me, but I get annoyed by bad grammar in newspaper writing. It is usually the subtle little errors that irk me the most; so subtle that sometimes I'm not even sure they are errors.

Like this one from a story on a fish kill in today's News Journal:
Unlike many other regional species, DNREC Fisheries Manager Craig Shirey said the croaker spawn late in the season, in the early fall, and are therefore less equipped to handle cold temperatures and rough surf.
My first question is, what do the other species say about when the croaker do their spawning? And is Craig Shirey really a distinct species? I've met Craig, by the way, and he is a nice fellow, but not that unique.

The fix is simple, by the way. Simply insert a comma:
Unlike many other regional species, DNREC Fisheries Manager Craig Shirey said, the croaker spawn late in the season, in the early fall, and are therefore less equipped to handle cold temperatures and rough surf.
Or even better:
Unlike many other regional species, croaker spawn late in the season, in the early fall, said DNREC Fisheries Manager Craig Shirey. They are therefore less equipped to handle cold temperatures and rough surf, he added.
You could probably leave off the "he added," I suppose.

Yes, I know. I am being petty. And I am often guilty of equally egregious grammatical errors. But newspaper writers and editors get paid to write.

I'm just blathering on here for my own amusement.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Fans? In January?

left behind
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
Walking to the post office in Dover today, I went past Legislative Hall in Dover. Lying on the grass across from the Capitol Building were a pair of "lobbying fans" from a protest out there yesterday.

A group of workers -- union members in a variety of trades -- had turned out to urge the General Assembly to act to support job creation in Delaware. They were supported in part by the folks proposing a new horse-racing track and casino complex: DelPointe.

That project would require General Assembly action, and it would lead to jobs -- at least in the short and medium terms.

So the DelPointe folks brought hats and lobby fan signs to hand out. These fans are a long-standing tradition. They are cheap and easy to hand out and they function both as signs and, in warmer weather than we've had lately, as fans. They are handy when things get sticky in the heat of political debate.

It seemed odd to see them out there in January.

This demonstration also gave our Governor a leg-up to a great headline, by the way: Markell calms angry crowd of jobless.

The newspaper reports that the protest had gotten a bit heated when the Governor stepped-in and stepped-up:
The rally ended after Gov. Jack Markell, scheduled for an appearance a few feet away, climbed onto the front of a state police SUV to address the crowd through a megaphone, promising to work to bring jobs to Delaware.
Nice press if you can get it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

On a Less Clear Day

This morning started with dreadful wind and rain, but by mid afternoon the skies had partly cleared.

I was off for a day of car service, eye exams, and furnace-checking and by the time things cleared I was free and ready to head out to Cape Henlopen State Park to have a look at the ocean. I went up to the dune gun emplacement at Fort Miles and found empty dunes, beach and (mostly) ocean.

A closer (telephoto) look revealed a distant freighter in the mist that clung to the water well off-shore.

I watched until the mist, drifting out to sea, revealed the ship was heading out as well.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Social Media Success Story #286

This is an old Daguerreotype found by a couple and posted to Flickr. They thought he was a whaler, but comments from viewers eventually led to the discovery that he is a man named Phineas P. Gage who, in 1848, had an iron spike accidentally driven straight through his skull.

There's a more detailed story on The Face Of A Famous Skull Found On Flickr. This is, to me, one of the great values of social media tools; we can, collectively, by sharing and talking across all of many societies, learn so much more.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

What's for Lunch?

I have a new obsessive compulsive symptom habit: cellphone photos of lunch-specials chalk boards.

I work in downtown Dover, Delaware -- a really pretty city. I like to walk uptown at lunchtime and usually will get lunch from one of several places along Loockerman Street, the main commercial street.

A few weeks ago, a coworker asked me to let her know what the soups were for that day at 33 West, a very popular eatery (my favorite, in fact). I was thumb-typing the  list of soups into my cellphone to send to her when I thought, "why not put this out via twitter? There may be other folks trying to decide what to have for lunch." So I tweeted the soups and lunch specials.

I did that a time or two more before I realized that it would be easier to simply snap a cellphone photo of the specials board and post/tweet that.

So began an occasional habit. On those days when I do walk up town, I stop to snap the specials boards of the two lunch places that routinely have them -- 33 West and the Dover Newsstand.

The Newsstand, it should be noted, does post its specials each day on its web site. That's a good practice, though I think it would make sense for restaurants to routinely post their own specials to their own twitter accounts. Twitter is a "push" medium; it goes out to all who subscribe (or follow re-tweeters), while a web site is a static thing and of no use unless someone is specifically looking for it.

So, if you are in Dover and wondering what to have for lunch, I invite you to check my twitter-stream. It won't be every day, but on many days, I'll post links to pictures of the chalkboards that will tell you what's for lunch.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Oh, For The Love Of...

The following came in via e-mail today from the head of a local right-wing, anti-government, property-rights group:
Glenn Beck has announced he will be doing a series of documentaries on the history of the progressive movement. The first is this Friday.

The Glenn Beck program is on at 5 PM and 2 AM on the Fox News Channel. I have set my DVR.

I truly believe this series of documentaries will explain much of how we've gotten to where we are today.
Okay... I know this is ridiculous, but I also know that there are people who will take this seriously. And that makes me sad.

Roots of the Tea Party Party?

The "tea party" movement seemed to just appear last year. The link to the Boston Tea Party of colonial America seemed a little forced to me; why that connection? Why now? has an interesting post up today that provides, if not a full background, at least an interesting connection and a hint. The post -- The First Anti-Ted Kennedy Tea Party: Boston's Anti-Busing Brigades --includes news footage from 1974 of an anti-busing protest in Boston.

These protests were in response to the legal rulings that schools shouldn't be segregated. These are white people angry that they will now have to interact with black people.

They use the tea bag metaphor too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

February 5 Will be George HP Smith Day in Lewes

The City of Lewes has set aside February 5 of each year as "Hon. George H.P. Smith Day." The City Council chose that day to honor our late former Mayor because it is his birthday.

George Smith was our Mayor for many years and he did a great job. I wrote a detailed memorial for the Mayor back in 2005, shorty after he passed away. I stand by what I wrote then; he was a fine man.

This year on the 5th, current Mayor Jim Ford will dedicate a marker honoring Mayor Smith at a tree planted in his memory at Smith Park. His family will launch an annual appeal for contributions to a scholarship fund in his name, and Grotto Pizza will donate a portion of its proceeds on February 4 to the fund. (it's a shame I don't care for Grotto's pizza)

I think this is a good idea.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Happy (Belated) Birthday, Dr. M.L. King

Unstable isotope has posted the full text of the speech at Delaware Liberal. So, naturally, I plugged that into wordle to create a word cloud of the speech.

Friday, January 15, 2010

From My Bucket List?

I had my picture taken with The Count, from Sesame Street, today. I was very excited about this.

I didn't realize that I wanted this until earlier in the week, when I looked at the media advisory from the US Census Bureau about the Census in Schools event I was planning to attend.

Right there, listed along with the Governor, a Senator, and the Director of the Census, were The Count and Rosita!

The Count was there for the students at Bancroft Elementary and a demonstration of the educational materials about the Census that the Bureau is making available to schools nationwide.

But I did get to pose for a picture after the lesson. Great fun!

Though when you compare this picture of me with the picture of my Grandfather at about the same age that I posted earlier this week, it makes you wonder about my level of dignity.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It Seems Possible That I Could Look Dignified

My brother John has turned up a small collection of pictures of our grandfather in the online collection of the Library of Congress.

Our father's father, Charles Delahunt Mahaffie Sr., was a member of the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC) from 1930 to 1955 (he was appointed by President Hoover). At some point during that time, I believe, he sat for this portrait. I think he would have been in his late forties or in  his fifties here.

He's very dignified in this photo, and in all others that I've seen. Perhaps there's hope for me?

Of course, my grandfather was a really remarkable man. He was born in 1884 in Olathe Kansas, but moved to Oklahoma as a homesteader as a boy. He graduated from Kingfisher College in 1905 and went to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. After practicing law for a few years, he came to Washington DC and worked for several agencies before becoming an ICC commissioner.

He also married Isabel Ruth Cooper and fathered my Dad, for which I am most grateful.

Monday, January 11, 2010

It Takes Me Back, What Can I Say?

I've been enjoying the new Pearl Jam song, Just Breathe, lately. It is a great song in and of itself, but it has been plucking a memory chord for me as well.

Listen to Eddie Vedder's voice here. He has that deep resonant sound to his voice that takes me back to the early 1970s, when I was a kid and my mother brought home an LP by a fellow named Roger Whittaker who has pretty much that same sound.

Of course, there's a fair amount of space between Eddie Vedder and Roger Whittaker. But that new Pearl Jam song really takes me back to when I first heard Roger Whittaker.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Things are About to get Interesting

The new year is about to kick into very high gear for me, professionally. As we rise from the wreckage of the holiday season, a number of strands are starting to come together in the related areas of GIS and data management, the 2010 census, land-use planning, and state government management over-all. It should be an interesting start to 2010.

The Delaware GIS Conference is now one month away. One my my jobs in Delaware state government is the coordination of the use and sharing of geospatial data and tools. I run an organization called the Delaware Geographic Data Committee (DGDC) and we mount a statewide GIS conference every few years.

This time around, I am the chair of the Conference Planning Subcommittee and so am sweating through the run-up and wondering if enough people will register and attend for me to not be terribly embarrassed. Our conference is not expensive, but finding any money to spend these days is a challenge.

I spend a fair amount of time promoting the event. I have initiated a series of posts on the DGDC News blog based on the abstracts of the 24 presentations that will be offered. Meanwhile, I work with a great group of subcommittee members who have all taken on the different tasks needed to make a conference happen. I have absolute faith in these folks, but need to stay connected and try to understand what they are up to to coordinate the whole thing.

Meanwhile, I'm working with another group on a strategic plan for statewide GIS coordination under a federal grant. We plan to release a draft at the GIS Conference, so there's plenty of review and comment work to be done.

And, while we're in coordination mode, the 2010 US Census is just ahead. The decennial count will be taken on April 1 and promoting and preparing for that is part of my job responsibilities.  I'm working now to organize a statewide "Complete Count Committee" to add some oomph to census preparation.

At the same time, I'm deep into the City of Lewes zoning ordinance as chair of the Lewes Planning Commission. We've spent many months on this update and the process has proven more complex and challenging than I would have thought. But we're rounding the final turn and almost ready to take it public.

That task dovetails with the overall land use planning coordination that is the center of the mission of the Office of State Planning Coordination, where I am housed. It is an ongoing challenge for which I provide technical support -- GIS, demographic data, etc. -- and for which I help track news sites and on-line discussion.

Never a dull moment.

And looming over all of this is the return of the Delaware General Assembly on Tuesday. They face another session of trying to balance the state budget in a time of fiscal crisis. There's a chilling story about this in today's News Journal -- Delaware lawmakers return, once again facing tough choices with budget shortfall. It discusses the likelihood that we'll not get back the 2.5% pay cut we took last year. I can live with that. What's more interesting is the start of discussions about what services, programs, offices, and maybe people will need to be cut.

As I said above: "interesting."

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Family Pride: My Nephew the Author

There's an interesting-looking interview with one of our nephews in the winter edition of NorEaster, a publication of the North East Anarchist Network.

He has taken on the name Magpie Killjoy for his work as a writer, editor, photographer, designer, musician and activist in the anarchist world. I don't fully understand his politics, but it is fascinating to discuss them with him, read his work, and check out his artistic efforts.

The interview is about his book, Mythmakers & Lawbreakers, which is a collection of interviews with a variety of writers about anarchist themes in fiction and a study of the history of anarchist fiction. It also touches on his history and how he became an anarchist.

For example:
When I was 15 or 16, I thought I was a libertarian. I was dating a communist, and she said, “You know, if libertarians had their way, corporations would run everything.” And I said, “Oh crap, you’re right. But I’m just not a communist. I've never been a communist, I'll never be a communist. Crap.”
I was at a meeting today focused on demographic changes and how they will affect society and government planning (my field). We were talking about the advent of the generations that follow the Baby Boomers. Magpie is part of what we call the Millennial Generation; and I think he is one of the group that is referred to as the Creative Class.

These are young adults who have come of age in a turbulent time. Magpie was in college when 9-11 happened. His generation has a different take on things, but they have a lot to offer us. We just have to do a little learning to really be able to hear them.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009 Metrics: A Slow Blogging Year

There's no question; 2009 was a slow year for blogging for me. I posted only 142 times during 2009, the lowest annual total in my blogging history.

I averaged just 11.8 posts per month in 2009. The most active month was August, when we traveled to Hawaii and had lots to write about. That month I managed 22 posts. The slowest months were April, October, and December, in which I posted only seven times.

By contrast, my chattiest year was 2005 -- my first full year of blogging -- when I posted 272 times. Looking back at that year, though, I think it is safe to say that many of those posts were short and externally-referenced -- links to other places. This is the sort of thing that I now handle with posts to my Twitter account or to Facebook.

I've started an effort to try to increase my blogging this year, but we'll see.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Fun With History

From time to time I come across a bit of family history out on the great web. This evening, I found a page from Evangelical Magazine and Gospel Advocate of July 18, 1835, announcing a family wedding.

Here on page 232, the first entry under "Marriages," is the announcement of the marriage of one set of my great-great-great-grandparents.

Harrison Otis Henry and Phoebe Maria Gibson were wed on June 18 of 1835, in Rome, New York. Their son Harrison L. Henry married Susan Tucker and fathered Honora Henry, whose brief marriage to James Cooper produced, in 1892, my grandmother Isabel Ruth Cooper.

Editors Pose Thesis; Commenter Proves Point

The News Journal editors published an opinion this morning that I agree with whole-heartedly: 'Official prayers' exclude citizens despite claims.

There is a minor controversy here in Delaware about some government bodies starting their meetings with official prayers -- some explicitly sectarian, some not. When challenged, elected officials tend to defend the practice as "tradition." The News Journal takes meets that defense square-on:
Tradition has its virtues, but that's not one of them. The council members are perfectly free to pray, individually or in groups, all they want -- just as long as they don't do it when they are acting in an official capacity.
But they balance that with some common-sense advice to those complaining, noting that the official prayers don't do as much harm as some claim.
Our reservations about the actions of the council members would not begin with their pleas for divine guidance. If anything, we would encourage more of it -- provided it was not part of the meeting.
But, the editors conclude, the tradition of prayer is not worth the damage it does to Democracy:
Reciting a prayer, especially a specific one, such as The Lord's Prayer, as part of a government function, automatically excludes a portion of the audience -- people who pay taxes and have the right to participate in the government business at hand. That should not happen.
Now, normally I advocate against looking at the readers' comments on the News Journal's site. This time, curiosity got the better of me and immediately found a comment by a WalterPerry that I think proves the point:
America is a Christian Nation founded by Bible believing. God Fearing,Jesus Loving & Holy Spirit filled Men & women of God!.Not Muslims,Hindus,Harry Christa's. or any other "religion" If u don't like God or Jesus, id suggest u either SHUT UP, or Move to a Communist country! "Official" Prayers do not exclude ANYONE..Go ahead..Pray!
Walter, dude, take a deep breath and wipe the spittle off your keyboard.

2009 Metrics: Reading

I read 63 books during 2009. That's almost exactly the same as my total for 2008 (which I find a little freaky).

I find that, of the books I read, 51 were checked-out from the Lewes Public Library, 11 were books I own (either gifts or books I bought), and 1 was borrowed (The first in a series by Owen Parry, handed off to me by my brother Matt, who often finds great novels for us to read.

2009 Book Montage

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh: A Novel

Nuclear Winter Wonderland: A Wild Tale of Nuclear Terror, Kidnapping, Gangsters and Family Values

The Hakawati

Rancid Pansies

The Traveler

The Eleventh Man

The Dark River

Captain Freedom: A Superhero's Quest for Truth, Justice, and the Celebrity He So Richly Deserves

How Perfect Is That

Callisto: A Novel

Sicilian Tragedee: A Novel

The Bible Salesman: A Novel

Gone Tomorrow

The Domino Men

Fool: A Novel

Mine All Mine

The High City

The January Dancer

Beside a Burning Sea

Nuclear Jellyfish: A Novel

Museum of Human Beings

The Development

Agincourt: A Novel

Blindspot: A Novel

The Republic of Vengeance

The Last Masquerade

The Leisure Seeker: A Novel

The Devil's Disciples

Atomic Lobster: A Novel

Angel of Forgetfulness



Woodsburner: A Novel

A Salty Piece of Land

The Edge of the World

Aztec Fire

Letters from Hawaii

Slumdog Millionaire: A Novel

Inherent Vice

Faded Coat of Blue

The Blue Manuscript

Nothing but a Smile: A Novel

Shadows of Glory

Call Each River Jordan

Flint and Silver: A Prequel to Treasure Island

Honor's Kingdom

The Greatest Knight: The Story of William Marshal

Boca Knights

Persona Non Grata: A Novel of the Roman Empire

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein

Chemistry for Beginners

Shooters and Chasers

How I Became a Famous Novelist

The Last Dickens: A Novel

Ground Up: A Novel

The Family Man

Then She Found Me

The Lieutenant

Wishin' and Hopin': A Christmas Story

Devil’s Dream: A Novel About Nathan Bedford Forrest

The Messenger

Matchless: A Christmas Story

The Golden City

Mike's favorite books »

For 2009, I used a web site called GoodReads to track my reading. Ill be looking around this weekend for where to track reading in 2010. I'm leaning towards designing my own Google Docs spreadsheet.