Sunday, April 25, 2010

Almost a Windmill

windmill (almost)
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
The University of Delaware's new wind-power windmill is almost complete. This was erected late last week on the edge of the Great Marsh behind the College of Marine Studies campus on the edge of Lewes. It awaits installation of the windmill blades. It's pretty exciting.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Dream Interlude #1: Fire Cat

I had a curious dream last night about a fire cat.

In the dream I was attending some sort of gathering -- conference? wedding? -- at a chalet-style hotel in which there was a very large hearth with a very small, smoldering pile of embers. It was some sort of meal time.

I went to build-up a fire from the embers, adding small bits of kindling and a few larger pieces of split wood. The fire took and started to grow into a nice, comfortable little blaze and I turned back to the meal and my companions.

After a moment though, when I looked at the hearth, I saw the fire shrink down to embers and then to ash. The ash formed itself into the shape of a small gray cat, curled around itself as if for a nap, with just a slight glow of heat at its center.

I tried again, but every time I started a fire, it resolved back into this comfortable, sleeping cat.

I have no idea what, if anything, this means.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Sometimes You Just Get Lucky

I grabbed this photo today at lunchtime and I am very happy with how it came out.

This is the new edition of the Lunchbox, on Loockerman Street, in Dover. It has just reopened under new management.

The sunlight was hitting just right, and I managed to get a shot without cars or people. My cellphone camera gave me an almost painterly look that I really like.

Once I saw the result on-screen, I did a very slight crop and boosted the contrast just a tad while deepening the shadows a bit.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Here's a Sign of Something We Sometimes Do Wrong

There's a story in the news in Delaware this evening about a request that the state regulate who can perform marriages (Officials want list of clergy who can perform weddings). It includes this interesting paragraph:
The state used to keep a list of clergy who were registered to marry people. But when the employee who maintained the list left her state job, no one picked up the task.
That's a typical mistake that we make, and I'm sure it's not just state government. In almost any organization, there are things that get done just because someone started doing them. And they can become integral to the mission of the organization, or important to a partner.

But if they are not made a part of the regular business of the whole organization, there is a risk of failure when that one  person leaves.

If there is something worth doing in an organization, it must be documented and made an official part of a job, not just a person's approach to that job.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Meet Cousin Arthur

Astonishingly, I have found a connection, albeit a very distant and tenuous one, between my family and that of one of my cultural heroes: Arthur Adolph Marx, known professionally and with great affection by millions as "Harpo."

As I'm sure I have mentioned in the past, I use to manage my genealogical research. Geni allows users to create databases of their family trees and is set up to allow linking of trees that have common members. In that way, family trees grow via crowd-sourced genealogy.

And Geni posts daily featured profiles of popular figures from history or popular culture. Users can check to see if there's any connection between the family trees of those personalities and their own.

This weekend, they posted the profiles of four of the five Marx Brothers. Since I am a huge fan, I clicked-through to check. I was shocked to find a connection.

I discovered that Harpo Marx is my first cousin nine times removed's husband's seventh great niece's husband's ex-wife's ex-husband's ex-wife's ex-husband's ex-wife's sister's ex-husband's brother.

As I said,"very distant and tenuous."

The connection goes back to my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother on my father's side, Wibroe Griggs, who was born in 1593 in Buckinghamshire, in England. Wibroe's  niece, Sarah Pierson, was my first cousin, nine times removed. Sarah's husband's seventh great niece was Frances Seymour, a New York City socialite and the second wife of the movie star Henry Fonda. She was mother, by the way, to Peter and Jane Fonda.

This is where the connection depends on the serial marriages of Hollywood folks. Henry Fonda was also married to the actress Margaret Sullavan (Later married to a Kenneth Wagg) who was also married to the agent and producer Leland Heyward who was also married to the socialite Nancy "Slim" Gross who was also married to the Director Howard Hawks who was also married to the actress Dee Hartford whose sister the actress Eden Hartford was once married to Harpo's brother Groucho Marx.

I realize how absurd this "connection" really is, but I have to say I have always felt an affinity for the Marx brothers.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Looking at Villanova

Last weekend we were in Massachusetts to look at Boston University. This weekend it was Pennsylvania to look at Villanova. Colleen needs to choose between these two for her next four years.

Friday, she had a chance to sit-in on a class and we attended a fascinating presentation on teaching philosophies by a panel of professors. And we ate dinner with three students; we tried to ask them as many questions as we could think of.

Today was a huge "Candidates' Day" with a few thousand potential students and their families wandering around campus. There were more presentations, and discussions, and tours.

This will be a tough choice for Colleen. Both Villanova and Boston University are great schools. We can't decide for her, but we are very proud to see her making the choice.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Looking at BU

Looking at BU
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
We are just back from a lightning trip up to Boston to let Colleen visit Boston University. She's deciding between BU and Villanova; we'll be up on the Main Line next weekend to visit Villanova.

We drove up after work and school on Thursday and spent Friday listening, talking and walking around campus. We had a fine meal Friday night at an oyster bar/restaurant in Kenmore Square -- Eastern Standard. There I found Narragansett Beer which we used to drink when I was at Colby College, in Maine, 30 years ago.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

A Delaware Population History

I went all geeky for the Census. Not that that was really a change for me, of course. My default approach is geek-lite, as you well know.

In any case, in the run-up to Census Day (this past Thursday, in case you missed it), I ran a daily series of Census history tweets, reporting facts from each decennial Census and reporting on the counted populations of Delaware and the three Delaware counties.

I also created a Google spreadsheets table of those census counts, adding a decennial Census' results each day. The table above is from that spreadsheet.

A very cool by-product of all of this is a collection of links to scanned copies of the Delaware portions of historic Census publications back to 1790 (the first US Census).

These are fascinating glimpses into the official, and the bureaucratic, history of the nation. What was important? Who was counted, and how?

This exercise has helped me to better understand the joy that historians must feel in digging back into the past through documents and artifacts.