Sunday, January 30, 2011

A Lightning Trip to Wilkes-Barre

Karen and I made a fast trip to Wilkes-Barre with our eldest this weekend. We'd planned it a while back around a hockey game our daughter's boyfriend would play there. His game was cancelled, but we made the trip anyway, giving the two of them a chance to see each other and us a chance to spend time with them as well. And Wilkes-Barre is a place we had not yet seen.

Daughter #1 is a freshman at Villanova and her young man is at a prep school in Kingston, PA, across the river from Wilkes-Barre. He's a talented hockey player, and a good kid. We missed the opportunity to watch him play, but took the pair of them out for excellent steaks at the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse that is part of the new Mohegan Sun Casino at Pocono just outside Wilkes-Barre.

And we had a bit of a walk-around in Wilkes-Barre in a gentle, pretty snowfall. We were surprised by what we thought was a grand-looking mosque, but turned out to be the Irem Temple, designed in the "moorish" style more than 100 years ago as an auditorium for the local masonic lodge. It has a wonderfully-decorated front door, but appears to be deteriorating badly.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Word Clouds From the State of the Union Speech

NPR is playing with some of my favorite on-line tools this evening following President Obama's fine and inspiring State of the Union speech. They've asked folks, via twitter, to respond to a very brief survey asking for three words in reaction to the speech. and they are running the results through the wordle word-cloud creator.

First, here's a quick word cloud of the speech itself.
The NPR 3-word reaction survey used a simple Google Documents form and collected about 4,000 responses in the first half hour after the speech. Clearly, people either tickled by, or annoyed by, the President's salmon joke dominated the resulting word cloud.
I somewhat prefer the preliminary, test version they did with the first few thousand responses. NPR is also creating different word clouds based on different segments of their respondent community.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

I Guess "Flat Featureless Former Cornfield Estates" Was Taken

Driving down Delaware Route 30 from Gravel Hill to Millsboro today, I spotted two new subdivisions with nonsense names: Stoney Ridge Estates and Kingston Ridge.

Sussex County Delaware is distinguished by its flatness. We start at sea-level and rise gently to around 40 feet above sea-level. Gravel Hill itself is one of the few places even close to worthy of the name "hill" (other than the landfill). It goes up to about 50 feet above sea-level for very short stretch.

The nearest "ridge" is a two-hour drive to the north, in northern New Castle County.

By the way, "Stoney" Ridge? This is essentially a large sand-spit of a peninsula. One thing we don't have a whole lot of is stones.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I Am Easily Amused

I spent a bit of time today at work checking out a new on-line data exploration and mapping site from the GIS company ESRI. Community Analyst was announced as part of a federal government GIs conference (I was watching via twitter). It is a promising tool and may be a real success.

But this brief post isn't about substantive things. No, this post is about the silly little things that amuse me.

Community Analyst is in beta testing. The makers are looking for feedback. As a dutiful data freak, I immediately looked for the feedback link and found the first thing to comment on: it is a "feeback" link.

What I wanted most of all at that point was to be the first to have noticed. And I was!

I got a kick out of that.

Monday, January 17, 2011

From the Archives: Punkin' Chunkin'

punkin 3
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
In the old days, Punkin' Chunkin' was a small, homey affair. We used to attend it back when when we were first married; back when they held the thing just north of Lewes at the Eagle Crest Aerodrome.

In those days, the "big guns" were rotary-arm hurlers and giant metal slingshots. None of the compressed-air canons that they use today.

In those days, there were some "special" chunkers. Here, for example, is the famous "illegal mortar" chunker which made a few appearances. And there was a pilot who flew over several times, heaving pumpkins out of the cockpit.

These are photos from an old desk drawer I've started sorting through. I've been scanning a few and adding them to an archives set.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Quiet Evening at Home

Polly digging the fire
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
Sometimes, the best thing to do is build a nice fire, load up the crockpot, turn on football and/or an awards show, and settled in with wife, kids and cats for a quiet evening.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

"The King's Speech" is as Good as They Say It Is

Karen and I went to see the movie "The King's Speech" this afternoon. It is a really good movie; well written, well acted, and inspiring.

Colin Firth plays Bertie, who eventually became King George VI of England after his brother abdicated. Bertie's problem is having a crippling stutter at a time when public speaking, amplified by the new radio technology, is needed to lead England in World War II.

Geoffrey Rush plays Lionel Logue, an Australia speech therapist living in London, to whom Bertie goes, reluctantly, for help. The movie is the story of their relationship and efforts to fix the stutter.

We were surprised to find the theater stuffed with folks for the matinĂ©e. It may very well have been a sell-out, which you don't usually expect on a Saturday afternoon. Having seen the film, though, I guess I know why.

In Which I Shut Down my Tumble Blog

There’s nothing wrong with Tumblr, it is a perfectly good blogging tool. The problem is that my experiement with Tumblr -- What Fell Out -- has negatively affected this blog, my more established web property, which I have been writing since 2004.

I had originally started the tumble blog as a place to put things deemed too small for a formal blog post. But the nature of blogging is changing. Shorter items, photos, qoutes, links to other content are becoming more common and long-form article-writing has waned.

Twitter has emerged as the go-to tool for quick thoughts and links. Facebook is where we place personal notes. I need to go back to more frequent, if shorter, blog posts on my main site.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Time to Reorganize Some Things, I Think

I have personal experience of the byzantine nature of state and county government in Delaware, yet I'm still surprised that not all libraries in Sussex county are part of the same system.

The Sussex Co. government posted a tweet this am:
Due to winter weather, Sussex County's libraries -- Greenwood, Milton and South Coastal (Bethany Beach) -- are closed on Sat., Jan. 8, 2011
I use the Lewes Public library. Is it open today? I doubt it, but wonder why that information isn't included.

Wouldn't it make sense to have one library system so that that tweet could have read:
It's snowing like bastard out there. All the libraries in Sussex County are closed. stay warm, dudes.

Monday, January 3, 2011

2010 Metrics: Reading

I read 60 books in 2010, down a bit from my reading totals in 2008 and 2009.

All but two of the books I read were fiction, the exceptions being The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis, and Craig Ferguson's outstanding memoir American on Purpose. I like fiction. I read for entertainment and escape and I usually choose fiction.

As my word cloud of authors shows, I read a few folks more than once last year. I read three by Chris Knopf, who writes anti-hero mysteries set in Southampton. I like the off-beat nature of his characters and the fact that he sets his stories in a beach resort, often off-season. It rings bells for me. I also read three of Neil Gaiman's books. All of these I had read before. Mr. Gaiman is a personal favorite.

Among those I read twice was Jack Kerouac, who appealed to me this past fall for some reason. I really enjoyed travelling back to his time.

As usual, most of the books I read in 2010 came from the Lewes Public Library. Forty-seven -- 78% -- were library books and thirteen -- 22% -- I either bought or borrowed from family members.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Me in 1983

me in 1983
Originally uploaded by mmahaffie
I've been meaning to post this, or something like it. This is a picture of me in my dorm room at Colby College in 1983, when I was a 21 year old junior. I tell folks I work with that I used to have long hair. Here's the proof.