Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The end of the iguana

It's time to close down this blog.  I started it four years ago as part of a project at work in which we were encouraged to try out new web goodies.  I think somewhere between 1 and 4 of the other blogs from my co-workers are still running (two may not have started then).  

It's not that I don't have anything left to say, just that I find myself resenting the time it takes to say it.  And now is a logical time to quit because the other (even older) blog I have contributed to, Criminal Brief, recently shut its doors.  In some ways that one has been replaced by SleuthSayers, where I can be found most Wednesdays, bright-eyed and iguana-tailed.  And I continue to report on the best mystery story I read each week at Little Big Crimes.

If you have been reading this blog regularly, I thank you for your attention.  I hope you find some of the other ten zillion blogs out there to your liking.  Be well.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Mr. Robert's rules of etiquette

Like I know anything about manners, right?  But here are a few tips I would like to share with the world.

1.  When two people come to a crowded doorway the person leaving the smaller place goes first.  Get it?  The person coming out of the bus leaves before the other guy enters the building.  The person entering the hallway goes before the person entering the room.

2.  When  are at a meeting and someone hands you a stack of papers to pass around the table don't start reading it before you pass them on.  It annoys people.

3.  When you share a microwave oven with other people and you stop it with time left in order to take your food out, hit the stop button again to reset the time to zero, so the next person doesn't wind up with 14 seconds or the like.

4.  Not really etiquette, but a useful tip.  To the people who lean out car windows to yell at pedestrians or people on bikes: we can't understand what you're saying.  It sounds like animal noise and makes you look dumb.  Thought you'd want to know. 

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The end of American civilization

Take a look at the following quote:

I told him what I believed to be true - that [the nation's leaders] have quite completely transformed our people from a nation with pretty high and respectable ideals to just the opposite of that; that our people have no ideals now that are worthy of consideration; that our Christianity which we have always been so proud of - not to say so vain of - is now nothing but a shell, a sham, a hypocrisy; that we have lost our ancient sympathy with oppressed people struggling for life and liberty; that when we are not coldly indifferent to such things we sneer at them, and that the sneer is about the only expression the newspapers and the nation deal in with regard to such things...

Who said it? A Republican candidate for president? A liberal blogger? A TV preacher?

None of the above. It was Mark Twain, in his autobiographical dictation for March 30, 1906. (If you haven't read his autobiography, newly published, treat yourself. I recommend getting it for an e-reader, because it its big and heavy, and only Volume 1).

Where I wrote {the nation's leaders] what he actually said was:

the McKinleys and the Roosevelts and the multimillionaire disciples of Jay Gould - that man who in his brief life rotted the commercial morals of this nation and left them stinking when he died)...

In other words he was referring to capitalists and imperialists. Today he would be accused of class warfare, or worse. Maybe that's why he insisted his autobiography wait for a hundred years before being published.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Declassifying ancient history

Here's a bizarre story.  The National Security Agency just declassified a text on cryptology.  All well and good, and glad to see government information becoming more free, etc. 

Only this text is 200 years old has been in the public domain (and available) for a long time. Actually what was declassified (and there is argument over whether it was ever actually classified) is a 40 page abstract that was captured in Germany.  The full 500-page text has been on the web for years. Upward and onward with freedom of information.

Tip of the tail to Secrecy News.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Just Another Day in Bellingham WA, 7

Okay, technically this was a day in Deming, but the Subdued Stringband Jamboree is Bellingham's beloved hometown folk festival.  We started going in the early years when it was so small it hardly seemed like it could survive.  I reemmber one year there was a wedding going on in a different part of the Deming Log Show Grounds and there was plenty off room for both events.  No way that would be true now.  In it's eleventh year the Jamboree has spread out magnificently, taking over the place with hundreds of tents owned by eager camper/jammers.  As an old codger and lifelong folkie I just love seeing so many thirty-somethings there with their kids.  Makes one feel like the future has a chance somehow.

I don't know if the focus is so local because the festival doesn't have the money to fly in a lot of people from around the world (like, say, the Vancouver Folk Festival) or because Robert Sarazin Blake, who dreamed this thing up, wants it this way, but it works beautifully.  Sure, there are a few performers listed in the program as being from New York, Texan, Portland, but most are proudly declared to be from: Sehome, Fairhaven, Lettered Streets, and other Bellingham neighborhoods.

Some of my favorite performers this year: the Gallus Brothers (of course), the Shadies, Kit Nelson, Giants Causeway, Mike and Makos Marker, Laurel Bliss and Cliff Perry, and Bent Grass.  (I hope someone recorded Bent Grass's hilarious song about Whatcom County.)

May the jamboree keep subduing us for many years to come..

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Hooray for Joseph Priestley

Something we never think about: all the little standard things we do were invented by somebody.  I'm not talking about the invention of the printing press.  I'm talking about somebody inventing the shoelace.  Who was the first person who drew an arrow and meant not "this is an arrow" but "go this direction?"  Somebody dreamed that up, but we will never know who.

But we do know about Joseph Priestley.

I am reading Cartographies of Time, by Daniel Rosenberg and Anthony Grafton, about the centuries-long struggle to describe the passage of time visually.  The book is full of illustrations of time as a tree, a circle, a human body, etc. and one is more complicated and confusing than the next.

But in 1765 scientist Joseph Priestley created a variation of what you see above, and called it A Chart of Biography, and suddenly the obscure became clear.  Although the detail is too small to read any modern reader understands what he is showing us.  This is a timeline, with the past on the left, the present on the right and each line marks off a time period, in this case, the lifetimes of great men.  At a glance you can see who were contemporaries, who were in a position to influence each other, etc.  Brilliant.

But you might argue that it only looks intuitive to us because we are used to it.  Not so; the readers in the 1760s immediately understood it and started borrowing, stealing adapting, building from Priestley's invention.

Here's how good an idea this was: twenty-one years later William Playfair published his Commercial and Political Atlas in which he added another dimension to Priestley's work - quite literally.  He tacked on the y-axis, and created line graphs and bar charts. 

Pretty cool.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Bill Morrissey is gone

Another great singer/songwriter gone.  Died last week of heart failure.  I can't find a video of my favorite of his songs, "The Last Day of the Last Furlough," so here is him singing his great song "Robert Johnson" in the movie Hellhound on my Trail.