Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Almost to the Point of Irritation

Complaint Department
Originally uploaded by Jeff Henshaw
"Gentleman:--Someday you are going to move me almost to the point of irritation with your God-damned chuckle headed fashion of turning off your God-damned gas without giving notice to your God-damned parishioners--and you did it again last night..."

That's how Mark Twain began a letter to the Hartford Gas and Electric Company. If he were writing today he might vent his anger on the web. Bob Garfield (the host of NPR's On The Media) has a terrific article in Advertising Age ( for the WWU community, not free to the public) about the blog he started, ComCast Must Die! and about other websites that express consumer rage. As a complainer named Jeff Jarvis says: "If you go online and type in your search engine '[any brand] sucks,' you will find the real Consumer Reports." Ben Popkin, who runs The Consumerist, says: "The determinant of who gets heard is not who has the most media dollars but who has the most interesting things to say."

It is a good example of how the Web is changing the way corporations have to do business. Garfield calls it Listenomics, and he is (of course) writing a book on it.

WARNING: As might be expected, some of the complainers use bad language.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Elf condos

Elf condos
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
This was the view in my front yard last night. Have I mentioned that it rains a lot in Washington?

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

For better detecting

Special detective
Originally uploaded by bartenational
Virtual Chase has a very cool article on advanced methods for searching on the web. I learned a few things.

Thanks to Environmental News Bits for pointing it out.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Common in gardens

spider bottom 2
Originally uploaded by fifteeniguana
My daughter the entomologist tells me that this lady is a Cross Spider, which refers to her species, not her mood. The web says the cross spider is of European ancestry and is common in gardens. This speciman, at least, is common in ours.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Oh, Karmijn

Do you prefer sweet or tart apples?

Let me rephrase the question. Are you the sort of wimp who prefers disgustingly sweet apples, suitable only for toddlers and invalids, or are you the sort of manly man and/or womanly woman who prefers an apple with bite and complexity?

I thought so.

The best tart apple in the universe is the Netherlands' gift to agriculture, the Karmijn de Sonneville. Why hasn't it taken over the world? Well, it's ugly. They are generally reddisn-green near the stem but at the base they are brown, like they have had some disease. But oh, the taste.

Cloud Mountain Farm had their harvest farm last weekend and we got there early on Saturday because the Karmijns sell out. Fast. Someone we know saw us with two five pound bags and asked if we were going to freeze them. Heck no. We can eat ten pounds of these easily.

I have never seen them for sale at any supermarket in Bellingham, although the Skagit Valley Food Coop in Mount Vernon has been known to have organic KdS for sale. Yum.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

What is a library worth?

gold lettering
Originally uploaded by evissa
Maine State Library has provided one way to answer that question here.
Could an academic library do the same thing?

Thanks to Environmental News Bits for the tip.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Oompah! Oompah!

The library where i work had it's first-ever Open House last week to encourage new students to see what the inside of the building looks like, and maybe even take a tour. The theme was Oktoberfest so we had root beer, pretzels, and this charming German band. I heard students on their cell phones saying "Really! There's a polka band in the library!"

Hey, why not?

Friday, September 21, 2007


Wissahickon Creek, Fairmount Park
Originally uploaded by deb5
I spent most of the last week in Philadelphia, visiting relatives. They live near Fairmount Park, which is huge. Several times on visits I have walked down into the park and when I came to a T in the road I always turned left. No particular reason.

This time I turned right and wound up in a place called Valley Green, next to a hundred and fifty year old inn (still in business), looking at Wissahickon Creek and a bridge that was rebuilt at the turn of the last century. Here's a photo (I no longer bring a camera on trips... I just go to Flickr and find what I saw in someone else's pictures. Very convenient, but unfortunately few tourists take pictures of my relatives...)

Edgar Allan Poe wrote an essay about the creek, although he seemed more interested in discussing the American sense of inferiority to Europe. (He says the Philadephians never noticed the beauty of the creek until an English woman wrote approvingly of it.)

One odd thing... the ducks and geese there begging to be fed, were quite at peace with each other. Where I live ducks and geese always seem to fight each other. But on the Wissahickon they even swam in formation together. Interspecies harmony.

Friday, September 7, 2007

An Encounter With Mr. Browne

Port Townsend
Originally uploaded by onepurplefork
While working with our hundreds of volumes of the Congressional Serial Set I met an old friend today. Volume 1342 of the Serial Set is a report on the mineral resources of the west written by J. Ross Browne.

Browne, an Irish-born gentleman, may be unique in world history. He is the only person I know who made a living by writing 1) government reports and 2) humor.

I know. As a combination it doesn't flow like cup and saucer, does it?

Here is Mr. Browne describing part of our state in his best officialese:

Port Townsend, on the bay of that name, is the county seat. It is the site of the customs-house of Puget Sound; the marine hospital is located here, and at the head of the bay is the military post, (Fort Townsend). The bay is six miles long, four wide, and an excellent harbor.

DId you stay awake through all that? Good for you. Now here is the same Mr. Browne (slightly edited by historian Murray Morgan) writing in one of his unofficial books:

Port Townsend is indeed a remarkable place. The houses, of which there must be at least twenty in the city and suburbs, are built chiefly of pine boards, thatched with shingles, canvas and wood slabs. The streets of Port Townsend are paved with sand, and the public squares are curiously ornamented with dead horses and the bones of many dead cows.

This of course gives a very original appearance to the public pleasure grounds and enables strangers to know when they arrive in the city, by reason of the peculiar odor, so that, even admitting the absence of lamps, no person can fail to recognize Port Townsend in the darkest night.

Oddly enough, the citizens of Port Townsend were not appreciative of Browne’s attentions. But it can be argued that one result of his scandalous description was that when a gold rush hit the Pacific Northwest the only town in the area that every miner knew of – and flocked to – was the wicked city of Port Townsend. Proving, I suppose, that there’s no such thing as bad publicity.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Sky-Beast Feeds

Staggered out of bed at 2:30 this morning to watch the total eclipse. Of the many photos showing up on Flickr this morning, this one is the closest to what I saw (and yet another cool thing about Flickr - hit refresh and watch newly loaded photos of Eclipse 2007 appear).

For once the weather gods of Bellingham decided to play nice. The sky was clear and the weather was cool but dry.

Watching through binoculars I couldn't help but wonder: when did someone first see an event like this and, instead of thinking some cosmic catastrophe was taking place, think: huh! That looks like a round shadow on the moon. And the sun is behind us, so maybe it's the earth's shadow?

I know the classical Greeks had it figured out, but I doubt that they were the first. How many centuries ago did somebody first solve the puzzle?

And on that profound note I attempted to rediscover my bed.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Elements by Tom Lehrer

One blog I check regularly is Millard Fillmore's bathtub, which is mainly concerned with teaching American history. However, today I found a link to this wonderful animation of Tom Lehrer's song setting the Periodic Table to Gilbert and Sullivan. Amazing.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Carolina Chocolate Drops in Port Townsend

One of the first posts I made on this blog was about seeing the Carolina Chocolate Drops in Port Townsend at the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. Turns out someone was there with a camera. This is "Viper Mad," one of three videos from their performance that day. When the camera pans to the right it stops about a foot short of showing me in the audience; lucky for you, I guess.

Rhiannon Giddens (the female Drop) said their lawyer hates these amateur recordings showing up on the Web, but the band loves it. I'm sure it brings in a ton of new fans. If this performance doesn't knock your socks off your socks are made of stronger stuff than mine. Which may not make much sense but, as John Diamond said, "Desperate times call for desperate analogies."

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Nearly Flawless Handoff

4x400 relay handoff
Originally uploaded by ferreiraca
I write fiction. Mostly I do it at home, but I bought a laptop that sits in my office at work and I use it on my lunch hour. To move texts between them I have been using a flash drive, which works fine, as long as I remember to bring it.

As part of our library-wide summer web luau I was told to try Google Documents. So last night I uploaded a story to Google Documents.
Today I downloaded it onto my laptop. It lost some formatting, but nothing I can't easily put back. And having an extra copy of my files somewhere is always a good idea. I'll use it more.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Hero is my hero

So, how long have we had programmable robots? Would you believe 2000 years? A Greek dude named Hero built a device on wheels that he could program to move forward, back, turn, pause, etc. His programming device? A piece of string, some weights, and some wheat grains. Read the article in New Scientist for a clearer idea of the thing.


Creepy Shadow
Originally uploaded by barrettdarnell
Ok, I have gone through the various elements of Learning 2.0 with a Right Good Will, as the saying goes, but MySpace got my hackles up. I found myself reluctant to put in any information. Why the hell is it any of their business?

I strongly suspect I'll be taking it down as soon as the exercise is over.

On the other hand, I do like going to Flickr to find photos that match the blog entries. I think Firedoglake is the master of that.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Standing Strong and Green

Standing Strong and Green
Originally uploaded by PixMix
Here's another Flickr photo.

Thursday, June 7, 2007


I'm reading a book about a world power being coaxed, for reasons of dubious reliability, into a war with a nation that people describe as being nothing but sand and camels.

It is, of course, a fantasy novel.

Every few pages I check the publication date and mutter "1997? He wrote this ten years ago?"

The book is Jingo, by Terry Pratchett. It is the 21st novel in his Discworld series. That is somewhat of an oversimplification, because the series contains half a dozen subseries, interweaving and cross-connecting. This one is a sort of a police procedural, starring Sam Vimes, the commander of the Watch in Ankh-Morpork, the largest city on Discworld. Due to the nature of this world his force includes, trolls, dwarves, a werewolf, gargoyles, etc.

But they aren't Vimes' problem. His trouble is that a crime has been committed in his city, clearly for the purpose of starting a war with the aforementioned sandy nation of Klatch, and if he can't solve it there may be endless bloodshed over a disputed resource-rich area. As the Klatchian ambassador says, drily: "A few square miles of uninhabitated fertile ground with superb anchorage in an unsurpassed strategic position? What sort of inconsequence is that for civilized people to war over?"

Pratchett's books are an astonishing combination of frothy humor and grim meditations on the human condition. He has been described as one of the great satirists in the English language. (Satire here is not a synonym for parody, but the ridiculing of something in order to expose folly.) One of his other characters is Death (the skinny fellow with the scythe) who gets in trouble because, as his assistant says sadly, he "takes an interest" in people.

While the good guys usually win in his books there is a shrewd, brooding pessimism in Pratchett, as in this line from Reaper Man: "No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it."

By the way, if you don't understand the title of the novel, read the definition of jingoism.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Need a laugh?

On Sunday June tenth one of the world's funniest humans will be in Bellingham. Les Barker bills himself as England's only professional village idiot. He is actually a humorous poet.

How good is he? He sometimes writes song parodies and they are so good that he gets THE AUTHORS OF THE ORIGINALS to sing the parodies on his albums. This is clearly impossible.

Here are the titles of a few of his pieces:
"Cosmo, the fairly accurate knife thrower"
"Guide cats for the blind"
"I can't find my camoflage net"
"An infinite number of occasional tables"
"It's Captain Indecisive! Or is it?"

He will be performing at Nancy's Farm at 2 PM. People sometimes ask me if going to Nancy's Farm means they will be sitting on haybales next to, say, a cow. Not hardly. Take a look at the photos of the performance space here. You can also find directions at that page.

And remember, in the words of the master: "If you cannot be wiser, try to be older."

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Why not Fourteen? Why not a Goose?

Fifteen Iguana is the nom de Web I usually use on chat pages. It comes from a song I wrote, which in turn was based on news stories about an amazing true-life event.

The Department of Redundency Department

Oddly enough, this is the second blog I have started this spring. This one is part of practice for my job. The other is one-day-a-week timeshare with some of my fellow mysterywriters. I'm Wednesday's child, though not particularly full of woe.