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  In some ways that one has been replaced by SleuthSayers, where I can be found most Wednesdays, bright-eyed and iguana-tailed.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.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

How Overdue Books Caused The Civil War

That's the title of my article, just published at the American Libraries magazine website.  It is a true story of the House of Representatives, the New York Times, the Dred Scott Decision... and overdue library books.

Monday, May 16, 2011

a few words on libraries, from Mr. Lane

I love the British comic mystery series New Tricks, about retired cops trying to solve cold cases.  The episode I saw this week struck close to home in a lot of ways.  University library budget cuts, book theft, etc.  This video shows the opening with ex-copper (and obsessive/compulsive) Brian "Memory" Lane and his wife visiting their local library.  The first minute is too good to miss.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

National Jukebox

My friend and colleague Peter pointed out the coolest government website I have seen in some time: the National Jukebox from the Library of Congress.   It plays a selection of historical recordings: ragtime, choirs, gospel, etc.  Very neat.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The smartest thing anyone said today

From S.J. Rozan, mystery writer and lifetime New Yorker:
Killing Bin Laden is a good thing, the right thing.  But the very fact that it is, is a dark fact, not the occasion for a street party.

Just another day in Bellingham, WA 6

Today was the first Summer Ride organized by Everybody Bike.  About 100 of us met at Woods Coffee downtown and rode through the trails and Taylor Dock to Fairhaven.  It was great fun and the weather cooperated for once.  Only problem was no one knew what to do when we got to Fiarhaven.  Ride back?  Meet somewhere?  

To make things more complicated, this was Dirty Dan Days in Fairhaven, celebrating the founder of the small town which is now the southwest corner of Bellingham.  (Dan made his money transporting goods between Fairhaven and Victoria, BC - by rowboat.  If that doesn't amaze you, pull out a map.)

It was fun to hear the Gallus Brothers on the Village Green, but I can't bear the idea of standing in a line of 20 people for a free sample so we skipped the Chowder Festival, much as I love it (there were lines like that in front of every booth.)  Instead we visited two new stores in the neighbordook: Papa's Sweets and Drizzle Oils and Vinegars.  My wife's comment: the lemon vinegar was a perfect salad dressing all by itself.  
Then we rode away.  Lovely day.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

"galloping disbelief"

Weird coincidence time. I had some floors to scrub today so I popped a CD of Jean Shepherd into the computer. If you aren't familiar with Shep, he was a radio host and raconteur from the 1950-1980s. The classic movie A Christmas Story is based on his work.

Well, many of his radio shows are available on CD now and I picked one at random - September 21, 1965 - and he began by complaining about a trend he saw in modern America: "galloping disbelief."

Why is it, he asked, that we assume all politicians are lying all the time? Sure, nobody tells the truth all the time, but the assumption that everything is a lie is weird.

A week before Shep had travelled to Peru and when he came back and started talking about it some people wrote to him (and this was postage stamp time, not email) to say that he was making the whole thing up. Why would he do such a thing? Why would they think he would?

The coincidence is that I happened to be listening to this the day after Obama released his birth certificate. And some people who claimed he was lying about being born in the USA continue to insist that the state of Hawaii is part of the vast conspiracy. I don't know if Shep would laugh or cry.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Spa: The Canadian Experience

Well, this is MY favorite government publication of the week.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Just another day in Bellingham, WA 5

Last night I was taking a friend to an excellent concert by Cindy Kallet and Grey Larson at the Roeder Home and she complained about the weather.  "Raining again?  Boring!"

I laughed.  "You want exciting weather?  Maybe tomorrow it'll hail.  Or snow!"

The photo above shows the view out my door.  April 14th.  My wife said "time to reboot the calendar."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Shakespeare Searched

I don't know why this amuses me so, but check out Shakespeare Searched. It is a search engine that only looks through the complete works of Bill the Bard. Very neat.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Swearin' soldiers

There's a good piece in the New Yorker about Robin Williams and he talks about his five tours entertaining the soldiers in Baghdad.  One of the things he enjoyed is that he can work as blue as he wants there; the soldiers don't mind naughty language.

Reminds me of a very old story.  My father was an educator and his beloved mentor was Colonel H. Edmund Bullis.  Among many other things, Bullis served under General George Patton during World War II.  When the movie Patton came out my father was shocked by the profanity.  He asked Bullis if it were true to life.  "Oh no," said the Colonel.  "Patton was much worse."

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Music from Madison

Lou and Peter Berryman are friends of mine and brilliant comic songwriters.  (They will be playing in Bellingham again in 2012...Yay!)  Last week they performed before they biggest crowd of their careers, right in their hometown of Madison, Wisconsin.  They were the opening act for Jesse Jackson.

Peter and Lou Berryman from luciano M on Vimeo.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Enemy Combatants: Black Soldiers in Confederate Prisons

The latest issue of Army History magazine (D 114.20:78) has a wonderful article by Thomas J. Ward, Jr.

When African-American Union soldiers were captured in the south the Confederacy had no idea what to do with them. The one thing they were clear on was that they couldn't treat them as Prisoners of War.

Some were summarily executed. Some were judged to be slaves and returned to their masters. Some were made to work for the Confederate army at the front lines (until Union General Benjamin Butler put white Confederate prisoners in the same position.)

Some free blacks were turned over to civilian courts to be tried but this proved an embaressment when the court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over crimes committed by men acting as soldiers.

Later in the war some of them were treated as POWs but the Confederacy refused to swap them for southern prisoners - which would imply that white and black were equal.

Fascinating story...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stranger Ways: Happily Ever After

This is my daughter's band celebrating the release of their first CD.  Pretty cool...

Measure for Measure

the interesting thing about this is how they decided who are the most famous scientists: Google Books.

It has been said that massive computers and huge banks of data may change the scientific method: you don't need to start with a hypothesis, just let the computer crunch a big pile of numbers and something interesting will fall out.

In this case someone studied one third of the books in Google Books, going back 200 years and calculated the fame of scientists based on how often each was mentioned in books. The measurement standard was Charles Darwin: the average number of times he has been mentioned per year since he turned 30 is a Darwin (D). Most others are measured in thousands of that, or milli-Darwins (mD). There is a link to the data so you can search for your favorite name or phrase (be careful, it is case sensitive).

Amazing stuff

By the way, the lovely graph by chazmatazz has nothing to do with Google Books or the Science Hall of Fame.  I just liked it..