blivet on the 4th of July – American Independence

A lone voice in the View from an Iowa Homestead wilderness cries out: “The Metadata Plugin gets sorting and formatting support for the showrelated() macro. In plain English, this means that it’s trivial for me to show the last 20 updated pages for any section of my site. Or to sort pages that have the same keyword(s) as this page alphabetically by title.”

224 years ago: The Declaration of Independence

I ask yet again for the indulgence of all non-American readers for our national propensity to celebrate our own origin epic. To quote a thousand ethnographies: “Why do we do this? It is the way of my people.”

Please supervise your children with fireworks, swimming pools, and other bodies of water. The tradition of firework related injuries and maiming, drowning, and alcohol related deaths associated with the 4th is one that need not be maintained.

Alwin Goes To Hollywood. Go for it Al!

blivet

Paul Vigay’s Collection of Collective Nouns. Things like a conspiracy of ravens, a muster of storks, a skulk of foxes, a murder of crows … I love this stuff! link from Lark Farm.

Reading Code is Like Reading the Talmud – Tips for reading other people’s source code. from Joel based on emailed suggestions by Seth Gordon.

The sudden din of inactivity has me a bit off-balance. Three day weekends* are like that for me. I guess I’m defining myself overmuch by what I do at "work". Actually, thats good. it points out to me that I need to practice what I preach more. The key to centeredness after ‘returning to the market carrying a gourd’ is to use the periodic episodes of realizing your off center to snap back. Sometimes thats all it takes is the realization. The tendency to immerse yourself in hurriedness is profound, plus it feeds our sense of self-importance so satisfyingly (is that a word?). Hmpft. The tangents are so easy to come by. I just got distracted by my need to have a spell checker in IE so I could check that word. One of the guys in the back of the bus reminded me that I could be using Eudora’s built in spell checker and I retorted ‘I’m in a hurry!’. Hee hee. Oh we are a bit self important tonight aren’t we? Must be time for bed …

* It’s Memorial Day weekend in the USA, when we honor the men and women who have died in battle.

[Version Tracker] Theres a new release of WhatRoute 1.0b7 a Macintosh freeware utility for internet connection monitoring. New in this version is access to the new domain to location database Netgeo, as well as faster Map window drawing and new animation to routes plotted in the Map Window.

Happy birthday to Craig at Book Notes!

[Mojave, my Mojave] I had heard murmurings that the phone booth in the Mojave desert had been removed. Rafé reports "the removal of the phone booth at the request of the federal government because it attracted too much traffic (the area where the phone booth is now part of a national park)". I know this area well, and can confirm that the increased traffic can be attributed to the phone booth Web page. link from Rafé Colburn who in turn thanks Lake Effect. Update: Audrey tells me that this was on the news a couple of days ago. So many people were calling the phone booth that no one could call out. Kinda defeated the purpose…

The reunion was fun. Everybody is older and more responsible. Lots of kids and tales to tell. How did we get older?!?

blivet 5/12/2000

I spent a big hunk of the evening with some Archae buds. We hadn’t touched base with each other in a couple of weeks. The discussion was far-ranging and comfortable — knowing you’re accepted – that it’s not conditional. I told them about the events in our webworld, of fires and graphics and community, and a place to call your own inside this magic box with a wire attached to it. It really didn’t interest them but they knew it did me so they listened attentively. We also talked about catching fireflies as kids, watching storms build on the high plains, John Hartford and steamboats, and how we didn’t know what we would do if we couldn’t do archaeology. We listened to Patsy Cline and The Clash, Santana and Louie Prima. We are all so rich, all of us. Whether we have met or not.

I pleasantly browsed my friends weblogs. 🙂 The effect is strangely calming, strange only because it is people I don’t know face to face. It was that way back on Genie and CompuServe as well, with disembodied friends. Back in the pre-Internet days.

I’ve been remiss in reading many of the weblogs I usually frequent, I miss contact with these people like I miss contact with friends here in town. Among them are View From The Heart, array, Hack the Planet Prime, A Curmudgeon teaches Statistics, backup brain. Others I can’t remember the URLs for and so can’t list right now <DOH!> Tonight. I promise my friends, tonight. Right now I have an appointment with my cushion …

Thanks to Al over at View From The Heart for the kind mentions – please bear in mind that anyone who quotes The Mahabarata and Babylon 5 is probably just soft in the head … nice zeldman icon though, I hadn’t noticed that one. Hmm, Zenarchy

[MacWeek] Corel kills WordPerfect for the Mac. In a move that stuns no one, Corel (finally) officially kills what was once the best general purpose Macintosh word processor. Of course that was four years and two owners ago, in internet years that’s when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

It’s strangely calm in the desert this morning. I overslept, which seems to happen after we get wind. My sinuses react from the dust and I just feel thick, both mentally and physically. Today is the last day to prepare for Monday’s celebrity fest and the kickoff for Archae Week is this Sunday. Much to do today and I lost my usual hour and a half of reflection before things get going. Everything is just as it should be. It always is… its just a matter of seeing it that way. I must go. Have a good day wherever you are. I’ll post later.

Ruminations on a Suburban Lawn

It’s quiet around the house, everyone is tired. Well, the cat and dog are always asleep, but the bipeds are usually long gone by this time of day. Our little postage stamp of green in front of the house needs a bit of owner attention. It looks brown and patchy and some of the long stalks are sporting seed heads.

‘The Plan’ is to get rid of most of it and put a small desert wash out there with some Larrea, Erioginum, Artimesia, and annuals out there, leaving a patch of bunch grass up near the house [probably Buffalo Grass (Buchole dactyloidies)] for cooling and for the dog to use. He’s allergic to the grass we have in there now and its painful to watch him walk out on the grass to do what he has to do. I always imagine him saying "ouch, ouch, ugh, ow, ooh, ouch" as he gingerly makes his way to his preferred spot. He’s an old Welsh Corgi, he’s arthritic and often very uncomfortable. He gets more medical attention than Audrey and I do combined. I’m allergic to that grass for that matter, I’d like to see it gone.

I mentioned the Desert Demonstration Gardens at the Water District where I work. It’s a beautiful place with its primary mission to show that xeriscape doesn’t mean dumping a load of pink gravel on your front yard and spreading it to your property line. Anyway, they have an incredible assortment of what you can do to make a beautiful space while keeping what I like to call the ‘desert ethic’. There are several small plots of sod there, all lined up with gages that keep track of how much water the sod uses, the temperature at the surface, how much transpiration is taking place so you can tell if the sod will aggravate the humidity in your micro-climate. I spent a long time laying on those various sod patches to see which ones bothered me. I mean, what good is a lawn if you can’t lay on it and look at clouds, wrestle with the dog or kids on it, or walk barefoot in the gray desert pre-dawn coolness?

I was completely comfortable with the Buffalo Grass, I could lie on it face down inhaling the earthy aroma of loam and humus. I hadn’t smelled that for thirty years. I didn’t even get all the way down on the Bermuda and Fescue varieties. My palms and knees were already itching in the very small amount of time it takes to kneel, then lay down. They want a lot of water too, unlike the Buffalo Grass.

I like the idea of having a little patch of desert wash, even if its a trifle contrived in this cul-de-sac existence. There is great peace in the desert, a calmness unlike the manicured lawns I drive past to get home. There seems to be an overwhelming collective denial of being in the desert that permeates the town. It’s as though no one really wants to admit that they live here now instead of where ever they came from.

That shows up in strange ways, like few parks, no place for kids to play except the subdivision streets, no place to ride the bikes their parents or grandparents have bought for them. No place to be a kid. I didn’t wander through desert washes when I was growing up. The woods were a five minute bike ride from where I grew up. Heck, you could ride your bike for ten minutes in any direction from the center of town and be out of town. It was plains uplands one direction, but the woods were to the south which is where I usually went. If you kept going you’d come to the Marias des Cygnes river. I’m not sure if the French ever saw swans there though. I’ve seen Snowy Egrets down there in the spring, along with Greater and Lesser Herons, Sandhill Cranes, and lots and lots of ducks, Coots, Mergansers, Canvasbacks, geese, and once, 14 Whoopers.

The Whooping Cranes were a big deal for the ten days or so they were there. This was in the dead of the dark night of the extinction watch they were under during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Topeka TV and newspaper from the far off (40 miles away) state capital noted their presence, but our science teacher Miss Rioth (now Davies and a Ph.D. chemist at the University of Kansas) had told us they were there a couple of days before. It was like glimpsing something much, much larger than yourself, seeing these birds and knowing that they were teetering on the brink of extinction and that folks from Texas to the Arctic Circle were working to save them. They seemed pretty oblivious, though we had been cautioned not to disturb them so we didn’t. But if the canoe happened to drift through the cat-tails to within 30 yards or so of them, we’d let it. We’d just stay real still and not even whisper when we were that close, just watching. ‘Just passing by folks, no need for alarm, we’ll just drift on past in a bit. You all just go ahead and keep eating whatever it is you’re eating. Nothing to be concerned about here.’

Later, when we were long past them this verbal torrent would come out of us. ‘Did you see when that one ate that little root thing? Did you see when that one rubbed its wing with its beak? Did you see when that one told the other one this is my spot, you find your own spot? Did you see when that one put its head underwater and came up with that gnarly thing and ate it? Did you see when that one looked straight at us and then went back to what it was doing?’ Yeah, I saw. I saw it all. I still do.

The previous winter was unusually cold and unusually long. An Arctic Owl was spotted about 10 miles northeast of town after it apparently came down with the cold front. This was along the edge of the woods along the creek before you get to the old Culver place, about two miles past where my Grandparents lived. Those were neat woods, there were Bobcats up there too. But that’s another story.

I suppose I never even had a chance to be anything but a scientist. I suspect that the self-selection starts very young, with what intrigues you and what you like to do. I remember (probably with advantages) being interested in stuff that came from scientists. Dinosaurs, planets, the Space Program, wildlife, rocks, arrowheads, what happens to Mr. Schrödinger’s cat when we look in that box. No, I don’t think I ever had a chance to be anything else. I’m glad to be where I am.

I gotta go mow that lawn.

blivet 4/18/2000 It was a dark and stormy night

It was a dark and stormy night

[Archived Memories of America’s Past] One of The Library of Congress’s searchable archives is called American Memories. I have a strong childhood memory of a man and woman who saw a world and a way of life that is now long gone, but that I was fortunate enough to have them share a bit of with me. I did a search for threshing machines and came up with some great images of steam engines plowing and running separators during wheat harvest.

Those images remind me of my maternal grandparents, Lovell and Naomi (Aldrene) Boyle. They farmed in eastern Kansas in the Twenties and part of the Thirties. Grandpa was very nostalgic about those days after his first heart attack and retired. He taught me about machinery and how to work on machines. He was one of those guys that could fix anything. In the early 1950s Grandpa became the Head Reciprocating (probably misspelled) Flightline Mechanic at Forbes Air Force Base (now closed) in Topeka, about 40 miles away. I remember he used to drive a ’54 Packard Pantheon to work.

He and Grandma took me to Threshing Bees on the weekends in the summer from about the time I was 4 or 5. That was about 1960. We went to Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and Iowa, as well as all over Kansas. A lot of his stuff ended up in the Agricultural Hall of Fame in Bonner Springs, Kansas. The farm is now under Pomona Lake, a Corps of Engineers reservoir. He never let me forget that my first archaeology job was on a Corps of Engineers project. “You’re helping those bastards steal somebody else’s farm!” Then he would smile, so I knew it was ‘ha, ha, only serious’.

For a while I was qualified to be a licensed industrial steam boiler operator in the state of Kansas. I wasn’t licensed even though I passed the exam because at 15, I was too young, but satisfied some nervous folks when the old men thought I was capable and experienced enough to run an engine on my own.

I was an Engineer at the McLouth show for four years, Ft. Scott for two, Platte City for three, and at the Hamilton show for three years. Grandpa and I were the Grand Marshalls of the McLouth parade in 1972, we were running Wesley Sylvester’s [of Ottawa, KS] 60 horse Avery Undermount. That’s 180 horses at the belt [later: I think more like 150 horses, I don’t think it was a straight 3x], 60 at the drawbar.

It was a HUGE engine, even for the time, the size of a railroad locomotive. Remember, this is external combustion so you had maximum torque at all times (the torque curve was -compared to a gas engine- almost flat), so it didn’t rely on crankshaft revolutions for power. The torque was always there, just crack the throttle (easy!) under load and away you went. The drive wheels were 12 feet tall and it could pull 36 two-bottom (a pair of) 28 inch breaking plows. It literally took an area the size of a baseball diamond to maneuver the thing [OK, not quite] and if you fell out of the cab, the fall alone could hurt you. how do you know that? heh.

There was a couple of other shows in Missouri, but I can’t remember the cities they were in [Warsaw?]. Those archive pictures have me sitting here feeling real nostalgic for my Grandparents and the things we did together … You wouldn’t believe how good hot tallow, gear grease and coal smoke can smell. Tallow is fat that was added to steam cylinder oil.

I remember a lot of old guys that are all gone now – Earl Ritzman, Haston StClair, Del Seuser, Robert Kirkpatrick and I remember a lot more faces whose names won’t come. The machinery of that era was a self-propelled environmental disaster, but my god it was a rush to run machinery like that!

That was a steampunks wet dream. I suppose I might be one of a very few people who knows some of that stuff now.

[Passings] Edward Gorey, the writer and illustrator, died on Saturday at age 75. In addition, Actor Larry Linville, who portrayed Maj. Frank Burns on M*A*S*H for five years and since in syndication, died last Tuesday at age 60. <sigh>

[CNN] CNN has a story about recent photographs of Area 51 (Dreamland, “The Box”, whatever) that were shot by a satellite launched by Aerial Images Inc. (a private company) and the Russian Space Agency. They are high quality and show everything from buses and hangars to an aircraft covered with a tarp. If you’re suspicious of the planet of origin of this aircraft, the BBC has a story too, link via slashdot.

The desert was very windy last night. It was also trash night on our street, so there was a lot of noise as trash cans got blown around and strewn through the neighborhood. Plus, the dust bothers me and my sinuses are at about 125 PSI this morning, ugh.

[edits for a large number of spelling errors]

blivet 4/15/2000 First pull up, then pull down

First pull up, then pull down

20:15 -0700 GMT

[ArsDigita University] "Our goal is to offer the world’s best computer science education, at an undergraduate level, to people who are currently unable to obtain it. <…> For our distance-learning programs, there are no admissions requirements. They are available to anyone anywhere in the world at any time. " With faculty like Philip Greenspun, Mark Dettinger, Tina Kapur, John Pezaris, Rajeev Surati, and Edward Tufte. So, what DO I want to be when I grow up? Thanks to Wes for the link.

19:35 -0700 GMT

garret, keep RINSING! Ow, ow, ow, ow.

14:20 -0700 GMT

My wife has been infected with ‘flagstone fever’ whose symptoms include, but are not limited to, an overpowering desire to get rid of some of the water sucking grass next to the driveway by digging it up and replacing it with some sort of rock, flagstone, pavers, … something. So we’ve been out looking at rock places and nurseries. Apparently none of the ornamental rock for sale comes from around here. If you take a geologist and an archaeologist out rock shopping and they want rock ‘from around here’ they are going to be hard to satisfy. ‘Nope, not from around here’, ‘nope, not like the stuff I’ve scraped my skin off on at all’. Trust me, we know if its local or not. This stuff isn’t even regional. I suspect ‘Hecho en Mexico’. Nothing wrong with that, we’re just looking for local lithos.

This is the perfect time of year in the northern Mojave. The nights are comfortable, the days are pleasantly warm without being sweltering, many of the native annuals and perennials are in bloom. Its just nice.

Lots of talk about ‘has the Internet stock bubble burst?’. So are the people thinking that it has proposing that the ‘net phenomenon’ is over and there will be no more dot coms? I don’t think so, but I’d stay with infrastructure or hardware rather than content providers IMHO. It sounds like there will be some more selling next week, so it might not be a buyers market, yet. But will be. Long term this is a blip, a ‘consumer confidence’ problem. Of course, this is not financial advice, just my opinion. and remember, I’m an archaeologist, not a financial planner. Anyone who thinks otherwise should start taking their medication again.

blivet

Quote from MacCentral: "Jobs announced a new iBook, a new 500 MHz PowerBook — the fastest Portable ever — and a new line-up of Power Mac G4’s with faster processors running at 400-, 450-, and 500-MHz.". There is bound to be continuing news at MacWeek, MacInTouch, MacAddict, and of course from the Mothership. Now a 500 MHz G4 running LinuxPPC 2000 would be something!

The German Remote Sensing Data Center has a website for the current Shuttle mission. They’re posting current photos here. Its a bit of a slow connection, at least from where I am, even over a cable modem. Its well worth it though. I saw this at slashdot.

American Beauty was nominated for eight Oscars, more than any other film. The categories included best picture, best actor for Kevin Spacey, best actress for Annette Bening and best director for Sam Mendes. CNN, Reuters. I really enjoyed American Beauty when I saw it in the theater after I got over my inital pedophileophobic reaction. No, that word is not in the lexicon. I have yet to see Sixth Sense, so I can’t really say which way my opinion would go for best picture. The South Park movie was a best song nominee.

Eazel. If names like Andy Hertzfeld ring a bell perhaps you should have a look. Thanks to Dave and Wes. I agree with Wes, Hertzfeld working on GNOME is very interesting.

Still more Shuttle news: At the midpoint of the mission NASA will be able to determine if there is enough fuel for the remainder of the mission. CNN, Reuters.

The Jargon File is up to version 4.2.0 and is available at jargon.org. Thanks to slashdot for the info.

Intel’s Willamette chip demoed at 1.5 GHz. Demos are one thing because of course it hasn’t shipped yet and it will be a while before the price is reasonable, but hey, at least they’re showing it. Motorola, wherefore art the 1+ gig G4s? CNET, Wired, Reuters.

Microsoft will introduce the Mac version of Internet Explorer 5 at Macworld Tokyo tomorrow (Wednesday). It will reportedly be available in mid-March. From MacNN.