Dear Editor,

December 12th, 2014

I had a letter to the editor published in the Boston Globe today!

Here you are:

[supplied by the paper] The ‘broken window theory’ works both ways

[my letter] In the discussion of the Ferguson and Staten Island police behavior, I’ve seen a lot about the “broken window theory” — the notion that, since small nuisance offenses change the public attitude and make the public less law-abiding, being tough on minor offenses reduces significant crime as well.

I would like the police to recognize the opposite side of it: Any overreach by police reduces the public’s respect for police and willingness to cooperate. This goes for unnecessary traffic stops, an “accidental” blow in the course of making an arrest, and any other, more minor excess. It’s the same psychology, people.

photo of newspaper

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HTML Tagging my neighborhood

October 31st, 2013

As part of the P2PU web design challenge, I took pictures of some things in the real world that vaguely represent  HTML tags. I didn’t get all the tags that the assignment listed, but I did like some of the results.

<bq> and <ul>:
blockquote and unordered list

The words at the top of the stone look like some formal text that needs to be set off in a big blockquote. Besides, it’s on a block of stone! The names are a list that doesn’t need a particular order.

<ul>: It was the day before Halloween. This porch looks like a <ul> of pumpkins.

unordered list

<ol>: Traffic was heavy on my way home. I was the third car in an ordered list of cars at a traffic light. This picture really has two OLs in it, because there are two lanes of traffic.
ordered list

<q>: Here’s some text, quote:
quote

<q>: Here’s the window of a store that’s closing after many years. Customers have written goodbye notes to it on the windows, quote: “Brussels Sprouts is my favorite store. I’ll miss you. Bye.”
lots of quotes

<img> and <q>: For Halloween, stores around the city encourage kids to paint pictures on their windows (under supervision, I guess). That results in an <img>, and this one as a bonus has two word balloons, <q>.
image and quotes

<img>: This house is painted so as to be an attention-getting visual statement, not just a house, so I think it counts as an <img> all by itself:
image

<div> and <span>: The porch is divided into two <div>s, and the arches and sunburst triangle above them span those divs and the entrance div.
div and span

Dudes, where’s my <nav>? I’ll be lost without it!

Phew, the transit authority posts these at every streetcar stop to help people navigate the system:
nav

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Web 101 – text editor

October 23rd, 2013

I already own BBEdit for my main computer (and laptop). It has all the features of TextWrangler, which is by the same people, and a lot more; so there’s not attraction to TextWrangler instead.

I liked the word completion from Text Mate a lot, and very likely would have picked it if I were starting from scratch. The completion for Sublime Text was just about as good, for this simple task, after I changed the configuration (settings, I should say) file to have completion-on-enter-tab or whatever it was — wait a second and I’ll open the editor, look at the settings file, and get it right — the whole line was

“auto_complete_commit_on_tab”: true

which wasn’t totally obvious from the help file, and a little long to spell out.

A big attraction of Sublime Text is that it is available for Mac, Windows and Linux with a single license fee per user, so I could buy a license and use it all over the place. That could be a reason to get it right there.

So, I guess the bottom line is, BBEdit chose me just by being there on my computer in the first place, but I will likely get Sublime Text also.

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‘First’ web page

October 22nd, 2013

Aha! I have my wordpress update system fixed, at least enough that I can get a picture on my blog. Here’s that page that I wrote from memory. With only one scratchout, which I did before I peeked.

Picture of web handwritten web page

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Roll up them sleeves

October 22nd, 2013

I have just signed up on P2PU, Peer-to-Peer University, to study web design. I’ve done some web design before, but it’s probably hopelessly out of date — at least that’s what my son, who works on the Harvard Extension School web site, says. So, I’m going to roll up my sleeves and start studying some of the links he referred me to, starting with the P2PU Webmaking 101 challenges. Let’s see if it can keep me out of trouble for the rest of the afternoon! And maybe, who knows, get me back into blogging.

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Surface Design meeting at Fuller

October 2nd, 2011

Several months ago Arlene found out about an article about Adinkra stamps in a magazine published by the Surface Design Association, a group of fiber and textile artists. It turned out the the most cost-effective way for us to advertise our stamps in the magazine was for her to join the association. We went to a meeting of the local chapter yesterday at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton. I was just tagging along, having been warned that I was welcome but would have to put up with a lot of gabby women. The fact is, I went to an all male college where I had to either bicycle or hitchhike 17 miles to Bennington College if I wanted to talk to a woman. Eventhat was only spring and fall — Bennington wasn’t in session during the winter, and then it was something like a 50 mile drive to Smith, or farther to Mount Holyoke, Skidmore, or Vassar. I’ve never recovered from that; I have a high tolerance for gabby women.

The meeting started off with a tour of the basket exhibit at the museum. It was pretty impressive! The tour was given by the museum’s education director, who is a member of the group. She had an excellent idea of how to tailor her presentation to the interests and level of knowledge of the group members. Besides that, she had recently taken a workshop on ash (wood) splint basketry. There were a few “normal” baskets in the exhibit, and a lot of unconventional ones that you might not think of as baskets at first. With a little justification (“well, it’s made of fiber, and it could hold something, maybe”) you could probably accept them as baskets, or at least as basketry. One, a lamp with a shade woven from cable ties, looked like something you might be able to make in an afternoon. Others were so complex that you knew you would have to study for years before starting to duplicate them and then work most of another year on the one item.

After lunch in the museum cafeteria there was a show and tell session. Arlene showed off a discharge-printed T shirt she had done at the Nature Printing Society meeting a couple of months ago. Here’s a photo of someone else talking about her recent experiments with dyeing indigo over fiber-reactive dye colors. Also in the picture is someone else’s shibori-dyed fabric and a basket made from watercolor paper painted with acrylics and cut into strips by being run through a pasta maker.

Drat! I’m doing this on my PC, without my familiar software (Photoshop and Interarchy). I seem to have uploaded photos that didn’t get sized and rotated the way I wanted.

And here are close-ups of more indigo over fiber-reactive dye samples:

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Shad in the Charles

June 29th, 2011

A few days ago Arlene called my attention to an email I got from the Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) announcing an upcoming release of American Shad Fry into the Charles river. It sounded interesting and wasn’t too far from work, so I decided to go.

Shad are the biggest members of the herring family. Like other herring (and also like salmon), they live in the ocean most of their lives and swim up rivers to spawn. Anglers love them. They’re relatively big, challenging to catch, and good eating. They haven’t been breeding in the Charles since early in the industrial revolution, when the Charles was dammed for water power and there was no way for the fish to get upstream past the dams. Besides that, the Charles used to be badly polluted. The CRWA has been very active in helping enforce environmental laws and raising public awareness of the desirability of having a clean river, and by now the Charles is one of the cleanest urban rivers in the world. In recent decades fish ladders have been added to the dams, but fish ladders and clean water is not all it takes. The fish return to the river where they grew up, and if no fish have spawned in a river, no fish are going to return to it (except for a few strays, perhaps, but that’s not likely to establish a population.)

Fisheries biologists have found that it’s possible to re-establish a population of anadromous fish in a river by taking adult fish from one river, getting them to spawn in captivity, and stocking the baby fish in the river with no population of those fish. I’ve heard about that, and heard that it has worked in the Connecticut river. Here was my chance to learn about it in person.

Here’s an adult American Shad. This is a fish any fresh-water angler would be delighted to catch:
Adult shad that came along for show and tell

The US Fish and Wildlife Service had brought several hundred thousand shad to the Charles, but not that big. These were five days old, about the smallest fish I’ve ever seen. This bucket probably had a couple hundred of them:
Those thread-like things are each a fish

In that picture, it looks like water with some pieces of lint in it, but the lint is fish! Each one is only about twice as long as a mosquito wriggler, maybe half an inch or three quarters of an inch long, transparent except for the eyes and backbone.

I got to the event in good time. There were two trucks parked close to the river, official US Fish and Wildlife Service flatbed trucks with big tanks on the back. One tank had several adult shad in it, including the one in the picture above. You could climb up on the truck to look in the tank. The F&W people were scrupulous about warning everyone, “Be careful! There’s nothing behind you to keep you from falling off!”
Looking in the tank of adult shad

The other truck had a tank of the fry. It had a hose coming from the river which was bringing in river water so that the fry would be at river temperature when they were released — a sudden change of temperature wouldn’t be any good.

One of the first people to show up after me (the F&W people were there before me) was Derrick Z. Jackson, a Boston Globe columnist who writes almost as often about environmental issues as about social ones.
Derrick Z. Jackson, Boston Globe columnist

Two other spectators, who might have come to the river just to go fishing rather than watch the event, were this father & daughter:
Note the Disney fishing rod
Before any fish fry hit the water, the little girl had caught a sunfish. It doesn’t show in the picture, but it’s splashing there at her dad’s feet.
She just caught a sunfish

These folks spoke briefly.
Presenters at the event
I had been talking to the guy in the khaki before things really started; he’s from the US Fish and Wildlife Service. He was telling me about how successful the shad restocking efforts have been in many rivers, especially in the middle atlantic region. Perhaps the most interesting thing he told me was that all the fry have been marked so they can tell if fish they catch five years from now are wild fish or come from hatchery stock. How do you mark millions of fish fry that small? By adding some fluorescent dye to the water they’re in. If you want details, try this.

The woman on the right, in serious hip boots, is Mary Griffin, commissioner of the Massachusetts department of fish and wildlife. Later on she got to hold the hose that the fry were released through. The man in the middle is Bob Zimmerman, the director of the CRWA.

There were lots of people from the press, from local paper through community access TV to Boston Globe.
Press corps
OK, now we’re getting ready to release the fish!
Ready to release the fry

I love that smile. It really looks to me like, some days you have to spend all day worrying about a department budget and some days you have to spend all day arguing with legislators, but every so often you get to remember why you wanted to be a wildlife biologist and it’s all worth while.
Pumping fish

And here’s Derrick getting his version of that last picture:

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Shofar kavanah

June 18th, 2011

It seems I am three degrees of separation from a composer who is having a CD release event at a classy downtown Boston gallery next week (actually, Back Bay rather than downtown, for locals) and needed someone to play the shofar at it. That’s going to be me.

Any musical instrument gives you the option of just picking it up and making sounds or first thinking about that particular instrument, that kind of instrument, its history and cultural connotations, and then making sounds. I’m not sure, but I suspect that the sounds are much more likely to be music if you think first.

The shofar (and there’s a picture of one on one of those links) is one of the world’s oldest musical instruments. It’s the reason musical instruments called “horns” are called horns; it’s just an animal horn with the end cut off to form a mouthpiece. Shofars were used as signaling devices on the battlefields of the ancient Near East at least three or four thousand years ago, the way bugles were in the Civil War. For the last two thousand years, pretty much their only use has been as part of the observance of the Jewish New Year.

“Kavanah” is a crucial Hebrew word which is pretty much like concentration, intention, attention, and mindfulness. It’s what you want in someone who is leading a religious service — thinking about what you’re saying and meaning it, not just repeating the prayer for the five hundredth time. It’s also that better option for playing a musical instrument. It’s particularly important for shofar, which only has a few notes, fewer than a bugle, and depends on something other than what notes you play to be interesting.

To play shofar, you have to work backwards, through all the times you’ve heard the Rabbi preach things like, “The shofar calls us to repentance at this season of the new year” and “The shofar is our wake-up call to get back to the work of tikkun olam, improving the world”. You need to make that clear in the sound! A little farther back, you have to remember all of Jewish history and how the shofar has been sounding in religious services for over two thousand years, and get all the wanderings of the Jewish people in there. Going back to Talmudic and Biblical times, you remember how many references there are to the shofar in ancient texts (and lest the shofar player has forgotten, a large section of the traditional New Years service is composed of Biblical verses about shofar.) Just check out the best known mention of shofar in the Bible, Joshua 6:4-20, to get an idea. If you’ve never heard a shofar, how well can you understand those verses? Unless you’re aware of them, what makes you think your sound has any content? Then you think of how those verses got there, and all the ancient battlefields where the shofar was the signal to charge, to regroup, or to retreat if necessary. There must have been many people who would get flashbacks of battle, post-traumatic stress, whenever they heard the shofar. You can imagine a grizzled veteran at the time of King David saying, “forty years later, and whenever I hear that I still look over my shoulder to see if the Midianites are chasing me.” When you’re playing shofar, you want a sound that would do that to that guy if he were around to hear it.

There’s one more interested party to consider: the animal who grew the horn in the first place. It deserves to be treated with due respect. According to the Bible, when Abraham didn’t sacrifice Isaac, he found a ram caught by the horns in a nearby bush and sacrificed it instead. According to Jewish legend, one of the horns of that ram is the shofar that will be sounded to announce the last judgement. Well, really, all that has to do with how I play shofar is to show that there is an awareness of the animal through shofar tradition. Sometimes when there’s a lot of saliva in my shofar mouthpiece I can get a faint whiff that reminds me of old-fashioned carpenter’s hide glue. At first that was off-putting, but now I remember that it’s the animal asserting its part of the process and letting me know that the sound is a tribute to it, too.

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Bobwhite

November 11th, 2010

Two weekends ago Matt and I drove out to the Red Mill to get lumber for a cover for the fire pit (he felt strongly that e should make an effort to keep the fire pit from filling up with snow.) We were on our way home, between downtown Casco and the house, when his phone rang. “Nope, we’re not going to stop to get what they’re asking for,” he remarked as he reached for it; even the general store in town was in the other direction, and any other grocery store was over five miles behind. But it wasn’t that, but a bird alert. Arlene was calling to say there was a bobwhite under the lilac bush, and that we should park at the bottom of the driveway and walk up quietly if we wanted to see it.

We spotted it when we were halfway up the driveway. I circled around to the back door and got my binoculars to get a good look, and m camera. The bird was amazingly cooperative. Matt hung around the front and took lots and lots of pictures. I took over 50 pictures myself, of which I like these the best:

It’s not what you would call a colorful bird, but look at how beautiful the colors are. I especially like those chestnut and white feathers under the wings.

Bobwhites aren’t believed to breed in Maine. We’ve been told that this is probably an escaped bird, possibly from a game farm. We would love for its chicks, grandchicks, and great-grandchicks to grow up on our land, but it’s not likely.

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Torah Trope

November 7th, 2010

So what else I’m doing these days (and you thought you’d never see anything new on this blog) is studying torah trope.

A couple of weeks ago I uncovered a book The Art of Torah Cantillation that I had picked up oh, maybe eight years ago, when the Temple Emanuel choir made a quick trip to a choir festival in the Catskills. Probably it was having relearned the tunes of the wedding blessings a month ago that made me decide to get to work on it, but I read the CD into iTunes and started to practice.

In a Jewish Saturday morning synagogue service there’s a reading from the Torah (5 books of Moses) and a reading from the prophets, the way many Christian services will have a lesson from the Old Testament and a lesson from the New Testament; except that firstly, the Jewish readings are much longer, and secondly, the Jewish readings are chanted rather than just read. If you’ve ever gone to a Bar Mitzvah service you’ve probably heard the Bar Mitzvah boy (or Bat Mitzvah girl) chant the reading from the prophets.

The chanting is done to a traditional tune, which has an ancient notation written right along the text as little dots and squiggles (in printed Hebrew texts of the Bible — not in the handwritten Torah scroll). The tunes for the Torah are different from those for the prophets (and there are other tunes for other books read in the synagogue, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations). They function as punctuation and almost an audible diagram of the sentence. That helps a lot in listening, because the Hebrew text itself doesn’t have punctuation except for a mark at the end of each verse. Also, there’s a special tune for the end of each reader’s section — very convenient in the unlikely event that you’ve dozed off or otherwise spaced out during it (or maybe you’re pondering the import of a previous verse), because when you hear it you can wake up in time to be part of the congregation’s response. Maybe a particular mark means “this word starts on the note ‘fa’, and at the syllable with the mark, jump to ‘la’ and stay there to the end of the word.” That kind of thing — short motifs, mostly three notes or so but sometimes a lot longer, that are the building blocks for the whole tune.

At one time I was pretty good with the trope for the prophets, but I never learned the Torah trope, much less the tunes for the other books.

If you want to see what trope looks and sounds like, check LearnTrope.com I don’t like the voice on that site nearly so well as the recordings that came with my book, and the text in the book has a lot about the whole structure and philosophy of cantillation, so I’m going to stick with the book and iTunes. What that web site does have is pictures of hand signals for the trope, which the book only mentions.

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