Friday, January 30, 2009

Smithsonian to Put an Entire Collection On Line

Because I'm involved in a local history project with ambitions of putting Pocahontas County collections and archives on line, I was very interested to see this article about a Smithsonian Museum: Going to Meet Its Public--Indian Museum Will Put Entire Collection Online By Jacqueline Trescott, Washington Post, January 30, 2009.

Even with three locations in its empire, the National Museum of the American Indian can display barely 1 percent of its 800,000 objects. To help close that gap, the museum has decided to set up a digital showcase.

On Monday, the museum plans to launch its "Fourth Museum" to give scholars, students, teachers, cultural historians and those far away from the museum's homes in Washington and New York the opportunity to look into its archives.

The move has been in the works for nearly three years, as staff reexamined each item and its scholarship. The online project, part of the museum's regular Web site, will begin with 5,500 items and photographs. The goal is to have all 800,000 objects on the Web site, but it will take at least four years to achieve that.

I immediately looked up the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, but there is no hint there of what is to come. At present, it's a singing and dancing brochure for the physical museums in Washington D.C. and New York City. We'll have to check back on Monday.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Compendium of Troll Stylings

Lately, I've had to check an Internet forum for updates on a topic important to my work. The forum allows anonymous postings, and it reminds me why I generally stay off such "communities"--I have a low tolerance for flame wars and trolls.

One thing that always surprises me about these uncivil exchanges is how they all sound alike. I know the guys who called each other names on Usenet newsgroups back in the 1980's have really different backgrounds than the inept typists I've been reading lately, but they sound just the same. It's like they're writing in the same literary genre. Let's call it "adolescent bile."

It made me wonder if someone had documented the literary stylings of trolls. I did find much written about the social phenomenon of trolling, but no literary analysis. Perhaps this is a gap I should fill--"Word Choice in Appalachian Flame Wars in the early 21st Century." Perhaps not. Here are some links, some of them amusing, some of them appalling, on Bad Internet Behavior.

  • Beware the Troll--A Practical Guide--a catalog of troll types and techniques, with suggestions on how to handle them.
  • Flame Warriors caricatures--These date from the Usenet News days. I was pleased to find them still preserved and still funny.
  • Internet Trolls from Wikipedia, and they should know from trolls.
  • Godwin's law states: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one."
  • Don't flame me, bro' cites some psychology to explain flame wars: Social psychologists have known for decades that, if we reduce our sense of our own identity--a process called deindividuation--we are less likely to stick to social norms.
  • Rob Kling Center for Social Informatics Social Informatics (SI) refers to the body of research and study that examines social aspects of computerization, including the roles of information technology in social and organizational change, the uses of information technologies in social contexts, and the ways that the social organization of information technologies is influenced by social forces and social practices. OK, this sort of research was what I was looking for, but they don't have many articles accumulated yet.
  • The Trolls Among Us --a long New York Times feature on some infamous Internet trolls.
  • Trolling for Ethics: Matthias Schwartz's Awesome Piece on Internet Poltergeists--a NYTimes reaction to the NYTimes article above.
  • Help! I'm an Internet troll! I go on right-wing sites and say provocative things. Why do I do it? You think they'll come after me? This Salon article suggests a reason all the trolls sound alike--trolling is the online equivalent of shouting naughty words while hiding in the shadows. You probably act like a professional all day long. The way they keep us cooped up in offices all day, it's no wonder that occasionally we just like to shout an insult.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Peach Pie, Peach Cake, Chocolate Cake

I made a peach pie day before yesterday, using frozen pie filling I made last summer from this very peach, and several dozen others much like it. Our peach trees, like our sour cherries, come on a few at a time--too asynchronous for canning. Instead, I save them up until I have about a quart of fruit, and then I make filling for one pie and freeze it. Pie filling is very easy--prepare a quart of fruit, add a cup of sugar, and 1/4 cup of flour. Stir it up, and pour it into either a pie shell or a gallon freezer bag.

This time, I played around with the pie crust recipe--I substituted half a cup of whole wheat flour for half a cup of white flour. The little bit of whole wheat gave the pie a vaguely "nutty" taste, without making it into unappealing "health food." I believe I'll make the next pie crust the same way.

Not everyone in this household is a fan of pies, so I've experimented a bit with adding my frozen pie fillings to cakes. I usually try to bake "from scratch," but lately, commercial cake mixes have been on sale for $.66 each, and my inherent love of a bargain can't pass that by. I've had good results using a quart of frozen pie filling in a tube cake pan, following directions from Baking with Cake Mixes: Tips for Jazzing-Up Your Cakes:

If changing from a scratch poundcake recipe to one using a cake mix, be sure to add 1- 3/4 ounce package of instant pudding (in a coordinating flavor). Up the eggs necessary to 4. Also be sure to include a total of 1 cup of liquid and 1/2 cup of oil or melted butter.

I mix together four beaten eggs, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, a box of vanilla or butterscotch instant pudding, a box of yellow or white cake mix, and the thawed pie filling. There is usually enough juice in the pie filling to make a reasonable batter, but if the batter should be very dry, add a little water. I bake it at 350 degrees F for 50 to 60 minutes. If you cool it in the pan for half an hour, it usually will turn out more or less in one piece. If it looks ragged, add frosting!

In the interest of keeping track of another favorite pudding cake made in a tube pan, here's another recipe that I like when cake mixes and instant pudding are on sale:

Devil's Food Pound Cake

1 pkg Chocolate Cake mix
1 pkg (4 serving size) instant chocolate pudding mix
4 eggs
1.25 c water
0.5 c vegetable oil

Beat at medium speed for 2 min. Pour into greased tube pan.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick
inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan 25 min, then
invert onto plate to cool completely.

Glaze or frost.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Lapse of Enthusiasm

I'm having one of those lapses in enthusiasm. After months of playing with content management systems, loading them up with "content," breaking them, taking them apart, trying again, I've finally got a Drupal format I like for the new, improved Spice Ridge home page. Unfortunately, I'm so sick of it I just can't stand to work on it anymore. I'm going to ignore it for a little while, and hope it will seem more engaging in a couple of days. Maybe I should knit for a while, pretend like it's not there....get out the sewing machine. They say "A change is good as a rest."

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Purple Anthers

I never noticed the velvety purple anthers in catnip flowers before.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Black Locust

It felt like spring today. It wasn't just me, the chickadees and titmice sounded like they thought spring was in the air. The trees are not fooled, however, and cold weather is coming back tonight, or so the National Weather Service thinks. Here's a tender spring bud growing in a black locust thorn axil. (An April photo, not a January thaw event.)

Here's the reason our ridge top is dominated by black locust--it spreads by stout runners just under or on top of the ground.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nostalgic for Ragweed

I was looking through some photographs, and thought these looked very beautiful. It must be cabin fever making me nostalgic for ragweed pollen. I miss summer.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Primer On Financial Woes

I'm not sure when the Washington Post started doing this, (I read it using RSS feeds, so I miss things), but they've assembled their economics articles from the last few months into a sort of primer, which they call: The Crash: What Went Wrong? How did the most dynamic and sophisticated financial markets in the world come to the brink of collapse? The Washington Post examines how Wall Street innovation outpaced Washington regulation. Some of these articles I'd read, others I'd missed until now, but it's quite helpful to have them all in one place.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

...Our Patchwork Heritage Is a Strength...

I was looking forward to watching the inauguration address on television today, seated comfortably by the wood stove, but there was a change of plans. Instead, I went out in the 6 degree (F) weather and reported to our local government the progress I've made on the local history project. I also got a quick tour of archival materials in the courthouse attic. (I've seen some really interesting attics in the last six months.)

The satellite news channels steadfastly refuse to replay President Obama's speech, but I have found it posted on the Web. (This is an unofficial version from; the text as delivered may have been different.) Whatever else this administration brings, I am looking forward to some elegant oratory, and I was delighted to find a sewing metaphor--frugal, homey patchwork.

For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus--and non-believers. We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this Earth; and because we have tasted the bitter swill of civil war and segregation, and emerged from that dark chapter stronger and more united, we cannot help but believe that the old hatreds shall someday pass; that the lines of tribe shall soon dissolve; that as the world grows smaller, our common humanity shall reveal itself; and that America must play its role in ushering in a new era of peace.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Near the Relief Office I See My People

It's wonderful to hear Pete Seeger singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land is Your Land" at yesterday's concert at the Lincoln Memorial. I got all choked up watching this, and tonight, I'll probably dream I see Joe Hill again, alive as you and me. Here are all the lyrics, including the last two gritty ones Pete sings here, from, Arlo Guthrie's web site.

It seems HBO had this removed from YouTube. You may be able to watch the video here, but I can't tell--no computer here will play that format.

words and music by Woody Guthrie

This land is your land, this land is my land
From California, to the New York Island
From the redwood forest, to the gulf stream waters
This land was made for you and me

As I was walking a ribbon of highway
I saw above me an endless skyway
I saw below me a golden valley
This land was made for you and me


I've roamed and rambled and I've followed my footsteps
To the sparkling sands of her diamond deserts
And all around me a voice was sounding
This land was made for you and me


The sun comes shining as I was strolling
The wheat fields waving and the dust clouds rolling
The fog was lifting a voice come chanting
This land was made for you and me


As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side  .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!


In the squares of the city - In the shadow of the steeple
Near the relief office - I see my people
And some are grumblin' and some are wonderin'
If this land's still made for you and me.

Chorus (2x)

Here's a Wikipedia image showing Pete, entertaining at the opening of the Washington labor canteen, sponsored by the United Federal Labor Canteen, sponsored by the Federal Workers of American, Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Photograph by Joseph A. Horne, February 1944. There's Eleanor Roosevelt seated between two sailors, near the center.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

My Quest to Enable Clean URLs

I've spent the weekend with a series of computer problems I didn't expect. (I never expect computer problems; I don't know why not.) Saturday seemed like the right time to install Drupal in my root directory on It was working well on localhost, and in a subdirectory on, so I thought it was ready for prime time. (Silly, heedless me!) Turns out it wasn't, and something untoward happened to my old Web page backups. Eventually, I got back to its accustomed state of neglect. (That problem involved a lot of futile chmod activity.)

Meanwhile, the Drupal problem was that I couldn't enable "Clean URLs" when I installed Drupal in the root directory. "Clean URLs" rewrites dynamically generated URLs so they don't have the little "?q=" thing that tells us the page was generated from a php script, and tells search engines it's not a "real" web page, so don't index it. If you want people to find you using search engines, you really want "Clean URLs."

OK, the Clean URLs manual page from tells us there are two reasons Drupal installation might fail to enable "Clean URLs:" the Apache server doesn't have mod_rewrite enabled, and/or the .htaccess file in the root directory is missing or wrongly constructed. Now, because Clean URLs worked in the subdirectory, I knew that my provider's server had the rewrite_module enabled, but I checked anyway:

[rclayton@w6 ~]$ apachectl -M
httpd: Could not reliably determine the server's fully qualified domain name, using for ServerName
Loaded Modules:
 core_module (static)
 mpm_prefork_module (static)

...lotsa modules...

 imagemap_module (shared)
 actions_module (shared)
 speling_module (shared)
 userdir_module (shared)
 alias_module (shared)
 rewrite_module (shared)
Syntax OK
[rclayton@w6 ~]$

There it is, at the end. OK, I read through the .htaccess file from start to finish, and I tried commenting and uncommenting a couple of potential lines that might make a difference. They didn't. I spent some time Googling for other people's observations on this phenomenon; those who solved it used one of these two solutions.

Sigh. At last, I came across a bug report: Clean URLs test fails with JS enabled; Passes with JS disabled and clicking 'Test Clean URLs' link. This is not for Drupal 6, which I'm running, but one commenter observes:

For what it's worth, all my clean url problems were solved by deleting an errant "Admin" folder in my root directory (a remnant of some old installation of something or other, but no longer needed).

Bingo! My service provider uses to send us to our stats, phpmyadmin, and other utilities. Since Drupal uses for many things including "Clean URL's," it's not ever going to work. The bug report closes with:

The clean urls test uses an url like "http://yoursite/admin/clean-url-test" so if you have an "admin" folder in your drupal install, that path will not be handled by Drupal. Going to mark this as 'by design.'

So, it's up to me to find a solution. There are many possibilities, and I'm still reading all about them. I could put my Drupal installation at and alias or redirect to the drupal directory....Well, it's a lot to read about. Here are some resources that seemed helpful.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Too Much Molasses

Because I've been on an early 20th century bender with my grandma's postcard collection, my old home town, and World War I cookbooks, this World War I era industrial accident seems like the next logical installment to my reading: Molasses, Waist Deep.

Ninety years ago today, a 50-foot tall vat of molasses collapsed suddenly in the North End of Boston, sending a 15-foot tidal wave of syrup into the streets....In the end 21 people lost their lives, crushed or asphyxiated by the most common form of sweetener in the United States at the time. Most were ordinary laborers. Several of the bodies were too battered and glazed to be properly identified. Nearly 200 other Bostonians were injured in the catastrophe. Of the 20 horses that perished in the molasses wave, several had to be shot because they could not be extracted from the goo.

United States Industrial Alcohol, the company that owned the faulty vat, tried to blame the accident on anarchist saboteurs, an accusation that would have been plausible if the tank had not been famously defective to those who lived and worked in its vicinity. Though it was less than four years old when it gave way, the vat had been hastily assembled in 1915 to facilitate the production of industrial alcohol. With the United States escalating it munitions shipments to Britain, Canada and France, USIA and its Boston subsidiary, the Purity Distilling Company, stood to gather enormous profits so long as the war endured; facing competition from major weapons manufacturers like du Pont, Aetna and Hercules, however, USIA needed a tank of its own in Boston, and the ill-fated Commercial Street project was the result.

So that's why Frances Lowe Smith had to find substitutes for sugar and molasses.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Scanning and Digitization Resources

In the spirit of housecleaning, here's another list of links I assembled for digitization and image management. Several of these concern scanning old photographs and documents.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Seed Catalog Fantasies

As the weather gets really really cold, I'm daydreaming about starting this year's garden. The Internet makes this a particularly hazardous exercise, because I am not limited by the garden catalogs which come in the mail. I can covet plants from all over the world. Seed Savers Exchange is a particular favorite for these fantasies.

An old-time variety potato sampler--20 pounds representing eight varieties for $67.50. Ah, if only the weather and the tater bugs were not such unforgiving variables!

Butterfly weed--I really love milkweeds, but with house building, the "landscaping" is not ready for store bought perennials.

Prickly Caterpillars--I'd love to grow these, but I'm not sure what they're for. Seed Savers says "Low-growing plants make a nice ground cover and are sure to be the best conversation piece in your garden. In days past, caterpillars were added to salads to surprise unexpected diners, but not meant to be eaten, mostly because they are so hairy. Try growing in containers, if space is tight. Great historic novelty that should be grown in every garden."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

WWI Cooking...A Real Adventure

While "googling" for a recipe recently, I ran across a collection of public domain cookbooks, including: More Recipes For Fifty by Frances Lowe Smith. My father recalled for me how, during the First World War, wheat was rationed, so that to buy 25 pounds of wheat flour, you also had to buy corn meal, rye, and some other grains. This cookbook was written to help schools, dining halls, boarding houses, and other establishments cooking for large groups (hence "recipes for fifty") use the "less desirable" grains. The recipes are interesting, although the quantities are a little impractical for my kitchen.

Preface From the very day of America's awakening to the need of conservation, the members of the School of Domestic Science have entered heartily and enthusiastically into each succeeding plan of the Administration for conserving the foods needed by our Allies....

Before the war, we were in a rut in our kitchens. We used wheat, meat, sugar, and fats thoughtlessly and monotonously. Now, happily, cooking is lifted out of this dull routine. It has become a real adventure.

On any new trail, however, we need a guide who has thoroughly explored the danger points and can guard us against them.

Repeated experiments with what, in the first days of the world struggle, we called "substitutes" have produced the recipes in this book. They make a reliable and complete collection of palatable dishes which are not only good in theory, but entirely satisfactory in practice. Boston, June, 1918.

I've tried a lot of recipes that are "good in theory," but produced meals that were a "real adventure." Still, it's good to get out of any ruts one may have in one's kitchen.

Monday, January 12, 2009

If We Were a Nation of Botanists...

I read this essay last month: When Writing About John Muir, I Had to See What He Saw by Donald Worster, December 1, 2008, History News Network. Worster's book, A Passion for Nature: The Life of John Muir, looks very interesting, but I was particularly struck by this historian's new interest in "nature" (he seems to mean "biological nature," with less excitement about chemistry and physics). I liked this observation:

Writing Muir's biography has given me more insight into this extraordinary man and his times. But getting away from my keyboard and file folders in order to see the places that he explored has been eye opening and soul fulfilling. I have learned more about botany, his favorite subject. Like him, I have fallen in love with trees, tree ferns, grasses, wildflowers, sedges, brambles, cacti--all those plants that turn solar radiation into the food that keeps us and a few million other species alive, through cold and heat, rain and drought. If we were a nation of botanists, all of us in love with plants as Muir was, we would be better environmental citizens. More knowledgeable and caring about the green world, we could survive almost anything.

A nation of botanists--it would certainly be Utopia!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Snow and More Snow

Princess at work in the snow

We've had quite a bit of snow so far this year. Princess can be perfectly camouflaged in fallen leaves, but she's easy to spot under these conditions. Perhaps that's why she's curled up in the chair by the wood stove today.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Clipping Biodiesel Recipes

I love recipes, especially unusual cooking projects. That's why I've saved these reverences on homebrewed biodiesel, even though I don't own any engines that could burn it. It's just fun to think about. In fact, there's a biodiesel "brewer" in Pocahontas County who already has called dibs on all the used cooking oil produced by area restaurants.

Cool Fuel: Brew It Yourself: Teen's Basement Biodiesel Lab Not So Unusual By Lori Aratani, Washington Post, July 1, 2008

Gabe Schwartzman, a tall, lanky high school senior from Montgomery County, can fill up the tank of his 1980 Volvo sedan for less than $20.

...Over the last several months, Gabe has been hunkered down in the basement of his parents' Garrett Park home, converting used fryer oil from a restaurant up the street into fuel for his car.

Brewing biodiesel, once a quaint hobby for green-minded citizens and budding chemists, is becoming more mainstream. The spike in gas prices is making fryer oil, the messy aftermath of super spuds and mozzarella sticks, a hot commodity. It has even spawned a crime wave. Law enforcement officials have reported a surge in fryer oil thefts. Officials suspect the culprits are finding a ready market for the waste oil.

A resource with detailed references:EPA's Biodiesel Page

Biodiesel is a renewable fuel produced from agricultural resources such as vegetable oils. In the United States, most biodiesel is made from soybean oil; however canola oil, sunflower oil, recycled cooking oils, and animal fats are also used.

To make biodiesel, the base oil is put through a process called "esterificiation." This refining method uses an industrial alcohol (ethanol or methanol) and a catalyst (substance that enables a chemical reaction) to convert the oil into a fatty-acid methyl-ester fuel (biodiesel).

Get started cooking biodiesel with these recipes: Utah Biodiesel Supply's "Biodiesel Production Basics."

Welcome to the wonderful world of making Biodiesel. It's a fun and rewarding hobby where you can make your own fuel to run in diesel engines for a fraction of what regular diesel costs....Biodiesel is most commonly made by chemically altering an organic oil through the use of a catalyst and an alcohol. The chemical reaction that occurs through this process breaks down the oil molecules and replaces the glycerin portion of the molecule with an alcohol molecule. The glycerin falls to the bottom and is drained off resulting in Biodiesel.

The Biodiesel is then typically washed, to remove any extra impurities and is then used as a fuel in a diesel engine without making any modifications to the engine.

Biodiesel is known chemically as a 'fatty acid methyl ester'. Which is just a fancy way of saying it's a product made from Methanol and an organic oil with fatty acid chains in it. It is easily made and has many benefits, including environmentally friendlier tailpipe emissions and improved engine performance.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Rural Surgeons--Endangered Species

This caught my attention last week: Shortage of General Surgeons Endangers Rural Americans by David Brown Washington Post, January 1, 2009. In Pocahontas County, like much of rural America, doctors are few and hospitals are far away, so of course, I read the article. Imagine my surprise to find that they chose to profile the general surgeon from my hometown, Creston, Iowa.

...Robert Kuhl has started his chores, too. The first is fixing the broken hip of a 94-year-old widow who fell the night before. Like so many of the 7,500 people in Creston, she would rather have the operation where she lives than in a big city miles away.

Through an incision in her thigh, Kuhl will saw off the broken end of the femur and replace it with a metal one that fits the joint socket. The procedure is called a hemiarthroplasty. Kuhl is the only person in an 80-mile radius who can do it. It will take him about 90 minutes.

I've never met Dr. Kuhl (I left the state for grad school about the time he started his practice in Creston.), but he replaced my mother's hip 16 years ago, and she made a remarkable recovery. A big part of it was treatment close to home, which, according to this article, is bound to become a scarcer commodity.

For the one-quarter of Americans who live outside metropolitan areas, general surgeons are the essential ingredient that keeps full-service medical care within reach. Without general surgeons as backup, family practitioners can't deliver babies, emergency rooms can't take trauma cases, and most internists won't do complicated procedures such as colonoscopies. But various forces -- educational, medical and sociological -- are making them an endangered species....More than half of rural general surgeons are older than 50, and a wave of retirements is expected in the coming decade.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The Nevin Lyceum--High Culture On the Prairie

I own a copy of The Story of Nevin: An Historical Narrative of The Early Days of the New England Colony of Iowa Copyright, 1901, by J. Loran Ellis. It's a fragile and obscure paperbound book, so I was surprised to find its complete text on the Web. When I was a little girl, Nevin still had a telephone company serving less than fifty households. The wheelchair bound telephone operator, Mr. Taylor, was a relative of my Great Aunt Cora's. She and Uncle Frank also lived in Nevin, just a little ways from the general store that was Nevin's other going concern. My mom had gone to high school in Nevin, and the brick school building was still standing, although long closed. By the early 1980's, every last vestige of Nevin was gone, leveled, fenced, plowed and planted with corn. There was nothing to suggest there had ever been a house there, let alone a little town that once considered itself an outpost of high Bostonian culture.

Here's an excerpt from The Story of Nevin detailing the rise of its Literary Society.

On the evening of January 22nd, 1859, the Nevin Lyceum was organized at the new school house, and on the evening of February 1st, its first session was held. The question discussed was, "Which Is the greater Evil, Intemperence or Slavery?" Occasionally a part of the weekly exercises would be a lecture from someone. Among the lecturers were Mr. I. Harlow, a Mr. Crista and Miss "Debby" Stephenson.

In December, 1861, a literary society, styled, the "Farmers's Club," was formed, to succeed the Nevin Lyceum of 1859. Discussions were had on various subjects, at the weekly evening gatherings. Some were agricultural, some on social subjects. A few lectures were scattered along. One, was from Rev. Davis. The ladies conducted a paper, called the "Grand Splurge." Miss Harriett White, Miss Mary Stephenson and some others, were, in rotation, editors-in-chief. Everything was fine.

In December, 1862, the winter sessions of the club were resumed. Mr. George White gave a lecture upon Ancient Agriculture in Egypt. Mr. Caleb Atkins gave a lecture. The ladies paper discussed and reviewed current events, happenings and neighborhood gossip, -- in one case down, even to young Quimby Jewett's black hen.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Drupal Views and Taxonomy

I'm learning about Drupal modules, and what sorts of things you can do with a Drupal website. Everything I read tells me the "Views" modules are sine qua non, but that's where they stop. I'm trying to find out why the views modules are so useful, and what I might be able to do with them.

Same goes for Drupal's "Taxonomy." Drupal tutorials say it's wonderful, then they explain what taxonomy means, and then they stop. Now, as an insect taxonomist, I've got a good grip on what taxonomy means, and why it's wonderful, and I understand the various types of taxonomy they discuss. But how can you actually use the taxonomy capabilities? What can you make for readers/viewers? Here are a few things I've been reading on these topics.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Moving from Blogger to Drupal

I'm actually pretty happy with Blogger, but because I'm learning about Drupal for a work project, I've been experimenting with my blog content in Drupal. Who knows--if I really like it, I might "convert." Here are links on how to import bloggish materials into Drupal.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Database Turns Citizens to Terrorists

I'm not surprised by stories detailing how our government spies on citizens. It was going on when I first learned to read the newspapers, and the last few years have seen it ramp up once again. The reason this story caught my attention is the way a computer database program (or more accurately, police officers using the wrong database for their purpose) exacerbated the situation. Here's the Washington Post article: More Groups Than Thought Monitored in Police Spying: New Documents Reveal Md. Program's Reach, by Lisa Rein and Josh White, January 4, 2009.

The Maryland State Police surveillance of advocacy groups was far more extensive than previously acknowledged, with records showing that troopers monitored -- and labeled as terrorists -- activists devoted to such wide-ranging causes as promoting human rights and establishing bike lanes.

Intelligence officers created a voluminous file on Norfolk-based People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, calling the group a "security threat" because of concerns that members would disrupt the circus. Angry consumers fighting a 72 percent electricity rate increase in 2006 were targeted. The DC Anti-War Network, which opposes the Iraq war, was designated a white supremacist group, without explanation.

....The operation has been called a "waste of resources" by the current police superintendent and "undemocratic" by the governor.

Here's where the database program enters the story. Until this point, the Washington Post story follows a novice undercover cop infiltrating innocuous community organizations. Her bosses considered it training for real, necessary undercover work. But then they got a computer program, for free!

Police had turned to the database in a low-cost effort to replace antiquated file cabinets. The Washington High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a regional clearinghouse for drug-related criminal information, offered its software for free.

But the database did not include categories that fit the nature of the protest-group investigations. So police created "terrorism" categories to track the activists, according to the state review. Some information was sent directly to HIDTA's main database as part of an agreement to share information.

....The activists fear that they will land on federal watch lists, in part because the police shared their intelligence information with at least seven area law enforcement agencies.

The police didn't consider the activists they were watching potential terrorists. However, they had data, and nowhere appropriate to put it. They did what most people would do--they shoehorned it into a place they thought it might fit. Too bad they shared it around the nation. There's no telling where it will turn up.

January at National Blog Posting Month

I signed up for National Blog Posting Month for January. These days, I seem to need a little kick in the pants to complete posts and put them up. I have html files of half-finished posts rattling around on every computer I use, and plenty of ideas that aren't making contact with the keyboard. I'm not sure why a cute little badge motivates me, but it's free, and it worked in November, so here goes!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Batik--Water Soluble and Low Cost

It's been a long time since I got out the fiber dyes...I'd like to get back to it. A new (to me) technique really caught my attention last summer, and it's been sitting in a directory waiting for a break in my project stream: Flour Paste Batik from Bridget Benton at The Matchbook.

I love traditional batik, and every time I buy something from Dharma Trading Company, I end up drooling over their batik supplies for a while. The process is no more messy than many of my other favorite pastimes, but if you need to really get every last bit of wax resist out of your project, dry-cleaning chemicals are the way to go. Here in the country, there are no dry-cleaners, and no shipping or delivery of volatile chemicals. (Not to mention the hazardous aspects of those lovely organic solvents.) That's the beauty of Bridget's flour resist--it's water soluble! I am definitely going to try this. Sometime soon, I hope.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Marvelous Pre-Cambrian Fossils

If like me, you love the Burgess Shale fossils, you'll be taken with this news item: Eight-armed animal preceded dinosaurs. It's remarkable enough to find so many beautiful fossils of soft-bodied animals, but to find they are older than the "Cambrian explosion" is quite wonderful. Really, it makes dinosaurs seem recent and mundane.

[Zhu, Gehling and their colleagues] believe the animal was a soft-bodied, dome-shaped organism that lived on seabeds and fed by absorbing dissolved nutrients from the ambient environment.

Before the latest fossils were found, some researchers identified the creatures as lichens or fungus-like organisms, but Zhu and his team suspect that at least some Ediacara fossils represent now-extinct diploblastic animals, or creatures that possess only two cellular layers separated by a jelly-type substance.

"Diploblastic animals are common creatures on present day earth," he said, mentioning that jellyfish, corals and sea anemones belong to the group.

"These animals (display) radial symmetry but lack complex organs, as shown by E. octobrachiata," he adds.

The multi-armed creature, and several other early life forms, went extinct around 542 million years ago, which Zhu says, "left empty niches for the subsequent Cambrian explosion of complex animals."

Representatives of nearly all existent animals emerged at this time, when a rapid increase in oxygen made respiration and metabolism possible.

....In addition to the eight-armed creature, they describe other early living things that looked like leaves, shells, stars and something almost akin to a peace symbol.

The Discovery News report includes links to the scholarly articles, and lovely photographs.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Getting a Handle on Drupal Modules

I'm still flapping around with Drupal. (I'm currently experimenting on my Spice Ridge site, because there are things you just can't test on localhost.) The Drupal book I bought was necessary but not sufficient for me to get started. It let me know what to work with first--Drupal modules. Intuitively, I thought the first thing would be to create content, then work out how to display it. As it turns out, you need to get a grip on the Drupal modules before you bother with content or appearance (themes). While has loads of documentation, some of it is helpful, some of it is inscrutable. Here is some module advice I've found helpful, comforting, and/or inspiring.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Happy New Year, 1922, With Bluebirds

The old, old wish
But none the less sincere
May you be blessed with prosperity
And a Happy New Year

The "1922" is the first sheet on a tiny pad of calendar pages.