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December 31, 2008

Where I disappeared to

CMI has spent most of the later part of December working on the beta launch of HitFix.

And when I say, “most of the later part of December,” I mean, “I had three days off between the weekend after Thanksgiving and December 24th.”

Posted by pjm at 1:53 PM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2008

Freudian typo

CSS allows objects to “float” wherever they find room on either side of the box they’re placed in.

I just tried to set the gloat property on an object.

Update: At least it wasn’t the bloat property.

Posted by pjm at 4:57 PM | Comments (3)

December 17, 2008

Proof that Italian is fake Latin

Not really.

The app we’re working on now uses the wonderful Faker to generate a number of fake posts, comments, etc. in the development database for testing purposes. Needless to say, this means a lot of lorem ipsum floating around the browser window.

I noticed this afternoon that at least half of the Google Adsense ads served in response to pages full of lorem ipsum are in Italian.

Posted by pjm at 6:41 PM | Comments (0)

December 14, 2008

The Unredeemed Captive

I am fascinated by the history of the places I live, if only because it shows the many connections between the small world I move around in and the larger outside world. This is why, on a recent used-book raid, I picked up a copy of John Demos’ The Unredeemed Captive.

The Unredeemed Captive starts out telling the story of John Williams, the popular and influential minister in the frontier town of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Williams and most of his family were captured during the 1704 raid on Deerfield by French-directed Indians from Canada, sometimes known as the “Deerfield Massacre”. There was a skirmish some thirty years before, at a nearby waterway since known as Bloody Brook, and dozens of incidents up and down the river valley during the “French and Indian Wars”. In this raid, 48 residents of the town were killed and 112 taken captive, with 140 left “alive at home.”

Williams’ wife was killed on the journey back to Canada; Williams and four of his children were eventually released and returned to New England. Two other children were killed during the raid. It is the seventh child who turns out to be of principal interest to Demos: Eunice Williams never returned to New England to live. She “forgot” what English she had known (being barely old enough to talk at the time of the raid) and was adopted into an Indian tribe near Montreal, where she chose to stay for the rest of her relatively long life.

Here’s where things get even more interesting to me: the town where Eunice Williams lived out her life was called Kahnawake by Demos, but was given other spellings elsewhere, and I realized that Kenneth Roberts’ Rabble in Arms, one of my favorite books over the decades since I first read it, passed a chapter in “Caughnawaga”, an Indian town near Montreal. Roberts’ characters, who would pass through in spring of 1777, describe several Williamses among the town’s residents, a nod towards Eunice (who had only one living grandson, however, but was still alive herself along with two daughters in 1777). They also described an elderly “Mr. Tarbull” who told them he had been captured in Groton, and Demos often mentions a pair of “Tarbell” brothers from Groton who lived in Kahnawake.

That was one connection. But it wasn’t until I reached the section dealing with King George’s War that I realized that Ephraim Williams Jr., who gave his name to a particular college northwest of here, was one of Eunice’s cousins.

Posted by pjm at 9:32 PM | Comments (1)

December 12, 2008

Give list

Peanuts from December 11, 2008

This is what I want to fix about the Idea List, if I ever had time. When I first wrote it, the idea was to make it possible to answer the “what do you want for Christmas?” question for multiple people at once. Now, I’d rather write an application that lets me keep track of what I want to get people for Christmas.

I’ve always thought of this strip when I heard about git, too, and wondered if they were related.

Posted by pjm at 10:46 PM | Comments (0)

December 7, 2008

Hockey and Russian symphonies

Friday night I watched the UMass men’s hockey team beat UConn, 5-1. Saturday night I went over to the College for the symphony’s “Holiday Pops” concert, which featured the standard Nutcracker selection and one of my Russian professors narrating Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf.”

I wasn’t long into the Nutcracker when I realized there was some similarity between the two activities. In both cases, there was a lot to watch, many pieces around the venue which all fit together to form the whole. You could watch the puck/melody, or try to follow what was going on with the whole ensemble. Players would be fully engaged or sitting back and waiting for their part. And the Russians are big hockey fans, of course.

There’s a bit less contact at the symphony, of course, and the fans are significantly classier. (I’m not impressed by the behavior of the fans at the UMass hockey games.)

(I mentioned this to another symphony attendee, and he pointed out Peter Schickele’s call of Beethoven’s Fifth, which is on his MySpace page under “New Horizons in Music Appreciation.”)

Posted by pjm at 2:54 PM | Comments (0)

December 6, 2008

Buy local

I’m not a terribly political person, though like anyone, I have my issues I can get worked up about.

I had a Letter to the Editor published in this past Wednesday’s Daily Hampshire Gazette, which I’ll include below in the unedited form I sent to them. Two things led to my writing and sending this letter.

First, I read Stacy Mitchell’s Big Box Swindle, which reads like a polemic against big-box retailers and other national chains, but comes with meticulous end-notes and extensive research. (Much of the research owes its roots to the opposition to Wal-Mart in Greenfield, just up the river from us.) I won’t go over the book in detail, because it’s fractal; each supporting sentence is important as the paragraph it’s in, each paragraph vital to the chapters. The main assertions are this: Big-box chain retailers are ruining the prosperity of our cities and towns by replacing good jobs with bad ones, inefficiently using municipal services and dodging taxes when they can, while offering little price advantage and lower product quality compared to independent or locally-owned retailers. They enjoy several competitive advantages over the independents, yet give back significantly less to the communities in which they do business. I’ll let Mitchell expand on those points; dig up a copy of her book at your local bookstore (if you still have one).

Second, I got an email from my parents with a draft of a letter they sent to their local paper. It ran shortly before Thanksgiving, and my father told me he’d heard of at least one downtown merchant who had a customer promising to do all their holiday shopping at the local stores this year. (I can’t find their letter on the website now, but theirs isn’t the only one, and here’s what’s at stake.) The paper’s editorial page underlines the point inadvertently in an apparently-unrelated editorial. Notice that list of merchants at the end: not a national chain among them.

It’s worth considering more than just price when you do your holiday shopping.

At any rate, here’s the letter I sent to the Gazette:

To The Editor,

With the holiday shopping season looming over us, we should remind ourselves that where we do our shopping is just as important as how much we spend and what we buy.

Independent, local businesses provide more value to a community than just another store. They help us build and maintain our social networks and our sense of community. They return a large part of their revenue to the community in the form of taxes, charitable contributions, and salaries, are more likely to provide a market for locally-produced goods, and keep a larger share of their profits in town as well. Locally-owned businesses are more likely to advertise in local newspapers and radio and use local services. And the employees and owners of local, independent businesses are more likely to be passionate and knowledgeable about the market they’re in.

In recent decades, tax policies, our car culture and unfortunate planning decisions have led to more and more of our retail dollars being spent at national chains. Compared to these national chains, independent retailers employ more people at a living wage, but often have to compete at a financial disadvantage.

It’s tempting to think that in tough economic times, we can’t afford to ignore the supposedly lower prices offered by the chain retailers. Beyond the price tags, however, if times are truly tough and getting tougher, shouldn’t we be keeping our retail spending in our communities, where it can recirculate and employ our neighbors and strengthen our communities, rather than sending it to corporate headquarters elsewhere?


I took my father’s advice and avoided making negative arguments against the big chains (my original closing sentence read, “sending it to Bentonville, Arkansas”) and I think I might have made sharper points if I’d left the text alone for a few days and then rewritten. But it says what I wanted it to say.

Posted by pjm at 1:36 PM | Comments (1)

December 5, 2008

Get to the point

The whole point is to say, “so I don’t have any groceries in the house yet.”

Nobody really cares if the race I’m planning to run in Northampton, which therefore means I can do my grocery shopping at the co-op there in a combined trip, which is why I haven’t bought groceries yet (aside from the total lack of time), is actually 5K or in fact some tenths of a mile longer, as has been alleged.

But I get caught up in all those subordinate clauses and never reach the point.

Posted by pjm at 6:20 PM | Comments (0)