Every year, around this time, I read through the Wikipedia article about the Sandy Hook Shooting. It would be good if everyone did this, it seems it has slipped from the memory of so many. But on this sad anniversary I am doubly reminded of the one thing that no parent should ever have to do: bury their own child. No parent should ever have to do this. While there are many tragedies which we will all have to face in our lives, I don’t know if there is any more painful than this one. Thankfully, most of us have never, and will never, face this prospect. But as I read every detail about Sandy Hook, tears streaming down my face, I know that the heartbreak I feel is nothing compared to what those parents went through, and are still going through six years later. No parent should ever have to do this.
And so, on this sad anniversary, a friend of ours will have a funeral for her daughter, Emily. No parent should ever have to do this.
As is often the case with my writing, I am not quite sure how to bring this to a close. Probably for these families, there is never much closure. No parent should ever have to do this.
But to end on a positive note, I would like to point that a fundraiser in memory of Emily has raised over $1500 in less than a week for an organization founded, in part, my parents of Sandy Hook victims. One of many organizations founded in the wake of that tragedy. Some other worth noting are The Catherine Violet Hubbard Animal Sanctuary, The Jessica Rekos Foundation and another one founded due to a different tragedy years earlier, The Scotty Fund. No parent should ever have to do this.
I woke up this morning in a despondent haze over the election results. Not knowing what else to do, I took a walk through my garden, since a garden at this time of year is all about devastation.
As my feet crunched through the multi-hued blanket of dry leaves, I saw what the recent freezes had done: unripe tomatoes drooping from withered vines, the twisted remains of pepper plants, the nearly bare trees pointing into the grey skies. And this is before the New England winter hits us with its full fury, before the blanket of snow and subzero temperatures put an end to any survivors not strong enough to endure the punishment.
But then, in one bed, I see a few leaves pushed aside, small shoots of hardneck garlic pushing towards the sun:
And then the most hopeful and unexpected: saffron crocus blossoms:
I thought I did something wrong, I expected blooms much earlier, and had already added this to my long list of gardening failures. But there they were, slowly gathering energy in their bulbs for next year.
Just like the garden, all of us Americans will need to brace ourselves for a long, hard winter. It will be devastating, but there will be a spring.
Paris has been on my mind for the last week, as I’m sure it is for many others. Several years ago, I had the good fortune to spend a week in Paris. Coincidentally it was during a national election and it was very interesting to see how differently they conducted their election day. It was on a Sunday, and almost everything was closed (which made it difficult for a couple of vegans to find breakfast). The only places we saw people gathered were around the polling places. All else was quiet. It seemed that the process was treated with a quiet reverential dignity. During that election 83% of the French people voted. I felt privileged to be there to witness it.
Pop quiz: when was the last time the United States had a turnout like that?
Trick question! Never! The closest we ever got was in 1876. In my lifetime it’s hovered around 50%. We simply don’t take it seriously, either on election day or any other time. Political discourse in this country has become a perpetual exercise in Godwin’s Law, and even in the face of the vast tragedies occurring in Paris and other places, we all seem to revel in pointing fingers and calling each other names. We can’t stop for a few seconds and consider the fact that people of other political or religious beliefs are not monsters, but they are living, breathing people who, at their deepest level, are the same as us: we all want a peaceful and just world for ourselves and our children. Of course, recent events have shown that there are a few people people who are clearly monsters, who have no interest in such things, who will destroy anybody and anything to get their way. But I’m not sure we have enough discernment left to distinguish between the real and imaginary monsters, nor have enough civility left in us to engage in a meaningful discussion about how to deal with the real monsters, let alone enough courage to actually take some real actions to make the world a better place.
I have struggled for days to finish this post in some satisfactory way. But I don’t know if I can. I don’t know what the answers are, and most times I’m just trying to figure out the right questions. But while bombs may built with the hands, they are first built in the heart. Pay attention to what you’re building.
I ran into a situation today, which was quite astonishing: Git creates new repositories in an inconsistent state. Until the first checkin is done, the repository has HEAD pointing to a nonexistent location. I discovered this because I was replicating several other team’s Git servers for backup purposes. In experimenting with this I came up with this reproduction:
$ git init --bare foo.git Initialized empty Git repository in /tmp/foo.git/ $ git clone --bare foo.git foo2.git Cloning into bare repository 'foo2.git'... warning: You appear to have cloned an empty repository. $ cd foo2.git $ git fetch fatal: Couldn't find remote ref HEAD fatal: The remote end hung up unexpectedly
While doing clone and fetch from an empty repository is a silly thing to do, but it isn’t worthy of a fatal error. No other systems I work with have this flaw. So now I have to modify my replication scripts to detect such repositories and avoid them.
I have a clear memory of being singled out by my 5th grade teacher as being the 2nd worst in the class at penmanship. Or maybe he just said that Neil and I were the two worst. I know I hated cursive, but it’s hard to remember, all these years later, whether I hated it because I had such a hard time doing it, or that I was bad at it because I hated doing it. I think the former was the case.
Doing genealogical research can suddenly make you appreciate good penmanship. The old census records, passenger lists, birth records, etc. are rife with illegible scrawls. I would suggest that children be forced to decipher some of these records in order to appreciate why legibility matters. Laughable examples can help as well. For example, Oliver Ames should have paid closer attention, especially to making sure an “m” doesn’t look like an “n” and an “e” doesn’t look like the second half of a “u”:
The moral of the story is to make sure your handwriting is legible or you might make an ass of yourself.
While doing research on my family tree, I run into a number of sad situations. Most of them involve infant mortality, which seems alarmingly frequent to our modern eyes. But this time I happened upon a different sad situation.
It all started when I found a strange birth record with a bunch of question marks and a surname I was researching. I look at the image of the record and found the original was perfectly legible: in 1868 Lucy Morse had a baby boy, at the age of 13 1⁄2! The father was listed as “not known, thought to be a Wilbur”. Further research showed that her entire family was living in the Cheshire County Alms House, listed on the census form as “paupers” at the “poor house”. Two years later this 15 year old girl married a 28 year old man with the last name Wilbur, presumably the father referred to in the birth record. They moved in with his parents and brother on their farm, which he soon took over. But sometime in the next 10 years, Lucy was dead; she wasn’t yet 25! Her mother-in-law was also dead by that time. A few years later the father ended up in the same “poor house” and died as a “county pauper”. He continues farming for the next couple of decades, but he, too, ends up in the “poor house” and spends almost 4 years there before passing on.
I’ve spent my whole life hearing the phrase “poor house” (for example the song stuck in my head), but never realized it was something other than a figure of speech.
When dealing with actual gardens, a walled garden can be useful. I first read about the phrase as a metaphor for a counter productive practice on wikis (and, by extension, the web as a whole).
But nowhere can this counter-productive practice be seen more starkly than in genealogy.
Here’s an example: I discovered an (indirect) ancestor named Mattys Blanchan, in the course of looking for him on WeRelate, I discovered 3 pages for this person (and a bit more digging showed there had been a fourth one). Each one with slightly different names and different lists of children. Each one from a different person’s GEDCOM, each tracing down to different descendants. Each of these GEDCOM files represented a different walled garden, people labouring to put together a tree, not knowing that several other people were doing the exact same work in their own walled garden. Thankfully, by loading their data onto WeRelate, these walls could now be broken down and all these people could see that we are all cousins. But, sadly, that did not happen; in all four cases, the GEDCOM file was uploaded, and then they walked away (what’s known on WeRelate as a “drive-by GEDCOM”), leaving that work to be done by someone else (me, apparently).
That’s the good kind of walled garden: it ended up in a place where the walls could be broken down. But I have happened upon numerous web sites devoted to a particular family; many containing a wealth of information, but I have found few with sources or citations. Just bare, purported, “facts” with no substantiation. A garden full of things which could be healthy or deadly.
I should point out that I am relatively new to genealogy, and most of this is supposition based on what I have seen. But it seems that a tremendous amount of effort must be expended by people researching in their little “walled gardens” not knowing that many others are doing the exact same research, probably on the exact same ancestors. This is why I am doing all my work on WeRelate, it seems to be one of the few places dedicated to collaboration and quality research.
So it all started when I found a great grandmother with the last name “Cheney”. That got me scared. So I tracked down that part of my family tree and found that she, ultimately, descended from John Cheney of Newbury but Dick Cheney descended from William Cheney of Roxbury. There are theories that these two ancestors were related, possibly brothers, but no evidence has been found either way. So I could maintain some plausible deniability that Dick Cheney and I are not 9th cousins 1 time removed. Whew!
But then I found a connection to the Holbrook family, which, ultimately led back to Thomas Holbrook. A note on his page mentioned some U.S. Presidents. I found that James Garfield is my 6th cousin 3 times removed, William Taft is my 5th cousin 3 times removed, and, George W. Bush is my 8th cousin 1 time removed. It is a cruel twist that all of these Presidents were Republicans, though at least two of them had qualifications to actually do the job.
The closest I’ve come to a decent president is Ulysses Grant, but, as near as I can figure out, my connection to that family is via an illegitimate child who was brought up as a Grant.
But, in the end, I’m glad that nobody can prove I’m related to Dick Cheney.
I happened upon this passage on page 906 of the Vital Record of Rehoboth
Lett none marvell att the promiscuous and disorderly setting downe of the names of such they are, or may be married, or doe, or may be born, or may dye; for they are sett as they were brought to mee as disorderly as they are sett downe. If the Courts order had bin minded respecting this matter, they had biue otherwise placed then they are.
The page in question was of records from 1680, clearly some town clerk was frustrated with his job that day. It’s always nice to know that some things are timeless.
In my experience, it is pretty rare to find genealogical information on the internet with any source citations at all. But on one site (which shall remain nameless), I actually found a source listed!
Wilfred ***, firsthand knowledge. ... Entered by Wilfred ***, Jun 21, 2012
Considering the page is about someone who lived in the mid 18th century, it seems unlikely Wilfred has actual “firsthand knowledge”; not unless he’s immortal or has invented a time machine!
Sometime in between 1675 and 1686 my 8th great grandfather re-married after the death of his first wife (my 8th great grandmother). His brother married a few years earlier. Coincidentally, both these women were named Sarah. Soon, they had something else in common.
In the midst of the Salem Witch Trials, John’s wife, Sarah Alsbee, was accused of witchcraft but was acquitted. His brother’s wife, Sarah Davis was also accused, and imprisoned, but was released on bail and never brought to trial.
When we first moved to Connecticut, I was doing some yard work in an attempt clean up the years of neglect of the previous owners, and my wife told me to be careful of poison ivy. Being from Oregon, I knew nothing about poison ivy, though I had seen my step-son go through the agony of a severe head-to-toe outbreak some years earlier.
So, I did some reading and and started spotting it growing everywhere in my yard. Up trees, on fences, in flower beds, etc. Everywhere. After years of battling the menace I had it nearly under control. But this year, it started appearing in all kinds of new places, next to garden beds, in walkways, by the deck, in the lawn, etc. Some friends also said it seems much worse this year.
So then I happen upon this article which reported on research which showed that increased CO2 causes poison ivy to out-compete other plants, and to make its poisonous component even more powerful.
Then I remembered some other articles about the effects of climate change: That West Nile Virus was spreading due to climate change as was Lyme Disease
Now every time I go outside, I need to wear long pants, long sleeves and a hat (even in the sweltering heat), douse myself in bug repellent, and still swat away the bugs which try to bite anyway. When I go inside I have to shower to get all the bug repellent off, and do a thorough search for the dreaded deer tick (I found 4 on me in June).
The northeast was a pretty inhospitable place even before climate change, I can understand why all my ancestors kept moving west.
Every time I visit my mother, we end up doing a bunch of genealogy work, and then afterwards I continue doing a bunch of research, and our latest visit was no exception. Several months ago I posted lamenting the lack of information about mothers in family trees. After visiting with my mother, I started looking at all the mothers in the family tree, rather than focussing on the difficult one on my matrilineal line, and started doing some searches on each and I turned up a number of books written about the families to which these women belonged.
Eva’s mother, Naomi Olcott, led me to the Olcott family which may connect her to one of the founders of Hartford, Connecticut in 1635 (more research needed to find out if that connection can be made).
Naomi’s mother led me to the Holbrook family, which leads back to Thomas Holbrook who came to America in 1635 (more research to be done).
my second great grandmother (via my mother’s mother), Abigail Abbot Harrington led me to the Harrington Family and to a Revolutionary War veteran and, eventually, to Robert Harrington who came to America in 1635.
Sarah’s mother-in-law, Elizabeth Gorton led me into the Gorton family where I found another Revolutionary War veteran and back to Samuel Gorton who was the founder of Warwick, Rhode Island, and, in 1652, the author of an act calling for the abolition of slavery in Rhode Island, which was enacted, but was, sadly, totally ignored.
I still need to research many more mothers, including the surnames “Wolf”, “Crouch”, “Grant”, “Hoffman”, “Gates”, and “Cheney” (though I am concerned about connections I may find with the last two).
I guess the main lesson here is: listen to your mother!
Many years ago a friend of mine was telling me about her abusive mother, and about an incident where her little brother got into something poisonous (a cleaning chemical or somesuch). She proceeded to praise her mother for calling poison control. I remember looking at her, stunned, that she was praising her mother for doing something any mother should do. But my friend’s frame of reference was so distorted by the abuses her mother had heaped upon her children that it seemed like a noble act.
That’s about how I feel about Ricky Gervais’ latest condemnation of the hunter who killed a lion. Or more accurately, how I feel about people trumpeting his condemnation. That’s great that he is condeming a murderer. But isn’t that what any halfway decent person would do? Is our frame of reference so skewed by the countless killings, both human and non-human, taking place every day that it takes a particularily sadistic, senseless killing for us to hear it above the noise?
Welcome to my reworked blog. This will mark the third incarnation of this blog. There was a short-lived Drupal based site, then I set up Wordpress 6 years ago.
So what’s that you say? It sounded like you said “so what”, but I know you really meant “how come?”
About a month ago I get an email from the good people at Laughing Squid informed me that I had vastly outstripped my compute cycle quota. I thought this was rather surprising given that few people ever read this blog, let alone comment. There had been a number of attempts by spammers to post comments on the site, but, at worst there were only a dozen or so a day.
My first thought was that someone had broken in and uploaded their own PHP to use my compute cycles for their nefarious purposes (this happened several years ago). But several searches for such things turned up nothing. Unfortunately, there is no way to determine what is consuming the compute cycles, or at least I presume so, as my repeated questions about this went unanswered. Furthermore the apache logs are not provided in real-time nor is the compute cycle accounting, so it was going to take a lot of guesswork to fix this. Poking through the apache logs revealed that thousands of hits every day (99% of my traffic) was to wp-login.php. The only logical conclusion was that somebody was trying to break in, and, in the process, caused wp-login.php to consume a lot of compute cycles encrypting bogus passwords. I tried a plugin to block repeated attempts, but didn’t help all that much (it reduced compute cycles by 50% where my goal was 99%). So, I tried the brute-force method, I renamed the login script so that all such attempts would be immediately refused. Viola! Everything went back to normal.
Now all of this started to make me think: why am I bothering with Wordpress? What does it give me? It lets me edit upcoming posts from anywhere on the internet (though I have rarely taken advantage of that). It lets people comment on my posts (the number of times that has happened can be counted on one hand). But the downside is that I now have to monitor the version of Wordpress and keep updating it to keep up with security fixes (failing to do that several years back earned me a break-in). I have to monitor the comments queue and reject spam. Wordpress uses up a lot of disk space, MySQL is a hassle to maintain, and people with nefarious intent can easily create havok by running me over my quotas. And on top of that there are no tools for diagnosing when this happens.
So, it wasn’t worth it. Static html doesn’t use compute cycles or can it be hacked. I started looking into static blog generators. I had considered Bloxsom many years earlier before settling on Wordpress. Sadly it hasn’t been updated since then, and it seemed that it was going to take a fair bit of programming to get it to do what I wanted. I then looked at various scripts to use Org-Mode files (which I use every day at work) to publish my blog; I tried three of them, but none of them worked: two would not compile and the third one failed later on. So, I had to search anew. I turned up Jekyll and Hugo. I goofed around with both, and I concluded both would require similar levels of effort, but on the list of languages I want to learn, Go is ahead of Ruby, so I went with Hugo.
So here we are. The site is missing a lot of things, but I’ll gradually work on adding them. If you have any experience with Hugo or any other advice to share, let me know.
There’s an old saying that I first heard a couple of decades ago:
Good. Fast. Cheap. Pick two.
I was listening to an NPR story about Moore’s Law. At first I was thinking that it gave us computers that are “fast” and “cheap”. But we never got the “fast”. The workstation on my desk 25 years ago was just as fast as the one I’m sitting at now. Ah, but that old Sun 3⁄50 didn’t have to do nearly as much as my current workstation, which is true. That old workstation didn’t have color, virtual desktops, animated 3d icons, streaming audio and video, bloated web and email programs, etc. But somehow I got my work done just as quickly. What’s happening here is another law is cancelling out the “fast” part of Moore’s Law: Wirth’s Law. That law basically says that software is getting slower faster than hardware is getting faster.
Case in point: 25 years ago, when I fired up Emacs (which served as my text editor, mail and usenet reader, and web browser), the 4 megs of virtual memory it used had a noticeable impact on other users. Nowadays Emacs is a lightweight. Right now my email client (Thunderbird) is taking up 1.2 gigs of virtual memory!
Moore, himself, acknowledged that his law has its limits, and some people place that 10 years in the future. Thus far, Moore’s Law has managed to just barely keep up with Wirth’s law. So what happens when the latter tops out? I seriously doubt the latter has any limits, as I have yet to see a limit on human wastefulness and incompetence.
I guess we’ll need to go back to the trinity listed above. Maybe we need to start doing something toward “good”: stop adding new bells and whistles and go back and fix bugs, make software more reliable and more informative when something does fail, and generally reduce all the frustration that everyone feels when using computers. In other words, do the opposite of what we’ve been doing. It’s a massive challenge, and, by and large, unfamiliar, virgin territory.
I know this is probably another one of my utopian dreams, and will probably never happen, but it would be nice if, for once, I could encounter someone using a computer and not feel the urge to apologize on behalf of my profession.
IBM comes through again! It’s bad enough they replaced the ClearCase installer with their “Installation Manager” (a classic failure to follow the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”). But now we get error messages like this:
The Installc executable launcher was unable to locate its companion shared library.
Very helpful. We don’t know what library it was looking for, or where it was looking. Of course, I guess I should be thankful, as it is unusual to even get error messages from the Installation Manager.