Award for best costume goes to…

I went to an elementary school to meet with some teachers this afternoon. It was right after classes ended and, since it’s Halloween, the halls were filled with kids dressed up in their costumes. I asked one girl, about seven years old in a white wig carrying a bucket of popcorn, “Who are you?” She said, “I’m Orville Redenbacher.” Yes, indeed. Another kid was dressed as Steve Urkel. If I had to take a stab at figuring this out, I’d say their parents are enjoying a vicarious Halloween.

Harpers Ferry

I was in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia for another training this week. Even though I’ve been there before, I don’t usually have time during the day to explore the historical park, but this time I had part of Friday afternoon, so I visited some of the historic buildings in the Lower Town. Each one, more or less, is a museum with exhibits of the park’s many themes: John Brown’s raid, the Civil War, arms manufacturing, and so on. Though the exhibits were a little busy-looking and cluttered for my visual tastes (especially after a week of hard concentration), the one on John Brown’s raid was pretty provocative. One of the videos, without going into too much graphic detail, was frank about the violence of the raid and the counter-raid, as if it was an omen of the great war to come. It raised some interesting questions about violence in the name of righteousness.

It’s too bad this sort of thoughtful reflection appears in a public exhibit about a radical antislavery action, but not in our numerous war museums and memorials. It is as if violence should only give us pause when it is not perpetrated by the state. Or perhaps fear of inflaming Southern sensitivities prompted the National Park Service to be particularly introspective when planning this exhibit.

On lighter note, one evening some of us went on a “ghost tour” of the Lower Town. Despite its rich and exciting past, Lower Town is pretty deserted on Monday evenings. I can see why ghost stories are popular there. I noticed a little extra zeal in the local businesses for Halloween decorations.

Upgrade default theme to Twenty Twelve

Screen shot of web page with a black rhino photo in the header.
Aah version 10.0 Black Rhino

I upgraded the default theme to WordPress’s Twenty Twelve. As you can see it’s pretty neat and clean. I’ve made a couple of customizations, mainly adding my photo of the black rhinoceros enclosure from the Denver Zoo (an “artificial habitat” if I ever saw one) into the banner, and a matching background color. More will come later, I hope.

The new default theme, Twenty Twelve, uses an open source web font, Open Sans. I was not familiar with this until now, but Google hosts a whole collection of open source fonts for the web. You can link your web page to Google’s web font API the same way you would link it to an external style sheet. The font available to the user whether or not he has it installed on his computer, because it’s delivered over the web. I like using serif fonts for the main body text, so I’m trying Droid Serif, the companion to Open Sans, by the same designer.

While each iteration of WordPress’s default theme has an increasingly minimalist appearance, the complexity of the templates increase proportionally as well, making them very difficult to customize. Every little element has a style attribute so changing one element doesn’t necessarily change the style of other similar elements that ought to match. The more I customize the more I have to hunt around for little styling inconsistencies. A good example is the variety of link colors in different parts of the website. It often frustrates my ambitions for making the site look more original. WordPress is definitely a platform for geeks.

Wild America

The crabapple tree outside our window is an endless source of natural wonder. I peeked out at the grey, drizzly late afternoon to see… a chipmunk. The tree is nearly denuded of leaves by now but is still full of little bulbous red fruits. The chipmunk perched near the end of a branch busily stuffing its little cheeks as if the fruits were going away tomorrow.

A chipmunk eating red berries from the branch of a tree.
A chipmunk feasts on delicious, sweet crabapples fifteen feet above the ground.

I’ve never seen a chipmunk up a tree like that before. So if you didn’t know that chipmunks climb trees to eat berries from the end of a branch, just remember you read it here first.


Well, you can’t win if you don’t score runs. I’m pretty sure the Yankees before tonight hadn’t been swept in a postseason series during the present era.

Back in the late nineties, when Joe Torre regularly gave birth to victory from his forehead, they made it look easy. I used to wonder what was wrong with Bobby Cox and his Braves, always the best team in the league, then as often as not getting knocked out in the playoffs. During that long dynasty (if it amounted to that), the Braves only won the World Series once. I now realize that, with all the levels of playoffs, it is really, really hard to win it all. The Yankees of the Early Torre Period (we’ll say 1996 to 2001), a team of steady and quietly productive not-quite-Hall-of-Famers, were exceptional, or were simply freaks of nature.

Jeter goes down

Ack! I had a feeling when Derek Jeter was helped off the field that something unusually bad had happened. He fractured his ankle and is out for the rest of the postseason. If you’re not used to watching Jeter you might be unaware that he plays through injuries with grit and determination, like some sort of Calvinist Terminator.

I’ve read that Jayson Nix will take over at shortstop. Why? Why can’t Rodriguez play short and Chavez play third? That would be the better offensive and defensive arrangement. I don’t get this benching and pinch-hitting for Rodriguez as if he was the only Yankee not hitting worth a damn lately. If I was Joe Girardi, I’m pretty sure I’d not want to lose the series with Jeter hurt and Rodriguez on the bench.

Suzyn Waldman

The Yankees have a female radio announcer, Suzyn Waldman. She’s sort of like your Jewish friend’s mother who happens to know a lot about baseball. Some typically endearing remarks from tonight’s game:

On Nick Swisher, who is in a dreadful slump, “You can’t just stand there at the plate and look at the ball like it’s where you think it should be.”

On Pedro Strop, who was having trouble finding the plate, “Strop is out there kicking the dirt. That’s not very good body language.”

The decline of excellence in Major League Baseball

I see all of the Division Series have gone to five games, which means I’m still waiting for the Yankees to wrap up the Orioles. Besides my complaint about the Yankees having to open the series in Baltimore, I would like to renew my gripe about “wild card” teams in general. Until last year, the division winner was exempt from having to play a wild card team from its own division in the first series. In the new playoff system, with two wild card teams, the winner of their one-game playoff could be the same team the division winner just disposed of. The Yankees spent the whole season fending off Baltimore; they shouldn’t have to do it again in the first round of the playoffs, if at all. Otherwise, what’s the point? Where’s the reward for coming in first? It amounts to an undeserved second chance for the second-place team and an undeserved obstacle for the first place team.

On another note, the Giants’ and Tigers’ victories means that we’re a little closer to a Pablo Sandoval versus Prince Fielder fat-off in the World Series. I’m eager to see these two butterballs competing at the highest level while stretching the definition of “athlete” to include “any obese slob with exceptional hand-eye coordination.” I tuned in to a Giants game last month to watch Sandoval get thrown out by about three feet trying to steal second base. Why did he even bother trying? Was it an exercise in pretending to be a complete ballplayer? I know the prevailing wisdom is “so what if he’s fat as long as he can hit” (see all of my other baseball posts about prevailing wisdom), but imagine what kind of players they would be if they took care of themselves.

The Violinist’s Thumb

I got about halfway through The Violinist’s Thumb by Sam Kean before the library asked for it back (and I’m happy to give it up). It’s a book about genetics, and by book I mean a loosely connected bunch of interesting anecdotes about genetics. The anecdotes are footnoted with other anecdotal digressions in the back of the book, at least one of which refers to the author’s website for further digressions. Good grief. Perhaps books should be written for reasons other than to show off the author’s knowledge of a topic.

For all of the book’s colorful stories I had a lot of trouble getting through it. The author writes with a forced informal style so loaded with slang and obscure references as to arrest the flow of the narrative. I wonder how English readers outside the United States would ever understand it.