Apr 30 2010

April 28th readings…

April 28th readings

              Tonight was project presentation night, and it was delightful. Everyone showed off their websites, and everyone did a fantastic job. It was fascinating to see everyone’s personality come out in their creations, and where their interests lie.

              This will be the last entry online for a few weeks; I am retooling and will probably change the purpose and direction of this site. But fear not- you can still access the funnies on the right, even if there isn’t anything new being posted. AND, as I alluded to before, there are some amazing changes in the works, and you will experience something wonderful soon, provided you know someone related to me who will have access to the cool stuff.

              So for now, I bid you adieu, as I go HTML-coding into the sunset….

Apr 30 2010

April 21st readings…

April 21st readings

              Number one son was in town this past weekend, and in addition to seeing ‘How to Train your Dragon,’ we went to a Nationals-Brewers game, courtesy of John Little and the bunch down at the AU Graduate History crib.

              The movie was cute, dealing with single parenting, father-son miscommunication, budding sexual awareness (is it sexual awareness if tweens start to notice that the opposite sex are, well, different? The whole feeling goofy around the opposite sex, blushing if kissed? That’s what I mean by saying budding sexual awareness- not that there’s any boinking going on; if I’m wrong, well then just substitute the phrase budding adolescence. I think ever since Roman Polanski left town, Hollywood has been unsure of how to deal with budding sexual awareness), failed expectations, and, let’s see…. oh yeah, and dragons.

              The game, on the other hand, was amazing. Basically, the Brewers scored ten goals in the first half of the first trimester, and the Nationals got nothing. But throughout the rest of the scrimmage, the Nationals managed to sink hoop after hoop, while holding the Brewers to no touchdowns quarter after quarter. There was no need for overtime, and at the end of the ninth quarter, the ten goals the Brewers scored in the first trimester decided the game. I don’t watch a lot of sports, but this smackdown was awesome.

              On Monday, we celebrated our anniversary by eating at Café Renaissance, the most romantic restaurant in Vienna- or Northern Virginia, for that matter. I highly recommend it, but reservations are a must.

              We had no class Wednesday, just lab to work on our final projects and ask HTML questions. Next week is the big project presentation night! Sadly, my tux was lost by the cleaners, so I probably will just be wearing jeans. How ick.

              Anyway, we’ll see you next week!

Apr 29 2010

April 14th readings…

April 14th readings

             I know all of the postings indicate we’re constantly partying, but nothing could be further from the truth- we’re really working hard. So it should come as no surprise that we like to cut loose from time to time, which is what we did the other night: we saw ‘Date Night,’ with Steve Carell and Tina Fey.

             It was a cute movie, about the same level of funniness as ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ but not as hysterically funny as ‘The Hangover’ or ‘Superbad’ (I so want to get a MCLOVIN license plate, but it’s probably taken already). And speaking of ‘Hot Tub Time Machine,’ when one of the characters wants to verify his theory that they’ve somehow traveled back in time, he asks the most off-the-wall question of someone and their answer INSTANTLY tells him what he wants to know. Don’t ask what the question is, just see the movie. However, be forewarned- a lot of the funny historical references will be lost on anyone younger than 40.

             You’ve probably noticed the changes to the theme of the site; in a couple of weeks the name will also change. After all, it will no longer be Spring 2010. But I promise you, there are going to be some really cool changes, as well as some exciting additions that you will only be able to access by knowing someone who already has access to the cool things that are going to be added. It sounds circular, but trust me, the changes are going to be the culmination of some ideas that I have had percolating in the back of my mind for years…

Apr 29 2010

April 7th readings…

April 7th readings

             After the former Miss Wisconsin read the previous week’s posting, she pointed out that I had neglected to mention one of the best places we visited before leaving the Appomattox Court House area, and that was Patrick Henry’s last home. I feel so ashamed.

              The Patrick Henry house that morning was just a beautiful experience; the weather was wonderful, the little tiny buds on the trees and shrubs were beginning to blossom, and we were the only ones there. After watching a short film, we were allowed to roam the grounds AND the house unescorted (which, if anyone who remembers the Toddles/White House Debacle of ’86 is well aware, is strictly a no-no; the staff still talk about the 52 cheese pizzas delivered by six of the scariest circus clowns they had ever seen, and it’s my understanding that they still haven’t been able to get the Yak urine smell out of the East Wing press conference room).

              But I was on my good behavior, and there was nothing bad that happened. And upon leaving Patrick Henry’s house, we drove through Farmville and so on.

              And the Appomattox Library was having a book sale, and I picked up all sorts of cool books for fifty cents apiece.

              Anyway, the week after the trip was spent getting caught up on everything at Casa Toddles. The fat cat that lives there seems to think that dirty socks are her prey, and when everyone is quietly working or watching television, she’ll come down the stairs with a sock in her mouth, yowling for her imaginary kittens to come eat what she has just ‘caught.’ One of these days I am going to tie a string to one of the socks so that when she pulls it a stuffed wolf is triggered into lunging at her, just to see what will happen; I just have to remember to set up a video camera to record the fun… and get a stuffed wolf from somewhere… and some string… never mind. Let her yowl. That sounds like too much work.

              Oh! And for all of you punks in my high school that said I would never amount to anything (and that includes YOU, Mrs. Pilgreen), I just received my perfect attendance certificate (suitable for framing) from that macramé class I was taking once a week at night at the Adult Community Center. So there!

              Okay, that’s all for now. Be sure to look both ways at intersections, even if the light is green.

Apr 6 2010

March 31st readings…

March 31st readings

             After this past evening’s class, the former Miss Wisconsin and I decided to get away for a few days, and, eschewing the Riviera this time around (evidently Brad and Angelina were going to be there, and we are so tired of running into media circuses whenever we try to get away), we settled on roaming around South Central Virginia.

             The weather certainly cooperated; whereas it had been rather poopy and wet during the first part of the week, Thursday through Sunday was absolutely glorious. Sunshine during the day, clear skies at night, cool temps 24/7 gave us the perfect environment for an outdoor adventure.

             We started off driving west on I-66, then veering left onto I-81, making our way southwest toward our first stop, Lexington, Virginia. Lexington is the home of Washington and Lee University, as well as the Virginia Military Institute. We visited the tomb of the Lee family and the grave of Stonewall Jackson, as well as the home of Jackson. Lexington is a quaint little college town, and the Washington and Lee campus is one of the prettiest I’ve seen.

             Our next stop was further down I-81, something called the Natural Bridge. The Natural Bridge is a huge geological marvel, a hole through solid rock formed by millions of years of gradual wear by a little creek (evolutionist view) or by God’s will (Religious Right view) or by a misfired phaser from the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) during an alternate parallel universe time-travel incident (how it really happened). Thomas Jefferson was so enamored of the formation that he bought it off of the British Lord who owned the land for twenty shillings, which very official looking plaques in different places told us was the equivalent of either $2.40 or $5.00 (maybe one plaque was from the Congressional Budget Office and the other was from the General Accounting Office).

Natural Bridge - cell phone photo

             Anyway, putting aside all of the above-mentioned jots and tittles, the place was gorgeous. But please be prepared for a little sticker shock: for the privilege of walking down to see it, you get to pay the current owners $18 (considerably more than the $2.40 or $5.00 that Tommy J paid for it). Was it worth it? Well, since we had the money, I’ll go ahead and say yes. If we hadn’t, I’d probably say a picture would be just as good. But I’d also be lying- if you do get the chance, go see it.

USS Enterprise - culprit in the creation of Natural Bridge

             And OH MY GOSH! I almost glossed over the most amazing thing we saw that afternoon, (besides the image below, which was located outside the entrance to the Natural Bridge, which can only be explained by the alternate parallel universe time-travel incident theory),

Proof of the alternate parallel universe time-travel incident

and that was FOAMHENGE, which is a local entrepreneur’s answer to Stonehenge. I kid you not, somebody actually arranged huge slabs of Styrofoam in an exact replica of Stonehenge, and you can see it right from the road. We were laughing too hard as we drove past to stop in time to get out and see it up close, or even take a picture from the car. The roads in this area get kinda hairpin curve-ish, and I didn’t want to take the chance of being run over by anyone.

             After leaving the Natural Bridge, we drove on down to where we were staying in Appomattox, the Longacre Bed & Breakfast. This was a delightful place to stay. It’s actually a large Tudor home in which the family lives in the back and the whole rest of the house is yours to play in. The family and the home reminded me of my childhood; the house was very similar to my best friend’s house and the woman running the place was the spitting image of my best friend’s sister. If you stay here, be prepared to be treated like family (and fed like family- you will not leave the table hungry). If you don’t appreciate family hospitality, stay in a hotel.

             The next day, we drove three miles to Appomattox Court House and visited the McLean House, the site of Grant’s surrender to -…no wait, I think it was Lee’s surrender to Grant…anyway, Appomattox Court House was the name of the community; if we were talking about a building, we would spell it courthouse. Use that little fact to amuse your friends (or drive them away). You know, now that I think about it, I’m almost positive that it was Lee who surrendered.

             From Appomattox Court House we drove over to the D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. I really don’t know what to say about this memorial. They do an odd thing with the commemorative plaques- there can be a plaque honoring General Omar Bradley, but then, at the bottom of the plaque, in the same sized font or larger, you have the name of the person who paid for the plaque. It seems odd (to me) to permanently connect the name of a rich stranger to an historical figure. Would they remove the plaque or sand off the name of the donor if it was discovered the donor was a [insert whatever is icky to you here]? Most other memorials have a separate wall somewhere listing the donors that made the memorial possible. I dunno; like I said before, it just struck me as odd, and as a result, detracted from the memorial.

             From Bedford, we drove about twenty minutes to experience the Peaks of Otter Winery. Now this little gem is run by a couple of (alleged) former moonshiners who decided that, since everyone else in Virginia is making wine out of grapes, they would make wine out of everything else. There is wine made from apples, peaches, pears, tomatoes (actually quite good), blueberries, raspberries, acai and pomegranate, and some kind of chili peppers (you get a little sticker that says ‘I kissed the devil’ if you taste it; we each got a sticker). There are almost twenty wines to taste, and, if you have your own glass, it’s free.

             So we bought a few bottles of their product, and then started our way back home. Along the way we drove through Farmville, which is the home of Longwood University. I had always wanted to visit Farmville (just because of the name), so we took this opportunity to do so. It was a nice little town, with great places to eat. If it had Verizon FiOS, it would be a perfect little place to visit for a short period of time.

             We then drove back westward to drive up through Charlottesville and back up 29 to come back home. Although we were closer to I-95 and could have driven back home that way, we chose not to; one thing I have learned living in Virginia all these years is that you never get on I-95 on a Saturday, unless it is at 4 am.

             We got back before dark, listened to all of the animals scold us for being gone so long (don’t worry, we didn’t abandon them- daughter #3, the med student, was home looking after them), then showered, popped open a bottle of pinot, and enjoyed a frozen pizza while watching Will & Grace. All in all, a delightful little journey.

             I do hope each of you, in your own way, was able to enjoy the outdoors this past week.


Apr 6 2010

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Earthrise - from NX-01

So anyway I thought I’d test a photo embed to see what would happen.

Apr 4 2010

This just in…


Mar 31 2010

Website Review

             The Difference Slavery Made

In creating The Difference Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities[1], William G. Thomas III and Edward L. Ayers wanted to blend aspects of traditional scholarship with the emerging electronic environment in order to showcase the best of those two worlds.

            Difference is an analysis of two similar communities located a few miles apart across a very important line, the Mason-Dixon Line separating the North and the South. Thomas and Ayers were hoping to isolate the issue of slavery and look at how it played a role in the shaping of societies- everything from demographics to labor, from economics to politics and culture.

            It is a blend of an archive and an electronic exhibit, because it not only presents its material for the reader to view, but also seeks to investigate and present findings to the public. In this case, their analysis of the data suggests that slavery was so pervasive throughout the South that it was taken as a given societal construct, and had very little to do with one’s political stance. The ownership or non-ownership of slaves had no bearing on whether one was a secessionist or a unionist; everything depended on the familiarity with the institution. In other words, if you grew up with slavery, you accepted it; if you didn’t, you didn’t.

            The site is laid out in an agreeable manner, with clearly delineated paths and a minimum of clutter. The first page lists along the left side the introduction, summary of argument, points of analysis, and methods. Across the top is the overview, presentation, about the authors, and acknowledgements. Above this line are the three areas of evidence, historiography and tools (text search, print, citation locator, and my favorite- the reading record, which allows you to see a graph of every element within the site, and keeps track of each element you have visited).

            No matter where you are within the site, you always have the option of returning to the beginning or switching between evidence, historiography and tools. And each page is clearly labeled to minimize confusion. Although this seems like an obvious and natural thing to do with a site, you’d be surprised at how few sites tell you where you are or allow you to easily get back to the beginning. Thankfully, Thomas and Ayers did allow for it.

            Their analysis is both thorough and in-depth. The comparisons between Franklin County, Pennsylvania, and Augusta County, Virginia, cover crops, election and campaign results of the 1860 election, property, race, religion, labor, commerce, schools, geography, and information and communication. Within each topic, a map provides you with the choice of counties, and within each choice, a summary of their position and analysis is backed up by primary sources, which you can access either within the article or through a link which they have provided.

            The beauty of this creation is that it allows the reader to have instant access to the data and primary sources from anywhere inside the article. Having the access to the historiography and the evidence allows for one’s own exploration and analysis. When Fogel and Engermann wrote Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Negro Slavery in 1974, they did the same thing, publishing all of their statistical data and analysis at the same time, in essence saying, ‘Here are the data, you decide if our argument is correct.’ But whereas Fogel and Engermann did provide the data, they were unable to provide an easy way to wade through it all; Difference provides it through the innovation of the digital medium.

            It is a medium that invites the participation of the reader, although one must follow a certain procedure to arrive at supporting documentation. But even so, the thoughtful considerations (and collaboration, among peers and graduate students) provide an experience that is in no way frustrating or exhausting. The depth of the article is far deeper and richer than could be produced in print, and allows for a highly enjoyable and enriching experience.

            The authors chose to create the site using XML because of the multiple-linking and search features, believing at the time that XML would become the de facto language in the future, and that using it would give longevity to their site.

            Even with all of the effort that went into the site by the authors and their collaborators, they were under no illusions about their final product. They are well aware that theirs was but a ‘first step’ toward ‘envisioning new forms of scholarship.’

[1] The Difference Slavery Made: A Close Analysis of Two American Communities, http://www2.vcdh.virginia.edu/AHR/. University of Virginia and the Virginia Center for Digital History; created by William G. Thomas III and Edward L. Ayers. Last site update: November 2005.

Mar 30 2010

March 24th readings…

March 24th readings

            So someone suggested to me that since we all are experiencing the same things in class each week, and we are currently the only ones reading each other’s blogs, that I should write about something different. And I will, after I say this one thing: this week’s class was an excellent practicum, and I enjoyed it immensely.

             Now, on to the issue at hand. My wife and I are rather curious people, always asking a lot of questions about stuff from people we meet whenever we travel, which is pretty often. As a result, we know how gristmills work, what the gross domestic product of Quebec was in the decades leading up to the War of 1812, how President John Tyler’s grandson spends his days (he is still alive), and what makes a good Virginia wine.

             It is this last item that I will expound upon for a bit. Pretty much every weekend we can, we either drive to the various colleges to visit one of our five college-age students (that’s right- five; including me, we have six tuitions we are dealing with annually), or we visit wineries, or both. In Virginia, we have visited around 35 wineries out of approximately 70. New ones are popping up daily as people decide either that it’s cool to say you own a winery or because of the generous tax advantages of owning a winery. Either way, as a result there’s always something to do on the weekends if you like to meet new people and share a drink and just talk about things.

             Now I won’t get into comparisons between all of the wines, because it wouldn’t be fair. Some of the wineries are well established, some are still feeling their way around, and others, well, let’s just say that the Virginia wine world is a very small world, and a negative comment travels very far, very fast.

             But I will share with you our favorite Virginia wines so far, and these have held steady over the past couple of years. Jack Kent Cooke’s Boxwood Winery makes an outstanding red simply called Boxwood. The winery and a tasting room are located in separate locations in Middleburg, and are well worth the visit. Whenever we visit someone we like, we’ll always bring a gift of a bottle or two of Boxwood.

     Linden Wineries has a Claret that is superb, and is one that I highly recommend for sipping in front of a fireplace on cold wintry nights, preferably with some goat cheese and garlic. Many an evening was spent this way during Snow-mageddeon 2010. Their winery also has one of the most beautiful views of the countryside, and an outside area to sit and sip and enjoy the surroundings.

     Fox Meadows Winery has a wonderful red, Le Renard Rouge, that goes well with damn near anything, and it’s one they we seem to enjoy most on a cool, crisp evening around an outside fire. They also have a nice tasting area from which one can enjoy the views.

     As far as whites go, we haven’t really found anything yet that we like as well as the California chards or some French and Italian varietals, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. The same with ports: few American-mades can compete with the continental imports, but we are always on the lookout for one.

       Let me close for now, and we’ll see what next week brings in terms of a topic.

Mar 24 2010

March 17th – Project Proposal

Digital History Resource Proposal

             I intend to create a US I comprehensive exam site that can be utilized by any and all graduate students attending American University and needing a structured approach to studying for the US I comp.

            In its current state, the prototype consists of an overview layer explaining what the site is and how to use or navigate the site (a feature that surprisingly few sites have), followed by two ways to approach studying (by theme or by timeline), as well as a visual approach that includes a grid mesh overlay and bar graph.

            Within the theme and timeline choices, users can access individual artificial ‘mini-themes’ or ‘mini-timelines’ to breakdown the topics into comprehensible units of study. Each of these units will be supported by at least one book; each book will be supported by at least two reviews from noted scholarly journals, in addition to contributions from other graduate students.

            At a minimum, the resource is at least four layers deep; I believe this will be sufficient. If I make it too complicated, students won’t use it. Furthermore, I want as much participation as possible from graduate students in the field, contributing their comments and/or reviews on the various themes and books in the project. The purpose is to make the site a living, breathing comprehensive exam resource. If reviews are not updated by grad students, then the site will become dated, and eventually die a lonely, irrelevant death.

            If this phase is successful, then I would like to expand the site to encompass US II, US Diplo, and other outside fields. The site will also include other relevant information (copies of comp requests, copies of tools of research requests, etc.) that a graduate student, wading through the morass of graduate school bureaucracy, needs.

            For the most part, WordPress will be used in the resource’s creation. A flatbed scanner will be utilized for various form and map images, and an as-of-yet unchosen application will be used for the creation of the grid overlay. At the present time, I envision a static HTML display, but I may try to incorporate some aspect of CMS at a later date.

            For the purposes of this class, I expect to have a navigable four layers completed by the due date; these layers will chart one historiographic theme along with its support resources. My timeline is simple: one layer per week until project presentation.

            This project is but a beginning phase of a larger work, one that I expect to be around for a long time, and I invite your collaboration in its development.

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