Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Move-In Condition Haunted House

Our recent drive through western Maryland was a lovely respite from the megalopolis of Baltimore/Washington. Here, buildings nudge each other for space, and anything that is more than 25 years old seems at risk of razing. Buildings rarely become charming derelicts. Their land is too valuable as the future site of a mega-store that I'll never go to.

So it was a delightful discovery we made on a road just a few feet north of Interstate 68. Visible from the highway, this lovely old place seemed to want just a few ghostly moans and flickering lights to be the perfect haunted house. There are no neighbors to complain - the nearest building is an old barn. Property values don't suffer because the value is in the land. It's clearly not safe for any but the spirits of the departed, but isn't it nice to know that such a place still exists on Halloween?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Learn Something Good

One of the frustrations of being very busy is that I don't always make the time to give back in meaningful ways. For now, my business requires the attention of an infant. That limits my ability to get involved as I might like in causes that matter to me. I write checks at the end of the year, but wish I could do something more often.

Now I've found a way I can. Thanks to The Publicity Hound, Joan Stewart, I learned about Good Search. Whenever you use their search engine, GoodSearch donates money to the nonprofits and charities of your choosing. Just go to GoodSearch, choose your charity, and enter your search terms. It's based on Yahoo! Search, and you can even add a local charity or school of your choice to the list.

As an info-packrat I do a lot of searching. Now that I've added GoodSearch to my Firefox toolbar (they make it easy), each of those searches will generate a donation for my choice, Heifer International. True, it's only pennies a day, but they will add up. GoodSearch is a great idea – give it a try and know that your searching will help a cause that matters to you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Of Leaf Peeping and Barn Art

It's the end of October. In Maryland that means brisk days, cool nights, and breezy cascades of gold, terracotta, and scarlet as the trees shed their leaves.

Except this year. Like too much of the country, we are unseasonably warm and very dry. Usually we have some nice colors in the trees even here in the Baltimore area, but this year the trees seem just tired of it all and are dropping leaves of pale yellow-ish tan, brown, and only an occasional peachy orange.

In need of a long weekend away, and celebrating our anniversary, we headed for the hills. Western Maryland and that bumped up part of West Virginia that threatens to crush the panhandle right up to the Mason and Dixon line - that was where we hoped to find some proper leaf peeping.
The C&O Canal

In three days of wandering around Berkeley Springs, WV, and the area between Hancock and Cumberland, MD, we did finally find some good fall color. Even better, we found peaceful vistas, twisty roads that crawl sideways up a hill and then switch back for the downward run, and a few quirky buildings. One of my favorites was this barn that stood right up against the road. Clearly abandoned and weathered to a stately gray, it boasted three paintings hung on its sides. Long ago weathered and with the paint worn off in streaks, the painted wood panels spoke of an artist whose work seemed to foretell the fate of the building and its farm.

Interstates 70 and 68 allow for a quick trip from Baltimore to Western Maryland. But for a better ride, I recommend getting off the highway and taking good old U.S. 40. In many areas it parallels the interstate, but allows for those spur of the moment side trips that make your day.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Tonight! The 17th First Annual Ig Nobel Awards

Do you remember Rowan & Martin's "Laugh-In"? Yes, that dates me, too. And do you remember Jo Anne Worley asking, "Is that a chicken joke?" Well, tonight, the mere speaking of the word "chicken" is drawing a roar from the crowd in Cambridge, MA. That's right, in staid old Harvard's hallowed halls, the world (in)famous Ig Nobel awards are being conferred this very night. For reasons not entirely clear - I haven't had time to do an in-depth study - the theme of tonight's event is Chicken. This unique, hand-crafted prize will be given to this year's lucky(?) honorees.

Now these are serious scientists, not just a bunch of sophomoric intellectuals, and winning an Ig Nobel confers a certain cachet. The following is taken directly from the web site of Improbable Research, and they can say it so much better than I:

"The Annals of Improbable Research (AIR) is a magazine printed on genuine paper, and also in digital form on the web. Subscribe, and you'll find our very best stuff -- genuine, improbable research culled from more than 20,000 science, medical, and technical, and academic journals.

We administer the Ig Nobel Prizes, given each year for achievements that make people laugh, and then make them think.

Our goal is to make people laugh, then make them think. We also hope to spur people's curiosity, and to raise the question: How do you decide what's important and what's not, and what's real and what's not -- in science and everywhere else?

"The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not 'Eureka!' but, 'That's funny..." --Isaac Asimov

"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth." --Sherlock Holmes"

So what qualifies for an Ig Nobel honor? In 2006, winning research included an exploration of why woodpeckers don't get headaches, a study of the different odors emitted by frogs under stress, and my personal favorite, the discovery that herring communicate with others of their kind to put this delicately...passing gas.

All of these research projects had a serious purpose. Really, they did. And tonight, the ten newest Ig Nobel winners have traveled from all over the world, at their own expense, to accept their honors. According to the web site, "The Prizes will be handed to them by a group of genuine, genuinely bemused Nobel Laureates, all before a standing-room only audience of 1200 people."

Isn't it good to know that there's still room for such silliness in the world?