Dispatches from Maine

Just another person of little note writing about ordinary things. That I reside in Maine is icing on the cake.

31 March 2005

The Woman in Black

This play is creepy! If you live in the greater Portland area, go and see it soon. Otherwise, when it comes to your town take the time to see it. For the past couple of years Tandy has been buying season tickets for the Portland Stage Company. They are a small, professional theater right in downtown Portland. The stage itself is an obstacle to presenting this play as the major location is a large manor house. It is really vital in several scenes to develop a sense that the character is walking down hallways and up staircases toward a locked door. The crew accomplished this feat by lighting a rectangle on the floor, then as the actor reached the end another adjacent rectangle would illuminate. This gave you a sense of distance and size which was at odds with the visible scope of the stage. Amazing work by the lighting crew.

Unlike our local cinema reviewer, I will not disclose the content of the play except to say that the end really does catch you off guard. At least it did so to both Tandy and I. Take the time to see this play.

30 March 2005

Homebrew and Bottling Gone Awry


After many long years of reading about brewing and watching my father-in-law, Tom, work the homebrew miracle, I had decided to make my own beer. Rather than take the standard path of brewing from a kit, I elected to concoct my own recipe based on a book on pale ale which Tom loaned me. I am a terrible fiend for hops, so I wanted to select a recipe with plenty of hops. I zeroed in on IPA, a style which I originally had little love for. When the night for brewing arrived I went...well...hops crazy! I used northern brewer for bittering hops, goldings for aroma and then, in a fit of pure insanity, dry hopped with hallertau. Thus it was born: Triple Hop IPA.

After a few weeks of fermentation, it was ready for bottling. While we were bottling it the capper, a handy device used to compress the cap onto the bottle, finally broke down after many long years of service. We then brewed up some of Tom's patented Dayside Dark, a strangely delicious hoppy porter. I was so excited about the beer that I, like an idiot, threw it into the fridge as soon as I returned home. This halts the bottle conditioning process by putting the yeast into "suspended animation." The first two bottles were flat, lifeless and had the same flavor as the beer when it was in the fermenting barrel: no kidding, eh? Tom counselled me to take the beer out of the fridge and put it in the basement for a few weeks, and, voila! The beer today is wonderful (here is a picture of the clear bottle) with good flavor, carbonation and head. Success at last!

Bottling Gone Awry

Last night Tom and I were supposed to bottle Dayside Dark. I had yet to obtain a new capper, so after the kids were in bed I headed over to his place. We went right to Oak Hill only to find it closed, then headed off to RSVP. Unbelievably RSVP no longer stocks homebrew supplies. Having had a somewhat difficult day at work, Tom and I skipped bottling and went to go check Three Dollar Dewey's. Of course, they have no brewing supplies either, but it is the site of my very first legal beer. We sat and talked and had a few beers. I enjoyed a Smithwicks, a wonderful Irish ale of the creamy bitter style, and a Pilsner Urquell, a fine European pilsner. Tom also had a Smithwicks and then followed with an Old Thumper. It was a good way to close out the day, but the bottling still lies in our future.

The next beer on my agenda is something dark and rich...hmm....

27 March 2005

The Beauty of Great In-Laws

I was fortunate to marry into a family of excellent and admirable people. They have the same quirks that we all do, but they are marked by both energy and generosity. My father-in-law, Tom, works for the Portland Press Herald. Through the years we have had a fair exchange of interests. He introduced me to single malt scotch whisky, homebrewing, baseball, football and most of all fly fishing, a hobby which I cannot imagine how I ever lived without. In return, I introduced him to sushi, fine tea, Freemasonry, geocaching, and soccer (World Cup variety). His most recent gift to me has been to coerce me into hiking up a mountain trail each year. One year he and my brother-in-law, Zach, hiked up the side of Old Speck. For a time it was an embarrassing demonstration of just how out of shape I am in the Spring. This year I am running indoors to get my body ready for both summer soccer and the unavoidable Spring hike. A few years ago, he wrote an article for the paper about one of our hikes: White Mountain Surprise. It really was a good time. At one point we emerged from the hot, muggy trail onto a rock vista of the valley below. Tom spotted wild blueberry bushes, so we stopped for a snack and some water. The fond memories of that hike will never leave me.

My brother-in-law is a man of the ultra-hip and fun variety. Apparently, I am not the only person who thinks so. A blogger writes about Zach's hip hospitality during a trip to Maine. Every year we all meet up in Boston where he hosts a trip to a Red Sox game. We turn it into a weekend with visits to Redbones and Boston Beer Works. Now that he owns his own home, Tom, who has a grudge against idleness, ensures that we spend at least one day working on the house. During our last trip we moved a piano, refinished the main staircase and installed a new kitchen light. In return Zach broke in his new grill with his own recipe for whisky soaked teak tips. We listened to the Red Sox on the radio while sitting in his backyard. For the record, Brooklyn Pilsner is malty for a pilsner! It was another trip never to be forgotten.

I spend less time with my mother-in-law. I know from my daughters that she shares her gifts with them: cooking, gardening, teaching. They both love to spend time with her and she with them. Her work with my older daughter ensures that we have live plants, since my wife and I are both equipped with two black thumbs.

25 March 2005

The Pain and Pleasure of Good Friday

The Pain

The faith we call Catholic is a complicated balance. The Church requires that we fast and abstain from meat to remind us of the sacrifice of this solemn occasion. The Lord also requires we do our very best to hide this fast from the public:

"(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward."
"When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you."
Matthew 6:1-2,16-18

I have never been clear on how to manage Lent both being a Catholic and adhering to the injuctions in Matthew. Last year I felt as thought too many people were aware of my fasting, though I did not walk the halls announcing it. This year I had no specific plan. I was careful to do everything as normal, so there was nothing visible in my outward form. Yet I was adhering to a new plan while being completely unaware of it. On my way out of the house on Friday, I was saying goodbye to everyone when I mentioned to Tandy that I was heading out to the Cookie Jar for donuts for work. She laughed and asked me if this was my new plan to hide my fasting. I had no idea what she was talking about, but apparently she noticed I had done the same thing on Ash Wednesday. It appeared to work since only two people realized I was fasting on Friday.

The Pleasure

My youngest wanted to come to Mass with me on Good Friday. I never drag the kids to late or kid-unfriendly Masses, but I also never deny them. She was better than good, she was wonderful. We sat in the front pew so she could see everything. When she was bored the Triduum booklet had nice spots to color in (we always bring colored pencils). The homily was delivered by Deacon Steve Harnois, a homilist of such excellence that it must be a charism, a gift from God intended to aid in executing one's vocation. He told a story which is well worth repeating:

During Easter a minister was teaching about the meaning of Good Friday to a group of children. He asked them if anyone knew what happened on Good Friday. Like a shot little Eric's arm went up complete with "Ooh Ooh Ooh, me!" The minister called on Eric to explain what Good Friday was about. "Jesus is put into a grave, then three days later he comes out and goes back in again." The minister was happy but puzzled, "I know that Jesus comes out, but why does he go back in again?" Young Eric replied, "Because he didn't see his shadow."

Deacon Harnois used this story as an opportunity to remind us all that we can easily forget was Good Friday is about. The rest of the homily was just as supremely excellent and well integrated. No homiletics class taught him how to teach so well. My daughter enjoyed the remainder of the Mass especially the Adoration of the Cross. It is so rare for us to have a pleasurable quiet time together during the winter; this was a wonderful experience.

24 March 2005

Delicious Podcasts

Every once in a while people turn you on to new technology and it becomes so natural that you cannot remember how you lived without them. In just the last few months, I have become hooked on three new items:

Apple iPod

I have owned at least two PDAs which doubled as MP3 players. Each was good in its own right, but in the end there was just something which made them less than usable for real music listening. I was starting to look into a device devoted to playing tunes, when I began to notice Adrian, my boss, using a 3G iPod. He always had good music going, the quantity was quite significant, particularly compared to my paltry 128MB of flash for my PDA, and the interface was straightforward. I began to toy around with different MP3 players people were using. Brook, boss' boss, had an iPod mini. It has a great interface, perfect size and reasonable capacity, I knew from experience that sizzle means a lot for a device like this. At the time, my entire MP3 collection was on the order of 4.5GB, so the capacity of the iPod mini was reasonable. Zach, my brother-in-law, had a 4G iPod which was super easy to use. After months of looking, I finally comitted to purchasing an iPod and settled on an 4G iPod (40GB) just in case I wanted to store other files or more music on it.
I have not regretted my decision for an instant. I ripped every CD in our music collection and have purchased 120 songs from iTunes. The music collection is now on the order of 10GB. I love my iPod! My favorite site for iPod information and product evaluations has to be iPod Lounge.


I use both a desktop and a laptop quite extensively for my development work. This affords me the chance to trip over the classic problem of loosely coupled distributed systems: divergent data. The data in this case is my bookmarks collection. For a time, I attempted to synchronize them manually, but no one has the requisite discipline. When Backflip appeared I jumped right on that bandwagon, this gave me browser and platform independence. It was seriously injured during the bursting of the .COM Bubble, experiencing significant outages and data loss incedents. Though I walked away from that service, I still call my regular sites list "Daily Dose." Once I had settled on Firefox, the best browser out there, I tried the Bookmarks Synchronizer. That worked well until you forget to synchronize for a week. Then I hit a fatal problem when I updated a major version of Firefox and the synchronizer lost its configuration.
In a meeting a few weeks ago, Brook, the aforementioned boss' boss, talked about subject-oriented indexing. This contrasts nicely with fixed indexing which characterizes Yahoo! and how my bookmarks are arranged. Does a paper on the history of programming languages go under "History"->"Papers" or "Computers" -> "Research." It is also not the same as Google which is based on consensus through link targets. What I find engaging about delicious is how it uses arbitrary subject tags combined with common link targets to organize information. To see how this works, take a look a my delicious page. I am well and truly hooked and so my bookmarks decay.


I ran across podcasts by accident, but then Paul and Emilio, two developers at work, gave me pointers and suggestions for shows to listen to. What is a podcast? To quote my favorite show, The Sounds in My Head, podcasting is like radio for iPods. It works by the podcaster recording a show to an MP3 or AAC file, both formats the iPod can read. You download the file and listen to their show. There is novel called EarthCore being serialized in podcast form. The first installment came out today. Here is a list of my favorite podcasts:
  • The Sounds in My Head - an always entertaining collection of new music. I have purchased ten of the songs I heard on this podcast from the iTunes store.
  • Celtic Music News - an excellent source for Celtic Punk and Rock. I wish more of this was in the iTunes catalog, but I am close to ordering Quinn's Diaries from Donegal X-Press. The song "Pissed Off Paddy Barman" is the best drinking song ever!
  • Croncast - is this a podcast or is it my life? The Dawn and Drew show is more popular, but this podcast it far funnier.
  • Wizard News Radio - a roundup of Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings news. My older daughter waits for each episode so she can listen to it.
  • The Good Beer Show - the first podcast I ever listened to. It is hit or miss, but the good shows are truly great.
  • Hometown Tales - filled with ghost stories and other weird tales. It is also hit or miss, but I enjoy it.
To make your own list of favorite podcasts try sites like: Podcast Alley.

The moral of the story is: keep your eyes and ears open since you never can tell what will be important.

23 March 2005

Aging at Home and Blindness at Microsoft

The time has come to put the too new skis up for the summer. I went to visit a friend who is far more experienced with ski equipment than I. He showed me how to apply wax to the skis to keep the base from oxidizing over the summer. I had agreed previously to go running with him afterward, and though my knee was sore from Monday I kept to the plan. We had run but a very short distance when the ice and snow patches appeared on the path. Within a few minutes my knee was throbbing while the associated thigh muscle became more and more tight. We spent more time walking between short bursts of running, but I knew I was pushing through a lot of pain. He kindly shortened the run so I could return home.

When I arrived at the house my father-in-law was over to drop off my youngest from her dinner at Grammy and Grampy's house. While we chatted the pain in my knee seemed to increase, so I hobbled off to see if there was any visible problem. I was rewarded with the sight of a great big bruise about two inches above my knee. It appears when I wiped out skiing (a foolish attempt to follow my betters over a jump) my ski must have struck me slightly above the knee. The bruise did not hurt before, but it hurts like heck now!

It is hard to get old.

It also hard to "get" Microsoft, or at least hard to understand them. They are, by all accounts, a company which has grown giant on the labor of a thriving ISV (Independent Software Vendor) market, but which also periodically competes against their own ISVs (DeLorme has been one such target). Their development tools have, historically, been quite inexpensive when compared to other enterprise development systems (i.e. Rational's suite). Just recently Microsoft announced Visual Studio Team System with technologies most of us (ISVs) have been cobbling together from small commercial or OpenSource tools for years. At DeLorme we use:
  • Microsoft Visual Studio (a good development environment with nice ISO C++ compliance)
  • Microsoft Visual Source Safe (a terrible SCM system, just try branching then merging a busy project for four months, we have seriously investigated other tools at least once and plan to do so again soon)
  • Kinook Visual Build Pro (this build app rocks the house for ease of use and integration with so many different tools)
  • Microsoft Visio (it sucks for UML so different teams have been trying alternatives)
  • Microsoft Project (yuck! the database version, for workgroups, has locking problems and the scheduler in general has little capacity to handle rapidly changing teams or agile approaches)
  • Segue SilkRadar (passable, but I am trying to get people to look into FogBugz)
  • CompuWare DevPartner Studio (this tool cannot be beat for memory checking, profiling and coverage analysis; and yes, I have used purify before)
  • Whole TomatoVisual Assist X (for code templates and decent Intellisense, this is a great package, try it for free)
  • doxygen (for extracting documentation from comments)
  • CxxText (for unit testing, and the CxxTest people are GENIUSES! teams are picking up unit testing like never before!)
The tool we are missing most right now is a good refactoring tool (Ref++ crashed all the time for me), but we are laboring with bad software in the diagramming, project management, source code control, and defect tracking area. All areas which Visual Studio Team System attacks and all but bug tracking comes from Microsoft already. Meanwhile, our build system, code editing, and unit testing tools are great. Factor in that the new Team System is about $10,000 more than our current costs and ask me why I would recommend we go that route? I am likelier to start looking seriously at 3rd party or OpenSource tools to fill in for the bad Microsoft tools. In the SCM department, if we go with a product like AccuRev it gets us two fo the items for $750 per seat. Even if we went commercial for each missing piece, it is still less than Microsoft is charging.

I may be getting old, but at least I am not in Microsoft's shoes right now. ISVs can hope this is a trial balloon from Redmond and that the pricing is flexible. Otherwise, I suspect it is a sign that ISVs really are no longer a serious consideration. This year there will be no reason to continue my MSDN Universal or PDC, not that Microsoft would notice the $5,000 missing.

22 March 2005

Ski Beer echoes

Last night a group from work went up to Shawnee Peak for the last Monday night ski of the season. The weather was so perfectly temperate while crisp and clear, a sullen reminder of winter yet with the promise of spring. Riding the chairlift up the side of Pleasant Mountain gave a view to the northwest of regal Mt. Washington backlit by a stunning sunset. As darkness fell the house lights in Bridgton sparkled, but since this section of Maine is so sparsely populated the stars were not obstructed by light polution. The skiing was nice though a little icy in spots. I did manage to ski my first black diamond, though by all accounts it was an easy one. We skied without interruption from 4:00pm until the lifts shut down at 9:00pm. Then made for supper at Bray's Brewpub.

Bray's has a great reputation for unusual, delicious beer. We arrived desparate for food and beverages only to find the kitchen closed. The staff made chili and chowder available to us, which we were every so glad to eat. I tried their imperial stout and oatmeal pale ale. The stout was sweet and rich, hiding away the texture of the chocolate malt. I enjoyed it perhaps too quickly, but it had been a long night of skiing. The oatmeal pale I ordered only because I had never heard of such a thing. It had the requisite hoppy aroma but there was just something about the oatmeal-induced sweetness that was a wee bit odd. My father-in-law and I have to find an excuse to go up there and try the imperial before it passes out of the seasonal selection. I finally returned home shortly before midnight and fell dead asleep immediately.

I was possibly less productive on Tuesday, but the endless meetings may have had something to do with it. After dinner with the ladies I went down to Hiram Lodge No. 180 in South Portland to watch a degree team of state legistlators work the Master Mason degree. Things got off to a late start, further delayed by introductions, so by 9:00pm the second section had not even begun. I was tired from the previous day, so I made my apologies and walked back home to get some sleep.

In the words of my favorite diarist: and so to bed...

Labels: ,

20 March 2005

Catholics and Target

In the morning paper, I read that Bishop O’Malley will this year wash the feet of women during the mandatum on Holy Thursday. Last year he refused to do the same, eliminating a long practice of Cardinal Bernard Law. The newspaper reports that Bishop O’Malley took considerably heat last year for breaking with a common practice in the United States. I well remember the uproar and my own personal disappointment last year. The article reported that he consulted with the Vatican to see if the washing of women’s feet during the mandatum was legitimate.

Interestingly enough the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) has a Q&A page about this on their web site. The site quotes material from the BCL (Bishops Conference on the Liturgy) Newsletter published originally in 1987. Why it was necessary to ask the Vatican about an issue so well trod, no pun intended, I have no idea. This is where being a Catholic gets hard, at least for me it does. All I can do, at the end of the day, is feel sad about the situation, a Bishop unnecessarily provoking controversy, and hope it was either an honest mistake or an issue about which there is some genuine doubt.

Meanwhile, as a Catholic who swings wildly between conservative and liberal, I am waiting for the rush of ultra-orthodox Catholics to denounce Bishop O’Malley for buckling to supposed feminist pressure. It seems to me that you cannot attach yourself to the Vatican one day and reject it the next because of the content of the message. I believe that is what the ultra-orthodox call situational ethics, usually with an air of disgust.

Mass was tres excellent today. While it was long and the girls were bored senseless, normal for their ages, the message was wonderful. The Passion reading was very well done and I was shocked to find that during the reading the pictures in my head were all from The Passion of the Christ (imdb). I knew how much I was moved by the film, but I did not realize that it was my mental template for the Passion. I was also surprised to find myself filling in gaps in the Passion narrative with Sister Anne Catherine Emmerich’s work “The Dolorous Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

The homily which followed the reading was beyond words. Father Gendreau started with seemingly innocuous lines designed to drawn people in. He noted that when we came to Mass next Sunday, Easter Sunday, there would probably be someone unfamiliar sitting in our pew. A lot of heads started nodding, “yeah. my pew, who are they to come once a year and sit in my pew.” He continued reflecting that we will probably be angry at them and criticize them because they do not come to Mass every Sunday. It was then that people started to feel the hook. Since I was one of “those people” once I know just what he is talking about. From my position watching people go from “yeah, in my dang pew, what gives them the right?” to “oh, hmm, maybe that is the wrong attitude” was simply priceless. He turned dramatically and pointed to the altar and said, “Yet there is plenty of room at this table for everyone.”

For me, being Catholic is all about being wrong and being forced to realize it. That is what Confession, now Reconciliation, is all about. All too often, we forget that we can sin right at Mass through a breach of hospitality. How much harder it is to reach out to a stranger than to put money in envelope 412. Just after Mass started this morning there was a 7-10 split pew in front of me, you know one person at each end of a giant pew. There was a family I knew and one I did not know in the back of the church standing. I invited them up to fill the empty space, but I have wondered since then, was I warmer to the folks I knew? I guess I better let those stones lay there…

Back to the movie…

When we returned from Mass I knew I was ready to see the movie again finally. We all piled into the car and made for Target, ostensibly to pick up the video and a new scooter for my oldest. The more time she spends outside gliding around the better. It think in the final tally we spent twice what we went in to spend, coming out with a little baseball glove for my youngest, a new bike helmet for her also, shoes to go with their Easter dresses, and so on. Everything had to be done at some point, but I gather this is how stores like Target operate. You go in for a pair of shoes and come out with a dining room set. It also explains why I steer clear of Target. At least I know better at my nemesis, LL Bean, which I will only enter without my credit cards and with the amount of cash I am willing to spend. Call me Mr. William Power, Esquire. :)

In the end, the girls spent several hours outside this afternoon, so it was all worthwhile. Kids spend altogether to much time watching TV and running from event to event. Too much planning is going on for children. Better to let them while away the day driving their scooter on the driveway and chatting with their friends. It was nice to look outside at my kids frittering away the day after having read an article about what parents in L.A. go through. It reminds why why these dispatches come from Maine: The Way Life Should Be.

19 March 2005

LL Bean Spring Fishing Expo

The annual LL Bean Spring Fishing Expo is being held this weekend in Freeport, ME; see this PDF for a schedule of the events planned. My father-in-law (Tom), the girls and I all went up to scope it out. Tom taught me to fly fish about three years ago on the Dead River here in Maine. It is a hobby which I am now virtually addicted to. My older daughter has little interest in fishing, but loves the look and feel of flies. She wants to learn to tie flies someday so she can make them for Tom and I. She is a wonderful artist with a fine eye for detail, so once her motor skills have matured I suspect she would be great at fly tying. My younger daughter loves to fish. We got to a local pond at least once or twice a month during the Summer to fish. She had hoped to try a small fly rod at one of Bean's junior programs. Thanks to poor planning on my part and a lack of information from Bean's we arrived too early for the fly tying and my youngest it too young for even me to show her how to use the short rod. In the end, my youngest picked out a new fishing vest which fits her better than the hand-me-down from her big sister. We also picked up some differently sized bobbers.

Everyone up here is edgy for Spring to get underway. The snow pack is deeper than it has been in the past few years. Thought it is melting fast, there just seems to be so much of it. How long to ice-out? How long until we can see the brown grass? How long until the Spring plants start to sprout? How long until the road to camp is drivable? By the way, "camp" in Maine refers to a hunting camp or a small cabin up in the woods. For the more affluent camp can be a fancy house on a lake or even, in rare cases, a fancy house on the coast. Spring cannot get here soon enough.