Happy Halloween!

[2006.11.01 18:00 EST: Linked to The Farm.]
[2006.11.01 16:00 EST: Described t-shirt text.]
[2006.10.31 23:00 EST: Updated with photos from the rest of the evening. Mwa-ha-ha-ha!]

It was a great day. I walked to the subway through the cemetery at Trinity Church. There was a magnificent sunset. Over 330 trick-or-treaters. All candy gone. We went out to dinner at The Farm at on Adderley on Cortelyou Road, where most of the staff and many guests, including me, were in costume.

DSC_3174Over 33 pounds and 1,695 pieces of candy: $50 (estimated)

Wigs, makeup, ghoul teeth: $60 (approximate)

Seeing small children freeze in shock and hearing their shrieks of gleeful terror as they look up at your hideous face:

DSC_3197The t-shirt has a drawing of a leering devil on it. The text reads: God's busy. Can I help you?



T&L "Discovers" Brooklyn

I visited Coney Island for the first time this past April. This is a view at dusk from the elevated subway platform.
Sunset Over Coney Island, April 2006

A cover story of the November issue of Travel & Leisure magazine is "Brooklyn-Bound". My emphasis added:
I wonder if curious visitors aren’t coming with misplaced expectations. If someone told you Brooklyn is "the next Manhattan," they got it dead wrong. Brooklyn is nothing like Manhattan. Brooklyn looks and feels and is like no place else.

The first thing you need to know about Brooklyn is that it is huge: New York’s most populous borough, home to nearly a third of its citizens. An independent Brooklyn would be the nation’s fourth-largest city. Brooklyn is a vast metropolis blessed and cursed to lie 500 yards from Manhattan.

The second thing you need to know about Brooklyn is that it is small. Big in breadth and attitude, but intimate in the height of its buildings, the modesty of its storefronts, the compactness of its communities. Defined by the stoop, the bodega, the bocce or basketball court, Brooklyn has an enduring neighborhood-ness. Come to my block next month and they’ll be decking the stoops for Christmas; come in June, and the kids next door will be manning a lemonade stand.
- Brooklyn-Bound, November issue of Travel & Leisure magazine

Or come to my front door tomorrow evening. We stocked up on over 30 pounds of candy over the weekend. Halloween is big in this neighborhood.

Thanks to The Gowanus Lounge for bringing this to my attention.

Meta: Banner Changes and Email Feed

I'm continuing to make incremental changes to the structure, layout, and style of this blog. It is my intent that these are improvements to the usability of the blog.

Today I changed the style and layout of the banner to reduce the vertical space - the "critical dimension" of a Web page - it takes up. I can't eliminate the blue Blogger banner without introducing advertising on my blog, which I don't want to do. I'd host this blog on my own site before I'd accept advertising.

The other significant change today is that I've added a second feed option to the banner. You can now subscribe to email updates of the content of this blog through the FeedBlitz link in the header. If you use a feed reader, you can of course continue to use the FeedBurner link already in the header.

Past changes include:


Gardening Matters: The death of Takeo Shiota (Grief & Gardening #4)

[Updated 2007.02.23: Added link to the issue of Plants & Gardens News (PDF, requires membership login) which mentioned Shiota's death in the U.S. internment camps.]

A video sparked a connection for me among three seemingly unrelated topics: a Japanese Garden built over 90 years ago, World War II, and the Department of Homeland Security.

DSC_0013This is a view from the Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. I took this photo last year, November 5, 2005. BBG has this to say about this garden on their Web site:
It is considered to be the masterpiece of its creator, Japanese landscape designer Takeo Shiota (1881-1943). Shiota was born in a small village about 40 miles from Tokyo, and in his youth spent years traversing Japan on foot to explore the natural landscape. In 1907 he came to America, driven by an ambition to create, in his words, "a garden more beautiful than all others in the world."
- Japanese Hill-and-Pond Garden, Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Note the year of Shiota's death, 1943. I learned recently, from a review of the book Defiant Gardens in the Fall 2006/Winter 2007 issue of BBG's Plants & Gardens News (PDF, requires membership login), that Shiota died in a United States internment camp for Japanese-Americans during World War II.

It has happened here before. It can happen again. And our government has plans to do so.

The Pearl Harbor attack intensified hostility towards Japanese Americans. As wartime hysteria mounted, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066 causing over 120,000 West Coast persons of Japanese ancestry (Nikkei) to leave their homes, jobs, and lives behind to move to one of ten Relocation Camps.

This constituted the single largest forced relocation in U.S. history.
- Minidoka Internment National Monument
The largest, so far. I am painfully aware of the parallels between Pearl Harbor and September 11. As bad as the hysteria has been, it can get worse.

On January 24 of this year, the Department of Homeland Security awarded Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown & Root (KBR) a $385M contract [my emphasis added]:
The contract, which is effective immediately, provides for establishing temporary detention and processing capabilities to augment existing ICE [U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Detention and Removal Operations (DRO) Program facilities in the event of an emergency influx of immigrants into the U.S., or to support the rapid development of new programs. The contingency support contract provides for planning and, if required, initiation of specific engineering, construction and logistics support tasks to establish, operate and maintain one or more expansion facilities.

The contract may also provide migrant detention support to other U.S. Government organizations in the event of an immigration emergency, as well as the development of a plan to react to a national emergency, such as a natural disaster.
This has been widely reported in the press, including the New York Times. Peter Dale Scott wrote an extensive analysis for Pacific News Service.

I can add little, except to relate these current historical events to the atrocity committed against a single person over 60 years ago, and share my feelings about all of this. Takeo Shiota was responsible for one of the most beautiful gardens in the world, one which I and millions of others have enjoyed, and will continue to enjoy. I will never again be able to visit that garden without wondering about him and his life, and thinking of how my government killed him. It is the least I can do.

Video: Crosby & Nash, "Immigration Man"

I haven't thought of this song in many years, decades maybe. It was always one of my favorites, hauntingly beautiful vocals and chord progressions.

I don't know who's responsible for assembling the images into the video, but it's an effective piece of work. This is what reminded me of the Halliburton contract, and led me to post this.

Additional Links:

Blogger choking this morning

Update 13:43 EST: Blogger appears to have passed whatever was blocking its system. I'm able to post and republish my blog. We'll see what happens ...

The blogger community is reporting widespread problems this morning. I'm experiencing them also while trying to update my blog's template. If you're reading this, then posting doesn't appear to be affected, at least for me.


Blanket & Broomstick: Sheep & Wool #9

Overview of plaited broom and Hudson Valley BlanketWhen I wrote about the Sheep & Wool Festival, I mentioned that we bought a broom, among other things. And in the comments, I mentioned that we also bought a blanket.

Here they are.

For the past three years, the Sheep & Wool Festival has issued a limited edition blanket commissioned and designed just for the festival. They had one blanket left from 2005 and I much preferred it over this year's design because of the stripes. It's a throw blanket, not big enough for enough a small bed.
It's wonderfully light, soft and warm.

Overview of Hudson Valley BlanketSewn label on Hudson Valley Blanket

A certificate came with the blanket as well. I tried to scan it to include here, but can't get that to work today for some reason. It reads:
The Hudson Valley Blanket

Series 2: Number 001

This limited edition blanket has been created using wool grown in the Hudson River Valley. It is the result of a joint project between The Chas. W. House & Sons, Inc. woolen mill and New York State's Hudson Valley sheep producers. The Hudson River Valley is bordered by the scenic Catskill Mountains to the West and the Berkshires to the East. This is depicted in the blanket design with naturally colored stripes.

The following flocks have contributed wool to this blanket:

Mary Godesky, Red Hook, NY
Jessi & Ethan Page, Salt Point, NY
North Breeze Farm, Millbrook, NY
Wild Apple Farm Ltd., Hudson, NY
Jeff & Debbie Traver, Pleasant Valley, NY
Shepherds Garden, Clermont, NY

[I've elided the phone numbers of the growers for their privacy.]

The wool in this Hudson Valley blanket consists of fleeces from Corriedale, Dorset, Columbia, Hampshire and Merino sheep. The employees of Chas. W. House & Sons, Inc. and the Hudson Valley sheep producers hope you will enjoy this quality wool product for many years.

I remembered that the "art" brooms were called plaited brooms because of the way the stems were attached to the handle:
Plaiting of plaited broom

The stems are partially split and plaited all around the handle. The dried stems are used in their natural form, untrimmed. You can even see some seedheads still left on the ends of the stems:

Business end of plaited broom

The handle itself is a natural form. This was the most bent one of all those on display. I actually liked it the most. It looks like a classic witch's broom. It may make an appearance this Halloween!

All the handles of the plaited brooms were carved. Each had a different design. This was the only one which also had ant tunnels on it. Again, I liked that difference this handle had from all the others. It's a unique piece of hand-work.

Carving on handle of plaited broomDetail of natural ant tunnels and carving on handle of plaited broom

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Fall Color in Beverley Square West

"You know, for a gardening blog, there's not much about gardening ..." - What I imagine you all must be thinking by now.

I've got lots of stuff, honestly. I'm just really back-logged with everything I want to write about. Just not enough hours in the day, especially workdays!
Street tree on Rugby RoadHolding leaves on Rugby Road

But here's a little something: some photos of the developing fall color in my neighborhood, Beverly Square West, one of the neighborhoods of the larger area known as Victorian Flatbush. Yes, this is Brooklyn.

DSC_2911DSC_2912Looking south down Westminster RoadTrees in yard of house on Westminster RoadDogwood in front yard of house on Stratford RoadTrees in yard of House of Westminster Road
Street tree on Westminster RoadHouse on Rugby Road

Related Content

Flickr photo set


Meta: Improving Blog Usability With Expandable Post Summaries

I've just implemented expandable post summaries on this blog and the last several posts appearing on the home page. The first section of each post appears on both the home page and the item page, as this paragraph does. The rest of the post is displayed only when you view the item page, which you can reach by following the "Continue reading ..." link at the end of the post's summary content on the main page, or the usual Date/Time "perma-link" below the content of each post.

My motivation is to try to reduce the percentage of folks who leave immediately upon arriving at the home page.

Combining information from the three visit trackers I'm using - SiteMeter, StatCounter, and Google Analytics - I know that most folks arrive here through the home page, which make sense.
But the trackers also show me that it's the only page they visit, and they often leave immediately upon arriving. Google Analytics calls this the "bounce rate"; the other trackers call this "visit length" or "visit depth". Here's how Google Analytics explains it:
Entrance Bounce Rates: Do visitors continue their visit after viewing their first page or do they immediately leave my site? This report lists the top entrance pages on which visitors land and their respective number of Bounces and Bounce Rates.
It's a highly volatile value. For example, the bounce rate for the home page has varied from a low of 32% - damn good - to a high of 88% - pretty poor. It seems to average between 65-70% week-by-week. I want to see if I can get it down to, and keep it under, an average of 65%. At the same time, I'd like to see if I can increase the visit length and/or depth, which I take as a measure of the value folks find in what I'm posting.

I've come up with three hypotheses:
  1. It's not what they were looking for.
  2. They only read the latest content, which is available in its entirety on home page of the blog.
  3. The home page is bloated and overloaded and slow to load, and they don't want to wait.
It's the last case I'm trying to address. Although my sidebar could use some trimming down, and I've got several counters in the footer, most of the size of the page comes from the content. This makes the home page slow to load, and forces lots of scrolling to see all the recent posts. This is especially true for posts that have lots of images, like the recent post about the Sheep & Wool Festival. By trimming down the content displayed on the home page, that page will load faster. It will also allow visitors to see the summaries of each post without having to scroll more than two or three screens, an important web usability design principle.

A side effect occurs for the second case. The various visit trackers can only count when visitors click from page to page within my blog. So when regular readers read all the content of recent posts from the home page, the trackers don't know that they're "staying" on the blog, and record it as a short, single-page, "bounce". In other words, the trackers record this as a "false negative". With the click-throughs from the summary to the full post, the statistics will more accurately reflect how people are using the blog. For you, my regular readers, to click through to the item page, doesn't seem too onerous. Please let me know whether or not that's the case!

It's also possible that this could influence the first case. Most of the references to my blog come through Google, and people searching for all kinds of things come to this blog. But it's not for everyone, and that's okay. There's a possibility, however, that some folks arriving here might find something of value, but don't discover it because they don't see enough of the recent posts, or the poor performance of the page interferes with their ability to assess its content. Either way, improving the performance of the home page would make it more likely that those folks could discover there's something here for them, and stick around to read some more.


Geeks Rule! Victory Over Bling ...

Finally! I figured out how to capture the image from Sala's HTML Graph Applet, which I wrote about earlier this week.
My Blog, FlatbushGardener, visualized as a graph, October 26, 2006
This is a snapshot of this blog taken earlier this evening.

This will work on any Windows system. Here's how I did it:
  1. Ran the HTML Graph Applet against my blog until the knots straightened themselves out and all the dots settled down.
  2. Resized the browser window so the entire graph was visible and took up as much of the browser window as possible.
  3. Pressed [Alt]+[PrntScrn]. This copies the active window (the browser window) to the clipboard.
  4. Opened Windows Paint and selected Edit > Paste. (Any image-editing program which allows you to paste from the clipboard and crop the image will work.)
  5. Cropped the image and saved it. (This is not the easiest thing to do with Paint, but it's possible.)
That's it! Give it a shot on your blog or favorite Web site and let me know how it works for you.

U.S. Population Density Map (and Canada)

Okay, so the U.S. now has over 300 million people, but where are they?

United States Population DensityHere they are.

Credit: NASA image by Robert Simmon, based on data archived by the Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC)

This map, based on population estimates made in 2005, charts out the number of people in every square kilometer of the United States.

As has been the case historically, the most densely populated parts of the United States are east of the Mississippi River. Rings of decreasing population density radiate out from the major urban centers of New York, Philadelphia, and Washington along the East Coast. Other cities—Atlanta, Chicago, Houston, and Dallas—punctuate the map in the country’s interior. The west remains lightly populated except for clearly defined urban regions. Like their counterparts in the east, the largest cities in the west (San Diego and Los Angeles in the south; San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose farther north) hug the coast, with the densest populations in Southern California. Other large western cities readily visible here include Portland, Seattle, Phoenix, and Denver.

- New Image: United States Population Density, NASA, Earth Observatory, Newsroom, October 26, 2006
Unusual for U.S. maps, it includes both Alaska and Hawaii, in their geographically correct locations, rather than floating off to the side in little boxes as they usually do. The map also includes all of Canada.


Geek Bling: HTML Visualizer

Update 2006.10.26 22:50 EDT: Just figured out how to capture the graph.

This is just one of those cool, nearly useless toys on the Web. The graphs it constructs are interesting in themselves, even somewhat informative, once you get used to reading them. It's fairly deterministic; if the Web page content is the same, you'll get the same graph. You can see lots of examples on Flickr.

I've done this a couple of times against my blog's home page, and it really does change as my blog's contents change. With a little work, you can figure out where the different structures come from. A blog entry with lots of photos is an outer ring of purple dots for the images with an inner ring of blue dots for the links. It looks like a dandelion head gone to seed.

But the really fun part is watching the graph get constructed. It looks alive - like a plant emerging, leaves coming out and unfurling, flowers blooming - as the applet parses the HTML elements. Then it slowly ... heals itself. It re-arranges its nodes to correct crossed lines, evenly disperse the nodes and "flowers" on the branches.

You can view the Flatbush Gardener graph. Since it's a Java applet, it requires Java to be enabled in your browser. It won't work from behind most corporate firewalls, I would bet. A high-powered graphics system is also strongly recommended!


NY Sheep & Wool Festival, October 21, 2006

[2006.11.08 12noon EST: Major overhaul. I just moved each section of photos to their own pages. See notes below.]

[2006.10.23 11:30 EDT: Linked title to Sheep&Wool Web site.]
[2006.10.22 22:50 EDT: Added Yarn and Stuff, indexed by category.]
[2006.10.22 20:00 EDT: Added explanatory text. Added photos of Sheep Dog Trials, Broom-making, Hand-spinning.]
[2006.10.22 15:20 EDT: Added photos of "The Scene", Musicians, Goats, Llamas and Alpacas.]
[2001.10.21 23:55 EDT: Initial placeholder with link to Flickr set.]

Thanks to Bev Wigney of Burning Silo, I decided to move each section of photos to their own page, instead of keeping everything in one huuuuge page. Each of the links in this table of contents will take you to a page with just those photos. At the bottom of each page you'll find a link to the "Previous" and "Next" sections, and a link back to the "Table of Contents," this page. As before, each photo on each page links to the Flick page for that photo.

  1. The Scene
  2. Musicians
  3. Goats
  4. Llamas and Alpacas
  5. Sheep Dog Trials
  6. Broom-making
  7. Hand-spinning
  8. Yarn and Stuff
  9. Blanket and Broomstick
These are most of the photos from my Flickr set of the Festival. In the Flickr set, they're simply listed in the order they were taken, without any explanations. The photos are also geotagged on Flickr, so you can see where they were taken on the fairgrounds.

The Scene: Sheep & Wool #1

1. The Scene

As you can see from these photos, it was a perfect fall day. The drive up the Taconic State Parkway was beautiful. The drive took an hour more than we had planned. Because of construction along the road, we bailed for Route 9 south of Poughkeepsie. That area was in peak fall foliage. The Dutchess County Fairgrounds were just past peak; a lot of the leaves had already fallen, but there was still plenty of color on many of the trees.

Mulberry Street EntranceFood PromenadeDSC_2761DSC_2764

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Musicians: Sheep & Wool #2

2. Musicians

An organ grinder (with a stuffed toy monkey banging little cymbals). Check out the large picture of the organ itself so you can see the beautiful inlay work on the audience-facing side.


Banjoist (dreamy ... sigh ...).


Nickel-harpist. I've never seen one of these instruments before. I did a double-take once I realized what she was doing. Basically a violin with keyed fingering on the strings for different notes and chords.

DSC_2800Nickel-Harp Player, Detail

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Goats: Sheep & Wool #3

3. Goats

We love goats. So there's lots of pictures of goats. The long-haired shaggy ones are Angora Goats. I don't know what the other ones are.

[Updated 2006.10.23 11:43 EDT: A friend of mine from Vermont who has goats says that the non-Angora goats are Cashmere goats.]

DSC_2783DSC_2826First Prize, Angora Goat

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