Emails my daughters’ school might have sent…but didn’t

I have no clue what’s going on…

I’ve always assumed that part of the reason I have no clue what is going on at my daughters’ schools is that we’re in separate households. It’s becoming clearer that no, it’s not that. Our local school system is just pretty awful at communicating with parents….I mean, really, really bad…so bad, you second guess yourself and, as in my case, go into the school offices multiple times every year to make sure that this time they really do have my contact information. Continue reading Emails my daughters’ school might have sent…but didn’t

Reverend Sam Franklin

This is the Reverend Sam Franklin. This guest book doesn’t have long left, and while the messages are heartfelt, there’s not a lot there. He went by “Uncle Tom” apparently.

I met him once last year, just before he passed away.

I’ve been meaning to write this post for a while and have had the crumbs of it sitting in a draft since I met him. Last year I was at the mall in Christiansburg, VA with my kids. I had left them to their own ends for a while, grabbed a coffee and had sat down in a mildly comfortable chair in the middle of the mall. The seating made a small square with a couple of chairs on each side.

On one side an old man sat in a wheelchair. Opposite me another man sat. After a minute or two the old man spoke up, “If I was to ask one of these people here how old they thought I am, what do you think they would say?”

So, a couple of thoughts went through my head if I’m being entirely honest. Firstly, that I might be in for a crazy old man diatribe that I’d need to gently extricate myself from, and secondly that there was no way I was going to give a straight answer.

The man across from me smiled, but didn’t say much, umm-ing and ah-ing in a jokey kind of way. The old man insisted, “Go on, guess.” I hazarded a silly guess, “Fifty-five?” We bantered a bit more. I guessed a little closer, “Seventies?” I smiled, “You know, I’m not going to even try to get it right. It’s not very polite, is it?”

“I’m one hundred and four.”

Crikey…definitely crazy old man territory. There’s no way a man this articulate and seemingly healthy is that old, despite the wheelchair. We chatted some more and I don’t really remember why, but I moved over to sit next to him. I do remember that his fingers were thick, swollen and mottled with the years.

An hour and a half later, his middle-aged granddaughter and her husband (from Maryland?) came back to pick him up, and I was wiser. “You wouldn’t believe he’s one hundred and four, would you?!” they said. “Oh, I would” I replied.

I’ll admit to not understanding everything he told me. A Southwest Virginia accent, old age, and my own transatlantic origins made some things hard to grasp, but I still remember some of the stories he told me. I wish I remembered more, and I wish I’d written this last year when I intended, but I also hope that maybe one day someone will find this and he’ll be remembered. I’m sure I’ll get some of this wrong too.

In July 1916, the New River flooded. He would have been ten years old then. His family was living in Carroll County at the time, as best I can tell, right down by the river on the flood plain. It came at night. They barely had time to get him and his siblings out of bed, and to let the animals loose before the house was filled. The waters came well up to the second floor.

I wish I remember more, but I’m thinking that they found a friendly farmer and slept in a barn for a while after that.

The next year (1917), the river froze (here too), and the ice dammed up the river destroying bridges.

Some time after that they moved to Radford, VA, and I’d guess around then he started at the Radford pipe works which was owned by the Lynchburg Foundry (his obituary implies he worked in Lynchburg, but I don’t think he did). He worked in Radford for thirty-six years. At some point, perhaps during the war, he went to Tennessee to train to make aircraft parts, which should have enabled him to make a bit more money.

He took himself and his training to Atlanta after that, where I think he had some kind of supervisory role. He told me some tales of a crazy ex-con who he took a chance on. That was a bet that didn’t work out.

During all this time, he was a minister at various places, including a church in Ellett Valley, and they had ten kids. When we spoke his younger brother was still alive and living by himself. He had buried his son recently. I didn’t want to ask about his wife.

He did tell the tale of the time he saw one man shoot another six times. It was connected to his church, and he was the one who ended up taking the gun off the man who did the shooting. There was a court case of course. I seem to recall though that there was a sense that the shooting may have been justified and as a result the Reverend may have been careful with the truth when the time came.

…and that’s it. One hundred and four years. One and a half hours last year. It really cannot have been long before he passed away. It was a great conversation that meandered a fair bit, and was hard work sometimes, but so worth it. I couldn’t quite convey it to my kids when they came to find me, nor to my friends and colleagues.

He seemed a decent man who lived a decent life.

It was a pleasure to meet Sam. I’m glad I had that time to sit and listen to him. I’m glad he persisted in talking to me and shared some of his life with me. When my race is run, I hope someone takes the time to tell a tale or two about me. I hope there are some good tales to tell.

Virginia Tech Hokies Women’s Soccer

I tweeted about this the other day but I’d like to expand a little.

Last year I attended a game or two, but this year, I’ve been to several Hokie soccer games: at least one of the men’s team and several of the women’s. It has been a lot of fun. There’s a smallish crowd, which is enough to make it fun, but not the insane size of the football games. It’s free to get in and parking is easy.

I’m going to give the men’s team another chance since they didn’t really impress in the game I saw, but I am really enjoying watching the Women’s Soccer team. They are extremely skillful and have many of the qualities of a great team, but they are not quite converting their dominance into goals as much as I think they should.

I thought they were unlucky in North Carolina (let’s just say that I didn’t entirely agree with the refereeing) and that they dominated Boston College for much of the game. They do seem to be a bit vulnerable on set pieces.

Their ball movement, patience, discipline, possession, and general talent are all fantastic. They play a little like Swansea in that they’ll typically move the ball out from defense on the ground with calm, precise and well-controlled passing. Several times, I’ve seen their central defensive players turn the opposition inside out before making a simple release pass. They are very good at relieving pressure in that regard.

The team seems to be setting up in a 4-1-3-2 formation and their midfielders are impressive. The one caveat is that they feel unimaginative on offense in the final third. What I have seen to this point are through balls, long balls, and runs that tend to be vertical (straight up and down) with few overlaps from midfield and less diagonal movement. Several times I’ve seen midfielders creating space in advanced positions by fantastic passing and then it fizzles out, either in a wayward shot or a tackle.

I’m not sure of the underlying reason. It could be intentional positional discipline, but the last game I saw there was at least one occasion for a clear overlapping run by an outside midfielder and the player just stayed in place. The other part of the equation is the offensive players themselves who seem a little static or “one note”. If you aren’t faster than the defense and being quick is your thing, then your options close down. If being tall is your thing, then you need service from the wings.

My understanding of an attacker’s role (and I say this both as a fan, and primarily a defensive player myself), is that it is at least in part to make defenses constantly worry about where you are, to get on their blind side, to get into positions where they can’t see both you and the ball, and to make runs off and away from the ball to draw the defense into bad positions. That off-the-ball mischievousness and creativity is what I think I’m not seeing. I’m not sure of the solution from a tactical point of view, but the team feels only a fraction shy of being a truly great team. They could easily have beaten North Carolina and Boston in my opinion.

Either way, they play again this Sunday, and I’m planning on enjoying the game, whatever the result.

Google Hosting

It seems to me that a fairly well-hidden feature of Google Apps is that you can map a Google Site to a “regular” url, like

In essence this means that if you get all the features that you want with a Google site and the other integrated services (email, calendar, docs, etc), then you can use Google for all your hosting needs. Obviously if you want WordPress or some custom component, it’s not going to meet your needs, but it will work for a lot of people, and it’s free (and obviously very reliable). It’s also got excellent documentation, ease of use and in the long-term a web site design contractor doesn’t have to worry so much about those endless requests for support or upgrades.

I’ve just more or less finished setting a friend’s business up like this and they couldn’t be happier. It’s a site for a rehabilitation service for pets.

Today was a beautiful day in Blacksburg

If you’ve never been to Blacksburg in the spring, you should.

We are Virginia Tech

Yards from million-dollar research enterprises, the grass is a deep, exuberant green, and I walked past a noisy stream on my way back home, past cows and horses grazing in rolling fields, birds yelling at each other rudely from tree to tree. I looked on rolling hills, not quite the downs of my youth, but reminiscent enough. The grass has been growing vigorously for the past few weeks, doing its best before the summer heat slows it down.

The sun shone in a sky with a few small clouds to break up the boredom and the wind was strong. It was a day and a time to not stop walking, when you didn’t want to, even when the wind blew a little harder than you really wished it would.

We are sad today and we will be sad for quite awhile. WE are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning.

I took a bus to the meeting. I was the only one on it as there was another just in front. We passed perhaps fifty TV trucks. Everywhere I looked there were cameras. I was dropped off at the coliseum, which was full and closed, so I joined the line to get in the stadium. We waited, held up until the president was delivered to the building. I saw some people in Scientology t-shirts, but didn’t have enough in me to be angry at them.

We are Virginia Tech

I looked at the different news cameras, wondering where they were from, with their sticker slogans on their trucks, and wondered where they would be tomorrow, or next week.

We are strong enough to stand tall tearlessly, we are brave enough to bend to cry, and we are sad enough to know that we must laugh again.

And then I found my way to wherever we felt was best. I sat in the bleachers looking straight down the fifty yard line, satisfying my inner symmetry. Many were sitting on the field. More were in the stands. Some found a lonely spot high, high in the stands. Some were in the executive boxes with nothing to see. Most sat quietly.

We waited.

We are Virginia Tech

We watched the big screen at one end. At first there was no sound, none except a groan that swept across the crowd when the silence began, and then it slowly came, and was barely audible. It was never great, but it didn’t need to be that good.

We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.

During the president’s speech, some people silently turned their backs. I wanted Nikki Giovanni to talk about children in Iraq, or Sudan, but she has more class than I do, and her silence, the not mentioning, was louder to me than anything. She could have. I knew it. I think everyone knew it, perhaps even the people in the front row.

We are Virginia Tech

Sitting in the stadium, we were part of it, but we were not. Watching on a TV screen. You know more about it all than I do. I haven’t watched TV in months. I know as much as anyone with an internet connection. But I was there. I hardly spoke to anyone, but I was there. A witness. A statement.

The Hokie Nation embraces our own and reaches out with open heart and hands to those who offer their hearts and minds. We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

There is something intangible that connects us across continents, whether our mutual love for an institution, or a place, or people. We don’t all feel this loss the same way, but our fear during those moments, waiting for a phone call, is shared. We know. We’ve looked down that path, seen where it leads, and felt the relief of not taking the first step.

We are the Hokies

I waited all through for someone to say this. To say, that we are each other’s keeper. We share something, and we are stronger for it. We belong to each other and every word we say, every moment of compassion or kindness, counts. They matter.

It was the relief of being reminded of our shared strength. We are not to be spectators watching the performances of politicians. We must embrace and commit to support each other in a thousand small daily kindnesses.

We will prevail, we will prevail, we will prevail

We have a voice, and we shared it. We shouted it, because this is our grief, our loss. In the stadium, we started our own chant. After the polite applause inside the coliseum they had theirs.

We are Virginia Tech

And we left, when we were ready. And I walked home across parking lots, besides green fields with cows and horses and birds and squirrels and streams.

And on the way, cars stopped to let me cross.

It’s a start.

Conference presentation

I had an opportunity to present at this Digitial Government conference last week. Here’s the session information. I think the presentation itself should be online soon. It was loosely based around this JISC document on Web 2.0.

Given the audience, I was quite nervous, but I think it went off well. There ended up only being two of us on the panel (the third member was sick), so we each used more time, which I was grateful for (I can get a bit chatty). A number of questions were directed at my topic, which I presume indicated interest.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen

I became a U.S. citizen last Friday and only had to wait 4 days before meeting a president. Is this a standard thing for citizens? Maybe there’s some secret code or marker on me now and I’ll run into presidents all the time? Who knew?

I don’t recall ever meeting the queen, although I have vague memories of getting a peek at her one time in Chichester. I do like being in a republic, even if it doesn’t always feel like one. With that said, I am proud of my English background and in some respects this was a very practical decision in terms of what was best for me and my kids (who were born here). Anyway it takes some pressure off, is one less thing to worry about and I probably don’t have to worry about being deported for a misdemeanor, although I have never committed one, thank goodness.

My paperwork only took two and half years(!) although casual conversation at the ceremony with other applicants seemed to indicate that the process may now only be taking months. Anyway, I have now renounced and abjured absolutely and entirely all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty (pdf). I have done the deed.

Did I tell you they spelled my name wrong?

Meeting George Bush Sr.

My boss was in this part of the state today, and stopped by. He very kindly took our team out to lunch. We don’t exactly work in a major metropolis….it’s more a truck stop off I-81. We ate at a simple barbecue place in a standard shopping plaza (a Kroger and about 8 other stores, and that’s about all there is around there). As we were finishing up, someone looked up and said, “Oh, there’s George Bush.” My first reaction was mere confusion, and then surprise as a black SUV parked, and a secret service guy walked into the restaurant, followed by George Bush (the senior).

I quickly snapped a very bad picture using my cellphone, and then my boss and one of my co-workers, neither of whom could ever, ever be called a shrinking violet, headed over to ask if he would allow to have our picture taken with him. He very graciously did, and my boss pulled out his digital camera.

David, George Bush (Senior) and a co-worker He asked if this was a “Mother and son” picture, which unintentionally gave us a bit of a laugh, and then we left him to get his lunch. It was all very low key. No huge entourage. Just him and a couple of guys basically. It did occur to me that such a picture could have cost me several thousand dollars a few years ago.

I was born and bred in England, and so really have no automatic reverence for the presidency, and I hope, no particular reverence for anyone who holds high office, so I’ve found my reaction to be a bit more subdued than my co-workers who were pretty tickled about the whole affair (although to be fair to them, not with awe). Part of me feels that the really classy thing would have been to just ignore him and let him have some lunch, and acknowledge that there was nothing special about him, that he was just a guy doing his job. In terms of the cult of celebrity, I feel a little bit that I let myself down by having the picture taken. I didn’t say anything meaningful. I just had my picture taken with him, and, considering the alternatives that didn’t really make the world a better place. I just kept an old man from his lunch.

As is usually the case, about three hours later I thought of some things I maybe would have liked to say to him, aside from my mumbled “Thank you”. Perhaps I could have told him that although I didn’t agree with a lot of the things he did while he was in office, I thought he was a pretty decent guy and I respected him, and I could have thanked him for his service both then and in earlier times. But he is no longer a public figure, I doubt he would care to hear my opinion, he’s eighty-one years old (and looking very healthy) and he probably just wanted some barbecue.

I could have said something about his son, and the war, and the country. Would it have made any difference? I doubt it. Was it my moral duty to do so? Maybe so, even if it were a whisper in a storm.

I’m surprised that an old guy having some lunch at a truck stop could confuse me so.

[update: news items here and here]