Monthly Archives: April 2008

West Cemetery, Holliston

Holliston, MA

For some reason, this small, rural cemetery was once known as “Paddy Lincoln Cemetery.” Now it’s just “West Cemetery.”

  • Enoch Chamberlain — Revolutionary War soldier (♂) [1]
  • Capt. Staples Chamberlain — Revolutionary War soldier (♂) [1]
  • Enoch Chamberlain (♂ – †1841 Æ63) [1]
  • Mrs. Submit, Wife of Enoch Chamberlain (♀ – †1831 Æ84)
  • Appleton Adams — Co. D 1st Mass. H.A. (♂ 1822-1862)
  • Washington Adams (♂ 1814-1894)
  • Mrs. Thankful Watkins, Relict of Mr. Andrew Watkins (♀ – †1811 Æ71)
  • Jemima Fisk (♀ – †March 6, 1819 Æ46)
  • Levi Fisk (♂ – †June 20, 1819 Æ53)
  • Jackson, son of Josephus and Emeline Phipps (♂ – †1858 Æ18mos. & 2ds.)
  • Mrs. Achsah, wife of George W. Merchant & daughter of Samuel & Achsah Leland (♀ – †1839 Æ28)
  • Dexter Leland (♂ – †1841 Æ1mo. & 8ds.) [1]
  • Dexter Claflin (♂ – †1832 Æ8yrs.) [1]
  • Ebinezer Cutler (♂ – †1828 Æ82) [1]
  • Miriam, Wife of Amasa Foristall (♀ – †1858 Æ49) [1]
  • Selina A. (♀ 1843-1866)

[1] — The elder Enoch Chamberlain was likely born in 1737 and died in 1812. Capt. Staples Chamberlain, probably is not buried in this cemetery, though, since he was born in Newton and died in Roxbury. Staples did have a namesake grandson who was born in Holliston in 1796, but I suspect the government marker for him probably doesn’t belong here. (More info…)

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Book Recommendations

I’ve been reading a lot. That’s the benefit, I guess, of only having one class last semester. And I want to share with you some recommendations.

But before that, here’s a simple request. Currently I’m between books and having a hard time figuring out what to read next. Classes don’t start for another three weeks, and I have the ambition to read something on the longer side. So maybe I should read that book that Leslie suggested: Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. Then again, I still have The Plot Against America from the last time I went to the bookstore; and I’m trying to do better about reading what I buy.

What do you think? What should I read next?

Okay, here are my recommendations. Just be aware: I’m rubbish at giving short synopses that don’t totally suck the life out of whatever I’m recommending.

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead. An enjoyable novella about names, branding, growth, change, race, and (ultimately) ourselves. Tantalasia: “An emotional state, that muted area between desire and consummation.”

Willing by Scott Spencer. You might think I’d be apprehensive about recommending a novel about a down-on-his-luck author who goes undercover to take a high-priced sex tour, since it makes me sound a bit bawdy and the description will likely drive all sorts of unexpected traffic to my site. But I’m a sucker for a well-told, ambiguous morality tale that attempts to divine what our morals are in the Internet age. (p.s. – What’s up with not using quotation marks in fiction these days?)

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling. I have to admit that I like Harry Potter. I came to the party late — mostly because Lisa wanted to talk to me about book #5 — but I was very anxious for its release last year. If I remember right, I read the whole thing in, like, 20 minutes.

The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. Timothy Egan wrote an amazing book about the plow that literally broke the prairie and the folks on the southern Great Plains who toughed out the Dust Bowl. That period of American history is far, far worse than I had fathomed.

China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power. Rob Gifford is my everyday hero: smart, self-deprecating, ruggedly handsome. All of these fine attributes come through in the travelogue of his cross-China trip. Along the way he talks to politicians, dissidents, students, farmers, hermits, truckers, hookers, entrepreneurs, . . . everybody. And as NPR’s long-time China correspondent, he draws from a deep, deep well of knowledge and cultural sensitivity.

Terra Nullius: A Journey Through No One’s Land by Sven Lindqvist. Perhaps there’s something that gets lost in the translation of this book; yet despite its imperfect execution, it is a very thought-provoking treatise on collective guilt, reparations, and the legal fictions Europeans used to justify taking other people’s land. I was amazed to learn that Australians are just like Americans, only more so.

Foto: Modernity in Central Europe, 1918-1945. It would have been hard for this thick catalogue from a really wonderful exhibit at the National Gallery of Art to disappoint. But strange things happen in the world of art catalogues. Sometimes the images from the exhibit aren’t in the books. Or there’s no text. Or the text that does appear is hopeless art speak. This book has none of those problems. It’s as fresh as the Central European photographs it covers.

Posted in Book Notes, OPP, This is who we are | Leave a comment

Afghan history since 1978

If you can believe it, I once made a serious go at becoming a historian. I wanted to go to history grad school, but I hadn’t taken any coursework as an undergrad. Feeling extremely self-conscious and very far behind, I set out to get caught up. I took classes, first at U.Mass and then at Boston College. I went to AHA meetings and lectures at local universities. I read tons of book reviews. It was simultaneously enrapturing and terrifying.

But it was not to be. It’s hard to make up that much lost time, and I didn’t really have the mindset for researching in original sources, a skill that my “catch up” survey classes didn’t push. Now that I know better and have no serious desire to be a professional history, I would really love to do some original research (which probably explains why I’m so fascinated with tombstones these days).

And more than anything, I’m prone to scratch at an itch until I’m satisfied that I know enough about it to be able to define its key features, its edges, its historiography, and the why (not just the when and what). Since I finished my class early this month I’ve been reading voraciously about Afghanistan.

Afghanistan: the crossroads of the world, the graveyard of empires. Its recorded history extends thousands of years — Alexander of Macedonia lent his name to Kandahar, for goodness sake, and there’s another four to five thousand years in the archaeological record before he showed up. I’ve been reading a bit about that history recently, and I’d like to share it with you; but there’s way too much for one dispatch.

Its modern history intersects many of the 20th century’s historical themes: empire, globalization, the Cold War, and transnational terrorism. I think I was like most people who could only briefly describe Afghan history by giving a few keywords: Soviet invasion, mujahideen, Taliban, al-Qaeda. Not surprisingly, there’s a lot more to it than the plot of a Rambo movie. Since Sunday marked the round-number anniversary of the beginning of what might euphemistically be called the “Afghan’s troubles,” let’s take a closer look at the last thirty years of Afghanistan’s history.

Important note: Be sure to see the “Important Note on Sources” at the end of this dispatch.

An Overview

The last thirty years in Afghan history trace an arc that began with instability and war and continued downward to disaster intermingled with stability through totalitarian theocracy before the reemergence of a fragile civil society in the midst of war. It’s fair to say that Afghans have endured one insurgency or another since 1978. Here are some of the key dates for future reference:

  • April 27, 1978 — Communist coup
  • December 24, 1979 — The Soviet Army invades
  • February 15, 1989 — The Soviets withdraw
  • April 1992 — The communist government falls to the Mujahideen
  • September 1996 — The Taliban take Kabul
  • December, 2001 — The Taliban flee Kandahar

The Saur Revolution

Picture it, Kabul 1978. King Zahir Shah had been living in exile for five years since a mostly bloodless coup led by President Mohammed Daoud Khan. Afghanistan was a poor developing country with powerful neighbors. Its western neighbor, Iran, was close to theocratic revolution in 1979. Pakistan, to the east and south, had seen General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq seize power in a coup the year before. And the Soviet Union loomed large on its northern border. Though nominally unaligned, the Soviets poured billions of rubles of influence south over the preceding decades in the form of economic and military aid.

Continue reading

Posted in Central Asia, General, History, This is who we are | Leave a comment

Plain Burial Ground, Sherborn

This is a wonderful, little cemetery just north of Sherborn Centre on Route 27. There are many interesting stones, including a couple unique designs and one of the best urn motifs that I’ve yet seen. (See some of them in the Miscellany.) For a small burying ground — which often indicates a rural or clan-like community — the powerful and the plainfolk are buried together.

we noticed that several families had more than their share of tragedy. Adelphus and Nancy Clark buried seven infants in the span of seventeen years. Each had their own marker at a time when it was very rare for infants for to have any marker at all. Only young George Washington Clark (♂ – †1814 Æ11 mos.) was given a name. Next to him were three brothers (†1817, †1819, †1831) and three sisters (†1818, †1821, †1826). And then there are the Chamberlen orphans who also died young.

Isaiah Woodcock died by a wound in his arm that he received in the Battle of Bridgewater.* July 25, 1814. Æ28 yrs. 3 mos.

Mrs. Mary, Relict of Johnathon Leland, who died Dec. 3, 1839, in her 92 yr.

Albert Green, who died in San Francisco, Cal. Jan. 10, 1857, Aged 30 yrs, 2 mos & 3 days

  • Moses Chamberlen (Father – †1813 Æ36)
  • Sarah Chamberlen (Mother – †1815 Æ36)
  • Charolette Chamberlen (Daughter – †1819 Æ18)
  • Labez D. Chamberlen (Son – †1820 Æ16)
  • Rebekah Bigelow, Wife of Elijah (1788-1825)
  • Micah Leland (♂ – †1810 Æ69)
  • Lawson Leland (♂ – †1819 Æ9 mos.)
  • Amory Babcock (♂ – †1853 Æ60)
  • Eunice French (♀ – †1821 Æ24)
  • Ophelia Sanger (♀ – †1876 Æ64)
  • Elbridge Sanger (♂ – †1885 Æ79)
  • Ouvra Taylor (♂ – 1821-1852)
  • Angenett Davis (♀ – †1844 Æ18)
  • Miss Thankful Whelock (♀ – †1844 Æ32)
  • Rufus Lufkin, Member of Co. G. 25th Regiment Maine Vols. (♂ – †1909 Æ76)
  • Keturah Hill (♀ – †1836 Æ75)
  • Aseneth Pratt (♀ – †1804 Æ36)
  • Roxana Pratt (♀ – †1872 Æ73)
  • William Pratt (♂ – †1810 Æ15 mos.)
  • William Pratt 2nd ** (♂ – †1831 Æ20)
  • Bela Grout (♀ – †1800 Æ36)
  • Royal Grout (♂ – †1825 Æ38)
  • Rhoda Grout (♀ – †1808)
  • Almira Perry (♀ – †1836 Æ28)

* — The Battle of Bridgewater is better known as the Battle of Lundy’s Lane.

** — It was fairly common before the mid 19th-century to name children after their deceased siblings.

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Two Cemeteries in Holliston

What better way to take advantage of the first beautiful weekend of spring than to go for ice cream after visiting some cemeteries with Lisa? I drive by these smallish cemeteries every Friday evening when I take back roads to avoid the traffic delays on the Masspike, but I’d never visited. Today we drove part of the route (in the opposite direction) and stopped at three different cemeteries in Holliston and Sherborn.

I love having Lisa come along with me, because she always notices so much more than I do about what’s written on the gravestones, while I usually look at the stones themselves. She notices who had multiple wives, the children who were named after deceased siblings, the spinsters, the families decimated by a sickness in the house, etc.

Here are some of the highlights from Holliston, which is a great town for visiting burying grounds. (Previously I wrote about the Old Indian Cemetery and Central Burying Ground.) Most of the cemeteries are small and well maintained, and there are a lot of great names.

South Cemetery — Holliston

  • Gilbert Lovering — “A hopeful and engaging youth” (♂ – †1803 Æ17)
  • Hepsibeth Adams (♀ – †1852 Æ66)
  • Elial Littlefield (♂ – †1865 Æ88 yrs 6 mos)
  • Tabatha Littlefield (♀ – †1819 Æ81)
  • Loammi Littlefield (♂ – †1874 Æ90)
  • Isanne Littlefield (♀ – †1837 Æ20)
  • Ephraim Littlefield (♂ – †1828 Æ74)
  • Huldah Bullard (♀ – †1853 Æ46)
  • Bathsheba Hill (♀ – †1825 Æ82)
  • Mrs. Zilpha Clark (♀ – †18?? Æ27)
  • Abijah Clark (♂)
  • Silence Claflin (♀ – †1828 Æ74)
  • Achsah Pond, wife of Phillip Pond (♀ – †1832)
  • Achsah E. Pond, daughter of Phillip and Elizabeth Pond (♀ – †1833 Æ12 days)
  • Admiral Albee Sr. (♂ – †1848 Æ68)
  • Admiral Albee Jr. (♂ – †1849 Æ29)
  • Althira ? (♀ – †18??)

East Holliston Cemetery

  • Cyrus Marsh (♂ – †1873 Æ90)
  • Thomas Honey (♂ – †1863 Æ59)
  • Libert Ekensteen — “Born in Sweden” (♂)
  • Arlow A.E. Giles (♂ – 1861-1907)
  • Marietta G. Joslyn (♀ – 1845-1911)
  • Lavinia Joslyn (♀ – 1815-1851)
  • Lucius G.(?) Joslyn (♂ – 1843-1844)
Posted in Burying Grounds | 1 Comment

Headstone Miscellany

I added a dozen new photographs of headstones and memorial markers to A Miscellany of New England Iconography, a sort of online primer of the styles of 17th – 21st century gravestones.

Today’s additions mostly fit into the existing categories:

  • Skulls, Angels, and Heads
  • Urns
  • Other Hand-carved Things
  • Modern Graven Images

I’ll keep adding images as I come across really interesting stones.

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Silk Road

I have a serious fascination with South and Central Asia. You know, the -stans — Kazakhstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan — plus Iran and India. This interest is part of my infatuation with the Silk Road, so I also throw in Turkey, the Levant, Mongolia, Tibet, Xinjiang, and eastern China for good measure, too.

See, one of my most ambitious goals in life is to travel the Silk Route, starting in Turkey or Lebanon or Israel and endiing in Beijing or Shanghai or Hong Kong. We could do much of this now by train as others have if we wanted — and it would be fantastic — but I’m thinking about something bigger, something that would put more stamps in my passport and gray hairs on my head. Clearly I’m going to need more money and skills. I’m working on the latter by learning some languages. Hopefully the money will sort itself out.

I figure there’s at least a decade (at least!) before we have the money (and probably much longer for the skills). So here’s your chance to recommend things to see along the way. Or try to talk me out of it. Or just post ridiculous things about the Silk Road or the ‘Stans.

What’s currently on my list of things to see?

p.s. — You may see some Central Asian history here in the future.

Posted in Central Asia, Travel | 3 Comments

Beyond JPEG

This dispatch is a bit of a valediction for me. Since early 2000, I’ve been one of the software engineers on the Image and Scientific Data Formats team at The MathWorks. I’ve learned a lot about an area of technical computing that rarely gets the limelight, which is too bad since file format support is the sine qua none for modern computing. As with any real-world discipline, communication and sharing data are the bases of getting anything done. Along the way I’ve also gained a lot of skills creating code, designing systems, and managing projects. And I’ve worked with some wonderful people. It’s been a really great experience, but an offer that was too good to refuse came along.

So now I’m a Senior Software Engineer in the Image Processing Group at The MathWorks. I still work in the same group with the same great people; only the projects have changed. Instead of programming file format interfaces, I’ll be working on software architecture and optimization. It’s definitely a growth opportunity for me, and I get to keep using a lot of the skills that I’ve gained over the last eight years.

But when you change jobs without changing offices, sometimes there’s a bit of overlap. And my interests haven’t changed radically; I just have more. So perhaps it’s not surprising that I’m still writing about JPEG here. Anyway . . . on with the show.

The most popular page on this web site covers the JPEG landscape. Believe it . . . or not. I’m not complaining. I just find it amusing that on a web site that touches on travel, photography, and (sometimes) software engineering, the most popular pages are about either the technical aspects of JPEG file formats or high dynamic range imaging. I guess that’s the price I pay for writing about the dozens of things that interest me.

Well, the JPEG family article has been gathering some really good comments. Most recently “pixpush” commented on a proprietary extension to classic JPEG that supports high dynamic range (HDR) and wide gamut imagery. And then he/she mused that JPEG would be even better if it could somehow support RAW data.

It would be great, but it’s never going to happen.*

Classic JPEG — the original JPEG that makes up all of our images — is what we might call “venerable.” There’s nothing really wrong with it. In fact, it’s very, very capable. But it’s an old dog with only so many tricks left in it. Unfortunately, the following things needed for RAW support are not part of its bag of tricks**:

  • Lossless compression, which you absolutely need for so-called RAW imagery
  • More than 8 bits per color component, since most cameras’ A2D converters use 10+ bits
  • Wider gamuts than sRGB, which would require some combination of the following: converting to and from something other than YCbCr, using signed data, or somehow specifying the colorspace

It’s possible to put classic JPEG through its paces to do this, probably using the ill-supported lossless codec and extensions in new JPEG markers. (JPEG is a stream-oriented format — unlike TIFF — so you have to parse the stream for “markers” to find where new parts begin, making it hard to jump to “interesting” parts of the file.) But once you start making classic JPEG jump through those flaming hoops, you might as well go with one of the newer versions.

It’s unlikely that JPEG will “die out” in my lifetime. As long as there is data in a format it’s never really dead. (Unless, of course, no one knows what it means or the media dies.) But what format would I choose to replace it?

First, I’ll answer the question of what formats I like:

  • TIFF. As long there are file systems that look like the ones we have today — files as sequential collections of bytes — the almost infinite extensibility of the Tagged Image File Format will be useful. You can put almost any kind of metadata into it now, and it’s user extensible (more or less). It supports a limitless number of samples per pixel, any bit depth you’d like, many colorspaces, ICC profiles, and a flotilla of compression modes. It’s also the basis of some vary capable formats such as DNG, and its data layout is used in EXIF, HD Photo/JPEG-XR, and other formats. TIFF and cockroaches will inherit the earth.
  • DNG. Okay, so it’s more of a TIFF-based platform for describing RAW imagery than a traditional file format. You need to know how to interpret the format contents in order to get a viewable image, perhaps using a program like Adobe Camera RAW. Consequently, it’s possible for two applications to render the image quite differently. This is a very un-JPEG-like idea, but it brings back the flexibility and creativity of real-world negatives.
  • JPEG-XR/HD Photo. I’ve written about this format before. It’s the heir-apparent to classic JPEG. And that’s not just because it’s from Microsoft.
  • DICOM. Okay, okay. It has a lot of flaws. I mean, it can change byte order (endianness) in the same file . . . more than once. That’s messed up. To truly understand why it’s a good format, you’d have to be a trained professional, like me or federation president Barry Fife.
  • HDF5. If you absolutely must store gigabytes of data using datatypes that you define, arbitrary metadata, and multiple datasets organized in a hierarchical file structure, this is your format. Of course, you’ll need to use an API to access your data, but you’re payin’ the cost to be the boss.

No one format that will replace JPEG, but I fully expect that a small collection of semi-standardized formats (JPEG-XR, DNG, TIFF) are going to fill the ever-growing image space that it doesn’t support well. And we haven’t even touched on HDR. There isn’t a standard HDR format yet, and there’s a lot to work left to do. (I’m really curious to see whether the “standard” HDR image format will include a preferred tone mapping method or whether it will just be a platform for imagery like DNG.)

Let’s see where the future takes file formats and me. . . . Stay tuned.

* — Except maybe as a joke or programming assignment.

** — Can you mix dog and cat metaphors like that?

Posted in Computing, File Formats, Fodder for Techno-weenies | 3 Comments

Understanding the Opposite Sex

One of my colleagues frequently needs relationship advice. We do our best and give generously, but we’re a diverse lot so the quality varies. As for myself, most of what I’ve learned about “going steady” I learned from a short pamphlet from the 1950s that I found in the Kelly Walsh High School guidance counselors’ office when I worked there in the summer of 1994. I present a scanned version of Understanding the Other Sex by Lester A. Kirkendall and Ruth Farnham Osborne with the hope that it might be useful.

Click on any page for a larger image. . . .

Understanding the Other Sex, page 1 Understanding the Other Sex, page 2 Understanding the Other Sex, page 3

Understanding the Other Sex, page 4 Understanding the Other Sex, page 5 Understanding the Other Sex, page 6

Understanding the Other Sex, page 7 Understanding the Other Sex, page 8 Understanding the Other Sex, page 9

Understanding the Other Sex, page 10 Understanding the Other Sex, page 11 Understanding the Other Sex, page 12

Understanding the Other Sex, page 13 Understanding the Other Sex, page 14 Understanding the Other Sex, page 15

Understanding the Other Sex, page 16 Understanding the Other Sex, page 17 Understanding the Other Sex, page 18

Understanding the Other Sex, page 19 Understanding the Other Sex, page 20 Understanding the Other Sex, page 21

Understanding the Other Sex, page 22 Understanding the Other Sex, page 23 Understanding the Other Sex, page 24

Understanding the Other Sex, page 25 Understanding the Other Sex, page 26 Understanding the Other Sex, page 27

Posted in Life Lessons, This is who we are | 1 Comment

Powerful Advertising

The other day my boss needed a happy thought, so I told him about one of my favorite advertisements. Thanks to YouTube, I can now share it with the whole world.

If you enjoyed that, try the sequel.

And then there’s this gem, which I only saw once on TV. Apparently guinea pigs have a powerful lobby.

Posted in This is who we are | 1 Comment