Friday links, mid-October edition

Posted in History, Links, السياسة at 5:09 pm by

Once again, just link singular.

  • “On Being White….And Other Lies” (1984) by James Baldwin

    My friend Michael posted this on Facebook earlier this week, and it’s the only thing I’ve read all week that is still bouncing around inside my head. In part that’s because Baldwin briefly touches on the Middle East (with which there are many parallels that scholars in the field are quick to see), but mainly because he offers a compelling argument that what we over a dozen or so generations have constructed is not an American society or identity, but a white one. Sitting here in 2017, in some ways it seems superficially, culturally, less true, but certainly politically and socially more true than in 1984. I wish I would have read this in AP US History, or in American Literature, in high school; it is a mind-opening perspective that was sorely lacking.


New “Writings” section on al-Qāhira fī Amrīkā

Posted in History, Life at 9:00 am by

For the first time in more than a decade and a half, there is a new page—a new section, even!—on the website: الكتابة (“Writings”), which attempts to collect many of the things I have written over the years in one place. Some were, once-upon-a-time, found at various locations on the Internet but have long since gone missing; others are making their web debut (even though, in some cases, their HTML files were generated years ago!).

It’s also the first (non-testcase) page I’ve written from scratch since CSS became a useable web standard :o The styles employed aren’t fancy, but they’re there, and they’ve been designed so that one day, if I ever get around to it, I can CSSify the entire al-Qāhira fī Amrīkā website.

I have no delusions, though, that any of my planned “remodeling” work on the site will happen any time soon; for now, al-Qāhira fī Amrīkā remains a living, breathing, decaying example of mid-to-late 1990s web design, of more (dubious) historical value than anything else.

But, for the first time in ages, there is something new there, and I’m happy about it—and especially happy to finally start collecting scattered writings and making them available for reading once again.


Friday links, beginning of October edition

Posted in Links, Software at 7:17 pm by

Once again, just link (singular):

  • USPS ‘Informed Delivery’ Is Stalker’s Dream [Krebs on Security, via Michael Tsai]

    Most of the paragraphs of the article are quotable, but here are just two, early on:

    Once signed up, a resident can view scanned images of the front of each piece of incoming mail in advance of its arrival. Unfortunately, because of the weak KBA questions (provided by recently-breached big-three credit bureau Equifax, no less) stalkers, jilted ex-partners, and private investigators also can see who you’re communicating with via the Postal mail.

    Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a big deal if the USPS notified residents by snail mail when someone signs up for the service at their address, but it doesn’t.

    The good news is that the Postal Service is planning on making a few changes to (barely) improve security—debuting in January 2018. The Krebs exposé reminds me that, in addition to general QA on any sort of project, it is imperative these days also to have security and privacy reviews (probably at several points during the design and implementation phases) on nearly everything.


Friday links, end-of-September edition

Posted in History, Links at 5:00 pm by

  • West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette [Wikipedia]

    One of my teacher friends, Melanie, posted a graphic on Facebook the other day referencing this case, which established the Constitutional right not to have to say the Pledge of Allegiance; although I was familiar with the concept, I did not know the name of the case, so the graphic was still educational :-) I found the Wikipedia article about the case interesting and timely reading, even if Wikipedia claims it’s not up to its standards. Two quotations, from the majority and concurring opinions:

    [W]e apply the limitations of the Constitution with no fear that freedom to be intellectually and spiritually diverse or even contrary will disintegrate the social organization. To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous instead of a compulsory routine is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.

    —Justice Robert Jackson, for the majority

    Love of country must spring from willing hearts and free minds, inspired by a fair administration of wise laws enacted by the people’s elected representatives within the bounds of express constitutional prohibitions.

    —Justices Hugo Black and William O. Douglas, in their concurring opinion

  • Lawrenceville will save historic black school, add museum and library [Atlanta Journal-Constitution, via Lizzie]

    It was not until I was in high school that I first heard rumors of the existence of the Hooper-Renwick School (like something out of Atlas Obscura, had it existed at the time). As the years went by, I learned only bits and pieces about it via news articles, but its significance was clear. A few months ago, I read about the city of Lawrenceville planning to tear the school down and thought it was such a waste—and such a loss for an ill-known and ill-documented period of our history—especially while Gwinnett County is doubling down on preservation in advance of the county bicentennial (Hudson-Nash House and Promised Land, among others). I’m thrilled to see that Hooper-Renwick alumni have persuaded the city to change its mind and the school will be saved and turned into a museum about African-American life and history in the county.

  • An untitled poem by Lili Reinhart [Lili Reinhart’s tumblr]

    If Instagram is for cultivating an image, Twitter is for activism, and Facebook is for fanclubs, then Tumblr is the “social media” platform where celebrities let the rest of us see glimpses inside their souls and minds—Tumblr is, after all, a blogging platform. (Reinhart’s September 11th poem, “A somber poem for Monday blues”, was also quite moving.)


Poem 2017-09-25 at 9:15 PM

Posted in Life, السياسة at 2:22 am by

You kicked a pebble,
A speck of metamorphic force,
Off the top
Of a mountain.
It hit a stone,
Jarred it loose,
And they fell.
A tiny band
Of pebbles and stones
They hit a rock
And broke it free.
They built up strength.
Now a slab,
Then a boulder,
Then a rock face.
To a crescendo,
Pebbles, stones
Rocks, boulders,
An entire mountainside,
A torrent
You are buried
Underneath an entire mountain,
A cataclysm of stone
Changing the face of the planet,
Wiping away
Your foolish falsehoods,
All because of your flippant kick
Of a tiny


On the Remarks of the Late Steve Jobs at the Opening of the Steve Jobs Theater

Posted in Camino, Life at 10:47 pm by

But one of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there.

—Steve Jobs (date unknown, as played at the opening of the Steve Jobs Theater, September 12, 2017)

When I read this1 the other day, my first thought was of Camino.

We were often asked by outsiders why we worked on Camino, and why we persisted in building Camino for so long after Safari, Firefox, and Chrome were launched. In the minds of many of these people, our time and talents would have been better-spent working on anything other than Camino. While we all likely had different reasons, there were many areas of commonality; primarily, and most importantly, we loved or enjoyed working on Camino. Among other reasons, I also liked that I could see that my efforts made a difference; I wasn’t some cog in a giant, faceless machine, but a valued member of a strong, small team and a part of a larger community of our users who relied on Camino for their daily browsing and livelihoods. It was a way to “give back” to the world (and the open-source community) for things that were useful and positive in my life, to show appreciation.

We were making something wonderful, and we put it out there for the world to use.

I ♥ Camino!


1 Part of a heretofore publicly-unheard address from Steve Jobs that was played at the opening of the Steve Jobs Theater and the Apple fall 2017 product launches. ↩︎


Friday links, early September edition

Posted in Links at 11:40 pm by

  • When to Pick Persimmons and How to Preserve Them [Mother Earth News]

    Persimmons, September 2017

    While cutting down some dead trees at the office in advance of Hurricane Irma, my father and I stumbled upon a persimmon tree, complete with orange fruit. When I asked Siri how to tell when the persimmons were ripe, she suggested this article—which prose, as I began reading it, led me to ask “When was this written!?” As it turns out (clearly visible on desktop, less so on mobile), the article is dated September/October 1970.

  • You Are the Product [London Review of Books]

    Technically, this is a book review of several recent books about Facebook and other social/tech companies, but John Gruber headlines it thusly: “John Lanchester on Facebook: ‘The Company’s Ambition, Its Ruthlessness, and Its Lack of a Moral Compass Scare Me’” Gruber adds, “John Lanchester’s lengthy essay on Facebook for the London Review of Books is well worth your time.” (Lengthy, indeed; I am still working my way through it, but it has definitely been worth my time so far.)


Midweek links

Posted in Links at 6:19 pm by

Well, link singular, again.

  • Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation? [The Atlantic]

    There are many effects of a technological development, some positive and others negative. We know many of the positives of smartphones because they can be discerned quickly, when we experience them (and proceed to laud them). The article touches on others that have taken time to discover (US teens are physically safer and have a lower birth rate now than in the past, in large part because of changing behaviors influenced by smartphones); I also think about the articles I’ve read about how smartphones have empowered young women and “liberalized” the dating/matchmaking practices in many conservative Middle Eastern societies. But there are some clear downsides to smartphones, as well—some of them innate in social media that are amplified by the ubiquity of smartphones—that the article reveals and discusses.

    Mostly, though, I think about my friend’s six-and-a-half year-old daughter asking her mother one evening if she could read when they got home; it is a wondrous thing when a child loves to read so much that limits or ground-rules are required—and I hope nothing ever comes along to diminish that love in her life :-)


Friday links, late August edition

Posted in History, Links at 6:00 pm by

Well, link (singular), again:

  • Enlightenment Technology [ongoing by Tim Bray]

    Tim Bray provides a review and commentary on economic historian Joel Mokyr’s 2016 A Cul­ture of Growth: The Ori­gins of the Modern Econ­o­my (which attempts to explain the origins of the belief that progress was a good thing and why the Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution occurred in Europe and not in Asia, given that, circa 1500, both regions were more or less on the same level technologically—short version, according to Bray’s reading, mostly a series of “for­tu­nate his­tor­i­cal ac­ci­dents”).

    I wasn’t familiar with the book—I’m sure, had I remained in academia, I would have had to slog through it—and I’m sure there are some great reviews from historians to recommend, but I felt the 15 or 20 minutes reading Bray’s piece was well worth the time.


Aunt Dorothy at 100

Posted in History, Life at 12:00 pm by

Dorothy Anna Ardisson, US Army Nurse Corps, circa 1942
Dorothy Anna Ardisson, circa 1942
Lieutenant, US Army Nurse Corps, World War II

One hundred years ago today, on August 20, 1917, my great-aunt Dorothy Anna Ardisson was born in her parents’ second-floor apartment in Jeannette, Pennsylvania. She was the first child and only daughter of John Ardisson and his wife, Maria Julia Oswald, and was the oldest grandchild of her Oswald grandparents (Anton and Mary Adamic Oswald, immigrants from Slovenia) and second grandchild1 of her Ardisson grandparents (Stefano/Étienne/Steve and Maria Silva Ardisson, immigrants from Italy). The nations of old Europe were then still locked in the terrible combat of the Great War, which the United States had entered on the side of the Allies2 only a few months prior (April 6th).

Steve Ardisson Family, ca. 1919
Steve Ardisson Family, ca. 1919
This is the first picture of Aunt Dorothy I am aware of; she is the middle child, seated on an aunt’s lap, about two years old.

Aunt Dorothy (about whom I have already written once this year, for Women’s History Month) inherited the determination of her parents. She attended high school, graduating with high honors, even though her father thought girls did not need a high school education. Early in her life, she had decided she wanted to be a nurse when she grew up; she finished nursing school at St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing just in time for the start of what we now call World War II, and she joined the US Army Nurse Corps. After a few stateside postings (including at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, DC), she and a few fellow nurses decided they wanted to see more action and sought transfers to a unit being shipped overseas. There, she worked in a field hospital near Oran, Algeria, during the invasion of North Africa, helping in the civilized world’s fight against Nazis and Fascists.

After the war, Aunt Dorothy took advantage of the GI Bill and obtained a BS in Nursing Education from the University of Pittsburgh (later on, she also obtained an MA in Education from the University of Michigan). She then took a head nurse position at Mount Carmel Mercy Hospital in Detroit, where she was responsible for training new nurses, and then served as a professor in the nursing department at Mercy College until her retirement. In her early years at Mercy, she shared an office with Kay Wenzel. At one point, both women needed new cars, and Aunt Dorothy had a house but needed living room furniture, while Kay had furniture and needed a new place to live. To save money, the officemates became housemates, and then lifelong best friends, as a two-year arrangement continued for several years, and then off-and-on again until Kay’s death nearly half a century later. During those many years, Aunt Dorothy also welcomed her nieces and nephews to Michigan each summer for a week of fun and family, and she continued travelling the country (visiting all 50 states) and the world—including a trip “back” to Baldissero Canavese, the village north of Turin from which her Italian grandparents had emigrated at the end of the nineteenth century.

Because I lived in Georgia and Aunt Dorothy lived in Michigan for most of the years we shared on this earth, I didn’t see her very often or know her very well. Still, she would send a card at Christmas and on my birthday, and sometimes a small gift or bit of knowledge. Aunt Dorothy was not responsible for my love of genealogy—I had always been curious about the world and where I was “from”—but she was most definitely responsible for much of my success in it. The Christmas I was 12, she sent me a genealogy workbook, into which she had inserted, between the relevant pages, handwritten notes about her parents and grandparents. While I was young, I did not work in earnest on the book, but I did enough to keep filling in blanks and wanting to discover more. Later, Aunt Dorothy organized two Ardisson family reunions, started collecting and labeling various family pictures, and eventually started corresponding with a distant nephew in France, who in turn was in contact with Ardissone and Silva cousins in Italy, and she funneled each new discovery to me. When she moved back home to Pennsylvania after Kay died in 1997, I got to see Aunt Dorothy a bit more often, and we also continued to correspond with genealogy updates. On one particular family trip to Pennsylvania, she and my grandfather took me around to the various cemeteries in Export, Delmont, and Denmark Manor where their parents and grandparents are buried, ensuring someone would know where to find them in the years to come.

Ardisson Family Thanksgiving, November 2007
Ardisson Family Thanksgiving, Murrysville, PA, November 22, 2007
This is the last picture I have of Aunt Dorothy (seated, middle), when we brought her over to my grandparents’ house for a family Thanksgiving in 2007.

Like all people, eventually age caught up with Aunt Dorothy, and she passed away on August 15, 2009, five days before her 92nd birthday, leaving behind a legacy as a much-loved educator, friend, daughter, sister, aunt, and great-aunt. In those 91 years and 360 days, she lived and worked as a single woman, carving her own path in a world which for many of those years was not quite ready for the idea of an unmarried career woman, and served as a quiet example to those of us who knew and loved her.

She continues giving gifts even now. In the past few days, I came into possession of the trunk Aunt Dorothy’s grandmother Maria Silva Ardisson brought with her when she came over from Italy; among the items found inside was a framed Steve Ardisson family portrait, circa 1919 (above). My parents and I could identify about half of the people in the photo, but the other half were a mystery (we had guesses, but some turned out to be wildly incorrect). As I searched through my files, I found that after one of my visits, Aunt Dorothy had sent me high-quality photocopies of a handful of significant family photos, including that one, and she had sent along a sheet of captions, making it possible to correctly identify everyone from now until the picture ceases to exist. Thank you, Aunt Dorothy, for all you have done for the world and the Ardisson/Silva/Oswald families, and happy 100th birthday! ♥


1 After the tragic death of her older cousin Mary Elizabeth Bertolina at age 6 in June 1919, Aunt Dorothy became the oldest surviving Ardisson grandchild as well. ↩︎

2 In fact, Aunt Dorothy’s great-uncle Tony’s eldest son John Ardison, a French-born Italian citizen who grew up in America, saw service with the American forces in Europe. ↩︎