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. ↩︎


Needlessly Misquoted Tennyson

Posted in History, Life at 7:49 am by

Twice within the span of a few days, I’ve heard Tennyson’s famous lines from In Memoriam A.H.H. misquoted on TV, both times with the same error, the second infinitive split by “never.” One of the occasions specifically identified the quotation as Tennyson; surely if you know your character is supposed to be quoting Tennyson, you can make sure you put the correct wording of the quote into the script? It seems not. (Or perhaps the actor flubbed the line and the director didn’t catch it?)

For the record, the correct quotation of the lines from stanza 4 of Canto XXVII (infinitives not split) is:

’Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.


SSL now available on ardisson.org

Posted in Software at 1:45 am by

As of July 8, you can now visit all of ardisson.org,1 including this blog, using an encrypted connection (commonly known as “SSL” or “https”). Hooray!

For the moment I’m not making any effort to force everyone to the https URLs, and some pages (including, sadly, for the moment, any page on this blog that includes a post from before 2017 with images) will throw mixed-content warnings and/or fail to load images in modern browsers because there are images on the page being loaded via plain-old-HTTP—there’s much cleanup still to be done. But I encourage you to update your bookmarks, your feed subscriptions, and whatnot to replace http:// with https:// in order to communicate with ardisson.org in an encrypted, more secure fashion.

Some history

I’ve wanted to do this for years, but it has always been more costly than I could justify. Even as basic SSL certificate prices started to fall (my hosting provider, Bluehost, offered certificates from major Certificate Authorities for a couple of dollars a year), Bluehost only supported SSL certificates on dedicated servers, which ran an additional $10/month or so on top of what I was already paying them for hosting ardisson.org. Bluehost could have supported SSL on shared hosting by implementing SNI on their servers, but for years the company seemed unwilling to do so—presumably because it would cut into their forced-upgrade-to-dedicated-server revenue stream. For a hobbyist website that practically no one ever visits, the costs of a dedicated server (roughly doubling my annual hosting bill) just to implement SSL weren’t worth it.

Finally, though, something moved Bluehost to change; perhaps the arrival and meteoric ascent of Let’s Encrypt,2 which offered free, automatically installed-and-updated SSL certificates (at least with compatible hosting providers), or maybe WordPress’s announcement last December that they were going to stop promoting hosting partners who didn’t offer SSL certificates as part of a default hosting account (Bluehost was, at one point, one of WordPress’s hosting partners; I don’t know if that is still the case). Sometime earlier this year, though—I don’t when know exactly; I never got any notification!—Bluehost announced the availability of free SSL certificates for WordPress sites it hosts, initially using Let’s Encrypt before switching to Comodo.

Some notes on the process at Bluehost

When I discovered that news on July 7, I began investigating what I needed to do (after all, I have WordPress installed and in use). Without having gotten any guidance (or notice of availibility), I logged in to my account and went looking for the SSL Certificates page. I initially arrived at that page via the “addons” header link in my account, and at that point the page wasn’t going to request the certificate because it claimed I wasn’t using Bluehost nameservers—which wasn’t true. But I hopped over to the Domain Manager, clicked “save nameserver settings” (what is it about all of these all-lowercase link and button names?) without changing anything there, and in the process was prompted to (re)validate my Whois email address, which I did. I then returned to the SSL Certificates page and tried again, and the certificate request went through. I didn’t time the process, but it seems like it took somewhere between 15 and 30 minutes after the request submission for the certificate to be generated and installed.

Simple—other than jumping through the hoops caused by spurious failures, but at least the failure message provided a clue as to what I should check—and quick (it took far more time for me to draft, and especially finish up, this post!), and thus reasonably painless, and now ardisson.org is, after nearly a decade, finally available in an encrypted fashion. Hooray!


1 There are some random old Camino-testing-related subdomains running around; those are not SSL-enabled. Anything anyone would actually want to visit in 2017, however, is available over an encrypted connection. ↩︎
2 Old Camino users may recognize former developer Josh Aas as one of the people behind Let’s Encrypt and its parent, Internet Security Research Group. ↩︎


Friday links redux

Posted in History, Links at 6:36 pm by

  • The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe [The New York Times]

    I found this piece incredibly moving: the dedication of these engineers—some now in their 80s!—to one of humankind’s greatest scientific endeavours, in the face of ever-shrinking resources, changing priorities, and the passage of time in which the knowledge and skills needed to keep the Voyagers working are becoming one more of humanity’s “lost arts.”

  • Dellinger Grist Mill

    The Times piece reminded me of another of humanity’s lost arts, which in this particular case also has a connection with our space program. In the mountains north of Asheville, North Carolina sits the Dellinger Grist Mill, the last small, water-powered stone mill left in North Carolina, dating from the turn of the last century (added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1998). Jack Dellinger, fourth-generation Dellinger miller, restored the mill and operates it today in retirement. In the 1950s, Dellinger left the family farm and mill, served in the Korean War, and then became a software engineer for IBM. There, he wrote control software in Huntsville, AL, under the direction of Wernher von Braun, for the Saturn V rockets used in the moon landing, before finally returning home in the late 1990s and putting generations-old, nearly-vanished milling techniques back into production.

    Jack Dellinger currently offers informative tours touching on rural life in NC, milling, historic restoration, and the space program, and grinds local corn into meal, grits, and polenta; if you’re going to be in the area, consult the calendar on the website or email him to see if the Mill is open. Highly recommended!

  • What It’s Like Growing Up as a Girl in the Gaza Strip [National Geographic]

    Switching gears, last weekend’s National Geographic photo-roundup email included this story about a photojournalist’s work documenting the lives of girls and young women in Gaza. There’s also a Kickstarter campaign to get a book of her project published (there’s currently about a week-and-a-half left in the campaign and the book is already almost three-quarters funded).