Monday, December 31, 2007

Looks better at 0 mph

We drove back to Dubuque last night, after a brief visit with family in West Central Illinois, negotiating conditions that, in a matter of 50 yards or less, ranged from dense and dangerous fog to perfectly clear. Somewhat surreal, especially at the posted speed limit.

Today, with no miles to drive, weather conditions were more interesting, with the horefrost extending to prickly proportions.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Never too late for Christmas spirit

In previous holiday seasons, I’ve written about a particular scene toward the end of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol.” Today – Christmas 2007 -- it seems appropriate to repeat the point.

In Dickens’ classic story, Ebenezer Scrooge has awakened from his life-changing dream. Confused but realizing he is receiving another chance to mend his “humbug” ways, opens his window and calls out to a boy in the street below.

"What's to-day, my fine fellow?" said Scrooge.
"Today?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day."
"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it.”

In the rush of activities and events in the run-up to Christmas, many folks set By Christmas” as a single point in time -- the instant when the Christmas Clock clicks down to all zeroes. “I have to ship that gift by X for it to arrive by Christmas.” Or, “I need to finish making that item by Christmas.”

You get the idea.

On occasion, that list includes helping out the less-fortunate. An additional handful of change for the Salvation Army kettle. A gift to drop off at the community center or your church. A check to a charity or church group that helps the needy.

How many of us ever get everything done by Christmas? Chances are, today arrived with something still on your “To Do” list. Sometimes that creates a sense of regret or even guilt.

Certainly, there is good reason to have certain tasks completed by today. It is hard to explain to a child why Santa might get around to delivering a present next week. Or the week after.

However, if helping the less fortunate is not checked off your list today, there is great news. The organizations and agencies helping the needy – including the Telegraph Herald's Santa’s Helper partners -- aren’t closing up shop today. They will be there tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and the days and years ahead.

There is always an opportunity to help the needy – here in the tri-states and around the world. So, if doing something to help the less-fortunate remains on your To Do list this Christmas morning, don’t put it aside. Christmas is a season, not just one day. There is still time to help.

I hope you’ll consider it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thoughts of summertime

For most folks, their attention is entirely on Christmas. But I sneaked a peek ahead -- beyond Christmas to Summer 2008.

This week, I confirmed a reservation for a week's rental of a small house (pictured) for next summer. The exact date and location is a Family Secret -- do burglars read blogs? -- but I will reveal that a relative who has seen it reports that the house features the best view in a town located in a picturesque region.

When I'm out chopping ice or trying to get the snowthrower to start, I'll think about this place .

Friday, December 14, 2007

Feature and felony, all on the same page

Here's a tip for wanna-be felons. Before or after you steal somebody's wallet, change clothes. Or at least don't have your photo taken by a newspaper.

In Clarkston, Wash., a convenience store surveillance camera captured a man lifting a woman's wallet. Authorities provided the photo to the Lewiston (Idaho) Tribune.

Meanwhile, Tribune photographers, out "enterprising" (as the Telegraph Herald photogs call it), saw a nice, seasonal scene of a man painting a holiday greeting on a storefront window. The painter gave his name to the photographer for caption information.

The two images came together on the front page of the Tribune. Copy editors assembling the page noticed the similarities -- including identical attire -- and contacted police. After the paper came out, Tribune readers and authorities made the connection, too.

Michael Millhouse faces a felony theft charge.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Brunch with a beat

The past weekend was our getaway to Chicago. Michigan Avenue -- the Magnificent Mile -- was jammed with shoppers on Saturday (less so on Sunday). I dare say no one traveled so far to purchase so little.

But shopping was not a top priority. Seeing the sights, enjoying a few restaurants and experiencing in the city at Christmastime were.

A highlight -- or at least the most unusual event of the trip (besides nearly slipping on icy sidewalks Saturday night) -- was dining at Dick's Last Resort. It's a bar most of the time but serves a good brunch on Sundays.

The attraction was a Beatles Brunch featuring The Cavern Beat, a Beatles tribute band. The guy playing Paul's part even plays guitar left-handed! The drummer sang Ringo's numbers.

I failed to bring my camera this trip, but I found videos of the group posted by a band member. For the heck of it, compare The Cavern Beat's rendition of "Some Other Guy" with the real thing, captured in Liverpool, 1962.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Library research made easy -- from your home computer!

I've always been a fan of libraries, but my appreciation has only increased the last five years, since I started researching my first non-fiction book, the Red Faber biography. Much of my work on that book -- and my other baseball work -- involves review of old newspaper articles.

As recently as a decade ago -- and even today, depending on the publications -- research of old newspapers involved parking yourself in a library, strapping the microfilm reels on the viewer and searching for articles that might be helpful. (Avoid watching the images whirring by on the screen, lest you become "seasick.") Precious few newspapers are indexed, so it's time-consuming to search this way. And you need to be physically present at the library (during business hours), to content with microfilm readers and printers that are balky and to pay for each copy you make. (Except at the Chicago Public Library!)

In addition to nausea, someone using this microfilm-reader system risks missing an important or interesting item, perhaps due to inattention, oversight or an editing error (bad headline, etc.) made a century ago.

Anyway, my research has been infinitely easier these days when the newspaper microfilm has been digitized and made searchable on the Internet. Now, I can type in my criteria (date ranges, names or words, words to exclude, etc.) and "search" multiple newspapers at once. Depending on the quality of the software and microfilm, these search engines can find a name or address in a garage sale ad.

My favorite service is ProQuest Historical Newspapers. Another is Paper of Record, whose premier publication (at least for a baseball reasearcher) is The Sporting News. (This service recently went free!) There are other services, including NewsBank, which offer searchable digitized images of newspaper pages.

Anyway, for the last year, Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque (pictured) has offered -- as part of its regular service, meaning free to library card holders -- several leading newspapers in the ProQuest suite. They include:
  • New York Times
  • Chicago Tribune
  • Boston Globe
  • Washington Post
Considering that all four papers had American League baseball teams in their cities, this service has been great for me, especially since I'm currently researching and writing about American Leaguers.

The library also has the Heritage Quest online service, which, among other features, allows you to search census enumerators' log books. I found some of my Cooper relatives from downstate Illinois in there.

Carnegie-Stout has other databases, including subjects in which I have no interest or aptitude (such as auto repair manuals). Something for everyone? Likely.

One doesn't have to be a researcher or writer to enjoy this service. What was going on in the sports world or the rest of the world on the day you were born? How did various papers handle major news events, be it Pearl Harbor or Christmas or the JFK assassination?

If you have a Dubuque library card -- by the way, most non-Dubuque residents may purchase one for $104 a year -- get it (you need the numbers on the back). Then check out this service. It's powerful, fast and free.

If you have questions about getting a Dubuque library card (resident or non-resident) fill out the form (qualifying non-residents, mail in the fee separately) contact the library. 563-589-4225.

I didn't intend to make this post so darn long, but I am a big proponent of this great research tool. You don't need to visit Carnegie-Stout, 11th and Locust, to take advantage of its service.